What’s Your PC IQ? The Answers Explained

Illustration by Edwin Fotheringham
Warning: If you haven't taken our quiz yet, don't read any farther--it'll spoil some of the answers for you. Click here to take our quiz on Facebook.

What did the world's first spam message say? When is the next Y2K-style meltdown set to occur? And what the heck is a kibibyte? If you were stumped, surprised, or outright incensed by the answers to some of the more challenging questions in our PC IQ quiz, we owe you an explanation. Read on for a closer look at some of the tech world's oddest trivia.


Question 8: The Y2K bug caused a worldwide panic because many computer programs used only two digits (instead of four) to store the year for a particular date. What is the next year expected to cause similar computer-related havoc?
a. In the year 2525
b. 2038
c. Y3K
d. 10,000
e. It's irrelevant--the world will end in 2012, anyway

Software written in such a way that the date and time are stored in memory as a signed 32-bit integer cannot recognize a date beyond January 19th, 2038. For any later date, the corresponding integer will cause the date to wrap around to years starting with 1901. Many 32-bit applications and even operating systems still use this system for dates and time (including several 32-bit Unix variants); but the biggest worry isn't about the apps on individual desktop PCs, but with the operating systems embedded in consumer and industrial technology. For more info, check out 2038bug.com.

Illustration by Edwin Fotheringham
Question 21: The first recorded spam e-mail message was:
a. A discount coupon for Hormel meat products
b. A personal appeal from a Saudi prince with a cash-flow problem
c. An invitation to a demo of a new DEC computer
d. An ad for Kozmo.com
e. A poorly spelled offer for erectile dysfunction pills

The first spam e-mail was sent on May 3, 1978, by Gary Thuerk, a marketing guy for DEC. He tried to send it to about 400 people on the modern Internet's predecessor, ARPANET, but due to design limitations the first wave reached only about 320 people--a little more than 10 percent of the total user base at the time. What's more, it was written in all caps. You can read the message (along with several indignant replies) here.

Question 31: True or False: PC users running Windows Vista or Windows 7 need to defragment their PC's hard drive manually once every 30 days or so as a vital part of proper PC maintenance.
Answer: False. Though the importance of defragmenting your hard drive has long been a contentious issue (we won't go into the details of the controversy here), the answer here hinges on the word "manually"--because Vista and Windows 7 are configured to automatically defragment your hard drive in the background. If you open up the Task Scheduler, you'll see a task named ScheduledDefrag cued for every Wednesday at 1:00 a.m. If your PC isn't on at 1:00 a.m., Windows will defrag in the background the next time your PC is idle.

Question 34: Who said this? "640K ought to be enough for anybody."
a. Hugh Hefner
b. Rush Limbaugh
c. Bill Gates
d. Ross Perot
e. None of the above

This gem is popularly attributed to Bill Gates, but he swears he didn't say it--and we're inclined to believe him (and his legal team). When asked about it in a 1996 interview with Bloomberg Business News, he replied: " I've said some stupid things and some wrong things, but not that. No one involved in computers would ever say that a certain amount of memory is enough for all time."

Question 35: The spot on the Windows taskbar that houses various small icons, reports the correct time, and displays application notifications is officially known as:
a. The System Tray
b. The Notification Area
c. The Dock
d. Funkytown
e. The Place on Your Screen Where Your Eyesight Goes to Die

Most users call it the System Tray, but Microsoft's own documentation indicate pretty clearly that the proper name is Notification Area. The term System Tray comes from Systray.exe, a background app that manages the Notification Area, which started showing up in Windows 95.

Question 38: What is the name of the default Windows XP desktop image?
a. Abstract
b. Autumn
c. Bliss
d. Miss September
e. Subliminal Advertising Image #196

"Bliss" was taken by a photographer named Charles O'Rear, and purchased by Microsoft for an undisclosed but definitely ridiculous sum of money. The shot itself was taken in Sonoma County, California, and according to Mr. O'Rear, it wasn't Photoshopped.

Question 41: Fill in the blanks with the correct symbols for the following Windows file path: C:__Users__Public__Documents
a. - - -
b. / / /
c. : : :
d. \ \ \ [backslash]
e. :( :( :(

If you haven't used DOS in a while, you might not remember that it uses the backslash character to denote different levels of a file path. Windows can often recognize a file path using either the forward slash (which is used in Internet URLs) or the backslash, but DOS and Windows both use the backslash when left to their own devices. This is why you'll still find people who, when spelling out a Web address, say "h-t-t-p-colon-backslash-backslash": They don't actually know which slash is which, but they remember that the backslash was used with computers.

Question 43. The proper name for 1024 bytes of data is:
a. kilobyte
b. snakebyte
c. kibibyte
d. kiwibyte
e. kibblebyte

You're probably accustomed to using kilobyte, megabyte, gigabyte, and terabyte to refer to 1024 bytes, 1024 kilobytes, 1024 megabytes, and 1024 gigabytes, but all of those terms are slight misnomers: Kilo means 1000, as in kilogram. Storage companies began to report their hard drive sizes in powers of 10 rather than in powers of 2, and as the drives got bigger, the discrepancy between the advertised size ("160GB", where 1GB = 1000MB) and the size that Windows reported (149.05GB, where 1GB = 1024MB) grew larger and larger. To clear up the confusion, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures coined a new set of terms: 1024 bytes became a kibibyte (KiB), 1024 kibibytes became a mebibyte (MiB), and similar conversions yielded gibibyte and tebibyte.

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