Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 21 / FEBRUARY 1982 / PAGE 52

Book Review:
Some Common Basic Programs

Jim Butterfield
Toronto, Canada

This book, a collection of 76 short programs, is by Lon Poole and Mary Borchers. There are editions for several popular machines, with additional authorships: Carroll Donahue contributed to the PET/CBM edition, Karl Koessel to the TRS-80 edition, and David M. Castlewitz to the Apple II edition. There's an Atari edition, too. Cassette and diskette versions are available.

The book is well established. It may be a definitive answer to the question: What serious things can I do on my small computer without using data files?

Three Major Areas

The programs break into three major sections, with a few programs left over at the end. It might have been useful to have broken the material up into chapters. The first twenty programs are financial; the next twenty-seven, mathematical; and the third section contains twenty statistical programs. Nine miscellaneous programs are tacked on the end.

The financial programs are quite well commented, and often include optional coding for performing monthly (as opposed to yearly) calculations. Serious users will probably want to combine several short programs together; the book does not show how to do this, but it is not a difficult task. Users should not use these programs as the final word; financial methods differ in different organizations and the serious user will hopefully know what modifications will be needed for his circumstances.

The mathematical programs are somewhat more cryptic; it is expected that the user is quite familiar with the material. For example, three Integration programs are given; the user is expected to choose Simpson's Rule, Trapezoidal Rule, or Gaussian Quadrature according to his estimate of which will suit his needs. Fair enough; the book does not attempt to be a text, but just gives the relevant coding.

The statistical section is a mixed bag in terms of user levels. Some programs such as Average Growth Rate are easy for the naive user to understand; others such as F-Distribution require a comprehension of statistics.

Up Front

None of the programs is huge: all are easy to type in. Worked-through examples allow the user to check that his coding is, indeed, correct.

For the non-mathematical computer owner, the programs may seem to be rather obscure. In this case, the book may serve as a challenge and an indication of the resources he can tap if he wants. Such things as linear programming and regressions can be remarkably powerful tools to use in business ...if you know that they are there. It might be useful to see a companion guide to this book, explaining just how effective some of these mathematical techniques can be, even to the small user. The book doesn't try to do this: it just plunks down the coding.

There may be debate on whether the best mathematical and programming techniques are used in all cases; to me, this doesn't matter. The first thing to do is to find any way of approaching a problem. After you have one way, you can look for better ways; but finding that first one can be hard.


There are a couple of books that look like sequels to the well-established SCBP. Practical Basic Programs, edited by Lon Poole, gives more programs in a similar vein. Science and Engineering Programs, Apple II Edition edited by John Heilborn, delves more deeply into mathematics and statistics. The books are similar in organization to Some Common Basic Programs, but the programs are longer and there are fewer of them. Readers who found the first book useful will undoubtedly want to go after its successors.

Some Common Basic Programs is not a text-book. It doesn't teach you what to do with the programs. But it does give you working programs with documentation.

For those who know the methodologies, it will be a useful reference. For those who don't, it may open up new horizons: things that you didn't know a computer can do. In that case, you'll need to look elsewhere to learn the principles of the new technology. It's often an education to discover the existence of things you don't know. Or at least the start of an education.

Some Common Basic Programs. Lon Poole and Mary Borchers. Osborne/McGraw Hill. Berkeley. (1981)