How Do Computers Work?: New Video Series Explains the Inner Workings of the Device You Use Every Day

How do computers work? Yes, that appliance you use every day? To help answer the question, Code.org (a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science) has put together a collection of primers that explain some of the oft-discussed components of computers--circuits, memory, CPU, etc. And how they all fit together.

The first video starts off with an introduction by Bill Gates. Watch the remaining five videos (each about five minutes long) just by letting the playlist run above. Or see this video collection on YouTube.

h/t Paul

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Download 240+ Free eBooks on Design, Data, Software, Web Development & Business from O’Reilly Media

Last year we highlighted for you 20 Free eBooks on Design from O’Reilly Media. Little did we know that we were just scratching the surface of the free ebooks O'Reilly Media has to offer.

If you head over to this page, you can access 240+ free ebooks covering a range of different topics. Below, we've divided the books into sections (and provided links to them), indicated the number of books in each section, and listed a few attractive/representative titles.

You can download the books in PDF format. An email address--but no credit card--is required. Again the complete list is here.

Note: An earlier version of this post originally appeared on our site in January 2017.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Artificial Intelligence May Have Cracked the Code of the Voynich Manuscript: Has Modern Technology Finally Solved a Medieval Mystery?

What is it about the Voynich Manuscript—that cryptic, illustrated 15th century text of unknown origin and meaning—that has so fascinated and obsessed scholars for centuries? Written in what appears to be an invented language, with bizarre illustrations of otherworldly botany, mysterious cosmology, and strange anatomy, the book resembles other proto-scientific texts of the time, except for the fact that it is totally indecipherable, “a certain riddle of the Sphinx,” as one alchemist described it. The 240-page enigma inspires attempt after attempt by cryptologists, linguists, and historians eager to understand its secrets—that is if it doesn’t turn out to be a too-clever Medieval joke.

One recent try, by Nicholas Gibbs, has perhaps not lived up to the hype. Another recent attempt by Stephen Bax, who wrote the short TED Ed lesson above, has also come in for its share of criticism. Given the investment of scholars since the 17th century in cracking the Voynich code, both of these efforts might justifiably be called quite optimistic. The Voynich may forever elude human understanding, though it was, presumably, created by human hands. Perhaps it will take a machine to finally solve the puzzle, an artificial brain that can process more data than the combined efforts of every scholar who has ever applied their talents to the text. Computer scientists at the University of Alberta think so and claim to have cracked the Voynich code with artificial intelligence (AI).




Computer science professor Greg Kondrak and graduate student Bradley Hauer began their project by feeding a computer program 400 different languages, taken from the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” While “they initially hypothesized that the Voynich manuscript was written in [ancient] Arabic,” reports Jennifer Pascoe, “it turned out that the most likely language was [ancient] Hebrew.” (Previous guesses, the CBC notes, “have ranged from a type of Latin to a derivation of Sino-Tibetan.”) The next step involved deciphering the manuscript’s code. Kondrak and Hauer discovered that “the letters in each word… had been reordered. Vowels had been dropped.” The theory seemed promising, but the pair were unable to find any Hebrew scholars who would look at their findings.

Without human expertise to guide them, they turned to another AI, whose results, we know, can be notoriously unreliable. Nonetheless, feeding the first sentence into Google translate yielded the following: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.” It’s at least grammatical, though Kondrak admits “it’s a kind of strange sentence to start a manuscript.” Other analyses of the first section have turned up several other words, such as “farmer,” “light,” “air,” and “fire”—indeed the scientists have found 80 percent of the manuscript's words in ancient Hebrew dictionaries. Figuring out how they fit together in a comprehensible syntax has proven much more difficult. Kondrak and Hauer admit these results are tentative, and may be wrong. Without corroboration from Hebrew experts, they are also unlikely to be taken very seriously by the scholarly community.

But the primary goal was not to translate the Voynich but to use it as a means of creating algorithms that could decipher ancient languages. “Importantly,” notes Gizmodo, “the researchers aren’t saying they’ve deciphered the entire Voynich manuscript,” far from it. But they might have discovered the keys that others may use to do so. Or they may—as have so many others—have been led down another blind alley, as one commenter at IFL Science suggests, sarcastically quoting the wise Bullwinkle Moose: “This time for sure!”

You can find the Voynich Manuscript scanned at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Copies can be purchased in book format as well.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Movements of a Symphony Conductor Get Artistically Visualized in an Avant-Garde Motion Capture Animation

Some classical music enthusiasts are purists with regard to visual effects, listening with eyes firmly fixed on liner notes or the ceilings of grand concert halls.

Those open to a more avant-garde ocular experience may enjoy the short motion capture animation above.

Motivated by the London Symphony Orchestra’s desire for a hipper identity, the project hinged on recently appointed Musical Director Sir Simon Rattle’s willingness to conduct Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations with a specially modified baton, while 12 top-of-the-range Vicon Vantage cameras noted his every move at 120 frames per second.




Digital designer Tobias Gremmler, who’s previously used motion-capture animation as a lens through which to consider kung fu and Chinese Opera, stuck with musical metaphors in animating Sir Simon’s data with Cinema 4D software. The movements of conductor and baton morph into a “vortex of wood, brass, smoke and strings” and “wires reminiscent of the strings of the instruments themselves.” Elsewhere, he draws on the atmosphere and architecture of classic concert halls.

(The uninitiated may find themselves flashing on less rarified sources of inspiration, from lava lamps and fire dancing to the 80’s-era digital universe of Tron.)

via Atlas Obscura

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

What Actually Is Bitcoin? Princeton’s Free Course “Bitcoin and Currency Technologies” Provides Much-Needed Answers

"Don't Understand Bitcoin?" asked the headline of a recent video from Clickhole, the Onion's viral-media parody site. "This Man Will Mumble an Explanation at You." The inexplicable hilarity of the mumbling man and his 72-second explanation of Bitcoin contains, like all good humor, a solid truth: most of us don't understand Bitcoin, and the simplistic information we seek out, for all we grasp of it, might as well be delivered unintelligibly. A few years ago we featured a much clearer three-minute explanation of that best-known form of cryptocurrency here on Open Culture, but how to gain a deeper understanding of this technology that, in one form or another, so many of us will eventually use?

Consider joining "Bitcoin and Currency Technologies," a free course from Coursera taught by several professors from Princeton University, including computer scientist Arvind Narayanan, whose Princeton Bitcoin Textbook we featured last year. The eleven-week online course (classroom versions of whose lectures you can check out here) just began, but you can still easily join and learn the answers to questions like the following: "How does Bitcoin work? What makes Bitcoin different? How secure are your Bitcoins? How anonymous are Bitcoin users? What determines the price of Bitcoins? Can cryptocurrencies be regulated? What might the future hold?" All of those, you'll notice, have been raised more and more often in the media lately, but seldom satisfactorily addressed.

"Real understanding of the economic issues underlying the cryptocurrency is almost nonexistent," writes Nobel-winning economist Robert J. Shiller in a recent New York Times piece on Bitcoin. "It is not just that very few people really comprehend the technology behind Bitcoin. It is that no one can attach objective probabilities to the various possible outcomes of the current Bitcoin enthusiasm." Take Princeton's course, then, and you'll pull way ahead of many others interested in Bitcoin, even allowing for all the still-unknowable unknowns that have caused such thrilling and shocking fluctuations in the digital currency's eight years of existence so far. All of it has culminated in the current craze Shiller calls "a marvelous case study in ambiguity and animal spirits," and where ambiguity and animal spirits rule, a little intellectual understanding certainly never hurts.

Enroll free in "Bitcoin and Currency Technologies" here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Advanced Algorithms: A Free Course from Harvard University

From Harvard professor Jelani Nelson comes "Advanced Algorithms," a course intended for graduate students and advanced undergraduate students. All 25 lectures you can find on Youtube here.

Here's a quick course description:

"An algorithm is a well-defined procedure for carrying out some computational task. Typically the task is given, and the job of the algorithmist is to find such a procedure which is efficient, for example in terms of processing time and/or memory consumption. CS 224 is an advanced course in algorithm design, and topics we will cover include the word RAM model, data structures, amortization, online algorithms, linear programming, semidefinite programming, approximation algorithms, hashing, randomized algorithms, fast exponential time algorithms, graph algorithms, and computational geometry"

"Advanced Algorithms" will be added to our collection of Free Computer Science Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Algorithms for Big Data: A Free Course from Harvard

Algorithms for Big Data: A Free Course from Harvard

From Harvard professor Jelani Nelson comes "Algorithms for Big Data," a course intended for graduate students and advanced undergraduate students. All 25 lectures you can find on Youtube here.

Here's a quick course description:

"Big data is data so large that it does not fit in the main memory of a single machine, and the need to process big data by efficient algorithms arises in Internet search, network traffic monitoring, machine learning, scientific computing, signal processing, and several other areas. This course will cover mathematically rigorous models for developing such algorithms, as well as some provable limitations of algorithms operating in those models. Some topics we will cover include":

  • Sketching and Streaming. Extremely small-space data structures that can be updated on the fly in a fast-moving stream of input.
  • Dimensionality reduction. General techniques and impossibility results for reducing data dimension while still preserving geometric structure.
  • Numerical linear algebra. Algorithms for big matrices (e.g. a user/product rating matrix for Netflix or Amazon). Regression, low rank approximation, matrix completion, ...
  • Compressed sensing. Recovery of (approximately) sparse signals based on few linear measurements.
  • External memory and cache-obliviousness. Algorithms and data structures minimizing I/Os for data not fitting on memory but fitting on disk. B-trees, buffer trees, multiway mergesort.

"Algorithms for Big Data" will be added to our collection of Free Computer Science Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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