The Joy Of Computers (Hutchinsons) Review | ZX Computing - Everygamegoing

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The Joy Of Computers
By Hutchinson
Spectrum 48K

Published in ZX Computing #12

The Joy Of Computers

Don't push off to fetch your Kleenex please, but I must admit that the life of a reviewer can be a dull and arduous one. Long before these witty, well-penned testimonials ever reach the page there are periods of intense self denial and solitude to be gone through, sifting and sorting wearily through page after page of 'INKEY$' memory addresses and almost illegible program listings. Of course it really is all fun and I love it; but sometimes I love it more than others and reading The Joy Of Computers was one of those times. Published by Hutchinson and written by Peter Laurie, an editor of Practical Computing, the 200 pages, many of them with superb colour illustrations, are themselves a joy to read.

A VDU screen on the cover shows a picture of a window opening to a country scene with green fields and trees and a golden sun setting between two mountains (maybe the book should have been called 'The Joy of Landscapes'). Opening the cover and turning to the introduction on page seven gives a clue to the strange cover subject. Peter Laurie, speaking of the limitation of his book, says "I can only open windows into a multitude of fascinating gardens: I hope my readers will think it worthwhile to go out into them!" His treatment of those gardens on the pages inside the book is as effective as the garden picture on the glossy hardbound cover is pretty.

The publishers have aimed The Joy Of Computers at anyone who has just bought or is about to buy their first computer. It is my belief that its appeal will be broader than this. The text is not pertinent to any particular computer; rather, it introduces, in non-technical language, how computers work, how they can and are being used and attempts to explore the future that they are already making reality. Throughout, the text is enlarged by brilliant colour illustrations.

Subdivided into four sections; the readers can read from start to finish or flit from section to section as takes his fancy. No previous knowledge of computers is required.

Section 1: 'The Computer' looks at the micro, delving below the keyboard to identify the working bits - memory and processor, transistors, chips, gates and buses: offering easy to understand descriptions of the detail. It then moves to those parts above the keyboard screens, printers and plotters and magnetic memory and gives an equally effective description of their workings and uses. The picture of the micro is completed by a discussion on software, home software games, files and operating systems. I found the text sterring a difficult path well; that of being comprehensible to non-computer people and yet interesting to those of us who like to think we know a bit about such things. I'm not too shy to say that the theory and the many examples of applications filled in a large piece of background for me.

Charged with this new knowledge, I hesitantly turned to Section 2, 'Programming'. The idea that I might discover inadequacies in my programming knowledge was not a comforting one. Part 2 deals with programming from a basic discussion through to fractals - the study of irregular shaped objects, covering on the way, BASIC, 'Structured Programming', 'Machine Code', 'Zipf's Law' and some other things I had never heard of. I felt quite uncomfortable. Again, the discussion was informative and yet not technical; I felt I had been introduced to some new ideas and new programmers should find plenty of useful direction.

The world of 'Professional Computing' is put under the microscope in Section Three. Even amongst those who work in commercial computing, there are a few with such a wide overview. Of course computer technology is put to such widespread uses that any detailed study would be beyond the scope of any one volume; but Mr. Laurie's success has been to select suitable applications that help put the state of the art into perspective. The background painted is broad and bulging with interesting information. 'Business Software', 'Database Management', 'Image Processing', 'Talking Computers', 'Robots', 'Androids' and 'The Electronic Office' are only a few of the topics looked at.

The structure, uses and applications of computers today and a look at the implications of computer technology in the future are all covered in the final section called 'Progress'. This section examines the 'Revolution in Thinking' that is taking place, 'Current Trends', 'Hardware Advances' and asks 'What next?'. On the last two questions, Peter Laurie has been wise enough to outline the likely shape, but not attempt to colour these particular gardens.

The Joy Of Computers may be aimed at those who already have or are about to buy a home computer but to my mind it is a book for anyone who has an interest in today's world. Peter Laurie has opened the windows onto a number of computer gardens so successfully that most readers are likely to be encouraged to do further digging themselves.

The Joy Of Computers by Peter Laurie is published by Hutchinsons and is a gift worth treating yourself to at £9.99. ISBN 0 09 153 0105.

Patrick Cain