Modern Myths: Computers vs. You
Confusion and misinformation are in abundant supply in the computer and information industries. Cheap and fast communication, which is such a boon to our society, has also allowed the generally inexperienced multitudes to spread bad information faster than ever before.
So, please indulge me while I dispel some myths which have haunted the computer markets, in some cases, since their
Most people over the age of 35, and many younger than that, first experienced computers on TV or in a movie. In almost every movie or TV show where a computer was involved, it eventually exploded or caught fire.
", about the 'perfect' society of the future, has a critical scene where the main computer starts smoking, dropping rafters, and altering its voice-output
in a spooky way.
It eventually catches fire, explodes, and just generally destroys everything, all in response to the good guy¹s
statements, which the computer didn't like.
It's a fine scene, because a slave society becomes free, but it perpetuates a myth about computers which has done more to stifle experimentation and learning than any other single thing:
The Big Myth is that if you do the wrong thing, program it the wrong way, or press the wrong key, the computer can break, emit sparks, catch fire or explode.
There used to be a program, from the early 80's, but probably still available, which used the heads in a floppy drive to play songs.
The head mechanism moves across the disk to access different areas on the disk. If a file or files are on different parts of the disk, the stepping motor, which controls the heads, makes a humming sound. (Windows users usually hear this hum when they start their computers.)
The song-playing program just runs the heads back and forth at different speeds to get different tones.
I describe this because the song-playing program has been known to damage the motor in the floppy drive.
It is one of only two examples where data can damage equipment. The other is a virus which was able to damage CPUs by accessing the same register over and over - the newer CPUs are immune to it.
However, one should distinguish breaking a machine from destroying data.
Data is volatile, and can be lost with a single button press. For example, you can press 'erase' on your VCR, making the tape blank, but the unit (and the tape itself) will continue to operate just fine.
Similarly, you can format your hard disk, making the computer unbootable and useless (until the back up is restored), but the hardware will still operate just fine, including the hard disk.
Another popular myth;
I researched this quite a while ago, because of fears expressed by several clients where I worked. Here is what I learned:
Lead crystal, which is used in the face of every CRT (picture tube) in every TV and monitor manufactured since the 50¹s, is highly effective at stopping radiation. In fact, most monitors emit about 2% of the x-ray radiation that you absorb from the sky at night - not very much.
If you have even once laid out in the sun, you've already received more x-rays than you will ever get from a lifetime in front of a monitor.
However, monitors do pose real health threats, all of which are preventable, and reversible.
Although it is not a problem with most new monitors, which have higher scan rates, the squeal emitted by older monitors (and TV¹s) has been linked to headaches and nausea.
Both can be prevented. Purchasing a new monitor, which uses an oscillator with such a high frequency that your nervous system isn't affected by the squeal, will usually solve it. If you can't afford a new one right now, taking frequent short breaks, to get away from it for a while, will help.
Even newer monitors can still cause headaches due to eyestrain, since our eyes can detect low-frequency flicker. If you can adjust the refresh rate of your monitor so that it is greater than 60Hz, you should be able to avoid that trouble.
Again, frequent short breaks will help prevent headaches from any flicker on the old monitors.
A laptop computer, or any computer with one of the newer flat screen displays, has none of these concerns, as they use LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) technology, rather than CRTs (Cathode Ray Tubes).
However, regardless of your type of screen, make sure it's at least 24 inches (70cm) away from your face, or you'll have the same kinds of eye trouble as people who read books too closely.
There is very little information available on the types, strength, or effects of magnetic fields which CRT displays use to move the electron beam around the screen.
From my own measurements, I can tell you that the magnetic field around a 15-inch CRT is slightly stronger than your typical refrigerator magnet. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) technology (the low-impact version of a cat-scan) will expose you to magnetic fields hundreds if not thousands of times stronger.
Besides, magnetic fields have very little effect on non-magnetic materials, like humans.
There are some very real dangers in the modern computer-based office environment
...but they aren't what you might expect.
A very common danger involving computers is carpal tunnel syndrome, a repetitive motion injury caused by typing or mouse-clicking, especially if strain is present in the tendons or muscles or the hands or arms.
This condition can be very debilitating, but is also highly preventable.
Proper positioning of the body is the most important preventative step.
Your wrists should be straight while typing
- Your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle
- Your posture should be upright
A plethora of products exist to help with these goals: Pillows, wrist-rests, keyboard
pads, and wrist-braces are the most frequently seen.
Frequent short breaks are also important, and mild stretching or exercise of the hands and arms, to keep muscles loose and blood flowing, will serve you well.
Carpal Tunnel usually starts as bursitis (aches or burning in the joints), but the biggest problem is the swelling, caused by tendons in the wrist being rubbed against the bones, which tends to pinch the nerves which must share the same thin conduit into the hand (the carpal tunnel).
Should you experience numbness or tingling in the hands or arms, burning joints, or sore tendons, get off the keyboard and go see a doctor, as those are the first warning signs.
Advanced carpal tunnel can sometimes be corrected with surgery, but there are people who will suffer from it the
rest of their lives. Don't let it happen to you.
We know it protects the earth
from ultra violet
radiation, but it is also one of the by-products of laser printer
technology. It is also a poison to most life forms
. Fortunately, the ozone layer
around the Earth is several miles above the surface.
All laser printers comes standard with an ozone filter. However, it is still possible for such items to malfunction, releasing poisonous gas.
If your printer is displaying a code which means the ozone filter is malfunctioning, heed it! Change the filter!
...the (usually) black dust used in laser printer
s to form the print image.
Toner dust has been classified by the FDA a class-A carcinogen. Because of this, care should be taken in the installation, removal, and disposal of print toner cartridges:
- Be careful
not to get it on your hands or skin
- Wash your hands when you are done
- Take all possible steps to avoid breathing it
Toner is so fine that it easily becomes airborne. Before changing a toner cartridge, you may want to don a dust mask.
They only cost a few bucks, can be used over and over, and, gee-whiz, aren't your lungs worth it?