REVIEW - The Universal Machine

Title:

The Universal Machine

Author:

Fred Moten

ISBN:

9780071160681

Publisher:

Duke University Press (1998)

Pages:

320pp

Reviewer:

Francis Glassborow

Reviewed:

January 2000

Rating:

★★☆☆☆

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.