Rob St. Amant

Rob St. Amant
December 31
My roots are in San Francisco and later Baltimore, where I went to high school and college. I stayed on the move, living for a while in Texas, several years in a small town in Germany, and then several more in Massachusetts, working on a Ph.D. in computer science. I'm now a professor at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh. My book, Computing for Ordinary Mortals, will appear this fall from Oxford University Press.



Oxford just sent me a box of twenty books. Each one has my name on the spine of the dust jacket.

Opening the box was a gratifying moment. And then I was reminded of Henry David Thoreau, whose first book didn't sell many copies. He wrote, "I have now a libraryRead full post »

I'm being a little presumptuous with this post. My book, Computing for Ordinary Mortals, won't appear until the fall. And it's my first book. So I might end up retitling this post "How to Write a Popular Science Book that Nobody Reads," or (the happier but less likely case) "The Secret to/Read full post »
JULY 7, 2012 9:34AM

My publishing experience

In the spirit of Cranky Cuss's account of self-publishing (Part I and Part II), I thought I'd write about my experience with a traditional non-fiction publisher. Not about writing the book, but about the process that surrounds the writing. This turns into an answer to the question, "Who moves a book/… Read full post »

JUNE 29, 2012 8:23AM

Obamacare and its detractors

I've been reading some of the unhappy reactions from Republicans about the Supreme Court's decision on Obamacare. There's a silver lining for  John Boehner at least; no one on his side is in danger of spiking the ball in celebration.

Here are a few of the reactions. The Supreme CoRead full post »

JUNE 15, 2012 7:27AM

Justin Bieber is a Literary Giant

End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till thousandsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation

Read full post »
JUNE 10, 2012 1:26PM

Welfare and Bible reading 

Earlier this month David Barton, an evangelical Christian minister who has published several history books (most recently The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You've Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, with a foreword by Glenn Beck), spoke on the topic of welfare. As quoted by rigRead full post »

JUNE 7, 2012 5:29PM

Everything old is new again

I wrote this back in 2008 and then took it down; here it is again, slightly updated.
Have you ever come across the notion that the world of computers is changing very rapidly? Me too. This theme runs constantly through discussions of computer and communication systems today: we'll need these upgrades;Read full post »

 (recycled image)

You may already know that I have a weakness for the supernatural, in children's literature, in movies, and in fiction. (Not in reality, of course.)  When summer rolls around, I unwind with books that are good or even just okay, and I try to avoid books tha… Read full post »

JUNE 2, 2012 11:41AM

Unemployment: Obama vs Romney


Glen Kessler, on his Washington Post Fact Checker blog, compares the job creation records of President Obama and Governor Romney over their times in office. His conclusion:

The similarities are actually more striking than the differences. 

Coincidentally, I've been looking at unemployme… Read full post »

Editor’s Pick
MAY 30, 2012 6:48AM

Why vote?

ballot box 

Is it worthwhile to vote in the Presidential election this coming November? I think so. Every four years, usually in the fall, you can read economic and decision theoretic arguments about whether voting is a rational act.1 Those arguments are fine for the mathematically inclined, b/… Read full post »

MAY 28, 2012 12:00PM

The magic of writing


When I was much younger I loved to read books about how to do magic. Not real magic, of course; mainly card tricks.1 I practiced doing passes, side slips, palms, and other basic sleights for hours on end. Today all that's survived of whatever skills I learned is a few card flo/… Read full post »

MAY 27, 2012 10:01AM

Boring stories of... (OS)


Last year I joined a planning committee, to replace a friend who was leaving.

"Can we still count on Frank?" asked Bill. Frank had been responsible for some of our work for the past several years.

"Yes," said Brad. "I'd like to get started a little earlier this year, so thatRead full post »

These days a lot of people seem to be thinking, "Maybe I could try one of those free online courses and learn how to program." Others say, "What's the point?" (Juliet Waters, blogging here on OS about her New Year’s resolution to learn how to code, explains what the point is.)/… Read full post »
Editor’s Pick
MAY 23, 2012 8:35AM

I'll bet you like ice cream.

Do you like ice cream? I'll predict that if you care enough to mention ice cream via Twitter, you're probably in favor of it, even moderately enthusiastic.

Am I just guessing? Not entirely. I used a visualization system developed by my colleague Chris Healey to produce thRead full post »
I posted this a couple of years ago, but the original version is gone; here it is again, in slightly altered form.
Imagine yourself a gentle woodland creature, perhaps a deer. You're peacefully munching on ferns and acorns in the forest, like Bambi, moving from one patch of fresh greener
Read full post »
My previous post was a Lewis Carroll pastiche about the organization of concepts in computer science. This isn't an unusual effort; several can be found online, and there's an entire book, Lauren Ispum, that combines themes from Alice, The Phantom Tollbooth, and probably other sources (I've only readRead full post »
I wonder if every computer scientist who writes for the general public is tempted to do an Alice pastiche?

This is a fragment from a draft of the first chapter of my not-yet-published book, Computing for Ordinary Mortals. One of my excellent reviewers said that this passage had to go,Read full post »
MAY 17, 2012 11:10PM

Looking for a date

Tonight my wife and I were watching TV, and though my attention wanders during the commercial breaks, I caught the tail end of an ad for a dating site:  "What was that?" I said. "It must be a joke," my wife said. But it's real. From their web site: 

We… Read full post »
APRIL 28, 2012 10:27PM

My first job

When someone asks me what I do for a living, I say, "I'm a college professor." If there's any further interest (usually the eyes have already glazed over) I say that I'm in a computer science department and I work on human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence. This all might sound rather… Read full post »

APRIL 19, 2012 10:12AM

My uneventful arrest

I've been arrested just once in my life. I wasn't charged, and I was released after a couple of hours. So this wasn't a life-changing experience. It just means that when filling out forms for employment and security clearances (I worked in the defense industry for several years), I have to… Read full post »

MARCH 30, 2012 12:33PM

Behind the title of a new book

book cover

Forthcoming this fall from Oxford University Press

So you've written a book. What should you call it?

Tough question. Two years ago I submitted a proposal to Oxford for a book titled Computational Thinking.

My editor liked it. (She suggested that I resubmit a proposal for two books, one purel/… Read full post »

MARCH 4, 2012 9:05AM

A non-apology

Rush Limbaugh:

What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex--what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. 
[Later:] ...In this instance, I choseRead full post »
JANUARY 13, 2012 11:27PM

Churches I have known

My wife and I married young, in our early 20s. The sequence of our lives since then has been a bit out of order. Some Americans travel through Europe after they retire, but my job took us there just a year or so after college. The two-year stay we'd planned on… Read full post »

JANUARY 12, 2012 9:41PM

Am I pronouncing this right?

Has someone ever corrected your pronunciation? It's happened to me often enough, even in public. One of my embarrassments was due to the word examplar--I was answering a question in class, when I was in grad school, and I pronounced it with emphasis on the first and third syllables. My professor/… Read full post »

JANUARY 4, 2012 9:17PM

An infinity of holiday cheer

This is a not-very-Christmas-y post I published a couple of weeks ago at does this make sense? I still like the ideas about infinity; I'm feeling more upbeat these days, though.

How do you understand infinity? An infinite amount of time, an infinitely large space, or an infinite number of… Read full post »