Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 113 / OCTOBER 1989 / PAGE 32


Discover Your Computer Personality

Heidi E. H. Aycock

Forget about how user-friendly your computer is. How computer-friendly are you? Take this quiz and find out.

All of us have an alter ego, a secret identity. It's called the computer personality. You leave your computer on whenever you're home, but your neighbor shudders at the thought of turning on his printer. You have a five-command DOS vocabulary, but your 12-year-old daughter is already hardcoding EEPROMs.

There's no trick to using computers. There's no secret code, no special password. Experience, curiosity, and a little confidence are all you need to get closer to your silicon sidekick.

Find out where you stand in relation to your computer. Are you an 8088 double-floppy fidget fingers or an 1486 32-bit bus burner? Maybe you fall somewhere in between. COMPUTE!'s home computing test can help you find your place, Some of our questions deal with how you use your computer; others refer to what you know about your machine.

For each question, pick the best response for you. Then, check out the scoring section. When you've finished there, you can explore our many suggestions that tell you how to move from your level to the next.

Hang on to this quiz. A few months from now, you can look at it again and see how much you've advanced. You'll be surprised at your progress.

I'm OK. You're OK. My Computer's OK.

How Do You and Your Computer Get Along?

  1. How many times do you turn on your computer during the day?
    1. I turned it on once, panicked, then shoved it into the attic.
    2. A few hours, a few days per week.
    3. If I'm home, my computer's on.
    4. The last time my computer was off was during a blackout.
  2. What programs do you use?
    1. A word processor and some games.
    2. A word processor, some other productivity packages, some games, a graphics package, a memory-resident calendar, and a DOS shell.
    3. All of the above plus a hard disk backup program, a memory manager, and a telecommunications program.
    4. Modula 2. Turbo C, or some other high-level programming language, and a debugger.
  3. Do you read software manuals?
    1. I read them all the way through before I try a new program. I keep it in my lap the whole time.
    2. I use them to install programs. I check the table of contents for new concepts and read about the unfamiliar ones. Then I dive in, using the index when I need help.
    3. Unless I'm stuck, I ignore manuals.
    4. I don't look at manuals except to find out how to declare a data type.
  4. How do you deal with problems? For example, if you issue a print command and nothing happens, what do you do?
    1. I issue the command again. If it doesn't work, I issue it again and again and again. I've replaced my return key four times this year.
    2. I issue the command again. If it doesn't work, I start reading the manual.
    3. I save my file; then I check the power switch, the online light, and the paper supply, If everything's in order and I still don't have a printout, and I can't find the answer in my manual, I call tech support.
    4. I save my file, check the switches, lights, and paper. Then I grab my tool kit and my printer specifications. The doctor is in.
  5. Your four-year-old son just hit the delete key and erased the entire directory of files. What do you do?
    1. Not notice because I've never figured out what a directory is.
    2. Pull out my backup floppy disks and copy their contents back onto my hard disk.
    3. Boot up my trusty Norton Utilities and rescue the lost files.
    4. Use the DEBUG command to reconstruct the RAM contents, and use EDLIN to write my own data-recovery program.
  6. How well can you use DOS?
    1. What's DOS?
    2. I can get a directory, start a program running, and copy files.
    3. I use it when my DOS shell doesn't provide the tools I need.
    4. DOS! I don't need no stinking DOS. I've got machine language.
  7. How many computers do you own?
    1. One.
    2. One, but I wish I had more.
    3. More than one. An MS-DOS machine for serious work, a laptop for working on the road, and an old 8-bit whose CPU I know well.
    4. More than one. I use PC clones or Macs because they're so common, Amigas or STs because they're so beautiful, and Commodores. Apples, or Atari 8-bits because they're so simple.
  8. How do you back up your data?
    1. I don't.
    2. On a regular basis, I copy all my files to a reserved set of floppy disks.
    3. I use a commercial backup utility.
    4. I use my own, home-brewed back­up utility.
  9. Can kids use computers?
    1. No; computers are too complex.
    2. Yes; anyone can use a computer.
    3. No; kids are too complex.
    4. Yes; I'm a kid.
  10. What do you call your computer?
    1. Sir.
    2. Pal.
    3. HAL.
    4. I don't call it, it calls me—master.
  11. In the Know

    How Well Do You Know Your Computer?

  12. What's DOS?
    1. I don't know DOS, but I'm taking a tai chi class.
    2. An acronym for Disk Operating System.
    3. A list of computer commands that catalog programs.
    4. A chip Inside my computer.


In this article, we've explored several avenues that lead to the top of the computer-expertise ladder. But the list goes on. Everywhere you look, there's a way to get more involved with your computer.

Take classes at your local community college. Some computer-consulting firms offer courses, too. You can study microcomputers generally, delve into a new software package, or (go ahead, take the plunge) learn to program.

If you're an experienced computer user, take off in a new direction—artificial intelligence or robotics, for example. If you're an Amateur or a Rookie, take up desktop publishing or tax programs.

Amateurs and Rookies can tune in to "Computer Chronicles," a PBS series about information technology. Also, if you're ever in Boston, the Computer Museum presents a fine computer retrospective as well as a look into the future.

PC Pros and All-Stars can volunteer their time to a local service organization. Most groups need people to keep records, manage finances, produce literature, and so on You could provide this help with your computer skills. At the same time, you would add to your own experience and broaden your perspective After all, that's what computing is all about; expanding your personal horizons through the use of technology.

  1. What's an AUTOEXEC.BAT file?
    1. A set of startup instructions performed by DOS each time I boot.
    2. A DOS file of business contacts.
    3. A set of configurations for my memory and hardware ports.
    4. A set of rules for writing PC programs.
  2. What's the difference between CGA, EGA, and VGA?
    1. Each works on a different brand of computer
    2. The number of video ports required.
    3. One's the Cruddy Graphics Adapter; one's the Expensive Graphics Adapter; and one's the easy-to-install Velcro Graphics Adapter.
    4. The number of colors available, graphics resolution, speed, and price,
  3. Can you share word processing files with friends who don't use the same software as you?
    1. Yes, as long as the files were created on a PC compatible.
    2. Yes, as long as I can save files in ASCII format or in another format compatible with my friends' word processors.
    3. No. My files only work on my computer.
    4. No. My files only work with my word processor.
  4. What's a macro?
    1. A keyboard vacuum cleaner.
    2. A set of standards for video display.
    3. A set of instructions activated by one keystroke.
    4. A computer model of an edible fish.
  5. What's the difference between an XT, an AT, and a 386 computer?
    1. The microprocessing chip.
    2. The keyboard.
    3. Whether or not there's a mouse.
    4. How many colors the monitor displays.
  6. What's a DOS shell?
    1. A program that saves electricity.
    2. An interface that provides the power of DOS without the complexity of the A prompt.
    3. A printer driver for color output.
    4. A video standard for animation.
  7. What's the best way to keep a power outage from destroying your data?
    1. Save your work every 15–20 minutes.
    2. Say a prayer before you turn on your computer.
    3. Keep the Caps Lock key down while you work.
    4. Plug your computer into a power strip.
  8. What are TSRs?
    1. TSRs are printers that take some risks, meaning they're harder to use but give sharper output.
    2. TSRs are games that turn some radical, meaning they instill left-wing sympathies in players.
    3. TSRs are tape system regulators, meaning they manage backup tape-drive systems.
    4. TSRs are programs that terminate, but stay resident, meaning they hang out in RAM, but they surrender control to DOS until summoned by a certain keystroke combination.
  9. What's the difference between conventional, expanded, and extended memory?
    1. Conventional memory is the 640K of RAM that DOS can access, expanded memory is bank-switched memory, and extended memory is available only with ATs and 386 machines.
    2. Conventional memory stores common commands, expanded memory stores unusual commands, and extended memory stores user-defined commands.
    3. Conventional memory stores information in groups, expanded memory stores information in large pieces, and extended memory stores information in long strips.
    4. Conventional memory is stored in RAM, expanded memory is stored in ROM, and extended memory is stored on disk.

Settling the Score

In the first section, "I'm OK. You're OK. My Computer's OK," there are no right or wrong answers. Your responses simply show how comfortable you are with your computer, how often you use it, and how adventurous you are.

  • For every A you chose, give yourself two points.
  • For every B, give yourself four points.
  • For every C, give yourself six points.
  • For every D, give yourself eight points.

For every question in the test's second section, "In the Know," there's only one right answer among the four choices. For every correct response, give yourself five points.

11. B: On PC compatibles, the disk operating system is known as MS-DOS or PC-DOS. It acts as a translator between hardware and software.

12. A: A batch file is a series of MS-DOS commands that is executed when you type the batch file's name and then press the Enter key. An AUTOEXEC.BAT file is a special kind of batch file because it's exe­cuted when you boot the machine.

13. D: CGA (Color Graphics Adapter) boards provide the lowest-quality color graphics on an MS-DOS computer, but they're cheaper than EGA (Enhanced Graphics Adapter) and VGA (Video Graphics Array) boards.

14. B: ASCII is a common code used for text files when they're shared between different programs or micro­computers. It doesn't retain special formats like columns and italics, but it gets the job done.

15. C: Macros are most useful for repetitive tasks that can be generalized enough to work in many files.


Contact with the Outside World

If you haven't yet stepped into the world of telecommunications, try connecting with a BBS or a communications service.

BBSs are electronic bulletin boards, forums for people with common interests. Using your computer and a modem, you can link up with other people who share your fascination with Brazilian mythology or stamp collecting or British mystery writers—whatever you're Interested in. There are around 5000 BBSs in the United States.

Whether you're an Amateur or an All-Star, you can learn a lot from the other people who are logged on. If you're really confident with your computer skills—listen up Pros and All-Stars—you can start your own bulletin board with an old computer.

For a directory of BBSs, try the 1989 BBS Bible from Bubeck Publishing, Box 104, Collegeville, Pennsylvania 19426; (215) 287-6356. For information on starting your own BBS, hook up with a sysop (system operator) on an established board and ask questions.

Besides BBSs, there are several communications services: CompuServe: The Source, GEnie, PC-Link, and Prodigy. Each service has several forums about computers, as well as online groups that discuss noncomputer subjects. If you're a Pro or an All-Star, you can be a valuable resource for people who bring questions to these forums. If you're an Amateur or a Rookie, these forums offer valuable tips. A good BBS is also the place to find public domain software and shareware.

For a book about these services, try Guide to Commercial Telecommunications Services, by Jeffrey Hsu. Contact Prentice Hall Computer Books, Simon & Schuster Reference Division, One Gulf + Western Plaza, New York, New York 10023; (212) 373-8140.

16. A: An XT has an 8088 chip, an AT has an 80286 chip, and a 386 machine has—you guessed it—a 80386 chip. The chip dictates how fast a computer can process information. Among these three, the XT is the slowest and the 386 is the fastest.

17. B: DOS shells are designed for people who don't like the traditional DOS interface. You have access to DOS commands but information is presented in a friendlier way.

18. A: If the power goes out and you've saved your work every 20 minutes, at worst you'll have to reconstruct only 20 minutes worth of work.

19. D: TSRs are designed for convenience. With a keystroke, you can call up an address book, a thesaurus, or some other nifty program. Although they add power to your computer, they also eat up RAM.

20. A: Conventional, expanded, and extended memory are all types of RAM, dynamic memory that temporarily stores information while your computer is on.

Find Yourself

If you scored 0–25 points, you earn the rank of PC Amateur.

An Amateur presses the return key with great trepidation, convinced that one of the computer's function keys engages the self-destruct sequence. To the Amateur, DOS is a dark and loathsome beast, lurking somewhere in the computer's housing. Manuals are cryptic riddles and RAM chips are rune stones.

To graduate from Amateur status, you have to experiment. Create disposable files. Try to destroy them. Try to lose them. Save changes that you've made one time and don't save changes the next. As long as you don't use a hammer or a bucket of water, you won't do any permanent damage to the computer.

Learn to view DOS as a file manager, not as some evil force to be reckoned with. Learn the difference between software and hardware, operating systems and applications, the A drive and the C drive. When you stop to consider what a manual's instructions mean, instead of just following its orders, you're ready to move on to Rookie status.


PC Amateur books (See "Resources" on page 66)

Online tutorials (See "Resources" on page 66)

Computer classes (See the sidebar on page 33)

User groups (See "Resources" on page 66)

Computer-oriented television shows (See the sidebar on page 33)

If you scored 26–85 points, you qualify as a PC Rookie.

You know where to look for information. You know how to boot up new software. You know what to check when your printer doesn't work. In short, you understand your computer, even if you don't feel particularly secure with other systems and other software.

Moving up from PC Rookie status requires a deeper understanding of all computers and all software. If you have a favorite word processor, try a new one and see how the commands parallel each other. If you and your friends have computer questions, try to find the answers together, rather than asking a more experienced user. Find out which PC configuration is best suited for the kind of work you do. Learn to customize your system with AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files.

If you remain forever in the PC Rookie stage, you'll be OK. But you'll find computers can be more fun and more helpful if you increase your knowledge of them.


PC Rookie books (See "Resources" on page 66)

Experimentation with new applications and utilities (See the sidebar on page 33)

Classes on specific applications (See the sidebar on page 33)

User groups (See "Resources" on page 66)

If you scored 86–114 points, you qualify as a PC Pro.

You understand the whole system, and you can usually sit down at any computer and make it whir and hum—from PCs to Macintoshes to Suns to NeXTs. You're a good resource for the less-experienced users. To you, the computer is a helper, happily exploited.

To be a PC Pro is to reside in computer Nirvana. You're seldom lost or confused, novices look to you for guidance, the boss thinks you're on the fast track. However, there's always more you could learn.


Read reference books (See "Resources" on page 66)

Take a leadership role in a user group (See "Resources" on page 66) Join a special interest group (SIG) in a user group (See "Resources" on page 66)

Volunteer your computer skills to a service organization (See the sidebar on page 33)

Log on to a bulletin board for advanced users (See the sidebar on page 36)

If you scored 114–130 points, you qualify as a PC All-Star.

Unless you live near a research facility, you may never have seen a PC All-Star in person. They go from their computers at work to their computers at home, quick as bits through a bus. Their pasty white complexions belie their comments about their latest picnic in the park or their tennis game. While the rest of us are living, the PC All-Star is hacking away in a basement lab.

We need our All-Stars. They write the software that we use. They design the research tools we use to fight disease. They work with raw numbers that would devour even the most confident PC Pro.

But listen up, All-Stars: Computing isn't everything. If you spend more time with your computer than with anything else, develop some new interests. Find a team sport. Donate some time to a children's group like Special Olympics or Girl Scouts. Shop at the mall, for crying out loud—you might find out who Tiffany is. Your computer needs human input, sure; but you need it even more.


Start a bulletin board for advanced users (See the sidebar on page 36) Become a guide for new members of a user group

Try a new operating system

Try a new language

Take up neural networks as a hobby