Understanding Pascal. (book reviews) Stephen Gray.
How to Buy a Personal Computer Understanding Artificial Intelligence Understanding Basic Understanding Cobol Understanding Fortran Understanding Pascal
These six "Handy Guides,' tall and slim (4 1/4 X 11 ), are part of four Alfred series that cover computers, cooking, music and photography. They are all described on the back covers as "practical, economical and concise . . . perfect for today's fast-moving adult on the run, they fit in anywhere--in pocket, purse, gadget bag, guitar case.'
The guide to buying a personal computer takes a fast but competent look at what such machines are, why you should buy one, how to choose, system requirements for specific applications, and ends with a 13-page table comparing 26 personal computers. This brief guide packs more information per page than most similar publications.
The guide to artificial intelligence is subtitled, "An introduction to the world of computers that "think,'' and does quite well in only 47 pages. After a brief introduction, it looks at the minimax procedure for evaluating tic-tac-toe; Automatic Theorem rem Proving; Predicate Calculus; Lisp: A Language for AI; Communication, People and Computers; Computer Vision; and AI, a State of Mind. This is an excellent introduction; for those who want to learn more, five books and four journals are referenced.
The Basic guide gets into a three-line program by page 8, using REM, PRINT and END, and enlarges on that by introducing simple arithmetic, spacing, strings, INPUT, and by page 16 a program for compound interest. Later pages introduce flowcharts and arrays, IF/THEN, PRINT USING, FOR/NEXT, and READ/DATA. The book ends with an 8 1/2-page glossary as the finish to a very handy guide to the basics of Basic.
The Cobol guide first examines the basic concepts of the language, describes a standard environment, and then presents six program examples: (1) very short, prints IT WORKS; (2) one variable, no files; (3) with decision, no files; (4) simple payroll system; (5) processing test scores; and (6) accounts payable. Each example is fully explained with a flowchart, program notes, explanations of new statements, and sample outputs. The excellent guide ends with a list of reserved words, a bibliography for "where to go from here,' and an 8 1/2-page glossary.
The Fortran guide jumps right into a simple program for summing 40 four-digit numbers, then shows the flowchart, and explains the rules for admissible characters, variables and constants. From there it goes into statement layout, real/integer mode arithmetic, input/output, format, read/print, GOTO, IF, loops, DO, subscripts and arrays. Each statement is explained with a short program using it, with output if helpful. An 8 1/2-page glossary ends this brief but very informative book.
The Pascal guide, written by the computer-series editor, introduces and discusses the language for seven pages before presenting two short programs, for printing a name and for making some geometry caculations. After discussing more Pascal features, the reader is asked to write a program; the solution is given on the next page. From there on the guide presents examples of each feature as it is discussed, with helpful program notes, and more exercises. The author covers subprograms, choosing (IF, CASE), looping (WHILE . . . DO, REPEAT . . . UNTIL), and data types. Very well written, the book ends by recommending two Pascal books for further reading.
These six guides are highly recommended to those who want to know just enough about a subject to be informed (but not overwhelmed by detail), or those who want to find out if they like the subject enough to want to go further with it. For $2.95 each, you can't go wrong; these six are well worth every penny. Six more very useful Alfred Handy Guides in the computer series will be reviewed here shortly.
Review Grade: B