How Computers Work


67 Responses to “How Computers Work”

  1. jameslosey says:

    I really hope the sequel is about rainbows. I’ve been trying to figure those out for a while.

  2. Lexicat says:

    Ahem: page 4 “You should do what scientists tell you.”

    Speaking strictly as a scientist myself may I say: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!

  3. madopal says:

    /puts on tweed sportcoat with patches on elbows
    / puts pipe in mouth
    / stands behind large mahogany desk in tenured office
    / places arm up in front, curls fist, points index finger toward ceiling


  4. nixiebunny says:

    Written by the folks who do “Look Around You”, I presume.

    • flosofl says:

      What I loved is how started a just a little wonky and then kept building the insanity until it reached a fantastic WTF crescendo.

  5. Andrew McKay says:

    MEAT goes in?  I have to feed my computer meat?  That’s what I’ve been doing wrong all these years…. Who knew?

    • chellberty says:

      No it has been feeding itself all these years, haven’t you noticed the missing children in your neighborhood?
      The machines just don’t want you to know that the chart that mentions meat goes the other way around.

    • grib says:

      That’s what the puppy control unit is for.

  6. Please tell me this is Peter Serafanowicz writing a book. It is so very his style:

    “The latest computers from Japan can also perform magical operations.” YES.

  7. SaberUK says:

    input -> magic -> output


  8. Stefan Jones says:

    I remember reading books LIKE this one, on various technical topics, and feeling utterly discouraged and put-off.

  9. “Remember, however, that electricity is like magic; no one really understands it, and it is very dangerous.”

    Nuff said.

  10. MrEricSir says:

    I didn’t know Scientology was part of a CPU.  It all makes sense now!

  11. robuluz says:

    What I’m taking away from this is that if I paint my computer red it will be faster.

  12. Barry Wilson says:

    I… I feel like I’ve been trolled.

  13. endymion says:

    Awesome… like a slightly subdued “Giraffes? Giraffes!”. I didn’t even get that something was up until I saw “Scientology”. Nice remixing, Rob.

    • Ripcord2 says:

      At first I thought it was just the “real” authors trying to add tongue-in-cheek humor to their “beginner” book to make it more accessible…then suspected something was up on the 4th page.  When I skimmed ahead and saw “meat” I knew it was a farce, and “scientology” I knew it was modern.

      Nicely done, though =)

  14. Paul Renault says:

    My CPU is made of aluminium – not mahogany, not maple, not pine…andespecially not copper!

    • fight4paece says:

      CPU = silicon semicunductor
      Cheap heat sink = aluminum
      Quality heat sink = copper
      1337 heat sink = Mahogany

      No one is using maple or pine anymore.

  15. SoItBegins says:

    See, proof that “Da red wuns go fasta!”

  16. scruss says:

    Those computers aren’t red, they’re Hot Tango. They’re also ICL 2900s, the first machine I write a program on (at age 5).

    ICL were cool. For the launch of a new range of mainframes in 1979, they commissioned a suite of music from electro-prog composer Richard Harvey. Here’s the first part:

  17. I skimmed through to “Puppy Control Unit” before I noticed that there was something a little off.

    • Mark Dow says:

      Page 16-17 of the original is worth a look: “The speed at which coding can be done depends on the speed at which the operator can work. This is not much more than 5 characters a second — too slow to be fed straight into the computer, which can ‘read’ the code much faster than this.” And the ‘Multi-function Card Unit’ is geekalicious.

      The replicant needs some sort of verifier to operate on the first paragraph of the ‘Computer Store’ page. This verifier would be a higher level machine that can compare word forms with a set of perforated cards encoded with valid entries, and spit out the non-matching imformation.

  18. BombBlastLightingWaltz says:

    Norman Bates is typing in the 9th frame, “If I could kill, you would be first.” Typical psycho killer profile, Caucasian, collar shirt, married, glasses.


    I forwarded this to a friend who’s a PC tech.  He’s going to slide the link into the weekly mandatory training for his group just to see if anyone’s paying attention.  Oh, to be a fly on the wall…

  20. jimh says:

    I think an opportunity was missed to include this exchange on the graphical display unit:

    /Wouldn’t you prefer a nice game of chess?
    /Later. Let’s play Global Thermonuclear War.

  21. Jamie Kelly says:

    No wonder my work computer is so slow; it’s black, and faster computers are painted red!

    • regeya says:

      I was going to buy an SSD to speed up my workstation; I’m going to get a can of red Krylon instead.  To the hardware store!

      Anyone know how glossy my computer needs to be?  I could take it to a body shop and have it professionally painted, and a couple of layers of clearcoat added.  Is waxing necessary?

  22. nixiebunny says:

    The last page shows a “minibar” that’s a line printer. A local fellow turned a VAX 11/780 into a minibar some years back. He had to hunt around for a small sink, as the VAX is smaller than a kitchen counter.

  23. I always thought Kitten on the Keys was more than a metaphor. It’s a meataphor!

  24. Nadreck says:

    Ah, those pictures take me back to the good’ol days of Mainframes in Remote Data Centres!  Of course, now we have Servers in the Cloud so things are completely different.

  25. Joe ST says:

    I have this book :D

  26. fight4paece says:

    Scientology! So this explains the inaccuracies of floating point calculations?

  27. Imran Ali says:

    I had this! I think it was the first book on computing I owned, probably 1981/1982!

  28. Steve Guy says:

    The original is actually my copy of the book, scanned by my brother. I feel very proud whenever this crops up online.

  29. Beanolini says:

    Apparently the Ministry of Defence had their own edition of the original book for training their staff in the 1970s.

  30. Christopher D'Arcy-Thompson says:

    The computer featured on p4 and again, as an artist’s impression on p40 is a Burroughs B-80 (You can just make out the model number on the keyboard/printer on page 4 – My Dad had one of those!! Its dot-matrix printer could print The Mona Lisa as its test routine, using different characters to generate the image in mono… That machine is what got me interested in computers and here I am, 30 years later, running a web company. Genius!

  31. IronEdithKidd says:

    I don’t know whether to thank Rob or turn myself over to the hydrocarbon reclamation unit. 

    I’m off to the market for some fresh kittens.  Got some numbers to crunch and the bees are getting bored.  Wouldn’t want to see what happens if the computer is left alone long enough to start dreaming, now would we?

  32. So that’s why my computer is so slow. I need more bees.

  33. Andrew Pierce says:

    > If I could touch, I would touch God

    Obviously this was before the Internet.

  34. SamSam says:

    I love this, but I really wish there wasn’t one glaring anachronism on page 40 (the Puppy Control Unit page). Until then I honestly thought that this was the original text of a brilliant book from the 70s.

    (Then again, I also thought that Life of Pi was actually “based on a true story” up until about half-way through the book, so maybe I’m just slow….)

  35. “Office romance displeases computers.” Brilliant, good sir.

  36. Listener43 says:

    My first thought was that this book was a mega flop, but now I realise you were just floating my point.
    Well played, sir, well played indeed.

  37. On the first page, I thought it was a badly-written instructional manual from 1979.

    On the third page, I realized that it must be supremely dry comedy from 1979, such as National Lampoon might have made. I immediately ran out and ordered a copy for my dad. 50 pages of this would be comedy gold!

    By the time it mentioned Wikipedia, I realized that it must be a modern phenomenon, but still! Comedy gold! But wait! There actually is a Ladybird Press and this book actually existed in 1979. Is it a reissue?

    You can imagine my disappointment to find that it’s a mash-up, and this is all of it that exists. I insist that an entire book be created in this vein.

  38. HahTse says:

    “Da’ red unz go fasta”

  39. Guest says:

    What the f…

    Ow, my brain!

    Overall, I was disappointed. From the cover, I expected computers to be powered by ladybugs turning gears.

  40. I want to see a thousand more of these and buy some physical ones too (kickerstarter project anyone?)

  41. highjumpman says:

    I still have this book!

  42. bearchild says:

    I’m 18 and I have loads of these old books from my parents when they were kids. I used to read them when I was really young. Must be in a loft somewhere around here…

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