Computer Science for the English Major (CS for us in Hum.)

credit to: Tri-County College.

Photo credit to: here and here.

“If books were the technological achievements of the past, computers are the technology of the present and Twitter its medium for intellectual banter. Instead of shunning the Kindle, we should embrace it.” ~ Anon.

Computer Science is a mystery to me — the passionate and romantic Humanities major. But then I look at my peers, those who plug in their Macintosh and play their video games on PC and wonder how should they gauge this topic. Is there a topic to gauge? And even so, how do we, as Humanities majors, grasp Computer Science? It’s a science on a machine. There must not be much to it. I can plug it in and use it. Rarely do I need to ask how it works, what does it do, and how can I make it do the things I want.Yet as a supposedly “well-rounded” type of person (because we’re suppose to be “critical thinkers” in our academic field) we rarely look at the ethics, the sciences, and the practical values of a computer.

For example, how does software work? How do you go from a solid piece of hardware to a graphical interface that calculates things and processes text (and if you couldn’t follow that perhaps you might need to touch up on your reading level)? Can these machines be the future of everything that exists today? Could they write novels like we do today? Should we find it humbling that we can write a book but can’t write a program that writes novels for us? Would it be worse or better if we could write a program that could write books? How do we gauge this question without knowing anything about Computer Science? How do we learn about Computer Science as English majors?

There are many ways of answering these questions. The obvious method would be to change our majors to CS or CIS or IS or whatever you want to call it. We can read many, many brilliant scientific journals and books on computing topics such my favorite: Relational Algebra. Or we can try to follow a particular reading list. In the following blog posts, I’m going to try to elevate your knowledge on Computer Science, give you some resources, and try to hold your hand in this scary, scary field of knowledge.

Computer Science like math is a gateway to critical thinking. If more Humanities majors learned it, we get more say in that field. To have more say in the CS field would be an absolute nightmare to the stereotypical scientist. Since we are Humanities majors (gadflies as Socrates said), we should dig deep into this material, so we can understand it, deconstruct it, and eventually create true art and question every bit of it. Computer Science is like math. It is a form, an art, and a science all in one. It is something we can learn and develop and question. Therefore if you are a Humanities major, you should try to learn a science because we need more of you in the realm of sciences. Polarizing yourself from the sciences does not generate intellect but divides it, limiting yourself and the field that is growing rapidly and quickly. To be part of this conversation, to debate ethics in robotics and computing, we must learn about it.

And thus my blog: in the next week I will be posting a “reading” and give you details about what I’ve learned from it. I’ll also give you resources to use to catch up with me and then maybe a few exercises. In the following week, I will first look at the history of computing, then at the hardware, the operating system, and the organization of the machine. Then we’ll look at specific examples and focus on open source — since I don’t want to step on the toes of propriety software (and as an ethical person, you and I should support open source software — for that reason, a lot of this blog will be focused on Debian).


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