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Old 10-07-1999
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Onboard Computer Care

Keeping your computer safe and in working condition is simply a matter of some common sense coupled with these suggestions.

Computer Terms

Here is a review of the common computer terms you will encounter.

  • application: A program that performs a specific task such as word processing or navigation
  • byte (B): A string of 8 binary digits (bits) operated as a basic unit by a computer. One byte = 8 bits. A byte holds the equivalent of a single character, such as the letter A.
  • cache: A special high-speed secondary memory used for fast data storage and retrieval
  • CD-ROM (Compact Disk-Read Only Memory): A device that plays or decodes information stored on a plastic disk (CD)
  • com port: A serial port. Most computers will have two ports labeled com 1 and com 2 where you connect the mouse, external modems, scanners, and instrument/GPS cables that feed the computer information.
  • CPU(Central Processor Unit): A computer's brain. CPU speed is measured in megahertz (MHz).
  • configuration: The way a computer is set up, including hardware components--CPU, RAM, video display device, keyboard and peripherals--that make up a computer system. It refers to software settings that allow components of a computer system to communicate with another.
  • disk: A mass-storage device for data or programs. It can be a hard disk that is a permanent, fixed module or floppy disks that are removable.
  • DOS(Disk Operating System): A single-user operating system from Microsoft for the PC.
  • drive: An electromechanical device that spins disks and tapes at a specified speed. It also refers to the entire peripheral unit such as disk drive or tape drive.
  • file: A named, formatted collection of information
  • file extension: The three-letter groups after a file name that identifies the type of file. Some common file extensions are: .exe, .doc. dat, .dll, .txt, .bat, .sys, .hlp and .tif.
  • G: Abbreviation for giga or multiply by one billion. 1 GB = 1,000,000,000 bytes
  • K: Abbreviation for kilo or multiply by one thousand. I KB = 1,000 bytes
  • M: Abbreviation for mega or multiply by one million. 1 MB = 1,000,000 bytes
  • memory: The computer's workspace (physically, a collection of RAM chips) that determines the size and number of programs that can run at the same time, as well as the amount of data that can be processed instantly
  • modem (MOdulator-DEModulator): A computer peripheral device that converts various forms of media data to a form that can be transmitted by telephone or radio to a distant computer
  • operating system: Software commands for a computer to execute program instructions and a user interface
  • parallel port: A computer port that transfers 8-data bits at a time in parallel and used for connecting a printer, portable disk or CD drive. The parallel port is a 25-pin, female DB-25 connector.
  • PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card Interconnect Adapter): Now called PC cards or PC card slots, a physical socket for credit-card-sized parallel interconnect devices used for modems, ports or drives
  • peripheral: Devices such as monitors, external modems and drives, or printers that work closely with the computer
  • program: A collection of instructions in programming language and converted into the computer's language that directs the computer
  • RAM (Random Access Memory): A group of memory chips that functionS as the computer's primary workspace. More RAM means more applications can be made instantly available to the user, with more processing workspace and less swapping of instructions and data back and forth from the disk.
  • ROM (Read Only Memory): A memory chip that permanently stores unalterable instructions and data, such as control routines in personal computers (ROM BIOS), peripheral controllers and other electronic equipment
  • serial port (see com port): Computers can access four serial ports but you can only use two at the same time. (This is the part that causes confusion and problems for computer users. Serial ports will be covered in detail in a future article.)

    - - J.S.

  • 1. Don't go near the water. Keep your computer from direct contact with water. Locate it away from frequently splashed areas and use a watertight storage case for notebooks. If you must use your computer topsides, consider a marinized system. There are several options available at various prices. While all boats are moist, moisture does not seem to harm computers. Notebooks run at a high temperature which helps to keep them dry. Hard drives are sealed and circuit boards can be sprayed with a moisture displacing solution. Since notebooks produce a lot of heat they should not be operated in a closed space. If the CPU overheats, the computer will lock up or shut down.

    2. Secure your computer. No notebook computer will perform well after its been dropped or tossed around the cabin during a storm. All notebook computers should be secured firmly with brackets or high tension Velcro to keep them attached to the nav table. Use some foam padding to protect from vibrations and jolts. Desktops should be securely mounted at the nav station or bridge. Use foam rubber or shock mounts to absorb vibrations and jolts.

    3. Give computers clean, reliable power. Some notebook computers come with 12 -volt direct connections, but we recommend that you not use them on your boat. They were designed for automobile charging systems that provide less noisy, more constant power than marine systems. We recommend that you use, instead, a small dedicated inverter to power your computer via its 110-volt charger. The inverter provides inexpensive protection from noise on your boat's12-volt system as well as a more efficient power conversion than a large house inverter. It will also work with a desktop system.

    4. Protect external metal connectors with a moisture displacer. Wipe away any salt or moisture on your connectors and spray them with a moisture displacer to keep them corrosion free. A waterproof sealant can be used for permanent connections.

    5. Keep your computer lean and mean. Avoid overloading it with silly or frivolous software. Some share-ware and free-ware is not totally Windows compliant and can screw up your operating system. Only load the software you need to operate your boat. If you use your computer for navigation and electronic charting, for the safety of your boat and crew, you must protect it from interference and crashes. Don't use a screen saver or wallpaper as they take up too much valuable computer resources. Every 7 to 14 days optimize your computer: Delete any TMP files, empty the wastebasket, and use Scan disk and Defrag. If you are unfamiliar with these procedures, don't worry as they are very easy to learn and you can't harm your computer by using them.

    6. Protect your software. Once you load the software onto your computer, put the disks in a safe place away from moisture, magnets, electrical systems and wires. If your computer crashes or the program gets damaged, you will need to reload the software. It's also very important to keep back-up copies of your software and your computers operating system.

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