Lastest Book Byte


Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

By: Charles Petzold

Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (January 28, 2021)

Oof.

That was–and maybe still is!–the first thing that comes to mind when I think of computer hardware. But however scary a topic may seem to me, I am more scared of avoiding it altogether and letting intimidation dictate my education. Besides, learning about a “scary” topic via a book is probably the best way to go since a book won’t judge you when you put it down for six months at a time…

In all seriousness, Code was a book that I read concurrently with my Computational Structures class (COSC-125) and ended up finishing during the summer. Though the book may appear dense and technical–and for all intents and purposes, it is–there are instances of humor, real life examples, and helpful illustrations. Starting with the basics, author Charles Petzold explores humans’ fundamental instinct to communicate and is able to draw connections to the world of coding and computers. Over the course of 20 chapters, the book covers topics ranging from logical expressions designed as circuits to building an “adding machine” to discussions of operating systems.

Reading this book during my hardware class was helpful because it allowed me to understand how hardware and software work together. Not to mention some of the concepts covered in class were also reviewed in the book! This book is a great read for anyone hoping to gain a technical understanding of computers at a very basic and granular level. (This book, written in 1999, does not cover concepts like distributed computing or newer cloud technologies, however.)

Favorite Quote: “In this book, the word code usually means a system for transferring information among people and machines. In other words, a code lets you communicate.” (5)

Past Book Bytes

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World

By: Melinda Gates

Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (November 15, 2021)

Bill Gates, who? After finishing this book, I can definitively say that Melinda Gates will have a bigger impact on my life and the world that I live in than her ex-husband, Bill (even including all his Microsoft technologies!). (Ok, maybe that is a stretch but I do feel very passionately about this book!!) While I must concede that Melinda’s story only touches on her time in the tech world a little bit (so not a very technical book at all), I must also note that this isn’t even much of her story but rather a way to share the stories of the women who touched her life.

The Moment of Lift (published in 2019) reveals how women–whether they be in all male boardrooms or are family-providing farmers–continue to revolutionize the world. Melinda details her transition from Microsoft to being a stay-at-home mom to co-leading the largest private foundation in the world. She not only explores the gender dynamics that she faced in her own marriage and career but also echoes the imperative that we must lift women up if we want the world to change for the better. By using informative data, The Moment of Lift examines a series of interconnected challenges that women across the globe face: starting with family planning and girls’ education, ending with women in the workplace, and covering everything in-between.

While I was emotional reading this book, I was empowered to continue to lift up the voices of other women. This is a book that I will continue to hold near and dear to my heart because it reminds me that women, whether they sit in front of a computer or work in a field, have the power to make this world more inclusive, more empathetic, and stronger. Especially as women in the tech field, we must remember that what we do will change the world in more ways than we realize and it is crucial that we continuously choose to make changes for the better.

Favorite Quote: (While this was actually inscribed on the inside cover by my friend who gifted me this book rather than written by Melinda Gates, I am sure the author would approve) ) “This book [not only] helped me process my emotions but also empowered me to change the world.”

Big Data: A Complete Guide to the Basic Concepts in Data Science, Cyber Security, Analytics, and Metrics

By: Hans Weber

Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (October 10, 2021)

Want to dive into the big ideas behind data science, cybersecurity, and analytics? This is the quick book for you!

With less than 100 pages, Hans Weber offers a concise exploration of the concepts listed in the title. I was given this book by a friend who had just finished it within the day and it was perfect timing as I had just accepted the opportunity to join Georgetown’s accelerated Data Science and Analytics Masters program. Though I knew I was going to grad school for data science, I still wasn’t quite sure what that meant, let alone how data science fit into the realm of big data and cyber security. (Also, the chapter on cybersecurity reviewed a lot of the concepts that I learned in my COSC-430 Information Assurance course!)

Weber writes clearly though without much flourish or many illustrative examples in my opinion. This book is good for anyone who would like to spend a little bit of time learning more about what data science is, what data scientists do, what is meant by cybersecurity, and why leveraging big data through analytics is so powerful.

Explain the Cloud Like I’m 10

By: Todd Hoff

Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (September 3, 2021)

When I told others I was reading this book, I would joke by saying, “It’s a little presumptuous of the author to think I have the mental capacity of a 10 year old… perhaps a 5 year old is more my speed…” The author, Todd Hoff, however, is no liar and I have no doubt that someone much younger than myself could unaalso teaches readers how to break down one big problem into smaller, manageable tasks. In her foreword, Reshma Saujani—the CEO and founder of Girls Who Code—explains that similar to how children learn about animals and history before going to school, coding should also be a familiar part of every child’s world.

Self-deprecating humor aside, I could not recommend this book more enthusiastically. I read this book before starting my summer internship in software engineering this year because I knew my summer project had something to do with data migration to “the cloud.” Embarrassed, I had no idea what that really meant so I wanted to read up on it before starting work. Not only did I learn about the cloud but I also learned about other topics and vocabulary words that were used throughout my internship: cloud native, containers, S3, IaaS, and more! Hoff’s writing is clear, knowledgeable, and engaging.

I strongly recommend this book for anyone who gets a little nervous whenever the term “cloud” comes up. I would even recommend this book for those who know what the cloud is because Hoff provides a thorough and informative explanation through real life examples–like Netflix and Facebook messenger. This book is a quick read and I believe that it can help you draw connections between the classroom, the real world, and any engineering internships/jobs!

Favorite Quote: “A cloud is just a bunch of computers in a datacenter. That’s the short definition. Here’s my more complete definition of the cloud… The cloud is a real physical place–accessed over the internet–where a service is performed for you or where your stuff is stored. Your stuff is stored in the cloud, not on your device because the cloud is not on any device; the cloud lives in datacenters. A program running on your device accesses the cloud over the internet. The cloud is infinite, accessible from anywhere, at any time.” (30)

How to Code a Sandcastle

By: Josh Funk

Illustrated By: Sara Palacios

Foreword By: Reshma Saujani

Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (January 28, 2021)

As you can probably tell, I like to read. I also often select books to give as gifts. This holiday season I wanted to get my two youngest girl cousins—4-years-old and 6-years-old—a book that could introduce them to computer science. I stumbled upon this perfect read.

How to Code a Sandcastle follows Pearl and her robot sidekick, Pascal, on their last day at the beach. Determined to build an epic sandcastle, Pearl relies on Pascal to complete the task. Pascal, however, needs very specific instructions so Pearl has to explain her ideas in code. This children’s book has amazing illustrations and extremely approachable explanations about some basic coding concepts. This book introduces concepts like sequences, loops, and if/else statements. This book also teaches readers how to break down one big problem into smaller, manageable tasks. In her foreword, Reshma Saujani—the CEO and founder of Girls Who Code—explains that similar to how children learn about animals and history before going to school, coding should also be a familiar part of every child’s world.

I cannot wait to read this book with my cousins over Zoom. I recommend this book for any elementary school teacher or young child who you may know! It’s never too early to start building your digital literacy skills!

The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win

By: Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford

Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (November 17, 2020)

I had just joined the IT department of a club on campus and realized that I didn’t know if or how CS and IT were related. In typical fashion, I decided to turn to a book for guidance.

The Phoenix Project was truly an enjoyable read and after finishing it, I felt more confident in my new position. The book follows the fictional story of Bill, an IT manager at a car-parts company, as he navigates changing leadership positions, meeting deadlines, efficient project management, and more, all while fighting to give his company a competitive edge. Bill has only 90 days to turn around a doomed IT initiative and more importantly, only 90 days to convince his co-workers that strong IT practices must be at the forefront of all effective business strategies.

This book moves away from the nitty gritty of technical concepts and into the realm of management tactics. Along with Bill, the reader learns how to efficiently diagnose problems, improve workplace communication, enhance resource allocation, and understand the sacrifices that it takes to run not only an IT department but also an entire business. Since The Phoenix Project emphasizes the importance of high-level business organization rather than the specifics of, say, computer hardware, this book is an excellent option for any reader interested in applying technical problem solving to relatable, every-day challenges. Readers will be entertained as they follow Bill on his educational-though-never-dull journey to discover the true value of a strong IT department!

Favorite Quote: “You’ve just described ‘technical debt’ that is not being paid down. It comes from taking shortcuts, which may make sense in the short-term. But like financial debt, the compounding interest costs grow over time. If an organization doesn’t pay down its technical debt, every calorie in the organization can be spent just paying interest, in the form of unplanned work.” -The Pheonix Project

Brave Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder

Reshma Saujani

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Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (October 9, 2020)

It was January of my freshman year and I had just gotten a 50% on my computer science project and honestly, I should have been relieved since on my first submission of the project, I had gotten a measly 21%. Looking back now, I should have been relieved for another reason: I had failed and the sun still shone and the world still spun. That is to say, I had just proven to myself that failure is not equivalent to the end.

I recall this anecdote because Reshma Saujani’s book, Brave Not Perfect, reminds me to share my failures however big or small. I want to use my failures to lift others up when they themselves are knocked down, to keep myself grounded and humble when my successes outweigh my shortcomings, and to serve as a reminder for all those times I was brave enough to fail in the first place.

Enough about me though!

Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, uses this book to expand on concepts which she first introduced in her famous TED Talk (check out the video below!) . She explores the ways in which girls are conditioned to behave, think, and dream differently than boys. Rather than gripe about the injustice that this perpetuates, Saujani explains how any hope for gender equality starts with you and me. She pushes her readers to consciously unlearn the quietness and perfectness that women are taught to idolize. Through lessons found in young computer science classrooms, interviews with girls and women across the country, and aspects of Saujani’s own career journey, Brave Not Perfect empowers readers to find acts of bravery in their everyday lives

This book is a must-read for any girl or woman, especially when it comes to being in a new environment where it seems bravery is reserved for the older and bolder. This book exposes how girls are “trained for perfection,” why bravery is so important, and finally how to let go of the perfect girl we hoped to be. Only by being brave, not perfect, will women learn to become their most authentic and most fulfilled selves.

Favorite Quote: “Perfection might feel good for a few fleeting moments, but bravery powers us through the difficult times and deep losses that can feel insurmountable. By being brave, not perfect, we get to create and live lives that don’t just look good but are authentically, joyfully, messily, and completely ours.” -Reshma Saujani

Check out Reshma Saujani’s TED Talk!

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

By: Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths

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Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (September 25, 2020)

“Algorithm” seemed like a mysterious and complex word that would always be just beyond the scope of my comprehension. After reading this book by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths—and with some help from COSC-051and 052!—I was able to recognize how computing algorithms are applied to our everyday lives. Being able to relate what is discussed in the classroom to human decision making is an incredibly helpful way to not only better understand algorithms but also to better understand your own thought process.

Christian and Griffiths explore how a multitude of computing algorithms apply to our everyday lives. Their book takes an algorithmic—though never robotic nor mechanical—approach towards assessing “human questions.” They pose strategies that can help with everything from finding a parking spot to optimizing a busy schedule. Algorithms to Live By examines optimal stopping, networking, randomness and more by striking a unique balance between the world of computer science and the world in which we live.

With thought-provoking narration and the minimum level of technical jargon necessary, readers are not only able to understand the logic behind these algorithms but are also able to relate to what these algorithms accomplish. This book is great for readers who are interested in the intersection of computer science and decision-making and want to be introduced to the logic behind algorithms. Algorithms to Live By reveals how similar our problems are to the problems of computers and I am certain that every reader will put down this book with an enhanced ability to recognize the patterns that quietly rule our lives.

Favorite Quote: “The next pages begin our journey through some of the biggest challenges faced by computers and human minds alike: how to manage finite space, finite time, limited attention, unknown unknowns, incomplete information, and an unforeseeable future; how to do so with grace and confidence; and how to do so in a community with others who are all simultaneously trying to do the same.” -Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech

By: Sara Wachter-Boettcher

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Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (September 4, 2020)

Bits and bytes aside, computer science has another side to which we all engage with daily: design. Whether it’s tactful marketing, pleasing aesthetic, or familiar color combinations, we have not only witnessed technological inclusion in daily life but have also been unknowing drivers for this technical revolution.

Technically Wrong demands its readers to think critically about the tech we use everyday. Wachter-Boettcher uses provocative case studies to reveal the ways in which biased design and imperfect algorithms underpin the tech world. Her book explores the meaning behind default settings, why we have “funny” virtual assistants, and the harm of claiming to be an all-knowing, unbiased machine. She examines everything from data privacy to “algorithmic inequality” to examples of when well-intentioned-though-poorly-thought-out procedures overstep boundaries. In a quick-though-thorough exploration, Wachter-Boettcher encourages her readers to become critical thinkers when it comes to technology.

After finishing Technically Wrong readers will be able to make informed decisions about the tech they use and support. I will never be able to look at tech the same way and now feel compelled to demand the tech industry become a safer, more inclusive space as well as empowered to actively participate in bringing about this change. Anyone interested in learning to acknowledge and dismantle the bias that designs our tech will deeply benefit from reading Technically Wrong.

Favorite Quote: “It’s up to us to demand that those choices be made differently—not because we want to see technology fail, but rather because we want it to succeed, on terms that work for all of us. After all, most of us don’t hate tech. We love it. It’s time we demand that it love us back.” -Sara Wachter-Boettcher

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