Usborne releases free PDFs of its classic 1980s computer programming books

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Sad they don’t write enough computing books like that any more.


I loved and learned lots from these books (and similar). Nowadays BASIC is very unfashionable however, and has fallen very much out of favour as an instructional language (“teaches bad habits” etc.). Sad though, they were great, brave times :frowning:


I’m beginning to wonder if some modern languages are getting a little too high level for students; there is a certain concreteness to line numbers and goto statements.


@GilbertWham (I think) was talking about that one the other day.

I know I had one of these - probably Introduction to Computer Programming - I’ll have a look once the link isn’t Boinged.

Edit: also definitely had Practical Things to Do With a Microcomputer.

I remember another one (maybe Usborne, maybe not), had a load of BASIC games, all <1K in size so they’d work on the ZX81.

And, of course, Input Magazine.

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I devoured everything Usbourne when I was growing up. The Jokes Book, The Unexplained Mysteries, the Spy Manual.

If they would release all their ‘Puzzle Adventure’ books in pdf I would be over the flipping moon.


If BASIC teaches bad habits, I guess all the time I spent as a young man programming in FORTH completely ruined me for anything other than pumping gas.

There are some very nice modern BASICs out there, which mainly run better than the BASIC I first learned…which was, strictly speaking, FOCAL, adapted to the PDP from the JOSS language that ran on the JOHNNIAC.

I think all computers should have names like “JOHNNIAC.”


I’ve tried all kind of computer languages, but I always come back to BASIC (OK I sometimes use ASM). It’s so easy and does all the hard work for you just like a high level language should, why should I have to worry about which libraries to load? Defining data types - the default is just fine.
I use QB64 for normal programming and GCBasic for microprocessors.
Oh and I’m old enough to remember those fine Usborne books (and punched cards).


I did love my Usborne books - still looking for one which was a 1980’s childrens encylopedia with terrific cut-aways of lighthouses.

I also loved (previously discussed on the boing) the Rigby/Usborne “world of the future books” series and a similar “world of the unknown” series by EDC publishing

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Press f12 in your browser.

That’s the new BASIC command prompt, worldwide. Has been for some time now…


You’re right and I completely agree… I find though that when showing this stuff to the kids at my childrens’ school, it’s harder to engage them with scripted loops, drawLine calls, alert boxes, fields in the DOM… if I don’t use one of the (many, excellent) resources like gamemaven or hourofcode or codecombat, they react with that “dull but worthy” expression. The fault may well be boring old me of course…!

Even the older ones prefer the unified immediacy of Scratch, which despite the drag’n’droppiness has a more useful default offering than the near-infinite but sometimes bewildering possibilities of, say, HTML5. In that, it seems more reminiscent of the built-in BASIC implementations of the era these Usborne books.

But yes, F12 opens up an equally brave and exciting world, for those that fancy it.
So does Alt-F4 sometimes too :slight_smile:


Wow! I would have thought Usborne would have been bought out by another company that went bankrupt and got bought out by another company and so on several times over by now, resulting in the rights to these things being hopelessly buried beyond all hope of retrieval. They must still be relatively successful if they’re still independent.

I was hoping to see the Guide to Computer and Video Games. The type-in programs from that book are some of my earliest memories with trying to get a program written in one dialect of BASIC to cooperate with an entirely different compiler – just one of the many delights of BASIC that are best consigned to the dustbin.

Plus, it included that famously prophetic bit about Games of the Future:


This might make me sound… dumb, but this is something that saps my interest whenever I look into getting back into programming (my background is BASIC and assembler/machine language from late 70s-mid 80s, whenever the topic comes up now I’m usually told to learn Java or C). All these years later, and using variables has gotten… harder instead of easier? Used to be you just had to define a variable between numbers and strings, now I have to know more specifics, instead of less specifics? Seems like having to decide upfront how big a number is and whether it’s floating point is a step backwards, not forwards.

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The difference between an integer and a floating point number is meaningful, because the latter don’t store exact values, and so testing when they are equal is unreliable. This was even in true in BASIC, where at least some types did make the distinction – A for a floating point variable, A% for an integer, and A$ for a string.

If you’re just starting out and don’t want to worry about the difference, you don’t have to. Sticking to float in C, Java, and their cousins should pretty much work like sticking to the floating point variables in BASIC. But there are cases where the extra control is good to have.

Edited to add:
For those who like how BASIC just let you run things without worrying much about set-up, though, note there are still languages like that. For instance I was a big fan of its easy graphics, and in that respect have been enjoying Processing, which is basically Java set up for them.


I think you mean :wink:

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