KARL E. WIEGERS
If you're serious about keeping up with happenings in the computer world, you've probably made the same discovery I have: It's almost impossible. The rate at which new information about computers is being generated is astronomical, as evidenced by the wide variety of magazines on the newsstand. Unless you're a lottery winner with 24 leisure hours per day, you can't read them all. So what's an enthusiast to do?
I regularly peruse about a dozen periodicals in a feeble attempt to keep up with my profession. Many of these also would be interesting to the serious hobbyist. None of these magazines is hardware-specific, although the words "IBM compatible" crop up a lot. I assume you already read ST-LOG. The world also is filled with magazines devoted to MS-DOS computers and machines named for fruit, but I'll ignore those for now. Instead, I'll describe some general computer publications you may not know about.
Don't be surprised if you don't see the word "Atari" often in these publications. The American computer world barely knows we exist, although Jerry Pournelle, who writes an entertaining column in BYTE, puts in a good word for Atari every now and then.
BYTE is a leading microcomputer magazine containing a wealth of information. It's a monthly, with a subscription price of $22.95 per year. Recent issues weigh in at a hefty 400 pages or so. Regular features include product announcements for all sorts of micros, short hands-on reviews of new products, preliminary assessments of significant machines, thorough analyses of exciting new hardware and software, book reviews, and advice columns from an assortment of experts in various fields: applications, Macintosh, OS/2, communications and business computing.
Each issue has an in-depth containing several articles on different aspects of a major theme in contemporary computing. In addition, several feature articles on technology, software or human factors are included. Finally, hands-on columns deal with do-it-yourself hardware and software projects; a recent series described a home-built supercomputer! BYTE is an excellent publication, well worth buying if you can store the weighty volumes on a reinforced floor.
Another good monthly is Personal Computing, subtitled "The Personal Systems Magazine." A subscription is $18 per year, and the most recent issue I saw had 320 pages. In addition to an assortment of feature articles on contemporary personal computing issues (MS-DOS vs. OS/2 operating systems, online searching tips from professionals), there are columns on connectivity, communications, technology, product trends, desktop publishing, databases, the computer industry, and so on. Reviews and buyer's guides are prevalent, as are new-product blurbs.
Computerworld is a weekly newspaper averaging about 120 pages per issue; a one-year subscription is $44. It covers news on all sizes and shapes of computers and computer companies, with particular emphasis on business and technology moves by vendors. There are regular sections on systems and software, microcomputing, networking, management, the computer industry, computer careers, training, industry trends, executive input, opinion and analysis. The focus is mostly on corporate computing, so product reviews aren't common. If you're a computer professional seeking a new job, check out the classified ads in the back.
Software Magazine is free to dataprocessing professionals who meet certain minimum criteria. (I qualify, so you know they're minimum criteria.) If you're not a lucky winner, it will cost you $40 a year for 15 issues of 80-90 pages each. This is a very readable publication, probably because it's written "for managers of corporate software resources." Much of it is interesting to normal people, too.
Software Magazine includes current market and corporate computing information, discussing strategies of major hardware and software vendors. Current trends in computer-aided software engineering (CASE), databases and other technical areas are revealed. These articles often include comprehensive tables of current products (such as CASE tools) from different vendors, along with a reader inquiry card to help you get more information. Hot new products for the mainframe, mini and micro worlds are mentioned too.
If you're a serious programmer type, you should check out Dr. Dobbs' Journal of Software Tools. For about $30 you can get a year's worth of monthly issues that average 150 pages of meaty articles. Dr. Dobbs' Journal has columns on C programming, structured programming, programming paradigms (whatever those are), Forth, programming the Macintosh, and artificial intelligence. Feature articles address topics in many languages, including assembly, Ada, C, Lisp, Forth, Prolog, Modula-2, SQL and BASIC. You'll also find articles on Unix, DOS, programming utilities and tools and contemporary programming technologies. Quite a few program listings are included, but don't expect anything to run on an Atari. The advertisements include pitches for all sorts of compilers, languages, and programming tools and aids.
A bit more technical, Computer is the monthly magazine published by the IEEE Computer Society. IEEE is an international engineering association, and they kindly let software engineers join now, too. Membership in the IEEE Computer Society is $39 per year, which includes a subscription to Computer. Membership requires a certain level of formal technical education; I guess they let me in because I spent the 1970s learning how to be a chemist.
Each 140-page issue of Computer contains several technical articles on contemporary issues in computing, which are sophisticated but not completely impossible to follow (up to a point). Regular departments cover standards in computing (IEEE publishes many engineering standards), upcoming conferences, book reviews and riew-product reviews (usually theme-oriented, with quite a bit of MS-DOS software and hardware). If you're contemplating a new career, classified ads for computer positions in the academic world are included.
Another IEEE publication is IEEE Software, which appears bimonthly. You must be a member of IEEE to subscribe, but you could probably find it at college libraries. This is just as technical as Computer, but it focuses on software (surprise!). Theme articles, like a recent one on object-oriented programming, are useful condensations of important software topics. Overall, I find the articles quite readable. My favorite sections are departments on human factors, software quality standards and legal aspects of software. I've obtained many useful tips from the human factors and quality columns.
IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, published monthly by the IEEE Computer Society, contains more serious stuff. Each 200-page issue contains academic papers on hard-core research in software engineering. This is a bona fide scientific journal, not for the faint of heart. Some recent papers discussed performance evaluation, concurrent programming, distributed processing, exploratory system analysis tools and sophisticated database topics. These papers are written by researchers at universities, IBM, Bell Laboratories and the like. I'm lucky to get past the first page of most of the articles, but often I don't even understand the titles.
These eight periodicals are by no means all that are available, but they should be enough to help you keep up with the computer world. Let's see how much of your valuable time it might take to read these babies religiously. Adding up the number of printed pages each month in these eight publications, I come up with a total of about 1,800. Let's assume that only half of these pages contain useful information, the rest being ads, pictures and whatnot. This gets you down to some 900 pages per month. An average magazine page contains around a thousand words, so I estimate 900,000 words per month. If you can read 300 words per minute, which is pretty good for technical stuff, you'll spend around 50 hours a month reading these magazines! Not very practical.
So, how can you keep up with computer literature? You can't. Pick out the most interesting articles and forget the rest. It seems a shame to ignore most of each issue, but sometimes you have to do other things, like eat, sleep and use your Atari.
Karl E. Wiegers, a longtime contributor to both ST-LOG and its sister magazine, ANALOG Computing, is a software engineer in the East-man Kodak Photography Research Laboratories. He lives in Rochester, New York. ST-LOG invites all authors to submit essays for possible use in the Footnotes department. Submissions should be between 1,000 and 1,500 words and may be on any aspect of Atari computing. Any style or type of essay is acceptable—opinion, humor, personal experience—but creativity is a plus. Send your submission to: Footnotes, c/o ST-LOG, P.O. Box 1413-M.O., Manchester, CT 06040–1413.