Currently Reading

Currently reading George Dyson’s Turing’s Cathedral which narrates the development of the Princeton computer alongside the development of both the atomic and H-bombs. Here’s an excerpt describing the punch cards required to carry out the calculations for an atomic bomb explosion:

“‘The real trouble was that no one had ever told these fellows anything,’ explains Feynman. “The Army had selected them from all over the country for a thing called Special Engineer Detachment–clever boys from high school who had engineering ability. They sent them up to Los Alamos. They put them in barracks. And they would tell them nothing.” Feynman secured permission from Oppenheimer to give a lecture to the recruits. “They were all excited: ‘We’re fighting a war! We see what it is!’ They knew what the numbers meant. If the pressure came out higher, that meant there was more energy released. Complete transformation! They began to invent ways of doing it better. They improved the scheme. They worked at night.” Productivity went up by a factor of ten.”

This reminded me of the recent Education Ted Talks that aired on PBS. One of the most common questions students ask is “why am I learning this?” If teachers give vague, hand-wavy answers, or even worse, the “just do it because you have to–don’t ask questions” response, we’re killing the desire to learn. I think that one (informal) measure of the success of education is when students stop asking “why am I learning this,” but rather, start initiating our own studies because we already have the answer to why. 

Also, random thoughts that occurred while reading:

(0) It’s pretty crazy that our entire world is pushed around by little 1’s and 0’s.

(1) Thank goodness we no longer need to use punch cards to code!

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