Calling All Computer Scientists!

Computer mouse

Your library provides access to a fantastic resource called Computer and Information Systems Abstracts, which provides access to the latest research articles and hard-to-find conference papers.  Updated monthly with the latest theoretical research and practical applications from around the world.  Don’t let the term ‘abstracts’ put you off as this resource also provides many full-text PDF articles or provides you with an SFX link which will search other resources for the full-text.

Image courtesy of abac077, Computer World: My home office, 2007. Shared under a 2.0 CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.

Happy Birthday BASIC!

spectrum basic keyboard by matt  and kim rudgeFifty years ago today, in a darkened basement at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Jersey, was created a computer programming language that was to have a revolutionary effect on the science and industry of information technology – Basic.

BASIC – or Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code to give it its full title – was the brainchild of mathematics lecturers John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, who wanted to create a universal programming language that students and computer novices alike could use with ease. So successful was it, that it became the primary programming language for the home computer boom of the 1970’s and 1980’s (including machines such as the venerable Sinclair ZX Spectrum, pictured above), on which many the industry giants of today cut their first IT teeth on, and it is still widely used today, albeit in a vastly evolved form, in languages such as Microsoft Visual Basic.

Programming buffs looking for a nostalgia kick may be amused by the range of books about the original Basic language that we still keep downstairs in our programming section, alongside books about its illustrious descendant – which you may find more useful, unless you keep a friendly old ZX as a back-up for your disertation!

ZX Spectrum keyboard image by Matt and Kim Rudge, reproduced under CC License from Flickr.

Exam Stress? 'Console' Yourself with a Little Arcade Action…

Atari console by Alan Klim

If you want to give your fingers (and mind!) a break from revising, then why not take a trip down memory lane courtesy of those clever people at the Internet Archive and settle down in their Console Living Room to zap a space invader (or several!).

The Internet Archive Console Living Room take you back to the golden days before even the home computer boom of the early 1980’s, when video game firms such as Atari and Sega brought the arcade into the living room through chunky plug-in cartridge console systems (such as the Atari 2600 pictured above) that connected directly to your TV (subject to parental permission!). The forebear of modern gaming systems such as the Nintendo, the PlayStation and the Wii, the games they provided were composed of simple graphics with even simpler rules – no novel-sized instruction manuals or PDF files!

The archive makes use of an emulator system, which allows direct access to these programs in your browser with no additional plugins or settings, although they work best on a modern browser.

If this piques your interest, or you want to find out more about how modern computer games are programmed, we have a wide range of material amongst our stock, both online and in hard copy, examining the gaming industry and its cultural, social and economic impact down the decades. Those interested in creating and designing their own games are also catered for among our extensive computer programming section.

Happy zapping!

Atari 2600 console by Alan Klim, reproduced under CC License from Flickr.

Monkey Business

donkey kong by mister snappyToday marks the 32nd birthday of one of the most popular and influential video games of all time, Donkey Kong.

A deceptively simple but classic example of the ‘platform game’ genre, Donkey Kong finds the player engaged in an increasingly tricky series of screens as they attempt to save the hero’s girlfriend from the eponymous villainous ape.

Initially created as an arcade console game by Nintendo and released in July 1981 as an attempt to break into the lucrative American arcade market, Donkey Kong became a raging success across the world, eventually leading to an even more popular series of spin-off games starring Donkey Kong’s everyman plumber hero, Mario.

Computer games may have technologically moved on from the clunky, 10p-gobbling wooden cabinets of the 70’s and 80’s, but their appeal shows no sign of abating. We have a wide range of material amongst our stock, both online and in hard copy, examining the gaming industry and its cultural, social and economic impact down the decades. Those interested in creating and designing their own games are also catered for among our considerable computer programming section.

(No, you don’t need to climb any girders to get them, even if the Library building is currently closed and covered in scaffolding – if you spot a book you’d like to read, just request it via Library Catalogue Plus, and our own team of Super Mario Bros will do the rest!)

Donkey Kong screenshot by Mister Snappy, reproduced under CC License from Flickr.

Preserving the Nation's Digital Memory

computers by jisc

An ambitious project has just been launched by the British Library to collect and preserve everything that is published online in Britain.

The archive will cover 4.8 million websites encompassing books and academic journals as well as alternative sources of literature, news and comment including popular blogs, web forums and social media sites including Facebook and Twitter.

Six ‘Legal Deposit Sites’ led by the British Library and including the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales and the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford will be allowed to collect and store anything that is published online in the UK web domain. This archive will then be made available to future generations of social historians and researchers who will doubtless be looking to find some arcane meaning to our ‘Google’ age!

To start the ball rolling, the participating Libraries have come up with a list of what they deem to be the 100 most important and notable websites to archive – and they’re keen to get the British public in on the act too! So if you’d like to suggest your nominations, or just browse the list they’ve come up with, visit the British Library site here:

Computers image by Jisc, reproduced under CC License from Flickr. 

30 Years of :-)

Thirty years ago today an email was sent containing a tiny image that would have profound effect on the style of human communication – the ‘Smiley’ emoticon.

Professor Scott Fahlman of the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh sent an email on September 19 1982 that included the first use of the sideways smiley face. Intended for use by the Professor as a means of differentiating between serious and humourous emails, the notion swiftly went ‘viral’ and spread across the globe to become one of the most widely used communication tools, undergoing many subtle (and not so subtle!) transformations along the way to suggest practically every form of human emotion in simple (and sometimes not so simple!!) graphic form.

We have a wide range of books examining the use and design of icons and symbols such as the emoticon among our art, design and typography books in the Library, as well as texts examining the language and sociology of semiotics and symbols.  Certainly plenty to 🙂 about!

Emoticon by Dominic Alves, reproduced under CC License from Flickr.

Travel the World… By Phone!

Google Maps upgraded itself with some new features this week, allowing users of mobile technology for the first time to be able to journey all over the planet from the comfort of… where ever!

New image rendering techniques have also been applied to the software, enabling browsers to see and visit whole towns and cities in vivid 3-D.

They’ve also introduced Street View Trekker, a wilderness version of their highly popular street-level system, that enables users to visit newly digitally mapped areas that were previously far off the beaten track, such as the Grand Canyon.

If cartography and geography is your thing, Google Maps isn’t the only resource available. The Library has access to Digimap, a collection of EDINA services providing maps and map data, including Ordnance Survey maps, which can viewed either online or via appropriate software such as CAD. Why not take the trip…?

Planet Earth image courtest of woodleywonderworks, reproduced under CC License from Flickr.

Everybody Wants a Piece of Pi!

A pocket-money priced revolutionary new British computer went on sale first thing this Wednesday morning, and not only almost instantly sold out, but crashed all the websites of the vendors selling it!

The Raspberry Pi, a credit-card sized barest-of-bare bones accumulation of various basic PC chips and circuits being retailed for £22, is the brain-child of a Cambridge charitable foundation that hopes to inspire a new generation of computer programmers in the same way that the the home computer boom of the 1980’s did. Judging from this morning’s demand, it seems to have provoked the right effect!

The Pi is run from a common ARM chip using a version of the open-source operating system Linux. It has a USB port for a keyboard, an Ethernet port for internet access and an HDMI port for video output. Users have to supply their own keyboard and screen, or plug it into a TV set – just like old Sinclair ZX Spectrums and Commodore 64’s of early computer yore!

If computer hardware and software is your thing, we have a considerable cornucopia of resources in print and in electronic format available to meet every taste. Why not have a browse of Library Catalogue Plus and see what we’ve got?

Raspberry Pi image copyright, reproduced under CC License from Flickr.