February 5, 2001
Ever since I had read about digerati member Danny Hillis' tinkertoy creation, I couldn't really get it out of my mind. How can you make a tinkertoy construction play a game of tick-tack-toe? A couple years ago I even dug up an article in Scientific American on his creation, but it really didn't clear things up for me.
But Patterns on the Stone has.
It took the creator of the tinkertoy computer himself to clearly explain to me how something 'mechanical' could play tick-tack-toe. In fact, that's the reason why he built it.
With this book, Hillis explains with a rare lucidity that the fundamentals that make up a computer are ideas - not electrical parts. You can embody logical arguments in many different ways; you could build a computer out of water pipes if you wanted to. In describing the 'universal computer' Hillis also explains the basics of programming, the limits of programs, algorithms and heuristics, parallel computing, and how to evolve a computer.
Aside from his exceptional ability to distill the "simple ideas that make computers work", Hillis, is a pretty remarkable fellow. After creating one of the fastest computers in the world, he helped found the Long Now Foundation to create the world's slowest computer: a clock that will ring once a millennium.