THINK LIKE A PROGRAMMER

Here are two books that caught Bob’s tinkering fantasies. We hope they catch yours as well. They’re kind of techy stuff. So why go into it in a general column? Well, because America used to be known as a nation of tinkerers. The Wright brothers were tinkerers, and so are our contemporaries, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Tinkerers are important people and essential to the advancement of science and technology. Join the club.

Book 1: “30 Arduino Projects for the Evil Genius,” by Simon Monk; $25 from mhprofessional.com.

First of all, this has nothing to do with being an evil genius. That part of the title simply conforms to a series of books that have those words, sort of like Penguin Books “Idiot” series, which have nothing to do with being an idiot.

The Arduino is an Italian microcontroller board that is small, cheap – around $30 – and can take all kinds of attachments and inputs that let it sense changes in light, temperature, altitude, sound, proximity, etc. The board was developed in Italy for high school students. The sensors and output controllers just plug into it. The Arduino itself can be plugged into any computer’s USB port and both send and receive information. The book has instructions for 30 Arduino projects, including keypad security controls, high-intensity strobe lights, a light-beam harp, lie detector, and many others. You can share projects and talk to other tinkerers at arduino.org.

Book 2: We couldn’t resist the title of this new book: “Programming the Propeller With Spin, A Beginner’s Guide to Parallel Processing,” by Harprit Sigh Sandhu, $30 at mhprofessional.com.

What, you might well ask, is a Propeller? And furthermore: what is Spin? Well, Propeller is a microchip, and Spin is a programming language. Put them together and you have something fairly awesome. In fact, the author points out that what is really awesome is being able to buy a chip that contains eight 32-bit processors for less than $8. That’s far more power than the first IBM desktop we bought for around $5,000. Propeller is useful for robotics and other electronic controls. You can see projects and join groups at Parallax.com.

And by the way: what does it take to think like a programmer? Well, the best of them seem to be good at pattern recognition. Over the years we’ve noticed that musicians tend to be good at it. The powerful word processor, WordPerfect, was written by musicians.

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