Chapter 0 - How To Read This Book

Programming a computer is like driving a car -- you learn how to do it by doing it, not by reading a book. But, also like learning to drive, it helps to have someone show you which knobs to twist and how to point the car (or program) in the direction you wish to go. That is the function of this book. I will try to show you how your computer works, so you can learn to write programs yourself.

Driving a car takes muscles (but not much) to turn the steering wheel, push the pedals, and so on. Programming a computer takes brains (but not much) to select the right instructions, anticipate the computer's response, and so on. Very few people do not have the necessary muscles to drive a car. Very few people do not have the necessary brains to program a computer. You probably can do both (at least after you finish learning what is in this book and if you already know how to drive).

You do not learn how to drive a car by sitting in your easy chair and waving your pinky in the air. You cannot learn how to program a computer by sitting in your easy chair and "speed-reading" this book. Plan on taking a couple hours or even a couple evenings on each chapter (except the first two, which are not very difficult). When you finish this book, you will know more about programming your computer than most computer hobbyists.

Beginning with Chapter 3, each chapter has a number of little programs which illustrate some feature of your computer. Put the program into your computer and run it (Chapter 2 tells you how to do this, in case you do not already know). The best way to understand each concept is to see it in use. Try to understand what is happening and why. To help your thinking, I will ask questions about what you see. Try to answer the questions before you go on, but if you are confused (and in this business we all are confused at some time or another), read a couple more sentences and I will try to give you some clues, or answer the question myself, but in different words. You should not try to go on to the next topic before you understand the previous one -- you will only become more confused.

I have tried to arrange this book so that every concept is built on the previous concepts. There is no need for "forward references". Each time I introduce a new term or jargon word, I give a definition. The word is printed in boldface so you can find it easily.

There is one more thing you should keep in mind when doing the problems in this book. The computer is not as smart as you are, and it will do just exactly what you tell it to do, even if you did not mean to tell it to do that. If the computer does not do what you think it should have done, 99.99% of the time it is because you did not tell it to do what you wanted. All of the programs in this book have been tested, and they work correctly. If you think a program is not doing what it should, check to be sure you put it in correctly. It is all too easy to read the letter "B" as the numeral "8" in the book (and vice versa), or to confuse the letter "B" for a "6" on the computer's output. Check your program in the computer against the book. Then check the book against the program in memory. If they match, it may be that you do not understand what is happening, so re-read the previous section(s).

Finally, don't let me scare you away. The computer is a lot of fun, once you get the hang of it. It is a thrill without equal to be able to command a machine to do some complicated task and to have that machine obey your every command. So relax, and read Chapter 1.

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* (A Short Course In Programming is Copyright 1980 by Tom Pittman, and is reproduced in TinyELF's help book with the author's permission. Visit Tom's website.)