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C is for Computing

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Last week I jokingly tweeted that someone ought to teach Michael Gove the difference between ICT and Computing. Also, this week I discovered Adafruit’s lovely “E is for Electronics” colouring book. It’s a wonderful colouring book for children, that sneaks in some geekyness into their vocabulary. This is their entry for D:

A diode lets electrons flow in only one direction. It works like a switch: when current is flowing one way, the switch is on, but when current tries to flow the other way, the switch turns off. Sir John Ambrose Fleming is best known for inventing the diode, originally called the kenotron.

Add a slightly stressed/tired/frustrated Linda on a Monday afternoon, and voila “C is for Computing” was born.

My first task was finding what words to illustrate. I certainly had fun coming up with possibilities. If anything, the problem was choosing what to illustrate for each letter.

For instance, for ‘B’, I could do George Boole, Boolean logic, Charles Babbage, Tim Berners-Lee, and many more, I’m sure. Boolean logic is perhaps the most important with regards to computer science, but as an illustration in a children’s book perhaps not the most suitable. I could of course go with George Boole the person, and introduce him as the inventor or Boolean logic, still mentioning the concept but with more meat to colour. On the other hand Charles Babbage is also a very important figure in computing history. Then again I could possibly fit Babbage under another letter, under A for Analytical engine or under D for Difference engine. And as much as I love Tim Berners-Lee, I think I’ll save him for W. I also thought of illustrating “bugs” for B. Children love colouring in animals (and insects), and I could sneak in a history lesson about how when computers used to be big machines that filled entire rooms sometimes bugs would be attracted by the light and trapped inside tubes or relays causing a malfunction, and how we still use the term “bug” today to describe a software failure. For a serious intro to computing I’d definitely go for Boolean, but as a children’s colouring book, bugs is more fun.

At first I thought “E for Electronics” had it easy, all those gadgets and gismos to draw. Most of the words I could come up with for computing were abstract concepts, and difficult to illustrate. Of course, some proved quite fun to illustrate, Yak-shaving being my favourite one.

Here is the list of words I had, the one I think I’ll illustrate is emphasised. If none is emphasised it means I haven’t decided yet.

  • A Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, agile, Arduino, automata, the Analytical Engine, analog, API
  • B Boole, Boolean, BUGS, Charles Babbage, Tim Berners-Lee, bit, byte
  • C computing, computer, C, CPU, CERN, Code Club
  • D data, difference engine, digital, deep blue
  • E ENIAC, EDSAC, Enigma
  • F Fortran, Failwhale (children like animals!)
  • G Giga, gigabyte, Grace Hopper, GO TO, Git(Hub), geek
  • H HTML, hyper links, Grace Hopper
  • I Internet, IDE
  • J Java, Javascript, Jobs
  • K Kenbak-1, Donald Knuth
  • L Lovelace, Linux, Lyon, loop, LOGO
  • M microcontroller, Manchester baby, Mark I, Mark II, memex, mars curiosity rover, markup, markdown
  • N NAND, nerd
  • O open source, object orientation, Octocat
  • P programming, programming languages, processor, punch cards
  • Q quicksort, query
  • R resistor, relay, robots, regex, RESTful, recursion, RAM, rasberry pi
  • S semiconductor, silicon, source code, sinclair ZX80, scripting, switch, Scratch (advert for Scratch rather than a history lesson hmmm)
  • T tubes! turing, Turing machine, turing-complete, transistor
  • U unix, universal machine
  • V Vannevar Bush (B is taken), variable, von Neuman (should be under N I guess)
  • W world wide web, Watson
  • Y yak-shaving
  • Z ZX Spectrum/ZX80

If you have any better ideas please let me know :)

One of my problems is I want both Turing and transistors to be in the book somehow. I know transistors was in the E for Electronics book, but people might not have both, and it is the most important invention, ever. It is possible to sneak Turing in under U for universal machine or A for Alan or E for Enigma, but he deserves better. Dilemmas, sigh.

Next steps:

  1. I’m not an illustrator, I’ll try converting some of my sketches to vector files and see if they are good enough. If not it might be worth getting a professional illustrator to do them.
  2. Write the little infoboxes to go with the illustrations
  3. Investigate publishing - it would be cool to do a physical book that people could buy. It will of course be available free to download and print out yourself, with some form of Creative Commons license (might be difficult finding an illustrator who agrees to this).

octocat rough drawing