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From a NAND Gate To Tetris 103

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the artisinal-programming dept.
mikejuk writes "Long before the current crop of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Course) there was a course that taught you all you needed to know about computers by starting from the NAND gate and working its way up through the logic circuits needed for a computer, on to an assembler, a compiler, an operating system, and finally Tetris. Recently one of the creators of the course, Shimon Schocken, gave a TED talk explaining how it all happened and why it is still relevant today. Once you have seen what is on offer at http://www.nand2tetris.org/ you will probably decide that it is not only still relevant but the only way to really understand what computers are all about."
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From a NAND Gate To Tetris

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  • by Artifakt (700173) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @03:31AM (#41666725)

    I'm not saying its a good idea to develop an elitist attitude towards the people that use them, but this explains why there's some rational basis for looking down on scripting languages. It's not that they are inherently bad or that the people who use them lack the ability to do 'real programming'. But, they are basically all about not having to know anything at all about how the other layers of abstraction work, and a consequence is they also don't give the programmer any real connection to how the hardware layer works and how you get from it to what they know.
                For example, if you know how an OS is generally compiled in a language such as C or C++, then the next step is understanding that the compiler is itself running 'on a level above' assembly language. Understand that, and its a straightforward conclusion that a program can always be written in assembly that bypasses ANY controls the OS has about accessing different parts of memory, doing file copying, assigning user and admin permissions, and similar things. That program may be much less portable than something written in Perl, but it's inherently very powerful at what it does. It's not that people who program in assembly are necessarily any smarter or better at it than people who write Python. That's certainly debatable. The thing that isn't debatable is that the closer a programmer gets to machine language, the more they can do that nothing higher in the heirarchy can stop, position itself against, or even detect. At some point, that means trying to secure scripted code, or compiled code, or anything above assembly is like trying to defend a point with what may be a perfectly good machine gun, but the other side is the only one with stealthed, antimatter pumped, orbital X-ray laser arrays. They can have sloppy aim, lack elegance and inspiration, and still win.
                Nowdays, there are plenty of people working with a modern OS, even one that is still all compiled at just one level above assembly (if there are any real systems that you want to count as modern that still fit that, what with silverlight, dotnet, flash and so on on just about every machine out there), who don't understand the heirarchial nature of coding worth a damn. It seems to get worse as you get to people writng applications for the various OSes. Some of these people are very good coders (or scripters, or whatever), but they really just can't write secure apps, because they don't really understand what the difference between a script kiddee attacker and a threat whole governments wish they could get on their side really is.
              That's just one of the things this course and others like it are supposed to fix. A lot of us need this. Hell, I've known this stuff for 35-40 years, and this reminds me I should get out the old books and do a little refresher. If you've read things about coding becoming as professional as aero-space engineering or similar, and found yourself agreeing with any of them, this is where it starts.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @03:59AM (#41666837)

    Your reply just made Donald Knuth cry.

    Sometimes you need to learn a generic and simplified technology before you can comprehend the incredibly complex and optimized real world examples. And sometimes real world examples are so narrowly designed that you would lose out on a general understanding of computing by focusing on that one design. Finally, sometimes real world examples carry the baggage of the past which can waste valuable time.

  • by Rockoon (1252108) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:21AM (#41667097)

    I'm not saying its a good idea to develop an elitist attitude towards the people that use them, but this explains why there's some rational basis for looking down on scripting languages. It's not that they are inherently bad or that the people who use them lack the ability to do 'real programming'. But, they are basically all about not having to know anything at all about how the other layers of abstraction work, and a consequence is they also don't give the programmer any real connection to how the hardware layer works and how you get from it to what they know.

    The same argument could be used against C++, or C, and not just scripting languages like you claim. I know that most C programmers think they are doing low level programming, but they aren't.

    For example, if you know how an OS is generally compiled in a language such as C or C++, then the next step is understanding that the compiler is itself running 'on a level above' assembly language. Understand that, and its a straightforward conclusion that a program can always be written in assembly that bypasses ANY controls the OS has about accessing different parts of memory, doing file copying, assigning user and admin permissions, and similar things.

    Umm, no. Just no. I have a great idea.. when you don't know what you are talking about, don't fucking talk. We both know that you don't know what you are talking about, which leads to the conclusion that you like to pretend to know what you are talking about... in short, you are a dishonest fuck.

A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any other invention, with the possible exceptions of handguns and Tequilla. -- Mitch Ratcliffe

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