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Introduction to Electronic Computers: Problem Solving with the IBM 1620


reviewed by P. W. Gifford, Jr. - 1964

coverTitle: Introduction to Electronic Computers: Problem Solving with the IBM 1620
Author(s): F. J. Gruenberger, McCracken D. D.
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: , Pages: , Year:
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This appealing text may herald the approach of a generation of students who will be unfazed by the tasks of verifying or deriving such tough nuts as the Goldback conjecture or the value of the natural logarithm base e to any desired accuracy. According to the authors, these feats will require, in addition to a course based upon their book and a 1620 computer, no more than a high school mathematics education through trigonometry and some fundamental knowledge of the basic physical sciences. It is this reviewer's opinion that this claim is indeed a reasonable one. Besides conveying computer knowledge, the book straightforwardly imparts an amazing amount of what it is that comprises numerical problems. For this, many readers whose feeling toward mathematically tinged subject matter is less than enthusiastic will have reason to be grateful.


Knowledge of programing and skill in coding a stored program machine are not in themselves the chief goals of the book. Rather, these topics are viewed as tools which will help achieve the basic objective, the use of computers to solve problems. To this end, Messrs. Gruenberger and McCracken have so arranged matters that in treating nearly all of the topics, from machine components through programing languages, it is concern with solving a well posed problem which motivates the reader. The problems employed, both through the text and at chapter ends, range from questions of number theory (often of a delightful simplicity for computer purposes, as the authors point out) through numerical analysis to game strategies and random number exercises of a distinctly Monte Carlo flavor. Always, the straightforward approach is taken; there is no bogging down in background detail better left to other references. As might be expected from the fact that the 1620 is primarily used for engineering, technical, and research problems, the book only occasionally plunges into a business application of computers.


No pretense is made that a computer can be learned through any method short of access to the machine itself under the guidance of a capable instructor. The authors present their book as an ingredient of such a learning situation, not as a stand-alone key to the world of the stored program. In line with this reasonable attitude, their advice to the student that he obtain the manufacturer's 1620 manual and other material is refreshing. Too many computer texts add bulk by reproducing what is readily available.


Perhaps a tendency to cover everything in computerdom, however rapidly, is the one weakness to which the authors succumb. Such later chapters as those on the assembler for the 1620, compilers, FORTRAN, program generators, and "Monitors and Large Computers," as well as the appendix on "Other Computers," might almost be termed perfunctory in their treatment. For example, the chapter on "Generators" presents in less than a page the concept of magnetic tape input-output to computers. It is doubtful whether this "tacked-on" topic can take on much meaning for the novice since the 1620 does not employ magnetic tapes. It would seem that the completely different order of magnitude of tapes as a device for communication with the computer and for organizing information must escape the student until he can be thoroughly and systematically exposed to this topic. It is always a problem to define the scope of coverage of a subject. One might wish that the term "1620" in the title of this book had been adhered to throughout its content. In this way, more of the useful problems, concrete advice, and machine-handling insight which the authors provide in the 1620-oriented chapters would have served as a distinctly better-than-even exchange for the sketchier material in a few of the later sections. This objection is a relatively minor one, however, especially if the added topics are viewed as a sort of glossary for future reference.


The soft-cover format and notebook size of this book are attractive and compatible with student notes and other material (although three holes might well have been punched). The index appears to have been appropriately prepared with the aid of punched cards. A list of "Published Rand Corporation Books," of which this text is one, serves to warn the successful master of this computer course against the smug feeling that he now knows all.


P. W. GIFFORD, JR.

International Business Machines

New York City




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 65 Number 4, 1964, p. 388-388
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 2751, Date Accessed: 5/28/2022 6:54:06 PM

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