Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you don’t do a lot of math and math is not your kind of fun. Well, maybe not all of you are in that category, but many of you are. Yet here’s the thing, the entire digital world – all digital media – is built with mathematics and that math is pretty damn interesting. If you find a really great teacher who explains the math and doesn’t ask you to do any problem sets – just shows you how the math works and how it fits into the digital world – it’s amazingly interesting and that math opens up understanding.
Well, we’re in luck. I spent over a year reading and researching the digital world. I wanted to figure out what was happening. I also wanted to know what made it all work and how it had come together. The first thing I looked for was a history of all the coding languages. I kept hearing people talk, or write about, various languages: C++, Html, Java, etc. but I had no idea how they all came into existence or why.
Once I began to research for those languages I came across all sorts of other digital issues and technologies that were essential to digital technology development. I began to collect the books I’d need to understand the whole history and, substantially, everything about the development of the digital world. I read a lot, yet it took more than a year of reading to get through it all. In the end the collection of writers and books I collected gave me a pretty good vision of how the digital world was developed and what blows life into it.
Don’t Try These Mathematics By Yourself
Well, as I said at the beginning, there’s mathematics behind everything in the digital world, so at some point it seemed like I should also know more about that math. The thing is, while I’m very good at arithmetic, I’m not as good at mathematics. I can do all sorts of multiplication and addition in my head, but when the math begins using x and > symbols I become far less confident.
Fortunately, there are several writers who have faced this problem of explaining the digital world to none math oriented people. These writers have written easily understood stories about the mathematics that are behind all digital developments. There are four books I found most helpful and interesting – none of which require any problem sets or prior knowledge of mathematics. And, together, they offer an avenue into the numbers behind digital technology.
The first book is titled, The Joy Of X: A Guided Tour Of Math, from One to Infinity and is written with easily digestible chapters and includes plenty of examples and illustrations. For example, I found out that all the link evaluation that Google uses to arrive at page rankings are based on linear algebra. But, what’s really great about this book is that it offers a spoon fed explanation of what linear algebra is and why it works so well for Google. It’s explained so carefully that real insight opened up for me and I began to feel confident that I had some small handle on “getting” the math behind the digital world.
There are lots of other areas of mathematics that are all explained in entertaining and understandable ways. For example, number theory is at the foundation of everything that is digital. I had no idea what number theory meant, but by the time I read The Joy Of X, I felt like I had a grasp on what the math behind digital systmes is all about.
Do Your Skills With Equations Suck? Here Your Way Out
The logic behind mathematics is really interesting when it’s tied to real world problems – applied math – and when it is told by a talented story teller – but equations? Are they really interesting? They seem so intimidating; at least they do for me, yet once again – go find the right teacher and the student becomes ready. The book I found is titled, The Universe in Zero Words: The Story Of Mathematics As Told Through Equations. Bingo! Everything began to fit together.
Beginning with the worlds simplest equation 1+1=2 the stories unfold a fascinating world of practical problems that change real world circumstances. The Fourier series and the development of partial differential equations that were so instrumental in heat and fluid analysis also turned out to be the way to analyze electric and magnetic fields. They are thereby the math behind a great deal of cell phone technology which, of course, are broadcast on electromagnetic fields. The Fourier equations are very sophisticated equations, and yet when they are explained in such accessible prose the result is that they open up another part of the digital world.
So these books are the entry keys to higher math and equations, but there was yet another area of math – they left me with algorithms. I had been talking about algorithms for several years without really knowing what they were. I suspect there are a lot of people who are guilty of that particular sin. At any rate, once I had some idea about the math and equations of the digital world, I screwed up my courage and looked for a book about the center of coding – which is algorithms. The book I found is titled, 9 Algorithms That Changed The Future.
Once again a great story teller reveals the methods and thought patterns of coding for computers and the internet. It all seems so sensible and even easy, well maybe not easy, but at least fascinating and understandable. With these three books you will gain a substantial math foundation for understanding what happened in the digital world. But there is one final book that takes it all to yet a higher and more fascinating level.
Is Your Computer Safe From The Philosophy Of Mathematics?
By this time I knew what I was looking for – I started out looking for a great storyteller. As it turns out, Peter Watson is a fabulous story teller and he can take the most complex of problems and offer it up in words that make it easily understandable. This time the book is titled, The German Genius. It’s a huge book, weighing in at 856 pages of text, but I couldn’t put it down. It deals with a lot more than just math and the philosophy of math, but it also provides a great explanation for some of the philosophy of higher math.
If you go to the index and look up Bertrand Russell, and then read the pages and section where he is named, you’ll get a lot of the philosophy behind mathematical development. Also look up “mathematics” in the index and check out those entries as well. (If you are an avid reader, then just go ahead and read the entire book – you’ll be amazed.) The philosophy behind higher math when it’s told be a great storyteller is also fascinating and rounds out a foundational understanding of the digital world.
One final suggestion, do a Google search on the longtail keyword: “Bertrand Russell principia mathematica” and read about the philosophy of computing. Once you’ve read all of these books you’ll have an amazingly clear idea how the internet, computers and digital media operate. You won’t have any idea how to do it yourself, but that’s not the point, the idea is to feel confident you have access to the foundation math behind digital development.