Tag Archive: books

I made a short video tour of one of my favorite books from when I was a kid.  I shot it with my Canon 5D mkII and then tweaked it a bit in iMovie.  I’m trying to familiarize myself more with the video features of my camera.  I’ve only had it for 2 years now so it’s about time I figure it out. The music is a track I made nearly 10 years ago on my Korg ER-1. I always considered it somewhat unfinished but it worked fine for my video.

I’ve had this book since I was about 5 or 6.  It was made in 1985 by Sharon Gallagher.  This book was one of the few that I kept from my childhood.  It has always captured my interest even to this day.  Though the contents may be a little dated, most of the information still holds true oddly enough.  These days, this book is a bit of a collector’s item.  It’s available at Amazon and last time I was at Ada’s Technical Books in Seattle, they had a copy available.

Review: CODE by Charles Petzold

Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

The cover of CODE does not leave you much to judge it by.  It looks plain and minimalist at best but the reviews on the back cover peaked my interests:

“[A] gem that will appeal to anyone who wants to understand computer technology at it’s essence.”  –David Wall, Amazon.com

” You can tell writing CODE was a labor of love for Perzold and reading it is, too.”  –Bill Camarda, barnesandnoble.com

I agree 100% with both of these reviews of the book but there is much more here.  The author took painstaking care to present topics in a way that makes sense but never dumbs them down into abstracts that are plainly inaccurate like many other books/papers of this nature that overuse poor analogies.  The best way to explain the book is to walk through the chapters a bit:

Chapters 1-6 gently introduce basic principles using a pair of childhood friends who wish to communicate with each other silently after dark when their parents have said “lights out”.  Petzold talks about using a flashlight, morse code and eventually moving up to building a simplistic telegraph system.

Chapters 7-9 builds upon the earlier chapters by explaining different numbering systems and relating them to fingers, toes and bits.

Chapters 10-14 starts to get REALLY interesting where he introduces logic circuits built entirely from telegraph relays.  In earlier chapters, he explains the concepts of telegraph relays and puts them to amazing uses in these chapters.  He brings it as far as building a binary adding machine (conceptually, using your imagination).  As far fetched as it may sound to build a computer entirely from simplistic devices such as relays, it is possible and has been done.  The whole point of this book is to show how simplistic(and simultaneously complex) a computer actually is.

Chapters 15-18 gives an AMAZINGLY gentle introduction to machine code and assembly language which is at the heart of every computer program.  Petzold’s explanation of machine code is by far the best explained version I have seen thus far.  If you want to follow up this book with something useful that will teach you even more about machine language, check out A Short Course In Computer Programming and if you run a Mac, grab the TinyELF 1802 emulator.

Chapters 19-22 work up to slightly higher-leveled details such as handling keyboard input, video output and an interactive console.  The explanations in these chapters are VERY easy to understand.

Chapters 23-25 close out the book with the significance and methods of processing floating point numbers(any number with a decimal point in it).  Higher level languages such as BASIC, C and some others that even I had not heard of.  Finally he closes out the book with the shift into graphical user interfaces, object oriented programming and API’s.  Even if those things sound mind boggling, by the time you read to this point in the book, you will easily be able to grasp these concepts.

Petzold does an amazing job of putting all of the concepts he is trying to convey into a palatable order.  Furthermore, when the reading has gotten REALLY thick in certain chapters, he promptly brings things back into perspective and switches gears into lighter topics like history which gives you a chance to absorb what he has just said and connect the dots.  Petzold also keeps it interesting by referencing later chapters in the book, this is probably one of the reasons that I absolutely could not put this book down.  I managed to plow through it in 3 days.  For anyone interested in computers, this book is a must because it gives you and excellent foundation to learn higher level concepts off of.  Yes, the book was written in 1999 so some of the examples he gives are dated and amusing such as when he quotes system specs of “modern” systems but NOTHING in this book is any less valid today than it was when he wrote it.

Ada's Technical Books on Capitol Hill in Seattle

I went to Portland a month ago or so and went to the best bookstore I’ve ever been to.  It’s called Powell’s Technical Books.  If you ever go to Portland, don’t miss Powell’s Books.  It’s absolutely gigantic!  One of the largest book stores I’ve ever seen.  It’s very overwhelming in Powell’s but when I was there, I didn’t end up staying very long.  I came to find that as large as the store is, they required a whole separate building just for computer and technical books.  We were on our way out of town but still needed to eat.  Lucky for me, the place we ate just happened to be 1/2 a block from the Powell’s Technical Books location.  We went in for a little bit and I was pleasantly surprised.  The store is the size of a Trader Joes and it’s all Computer, Engineering and other technical books.  In the back corner was a real treat though.  They have a bunch of vintage computer hardware and vintage computer books for sale which is something I’m currently interested in.  Some of the prices were fairly steep and many of the items weren’t priced at all but it was fun to see this hardware on display at the very least.  I ended up leaving Portland wishing and wondering if there would ever be anything like this in Seattle…

Today I was reading the DC206 mailing list and noticed someone mention a hacker space on Capitol Hill.  They went on to add at the bottom that it is across from a great bookstore, Ada’s Books.  I had not heard of this store before so I clicked the link and found that Ada’s Technical Books just opened to the public on June 11th, 2010.  Hoping that it has any resemblance to Powell’s Technical Books I found myself jumping in my car instantly to go see it for myself.

When I arrived I was a little surprised that it was smaller than it looked in the pictures.  I decided not to let the size cloud my judgment however.  When I walked in, I was greeted by a Zenith portable lunchbox computer that was in excellent condition.

Upon further investigation, I found a couple of books to buy.  One was Programming the IBM Personal Computer: Assembly Language by Chao Chien.  I felt the price was very fair at $4.50.  After browsing through the rest of the computer books, I found the electronics book section.  I was pleasantly surprised by the selection available in that section.  Ada’s has one of the best selections of electronics books that I’ve seen in any local bookstores.  I picked up a new copy of Getting Started with Arduino by Massimo Banzi out of that section.

When I went to check out, I learned more about the store.  The owner of the store is actually one of the folks that runs Toorcon.  Him and his wife were inspired to start this bookstore after visiting Powell’s in Portland.  They felt that Seattle needed a technical book store and I tend to agree with them.  I eagerly await to see what gems turn up on their shelves in the coming months.  I would hope for some more historical computer books and any books on 1980’s computers such as the C64, Atari computers, etc.  Those books are hard to find, especially at reasonable prices.

Ada’s Technical Books is located at 713 Broadway East, Seattle, WA 98102 on Capitol Hill.  I encourage anyone local to the area to go take a peek and buy some computer books from Ada’s.

Powered by WordPress. Theme: Motion by 85ideas.