People use computers to perform an amazing array of tasks: from conducting scientific experiments and creating movie special effects to communicating with people around the world. We're used to seeing computers on our desks at home, school or work but the first computer, the ENIAC in 1945, took up 1,000 square feet of floor space and used 160 kilowatts of electrical power. To find out more about computers, use the direct links on The Times Launchpoint Web site:

Prepared by the UC Irvine department of education

Level 1

Bill Nye Episode Guide: Computers: Did you know that in the time it takes a hummingbird to flap its wings just once, a computer can add 120,000 numbers? Find out how computers work through a fun exercise in which you change letters into code.

Dissect a Disk: Find Out What's Inside a Floppy Disk: The magnetic disk inside a floppy disk is made of the same materials as audio tapes and videotapes: plastic with a coating of iron oxide. See for yourself where computer disks store information.

Scooter Computer and Mr. Chips: Computers have their own language that converts information into a code made up of zeros and ones. Sing along with Mr. Chips as you find out what computer hardware and software are and what they can do. OR

Level 2

Computer Dictionary: There's no need to be a newbie! Whether you're wondering about artificial intelligence or virtual memory, get your computer questions answered with this colorful, illustrated dictionary.

Computer Museum of America: Trace the evolution of computing through this illustrated slide show. Find out about the first "adding machine"--the abacus invented in 5th century B.C.--all the way to John von Neumann's invention, the EDVAC (Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer), which in 1946 was the first computer to use a program stored wholly in its memory.

The Computer Museum: In 1945, Navy admiral and computer pioneer Grace Hopper reported the first actual computer "bug"--a moth stuck inside a Harvard Mark 22. Explore milestones in the history of computers through archival photos and an interactive timeline.

Level 3

Microsoft Encarta: Computer: Computers store information in units called binary digits or "bits." Eight bits equals a byte, which is equivalent to one letter of the alphabet. Find out more about computers and how they work. default.asp?vs=x97&la;=na&ty;=1&vo;=18&ti;=02d6c 000&pq;=incomputer

Welcome to the Triumph of the Nerds: Read how computer nerds like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs shaped the history of personal computers.

Computer Literacy: The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the "brain" of the computer. Get to know computers better through this series of lessons on computer hardware and software basics, including what features make a good computer.

Launch Point is produced by the UC Irvine department of education, which reviews each site for a ppropriateness and quality. Even so, parents should supervise their children's use of the Internet. This week's column was designed by Anna Manring and Larry MacPhee.

EXPLORER'S QUEST: What is the difference between RAM and ROM?

The answer to this Internet quiz can be found in the sites at right.

CLUE: See Computer Dictionary

Find What You Need to Know: Have a project on California history? Need help doing a math problem? Launch Point now covers more than 50 topics for getting your schoolwork done. Go to for the full list of subjects and direct links to the best Internet sites.

Answer to last week's Quest: Sequoyah

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