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Computing for Ordinary Mortals [Hardcover]

by Robert St. Amant
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

October 29, 2012 0199775303 978-0199775309 1
Computing isn't only (or even mostly) about hardware and software; it's also about the ideas behind the technology. In Computing for Ordinary Mortals, computer scientist Robert St. Amant explains this "really interesting part" of computing, introducing basic computing concepts and strategies in a way that readers without a technical background can understand and appreciate.

Each of the chapters illustrates ideas from a different area of computing, and together they provide important insights into what drives the field as a whole. St. Amant starts off with an overview of basic concepts as well as a brief history of the earliest computers, and then he traces two different threads through the fabric of computing. One thread is practical, illuminating the architecture of a computer and showing how this architecture makes computation efficient. St. Amant shows us how to write down instructions so that a computer can accomplish specific tasks (programming), how the computer manages those tasks as it runs (in its operating system), and how computers can communicate with each other (over a network). The other thread is theoretical, describing how computers are, in the abstract, machines for solving problems. Some of these ideas are embedded in much of what we do as humans, and thus this discussion can also give us insight into our own daily activities, how we interact with other people, and in some cases even what's going on in our heads.

St. Amant concludes with artificial intelligence, exploring the possibility that computers might eventually be capable of human-level intelligence, and human-computer interaction, showing how computers can enrich our lives--and how they fall short.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Computing for Ordinary Mortals is a computer book for people who don't read computer books. It gives a straight-forward, basic look at how computers work, and is written for readers with no background in technology... The author really strikes the perfect balance between accuracy and understandability." - San Francisco Book Review

"[St. Amant's] stated goal is to provide enough information so anyone, from high school seniors thinking of studying computer science at university to bloggers writing about computer technologies, can analyze and discuss computing effectively. He succeeds admirably." - Technology and Society

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

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (October 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199775303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199775309
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #474,004 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

My roots are in San Francisco and later Baltimore, where I went to high school and college. I stayed on the move, living for a while in Texas, several years in a small town in Germany, and then several more in Massachusetts, working on a Ph.D. in computer science. I'm now a professor at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh.

Why Computing for Ordinary Mortals? I've enjoyed reading popular science books for most of my life. The best of them, whether about the physics of the universe, our biological origins, or how our minds work, gave me a new perspective on the world and our place in it. I hope you'll find something similar in my book, about the grand ideas of computer science.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ordinary Mortals Can Understand Computers October 14, 2012
Format:Hardcover
The liberal arts computing course follows one of two models. The easier of the two focuses on the impact of the computer on business and the applications used within a typical business. The second attempts to introduce the non-major to the skills and tasks used by a computer scientist. This book meets the requirements for the latter of these two models.

Beginning with a survey of computer history (alas, it minimizes the ABC Computer), it moves through computer hardware, abstract data structures and databases, and programming. It then moves onto the more specialized technical subjects of operating systems, computer networks, and theoretical computer science.

The author uses common, real-life, experiences to help the reader understand the technical issues within each of these topics. This makes the book readable, as the title indicates, to us ordinary mortals. In addition to the details included in the book, the author also includes "Further Reading" suggestions for the reader who wants to know more. Most of these suggestions are from the classical textbooks which cover the individual topics.

The book is recommended for a technologically based Introduction to Computer Science or for the general reader who wants to more about the internals of the computer science discipline. In addition to the book, a blog is written by the author to support the concepts presented in the book: "ordinary-mortals.blogspot.com".
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This review is based on a free electronic copy of the book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are mine alone.
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