RAMs, ROMs, and Robots Analysis
by Jane Fitz-Randolph

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RAMs, ROMs, and Robots Analysis

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

RAMs, ROMs, and Robots can be read easily by young people. Jespersen and Fitz-Randolph use many analogies to help readers understand complex concepts involving computer language, processes, and uses. For example, the authors explain how a computer stores and controls information by using the analogy of a library. The analogy begins simply by comparing a computer to the card catalog in the library in the way that it keeps track of information. The analogy becomes more complex as the computer is also likened not only to the books in the library but also to an index containing all the words in all the books in the library.

The information that the book provides about the early contributors to computer development is both enlightening and entertaining. Charles Baggage becomes more than a name to remember; the authors portray him as a real person who had both a genius for understanding mathematics and the inability to appreciate the meaning behind Tennyson’s poem because he could see only the inaccuracy of the computation. In the same way, the authors paint a vivid picture of Alan Turing as a small boy, uniquely solving a problem that caused his bicycle chain to slip. These anecdotes help young readers identify with these important people.

In their discussion about the inner workings of the computer and how it interprets data, the authors use uncomplicated language and illustrations to help young people comprehend a sample program. Readers come away with an appreciation for the difficulty in formulating commands for programs without having to be expert in computer languages. The authors give a clear explanation of the problems that can occur in writing a computer program and how complex the solutions can become.

The authors’ discussion of robots, however, is not as clear and complete as other parts of the book. Although the information is not erroneous, several important details about robots and robotics are missing: Much of the history of robots is not given, the simplistic overview of how a robot interprets data may lead readers to believe that all robots work in the same way, and uses for robots are not detailed. The chapter does indicate some of the problems in designing and using robots, especially in industry.

The last part of the book attempts to bring together the information already presented and new concepts. Again, the authors use illustrations and analogies to help make their information clear. Younger readers may have difficulty in understanding some of the concepts in the last section. The discussion on networking is not as clear as an earlier discussion about the processing of information. Readers may become confused by the large numbers, such as “100 trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion years”; they may understand that the number is large, but they may not comprehend how much time the number represents.

The next chapter suggests what may be in the future for computers. Using Albert Einstein’s equation “E = mc2,” the authors lead young readers through a discussion on the ways in which nature and natural laws affect and limit a computer’s ability to process information. Examples of the Cray-1 and the Cray-2 are used to explain how computers can process information quickly and the necessity of operating computers at low temperatures. The authors then jump to how information is stored both on a disk and using holographic images. These chapters give a simplistic overview of a complex problem, and readers may have to investigate other sources for clarification.

The last chapter considers artificial intelligence. Once again, the authors use analogies to help the reader understand the difference between intelligence and artificial intelligence. Examples of the ways in which computers work and how they could work are discussed, but the authors refrain from offering specific suggestions. Instead, readers are encouraged to use their imaginations and to discover their own possibilities for computers.

The glossary is useful in helping readers define difficult or puzzling terms, and the index is easy to use for readers in this age group. RAMs, ROMs, and Robots is a good source for young people who are interested in how and why computers work.