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Computer Applications

Industrial, technical and scientific

Examples in this area are weather forecasting, computer aided design and manufacture, robotics and the use of computer generated graphics including animation. Features of these systems are that they usually involve complex mathematical calculations which have a large number of inputs and require fast processing speeds. The systems are very large, and therefore take up a large amount of backing storage.

Process Control systems

These include domestic, industrial and scientific applications. Feedback is an important issue here, where the output from a system will affect the next input and further stages in the processing. Robotics can be included under this heading. Robots can work 24/7, to a consistent standard without having breaks. They are more accurate than a human worker, but they lack the intelligence and versatility of a human. They can be put to work in areas which are dangerous to employees, but conversely, there may be cases when people do not trust the robot – safety critical systems. Although the initial cost of purchase is high, they will be relatively cheap to run as there are no salary costs, no cost for keeping them comfortable (heating and lighting), but they could be expensive to re-set for a new task. Most control systems will require real time processing. Aircraft control systems rely on a number of sensors located around the aircraft, which are processed in real time to output signals to actuators that operate parts of the aircraft such as the wing flaps and rudders. Examples of simpler control systems are washing machines, microwave ovens, automatic cameras.

Simulations

Examples here are flight simulators, racing car simulators, simulators of a nuclear power plant. Very difficult to create an accurate model, and also very expensive. Gathering data for simulations is time consuming, as the model will have to deal with all possible situations. This also means that testing will difficult and time consuming. Benefits of having simulators include saving expensive resources (such as airplanes); cost of running actual system is high, possible to simulate extreme conditions which may never actually occur; provides consistent and standard training for all.

Expert systems/Artificial Intelligence

Examples here are of diagnostic programs such as an “on line doctor”. They are based on a “knowledge base” and a set of rules. There would be a questions and answer session, from which a likely outcome would be produced, and this would be followed by suggestions for solutions. e.g. With an on line medical system, users would be able to access a doctor without leaving the house, or without having to consult with a doctor over an embarrassing problem. A very large source of medical information could be accessed which would include diagram or pictures which could help with the self diagnosis. It could provide a second opinion for a patient, and be available 24/7. However drawbacks could include mis-diagnosis, fear of security issues, or an unreliable internet connection. The site would also be costly to set up and maintain, and there would need to be careful control over the information given out in order to avoid legal action.

Payroll

All organizations need to pay their employees – usually at the end of the week, or the end of the month. Payroll was one of the first commercial applications to be computerized on a wide scale. The system is based on a master file (or database) of employees, and time sheets are produced during the period to show hours worked, holidays taken etc. These have to be sorted into the same order as the master file before processing can begin. The computer will then calculate the gross pay, then apply bonuses and overtime, apply deductions such as tax and NI, to give the final amount payable, which is the gross pay. Details are then output on payslips and various reports. Details of financial transactions are sent via BACS to the employee bank accounts. Payroll is an example of batch processing.

Billing Systems

Any business that has financial transactions must keep accurate records of these transactions using a billing system, which must produce the bills (invoices, orders etc.) on time. Details of the transactions are kept on a transaction file, and these are used to update master files. The transactions must be sorted before they can be processed against the master file, to produce the bills and reports.

Booking Systems

These are based on databases of bookings and customer details, and the main advantage of these systems is that they avoid double booking through the use of real time transaction processing. Details of the booking are input, and are then checked for availability. Where available, the booking transaction will be made immediately, and the details of the booking are then output on a report.

Computer Based Learning

This provides a more interesting method of learning for many students. It is usually developed using some text, colourful graphics, sound and animation. More advanced packages allow for on-line assessments, and for the uploading of students’ work from remote PC’s.

Internet

The internet provides the facility to link computers world-wide, usually using telecommunications systems. It is a very useful tool, but has to be carefully used. It has a very wide range of information, but as there is no control over what is actually posted on the different web sites, any information downloaded and used needs to be verified against another source to ensure its validity. Any information available on an internet site will be available for the general public to view and use.

Internet Activities

The Internet can be used for: • Education • Leisure (games, socializing, hobbies, interests) • Home use • Email (most popular use of the Internet) • On line shopping/banking

Intranet: this is a communication system which provides similar services to the Internet, but only within a particular company or organisation. It provides an organisation with services or information that are only accessible by authorised users and has good security for confidential information.

Intranet Activities

An Intranet can be used for many different types of activity: • stock control, so that low stock on one site can be transferred from another site • sharing data, as all functional areas of the business have access to the dame data at the same time • sharing information, as all functional areas will be using the same standard forms, and addressing the same organisational issues • communicating via internal email across all staff and functional areas • teleconferencing, so that meetings can be held between sites without the need to travel

Extranet

This is a part of an intranet which may allow public access over the internet, which would give the organisation an opportunity to advertise itself using the internet. The people who may have access to this information via the extranet would not normally be able to change the information, but only view it for their own use, and they would have to have a valid username and password to be able to access the extranet.

Extranet Activities

An extranet could be used to: • Check stock on a supplier’s internet site

Chat rooms, blogs and Forums

These programs allow users to communicate interactively with each other over the internet without unreasonable delays in the communication. Some chat rooms offer more than just text, as they can offer audio and video communications, for which a microphone, speaker and web cam are needed, which allows people to hear and see each other. People can place information on electronic bulletin boards for others to read and possibly comment on. Weblogs (or blogs) are a popular way to keep an on-line diary or journal, where the person who sets up the blog can choose if they want everyone to view their page, or just their friends.

Forums

An internet forum is a discussion area on a website, where members can post, read and respond to discussions from other forum members. Forums are usually for one specific topic, and members will share a common interest in that topic. They differ from blogs in that blogs are usually only posted by one person.

Computer Science


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