REVIEW - The Universal Machine


The Universal Machine


Fred Moten


Duke University Press (1998)




Francis Glassborow


January 2000



I have grouped these two books together because there is a sense in which they aim at similar readerships. In both books the authors are trying to cater for the needs of the programming virgin. In the first book the authors are targeting university courses and have attempted to produce a text that they believe is accessible to both complete newcomers and to those with some experience. The Universal Machine of the title is Turing's concept. And they spend some time over the course of the book addressing the need to understand the concept of computers and computability. They also have a whole chapter on social issues. The result is something that I find profoundly unsatisfying. Interesting though the topics are they do not belong together. The pv will find the coverage of C++ and programming in general falls far short of what they need (unless it is well filled in by lecturers and tutors) while those with experience will be irritated at the lack of technical precision exhibited by the coverage of C++.

By contrast the second book aims at introducing the idea of programming by using a very restricted special purpose programming language. The idea is to develop programs that create images in a strictly confined world of 101 by 101 pixels. The colour is provided by 101 step grey scale. The 101 is because theauthor works from 0 to 100 inclusive. Those familiar with Logo will recognise some influence from there, but it is far from that. By studying this book you will slowly acquire appreciation for the essential elements of programming: variables, decisions, iteration and sub-routines. This book might meet the needs of a parent struggling to help a young child who wanted to control the machine.

It requires less feel and understanding than Logo while allowing the development of quite complex images. You will not become a professional programmer by reading this book. To my mind, it is to programming what 'Peter and Jane' books are to learning to write. I think the first book is too ambitious and fails in all departments. The second book has a very limited aim and achieves it, if very slowly (but some people need a very slow approach).

Book cover image courtesy of Open Library.

Your Privacy

By clicking "Accept Non-Essential Cookies" you agree ACCU can store non-essential cookies on your device and disclose information in accordance with our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Current Setting: Non-Essential Cookies REJECTED

By clicking "Include Third Party Content" you agree ACCU can forward your IP address to third-party sites (such as YouTube) to enhance the information presented on this site, and that third-party sites may store cookies on your device.

Current Setting: Third Party Content EXCLUDED

Settings can be changed at any time from the Cookie Policy page.