Decoding Computers & Software

A little over 20 years ago, Charles Petzold wrote what would become a classic book on understanding modern computers and the software that drives them. Computers have become essential to daily life and inhabit more and more of the devices we use every day. Every “smart” device you own contains a computer running software. While these little silicon chips and the binary code running them seem like magic, they’re really just a series of simple building blocks chained together to accomplish a task. Having a basic understanding of these concepts can give us a lot more perspective on how computers can be used and abused, programmed and subverted.

When I learned that Charles was releasing a fully updated 2nd edition of Code, I asked him to come on the show to give us all a historical overview of computers and software. He graciously agreed. The concepts of computing and programming go back a lot further than you might think. Today we’ll learn about this and much more.

Charles Petzold is the author of the books Code, The Annotated Turing, and numerous programming tutorials involving Microsoft Windows.

Interview Notes

Further Info

Table of Contents

Use these timestamps to jump to a particular section of the show.

  • 0:01:08: Hold off on iOS 16 update
  • 0:02:47: Preview of today’s interview
  • 0:05:49: Why did you write this book and who was your target audience?
  • 0:11:03: Why should we understand the basics of computing?
  • 0:12:39: What IS a “computer”, fundamentally?
  • 0:16:35: Where did computers start, historically?
  • 0:19:21: What’s the origin of software and programming computers?
  • 0:22:14: How did we store computer programs before hard drives?
  • 0:25:30: How did encoding enable us to communicate over large distances?
  • 0:30:00: How do we measure progress in computing?
  • 0:34:24: How did you decide how to lay out the concepts in the book?
  • 0:39:29: How can understanding computers help us be more secure?
  • 0:43:17: What does the future of computing look like?
  • 0:49:58: What will your next book be about?
  • 0:53:55: Interview wrap-up
  • 0:54:53: My Google rant
  • 0:58:03: A bit on steganography and codes
  • 0:59:41: Upcoming shows, schedule change