Thursday, January 25, 2007

War and Peace

“To the man who loves art for its own sake,” remarked Sherlock Homes, tossing aside the advertisement sheet of the Daily Telegraph, ”it is frequently in its least important and lowliest manifestations that the keenest pleasure is to be derived.”

It is scarcely news that the literature of programming has become somewhat dumbed down in the last decade or so. In the bookstore, "Programming for the complete idiot" sits alongside "Learn Visual C++ 9.7 in 8 hours or less." And the state of computer magazines is also a joke with a few articles, mostly reviews, of less than two pages scattered amongst a liter of advertisements for a total page count of less than a hundred. I guess, to be fair, they have to compete with the internet.

Well, for anyone who might not be old enough to remember, I'm here to tell you the state of the computer press was not always so drear. There are still many wonderful books on computer science (such as Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs by Niklaus Wirth), but you won't find many of them on the shelves of your local bookstore, and many are out of print. Computer magazines, however, are all but gone. What remains is but the shell of their former selves. I exaggerate, you say? Let me just reach down into the depths of my archive and see what I can find. Hmm, how about a September 1981 copy of Byte (the small systems) Magazine?

A quick check of the page count gives 496. That's four hundred and-ninety six count 'em, pages. The theme of this particular issue is Artificial Intelligence. There are 13 articles, 6 reviews, and 18 other pieces under the heading of Nucleus. Some of the more impressive titles include:

Tree Searching, Part 1: Basic Techniques by Gregg Williams,
One Step Forward - Three Steps Backup, Computing in the US Space Program by Patric Stakem,
Artificial Intelligence
by Steven K Roberts,
Symbolic Differentiation á la LISP
by Ronald L Nicol,
Knowledge-Based Expert Systems Come of Age
by Richard O Duda and John G Gaschnig,
The Atari Tutorial, Part 1: The Display List
by Cris Crawford,
Natural-Language Processing, The Field in Perspective
by Gary Hendrix and Earl Sacerdoti,
and The Emperor's Old Clothes" by Charles Antony Richard Hoare.

Need I say more. Oh, and in case you are wondering, the cover shows a picture of a small computer presumably using a tv camera to read that heaviest of literary classics, Tolstoy's War and Peace.

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