Brown Dogs and Barbers – “Could not have come at a better time, nor be better pitched”

The British Computer Society (BCS), the professional body for IT workers in the UK, was kind enough to publish a review of my book Brown Dogs and Barbers recently and gave it a roaringly good verdict – 9 out of 10. Here is a link to the review.

Of course, it’s very nice for someone to pay your work compliments, like being called “eloquent” and having an “easy, engaging style”. But there are other things in the review which I’m particularly pleased to read because they show that I’m achieving my goals for the book.

For instance, the reviewer agrees with me that the book is “aimed squarely at the intelligent layperson, it requires no prior expertise and sits within the genre of popular science.” I’m glad that I have managed to present these ideas in an understandable way that requires no background knowledge.

Furthermore, the reviewer recommends the book to target audiences that I also intended to shoot for: “IT professionals, teachers, parents and their teenage children will all find it an invaluable introduction to the key concepts and their practical application.” This is especially nice to read as I now know that the reviewer is in the field of education, working at a British school and active in the Computing at School BCS working group.

In the reviewer’s opinion (and mine too) Brown Dogs and Barbers is also a book that’s relevant to people already working in IT, stating: “If you have no background in computer science, this book will be a revelation. And if you think you know what computer science is about, this book will invoke connections you may never have considered before.”

If you’d like to read for yourself what prompted this review, you can order my book online at Smashwords or Amazon, where there are also samples to try before you buy.

Are you prepared for your child’s computing education?

An overhaul of computing education is looming in schools throughout the UK.

In recent years – but at least as far back as when I was a pupil in the 1990s – education in computing and computer science within British schools had a rather narrow focus. Children learned mainly about operating computers: using word processors to write documents, whipping up spreadsheets, (maybe) building simple databases and proficiency in using an operating system (any operating system, so long as it’s Microsoft Windows).

There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a fine goal to teach someone how to make good use of everyday applications. However, it must be admitted that this narrow focus merely teaches children how to be passive users of a computer. It gives them no grounding in the fundamentals of computing; they learn nothing about how a computer actually works.

But the upcoming overhaul of computing education will change that. Computing education will in the future focus on things like what an algorithm actually is; how to program a computer; how a program relates to an algorithm; how to detect errors in programs; how to reason about source code and find errors, and much more. It will be like physics lessons going from focusing on how to drive a car to learning the principles of the internal combustion engine.

And these changes won’t only affect college-level, or secondary school-level. It will begin from the first year of primary school.

Parents naturally want to support their children’s learning at home. With many subjects, you can do this. Many of today’s subjects are the same as when you were at school (Maths, Science, English, History etc.), so discussing their contents and helping with homework are doable. But chances are you were taught nothing about computer science at school, so how could you support your child in this subject?

One way to get a feeling is to look at the proposed syllabus. Schools in England and Wales divide all schooling into several blocks called key stages.  Each key stage covers several years of a child’s education.

Key stages 1 – 3 cover all of primary and most of secondary education. Children educated within these stages are aged between 5 and 14 years. Here’s a link to the UK Government’s breakdown of plans for teaching computing in England, but I’ve picked out some of the key parts here:

Key stage 1 (aged 5 – 7 years)

At this stage, some things your child will learn include:

  • What an algorithm is
  • What a program is and how it relates to an algorithm
  • What a digital device is
  • How to perform simple programming

Key stage 2 (aged 7 – 11 years)

  • Understand the importance of sequence, selection and repetition in algorithms
  • Understand computer networks
  • Use logical reasoning
  • Understand and detect errors in programs

Key stage 3 (aged 11 – 14 years)

  • Use and evaluate computational abstractions
  • Understand key algorithms (e.g. for sorting and searching)
  • Understand binary numbers and their use in computing
  • Understand how instructions and data are stored and executed in a computer

Some may look at that list and find that most of the items mean nothing to them. That might be discouraging if you’re a parent with a child in school. Nevertheless, it might prompt you to learn about the subject for yourself so you can share in what your son or daughter is picking up in computing lessons, but you may be unsure where to begin.

That’s one of the reasons I wrote my recently released book about computer science, Brown Dogs and Barbers. It has several intended audiences, but one of the primary ones is those people with no background in computing whatsoever who would like to learn about its fundamentals. That’s why it’s an easy-to-read book with a fun, casual style and touch of humour mixed in.

As an indicator of how helpful Brown Dogs and Barbers should be, compare the list of topics covered in the book (below) with the school syllabus. Topics that appear in both the book and the syllabus are emphasised:

  • Graph Theory
  • Set Theory
  • Sequence, selection and iteration
  • Algorithms
  • Theory of Computation
  • Turing Machine
  • Halting Problem
  • Complexity Theory
  • Binary and Hexadecimal
  • Binary Architecture
  • Von Neumann Architecture
  • Machine Coding and Assembly Language
  • High-Level Programming Languages
  • Searching and Sorting
  • Data Structures
  • Multi-tasking
  • Scheduling
  • Concurrency
  • Operating Systems
  • Networking
  • Security

I think that my book is ideal if you have school-age children and want to brush up on computer science so that you can prepare yourself to help them get to grips with this sometimes challenging but nevertheless rewarding and important subject.

It’s available to order at Smashwords or Amazon, where there are also samples to try before you buy.

Brown Dogs and Barbers – Available to buy!

Brown Dogs and Barbers, the computer science book for everyone, is now available to buy online. There’s even a new landing page where you can find free excerpts and links to online shops:

Right now you can get it from several distribution channels, including Amazon (find it your nearest Amazon outlet, like the US, Canada, UK or Germany) and Smashwords. Other retailers, like iTunes, are also currently preparing it for sale in their webstores. More news on those as I receive word.

Brown Dogs and Barbers: Exclusive samples hot off the press!

  • PDF (this is identical in layout the paperback version)
  • eBook
  • Mobi

We live in exciting times. My book, Brown Dogs and Barbers (which explains computer science to just about anyone who can read), is very close to publication.

The funding drive over the last few months raised enough to produce a professionally designed paperback and ebook, complete with crisp design, beautiful diagrams and an insanely cute front cover. It will be available to buy in places like Amazon and iTunes later this month.

Until then, you can follow the links above to get hold of a sample of the final book…

… and behold the front cover!


Donating to Brown Dogs and Barbers: Small update

Some readers have recently reported to me that the PayPal donate button (which in theory should allow you to donate to the publication of my book Brown Dogs and Barbers) isn’t working.

I’m not certain yet, but I think PayPal have recently made changes that have stopped the button from working… I’m currently looking into getting it working again.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in using PayPal to donate to the production of my book, you can send contributions to my email address:

Thank you for your continued support.