In the 1983 book IBM BASIC, Donald T. Payne and William R. Beck identify that the goal of the book is not to simply present BASIC programming language and programs but to improve a reader’s problem-solving skills (v). They ask for patience while reading, distinguishing themselves from “too many instructional environments [that] are designed to spoon feed the learner” (v-vi) and call for experiential learning of the programming system. And so I used the book, in addition to Basic BASIC, published in 1970 by James Coan, to get some practice with actual programming. The result was quite exhilarating at times and baffling at others.
For instance, deleting a mistake in a program was oddly difficult at first. Basic BASIC is the book that I started off with and is essentially a manual of programming commands and the ways that they function. The chapters get progressively more difficult and include examples of programs and sample problems for the reader to create a program to solve. The basic math problems provided at the end of Chapter 1 were not difficult to program, but I found myself very confused about how to undo my work. At times, I was able to move my cursor back up into the line I had just written and type over some mistakes, but at others, I was unable to do so. I would hit the left arrow key and instead of moving up into the last line, it would hit the home position and create a bunch of new lines below it (see the pictures for what I mean). Next time I program, I will pay attention to whether or not I have hit “Enter,” which tells the system that the line is complete. I also was confused by the 1970 book when I went to clear an entire program (again, due to mistakes), but the system commands in that book didn’t work. CLE and SCR were both supposed to clear the program, but I checked in IBM BASIC and found that in the version of BASIC that I was most likely working off of – using an Apple IIe computer – DELETE was the proper command to use. The differences even between 1970 and 1983 were subtle but noticeable enough that I will have to be careful with which reference materials I use. Also, I need to look into the differences between IBM BASIC and Apple BASIC for purposes of working in our lab.
Trying this exercise brought up, for me, that I take certain “easy access” bits for granted – i.e. being able to delete something by just hitting the backspace key, instead of having to move the cursor and type over something, or having to use a DELETE command because I told the system that it was complete. I realized that the practice of programming involves a lot of checking one’s work before moving forward to ensure that the code stays in order and easy-to-follow (for code). I suppose I should work on that component that Payne and Beck call for — patience.
This exercise also instilled a desire to keep at programming. The authors of IBM BASIC have the following statement as an introduction to the nature of computers’ ability to perform “skilled language processing”: “the task is admittedly complex and would use much computing facility, but computers of the future will begin to exhibit these skills” (2). I want to see whether our current computers do have more sophisticated language processing skills, or whether it is simply clouded by a ‘user-friendly’ interface.