Take A Tour Of The Hidden Language Of Hardware And How It Powers Your Code


October 23rd, 2022

41 mins 49 secs

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About this Episode


Software is eating the world, but that code has to have hardware to execute the instructions. Most people, and many software engineers, don’t have a proper understanding of how that hardware functions. Charles Petzold wrote the book "Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software" to make this a less opaque subject. In this episode he discusses what motivated him to revise that work in the second edition and the additional details that he packed in to explore the functioning of the CPU.


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  • Your host as usual is Tobias Macey and today I’m interviewing Charles Petzold about his work on the second edition of Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software


  • Introductions
  • How did you get introduced to Python?
  • Can you start by describing the focus and goal of "Code" and the story behind it?
    • Who is the target audience for the book?
  • The sequencing of the topics parallels the curriculum of a computer engineering course of study. Why do you think that it is useful/important for a general audience to understand the electrical engineering principles that underly modern computers?
  • What was your process for determining how to segment the information that you wanted to address in the book to balance the pacing of the reader with the density of the information?
  • Technical books are notoriously challenging to write due to the constantly changing subject matter. What are some of the ways that the first edition of "Code" was becoming outdated?
    • What are the most notable changes in the foundational elements of computing that have happened in the time since the first edition was published?
  • One of the concepts that I have found most helpful as a software engineer is that of "mechanical sympathy". What are some of the ways that a better understanding of computer hardware and electrical signal processing can influence and improve the way that an engineer writes code?
  • What are some of the insights that you gained about your own use of computers and software while working on this book?
  • What are the most interesting, unexpected, or challenging lessons that you have learned while writing "Code" and revising it for the second edition?
  • Once the reader has finished with your book, what are some of the other references/resources that you recommend?

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The intro and outro music is from Requiem for a Fish The Freak Fandango Orchestra / CC BY-SA