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The Physics of Information Technology (Cambridge Series on Information and the Natural Sciences) Hardcover – 16 Oct 2000


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Review of the hardback: 'Gershenfeld's book will be valuable for physical scientists looking for an enjoyable introduction to the information sciences.' Science

Review of the hardback: 'The book is attractive for its presentation bringing together in a skillful way fundamentals of physics and technological devices … this book is very recommended for teaching the basics of electrical engineering and the simultaneous breath of coverage and conciseness is quite amazing.' Zentralblatt für Mathematik

Book Description

In this companion volume to his highly successful Nature of Mathematical Modeling, Gershenfeld explores the devices we use to collect, transform, transmit, and interact with electronic information to help both physical and computer scientists see beyond the conventional division between hardware and software to understand implications of physical theory for information manipulation.

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Amazon.com: 5 reviews
54 of 64 people found the following review helpful
Great idea but marred by many, many errors 1 Jun. 2001
By "engphys" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
When I first saw this book advertised, I thought it would be a painless way to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, e.g. in quantum computing and information theory. It indeed has a very wide sweep, an engaging style that is very clear and moves the reader along, an attractive design, and many other good points. I haven't checked all the math, but Gershenfeld seems most at home with theory.
The problem is that when he touches on something I really am expert in, he falls on his face much too often. I don't mean just that he oversimplifies and leaves things out--how could he not--but that the book is full of genuine factual misinformation. Some representative examples: In 3.1.2, he confuses deterministic and stochastic processes completely, a confusion that persists throughout the extended discussion of noise; in 3.3.1, he says that shot noise dominates only for small arrival rates, whereas in reality it is dominant only in the limit of large rates; in 10.3, he's wrong about how bipolar transistors work, and wrongly says that their base current is why they aren't widely used in logic anymore; in the preamble to Chapter 12, he says that hard disk drives use "basically rust" to store information, whereas they've used plated metal for years, and that recording heads fly at 1 micron, whereas it's 50-100 times closer than that (120-200 angstroms). His discussion of modems wrongly says that 50kb/s+ modems rely on data compression for their speed, whereas the discrepancy is his underestimation of the S/N ratio of a good phone line.
And (most embarrassing of all for a theoretician) in his discussion of special relativity, he goes through a long derivation of the kinetic energy of motion, but makes an elementary integration error in the last line in order to (wrongly) display the famous mc**2.
Gershenfeld is clearly a very able guy who knows a lot about the physics of information technology--but I'd trust the book a lot more if I didn't keep tripping over these sorts of things. Let's hope the second edition is more carefully done.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Setting things straight 15 Sept. 2004
By A reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I read this book shortly after it was published and continue to refer to it often, particularly for its insight discussion about noise. I was shocked to see the overwhelming percentage of helpful votes for the June 1, 2001 review and feel compelled to set things straight:

The author's derivation of E = mc**2, in which he includes the factor of \gamma, is absolutely correct. The previous reviewer has apparently confused rest energy and total energy.

The author never claims that the fly height of modern hard disk heads is one micron; he only points out that, because the bit spacing is on the order of a micron, the head must fly at least that close to the disk. Neither does the author say that modern hard disks actually use rust to store information.

You get the picture. This is an excellent text which covers a wide range of topics clearly and accurately, although it can be challenging for those without a good undergraduate background in physics or engineering.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Great book, but not a *light* read 20 Nov. 2004
By D. Levy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is cram packed with information, However at a cost. There are some thing that are assumed that you already know. If you are rusty, you may have to look at other sources. Example p is a variable for momentum = m*v ( kinda simple, but missing, p is used with no definition in ch 2). Also the book is not error free, but I've only found 1 error so far( in the proof of the Equipartition theorem with B = kT instead of B = (kT)^-1) which drove me crazy for 1 hour untill I looked at other source.( and how many technical books are error free?), but a findable errata would be nice. On the whole, if you have a clue and really want to see all the considerations, it's a great book
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
explains physics beneath IT hardware 16 Feb. 2007
By W Boudville - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The book is a quick tour of the physics underpinning much of computing. The first 8 chapters are really general introductory physics, where the author established some necessary groundwork in optics, circuitry and electromagnetism. Little here is specific to IT hardware.

It is only in the rest of the book, chapters 9-15, that we get into specifics of IT. Chapter 9 is a quick explanation of tomography and MRI. Both involve heavy computations to decipher the raw data. Chapter 10 is about semiconductor devices, like diodes, transistors and how logic cicuits can be made from these. We see band diagrams that explain the behaviour of a pn junction, and how doping can radically alter its properties. This chapter is the bedrock of current computing hardware.

Later chapters go into lasers and how to transmit information via various types of encodings. Plus how to store information on magnetic disks.

The last chapter is about quantum computing. All still pure research. Earlier chapters are about currently deployed hardware prevalent in the industry. Quantum computing is shown as radically different and potentially very promising.
13 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Spectacular review 4 April 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is an absolutely spectacular overview of the physics behind present information technology. It includes a basic to intermediate introduction to basically everything you need to know: the E&M sections start with vector calculus and go on to relatively and circuits and semiconductor technology. Quantum mechanics goes from the basics to quantum computing and coding theory. Absolutely fantastic. Nothing in this book is strictly new, but none of it has been published together in one book.
I am currently engaged in doing a Ph.D. in physics in (hopefully) solid-state quantum computing, and this book is all a graduate-level researcher would need to understand the state-of-the-art in research, from how to design a quantum circuit, to a review on the op-amp used to read out the qubit. If I were forced to take only one book with me to a desert island for a few months, this book would be it. Buy it.
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