Monday, December 31, 2012

The book

It’s easy to take computers for granted. If I want to go shopping, visit a library, play a game, or share my thoughts with the rest of the world, I can do this all by typing on my laptop. I can exchange email with friends and colleagues, wherever they might be. If I were to pick up a screwdriver and go exploring in my house, I’d find computers in kitchen appliances, gaming and entertainment consoles, telephones—even in the walls, controlling the temperature.

Have you ever wondered what gives computers such remarkable power and flexibility? One answer is that computer designers and software developers build them that way. But that’s not entirely satisfying as an answer. Computing for Ordinary Mortals starts in a different way:

Computing isn't only (or even mostly) about hardware and software; it's also about the ideas behind the technology.
Ordinary Mortals lays out these grand ideas—the foundations of computer sciencefor readers who might not have a technical background but are curious about the how and why of the field. It's a little bit unusual for a book about computing; it draws analogies between computing concepts and activities in our everyday lives, to show that there's computation all around us (and not just in computers) if we know where to look.

From the back cover:

Reading this book reminded me why I got into computing in the first place. It's a stunning tale that begins with nascent computers from the 1800s and ends with some of the wonders of our time: computer graphics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet. Such a story could be impenetrable, but Professor St. Amant explains the arcana of computing with real-world stories and scenarios that will be accessible to everyone. 
— Joe Marks, former Vice President & Fellow, Disney Research 
High school and college students take the same required courses as their parents did, as if the Information Age hadn't happened. Mathematics is considered essential for all students, but computation, which runs the modern world and affects every aspect of our lives, is not. Who is brave and skillful enough to explain the technology of the Information Age? Rob St. Amant's wonderful Computing for Ordinary Mortals tells us how computers and software work, how they support large applications and industries, what's theoretically possible, and the important interface between humans and machines.  
— Paul R. Cohen, Professor and Director, School of Information: Science, Technology and Arts, University of Arizona 
This text should be required for all high school students or university freshmen. Too often 'computer literacy' means little more than the ability to create a Power Point presentation or surf the web. Meanwhile computers are pervasive in work, school, and home settings--not to mention our mobile phones. Whether you want to be a knowledgeable worker, an empowered consumer, or a productive hobbyist, having a good intuition for the inner workings of computers will ease your fears and frustrations while guiding your actions along the way. Instead of penning a dry textbook full of technical details, St. Amant relies on metaphors and stories, from working in a bustling workplace (computer architecture), tending hiking trails (graph theory), planning renovations (algorithms), to running a family reunion (multi-tasking). Old-timers will recognize many favorite computer metaphors: pneumatic tubes (networking), recipes (programming), and puzzles (AI). The end result is a comprehensive and engaging introduction to modern computing.  
— Elizabeth Mynatt, Executive Director, Institute for People and Technology, Professor, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology

Computing for Ordinary Mortals can be ordered online:

Book reviews:

The book has also been reviewed or mentioned by book bloggers (some of whom are friends):

And there's a Big Ideas post (October, 2012) on John Scalzi's Whatever blog.

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