12 Computer Facts That Are Not True
Did you know? At midnight on March 31st, the Internet will be temporarily shut down for the annual Spring Cyber Cleaning? Read on to get the scoop on this, Abraham Lincoln's opinion on fake news, and other dubious “facts” about computers and the Internet...
“Fake Facts” About Computers and the Internet
Back in 1864, Abraham Lincoln wisely said "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet." (Or did he?) Today's article reviews some dubious, but widely believed claims about computers and the Internet. Some of these "facts" are not true at all, while others are part truth and part fiction. Let's look at some of my favorites...
FACT? -- In 1999, Al Gore claimed that he invented the Internet.
In March 1999, Al Gore was interviewed on CNN and famously said: “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.”
Gore was an early proponent of legislation to expand the capabilities of the Internet. He promoted the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, which provided funds to accelerate the growth of the Internet. But the Internet was officially launched in 1983, and was the outgrowth of the ARPANET project, which began in 1969. Gore also popularized the phrase “information superhighway” but his remark, whether self-aggrandizing or just a poor choice of words, resulted in widespread derision (and memes).
FACT? – The Internet is a series of tubes.
In June 2006, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska opined that "the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes." This (unintentional?) metaphorical elucidation has been even more widely ridiculed than Gore’s hyberbolic declaration, particularly because Stevens was in charge of the Senate committee responsible for regulating the Internet. So of course the Internet responded with a funny video mocking the Senator.
Interestingly, a 2011 article in the Washington Post (sort of) vindicated Senator Stevens’ “series of tubes” assertion. “Stevens was kind of right,” the article says. “The physical structure that gets Internet data from one point to another is, in fact, a bunch of tubes, or submarine cables.” More than a half-million miles of three-inch thick submarine cables criss-cross the globe, carrying a large percentage of Internet traffic.
FACT? – The QWERTY keyboard was invented to reduce the typing speed of users.
According to an article in Smithsonian Magazine which delves into the history of typewriters, it was just the opposite. The first typewriters had the keys arranged alphabetically, which resulted in kays jamming and too much “hunt and peck” when typing a message. The QWERTY layout was designed to prevent jamming, and speed up typing by placing commonly used keys near each other.
Some proponents of the alternate DVORAK keyboard claim it offers faster typing speeds. But in this piece from The Debunker, Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings says “most of the early claims for Dvorak efficiency were overblown or spread by Dr. Dvorak himself, or both.” And further, "The best-documented experiments as well as recent ergonomic studies suggest little or no advantage for the Dvorak keyboard." Your mileage (and typing speed) may vary.
FACT? – The internet was designed to withstand a nuclear disaster.
Not so much. Robert Taylor, head of the ARPANET program (forerunner of the Internet) in the late 1960s, says "The creation of the Arpanet was not motivated by considerations of war." Rather, the goal was to allow mainframe computers with different operating systems to communicate over a network.
It is true, however, that in the early 1960s some folks were thinking about ways to communicate in the event that a nuclear attack damaged the centralized switching facilities of the existing telephone network. Paul Baran, working at the RAND Corporation, devised a distributed network that could operate even if some of the switching nodes were destroyed. Baran and Donald Davies independently devised a “packet switching” system in which a message is broken into chunks and sent along a network that determines the best route to its destination, avoiding damaged nodes. This technology was eventually adopted by the Internet developers, but it wasn’t the driving force for its creation.
FACT? – You can visit a website on the World Wide Web.
It's true that from the comfort of your home, you can access information stored in far-flung corners of the globe. But the commonly used terms "visit a website" and "website visitor" are misleading. Your web browser creates the illusion that you are interacting directly with a website in Switerzerland, Spain or Singapore, but the underlying technology is more like the postal system. Your computer sends a request for the content of a page on a remote server, which is passed through numerous relays. When your request is received by the remote server, it fetches the web page, and sends the contents back to you, possibly through a different pathway. The impression of a persistent connection with a website -- the feeling that you are "there" -- is beautiful software magic.
FACT? – The term "Wi-Fi" is an acronym.
Actually, Wi-Fi doesn’t stand for "Wireless Fidelity", or anything for that matter. The original name of this technology was "IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence" but that's a geeky mouthful. A marketing agency was hired to come up with a catchy name, and "Wi-Fi" was chosen because it rhymed with Hi-Fi (high fidelity) and was much easier to remember.
FACT? – When you delete files from your hard drive, they’re gone.
Not true. Deleted files are really just hidden from view, but they’re still on your drive. Deleted files are moved into the Recycle or Trash bucket, and can usually be restored to their original folders with a few clicks. Even files that are removed from the Windows Recycle Bin or your Mac’s Trash Can will persist on disk until another file over-writes the space it occupied.
If you delete a file by mistake, don't worry. There are several free tools that will help you recover deleted files. See my article on How To Recover Deleted Files.
FACT? – You should fully drain your smartphone or laptop battery before recharging it.
Back in the days of nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) and nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries, this was good advice. Those batteries had “memories” and if recharged before fully discharged, they might not recharge to 100 percent. But modern lithium-ion batteries used in mobile devices can be recharged whenever convenient, and do not benefit from a full charge/discharge cycle. Chances are you’re not still using a 20-year-old laptop or a circa-1998 Nokia 5110 cell phone with a Ni-Cd or NiMH battery.
FACT? – Cellphones Cause Cancer
Cellphones do emit radio frequency energy, which is a form of radiation. And in the early 2000s, there was concern that prolonged exposure to this energy could cause brain cancer and other types of cancer.
But according to the 2008-2009 Annual Report of the President’s Cancer Panel, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk,” “there is no evidence to support a link between cellphone use and cancer.” People are using their cell phones much more than they were 10 or 20 years ago, but the number of brain cancer cases has dropped by nearly half since the 1990s. This article on the American Cancer Society website reviews numerous studies on the subject of cell phones and cancer.
FACT? – Pressing your brower’s Refresh button refreshes a page you’re viewing.
The best answer here is “sometimes.” What happens when you press the Refresh button or Ctrl+R depends on certain settings in your browser, and the web server of the website you’re visiting.
Caching is often used to improve performance, and eliminate unnecessary network requests. Your browser may store a local (cached) copy of the text, images, scripts, and CSS stylesheets that make up a web page. The caching settings control whether or not a new copy of those elements is fetched from the server when you hit the Refresh button. But you can force a complete page refresh by the pressing Ctrl+F5 (on Windows) or hold down the Shift key and click the Refresh button (on Windows or Mac).
FACT? – You should shut down your computer every night.
Not necessary, unless you want to save a tiny bit on your electric bill. My computers run 24/7 for months or years without being turned off. In my opinion, the only good reason for a reboot would be a power outage, or a software glitch that causes the Blue Screen of Death.
If you’re worried that hackers will sneak into your computer at night, don’t. Keep your software up to date and use a good anti-malware tool. Some argue that power cycling a computer is actually worse, because it creates unnecessary stress on the hard disks.
FACT? – Internet Spring Cleaning takes place on March 31st.
Of course, that thing about the annual Spring Cleaning of the Internet on March 31st is totally fake. They do that on April 1st.
Do you know a “fact that’s not true” that I didn’t cover here? Post your comment below!
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 1 Mar 2023
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- 12 Computer Facts That Are Not True (Posted: 1 Mar 2023)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved