Magazine Memories

by Jerome Carter on October 5, 2011 · 0 comments

I recently received some exciting news–BYTE magazine is back as BYTE.com. Even my favorite column from the print version,  Jerry Pournelle’s  “The View from Chaos Manor,”  made it into the new online version.  I bought my first copy from a newsstand sometime in the early 1980s, and like many computer geeks, I mourned the loss of the print version when it disappeared in 1998. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I learned to program in 1973. However, the idea of owning a computer came after I started reading BYTE magazine. BYTE made computer technology accessible and fun. It gave me the gumption to open up a computer and dig around on the inside. What little I knew about hardware in those early years came mostly from reading BYTE. Hearing about its resurrection made me think about other computer magazines that I have enjoyed over the years.

Just as BYTE introduced me to hardware, Computer Language magazine was responsible for developing my interest in programming languages. It had beautiful covers and every issue was filled with intriguing programming code. When I bought my first copy, I still had an Apple IIe and used Apple BASIC. Computer Language opened up the world of programming languages to me in a way that would have been impossible without it. Although it was technical, it was also non-threatening and explained things in a way that was understandable to someone with only a basic knowledge of programming. It was fascinating to read about so many different languages. I remember being baffled by an article on FORTH–in fact, I am still baffled by FORTH.

Pascal was the programming language that caught my eye. Pascal read like English, and it made sense even though I had never used it. When I learned about the book Oh, Pascal, I immediately arranged to get a copy from a local B. Dalton bookstore. I read it, cover to cover, in about a week. Soon after, I sold my Apple IIe, bought a Leading Edge PC clone, and ordered a copy of Turbo Pascal 3.0 from an ad on the back cover of Computer Language. I held a subscription to Computer Language for the entire time it existed. When I cleaned out my attic recently, I kept my issues of Computer Language.  It remains my all-time favorite technical magazine.

Dr. Dobb’s Journal was a worthwhile discovery. I have Dr. Dobb’s Journal to thank for forcing me to mature as a programmer. It was clearly for gurus—guys who wrote in C or assembly language when creating their own mini-compilers. Initially, it was intimidating–probably because everything seemed to be written in C. As someone who loved Pascal, C looked like gibberish –like someone cursing in a comic strip. Even though I did not like the way C code looked, by the early 90s real programmers used C, so I gave it a shot. However, I did not make peace with C’s syntax until I began to learn C#.

Of all the magazines that I have read and enjoyed over the years, MD Computing has had the greatest impact on my life. I stumbled across a copy of MD Computing on a newsstand in Georgetown in 1984. I had never heard of medical informatics and the idea that someone could be a doctor who specialized in computing floored me. I attended my first SCAMC (AMIA Fall Symposium) in 1985 and started my informatics fellowship in 1986.

I discovered AI Expert magazine by way of Computer Language (they had the same publisher).  Reading about Prolog in AI Expert convinced me to try Turbo Prolog. I loved Turbo Prolog because it had a fast compiler and a terrific IDE.  It was an opportune discovery because I used it to complete my fellowship project.  AI Expert folded in 1997. Happily, Turbo Prolog is still with us as Visual Prolog.

My stroll down memory lane would not be complete without mentioning InfoWorld. Before the Internet, it was difficult to find computing-related news. InfoWorld, a weekly publication, was possibly the first magazine to fill that niche. I particularly liked Robert X. Cringely’s column, which was a mixture of news and gossip. I could not have survived without my weekly dose of InfoWorld. If one wanted the latest news about the next word processor, a new CPU chip, or which companies were being bought or sold, InfoWorld was the best source. Fortunately, InfoWorld has survived as an online publication, and I still read it religiously every single day.

I learned a lot from these magazines. When I think back on how much I enjoyed them and how excited I was on discovering each one, I am a little bit saddened that only InfoWorld has survived. When I heard the news about BYTE, it made my day.  In honor of the good old days, I am going to fire up my browser, open up a computer, and move something around.

 

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