What is a Computer Bit and How Does it Work?

Man working on multi computers
Photo by CDC-Pexels

What Makes Computers Tick?

When you think of computing, you may have images of whizzing processors or geeks typing on screens. But did you ever wonder how all these devices actually work? If so, keep reading. As technology continues to advance and computer literacy becomes more important than ever, we are going to break down what makes computers tick!

Electricity is the Common Demonator

Set of realistic vector hands pressing light switches
You turn on a switch and you are allowing current to flow. That is represented by a ‘1’ in  computer language called Binary Code. You press Off and you cut out the electric current from flowing and the is represented by a ‘0’. Photo iStock.

You flick a switch and a light bulb turns on. You flick the switch again and the blub turns off. If I were to tell you that computers run on this simple principle, would you believe me?   Well, believe you should because that’s all there is. Simply refer to a bulb that is lit as the number ‘1’ and when it is off, refer to it as a ‘0’. In other words, the values ‘0’ and ‘1’ are based on whether electricity, more popularly referred to as current, is flowing is represented by ‘1’ or current is not flowing, represented by ‘0’.

So I Should Call Them Ones and Zeros?

Not exactly. These two values are known as bits. So whatever you are doing on the computer; such as reading this article, you are actually reading a long list of bits that the computer sees and then translates into words. 

Of course, it is a bit (pun intended) more detailed than that. Not complex though, just a bit more to absorb, starting with the fact that when I mentioned “reading a long list of bits”, we have to translate these “long lists” into an organized pattern that the computer can read and understand how to translate them into something we humans will understand.

I’ll Byte!

Seamless pattern with abstract binary code, digital matrix background
4 rows of 8 bits = 4 rows of bytes. Photo: iStock

If you align eight bits in a row where some are set to ‘1’ and others are set to ‘0’, you have created what is referred to as a byte. It’s an arrangement that has a particular meaning to the computer.

A byte can be any letter or number from A-Z, 0-9 respectively. It can also store special characters, For example, binary code 00001101 is equal to 13 in decimal form. The alphabetic character “M” is similar in bit arrangement, but with one bit (pun intended again) of a difference, and that is it has an extra ‘on’ bit – 01001100. 

If you were to type the letter ‘R” on your screen, it would involve a different combination of eight bits. In this case, for the letter ‘R, the sequence would be 01000010, and the letter ‘S’ would be 01000011, and so on. 

Let’s backtrack and look at how these bits equate to their electrical equivalent. For our ‘M’ example above, which has the bit arrangement of 01001100, that would equal the following combination of electrical current that is, in this exact sequence: off, on, off, off, on, on, off, off.

This is based on a table called ASCII (As Key), which displays the eight bits (bytes), in ascending sequence, where each byte equates to a letter or number.  

What the particular instruction would be is dependent upon the arrangement of the 1s and 0s. If you are thinking this seems like some type of code, it is and is called binary code.

Understanding how computers use bits and bytes can help you understand how they process everything from the simplest math problems to streaming video or playing games online. Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating topic!

Why are Bits Important?

The bits that make up your data are vital to how your computer operates. Bits determine whether a file is an image, spreadsheet, movie, or audio file; they tell your computer what to do with the information in that file. Converting information into digital form is called encoding; the process of converting it back into its original state is called decoding. Encoding and decoding both involve assigning values to different pieces of information so that a computer can store and process it appropriately.

For example, let’s say you have a picture that you want to save on your computer. The picture will be broken down into individual pixels and assigned an identifying number. This number will represent the color of each pixel (e.g., red, blue, or green). Thus, encoding this picture involves assigning numbers to each piece of information in it—in this case, the colors of each pixel in the photo.

Decoding would work the same way it would give a pixel its original identifying number so that it could once again be identified as a specific color; thus allowing you to see the photo as intended by its creator!

Bits in Programming

When you’re programming a computer, you use bytes to represent information. For example, when the programmer asks the computer to calculate 5+5, it translates this into binary. “0001 0010 0101” So in binary, 5+5 is “0110 0100 0101” (This is called a binary addition). These two numbers are added together and the answer of 10 is sent back. And that’s how bits work!

Summing Up

A computer bit is the smallest unit of information that a computer can read. When you align eight bits in a row, it is called a byte and each byte represents a letter, number, or special character, which is defined by the arrangement of the bits in the byte.

The translation of each byte can be found in the ASCII table. Bits are used to process everything from the simplest math problems to streaming video or playing games online.

What are Semiconductors and How Do They Work?

Close up photo of a motherboard
Semiconductor Computer Chips. Photo by CristianIS https://pixabay.com/users/CristianIS-2094012/ on Pixabay

Overview

This is where we describe the device that controls the flow of electricity inside the semiconductor so that the bit patterns (bytes) can become the language that the computer will translate into human literacy, or in layman’s terms, translate from bytes to English characters, numbers, and special characters.

Driving the Current

You might say electricity hates semiconductors because current can only travel through them when you tell it to, or more specifically when you turn a switch on or off. It is similar to driving a car. You can’t drive down the road and not think there will be any obstacles such as a red light to stop you.

A good example is to picture your car as the current and the road as the semiconductor. Now imagine a light bulb at the end of the road. If the current (your car) continues to travel down the road without hitting a stop light, you will reach the bulb, and voila! You (the current) reached the bulb and lit it up.

Car on road with arrow pointing to light bulb
Photo by SS. Light bulb Pixaby.

But what if there was a red light on the road? You must stop the car (stop the flow of current) and then there is no voila. The bulb will not light because no electricity was allowed to continue down the road to reach it.  

Another analogy is when you turn on a faucet to allow water to flow. When you are done, you turn it off and the water stops flowing, but you can also control the speed or force at which the water comes out. It is this force that can be equated to voltage when referring to electricity. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail. 

The Voltage Factor

So the flow of electricity that is controlled through the semiconductor is via the amount of voltage that is being used. If too little voltage is implemented, then no electrical current will flow through, but if you raise the voltage, it will trigger the semiconductor to open the gate and allow the current to flow through. In other words, voltage is the controlling factor in whether current will or will not flow through the conductor.

The Managing Device Within the Semiconductor

This control of whether current flows or doesn’t flow through a semiconductor has a name – transistor, which is nothing more than a switch to allow or disallow electricity to travel through it. The transistor will open when a specific amount of voltage (force) is used but will close when not enough voltage is used.

Before semiconductors were introduced, transistors were controlled by vacuum tubes. They were large, bulky devices, but they worked the same way as today’s tiny transistors do. You may recall seeing old photos of large rooms filled with vacuum tubes. That’s what it took to just make some simple calculations.Transistor size comparisons

Transistor Sizes as Compared Throughout the Decades. Top-Left is a vacuum tube that would represent one transistor., equating to one state of either on or off. The rightmost device is a semiconductor computer chip that can contain hundreds or even thousands of transistors with simultaneous on and off states. Photo vlabo from iStock

Today’s transistors are tiny and the hundreds, if not thousands of vacuum tubes that filled a room can now fit on a computer chip the size of your fingernail. These ‘chips’, sit on a board, called a motherboard that connects the circuits which allow the current to run along with it.

Computer Board
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán: https://www.pexels.com/photo/green-circuit-board-343457/

The transistor’s on and off states create logic that represents the basic building blocks of the decision making process; however, we don’t refer to this process as on or off. Instead, we represent it by numbers. ‘1’ represents ‘on’ and ‘0’ represents ‘off’, which in computer talk are called bits.

Our article on how bits and bytes work explains this in more detail. 

What are Semiconductors Made Of?

Transistors are made of silicon and germanium, an element typically found in sand. The physical characteristics of silicon and germanium can be perfect conductors to allow current to flow without much resistance, but can also be perfect insulators to stop any current from flowing, which makes it a truly superior mineral when you need to control electricity.

Summary

Transistors allow current to flow or not to flow through it. The material that the current resides in is silicon, which is used because its properties allow it to work well as a conductor but just as well as an insulator. Each on or off state is represented by a ‘1’ or ‘0’ and is called a bit. Eight bits make a byte, and it is the particular pattern of bits in each of the bytes that determines a certain instruction for the computer to follow.

What Would Space Aliens Really Look Like?

Illustration of an alien planet
Photo iStock

The Extraterrestrial Delima

Some say that we are the only intelligent life in the universe, but others would tend to differ, and if you include the calculations in our article Life in Outer Space, a Mathematical Approach, there is a good probability that they are correct.

Most probably, we are probably the only planet that has species that look exactly like us humans. The aliens would have to live under the exact same environmental conditions that exist on this planet. If there is just a .001% difference on their planet as there is no Earth, our alien friends could look much different.

That’s because all living things on Earth have physically adapted to this planet’s environment; such as adapting to the atmosphere, which is 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen, as well as adjusting to the planet’s range of temperatures and seasons. The result is that we are a species that consists of two ears, two eyes, two lungs, and a bunch of other organs that keep us alive through these earthly conditions.

So the chances are very high that there isn’t a planet exactly like Earth, but some exoplanets in the habitable zone might come pretty close. Instead of saying we may be the only intelligent life in outer space, it may be more prudent to say we may be the only intelligent life that looks like us in outer space.

An Exoplanet With a Slight Change

Illustration of an extraterrestrial
Photo iStock

Suppose that there is a planet revolving around a star 100 light-years from earth.  We’ll call this planet Exo, but on this body, there is a slight change in its atmosphere, namely, its oxygen level is 90 percent nitrogen and 10 percent oxygen. If we use earthlings as a reference, then the species that would evolve on this planet, Exo, would need larger lungs to compensate for the low oxygen level.

Now suppose that Exo is 20% further from its star than the Earth is from our sun (Earth is 93,000,000 miles away). That would mean that it would be 18.6 million miles further away from its star as compared to Earth’s proximity to the sun. Everything would be darker on Exo and cooler as well.

Our hypothetical species would require larger eyes than us to compensate for the lack of sunlight. Needless to say, their winters will be colder, so those living in a Siberian type of weather on Exo would possibly have thicker skin than their counterparts on the warmer side of the planet (warmer relative to that planet’s environment, not ours).

What About Gravity on Exo?

The amount of gravity would be determined by the size (mass) of the planet, so if Exo is 10% larger than Earth, then the creatures living there would probably have heavier and stronger legs. Their legs may bulge out more or they may be longer than what we humans would look like, or maybe they have three or four legs. Not a far thought since thousands of species on this planet also have four legs.

For a more in-depth look at how aliens may evolve, take a look at this video below.

Time is Everything

We have discussed how the physical characteristics of alien life might look on a habitable planet similar to life here on Earth. But what about their evolution process? Did it take the same amount of time for these aliens to evolve as we did? In other words, humanoid life on Earth has been estimated to start around 200 million years ago, but does that mean that creatures on other planets began their evolution process within the same time period as we did?

What Year is It?

We first have to take into account that a year on Exo would probably be different than our years. If Exo is 10% further away from its sun, then it will take longer for the planet to revolve around it, a 365-day revolution (if days are the same there) won’t work. We will estimate that it takes 400 Exo days for it to complete one of its years.

Are We the Most Intelligent of All Species in the Universe? Watch What You Say!

The above scenario is based upon a similar time period it would take for beings like us to evolve on a different planet. Chances are that this would not be the case.

What if Exo was formed 500 thousand years later than it did on Earth? Well, that would mean that they would have evolved only to what we could equate as neanderthals. Now that type of communication doesn’t look promising.

But what hat if Exo was formed 500 thousand years earlier than here on Earth?  That would mean that Exo’s inhabitants would have hundreds of thousands of years more time to evolve than we humans have on this planet.

If their evolution started that much earlier then we could conclude that they are mentally superior to us. If that is the case and they do (or some believe that they have already) come to Earth, will they be friendly?

We Come in Peace, Maybe.

Scientists are contemplating a new communication with ET via signals to be sent from huge telescopes here on Earth. It will be called the Beacon in the Galaxy and will contain mathematical,  physical, and biological representations of earthlings, as well as our location in the Milky Way galaxy. But if aliens do find this and they equate to the scenario of advancement over us, is this a smart move? Only time will tell!

Here’s Why Your Car Overheats

Before we begin, we need to note that if you have an electric vehicle (EV), this information will not apply, since EVs don’t have radiators and subsequently, cannot overheat, but if you do have a conventional gas car, the information supplied below can be very helpful so that you don’t get stuck with a radiator that overheats.

Overview

Woman looking at an overheated car
Photo: iStock

When it comes to nightmares for conventional car owners, engine overheating is probably on your list. If you want to avoid regular car repairs, proper maintenance is necessary, including keeping your vehicle’s radiator in tip-top shape.

However, before you do that, you need to understand why your car’s radiator can overheat. There are many different causes of engine overheating.

The following are the most common causes.

Your Car’s Radiator

Gas engines can get very hot. This is because energy is discharged as the spark plugs ignite causing the pistons to make their repetitive up and down motion.

To keep the heat energy from getting out of control, the engine block is constantly being cooled via engine coolant that circulates the engine. The coolant liquid that resides in the radiator helps reduce the heat within the engine, so it that it doesn’t overheat.

The radiator is one of the key components of the cooling system that is responsible for keeping your engine cool. It is an enclosed vented chamber containing channels for the fluid (normally water) that transfers heat from one location to another more efficiently than if there were no intermediary medium at all.

Radiators are most commonly used in automobiles with internal combustion engines, but they are also found in other applications such as air conditioning systems, industrial process cooling, and heating systems in homes.

Car Radiator
Car Radiator. Photo: iStock

Low Coolant 

But what if there is no coolant available?

Low or no coolant in the radiator is the leading cause of engine overheating; therefore, it is vitality important that you regularly check your coolant and fill it up if it’s low. Moreover, this is especially important in the summer. 

Poorly Working Electric Fan

Apart from a low coolant level, another thing that often causes engine overheating is a defective electric fan. At times, your fan will burn and will stop working. Therefore, you must regularly check whether the fan motor of your car is working.

Broken Fan Belt

Your car will overheat if its fan belt is broken. Usually, a fan belt is found in older cars, and fixing it is easy. Also, by looking at the engine, you can easily tell whether or not you have a broken fan belt.

Leaky Water Pump

Look beneath the car when you stop it in case your vehicle continues to overheat regardless of what you do. You may have a water leak from the pump if you witness a significant amount of liquid beneath your car.

Check the coolant level in the radiator. If it is low on more than one occasion, it is most likely that you have a leaky water pump. To test this out, make sure your radiator is filled with coolant , and then take the car for a short rive. If your coolant keeps going low then you most likely have a water pump that is not functioning properly. If this is the case go to your repair shop as soon as possible and get it fixed. 

Blocked Radiator

If your car has over 50,000 miles, then there’s a good chance that the radiator is filled with gunk, preventing it from running properly. Solving this problem is easy. All you have to do is flush your radiator. If you flush your car’s radiator once a year, you will prevent it from getting blocked. Best to have your mechanic do this for you.

Thermostat That Does Not Open

At low speeds, thermostats do not need to come into play. However, once you push the accelerator, the thermostat must open to allow more coolant to flow through. If that does not happen then your car is likely to get overheated.

There you have it—why your car overheats. Regardless of what causes it, you must get an overheated engine fixed as soon as possible. 

Going to your local car repair shop is your best bet for doing it right.