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YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text

by hsmyers (Canon)
on Apr 13, 2006 at 22:33 UTC ( #543244=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Somewhat in the spirit of a challenge or at the very least a non-contest I propose the following; citation of the oldest still useful programming book you own or can put your hands to. This of course if my sly way of getting (hopefully) a list of what I might be missing from my own shelves. To start things off, here is a real contender:
  • The Anatomy of a Compiler, by John A. N. Lee, Reinhold Computer Science Series, New York, NY, 1967, LCN 67-29207
Probably one of the clearest introductions to parsing and related details I've ever read. Should you feel compelled to acquire this classic for your very own, note that I just upgraded to a hard back plus dust jacket for the princely sum of $13.00 including shipping--- spine was cracked and pages were scattered about in my newer copy from Springer-Verlag.


"Never try to teach a pig to wastes your time and it annoys the pig."
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Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by blokhead (Monsignor) on Apr 14, 2006 at 00:00 UTC

    On my shelf right now are:

    • The C Programming Language by Kernighan & Ritchie, 1978.
    • Compilers: Principles, Techniques, & Tools (aka, the Dragon Book) by Aho, Sethi & Ullman. 1986

    Another wonderful classic that I've checked out of the library many times but haven't bought for myself (yet):

    • Computers & Intractability: A Guide to the Theory of NP-Completeness by Garey & Johnson, 1979.

    Also not on my bookshelf, but this post reminded me of something amusing I remember seeing. One of the algorithms professors at my university lists

    • The Cat in the Hat Comes Back by Dr. Suess, 1958.

    as a recommended textbook for his algorithms class, describing it as: "One of the best books ever written about recursion. And toilets." ;)


Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by BrowserUk (Pope) on Apr 14, 2006 at 01:05 UTC
    • The oldest is a '78 copyrighted edition of K&R.

      Sits on my desk and gets used most weeks.

    • Fundamentals of Interactive Computer Graphics. Foley & Van Dam. 1984

      Lives in the bookcase behind me, and only gets opened occasionally, but it's still the best graphics algorithmm book around.

    Examine what is said, not who speaks -- Silence betokens consent -- Love the truth but pardon error.
    Lingua non convalesco, consenesco et abolesco. -- Rule 1 has a caveat! -- Who broke the cabal?
    "Science is about questioning the status quo. Questioning authority".
    In the absence of evidence, opinion is indistinguishable from prejudice.
Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by jonadab (Parson) on Apr 14, 2006 at 12:12 UTC

    I no longer refer to it daily, but I still keep my ITT Advanced BASIC manual (1985 printing) where I can reach it -- not because I ever program in BASIC any more, but because the appendices have other, semi-related, useful information. It's all info that's also readily available elsewhere, but in that book I know right where to find it quickly, because I've been referring to it there for years.

    Apart from that, the oldest computer-related book that I use with any frequency, in any capacity, is my K&R2 (1988), which is exactly the right size and shape to support a mouse pad, so I use it for that any time I need to use a mouse elsewhere than on a desk. At one time I tried to use it in a fashion more usual for a book, but I found it rather lacking in that regard, simultaneously verbose (in explaining things every programmer already knows, regardless of linguistic background) and yet FAR too terse (in explaining the language it's supposed to be documenting). I think the lack of a decent book is one of the main reasons I never learned to make myself like or use C. (Another is that the language is inherently rather low-level, and I tend to want to solve higher-level problems. However, that can't be the whole deal, because, with a good professor and a decent book, I had no trouble picking up and enjoying 8086 assembly language, which is also fairly low-level.)

    I've also got two volumes of Knuth on my shelf (the most recent date on the first volume is 1973), but I can't speak for its usefulness, because I never got around to reading it. I wanted to learn C first, _then_ read Knuth, and the first project never got done, so I never got around to reading Knuth. Similarly, the compilers book with the dragon on the cover is sitting around here someplace; I picked it up (used) around the same time that I picked up Knuth, expecting to read it after I learned C, which never happened.

    The most useful computer-related book I've got is the (teal) camel, but that's not very old.

    Sanity? Oh, yeah, I've got all kinds of sanity. In fact, I've developed whole new kinds of sanity. Why, I've got so much sanity it's driving me crazy.

      WRT K&R: I find that odd. I've got the first version, and always recommend it to my friends when asked how to learn C. I went through it and did all the examples, and felt I had really learned C.

      I'm always amused at the 'fat books' in the bookstores, and keep wishing for books on other languages that resemble the original K&R. (Of course, another thing that amuses me is that I find Perl *much harder* than C. I understand the rules in C, but am frequently surprised by things in Perl--I find myself much more in the "cut and try" mode when programming.)

      Of course, it's one of those "diff'rent strokes" sorta deals. Different people need things explained in different ways to get the best effect.

      Now, to keep my response somewhat "on topic", here's my list o' books:

    • "The C Programming Language" Kernighan & Ritchie, 1978. Terse, concise, recommended
    • "Data Structures and Algorithms" Aho, Hopcroft & Ullman, 1983. A nice survey of the fundamentals
    • "Computer Graphics, A programming approach" Harrington, 1983. Not a great book, but I like it. Nice refresher of stuff you should already know, if you do graphics programming.
    • "An Introduction to Data Structures with Applications" Tremblay & Sorenson, 1976.Uh, I used this in my classes. Amusing, but I wouldn't buy it again if I lost it.
    • "Computer Approaches to Mathematical Problems" Nievergelt, Farrar, Reingold, 1974. This is the second computer book I got, and the one I learned the most from. I don't know if it's a good one or not, but I didn't have much choice back then!
    • The dragon book (A compiler design book), ?Aho, Hopcroft? 19xx, This one is still on loan to a friend (Hey, Tim! 10 years is long enough, bring it back!) and is very good for compiler internals.


        I'm aware that the K&R is consistently well-recommended. That's why I bought it, after all. And it does compare favourably to books like "Teach Yourself Visual Basic in 21 Days". I have a tendency though to compare books in any given category with the really _good_ books I had read previously in that category -- fantasy books, for instance, tend to get compared to LOTR or to the Dragonbone Chair series, and computer language texts inevitably get compared to the Inform Designer's Manual and the camel book. (Yes, I'd read the camel book before I picked up K&R. Maybe that was part of the problem.)

        As far as Perl being harder than C, I think that depends very much on your linguistic background. I started with BASIC, and by the time I got to Perl I'd been through a number of other languages: Pascal (which revolutionized the way I wrote BASIC code), Fortran, COBOL (which I disliked), 8086 Assembler, Inform, Visual Basic (which is terrible as a programming language but terribly useful as a macro toolkit), Lingo (which I hated), QBasic, sundry batch and shell languages, and Emacs Lisp. Perl lends itself very well to the sort of multiparadigmatic approach that my linguistic background favoured, and, in particular, is useable as a drop-in replacement for QBasic.

        It may also be relevant that most of the programming I had ever done up to that point (except in Inform, which is rather specialized) involved text munging of one sort or another. The lack of a useable native string datatype in C is a real bummer for a new programmer picking up the language and wanting to do a lot of text handling.

        However, the most difficult thing about C, in terms of learning it, is the way it names functions. It's like the language designer tossed a ball of yarn over his keyboard and let whatever keys his kitten pushed be the name of the function he was writing. Combine this with the fact that there are *hundreds* of function names you have to know just to get the most basic of things done, and that the index only lists them by their alphabetically obscure names, not by what they actually do, and it's very overwhelming for a neophyte. In Perl you can do practically everything with about twenty keywords and a couple dozen operators. Yeah, there are additional functions with weird names (most of which are named for their C counterparts), but you practically never need any of them (sprintf is the only one of them I use with any frequency). The reference sections of the camel book (section 3, i.e., the command reference, and everything that follows) are useful later, but initially the beginning Perl programmer doesn't even need them; the information in sections 1-2 is enough to write working code that does practically anything. In short, I blame a large part of my Perl addiction on the quality of the camel book.

Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by jdporter (Canon) on Apr 14, 2006 at 15:36 UTC
Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by samizdat (Vicar) on Apr 14, 2006 at 13:23 UTC
    Earliest _UNIX_ text: Kernighan & Pike, "The UNIX Programming Environment", Prentice-Hall 1984 is a must-have for anyone who wants to understand the UNIX philosophy of little tools working together. Today we'd use Perl instead of sed and awk, but the elegant style of these masters is well worth pondering.

    I suppose my _oldest_ useful (and well-used) computing text would be my original John McCarthy's LISP 1.5 Programmer's Manual, circa 1962. I reread it (and parts of Patrick Winston's LISP (1 & 2)) just about every time I implement a new little language, because he and his students wrote the book on meta-programming.

    UPDATE: b'damned, but I LOVE the Internet! LISP 1.5 Programmer's Manual is a scanned copy of the hand-typed version. Mine is only the first printed edition. :D

    Don Wilde
    "There's more than one level to any answer."
Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by wazoox (Prior) on Apr 14, 2006 at 12:53 UTC
    I have several old computer books I still read from time to time :"Programming Z80" by Rodney Zacks (1978 I guess) is my favourite (call me mad, but I like reading it...), and also of course "GEB", an eternal golden book :)
Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by Albannach (Prior) on Apr 14, 2006 at 14:46 UTC
    Nobody has yet mentioned The Mythical Man Month by Fred Brooks (1975) which I must quote from at least monthly. Certainly much has changed since OS/360, but it is sometimes surprising to see how much has not changed.

    Update: I was a bit surprised to see jdporter's list date this as 1972, but sure enough that is shown in my copy as Fred Brooks' own copyright date. Evidently it took him 3 years to get a publisher interested. The 20th anniversary edition was published in 1995 - I guess 23rd anniversary didn't have the same ring to it ;-)

    I'd like to be able to assign to an luser

Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by derby (Abbot) on Apr 14, 2006 at 12:35 UTC

    The first edition of Programming Perl by Larry and merlyn. I sill use it's Functions chapter when perldoc is not available. I see that it's celebrating it's sweet sixteen this year (© 1990)! (that makes me feel old)


      FWIW, I have a "Perl programming CD" I carry everywhere (well, it's now a USB flash disk, but that's no matter) with the downloadable version of the html version of perldoc -- it uses JS for it's search function, so even without a net connection, it's still very useful.

      It also has a miniature CPAN on it with such things as CGI::Simple, my snippets and utility module collection, some useful scripts, and a working PXPerl (for when I have to work on a Win box that has no perl on it; I've not yet had that issue with a *NIX machine...).

      A collection of thoughts and links from the minds of geeks
      The Code that can be seen is not the true Code
      I haven't found a problem yet that can't be solved by a well-placed trebuchet
Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by ikegami (Pope) on Apr 17, 2006 at 06:45 UTC
    The reference manual for the Varian 72 (as in 1972) assembler. My job mainly consists of writting testing code written for that machine. I wasn't even born then!
      Just curious : what is this machine used for ?

        We us a hardware clone (see below) of said machine to control the nuclear reactors and the associated boilers and valves at the Bruce "A" and Bruce "B" Power Generating Stations. They are opperated by Bruce Power.

        Some parts have been replaced with more modern components. For example, the core memory has been replaced, but it still only has 32KW (64KB, 16 bit addressable) of RAM. We load binaries on the machine via a serial connection to a device pretending to be a paper tape reader to the Varian.

Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by spiritway (Vicar) on Apr 14, 2006 at 08:30 UTC

    These aren't exactly programming books, but I'd nominate "Through the Looking Glass" and "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (Charles Dodgson, a/k/a Lewis Carroll, various editions) as two great books about logic.

Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by jhourcle (Prior) on Apr 14, 2006 at 19:08 UTC

    Not directly programming related, but if you're doing UI work, and tend to generate reports. (or if you have to deal with sales literature, or anything that deals with graphing)

    • Huff, Darrell (1954). How to Lie with Statistics. (reissued in 1993).

    The only other >20 yr old books I have on my shelf that might be worth reading are on indexing languages. They're written for library science folks, not comp sci, so the jargon and obsessive cross references takes a little getting used to:

    • Soergel, Dagobert (1974). Indexing Languages and Thesauri: Construction and Maintenance.
    • Soergel, Dagobert (1985). Organizing Information: Principles of Data Base and Retrieval Systems.

    (I also have some really old database books, but I don't know that I'd recommend them ... and older langauges (PC LOGO, FORTRAN, but they're only useful if you're working in the language)

    Update: for those not familiar with Huff's book, although the title sounds like its intent is to be deceptive, and can be used that way, it also make a number of suggestions about how to convey information that won't be misinterpreted, and things to look for that might suggest that the data is suspect

Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by ambrus (Abbot) on Apr 14, 2006 at 19:35 UTC

    While it's not really a programming book, the oldest computer book I have is a technical reference for the IBM XT personal computer from 1983 (older than me). It's mostly a reference book concerned with hardware and hardware programming of the PC, with more tables than normal text. It has the full assembly listing of the ROM BIOS (except for the BASIC ROM), and lots of circuit diagrams of which I don't understand anything.

Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by g0n (Priest) on Apr 17, 2006 at 18:25 UTC
    The oldest citation I've put in a computing related essay was to John Locke (1632-1704) but that's a bit of a cheat - I was referring to the notion of 'tabula rasa' in neural network learning.

    The oldest computing/programming related books that I keep to hand and refer to occasionally are:

    • "Cybernetics and Society", Wiener N., 1950.
    • "The Mathematical Theory of Communication", Shannon C. & Weaver W., 1949

    (although my copies of both are 90's reprints). Wiener in particular has some interesting discussion of the nature of feedback.


    "If there is such a phenomenon as absolute evil, it consists in treating another human being as a thing."
    John Brunner, "The Shockwave Rider".

    Can you spare 2 minutes to help with my research? If so, please click here

      I second the Norbert Wiener reference, it's a keeper. His notation is crystal clear, and a must for anybody doing feedback systems or any kind of analog electronics. g0n++

      Don Wilde
      "There's more than one level to any answer."
Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by Pete_I (Beadle) on Apr 23, 2006 at 09:52 UTC
    the oldest tech book i own myself is "A practical Guide to the Unix System" by Mark G. Sobell copyright 1984.
    my school library has a few fortran/cobol books from the 60s. i'll post those if i can find them.
    (i'm the only one who's checked them out in 20 years, I don't think it'll be a problem :)
    -- Pete_I
Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by QM (Parson) on Apr 15, 2006 at 02:08 UTC
    Somewhere in my catacombs I have a hardcopy of the IBM jargon dictionary from about 1965, back when it was a Xerox publication (i.e., guerilla publishing). (I inherited it, in a manner of speaking.) Funny, the online version is missing a few choice entries, such as the recursive:
    FOIL: FOIL On Incandescent Light - transparencies used on overhead projectors.

    Quantum Mechanics: The dreams stuff is made of

Re: YAC (Yet Another Challenge): Oldest Useful Computer Text
by erix (Parson) on Apr 21, 2006 at 10:04 UTC

    The book that got me really interested in computers:

    Structured Computer Organization by Andrew S. Tanenbaum, (maker also of minix, way back the starting point for Linus' Linux).

    I don't have the book here, its probably somewhere late seventies.

    There is a 5th edition by now (which I don't have).

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