April 4, 2012

1 Times Daily: Day 1 - Follows Instructions Well

Day 2 >
This is the first post in a series I hope to publish regularly. The idea is simple: that almost anyone can learn about computer science. I'm going to try to boil CS down to its core and present that in a way that nearly everyone can understand. I'll do my best to write from a "general audience" perspective, and we'll see if anyone bothers to read!

Day 1: Computers follow instructions well.

Computers are good at following instructions, but not at reading your mind.-Donald Knuth

Computers follow instructions well. I've always been amazed at the stereotype associated with those of us in Computer Science.

"OoooO! Computer science! You must be so smart!"

"Yeah, I guess ... what are you studying?"


Psychology? Really? You study people! I study ... boxes! I don't mean, by any stretch, to diminish from the glory of CS or the brilliance required to do it well. But let's look at the facts:
  • We built a box.
  • We came up with ways to tell the box what to do.
  • We tell the box what to do.
  • If we confuse the box, we kill the box and bring the box back to life.
  • If killing the box did not work, we build a new box.
One of the most important things to remember about Computer Science is that someone, at some point, made all of this up. Programmers are merely telling the box what to do. We have to do so very systematically, and we have to hope that our instructions hold up on many boxes that we've never seen before with people doing things with their boxes that we never thought they'd do.

But I still hold that computer science is (and should be) much more like playing with Legos. Just imagine that the Legos are everywhere, and that knowing how to play with Legos well might be on its way to becoming as basic to our lives as arithmetic. Should that stop you from playing with Legos?


  1. I hope you keep up with this plan for mass consumption ready computer science. Learning more about CS is on my post-college-don't-just-watch-tv-at-night to do list.

  2. I plan to! I think this will be fun to do on my part, too. I'm really interested in that "mass consumption" aspect. This stuff is increasingly important for everyone.