Welcome to the inaugural post of the BinaryDolphin blog. Yes, it’s a silly name. Yes, we’re about to explain it. No, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Before we give an insufficient explanation of the name, perhaps we should talk about why this isn’t a blog named after the sole author. Is it because we hope that one day this blog will be a dominant force in the world of tech blogs with lots of authors? That would be nice, but no. It has more to do with The Economist. Namely, the byline practices…
The Economist almost never gives a byline for articles. Those articles have a specific point of view, offer opinions and analysis, and often assume a particular level of knowledge about the subject matter. Because the specific author is never named, the resulting publication is one with a coherent position. Of course that position is fluid, flexible, often contradictory, and sometimes wrong. But it’s the position of The Economist, and not journalists Alice and Bob.
Binary Dolphin doesn’t necessarily agree with anything that The Economist publishes, but the idea that you should consider the editorial voice of the publication (or blog) where your writing is visible seems like a pretty good practice. The solo author of this blog is pretty far from a professional writer. Perhaps the cover of a named blog will remove some of the self- imposed impostor syndrome.
What does the name mean? Ha, if that’s all you want to know you’re going to disappointed. I like dolphins, and I wanted a name that conveyed both computer science (binary) and nature (dolphin). That’s it. Nothing about numerology, AI-enhanced porpoises, or reductionist classifications of marine life. I mean, we all agree that the relative coolness of mammals must be continuous and not discrete - amirite?
Which bring us to what the blog intends to be about. Well, it should come as no surprise, but computer science pretty much sums it up. We love the assumptions, theories, proofs, facts, and practice that all make up computing. We’re also big fans of making computers do things by writing code. And sometimes when you write code, you need to get serious about it - and that’s software engineering.
That’s all well and good, but should that interest anyone other than computer geeks and mathematicians? It doesn’t matter if you’re a Turing Award winner or an anti-science luddite 1 Technology in general and computing in particular are shaping the society around you. That’s important because ordinary citizens can inspect, examine, and change a large part of the computing doing all that shaping. If those citizens are technically savvy. Those kinds of citizens are also prepared to ask the important question “why isn’t the rest of computing open to that kind of inspection?”
Technology in general and computing in particular are shaping the society around you.
Ever wondered what those open source zealots were on about? Or what the big deal about software patents is all about? Well, that’s what geeks who talk about “computing and society” are talking about. That and other issues that are hard to reason about if you don’t have at least a cursory grasp of the terms. We plan to dedicate some time to these kinds of questions. In a future (that some think is already here), knowledge about these kinds of questions can be the difference between prosperous citizens and a second-class group excluded from all the possibilities we’re trying to give everyone.
Computing can benefit the world in plenty of other ways. In fact, a lot of us in computing now feel strongly that “computational thinking” is a way of approaching the world that is valuable and distinct from other fields. Of course, all the STEM fields would claim a unique way of getting at truth in the world. The best of those approaches end up spreading to all the STEM fields. The analytic approaches in math, the mathematical model-building in physics, the statistical equilibrium approach in chemistry, the systems thinking in biology, the statistic design of experiments in the social sciences, and other approaches are all at the core of modern scientific practices. What’s so special about computing?
Computer scientists and software engineers specialize in recursive patterns, algorithmic approaches, combinatorial analysis, abstractions, compositionality, data modeling, and plenty of other cool terms in our word salad. Taken together the field of computing provides an impressive array of intellectual tools for understanding and exploring the world around us. That doesn’t mean that you get to skip analytical calculus to do physics, and you don’t get to skip statistics to do, well, anything. It does mean that you can find ways to explore scientific phenomena when “traditional” analytic techniques let you down. Ask anyone that’s ever tried to model all the planetary motion in a solar system. In fact, we’ll go one step further and claim that you already need at least some computing skills to do any kind of serious science.
And that kind of thinking isn’t one way. Nature informs our computational models, and the act of building our computational models can improve our understanding of those natural phenomena. We won’t try and teach you all the math underlying Maxwell’s equations, but we can show you how to create a simple computational model of a system of differential equations. And you’ll understand it.
Perhaps at least some of all that will appeal to some of our readers. If not, well, we’re going to have fun writing about it anyway.
Links used in this article (or that you might want to check out):
- an anti-science luddite: http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2015/10/26/global_warming_lamar_smith_wants_to_tie_noaa_in_knots.html
- Computational Thinking: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_thinking
- Free Software: http://www.fsf.org/about/what-is-free-software
- Maxwell’s Equations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell’s_equations
- N Body Problem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N-body_problem
- Software Carpentry: http://software-carpentry.org/
- STEM: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science,_Technology,_Engineering,_and_Mathematics
- The Economist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Economist
- Turing Award winner: http://amturing.acm.org/
- Yes, we went there. Pro Tip: if you disagree with every major scientific organization on the planet, then the burden of proof lies squarely on you. You need a bunch of evidence, and some actual physics would be nice. Deal with it. ↩
- "Hello World" image created by binarydolphin.com has been dedicated to the public domain. ↩