Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Big Idea (Whatever)

When I was ten years old or so, I saw a battered paperback copy of Triplanetary on my grandfather’s bookshelf. I borrowed it… and found myself in ten-year-old heaven. Science fiction led me to popular science, with Isaac Asimov (and Edgar Cayce, embarrassingly enough) to help me cross the boundary. I read about physics, space, biology, math, and psychology. It was formative reading. Today I’m a computer scientist, and I’ve just written my own book.
The big idea in Computing for Ordinary Mortals is that the basics of computer science can be conveyed through stories. Not stories about computers and how we use them, but stories about other kinds of everyday things we do. Computing is more about abstract concepts than about hardware or software, and we can understand these concepts through analogies to what happens in the real world.
Read the rest in a Big Ideas post on John Scalzi's Whatever blog.

Computational thinking about politics (HuffPo)

On The Atlantic Wire Gabriel Snyder gives what we'd call a combinatorial analysis of the presidential election. I like the analysis not for what it says about the possible outcome but because it illustrates an influential idea in computer science, called computational thinking: formulating a problem so that it can be solved by an information-processing agent. Here's how it works in this situation.

Read the rest on the Huffington Post.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A computer science reading list

In writing Computing for Ordinary Mortals, I had to think about where to point readers who might want more depth in each of the topics I wrote about. The result (in the Further Reading sections and end notes) is a reading list for someone who would like to come up to speed in computer science. My choices are biased, of course (a systems person would have more to say about architecture, operating systems, and networking), but I think they're plausible overall.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Computing for Ordinary Mortals: Errata

I wonder if it's possible to publish a book that doesn't contain errors? These are fixes for Computing for Ordinary Mortals. So far.

Page 90: The indentation of the last line in the algorithm, "Output the number 32...", should match the indentation of the second line, "Do the following..."

Page 222: It's Butler Lampson. (Thanks to Jon Doyle for catching my mistake.)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Computing for Ordinary Mortals has arrived

A couple of weeks ago a Federal Express envelope arrived at my house: it was a copy of my book, from Oxford. Last week a box arrived, and I knew what to expect: twenty more copies for friends and family.

And now I'm told that Computing for Ordinary Mortals is shipping from Amazon.

I'm excited. So what do I do now? I tell you about what I've written... (shortly.)