Monday, 31 January 2011

Byte magazine

So Byte Magazine is coming back. Byte, for those who do not know, was probably the pre-eminent technical computer magazine. Between 1975 and 1998 it gave in-depth technical articles that were accessible to the layman. Unlike all other magazines, it actually gave you the technical detail about the latest computer technology.

We have a large pile of IEEE publications in our living room. They are fascinating reading, but the titles detail the problem: "Graphene transitors for the masses", 'Applications of Voltage and Current Unity Gain Cells in Nodal Admittance Matrix Expansion", and who could forget the amazing "Putting memory into Circuit Elements: Memrositors, Memcapacitors and Meminductors"?

The problem is obvious: you need a massive amount of background knowledge to even start reading the articles.

Byte magazine acted as a primer between general computing knowledge and the technical nitty-gritty. It gave you a springboard that allowed you to access more detailed information; it did not dumb-down the topics and treated the reader as an adult.

My uni's library was stocked with every issue of Byte (going back, I think, as far as the first issue). Major new developments in computing were covered in this accessible format; for this reason if I wanted to know about something, for instance pipelining in processors, I would search out the issue of Byte that introduced that particular topic. It was always better than the other books in the library.

Yet it failed, and with it went a way to teach computing to the masses. I have yet to find a website that comes near the accessibility of the Byte articles; take the article on instruction pipelines on Wikipedia as an example. It would be almost impenetrable for someone who did not already have a great deal of knowledge.

Unfortunately I doubt that the new Byte will be anything like the old beast. I can but hope.

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