And the Winner is…

December 12, 2012 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency with a total of one vote! Yay! (Insert the sound of wild cheers)

Hey, I’m just happy someone voted.

So you get your wish, anonymous voter! After a rather stressful Monday spent finishing end of the semester projects for my two computer science classes, I took part of my free time on the following day to pick up this book.

I’m currently on page 56, and although it jumped around a lot in the beginning, I think I’m beginning to get a feel for it. It’s made me laugh a few times already, which is always welcome, but there was one quote that really stuck out to me. One of the characters works with computers, and in trying to explain a bit about his work to an old college professor, talks about one very early one he worked with.

“‘There really wasn’t a lot this machine could do that you couldn’t do yourself in half the time with a lot less trouble,’ said Richard, ‘but it was, on the other hand, very good at being a slow and dim-witted pupil.’

Reg looked at him quizzically.

‘I had no idea they were supposed to be in short supply,’ he said. ‘I could hit a dozen with a bread roll from where I’m sitting.’

‘I’m sure. But look at it this way. What really is the point of trying to teach anything to anybody? … What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your own mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that’s really the essence of programming.'”

Maybe it’s because I spent all last weekend writing programs myself, but that quote seems particularly true to me. You really come to understand how simple-minded a computer is when you try to teach it how to do something new through programming. You really do have to break things up step by step, including even the smallest details. More than that, though, I might add, in order to really get the gist of programming you have to learn to think like the computer.

This has become really apparent to me while learning the programming language C#. Especially when starting out, I would write a program containing what seemed to be perfectly logical instructions and attempt to run it only to find that when I ran it the computer gave me the wrong result. So you have to debug, running through the code line by line, step by step, to follow the computer’s train of thought until you find the spot where your coding confused it. Often it’s a little problem like having a couple lines in the wrong order.

For example, let’s say we want to type in a number and have the computer add one to that number. If you tell it to calculate x + 1 and then tell it that x equals the number that you typed, it can’t do it. That’s because the way the computer thinks, a variable like x equals zero by default until it reads a line that tells it otherwise. So it will say x + 1 equals 1. Then it will read that x equals the number you wanted, but it’ll be too late. Computers don’t work backwards. Any human reading the instructions would understand what you wanted, but a computer is just not smart enough to think that way. So you have to think the way the computer does if you want anything code you write to work properly.

Anyway, this may or may not have very much to do with the book, but I do enjoy that it seems to show a realistic understanding of computers, and I especially like the way it explained it. I believe that art should connect to our lives in some way, and I always enjoy a book that connects to mine personally, even if it’s a connection as small as this.

Entry filed under: 1001, Books. Tags: , , .

Last Day to Vote! Clarissa

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December 2012

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