Ever wonder how a click of a mouse or a push of a button triggers an event? It all comes down to 0s and 1s, or more precisely, bits and bytes.
Simply put, 1 means on and 0 means off. And is all based upon the ‘1’ representing a detection of current through the chip and ‘0’ meaning that the current is turned off.
A combination of these ‘bits’ construct a word or instruction that the computer will read and act upon. For example, the letter ‘A’ is represented by the bit combination of zeros and ones as shown here: 01000001. The letter ‘B’ is represented by 01000010 and ‘C’ as 01000011, and so on. Notice that these bit combinations are presented as 8 bits each, called bytes and the combination of these bytes is how words and instructions are created, called Binary Code. A full list of codes can be found in a listing called the ASCII (Askee) table and for programmers who use HTML character code table (see What is HTML), it would look like this.
Going further, this instruction: ‘01010000 01010010 01001001 01001110 01010100’ translates to the word P R I N T‘’, but ‘print’ is hardly enough to tell a computer what to do. It needs to know what to print and to where. As you can imagine, the binary code can get very extensive and sophisticated. Following would be the compete command (in English): “PRINT (from network printer) H50 Laser Jet (the document) ‘How to Raise a Dog.docx‘”.
One can only imagine code that instructs a computer to search the digital book ‘The Biography of Albert Einstein’ for the words ‘light years’ and then display a report of each page it is on, as well as how many times it is listed on that page. A more realistic instruction set would be to load Microsoft Word, write a 10 page document with automatic spell check. Besides the code that’s needed to process the loading of MS Word in memory, it has process every character (byte) and load them into memory, then read each word and adjust for proper spelling, if needed.
Electronically, this amounts to enabling transistors on the motherboard to trigger an ‘On’ state or stay in an ‘Off’ state. Transistors react to these bits via an electronic current that either is flowing through when it sees a (‘1’ On), allowing the device (or part of a device) to turn on, or current that is halted when the transistor sees a ‘0’ in a bit, reflecting an off state.
The concept of bits and bytes is universal and goes beyond PC or laptop computer instructions. It is used in every electronic device that exists in the world, from cell phones to TVs to jet planes. Of course the sophistication of how the instructions are laid out for these devices are beyond the scope of this article, the concept is the same. No matter how complex, the instruction set for all electronic devices are presented through transistors or more precisely, thousands of transistors that can be on a circuit chip the size of a pencil eraser and designed to react to thousands or even millions of instructions in a second by just determining when current is flowing (1) or not (0).