Logic Lessons That Last Generations

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 from 2:30 – 3:15pm in B302/303


In the 1980s, my grandfather reached onto the bookshelves of his cigar-smoke-seasoned garage laboratory and pulled down a three-ring binder that would change my life. Come hear how a 50-year-old introduction to binary logic has managed to stay relevant after all these decades, and what it means for our own efforts to teach and document technical subjects.


In 1962, William S. Bennett began running “Binary Logic,” a new series of articles for Product Engineering magazine. Each installment contained a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style lesson about a particular aspect of digital circuits.

Bennett would start with day-to-day objects like light bulbs, springs, and air hoses, and then make analogies to digital circuit elements: AND gates, OR gates, inverters, and so on. On each page, he’d show you a thought experiment and ask you to predict the result. Depending on your answer, you’d either land on the next puzzle or an explanation of what went wrong. If you stuck it out through 1965, you could just about design a computer.

The lessons were so clear that even my youthful self could digest them. When we look at the yellowed pages 50 years later, we see that the teachings still hold.

How did Bennett manage to create something that kids could understand, and that has held up so well over time? What does that mean for the way we teach engineering, and for the way we document our projects? These are the questions we’ll explore in this talk.

Speaking experience

This is a new talk. I have spoken at Open Source Bridge (2010, 2011) OSCON (2009, 2011), JRubyConf (2011), and other conferences. Slides are available here: http://lanyrd.com/profile/undees