I have no idea what is happening inside the laptop that I've written this story on. I know there are microchips inside that do something ... but how it goes from me hitting a key to a letter on my screen, no clue, and then onto the written or digital page, still no clue. And if my daughter had ever asked me how computers work, I would have been forced to stare at her with a befuddled look.
Now Central Texas electrical engineer Jeff Dunnihoo offers a lot of answers for curious kids (and their confused parents). His SOIC and Friends book series goes inside a computer and creates cartoon characters of computer parts to explain just what is going on within the community inside.
SOIC, which stands for small outline integrated circuit, is the main character. He and his friend SOT, or small outline transistor, want to talk to each other, but they have to find a way to connect. That's the first title: "SOIC and SOT: The Microchips." It came out last year.
The second book, "MSOP and DPAK: One Hot Day," explains why the laptop on my lap is currently heating up. It came out this summer, tied to the hottest day of the year. MSOP stands for mini small outline package and DPAK stands for decawatt package, in case you wondered.
The next book, "TSSOP Gets Zapped With Static Electricity," will explain the work that Dunnihoo, who lives near Lake Buchanan, does in his real life. He protects electronics from static electricity, which could easily destroy every device we touch. TSSOP stands for thin shrink small outline package. (Yes, we could have a quiz after you read this.)
Dunnihoo's inspiration for writing these books is his own young daughters. "We've read every single book out there, it seems," he says. "There's really nothing out there for anyone who works in tech." Something to explain, "This is what Mommy and Daddy do at work all day," he says.
Dunnihoo grew up in tech. His father also worked in tech, and Dunnihoo benefited from having surplus electronics at his house that he could take apart and examine as a kid.
He wants to give kids that same experience, but in book form, because not everyone has a dad with surplus parts like he had and his own children do. Kids are on their parents' laptops and tablets, he says, "and yet they have no idea what's going on underneath."
As computers and tablets have gotten more expensive, often parents are afraid to let their kids pull them apart and look inside. "It's a shame to see computers being used as this magic glass you can look through," he says. "I would encourage any child to tear apart their mom's laptop." Or better yet, that phone they dropped that is shattered beyond repair and could provide an opportunity to look inside.
It's more fascinating than a video game, he says. "There's little societies inside the machines that have to communicate with each other."
Dunnihoo also wants to give kids an important message: There are many ways to have a career in science, technology, engineering and math, and yet, he says, a lot of the message we send our kids is that you have to learn how to code to be in STEM.
In his world, he sees many people in STEM fields that have nothing to do with coding. They could be the clothing designers who understand how static electricity works so that the clothing they design can be anti-static for people to wear on the computer parts assembly line. "Nobody will tell you that you can design clothing and be in STEM," he says.
To explain how computers work and all the different things people have created that go into a computer, he invented animated computer parts. "I try to involve the kids in the little society that's inside the machines and get them to get a better grasp and just think about it," he says.
At the library, when you hear the computer fan turn on, what's that about? Well, the second book will tell you that the microchips are working really hard.
Dunnihoo created his own publishing group to bring these books into reality after he couldn't find anything like this. You can get them on his website, pragma.media, or Amazon or at Barnes and Noble.
While Dunnihoo thought these books would be for kids, different tech organizations have bought them for their libraries or companies buy them to explain basic computing concepts to their manufacturing employees. "We're communicating to all levels," he says.