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#1 noviceFedora   User is offline

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Any programming or tech related books from the 70s or earlier?

Posted 29 December 2019 - 04:40 AM

I'm reading a book about 8080/8085 programming, this book seems to be published before 80s, the words it uses are very different, for example, instead of sections, it says frames to refer to portions of the book. It is very introductory, seem to be directed at people who never had any programming experience, so it explains everything from the very basics.

Are there any such books? I want to read them. All these people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Linus Torvalds, Larry Page and Sergey Brin seem to have dealt with assembly language before actually coming in contact with a mid-level language or high-level language, I think this gave them a more comprehensive and holistic understanding of computers, which allowed them to create innovative and unique software.

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Replies To: Any programming or tech related books from the 70s or earlier?

#2 Ornstein   User is offline

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Re: Any programming or tech related books from the 70s or earlier?

Posted 29 December 2019 - 05:38 AM

I would agree that there's some value in learning assembly and architecture and all that (depending on your intentions), but I worry you might be placing too much importance on it. You wouldn't necessarily need that depth of knowledge/experience to come up with a good idea in general. If you want to be a "great" programmer and/or develop a mind for the more complicated and nuanced ideas pertaining to all things technical, it could help with that.

As for books, I can't recommend any myself; I mostly "learned by doing" and reading whatever I could find on the internet.
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#3 JellyfishToo   User is offline

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Re: Any programming or tech related books from the 70s or earlier?

Posted 29 December 2019 - 06:11 AM

Are you familiar with The Art of Computer Programming by Donald Knuth? All algorithms are in a kind of assembly language that was invented for illustrating algorithms. Knuth is a legend, and I'm pretty sure he started writing the series some time in the sixties.
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#4 Martyr2   User is offline

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Re: Any programming or tech related books from the 70s or earlier?

Posted 29 December 2019 - 10:26 AM

I would have to agree with both Ornstein and JellyfishToo. Learning about the roots of computing is worthwhile, but not something you should dwell too much in as it is wasted effort. Why? Well because computers change A LOT. So even if you master some of the basics from back then, very few of those ideas continue on today; especially in programming. It would be like studying Leonardo Da Vinci's schematics for a tank or a helicopter. Obviously those are different today and not at all like his original plans except in maybe a very few basic physics principles. It would be a waste of brain power since none of that is actually applicable today. If you want to be good, know where to put your intellectual brain power and effort.

If you really want to be understanding the heart of computing, I would be looking at RFCs (Request for Comments) documents that underpin many of the protocols and structures of communication and data formats. Some were invented in the 80s and live on today with minor updates and some are current and really drive at the heart of computing today. Just make sure you are looking at the most recent versions.

Jellyfish brings up the book "The Art of Computer Programming" and that is a good book. I found it a bit dry, but definitely something to look at. My bible for programming is "Code Complete 2" By Steve McConnell. He may not have the star power of Knuth, but the tips and tricks he talks about in that book applies to all programming and I have incorporated many of his ideas into my own programming with great effect.

But again, don't dwell too much on the past books and ideas. Know where things come from, but don't try to master all the details or you are just wasting your time. :)
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#5 jon.kiparsky   User is online

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Re: Any programming or tech related books from the 70s or earlier?

Posted 29 December 2019 - 12:49 PM

Interesting, I wouldn't have compared McConnell and Knuth at all, since their projects are almost completely unrelated. Knuth is about computer science - he's summarizing the fundamentals of the discipline, aiming for a foundational work in the discipline - think Wealth of Nations or Origin of Species and you've got the idea. McConnell is about engineering. He's telling you a lot of things about how to deploy the skills of CS in a useful way, which of course Knuth's book doesn't touch at all. Neither of them seems to be what the OP is looking for, though.

I would suggest a few things to look for - you'll be able to find them if you hunt around.
  • The easiest to find will be K&R's The C Programming Language. It's pretty foundational, and gives you a pretty good idea of the transition towards high-level languages. It's not actually describing a high-level language in the sense I use the term, since C allows us to address machine memory directly, but it's the key transition point.
  • Jean Samet's history of programming languages is not hard to find, and will give you a broad overview of the state of programming languages in about 1968 - notably, this is just before K&R and Knuth, and C is not actually mentioned in Samet's book as it was too new when she was writing.
  • I have a history
  • I have in my library, sadly as yet unread by me, a venerable copy of Bashe, Johnson, Palmer, and Pugh's history of IBM's Early Computers, as published by the MIT Press. Leafing through it, it seems like this might be worth your while, if you can find a copy. It's not impossible that the MIT Press still has it in print, or can dig up a copy from their warehouse, they're pretty good that way, but if they don't have it you might have to hunt a little
  • Something along the lines of Bach's Design of the Unix Operating System or Leffler's similarly titled book on 4.3 BSD might be helpful as well


There are also a number of books on fundamentals of computing that build up a conception of modern computing from fundamentals of logic and the corresponding logical implementations in hardware, these would include Petzold's Code, Nisan and Schocken's The Elements of Computing Systems, and in a sense Abelson and Sussman's Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. All of these should be readily available.
Happy hunting!


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I would have to agree with both Ornstein and JellyfishToo. Learning about the roots of computing is worthwhile, but not something you should dwell too much in as it is wasted effort. Why? Well because computers change A LOT. So even if you master some of the basics from back then, very few of those ideas continue on today; especially in programming.


To take the contrarian view, while I agree that it's not going to be directly applicable it is hardly wasted effort. The ability to think clearly at the machine level can be extremely helpful if that's the way your mind is oriented to begin with. I wouldn't want to try to live there, but I've never regretted any of the time I've spent on that. For example, being able to examine the jvm code corresponding to a given java class allowed me to really grok the fundamentals of java in ways that I never got any other way.

It's certainly far and away more useful than any time spent staring at video tutorials or bashing your head against the "for dummies" flavor of mind-rot, and if it helps make the connection between the high-level magical incantation and the low-level stuff that's actually happening, then it'll make you a better programmer. So go for it - just don't get stuck down there, all of the really important stuff is happening a few levels up from that for the most part. (though there are low-level systems jobs out there, if it turns out that that's what turns your crank)

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But again, don't dwell too much on the past books and ideas. Know where things come from, but don't try to master all the details or you are just wasting your time.


I guess I don't actually disagree with this at all. Go spelunking and have fun, but measure out your rope before you go in, and stop when you get to the end of it.
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