Tech 101: A Glossary Of Tech Terms & Concepts

Here's a scenario we're all familiar with: You just heard about the new iPhone and want to know more, or read about the latest tablet, or check up on some laptop reviews. Your best bet is a trusted tech blog, like Engadget or CNET, but then you get there and your head explodes from all that JARGON. Teraflops, megabits, upstreams, down sampling; how's a fella supposed to figure any of this stuff out? I've got you covered.

Written in friendly, understandable, Regular-People-Speak, here is my exhaustive (and constantly updated) Glossary Of Tech Terms and Concepts:

1080P: Currently the highest quality, widely-available resolution for a display (your HDTV or computer screen); it uses 1,080 "lines" of resolution to display an image. Which is a lot of lines. Lines=good. See: Resolution.

3D Printing: Now we're getting into Star Trek territory-- 3D Printing involves using a special machine to "print" actual physical items, instead of ink on paper. Using an easily-manipulated substance like silicon, ceramic, wood, or rubber, and a computer-controlled laser or cutting device, a 3D printer will allow you to digitally input a design-- a coffee mug, for example-- and through the wizardry that is modern technology, it will mold, cut, or shave you an honest-to-goodness, working coffee mug. But that's not all it can "print:" toys, medical devices, computer chips, even prescription drugs are being manufactured cheaply and easily using 3D printing. The possibilities for this type of technology are staggering, and we've just begun to scratch the surface. Custom-designed, animatronic printed pets, anyone? Maybe in 2035. 

3G: A cellular voice and data network, operated by mobile phone companies and used by us. The term "3G" translates to "Third Generation," meaning that the network has been  upgraded significantly from previous-generation networks in terms of call quality, signal strength, and mobile Internet data speed. 3G networks are still the most common in the world, although the next-generation network, 4G, is already very popular in the U.S. and parts of Europe (see: 4G). Cellular data networks are how you're able to access the Internet and all the apps on your smartphone/tablet when you're away from your home Internet connection.

4G: Refers to mobile phone companies' "fourth-generation" cellular and data network. It employs different and better technology, like LTE for example, than 3G networks (see: LTE; 3G). The largest difference between it and 3G is the vastly-improved Internet connection speeds, which can rival the connection you have at home. There is, as of yet, no universal set of standards on what allows a company to label itself "4G."

4K: Translates to "4,000 lines of resolution." You're going to see this term start to crop up more and more in the next few years, because it will eventually replace our current standards of displaying pictures on flat-screen TVs. Right now, the best quality or resolution (see: Resolution) consumers have is called "1080p" (see: 1080p), which translates to "1,080 lines of resolution." The more lines used to display a picture, the higher the picture quality-- so 4K will be just about four times the current, best resolution we have. Think of it this way, if you can: the difference between a standard-definition television signal and a high-definition signal, will be the difference between a high-def signal and a 4K signal. If you can imagine. I can't. But it's going to be sweet.

AAC: A type of digital audio format; stands for "Advanced Audio Encoding." Apple uses this type for the songs in its music store. It was designed to be the successor to MP3 (see: MP3).

AirPlay: A service provided by Apple that allows most of their computers and mobile devices to play music and video wirelessly through a connected device, like an Apple TV (see: Apple TV), Receiver, television, or Speaker via Wi-Fi (see: Wi-Fi). For it to work, the connected device must specifically state that it has AirPlay capability.  

Android: Google's Operating System (see: Operating System) for a number of smartphones and Tablets. Since it is freely available for any company to license it for use in their devices, many different brands (Sony, Motorola, Samsung, HTC) use it.

Android Market: Google's smartphone/tablet app store; see: Android, App Store.

Antivirus: Software that, along with a good firewall (see: Firewall) helps protect your computer or other device from becoming infected with a computer virus (see: Virus). Good Anti-Virus software includes Kaspersky and Norton, among others.

App: Short for "Application." Basically it's another name for a Program, or a piece of software you work with on a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Microsoft Word is an app; so is Angry Birds. See: Software.

App Store: On online "marketplace" of sorts that gives you access to the downloadable apps (see: App) you use on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Actually, "App Store" is specific to Apple, but much like Kleenex the term has become so ubiquitous that most online app marketplaces are referred to as such. Sorry, Android Market.

Apple TV: No, this is not an Apple-branded flat-screen television; it's a tiny, black, Internet-connected box that hooks to your television. Once it's connected it provides access to Apple's iTunes library of movie, television and music content, as well as other entertainment providers like Netflix and YouTube. *Added bonus: If you have an iPhone or iPad as well, you can use AirPlay to view your phone or tablet's screen, apps and all, right on your high-definition TV. See: AirPlay.

Aspect Ratio: In reference to a digital display (HDTV or Computer Monitor), the aspect ratio describes the height and width of the screen. It's displayed as two numbers separated by a comma: 16:9, 4:3, etc. What you should know is that almost all modern HDTVs have an aspect ratio of 16:9, because that is the standard of how high-definition television is displayed. Standard-definition television, which was all we used to have until the mid-2000's, was (and still is) displayed with a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is why older televisions more closely resemble a square. Now it'll make sense when you try to watch a standard-definition channel on a 16:9 HDTV, and you see black bars on either side of the picture. It's just a different aspect ratio.

Augmented Reality: A general concept that involves overlapping digital information onto the real world, using some sort of transparent display or screen to do it. A good example would be Google's new "Project Glass" concept (here's a video of it in action): you put on what looks to be a pair of glasses, but instead of where lenses should be, there's a clear display that shows you
pertinent information (like what you would see on a smartphone display)-- while still being able to see the street in front of you. *For more on "Project Glass," please see my in-depth article on it here.

Benchmark: In the tech world a Benchmark is a standardized test, used to see how well a device performs on a given task. Benchmarks are used to run quality checks, but are also used to compare different devices for marketing or review purposes (read: bragging rights). It's usually about speed: how long it takes a computer to start up, or load a Web page, or access data on a hard drive. Here is a really great article from my favorite tech blog, Engadget, on benchmarks and why they're used.

Beta: In the tech world, Beta refers to something that is still in testing. It could be a piece of software, or a website, or even a device like a phone or computer, that isn't quite "ready for primetime." Many times a manufacturer (like Apple or Sony) will release a Beta version of a device, or software it's working on, to Software Developers (companies that produce programs to run on computers, tablets, etc.) so they can test it out. They then report back to the manufacturer on any kinks, or "bugs," that may still need work. This allows a company to refine and make many improvements to the product, and release a final version to the general public that truly is "ready for primetime."

Bluetooth: Another kind of wireless technology, like Wi-Fi (see: Wi-Fi); unlike Wi-Fi's main use of allowing Internet access, however, the primary purpose of Bluetooth is to allow different devices to connect and communicate with each other wirelessly. Examples include mobile headsets, speakerphones, portable stereo speakers, keyboards, and various fitness trackers.

Blu-Ray: Basically, it's the high-definition 1080p version of DVD (see: 1080p). Blu-Ray discs are purchased and placed into a Blu-Ray player, which is connected to an HDTV using (mainly) and HDMI cable (see: HDTV; HDMI). Trust me when I say that the picture quality is stunning. 

Buffering: When you stream video or audio over the Internet (see: Streaming), your computer or mobile device will download a small portion of it in advance (depending on the size of what you're watching, it could be a few seconds or five minutes) so the video or song doesn't stop playing halfway through. This way, you get to keep watching those old Law & Order episodes uninterrupted, without having to wait for the entire episode to download first.

Byte: You could call it the "atom" of the computer world; it's the basic unit of digital information. Historically, a Byte was the unit used to create a single character of text on a computer; it is also the most basic, single unit of data storage. See: Kilobyte, Megabyte, et al.; Hard Drive.

Cat5 Cable: See: Network Cable.

Chrome: This is the Internet browser (see: Internet Browser) made by software company and search giant Google. Like Firefox (see: Firefox), this is an alternative browser to the ones that come standard with most computers (see: Apple Safari, Internet Explorer). Chrome is the fastest-growing Internet browser in terms of new usage, and sets itself apart with page loading speed, customization options, and Google account integration (Gmail, Google+, Google Calendar). Like Firefox, it's available for both Mac and Windows computers, free to download and highly recommended. 

Cloud: A term used when referencing a service that is accessed or provided over the Internet. See: Cloud Computing, Cloud Storage.

Cloud Computing: Any number of services or processes that, instead of being handled by an onsite computer, like the one in front of you, are instead provided offsite and delivered to you over the Internet. Here's why this is amazing: Instead of a company having to spend vast sums of money on a bunch of computers and dedicated servers (see: Server) to run their operations (which also requires paying a bunch of people to set up and maintain all of it), the company can just pay a third party (the "Cloud Computing Company") to run all of those complicated operations, and send the results to them through the Internet. It's a great solution for data storage, high-level number crunching, sophisticated analysis of data, or even super-high quality video processing. 

Cloud Storage: The ability to keep your data (pictures, documents, movies, and information) stored in an "online hard drive," or an Internet-connected offsite storage facility. The benefits of storing your information this way include having access to it from anywhere in the world that has Internet access; eliminating the need to lug hard drives around with you, which can be cumbersome and create security issues; and having all of your important stuff backed up and secure in case there's a fire or flood or Apocalypse, and you lose your hard drives at home. Although to be fair, if there's an Apocalypse, your home movies and pictures of the family trip to Yellowstone might not exactly be a priority.

Coax: See: Coaxial Cable.

Coaxial Cable: Also known as "Coax," coaxial cable is a type of cable that carries your television and Internet signals, among other things. It's got high-quality copper on the inside of it, and typically connects using a screw-cap instead of a plug on the end. If you want to get real fancy about it, the term "coaxial" comes from the cable's inner conductor and outer shield sharing the same geometric axis, or "co-axial," for short.

Compression: For our purposes, compression is what is done to a digital image, audio, or video file to shrink the size of it. Those three types of file are particularly large especially when compared to, say, a document file; and the world needs to be able to send them and save them without breaking the storage bank-- hard drives are finite in size, after all. So, programs were created to essentially make the file size smaller without sacrificing too much of the original quality. Almost any type of digital image, audio, or video file that you view or listen to is compressed. See: JPEG, PNG, MP3, WMA, AAC.

Connected Device: Simply means an electronic device that has some sort of Internet connectivity. This can be a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other device with the ability to connect to a home or mobile Internet network.

Console: In the world of video games, a Console is a computer-grade piece of hardware (see: Hardware) dedicated exclusively to running video games. Examples include Microsoft's "Xbox," Sony's "PlayStation 3" (or "PS3"), the Nintendo "Wii," and my personal, old-school favorite, the Super Nintendo. You remember Mario, right?

Continuous Client: A fancy term for a helpful tool: being able to pick up where you left off on a different device. Examples include: The ability to browse the Internet on your computer at home, and then when you're going out, having your open web pages and tabs available on your smartphone or tablet; Playing a video game in your dorm room, pressing pause, and continuing that same game on a portable gaming device, at the exact same spot (also referred to as "Cross-Platform Gaming"). This is an idea that's currently in the works from many different companies (Sony's newest handheld, called the 'PS Vita,' can do this in limited amounts) but will still take some time before we're really there.

Cookies: A bit of computer code that allows Web sites to "remember" you and what you do when you visit the site. This sounds sort of intrusive to your privacy (and it can be), but in reality Cookies are there to help you have a better, faster, and more intuitive browsing experience. When you log in to your Amazon account, for example, and spend a few minutes browsing some items and updating your wish list, Amazon uses Cookies to remember your login information, what items you were looking at, and what you bought so it can recommend similar products and get you to the stuff you want faster. 
*You can always delete and/or turn off Cookies in your Internet browser (see: Internet Browser) if you wish-- check your browser's settings for more information.

CPU: Short for "Central Processing Unit;" it's the brain of a computer, simple as that. It's responsible for most of the important stuff that happens. Really, it amounts to a bunch of circuits on a chip. It can have one, or more probably these days, many "cores" on the same chip-- that is, many processors involved in making the computer run. Usually, the more cores on a chip, the more powerful the CPU. This is what it means when you see the advertisements for "Dual-core" and "Quad-core" CPUs.

Cross-Platform Gaming: See: Continuous Client.

Cydia: The app store one gains access to when one "jailbreaks" their iPhone. See: App Store; Jailbreak.

Data Throttling: Usually, you are allotted a certain amount of mobile or home Internet usage per month by your internet provider (Comcast, Verizon, etc.). If you go over that amount, a few things can happen, like overage charges-- just like going over your allotted minutes in your mobile phone plan. The other thing your provider will do is "throttle"--or slow down-- the speed of your connection, in an attempt to get you to use less data. This is much more common with mobile phone and tablet data plans, but your home Internet connection could be subject to throttling as well. Check with your provider to see what your monthly data limit is, and what happens when you go over it.

Dead Zone: An area where there is little or no cellular signal. There can be a number of reasons for this, including but not limited to: The coverage area is in a remote location; the signal is having a hard time penetrating certain kinds of material, like thick concrete walls; the location is in a valley or low-lying area. There are ways to improving your service in some of these situations; see: Microcell.

Dedicated or Discrete Graphics: See: Graphics Processor.

DRM: Short for "Digital Rights Management:" This is a kind of tiny software program that is placed inside a digital music, movie, or picture file to keep that file from being copied or shared without permission. When you download certain movies or music from iTunes, for example, the DRM placed on the download will limit playing the file to only your iTunes account, on a limited number of computers and devices (sometimes only one). Officially, it exists for the benefit of the content provider (the musician, film studio, or photographer), but its necessity is somewhat controversial and certainly annoying to us customers out there.

Dropbox: A very popular Cloud Storage service (see: Cloud Storage) that allows you to upload your computer files and share them with anyone you like. This can be especially helpful for business purposes; for example, a company or department can have a "shared" Dropbox that allows anyone with access to add, edit, and jointly work on files and documents together-- no matter where the members are.

DSL: Short for "Digital Subscriber Line," it is a type of technology that provides Internet signals through a local telephone network. DSL Internet service is delivered simultaneously over the same line that provides your home phone service; because of this, a filter must be provided to the customer to prevent interference. In general, Internet speeds using DSL are slower than using a cable connection through a broadband Internet Service Provider (see: Internet Service Provider).

DSLR: Short for "Digital Single-Lens Reflex." A DSLR is a professional-grade digital camera with an interchangeable lens that looks a lot like the old-school 35mm film cameras. They usually come with all sorts of bells and whistles and tend to be expensive.

Ecosphere: This is a heady term and it's thrown around a lot in tech articles and blogs; it's simply referring to the related "world" of whatever's being talked about. For example: the Apple "ecosphere" would involve MacBooks, iPhones, iPads, iPods, iMacs, the software and apps that make them purr, the accessories made for them, and anything else that specifically relates to Apple.

Ethernet Cable: See: Network Cable.

Facebook: This is the most popular social network (see: Social Network) in the world, with over 900 million users logging on every month. Once you create an account, the goal is to set up your "profile," which is the information you want people to be able to see about you (contact info, dating status, likes and dislikes, causes and hobbies); find your real-life friends who use Facebook and "friend" them by sending a request to connect to them on the site; and then interact by writing posts and sharing pictures, videos, and links to articles. The defining kind of post on the site is called the "Status Update," which answers the question: What are you doing? 

Fiber-Optic: A term that describes transmitting data signals basically using light, instead of copper cable. A fiber-optic  connection can theoretically send signals many times faster than a standard copper cable connection, meaning that one day your fiber-optic Internet connection will allow you to download an entire library of HD movies in seconds. I'm drooling.

FiOS: Verizon's name for the fiber-optic communications network (see: Fiber-Optic) it uses to provide television, Internet, and home phone service.

Firefox: Created by software company Mozilla, Firefox is another very good Internet browser (see: Internet Browser). You can download this as an alternative to the Internet Explorer (Windows) or Safari (Apple) browsers that come standard with Microsoft/Apple computers. Firefox sets itself apart by being faster (according to most recent benchmarks; see: Benchmark) and having more customization options than those standard browsers. It's free to download and highly recommended.

Firewall: A device (or devices) that allow or deny Internet signals going to or coming from a computer or network of computer. Think of it as the gatekeeper that protects your digital castle from the bad things that troll the Internet (see: Malware, Virus).

Firmware Update: A set of commands, sent via the Internet to a device or component (cable box, remote control), to improve the performance of a specific task. See: Firmware.

Firmware: This is something that can range from basic software (see: Software) to tools for controlling highly-complex systems. On the basic side, Firmware takes care of less-complex, smaller tasks, and is used to control things MUCH less-complicated than an entire computer. Examples would include a television remote control, a digital watch, or the individual hardware components inside a computer or cable box. Because basic firmware is so simple and specific to a certain task, it is very easy to send signals to it via the Internet to upgrade or improve whatever it controls. See: Firmware Update. On the more sophisticated side, as an anonymous commenter pointed out earlier, Firmware can control "highly-sophisticated real-time systems such as the data storage systems that Facebook uses to store photos, to the technology that manages the nation's power grid."

Flagship: In the Tech world, a manufacturer's "star" device (the one that is the most powerful, versatile, and marketable) is known as its "flagship" device. It's the one that the commercial campaigns are built around; the one that will make a lot of money; the one you can build an entire brand from. Examples: the new iPad; the Samsung Nexus smartphone; the ASUS Transformer Prime tablet. 

Flash: A piece of software from Adobe (see also: PDF) that animates text and images for use on Web sites. Translation: most of those annoying, chintzy advertisements you see while browsing (the ones that move and can have sound) run on Flash. It's also a way of playing video on a Web site; YouTube's videos play using Flash.

Flash Drive: Also referred to as a USB flash drive or "jump drive," a flash drive is a small storage device (usually with a USB input) used to store data-- files, folders, music, documents, etc. Just like its predecessors, the floppy drive and the blank CD, you plug it into your computer or device to transfer or hold your digital stuff .

Gigabyte (GB): A thousand Megabytes (see: Megabyte). An HD-quality movie takes up about 14 GB of space on your computer. Hard drive storage on laptop computers averages about 500 Gigabytes.

Google Drive: This is search engine company Google's upcoming entry into Cloud Storage (See: Cloud Storage). Much like the others (see: Dropbox, SkyDrive), it will allow you to store your documents, videos, and other files in an online "storage locker" that can be accessed from a computer or mobile device, anywhere there's an Internet connection.

GPU: See: Graphics Processor.

Graphics Processor: Also called a Graphics Processing Unit or "GPU," it's the chip(s) in your computer or device that handles the processing and rendering of video and 3-D animation, among other things. GPUs can: 
1. Be "integrated" into a computer's Motherboard or CPU (see: Motherboard, CPU) making them need less energy, while sacrificing some power;
2. Be on a "dedicated" or separate video card, making the GPU much more powerful, while using more energy (and draining battery life). 

Hard Drive: Also known as a "hard disk drive," or "HDD." This is the typical kind of storage in your computer; your Operating System (See: Operating System) and all your files and folders live on your hard drive. It "writes" data onto a spinning disk, and then finds that same data when you open a folder or run a search.

Hardware: Outside of hammers and 2x4s, the tech term for hardware refers to physical devices or components. We're talking about the chips, batteries, and antennas that make up your computer, the computer itself, your new tablet, and your old Nintendo.

Hash Tag (Specific to Twitter): Really, a hash tag is this: #. But in the world of Twitter, it's how you find and market pretty much everything. Here's how it works: Add the hash tag before a word you want to have associated with your Twitter post, and put that at the end of what you write. Example: "I'm using the New iPad and it's amazing! #apple" Or: "I can't wait for the 2012 Summer Olympics! #olympics." This immediately makes your post searchable by that "hash tag" or key phrase. That's right, you can go search for posts on Twitter by a hash tag. If there's a big news story you want to know more about, try searching for it using a hash tag, like "#arabspring" or "#pulitzer." If you want to use Twitter to market your business, hash tags can be very helpful because you can immediately associate your company with any targeted keyword you want, like "#innovation" or "#leadership." Other people or companies will search for keywords on Twitter, and then find you. Neat, right?

HDD: Stands for Hard Disk Drive. See: Hard Drive.

HDMI: This stands for "High-Definition Multimedia Interface." An HDMI cable allows the transfer of incredibly-high quality video and audio content from one place to another. High-Definition content from a cable box, computer or Blu Ray player is sent to your TV or computer monitor using an HDMI cable. As of right now, it's the highest-quality consumer-grade cable we have.

HDR: A term used in digital photography and imaging that means "High Dynamic
Range." Put simply, it's a technique that allows you to take higher-quality or more "dynamic" shots from a digital camera. See, the "higher" or wider the "range" is between the lightest and darkest parts of an image, the better or more realistic the image will turn out, hence the term; High Dynamic Range.

HDTV: Stands for High-Definition Television; a flat-screen television capable of displaying high-definition video content.

Hipster: No, this is not a Tech term. But it's a term you should probably know, nonetheless, as it applies to many people of a younger generation who throw the word around like everyone knows what the heck they're talking about. Put simply, a Hipster is someone who enjoys things which are not considered "mainstream."  They knew about it before everyone else-- in fact, once everyone else knows about it, it's no longer cool. Starbucks is a good example of the "I liked that way before it was cool" phenomenon. A hipster's taste can apply to anything-- products, music, clothing, phrases, software, or Web sites. They also seem to have their own innate fashion sense, which usually includes wearing thick, black-framed glasses, dressing in flannel, weighing 90 pounds, and living in Brooklyn. Except the parts of Brooklyn that everyone knows about, of course.

Home Automation: This can refer to any sort of "automation," or automatic process, of the products and appliances in your home. Typically, home  automation involves the remote control of these devices and appliances, or putting their operation on an automatic schedule. Examples of this would include automatically controlling your window shades, turning your lights on and off with a remote (see: Macros), adjusting the thermostat from your iPhone, or adjusting your security cameras from a laptop. Home automation is typically accomplished by integrating your devices and appliances into your home Internet network (see: Network Control). *Companies that specialize in home automation include Control4ZWave, and ZigBee.

HSPA+: A type of technology used in mobile (or cellular) data networks. The "+" denotes a faster, better network than its older brother, HSPA ("High-Speed Packet Access" in case you were wondering). Why you should care is that mobile phone companies like to label HSPA+ a "4G" network (see: 4G)-- which should mean faster mobile Internet speeds; but try it out, and you'll be sorely disappointed. While true 4G networks (see: LTE) can reach speeds that rival your connection at home, HSPA+ can do no such thing. They'd love to argue that point, but believe me, it's just a marketing ploy; don't buy it for a second.

HTML: Consider this the Language of the Internet: it is the "code" (letters, numbers and symbols) used to build Web pages from the ground up. Different combinations of this code result in you being able to control how words, paragraphs, images, and other content are displayed-- down to the size, color, format, and placement. A basic example: if you want the word "peanut" to show up as italicized on your Web site, you would type in <i>peanut</i> to accomplish this.

HTML5: Technically it is the 5th "revision," or improved version, of HTML Web language (see: HTML). How you will probably hear about HTML5, however, is as it being the newer (and many would say better) alternative to playing online video (see: Flash).

Hyperlink: This is just a link to a website or document. It's also just "link," for short. Hyperlinks can be displayed as they are, like, or they can be "embedded" into a word or phrase, like this. Embedded hyperlinks are almost always shown in a different color than the surrounding text, so you know to click on it.

Ice Cream Sandwich: Also known simply as "ICS," it's the most recent software version of Google's Android Operating System (see: Android, Operating System). It is used both on smartphones and tablets, and it's optimized for each (since they have different screen sizes and hardware specifications). Whenever Google updates Android, it has a new number and name to go along with it. Google employs the creative use of dessert names for the updates, always in alphabetical order: Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb and now Ice Cream Sandwich.

iCloud: Apple's branded Cloud storage software (see: Cloud Storage, Software), used specifically to store, transfer, and access Apple music, photos, videos, documents and data.

Inductive Charging: A way of charging your devices without having to plug a cable or cord into them. In a nutshell, here's how it works: you have a flat surface or "plate" that's plugged in directly to an electrical source. It sits on your coffee table or desk or nightstand, waiting for its partner-- a smaller, conductive "pad" that is attached (or in some cases, built in) to your mobile device. It can be a case, or the actual backing of the device itself. When you place your device on the larger "plate," it begins to charge! All it takes to charge is contact between the two pieces.
*This technology is also being developed for charging laptop computers, and even automobiles. Someday, you'll pull your electric Minivan into the garage, and it'll sit right on top of an inductive charging plate to sip on some tasty volts overnight. Ah, the future.

Instagram: Now known as "That Thing Facebook Bought For A Billion Dollars" (no really, a billion dollars), Instagram is a smartphone app (see: App) that lets you edit, upload, and share your digital photos to an online community (see: Social Network). The "bread and butter," so to speak, of this app is in its ability to apply "filters" to your photos to make them look old, for example, or black-and-white, or grungy. Instagram was once favored by the Hipster community, but it might be too cool now for that to remain the case. See: Hipster. 

Integrated Graphics: See: Graphics Processor.

Internet Browser: Also called a "Web Browser" or simply a "Browser," it's the computer program you use to surf the Internet. The five most popular Internet Browsers around are Microsoft's "Internet Explorer," Apple's "Safari," Mozilla "Firefox," Google "Chrome," and "Opera." Here's a handy guideexplaining the benefits and differences between each.

Internet Explorer: This is Microsoft's Internet browser (see: Internet Browser). Since Microsoft makes it, it comes standard with computers (and now, tablets and smartphones) that run Windows. Back when there weren't that many options, Internet Explorer was hugely popular; it still is to some extent, but mainly as a result of the general population not knowing there are (much) better alternatives out there. See: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox.

Internet Service Provider: Also known as an "ISP;" it's the company that supplies you with the signal you use to access the Internet. This can be provided via a coaxial cable connection, a DSL connection, a Fiber-Optic connection and a number of others (see: Coaxial Cable, DSL, Fiber Optic). Examples of Internet Service Providers include Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon FiOS, and back in the day, AOL.

iOS: The name of Apple's Operating System (see: Operating System) for its phones and tablets-- iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. When the OS gets updated with new features, it comes with an increase in numeral: iOS 3, iOS 4, iOS 5. Smaller revisions to the OS come with a decimal, i.e. iOS 5.1.

IPS: Stands for "In-Plane-Switching;" a type of technology used in the HD screens in your television, mobile device, or computer display that makes the viewing angle really, really wide. You may have noticed that when you're looking at some LCD or LED screens (see: LCD, LED) from straight-on, the picture quality is great-- but if you move too far to the side, above, or below the screen, the brightness or color can get distorted. A display using IPS greatly alleviates this viewing angle problem, allowing you to, say, place your TV in a spot that otherwise wouldn't work, or watch a movie on your iPad without having to prop it up a certain way. 

IPTV: Stands for "Internet Protocol Television." The easiest way to think of IPTV is this: just like VOIP (see: VOIP) uses an Internet connection instead of a traditional phone line to allow people to talk over the phone, Internet Protocol Television sends your television signals over the Internet from an ISP like Comcast (see: Internet Service Provider) instead of a cable connection or satellite signal. This is considered "the future" of how we will get our television programming; a few companies like Google and Comcast are already experimenting with IPTV service.

IR: Stands for Infrared; it's part of the Light Spectrum that you can't see. IR is the most common type of signal used by remote controls to communicate with whatever device they came with. Most televisions, cable boxes, stereo equipment, streaming video boxes, and even some air conditioners are controlled by an infrared signal from a remote. One limitation of IR technology in remote controls is that there must be a clear "line-of-sight" for the signal to work--that is, if something is physically in the way of the remote and the device, the signal won't work. There are a few other signals used in remote control: See: RF, Network Control.

ISP: See: Internet Service Provider.

iWork: This is Apple's suite of Productivity Software (see: Microsoft Word). It includes "Pages" (word processor), "Numbers" (database and spreadsheets), and "Keynote" (presentations). Since iWork is limited to running on Apple machines and devices, it's not as ubiquitous as Microsoft Office-- but if I may add, it's one heck of a product.

Jailbreak: First, let me give you some background: When you purchase a mobile device, like an iPhone, a tablet, or an Apple TV (see: Apple TV), it uses a specific kind of OS (see: Operating System)-- like iOS, Android, Windows Phone, etc. The manufacturer wants to ensure a smooth, consistent experience for everyone who purchases one of their devices and so, generally speaking, you are "stuck" with using the OS that came installed in your phone or tablet. The downside of this, is that you are limited or "jailed" to using only the apps (see: App) and services that are pre-approved to work with that device and software. But what if you want to try something a little different? You might be in luck: a "Jailbreak" is a piece of software that, when applied to your device, will free it from the confines of the standard OS and its apps, allowing you to download a whole new Operating System, for example, or apps that traditional software makers, for whatever reason, won't allow on their App Stores (see: App Store). Performing the Jailbreak can be fairly tricky, usually involving going through many complicated steps after downloading the software to your computer.

JPEG: The most common type of digital image format in the world, created by the "Joint Photographic Experts Group"-- hence the name. A JPEG file is much smaller in size compared to other image formats due to how compressed it is (see: Compression), making it easy and fast to send around on the Internet. Nearly every image you see on the Internet is either in JPEG or PNG format (see: PNG).

Jump Drive: See: Flash Drive.

Keyboard Shortcut: A series of keystrokes pressed in sequence, designed to perform a command that would otherwise take a lot of mouse clicking or sifting through menus. Example: On a Windows computer, pressing the Control, Alt, and Delete keyboard buttons in succession will open the Task Manager (a helpful program designed to see how hard your computer is working and shut down programs that have stopped working)-- something that would otherwise require hunting an clicking through a number of menus.

Kickstarter: A Web site where people can donate to other people, organizations, or small businesses looking for funding, usually with the promise of receiving something in return (the product whose construction they are trying to fund, for example). The cool thing about Kickstarter is its "crowd-source" way of allowing donations (see: "Crowd-source): you can usually donate as little as $1, which doesn't seem like much-- but if word of the product or business you're trying to fund gets out and goes viral (see: Viral), you could reach your $1 million funding target by getting a million interested people to donate $1. Even though the site is only a handful of years old, lots of successful, famous products and companies got their initial investment through Kickstarter.

Kilobyte (KB): A thousand Bytes (see: Byte). For reference, a 2-page Microsoft Word document is about 30-50 Kilobytes.

LCD: This stands for "Liquid-Crystal Display;" a (relatively) older type of technology used inside many flat-screen displays, like HDTVs, laptops, and tablets (see: HDTV). 

LED: Short for "Light-Emitting Diode;" a newer type of technology used in the making of high-definition televisions, computer monitors and mobile devices. Among other improvements, LED screens are more energy-efficient than their older cousins, LCDs (see: LCD). 

LTE: Short for "Long-Term Evolution," LTE is a high-speed mobile phone and data network-- the thing that allows your smartphone to place calls and load websites (see: Smartphone). It's currently the most advanced 4G network available in terms of speed (see: 4G); it's also marketed as "4G LTE." Phones and tablets made after 2011 generally are LTE-capable; currently Verizon and AT&T are the only networks in the U.S. that use it. To give you and idea of how fast it is, LTE Internet speeds can sometimes surpass your home's cable Internet connection.

Macro: In the world of universal remotes-- the really cool, expensive ones that you can program yourself-- a "macro" is a set of commands that can be performed by pressing only one button. This is how universal remotes can be incredibly helpful, especially for those who are not the most tech-savvy when it comes to controlling a bunch of different components like a TV, cable box, DVD player, stereo system, and surround sound. Let's say you have all these things, and want to watch TV. Normally, you'd have to find the remotes for the television, cable box, and surround sound receiver; turn them all on separately, get to the right input on your television, set your speakers to output the sound from your cable box, and change channels with the cable remote. With one macro command, your universal remote does all of that with the press of ONE BUTTON. No remotes to find or switch between; it just knows. In the home automation world (see: HomeAutomation), you can program macros to set different lighting "scenes" (dimming certain lights for sitting at the dinner table, for example, or turning off all the lights before bed), or to have your home ready for you when you arrive: garage door open, door unlocked, lights on, A/C running, music playing-- all with the press of one button.

Malware: This little baddy is short for "Malicious Software." Basically it's a piece of computer software designed by people we don't like for typically nefarious reasons, like gaining access to your personal information without permission, shutting down or "crashing" your computer, or turning a network of computers into slaves that do the Malware creator's evil bidding. Bad stuff. Luckily, there are all sorts of ways to protect your digital self from these evil little programs: see Firewall, Antivirus. 

Megabyte (MB): A thousand Kilobytes (see: Kilobyte). One average-size digital image (like from your digital camera) is roughly 7 Megabytes.

Megapixel: A million pixels (see: Pixel). When you see an ad for a digital camera that says it has "14.2 Megapixels," that basically means that the pictures you take will contain roughly 14 million pixels. More pixels=more detail to your photographs, which generally results in higher-quality images.

Meme: Think of a meme as "gene," only instead of genetic material, we're dealing in ideas. A meme is a cultural concept, idea, or story that becomes incredibly popular by being transferred from person to person, through conversation, advertising or (more likely nowadays) being shared on the Internet. A quirky or cute video, for example, gets uploaded to YouTube or Facebook and is shared multiple times; it eventually becomes so popular that it works its way into the general knowledge of an entire group of people (most of my generation can reference the same meme). Look through the most-viewed videos of all-time on YouTube, and you'll probably come across one or a few that you recognize, even if you've never been to YouTube before; maybe it worked its way onto a TV show or commercial, or a friend emailed it to you. That's a meme. 

Microblogging: Writing very short nuggets and posting it online to a particular site or service; see: Twitter. 

Microcell: An electronic device designed to boost the signal of your mobile (cell phone) network. Depending on where you live and/or work, you may have one or more dead zones (see: Dead Zone) that cause static or dropped calls. A Microcell plugs into your electricity and, placed near a window, will act as an antenna-- boosting your call quality and improving your mobile Internet connection in the process. 

Microsoft Office: This is Microsoft's suite of Productivity Software programs, which includes "Word" (word processing), "Excel" (database and spreadsheets), and "PowerPoint" (presentations). Depending on the version of Office you buy, it can also include some other programs like "Outlook" (an email program) and "OneNote" (note-taking and collaboration). Available to run on both Windows and Apple computers, most of the world uses Microsoft Office for their productivity needs. 

Mobile Hotspot: This is a small, battery-powered device that has a cellular Internet connection, just like your iPhone. You can purchase or rent one from your cellphone provider for an additional monthly fee (usually between $15-70 per month, depending on the amount of data you plan on using). It takes the cellular data signal and converts it to Wi-Fi (exactly like your wireless router at home;
see: Wi-Fi, Wireless Router), so that up to 8 different devices can use its Internet connection at the same time. Think of it as a Starbucks hotspot, but one you take with you wherever you go. If you had, for example, an iPod touch, an iPad, and a laptop, you could connect all three of them to the Internet using the mobile hotspot, and just pay for one monthly data plan.

Motherboard: It's literally a "board" that houses and provides the electrical connections for some of the most important parts of a computer, like the CPU and the main memory (see: CPU, RAM).

MP3: The most common digital audio format. MP3 is short for "MPEG-2 Audio Layer III," in case you were wondering (aren't you glad they shortened it?!). Just like a Microsoft Word file ends in ".doc," an MP3 audio file ends in ".mp3."

Multitouch Gestures: When you're working with a touch screen like an iPad or a smartphone, or using a trackpad (see: Trackpad), they usually allow use of your fingers to control things like you would with a mouse. Most touch screens allow a number of different finger moves, or "gestures," that correspond to certain tasks:
1. "Pinch to Zoom:" Pinch two fingers together on the screen to "zoom out" of an image or web page. Do the opposite (spread two fingers out) to "zoom in."
2. "Scrolling:" Instead of clicking on those stupid up-and-down arrows on a page using a mouse, simply take two fingers (sometimes one, depends on the device) and move them up or down, dragging whatever's on the screen with you.
3. Rotate an image: certain photo viewing and  editing programs allow you to rotate an image by taking two fingers and"turning them" around on the screen or trackpad. There are many more gestures depending on what type of device you're using; check your manual to see what's available.

NAS: Stands for "Network-Attached Storage." For our purposes, it's basically a hard drive that can connect to the Internet, via your modem or wireless router (see: Wireless Router). Using your laptop (and in some cases, your smartphone or tablet), you can use it to access whatever is stored on the drive (movies, music, photos, documents) without needing to plug it into your device. This means you can keep all your important stuff at home, and still have access to it on the road.

Net Neutrality: The idea that your Internet Service Provider (see: Internet Service Provider) should remain "cost-neutral" when it comes to what you access on the Internet. Think of it like this: you pay a fee every month for the ability to absorb content from the Internet-- Web sites, pictures, videos, documents, games, etc. Some ISPs would like to be able to charge more to access certain kinds of content-- streaming video, for example (see: Streaming). They see it as a "premium" that takes more effort on their part to provide, therefore it should cost more to provide to consumers. Net Neutrality supporters, however, would argue that data access is data access, no matter the "type" of data being downloaded-- whether it's video, audio, games, or Web pages, it's provided the same way, by the same company, through the same cable. Why charge customers (or the creators of content) more depending on what they're looking at? Doesn't seem fair. I tend to agree. So make sure to support Net Neutrality legislation when it comes up. It's pretty important to the future of the Internet.

Network Cable: Also known as "Cat5" or "Ethernet" cable; it's like your telephone cable, only a bit wider at the mouth. (Picture) Instead of carrying telephone signals, a Network Cable carries Internet signals. Plug one from your modem into a computer, and it's suddenly got an Internet connection.

Network Control: The ability to control a device or appliance using your Internet connection (see also: Home Automation). If your TV or cable box, for example, has the ability to connect to your home Internet network either wirelessly using your router (see: Wireless Router), or by plugging in a network cable from your modem (see: Network Cable), it may have a remote control application that you can get for your smartphone, tablet and/or computer. Once it is set up, this application or program will send a signal through your home Internet connection to instantly control the connected device. Home Audio and Video products manufactured after 2010 generally come with this capability, allowing your iPad or Android device to become a universal remote of sorts.

NFC: Stands for "Near-Field Communication." This is another type of wireless communication between devices (see: Bluetooth). In mobile devices it's still very new, but you've seen it doing its thing for years, in gas stations and grocery stores: You know that little area on the checkout kiosk, above where you swipe your credit card? The one that lets certain credit and debit cards just "tap" to pay? That's NFC. The idea is that pretty soon (right now, if you're this guy) your mobile phone will be able to "tap to pay" the same way, using a built-in NFC chip to replace all your cards. But with any awesome new technology, comes the waiting game: it can take years for it to reach all different brands of smartphone, credit card company, and retailer.

OLED: A newer type of flat-screen display technology; short for "Organic Light-Emitting Diode." OLED technology greatly improves upon a few key things like the color intensity (or "saturation") and energy consumption, among other things, of flat-screen TVs, computer displays, and mobile device screens. Because of the kinds of material used in building an OLED display, and the relative newness of the technology, the screens are still very expensive. 

Open Source: I want you to think of this concept as Wikipedia for working on and building software (see: Wikipedia first to understand this). Open-Source Software is freely-available for anyone to use (within reason), edit, or change how they see fit. This means that before a software product comes to market, it can be collaborated on by others, or even completely changed, with only tiny specs of the original remaining. If, say, Sony wants to use Android (see: Android) for their new tablet's OS (see: Operating System), but they don't like how some of it looks or works, they're free to change it to their liking. Very versatile, to be certain; a downside of this however can be that the changed OS suffers from stability issues, or "crashing"-- which is one reason Apple does not license or allow its smartphone or tablet software to be Open-Source.

Operating System: Also known as an OS, this is the software that you see when you turn on your computer or other electronic device (see: Software); it's the framework off of which everything runs. Think of it this way: chess pieces will do you no good without a board to put them on; if the pieces are Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer, and iTunes, than the chessboard is your Operating System. Examples: Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, iOS, Android.

OS: See: Operating System.

PDF: Short for "Portable Document Format." Created by the company Adobe, this file format is the most popular in the world-- mainly because of its ability to be created and viewed across any Operating System. You can also "lock" a PDF file, meaning you cannot make changes to it; for security and copyright reasons this is very handy.

Peripheral: Much like how peripheral vision involves your "secondary" field of vision, a "Peripheral" in the tech world is a secondary device connected to, and used by, your "primary" machine-- your computer. Examples include monitors, printers, scanners, portable storage devices and CD/DVD drives, keyboards, trackpads, and mice.

Pico Projector: This is simply a very small, pocket-friendly video projector. Because of their minuscule size and weight, Pico Projectors make great companions for smartphones and tablets;
however, brightness and screen size are fairly limited. Good for sharing some photos or watching a TV episode in an airplane seat; bad for brightly-lit rooms or large boardroom presentations.

Pinterest: A Social Network (see: Social Network) that focuses on uploading or "pinning" digital pictures to a "Pinboard," or categorized folder. Other people can "follow" or subscribe to your Pinboards, as well as "re-pin" (share) and "like" your photos.

Pixel Density: A measurement of screen and picture quality, in Pixels per Inch or "PPI." It's basically how close the pixels are squeezed together on a display, like a flat-screen TV or in an image like a digital photo. The closer the pixels are "squeezed together," the higher the Pixel Density--and the better the quality of the image. If the Pixel Density or PPI is too low, you will see a pixellated image (see: Pixellation); if the Pixel Density is very high, your eyes will not be able to discern any individual pixels at all, resulting in an insanely good picture or display (see: Retina Display).

Pixel: In general, when we talk about "Pixels" we're referring to the ones in digital photos. A pixel is the smallest unit that exists in a digital photograph; think of it like an atom. It's a tiny dot that, when combined with many other tiny dots, creates an image. The more pixels, the better or higher quality the image. We also refer to pixels when we talk about displays, like the screen on your iPad or your TV.

Pixellation: This is when you can "see" the pixels in an image, meaning that the image quality or pixel density (see: Pixel Density) is so low that you can actually discern the "building blocks" of the picture, resulting in a blurry or grainy image. Here is an example.

PNG: Another common (and very versatile) type of digital image format; short for "Portable Network Graphics." It was designed to be higher quality than the JPEG format (see: JPEG), therefore it has a larger file size. *The larger the file size, the more detailed the picture.

RAM: Short for "Random Access Memory." Think of it as temporary memory, the place where your device stores recent and often-accessed digital stuff. Simple rule: The more RAM you have, the faster your computer or device runs.

RAW: An unedited, uncompressed (see: Compression) digital image format; think of it as a piping-hot loaf of bread fresh from the digital camera oven, before it cools and becomes edible. Because they are uncompressed, RAW image files are enormous in size compared to other formats (see: JPEG, PNG), and usually require special software to handle them. Finicky, sure-- but a professional photographer's dream.

Resolution: We're specifically talking about "display resolution" here, and it's just another way of referring to the pixel density (see: Pixel Density) of the display-- that is, the measurement of quality of your TV, computer monitor, or iPad's screen. High-Definition television resolutions come in a lot of different numbers and letters, from 480i up to 1080p in jargon-speak (see: 1080p). The numbers refer to the number of "lines" used to display the image, and the "P" stands for "Progressive Scan"-- none of which you really need to understand. It's all industry and marketing jargon. What you should know is the higher the number, the better the quality of the images on the display, and right now the best of the best (for another few years, anyway; see: 4K) is 1080p. If you've ever watched a Blu Ray movie on an HDTV, what you're seeing is the magic of 1080p resolution.

Retina Display: This is what they call the screens on the new iPad and iPhone. Let me get the fancy explanation for this out of the way: It is a term for a digital display (like the one in your TV, computer monitor and smartphone) that has a pixel density (see: Pixel Density) above what the human eye can discern. This just means that the display quality is so good that you won't be able to see any of those tiny dots or blocks that make your pictures seem blurry (see: Pixellation); words are pin-sharp, pictures are crisp and detailed.

RF: Stands for “Radio Frequency;” another type of signal used in remote controls. It's a different part of the Light Spectrum from the other one used frequently for remote control: Infrared (see: IR). Finding a remote that uses it is not too common; the advantage of using RF remote control, however, is a great one: there is no"line-of-sight" needed! The signal can go through walls and objects, and you don't even have to point directly at the TV for it to work.

RSS Feed: An easy way to subscribe to news updates, new posts and stories on a Web site, or blog posts. Look for this icon on your favorite sites and blogs; after you find and click it, the new stories from that site will be automatically sent to your "feed"-- a program or Web site that collects or "aggregates" all your content. Basically it exists so you can just check one place for all of your news and articles-- no matter how many sources they come from. 

Safari: This is Apple's Internet browser (see: Internet Browser). Safari is the default browser on Mac laptops and desktops, iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch. It's a very good browser in its own right, but you may want to try the alternatives and see which one is a better fit for you (see: Chrome, Firefox).

ScreenCap: Stands for "Screen Capture." This means taking a current "snapshot" or image of whatever is displayed on your computer screen, and saving it as a picture file. This can come in handy when you want to save some information from a story on a website very quickly, without having to email the article to yourself or trying to copy and paste the text into a Note or Word document. Quick, clean, and no-frills.

Search Engine: I mean, I could explain this by go into a long-winded explanation using history and diagrams; or, I could sum it up like this: It's What Google Does. 

SEO: Short for "Search Engine Optimization;" without going crazy with technical details and jargon, SEO is what is done to a person or company's "online identity" (their Web site, social media accounts, directories, etc.) to improve their visibility, numerical ranking, and popularity on various search engines like Google. If you're a company or someone trying to promote your business or brand, SEO is really, really important when it comes to people being able to find you on the Internet, particularly because the main way you get found is through a Google search. The higher or closer to the top your listing appears, the more people click on it, therefore the more your Web site or other page gets visited. Cha-ching.

Server: A server is basically one or many powerful, Internet or network-connected computers (without monitors, just the pure hardware), stacked on top of each other in a large room-- storing stuff, crunching numbers, and outputting information. Small businesses, large companies, and even governments depend on servers to conduct their daily business. Cloud Computing (see: Cloud Computing) depends on vast rooms and even buildings full of servers-- called "server farms"-- to store and process everything.

SkyDrive: This is Microsoft's Cloud Storage product (see: Cloud Storage). Once you sign up online for an account, you can upload your documents, presentations, pictures and more and have access to them anywhere there's an Internet connection. SkyDrive is also available as an app for Windows, Mac, and iOS (see: App, iOS).

Skype: This is the most popular VOIP client out there today (see: VOIP). 

Slingbox: A Slingbox is a hardware device (see: Hardware) that connects to your TV, DVD, or other video player and uses your home's Internet connection to stream the video to your computer or mobile device (iPhone, iPad, etc.), wherever you are.* It costs about as much as a good Blu-Ray player (see: Blu-Ray) doesn't require any sort of paid subscription, and works by streaming live video through your modem or router (see: Wireless Router) to an app on your smartphone, tablet or laptop. (See: Streaming) I'm not gonna lie, it's pretty sweet. A word of caution, however: live-streaming of video is a serious data-hog, whether we're talking about your home Internet connection or mobile. Slingbox uses both, so keep an eye on your data usage (see: Throttling, ISP).
*As long as wherever you are has a strong Internet connection. 

Smartphone: A mobile phone that can do much more than make calls and send texts. A basic list of requirements for a phone to be labeled a "smartphone" include:
1. Internet connectivity via a mobile data network & Wi-Fi (see: 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi);
2. Access to Apps via an "App Store" (see: App);
3. The ability to browse the Web and send/receive email;
4. Basic office programs, i.e. a calendar, calculator, to-do list and note-taker.

Social Network: An online-based community or network whose members share something in common, and use the network to communicate with each other and find other people. Examples: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest.

Software: The collection of computer programs and related data that provides the instructions for telling your computer or device what to do and how to do it. Software is what takes over and interacts with you once your computer is turned on. Your Operating System (see: Operating System) is a piece of software. So is Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word, what you see when you interact with an ATM, and what allows you to see your cable channels displayed in a nice, grid-like fashion. Basically, software runs the things we use to run the world.

SSD: Short for Solid State Drive-- basically this is a hard drive with no spinning disk or moving parts (see: Hard Drive). That makes it much, much faster when it comes to transferring files or finding stuff on your computer; it also seriously saves on your device's battery life. Because of this, and how new the technology is, SSDs still cost a good bit more than traditional hard drives.

Status Update: What it's called when you write or post something on Facebook. See: Facebook. 

Streaming: For tech purposes, this refers to being able to watch video or listen to audio in real time, as it arrives bit by bit to your computer or device via the Internet. When you watch a YouTube video or use Watch Instantly on Netflix, for example, your computer/TV sends pieces of the video as you need them, versus having to download the entire thing before you can watch any of it. If you had to download an entire HD movie (about 14 Gigabytes) before being able to start it, you could be waiting a few hours (or days, depending on the speed of your Internet connection). No fun. Streaming is an efficient way to send you just enough movie to keep the feed going uninterrupted.

Terabyte (TB): A thousand Gigabytes (see: Gigabyte). Many desktop computers and portable hard drives contain 1-3 Terabytes of storage.

Tethering: In the Tech world this means linking one device to another using a cord or wireless connection (see: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi) for the purposes of sharing an Internet connection. For example, if you're on the road and need to use your laptop computer, but don't have access to Wi-Fi, you can make use of your smartphone's 3G/4G Internet connection by "tethering" the phone to the laptop, thereby giving it Internet access (see: 3G, 4G). This usually comes at a cost, however, in the form of extra fees from your mobile phone provider; be sure you're willing to shell out some green before giving your laptop that sweet, sweet data juice. 

Trackpad: That thing near the base of your laptop which lets you move the cursor and click on stuff. It's also a separate flat, square device whose surface is used as an alternative to a mouse. It stays in one place on your desk, has no rolling ball, and doesn't require an ugly pad to put under it. Most allow for multitouch gestures to control your computer (see: Multitouch Gestures).

Tweet: What it's called when you write or post something on Twitter. See: Twitter. 

Twitter: A very popular social network (see: Social Network) that revolves around "tweeting," or writing in short bursts of 140 characters or less (this can also be known as "microblogging"). A "tweet" can be as inane or interesting as you see fit-- many people tweet the mundane details of their life for their friends' benefit; however, a tweet can include links to other sites and content (see: Hyperlink), pictures, videos, and more. Much like how you "friend" someone on Facebook, on Twitter you "follow" other users whose tweets you find interesting or beneficial. See also: Hash Tag.

Ultrabook: This is a marketing term devised in the last few years for a certain kind of laptop computer. Basically, for a new laptop to be called an "Ultrabook," it has to meet some requirements regarding thinness, weight, screen size and hardware specs. Translation: anything that resembles a MacBook Air.

Unlocking: Specifically talking about mobile phones here, "unlocking" your phone means disassociating it with a particular wireless provider (like AT&T or Verizon). Providers love to keep you from switching to another company, and one of the ways they accomplish this is by "locking" the phone you buy from them to their particular signals and towers. This can be done by adding a bit of software into the phone's OS (see: Operating System), or by using certain kinds of radios and antennas that search for only that company's signal. To combat this practice, an "unlock" can sometimes be performed with a bit of software magic, usually found on the Internet with some time and research. All of this depends, of course, on the type of phone, the wireless company, and a host of other factors (like legality). Unlock at your own risk.

USB Drive: See: Flash Drive.

USB Hub: You know how you plug a "multi-out" into the wall so you can plug a bunch of electric equipment in at the same time? A USB hub is the same thing, only for plugging devices into your computer. Your laptop is probably pretty short on USB inputs, so this can really come in handy when you want to connect your printer, portable hard drive, iPhone, and missile launcher all at the same time. See: USB.

USB: Short for "Universal Serial Bus," it is the most common and standardized system of cables and ports in the world-- used to connect and transfer data between computers and other devices. Your printer, digital camera, music player, and portable hard drive all most likely use USB ports and cables to connect to your laptop.

Vaporware: This term refers to a hardware or software product (in the computer and tech industries) that is announced to the general public, but never actually released. Reasons for this can include lack of interest in the product, prohibitively high cost, or a collapse of funding before it can be manufactured. Companies will sometimes introduce vaporware intentionally to gauge public interest in a new concept or, more nefariously, to keep consumers from switching brands.

Viral: A term describing something on the Internet that has spread very quickly and gained an enormous amount of popularity in a short time. It could be a video, a picture, an event, or a Tweet (see: Meme, Tweet); anything that is easily shared online and spreads like wildfire through social networks (see: Social Network) can be said to have "gone viral."

Virus: A computer program that can replicate itself and spread to other computers. Viruses are sometimes referred to as "Malware," but they're technically different (see: Malware)-- although their purpose is generally the same: doing harm to a computer or network in some way. 

VOIP: Short for "Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol." This is a type of technology used to let people talk to each other, but it uses an Internet connection instead of a phone cord or traditional cellular signal. VOIP companies like Skype can take the place of your regular home phone service and offer much better rates than, say, AT&T, including international calling. In most cases, VOIP-to-VOIP calls are free (as in, both parties are talking using the same VOIP client), and VOIP-to-regular phone lines or cell phones charge a small fee. You can even, for example, download the Skype app (see: App) for your smartphone, and use it over your Wi-Fi (see: Wi-Fi) connection to place free calls to other Skype-enabled smartphones. Neat, huh?

Web Browser: See Internet Browser.

Wi-Fi Network: Stands for "Wireless Fidelity;" also known simply as a Wireless Network, it provides the back-and-forth signals that carry the Internet to your device, and from your device out into the world. Using a wireless router (see: Wireless Router), this network allows you to hop onto the Internet without connecting any cables to your device.
*Said device must have Wireless capability.

Wikipedia: A comprehensive, online Encyclopedia whose entries are written and edited by anyone who visits the site. That's right-- you could go there right now, and add or edit any word or reference you wanted. Now of course there are an army of volunteers and workers who fact-check and verify as many entries as they can, but that's also your job. Because of this you can get some definitions that are controversial, or just plain wrong; but you also get an up-to-the-minute, constantly evolving and amazingly accurate free Encyclopedia, complete with pictures, videos, links and history. Do yourself a favor and go visit it

Wireless Router: A device which connects to a modem that enables an Internet signal to be sent over a Wi-Fi network (sans cables) to devices like laptops and smartphones. See: Wi-Fi Network

WMA: Another type of digital audio format (see: MP3); short for "Windows Media Audio." Created and used by Microsoft.
Posted on May 15, 2012 .