What do flashlights, the British invasion, black cats, and seesaws have to do with computers? In CODE, they show us the ingenious ways we manipulate language and invent new means of communicating with each other. And through CODE, we see how this ingenuity and our very human compulsion to communicate have driven the technological innovations of the past two centuries.
Using everyday objects and familiar language systems such as Braille and Morse code, author Charles Petzold weaves an illuminating narrative for anyone who’s ever wondered about the secret inner life of computers and other smart machines.
It’s a cleverly illustrated and eminently comprehensible story—and along the way, you’ll discover you’ve gained a real context for understanding today’s world of PCs, digital media, and the Internet. No matter what your level of technical savvy, CODE will charm you—and perhaps even awaken the technophile within.
Charles Petzold's latest book, Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software, crosses over into general-interest nonfiction from his usual programming genre. It's a carefully written, carefully researched gem that will appeal to anyone who wants to understand computer technology at its essence. Readers learn about number systems (decimal, octal, binary, and all that) through Petzold's patient (and frequently entertaining) prose and then discover the logical systems that are used to process them. There's loads of historical information too. From Louis Braille's development of his eponymous raised-dot code to Intel Corporation's release of its early microprocessors, Petzold presents stories of people trying to communicate with (and by means of) mechanical and electrical devices. It's a fascinating progression of technologies, and Petzold presents a clear statement of how they fit together.
The real value of Code is in its explanation of technologies that have been obscured for years behind fancy user interfaces and programming environments, which, in the name of rapid application development, insulate the programmer from the machine. In a section on machine language, Petzold dissects the instruction sets of the genre-defining Intel 8080 and Motorola 6800 processors. He walks the reader through the process of performing various operations with each chip, explaining which opcodes poke which values into which registers along the way. Petzold knows that the hidden language of computers exhibits real beauty. In Code, he helps readers appreciate it. --David Wall
Topics covered: Mechanical and electrical representations of words and numbers, number systems, logic gates, performing mathematical operations with logic gates, microprocessors, machine code, memory and programming languages.
About the Author
Charles Petzold has been writing about Windows programming for 25 years. A Windows Pioneer Award winner, Petzold is author of the classic Programming Windows, the widely acclaimed Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software, Programming Windows Phone 7, and more than a dozen other books.
Most helpful customer reviews
54 of 56 people found the following review helpful.
Buy it, love it, share it.
By Mike H.
Seriously, if you are the kind of person who needs to understand where things came from to really understand them, this is a great book. It is truly a book on code, and not just "how to code" or "what to do with code" but "what on earth is code" and where did it come from. It explains computers and computing in more usable terms than more technical books on the same subject because it focuses on history and scope rather than technical depth. For a reader like me, who asked every teacher from elementary school through college "why do we count to 10" and clung to the best answer of "it's arbitrary - it's just how it's always been done" until reading this book (and who struggled to convert binary to base ten), this book was gold. Pure gold.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful.
Sometimes convoluted, but always informative summary of how computers 'work'
By Ryan James Spencer
I have worked with computers since I was young and to this day I am still entwined with them. However, there were certainly still little mysteries of their functioning I had simply glossed over, and now that I am changing careers to a code-oriented position, I took it upon myself to use this as a refresher's course of sorts. Petzold breaks the topic of computer mechanics into three parts: Firstly, Petzold discusses the nature of codes (as in the means for communication), electricity, and other essential basics that open the door for what could be considered the 'second' section of the book in which Petzold builds a computer 'from the ground up'. Using some basic examples of circuitry he has previously explained he explains the nature of logic gates and relays, their relativity and use to one another, and how these parts make a very basic and initial 'adding machine' or 'computer' when combined in certain ways using certain idiosyncrasies of circuitry structure. The convolution sets in about this time as some chapters can be kind of complicated by means of items such as logic gate tables, but don't be dismayed by my words because pressing on will not leave you baffled as Petzold still does a rather fantastic job summarizing the key points at good times. Finally, the book ends on a few chapters explaining the history of, at the time of him writing the book, 'current' computer technology. It is obvious the book has not been updated in awhile, but since I did grow up about the same time Petzold wrote this book (the reign of the 3.5 floppy diskette), understanding what he was talking about was not totally baffling. In fact, it's quite a time capsule for computer technology in a certain way, and he does mention some things (e.g. DVDs, fiber optic cables) that, in his words, might come into fruition and commonplace use in the future, and, well, have. Fundamentally, I left having read code with a very clear idea of what's going on in a computer, that isn't too complicated or hard to envision and strongly recommend this to anyone who doesn't entirely 'get' the basic ideas / workings of the fundamental parts of a computer system. Petzold never fails to use metaphors in proper time and good taste, and I feel the predominance of positive reviews (and references from other programmers / computer science individuals marking this text as a fundamental) would agree that this is a solid explanatory work.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful.
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I want to start off by saying that this book is an absolute joy to read, although there is very little chance that it will give you any practical knowledge that you will be able to apply in your day-to-day endeavors. You will have a lot of fun though if you just want a good technical read that doesn't make your head explode because of all the complexity it imposes on you.
The book is basically about how computers work and it's written in a very logical way. The author starts out with the most basic electrical circuit composed of a battery, a switch and a lightbulb and explains how it works. Next, he adds an electro magnet to it thus introducing us to relays. After that, he proceeds to combine those elements in such ways that we get an adding machine, a counter, selectors etc. Next, we build a processor and memory for it, and this is basically a computer. Of course there's plenty of supporting material. You'll very rarely have a moment of "Wait, I don't get that", and this is a big plus. The book does unfortunately get a little messy in its final chapters, the author kinda skims through some advanced subjects pretty quickly (like sound, images, etc). All in all, this book reads as an interesting story, not as your standard dry and boring textbook.
Don't pick this book up if you're strongly inclined towards humanitarian sciences and absolutely hate math, physics and logic, you'll drop it as soon the author introduces numerical systems other than decimal, and this is what the book uses a lot in subsequent pages. For all others, get this book and satisfy that geek inside you.