Everyone Needs A Computer To Survive: Near-Portland Students Can Get Them Free.

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ou may have heard that computer science is important to study, but have you really heard the why?

Today we’re going to talk about why you need to study computer science to be successful. And then we’re going to talk about why getting a computer is not a problem for anyone near Portland, thanks to a great group called Free Geek. There’s a fair amount of reading, so skip to the parts which are interesting to you.


Why You Need Computer Science And, Therefore, A Computer.

Software Development: Your Future Job

Software developers have bad posture, according to this picture from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What are they trying to say? Be the cure. Sit straight.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Software Development is one of the fastest-growing highest-paying jobs. Read: It is one of the highest-paying jobs, and of the category of highest-paying jobs, it is is the fastest-growing. And many of those jobs require only a bachelor’s degree. (Source). That’s pretty wild. And it means if you want to hop on board with one of the most accessible and lucrative jobs in the US, you need to start programming.

About Software Development

Read a little bit about software development, as described by the US BLS. Here’s the gist:

  • The job growth from 2010-2020 is projected to be 30%. The average is 14%.
  • The median pay is $90,000 per year.
  • Entry-level jobs require a B.S. in computer science. Similar-paying jobs often require a Ph.D.

That last piece of information is important: if you want to become a high-paid software developer, you need to study computer science.

Obstacles for Computer Science Students

Charles Babbage, the first computer scientist, didn't have a computer but was still great. You can be, too. But since computers are, you know, invented now, we recommend picking one up.

Don’t even get us started on the number of non-programming jobs which require you to use a computer (most of them). That said, computer science what you need to survive.

So why are some people skeptical about CS majors, or hesitant to study it? Well, there are a couple things which, at first, seem scary:

  • A CS major involves a lot of mathematics classes.
  • It’s hard to get one’s hands on a computer with which to program at home.

Here’s the problem with math: it usually involves a lot of pencil-and-paper computations which are tedious and just plain annoying. That’s how math often gets taught in school. But the kind of math you learn for CS is less about computing and more about concepts, and you can have your computer do the computing (appropriate, isn’t it?). Check out this great TED talk, from one of the guys in charge of Wolfram Alpha, about how to revamp your math education:

Math is not about tedious calculations, it’s actually about logic and problem solving.
Plus, when you’re learning to program a computer, you can make it do all of the
calculations.

Given that a CS student needs to focus on conceptual math, and can make their computer do the calculating, that means that the biggest problem for CS students is getting a computer.


How to get your hands on a computer.

Linux is popular among programmers because it's completely open-source and completely customize-able. That's why there are custom distributions like Ubuntu.

For a lot of people, getting a computer can be hard. A decent one is a couple hundred dollars, and good ones can be over a thousand. Some people are lucky enough to get one as a gift or hand-me-down from family or friends, but other families just don’t have computers. That’s fine for a family, but not for you. You need one to study CS, or even just to get by in the professional world.

In Portland, there’s a company called Free Geek, whose goal is to get computers in the hands of as many people as possible. They believe computer skills are essential for the future, and have a number of programs to get computers into the hands of people who may not be able to get them otherwise.

The Ubuntu logo. Ubuntu is one of the most popular distributions of Linux.

Free Geek has two programs to get computers at no cost: the Adoption Program, where you donate 24 hours of time in exchange for a free computer; and the Build Program, where you build five computers for Free Geek, and then a sixth for yourself. Click the above links to learn more, and then apply.

The best part: the computer you get is loaded with Ubuntu Linux, a great operating system both because it’s free and because Linux operating systems are great for programming learners, thanks to their customization and their shell. Plus, they offer free classes for their volunteers.


Read On

Graphene gets the attention it deserves

Two weeks ago I posted about the Nobel Prize winners in physics, who won it for their research on inexpensively producing graphene. Since then, the computing/engineering/science world has been abuzz about this new wonder-structure, and for good reason.

A visualization of how spin computers would store data

Adding insulating barriers made this type of data-storage 30 times more efficient. And smaller; remember that the chicken-wire is one atom thick.

As you well-know, and possibly don’t even notice because of how fast it can be nowadays, all computers have to boot from a powered-down stage. This is partially because, in order to compute at an acceptable speed, your PC has to transfer data from the hard drive to your RAM, which is significantly faster to read and write data, but loses its memory when it’s not powered.

Basically, RAM is a tiny hard drive (sold in 1GB or 2GB chips) which is used for things your computer needs access to very rapidly.

This is in addition to various diagnostic checks your computer does to make sure everything is in working order.

Well, it looks like there may be a way around this boot process, now. Still in development, “spin” computing uses an electron’s spin to remember data when the computer is barely powered. This would essentially reduce a computer’s power consumption enough that it could remain powered all the time.

This technology may be around in as little as five years.

Here’s what appears to be the origin of this news. The scholarly journal, Physics Review Letters. And my other sources:


And according to this Popular Science article dump (written before my previous blog post!), graphene has a number of other uses:

This material is quickly-entering the Engineer’s repertoire of tools they can use.