I’m currently making my way through Charles Petzold’s book The Annotated Turing. Petzold’s book, Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware, is a must read for any software developer and is my favorite computer-related book. The Annotated Turing is proving to be just as interesting.
I’m only halfway through the book so I can’t provide a complete review. The first few chapters discuss Alan Turing’s educational background along with some introductory information on computability and number theory.
Petzold then breaks down Turing’s seminal paper, On Computable Numbers, With an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem. I started this book thinking much of the information would be over my head, but Petzold does a great job of breaking things down and providing easy-to-understand explanations.
Along with Petzold’s commentary, I decided it wold be helpful to create a Turing Machine simulator that I could use as I read through the book. The source code can be found here and a running demo can be found here. The demo includes some pre-configured Turing machine samples from the book, but allows you to define your own machine. Since I’m only halfway through the book, the simulator likely does not simulate the Universal Turing Machine that Turing ultimately designed. I’m hoping to continue updating the code as I finish the rest of the book.
So go out and grab the book, test out different machines on the simulator (or better yet, write your own simulator) and see how the computing age began. It’s a great way to learn about number theory, state machines, and is also a great reminder that we are all standing on the shoulders of giants.
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