Here's part of "The Secret Guide to Computers," copyright by Russ Walter, 27th edition. For newer info, read the 33rd edition at


Become an expert

To become a computer expert, you need a computer, literature, and friends.

A computer to practice on

If possible, buy an IBM PC or clone. You can buy a nice one for about $1000, a plain one for about $500. If you can’t afford even $500, get a used computer. Ask your computer friends whether they want to get rid of any “used junky obsolete computers” for under $100, or ask them whether they can lend you a computer for a weekend. Swap: if they lend you an Apple for a weekend, bake them an apple pie.

Another way to save money is to join your friends for a group purchase. For example, if 9 of you each chip in $10, you can buy a $90 computer. Divide the 9 of you into 3 trios, and rotate the computer from trio to trio every day, so that you get to use the computer every third day.

Literature to read

Begin by reading The Secret Guide to Computers. Then read the manuals that came with your computer.

Find out what’s new by subscribing to computer magazines or reading them in your town’s library.

You can get computer books and magazines from the bookstore at your local college. You can also try your local branch of Waldenbooks or B. Dalton Booksellers, which are nationwide chains. A cheerier chain is Borders, whose salespeople are more knowledgeable. If you live near Denver, visit Tattered Cover, which is America’s largest independent bookstore (303-322-7727).

To pay less, shop at discount chains such as Staples (which has a 15% discount on the few books it stocks) and Comp USA (which has big discounts on magazines and a 20% discount on all books). If you live near Boston, go to Harvard Square in Cambridge to visit Words Worth (10% discount on all paperbacks, 617-354-5201).

The following big stores specialize in computer & technical books, and most are willing to ship all over the world. They usually charge full price:

Opamp Bookstore (Los Angeles, 213-464-4322)

Computer Literacy Bookshops (San Jose CA, 408-592-5775)

Stacey’s Bookstore (San Francisco 415-421-4687, Palo Alto CA 415-326-0681)

Computer Book Works (New York City, 212-385-1616)

McGraw-Hill Bookstore (New York City, 212-997-1221)

Quantum Books (Cambridge MA, 617-494-5042)

Calgary Computer Books (Calgary Alberta Canada, 403-270-0952)

Since The Secret Guide to Computers is an underground book, you won’t find it in stores that are “overground”. To find out which nifty bookstores, computer stores, and consultants near you carry the Secret Guide, phone me at 603-666-6644, and I’ll look up your ZIP code in my computer.

Friends to chat with

When you have a computer question, phone me at 603-666-6644. Another way to get help is to join a computer club.

The biggest and best computer club was the Boston Computer Society (BCS), which had about 30,000 members, held over 1,000 meetings per year, published many magazines and newsletters, and had hundreds of volunteers who gave free phone help on technical topics. It began in 1977 but shut down in 1996. Its founder and first president was a 13-year-old kid. I hope some other 13-year-old kid starts something equally wonderful someday!

If you live near New York City, join a computer club called New York Personal Computer (NY PC). Membership costs $45 for 1 year, $80 for 2 years, $30 per year for students. The best way to find out about the club is to look at its Web site,, which also includes info about other clubs in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Some info is also available by phoning 212-643-NYPC for a recorded message.

If you live near Philadelphia, join a computer club called the Philadelphia Area Computer Society (PACS). Membership costs $37 per year ($32 per year for senior citizens). The best way to find out about the club is to look at its Web site, The club’s phone number, 215-842-9600, usually gives you just a recorded message telling you to visit the Web site.

Americans living in Tokyo have started the Tokyo PC Users Group (TPC). Their newsletter, written in English, is top-notch! The best way to find out about the club is to look at its Web site, If you’re in Japan, phone 03-5956-7228 (for a recorded message about membership) or write to Tokyo PC Club, PO Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691 Japan.

The biggest and best computer clubs are in retirement communities in Arizona (near Mesa) and Florida.

To find computer clubs near you, ask employees at your local computer stores, high schools, and colleges. You can also check the list put out by the Association of PC User Groups (APCUG) at

The biggest and best club for Macintosh computers was the Berkeley Macintosh User Group (BMUG), but it is shutting down. Its remnants are at

If you take a computer course, get personal help by chatting with your teacher and classmates. To save money, sign up for the cheap courses given by your high school’s “adult education” evening program and your local community college.

I occasionally travel around the world and give courses inexpensively or for free. Heads of the computer industry got their training from my courses. To join us, use the coupon on the back page.

Land a computer job

To become a lawyer, you must graduate from law school and pass the Bar Exam. But to become a computer expert, there’s no particular program you must graduate from, no particular exam to pass, and no particular piece of paper that “proves” you’re an expert or even competent.

You can get a job in the computer industry even if you’ve never had any training. Your job will be sweeping the floor.

To become a top computer expert, you must study hard, day and night. Read lots of computer manuals, textbooks, guidebooks, magazines, newspapers, and newsletters. Practice using many kinds of computers, operating systems, languages, word-processing programs, spreadsheets, database systems, graphics packages, and telecommunications programs. Also explore the many educational programs for kids. Use many kinds of printers, disk drives, and modems. Study the human problems of dealing with computers. No matter how much you already know, learn more!

When I surveyed computer experts, I found that the average expert spends two hours per day reading about computers, to fill holes in the expert’s background and learn what happened in the computer industry that day! In addition to those two hours, the expert spends many more hours practicing what was read and swapping ideas by chatting with other computerists.

As a computer expert, you can choose your own hours, but they must be numerous: if your interest in computers lasts just from 9 AM to 5 PM, you’ll never become a computer expert.

To break into the computer field, you can use six tools: college, home consulting, home programming, salesmanship, job expansion, and on-the-job training.


The most traditional way to get a computer job is to go to college and get a Ph.D. or M.A. in computer science. Unfortunately, that takes a lot of time.

Home consulting

The fastest way to break into the field is to keep your current job but spend your weekends and evenings helping your neighbors, friends, and colleagues learn about computers. Help them buy hardware and software. Then customize the software to meet their own personal needs. Then train them in how to use it all. Lots of folks want training in how to use DOS, Word Perfect, and other popular software.

At first, do it all for free. After you’ve become an experienced expert and developed a list of happy clients who will vouch for your brilliance, start requesting money from new clients. Start cheaply, at about $10 per hour, then gradually raise your rates over the next few years. Most computer consultants charge about $50 per hour, and some charge much more than that; but I suggest that you be gentler on your clients’ pocketbooks! By charging little, you’ll get more clients, they’ll rack up more hours with you, and you won’t need to spend lots of time and money on “advertising”. For example, at $20 per hour you’ll be very popular!

Home programming

You can write computer programs at home to sell to friends and software publishers, but make sure your programs serve a real need and don’t duplicate what’s already on the market. Be creative!


For a quicker career path, learn enough about microcomputers to get a job selling them in a store. As a salesperson, you’ll be helping people decide which hardware and software to buy; you’ll be acting as a consultant.

The store will probably give you permission to take hardware, software, and literature home with you, so you can study and practice new computer techniques every evening and become brilliant. If you wish, you can even moonlight by helping your customers use the software they bought and designing your own customized programs for them.

After working in the store several months, you’ll have the knowledge, experience, contacts, and reputation to establish yourself as an independent consultant. You can call your former customers and become their advisor, trainer, and programmer — or even set up your own store.

Job expansion

Another way to break into the field is to take a non-computer job and gradually enlarge its responsibilities, so that it involves computers.

For example, if you’re a typist, urge your boss to let you use a word processor. If you’re a clerk, ask permission to use spreadsheet and data-management programs to manage your work more efficiently. If you’re a math teacher, ask the principal to let you teach a computer course or help run the school’s computer club.

Keep your current job, but expand it to include new skills so you gradually become a computer expert.

On-the-job training

The final way to break into the field is to get a job in a computer company, as a janitor or clerk, and gradually move up by using the company’s policy of free training for employees.

Phone me

Many companies phone me when they’re looking for computer experts. If you think you’re an expert and can demonstrate your expertise, I’ll be glad to pass your name along to employers.

Occasionally, I even have job openings here at The Secret Guide to Computers. Feel free to ask. Although some of the jobs here are mundane, a nice fringe benefit is that you get to play with my 40 computers and oodles of software packages and take them home with you. You can also choose your own hours: work whenever you please! After you work here a few months and do your job well, I’ll gladly give you an excellent reference that will help you get an even nicer job elsewhere.

Set your rates

If somebody’s interested in hiring you to be a programmer or consultant, you must decide what rate to charge.

If this is your first such job, be humble and charge very little because your first job’s main goal should not be money. Instead, your goal should be to gain experience, enhance your reputation, and find somebody you can use as a reference and who’ll give you a good recommendation. Convince your first employer that you’re the best bargain he ever got, so that he’ll be wildly enthusiastic about you and give you a totally glowing recommendation when you go seek your second job.

If you can’t find anyone willing to pay you, work for free, just so that you can put on your résumé that you “helped computerize a company”. After such an experience, you should easily find a second job that pays better.

Although your first computer job might pay little or nothing at all, it gets your foot in the computer industry’s door. After your first job, your salary will rise rapidly because the most valuable attribute you can have in this field is experience.

Since experienced experts are in short supply, they get astronomical salaries. On the other hand, there’s a surplus of “kids fresh out of college” who know nothing. So consider your first job to be an extremely valuable way to gain experience, even if the initial salary is low. When applying for your first job, remember that you’re still unproven, and be thankful that your first employer is willing to take a risk on you.

Asking for a raise

After several months on the job, when you’ve thoroughly proved that you’re worth much more than you’re being paid, and your employer is thoroughly thrilled with your performance, gently ask your employer for a slight raise. If he declines, continue working at that job, but also keep your eyes open for a better alternative.

Negotiating a contract

The fundamental rule of contract negotiation is: never make a large commitment.

For example, suppose somebody offers to pay you $10,000 if you write a fancy program. Don’t accept the offer; the commitment is too large. Instead, request $1,000 for writing a stripped-down version of the program.

After writing the stripped-down version, wait and see whether you get the $1,000; if you get it without any hassles, then agree to make the version slightly fancier, for a few thousand dollars more. That way, if you have an argument with your employer (which is common), you’ve lost only $1,000 of effort instead of $10,000.

Contract headaches

Arguments between programmers and employers are common, for six reasons:

1. As a programmer, you’ll probably make the mistake of underestimating the time for debugging the program, because you’ll tend to be too optimistic about your own abilities.

2. Your employer won’t be precise enough when he tells you what kind of program to write. You’ll write a program that you think satisfies the employer’s request and then discover that the employer really wanted something slightly different.

3. Your employer will forget to tell you about the various “strange cases” that the company must handle. They’ll require extra “IF” statements in your program.

4. When the employer finally sees your program working, he’ll suddenly think of extra things he’d like the program to do, and which will require extra programming effort from you.

5. When the program finally does everything that the employer expects, he’ll want you to teach his staff how to use the program and the computer. If his staff has never dealt with computers before, the training period could be quite lengthy. He’ll also want you to write a manual about the program, and to put the manual into the company’s library.

6. After the company begins using the program, the employer will want you to make additional changes, and might even expect you to make them at no charge.

To minimize those six kinds of conflicts, be honest and kind to your employer. Explain to him that you’re worried about those six kinds of conflicts, and that you’d like to chat about them now, before either you or he makes any commitments. Then make a small commitment for a small payment for a short time, and make sure that both you and the employer are happy with the way that small commitment worked out before attempting any larger commitments.

Develop your career

Here are further tricks for developing your career.


A programmer is a teacher: the programmer teaches the computer new tricks. For example, the programmer might teach the computer how to do the payroll. To do that, the programmer feeds the computer a list of instructions, that explain to the computer how to do the payroll. The list of instructions is called a program.

Languages The program is written by using the very limited vocabulary that the computer understands already. Earlier in The Secret Guide to Computers, I explained a vocabulary called BASIC, which consists of words such as PRINT, INPUT, GO TO, IF, THEN, and STOP. That vocabulary — BASIC — is called a computer language. It’s a small part of English. No computer understands the whole English language. The programmer’s job is to translate an English sentence (such as “do the payroll”) into language the computer understands (such as BASIC). So the programmer is a translator.

Some computers understand BASIC. Other computers understand a different vocabulary, called COBOL. For example, COBOL uses the words DISPLAY and WRITE instead of PRINT.

Before programming a computer, you must find out which language the computer understands.

Does it understand BASIC? Or does it understand COBOL instead? Or does it understand a yet different language? The most popular languages are BASIC, COBOL, C++, and JAVA; but there are also thousands of others. Your computer understands at least one of those languages; if you’re lucky, your computer understands several of those languages.

When you apply for a programming job, the first question to ask the interviewer is: which languages does the company’s computer understand? Or better yet, ask, “Which language do you want me to program in?” The interviewer will say “BASIC” or “COBOL” or “C++” or “JAVA” or some similar answer and then ask you, “Do you know that language?”

Of those popular languages, BASIC is the easiest and the most fun. To become a programmer, begin by studying BASIC, then move on to the other languages, which are yuckier.

Since BASIC’s so easy, saying you know BASIC is less prestigious than saying you know languages such as C++. To get lots of prestige, learn many languages. To convince the interviewer you’re brilliant, say that you know many languages well even if the job you’re applying for needs just one language.

The most prestigious languages to know are assembly and machine languages, because they’re the hardest.

If you can convince the interviewer that you know assembly and machine languages, the interviewer will assume you’re God and offer you a very high salary, even if the job doesn’t require a knowledge of those languages.

Specific computers Before going to the interview, learn about the specific computer the company uses.

For example, if the company’s computer is an IBM maxicomputer, study the IBM maxi’s details. Study its operating system and its languages. If the job requires COBOL, study the particular dialect of COBOL used on the IBM maxi. Each computer has its own dialect of COBOL, its own dialect of BASIC, etc. Usually, the differences between dialects are small, but you must know them. For assembly and machine languages, the differences between dialects are much greater: the assembly language on an IBM PC is almost entirely different from the assembly language on an IBM maxi.

Analysis versus coding The act of programming consists of two stages.

In the first stage, analyze the problem to make it more specific.

For example, suppose the problem is, “Program the computer to do the payroll”. The first stage is to decide exactly how the company wants the payroll to be done. Should it be done weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly, or monthly? While computing the payroll checks, what other reports do you want the computer to generate? For example, do you want the computer to also print a report about the employees’ attendance, and about how much money each department of the company is spending on salaries? Maybe one of the departments is over-budgeting. And what kind of paychecks do you want the computer to refuse to print? For example, if somebody in the company tries to make the computer print a paycheck for a ridiculous amount (such as $1,000,000 or ½¢), you want the computer to refuse (and perhaps signal an alarm).

That stage — analyzing a vague problem (such as “do the payroll”) to make it more specific — is called analysis. A person who analyzes is called an analyst or, more prestigiously, a systems analyst.

After analyzing the vague problem and transforming it into a series of smaller, more specific tasks, the analyst turns the problem over to a team of coders. Each coder takes one of the tasks and translates it into BASIC or COBOL or some other language.

If you’re hired to be a “programmer”, your first assignment will probably be as a coder. After you gain experience, you’ll be promoted to a systems analyst.

The ideal systems analyst knows how to analyze a problem but also has prior experience as a coder. A systems analyst who knows how to both code and analyze is called a programmer/analyst. An analyst who doesn’t know how to code — who doesn’t know BASIC or COBOL — who merely knows how to break a big problem into a series of little ones — is paid less.

Three kinds of programming Programming falls into three categories: development, testing, and maintenance.

Development means inventing a new program.

Testing means making sure the program works.

Maintenance means making minor improvements to programs that were written long ago. The “improvements” consist of eliminating errors that were discovered recently, or making the program conform to changed government regulations, or adding extra features so that the program produces extra reports or handles extra-special cases.

Development is more exciting than testing, which is more exciting than maintenance. So if you’re a new programmer, the other programmers will probably “stick you” in the maintenance department, where you’ll be part of the maintenance crew. Since your job will consist of “cleaning up” old programs, cruel programmers will call you a “computer janitor”.

“Application program” versus “system program” Programs fall into two categories.

The usual kinds of program is called an application program. It handles a specific application (such as “payroll” or “chess” or “send rocket to moon”).

The other kind of program is called a system program; its only purpose is to help programmers write applications programs.

For example, hidden inside the computer is a program that makes the computer understand BASIC. That program explains to the computer what the words PRINT, INPUT, and IF mean. That program (which is called the BASIC language processor) is an example of a system program.

Another system program is called the operating system. It tells the computer how to control the disks and printer and terminals. If the operating system is fancy, it even tells the computer how to handle many programmers at once.

Another system program is the editor. It lets you edit files and programs. For example, on big old computers, the editor lets you edit programs written in old languages such as COBOL and FORTRAN.

So system programs are tools, which help programmers write application programs. When you buy a computer, buy some system programs so you can create applications programs easily.

A person who invents system programs is called a systems programmer. To become a systems programmer, learn assembly language and machine language.

Creating a system program is very difficult; so a systems programmer usually gets paid more than an applications programmer.

The word “systems” is prestigious: it’s used in the phrase “systems analyst” and in “systems programmer”. In some companies, if your boss wants to praise you, the boss will put the word “systems” in front of your title even if your job has nothing to do with “systems”.

How to learn programming To be a good programmer, you need experience. You can’t become a good programmer by just reading books and listening to lectures; you must get your hands on a computer and practice.

If you take a computer course, the books and lectures are much less valuable than the experience of using the school’s computer. Spend lots of time in the computer center. Think of the course as just an excuse to get permission to use the school’s computer. The quality of the lecture is less important than the quality of the school’s computer center. The ideal computer center:

has a computer that can understand many languages

gives you unlimited use of the computer (no “extra charges”)

is open 24 hours a day

has enough terminals so you don’t have to wait for somebody else to finish

has a staff of “teaching assistants” who’ll answer your questions

has a rack full of easy-to-read manuals that explain how to use the computer

lets you borrow books and manuals, to take home with you

has several kinds of computers, so that you get a broad range of experience.

Before you enroll in a computer course, find out whether the school’s computer center has those features.

Many computer schools are unnecessarily expensive. To save money, take fewer courses, and buy more books and magazines instead. Better yet, buy a computer yourself and keep it at home!

You can buy a used 486 computer for about $300. Keep the computer a few months, practice writing BASIC programs on it and using some Windows applications, then sell it to a friend for $100 less than you paid — so that using it cost you just $100 and gave you several months of education. That’s a much better investment of your money than spending many hundreds of dollars on a computer course.

Another cheap way to get an education is to phone your town’s board of education, and ask whether the town offers any adult-education courses in computers. Some towns offer adult-education computer courses for under $100.

For an even better deal, phone your town’s board of education — or high school — and ask whether you can sit in the back of a high-school computer class.

If you’re an adult resident of the town, you might be able to sit in the back of the class for free. Your only “expense” will be the embarrassment of sitting in the same room as youngsters. After a day or two of feeling strange, you’ll get used to it, and you’ll get an excellent free education.

Community colleges offer low-cost courses that are decent. Explore the community colleges before sinking money into more expensive institutions that are over-priced.

Starting salary For your first programming job, your salary will be somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000. The exact amount depends on which languages you know, how many programs you wrote previously, whether you have a college degree, whether you’ve had experience on the particular kind of computer the company uses, and whether you know the application area. (For example, if you’re a programmer for an insurance company, it’s helpful to know something about insurance.)

Degrees A college degree ain’t needed, but wow can it make you look smart! Try to get a degree in “computer science” or “management information systems”.

“Computer science” emphasizes the underlying theory, systems programming, assembly language, C++, and applications to science. “Management information systems” emphasizes BASIC, COBOL, DBASE, and applications to business.

A major in “mathematics” that emphasizes computers is also acceptable.

Discrimination If you’re a woman or non-white or physically handicapped, you’ll be pleased to know that the computer industry discriminates less than in other occupations. Being a woman or non-white or physically handicapped actually works to your advantage, since many companies have affirmative-action programs.

But discrimination does exist against older people. If you’re over 40 and trying to get a job as an entry-level programmer, you’ll have a tough time since the stereotypical programmer is “young, bright, and a fast thinker”. If you’re old, they’ll assume you’re “slow and sluggish”.

Because of that unfair discrimination, if you’re old you should probably try entering the computer industry through a different door: as a consultant, or a computer salesperson, or a computer-center manager, or a computer teacher. For those positions, your age works to your advantage, since those jobs require wisdom, and people will assume that since you’re old, you’re wise.

Shifting careers If you’re older, the best way to enter the computer field is to combine your knowledge of computers with other topics you knew previously.

If you already knew a lot about how to sell merchandise, get a job selling computers. If you already knew a lot about teaching, get a job teaching about computers — or helping teachers deal with computers. If you already knew a lot about real estate, computerize your real estate office.

In other words, do not try to “hop” careers; instead, gradually shift your responsibilities so that they deal more with computers.

To get into the computer field safely, keep your current job but computerize it.

For example, if you’re already a math teacher, keep teaching math but convince your school to also let you teach a computer course, or at least incorporate computers into the math curriculum or help run the school’s computer center. If you already work for a big company and your job bores you, try to transfer to a department that puts you in closer contact with the computer. After a year in such a transitional state, you can break into the computer field more easily since you can put the word “computer” somewhere on your résumé as “job experience”.

If you’re a college kid, write programs that help the professors, or help others during your summer vacations.

Agree to write the programs for little or no pay. Your goal is not money: your goal is to put “experienced programmer” on your résumé.

Interviews When applying for your first computer job, try to avoid the “personnel” office. The bureaucrats in that office will look at your résumé, see it includes too little experience, and trash it.

Instead, play the who-you-know game. Contact somebody who actually works with computers. Convince that person you’re brighter than your résumé indicates. Prove you’ve learned so much (from reading, courses, and practice) that you can quickly conquer any task laid before you. If you impress that person enough, you might get the job even though your paper qualifications look too brief.

When you get an interview, be assertive.

Ask the interviewer more questions than the interviewer asks you. Ask the interviewer about the company’s computer, and about why the company doesn’t have a different one instead. Ask the interviewer how the other people in the company feel about the computer center. Ask the same kinds of questions a data-processing manager would ask. That way, the interviewer will assume you have the potential to become a data-processing manager, and will hire you immediately. You’ll also be showing you care enough about the company to ask questions. And you’ll be showing you have a vibrant personality, and are not just “another vegetable who came through the door”.

One of the strange things about applying for a programming job is that the interviewer will not ask to see a sample of your work. The interviewer doesn’t have time to read your program. Even if the interviewer did have time to read your program, he couldn’t be sure you wrote it yourself. Instead, the interviewer will just chat with you about your accomplishments. You must “talk smart”. The best way is to know all the buzzwords of the computer industry — even if they don’t really help you write programs. For example, during the interview you’ll probably be asked whether you know structured programming.

A structured program is a program that’s well-organized. It consists of a short main routine and many subroutines. (In some languages, the “routines” are called procedures.) To write a structured program, avoid the words GO TO; instead, use words that involve subroutines (procedures).

Later joys In your first job, your salary will be low, but don’t worry about it. During your first job, you’ll receive lots of training: you’re getting a free education. After your training period is over, your salary will rise rapidly — especially if you do extra studying during evenings and weekends. Your real job is: to become brilliant.

After you’ve become brilliant and experienced, other companies will eagerly want to hire you. Your best strategy is to leave your current company and work elsewhere to gain new experiences. Whenever you feel you’re “coasting” and not learning anything new, it’s time to move to a different job. The “different job” can be in a new company — or in a different department of the same company.

By moving around — by gaining a wide variety of experiences — you can eventually become a qualified, wise consultant. And you’ll feel like God.

Social contacts Being a programmer is not always glamorous. You’ll spend many long hours staring at your screen and wondering why your program doesn’t work. The job is intellectual, not social. But after you’ve become an expert coder, you get into “systems analysis” and “consulting” and “teaching” and “management”, and interact with people more.

Software publishing To be a programmer, you do not have to work for a large company. Instead, you can sit home, write programs on your personal microcomputer, and sell them to software publishers, for a royalty.

If the software publisher sells many copies of your program, you become rich. On the other hand, if your program is not a “smash hit”, you remain poor.

Since your program might not become popular, do not rely on software publishing as a steady source of income. Instead, view it as a part-time activity which, if successful, will put some extra money in your pocket.

The most famous software publishers are Microsoft, Corel, Symantec, Electronic Arts, and Softkey. There are many others. Browse through the ads in microcomputer magazines.

Software houses A company whose only goal is to produce software is called a software house. Software houses dealing with large computers typically hire full-time programmers and pay them fixed salaries. Software houses dealing with microcomputers sometimes pay royalties instead.


Programming is fun for young kids. But as you get older, you’ll tire of machines and want to deal with people instead. As you approach retirement, you’ll want to help the younger generation relate to the computers you’ve mastered.

To be a successful manager, you need three skills: you must be technically competent; you must be wise; and you must know how to handle people.

You should know how to program. Know the strengths and weaknesses of each computer company, and be able to compare their products. Develop a philosophy about what makes a “good” computer center. Understand people’s motives and channel them into constructive avenues.

Keep up to date. Read the latest books and periodicals about computers. Chat with other computer experts by phone, at conventions, and at computer clubs.

Here are hints about how to manage a computer center:

Many computer centers put four-foot-high partitions between their programmers, to give the programmers “privacy”. Unfortunately, the partitions are counter-productive: they’re too low to block noise, and too high to permit helpful conversation with your neighbor. Knock the partitions down!

When putting a computer center into a school, you must develop a cadre of hot-shot students who are bright, friendly, and outgoing, and who will help and encourage the other students to use the computer. If the hot-shots are not outgoing — if they become an elitist, snobbish club — the rest of the school will avoid the computer.

If you’ve hired “programming assistants” who help the programmers, don’t let the programming assistants hide in an office or behind a desk. The programming assistants should walk up to the programmers at the computer keyboards and offer help.

In too many organizations, computers are locked in the offices of prestigious people and aren’t used. Let everybody share the computers.

Too often, managers judge their own worth by the size of the computer center’s budget: the bigger the budget, the more prestigious the manager. Remember that the sign of being a good manager is not having a big budget; the sign of a good manager is the ability to meet the company’s needs on a small budget.

Too often, the head of the computer center decides who can use the computer. So the head of the computer center becomes powerful — and evil. To avoid concentrating so much power in the hands of one bureaucrat, use distributed processing: get several small computers instead of one big monster, and give each department its own small computer.

If you’re a “microcomputer consultant” and honest, you’ll tell your client to buy low-cost popular programs, instead of telling him to pay you to invent “customized” programs.


You can find three kinds of salesmen:

The “slick” kind knows “how to sell”, but doesn’t know any technical details about the computer he’s selling. He doesn’t know how to program, and doesn’t know much about the computers sold by his competitors. All he knows is the “line” that his boss told him to give the customers. That kind of salesman usually resorts to off-color tactics, such as claiming that all computers sold by competitors are “toys”.

The opposite kind of salesman is technical: he knows every detail about every computer manufactured, but can’t give you any practical advice about which computer best meets your needs.

The best kind of salesman is a consultant. He asks a lot of questions about your particular needs, tells you which of his computers meets your needs best, and even tells you the limitations of his computer and why another, more expensive computer sold by a competitor might be better. He’s an “honest Joe”. He clinches the sale because you trust him, and because you know you won’t have any unpleasant surprises after the sale. While selling you a computer, he teaches you a lot. He’s a true friend.

A woman can sell computers more easily than a man. That’s because most computer customers are men, and men are more attracted to women. It’s also because, in our society, women are more “trusted” than men. But if you’re a woman, say some technical buzzwords to convince the customer that you’re technically competent. Otherwise, the customer will assume that since you’re a woman, you must be a “dumb secretary”.

Be an entrepreneur

How about starting a rental service, where people can rent microcomputers? How about starting a camp, where kids can spend the summer playing with computers? How about starting a computer set-up service, where you teach businesses how to start using microcomputers? How about writing easy manuals explaining the most popular software? Each of those ideas has been tried successfully; join the fun!

Learn to spell

If you don’t spel gud, yur coleegs wil thinc yure an idiut.

Be especially careful with these words, which beginners often misspell:

Wrong        Right           Comments

computor     computer     “Computer” is a machine or person that computes.

                                        “Computor” is a snobbish computer.

softwear          software          “Software” is the opposite of “hardware”.

                                        “Softwear” is a negligée.

imput           input            “Input” is what the computer takes “in”.

                                        “Imput” is said only by “im”beciles.

silicone        silicon          “Silicon” is what you put in an integrated circuit.

                                        “Silicone” is what you put in your breast.

hexidecimal  hexadecimal “Hexadecimal” means “six and ten”, or “sixteen”.

                                        “Hexidecimal” is icky.

hobbiest       hobbyist          A “computer hobbyist” likes computers.

                                        A “computer hobbiest” is even more hobbier.

Epsom         Epson              “Epson” provides printers.

                                        “Epsom” provides salt.

COBAL        COBOL        “COBOL” is “COmmon Business-Oriented Language”.

                                        “COBAL” is a co-ed who likes sex.

TSR-80        TRS-80        “TRS-80” stands for “Tandy’s Radio Shack”.

                                        “TSR-80” is a nut who says the alphabet backwards.

For the following words, choose your favorite spelling:

Most computer experts write “disk”, but some write “disc”.

For “half a byte”,

humble programmers write “nibble”, but snobbish programmers write “nybble”.

Change your personality

As you spend time with computers, your personality will change. You’ll gradually become a hacker (a person skilled at fiddling with the internal workings of computer hardware and software). I hope you become a helpful hacker instead of a cracker (a hacker who creates mischief by screwing up the internal workings of computer hardware and software, such as by writing a virus or by using password-evasion tricks to secretly spy at private files).

Back in 1993, 100 hackers in an Internet newsgroup got together and wrote a description of a hacker’s personality. Here’s the description, as edited by Eric Raymond (in his New Hacker’s Dictionary) and then further edited by me. Not all hackers fit this description — but most do!

If you hang around computers a long time, this description will probably start applying to you too! Watch yourself!

As America and the world become more computerized, the hacker personality will gradually dominate our planet. If you don’t like the “hacker personality”, see what you can do to alter it.

Hacker intelligence

The hacker mind is intelligent but strange.

College intelligence Most hackers past their teens have a college degree or are self-taught to a similar level. Before becoming a full-fledged hacker, the typical hacker majored in computer science or electrical engineering or math or physics or linguistics (since studying human languages is a good stepping stone to studying computer languages) or philosophy (since philosophy analyzes the meaning of language and “life forms”).

Read a lot Hackers read a lot, and read a wide variety, though with extra emphasis on science facts and science fiction. A hacker’s home includes a big library, with many shelves full of books that the hacker has read. A hacker spends more spare time reading books & magazines than watching TV. A hacker spends as much spare time reading as the average non-hacker spends watching TV.

Bad handwriting Hackers have bad handwriting — their script is hard to read — so they usually write in simple capital block letters (LIKE THIS), as if they were junior draftsmen writing on a blueprint. The capital block letters make sense, especially when writing math equations or programming instructions that contain lots of symbols; script would be no faster.

Inhuman communication Since programming requires good organization and precise use of language, hackers are good at composing sentences, paragraphs, and compositions. But though hackers are good writers, they’re bad talkers, since they don’t get much practice chatting with humans. They’re not skilled at arguing with humans, confronting them, and negotiating with them; they’re better at communicating with computers, which don’t argue.

Good at memorizing Hackers are good at memorizing details, such as computer codes.

Neat just in output Hackers produce programs, writings, and thinking that are very neat and well-organized; but a hacker is too busy to make the hacker’s environment equally neat, so a hacker’s desk and office floor are typically piled high with a disorganized mess of resources.

Hacker bodies

Here’s what a hacker looks like, and where to find one.

Near universities Half of the USA’s best hackers live within 100 miles of Boston or San Francisco. That’s because, during the 1950’s and 1960’s, the top researchers in artificial intelligence were at two universities: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Boston) and Stanford University (in Silicon Valley’s Palo Alto, near San Francisco). Those researchers spawned proteges, who want to keep living near the master researchers even after graduation, to stay connected to the intellectual community.

Mostly male Most hackers are male, but females are more common in hackerdom than in other technical professions.

Mostly Caucasian In the USA, most hackers are Caucasian. On the West Coast, many hackers are Asian; on the East Coast, many hackers are Jewish.

Relatively unbigoted Hackers are less bigoted than other Americans, since hackers care more about what a person wrote than the person’s appearance. Hackers believe computers can act like humans and therefore believe in the humane treatment of all computers and all people.

Casual dresser Hackers dislike “business attire”. The typical hacker would quit a job if it required wearing a suit.

Hackers like to wear clothes that are casual, easy to take care of, post-hippie: T-shirts (with slogans on them), jeans, running shoes (or barefoot), and backpacks.

Scruffy appearance Hackers look scruffy. Many hackers have long hair. Men hackers often have beards and moustaches. Women hackers try to look “natural” by wearing little or no makeup.

Since hackers love computers, which are mostly indoors, hackers don’t get tans.

Night owls Hackers often stay up all night, to finish work on excitingly frustrating programming challenges. Then they sleep late in the morning.

Extreme food For dinner, hackers prefer spicy ethnic food instead of “American” food. The most popular is spicy Chinese (Szechuan or Hunan style, rather than Cantonese, which is too bland). Alternatives, popular occasionally, are Thai food and Mexican food.

For a change, hackers like high-quality Jewish-deli food, when available.

For midnight snacks while in the middle of marathon programming sessions, hackers prefer pizza and microwave burritos. Back in the 1970’s, hackers used to eat a lot of junk food, but modern hackers are more into “health food”.

Hackers tend to be extreme: either too skinny or too fat. More hackers are too skinny than too fat.

Nearly drug-free Hackers need to protect their heads from drugs, so they don’t do drugs. They don’t smoke. Most hackers don’t drink alcohol, though a few hackers experiment with fancy wines and exotic beers.

Since hackers favor experimentation, they tolerate folks who use non-addictive drugs such as pot and LSD. But hackers criticize people who take “downers” and opiates, since those drugs make you act stupid.

To help stay up late at night programming, hackers often take mild “uppers” such as caffeine (in coffee and Jolt cola) and sugar (in soft drinks and junk food).

Experimental sex Hackers are more likely than “normal” folks to experiment sexually. Many hackers openly have multiple boyfriends or girlfriends, or live in communes or group houses, or practice open marriage (where both partners agree that extra-marital relationships are okay), or are gay or lesbian.

Hacker beliefs

Here’s how to make a hacker happy.

Toys better than money Hackers don’t care about earning lots of money or social approval. Instead, hackers just want the intellectual pleasure of inventing beautiful programs and products — and exploring the beautiful products invented by others. So to bribe a hacker, don’t offer money or a fancy title; instead, offer a lab full of computer hardware and software for the hacker to play with, and permission for the hacker to spend time playing with and inventing fantastic technology.

Non-religious Since hackers don’t like to be told what to do, they don’t like organized religion. Since hackers are into facts, not beliefs, they tend not to believe in God. When asked “What religion are you?”, many hackers reply by calling themselves “atheist” or “agnostic” or “non-observant Jewish”. Some hackers join “parody” religions, such as Discordianism and the Church of the SubGenius. Some hackers have fun participating in “mystical” religions such as Zen Buddhism and neo-paganism.

Libertarian politics Hackers like freedom to explore computers. They don’t like restrictions. They don’t like being told what to do. They dislike authoritarians, managers, MBA’s, and big government. They tend to be Libertarian. They dislike the dogmatic insistence of the far left and far right. If asked to choose between Democrats and Republicans, they tend to choose Democrats because Democrats permit more social freedoms, so hackers are classified as “left of center”.

Cat lovers Hackers are more likely to have cats than dogs, because cats are like hackers: clever rather than belligerent.

No team sports Hackers don’t like to watch sports. Hackers don’t watch sports on TV and don’t go to sports stadiums.

Hackers would rather participate than watch. Though half of all hackers don’t make time to participate, the other half do participate, but mainly in individual sports rather than team sports. The only team sport they like is volleyball, because it’s non-contact and friendly.

They prefer individual sports that involve dexterity, concentration, and stamina, rather than brute force. Their favorite sports are bicycling, hiking, rock climbing, caving, kite-flying, juggling, martial arts, roller skating, ice skating, skiing, target shooting, and auto racing, and aviation.

Strange cars Hackers don’t wash their cars. Hackers drive extreme cars: either beat-up heaps (unwashed because they’re junk) or (if the hackers are rich) luxury sports cars (unwashed anyway).

Brainy hobbies Hackers like to play music, play board games (such as chess and Go), dabble in ham radio, learn about linguistics & foreign languages, and do “theater teching” (give technical support to theater productions).

Hate stupidity Hackers like active intelligent freedom, so they dislike dishonesty, boredom, business suits, stupid incompetent people (especially stupid incompetent managers who wear business suits), stupid music (such as “easy listening music”), and stupid culture (such as TV, except for TV’s cleverly cynical cartoons & movies & the old Star Trek).

Computerize your home

Back in 1970, computerists tried to predict what life would be like in 1990. Let’s look at their predictions and see which ones came true. The predictions appeared in:

Martin & Norman’s The Computerized Society (published by Prentice-Hall in 1970)

John Kemeny’s Man and the Computer (published by Scribner’s in 1972)

G. Cuttle’s prize-winning essay (published in 1969)

Work at home

Cuttle said:

“It may be more economical for companies to subsidize home ‘communications rooms’ for their employees than renting expensive office space to commute to. Some establishments are already starting to provide computer terminals for the homes of senior staff. This is sensible when one considers the tendency for great ideas to materialize in the bath. Many of the better characteristics of the cottage industry may return, particularly in terms of personal freedom.”

Martin & Norman said:

“The first widespread use of home terminals will probably be sponsored by employers. Mothers who participate may be relieved of the boredom they feel when they are unable to leave their children.”

Kemeny said:

“Executives complain they rush into their offices then spend half their time talking on the phone, which they could have done as well at home. Office files will be kept in national computer networks, accessible from home. If we remove the need for millions of people to rush in and out of the city daily, we’d be on our way to solving urban problems. Perhaps the central city will become truly an info center where the machines are but not the humans who use them. Since cities still would have a central location, they might expand their roles as entertainment centers and places to live for those who insist on seeing a play or sports event in person rather than on TV.”

What happened instead Personal computers have become so cheap that most homes contain them instead of terminals attached to timesharing services. Personal computers can communicate with national computer networks by using the Internet. Many executives work at home on personal computers during evenings and weekends but still prefer to meet face-to-face with other employees during the day.

Electronic shopping

Martin & Norman said:

“Instead of going to a store, the consumer could scan a list of available goods and prices at different shops on the home terminal, then use the terminal to order.”

Kemeny said:

“For items costing over a dollar, cash transactions will totally disappear.”

What happened instead Since banks charge merchants big fees to handle charge cards and fund transfers, some merchants discourage cash for purchases under $10. Some attempts to develop computerized shopping failed because consumers want to see photos of goods before buying. On TV, infomercials succeed by letting consumers view before buying.


Cuttle said:

“Anyone doubting a computer’s ability to cook breakfast has only to remember the average housewife’s state of mind at 7AM to realize that preparing breakfast is a very mechanical task. Many other household tasks are equally suitable for computers to invade. At present each appliance needing a computer has its own small one built in, but the logical development is to have a bigger household computer tucked under the stairs. Circuits could be wired through the house so each individual gadget could be plugged in.”

Martin & Norman said:

“A family driving home after a few days away will phone home and key some digits on the phone to switch on the heat or air conditioner. A woman before leaving for work will preprogram her kitchen equipment to cook a meal; she’ll then phone at the appropriate time and have the meal prepared.”

What happened instead Now that we have microwave ovens and gourmet frozen dinners, housewives (and househusbands!) can create dinner in less than 5 minutes without using a computer. Instead of being linked to a big household computer, each appliance contains its own fancy microprocessor (which controls the timing, temperature, etc.), since microprocessors have become so cheap.


Cuttle said:

“The householder could ask the computer whether any legislation in progress affects his neighborhood or interests. He could have easier access to his congressman. Conversely, he could be asked questions, and this might be a better way to keep congressmen in touch with the feelings of constituents.”

What happened instead Rich citizens can send e-mail messages to politicians by using the Internet. Low-income citizens haven’t bought modems yet.


Kemeny said:

“Consider a system under which The New York Times, instead of publishing hundreds of thousands of copies, would store the same info in a computer tied to a national network, from which each reader could retrieve the items he wanted, in as much detail as he desired. Sitting at home, he could dial the computer network and ask for his personalized New York Times. The computer would remember which topics he normally reads and present stories on them a frame at a time. He could ask for more details. He’d have available at any moment, day or night, completely up-to-date info. The system would make sure he doesn’t miss any news that concerns him. If The New York Times adopts this suggestion, it should change its motto to ‘All the news that you see fit to read.’”

What happened instead On-line services, such as America OnLine and the Internet, provide the complete text of daily newspapers around the country. Few people use those services, since they work just while the reader sits by a phone jack, and since the computer screen is too small to display the contents of a full newspaper page pleasantly.


Cuttle said:

“Automatic diagnosis by computer could be a useful aid. Interrogation through a home terminal could pinpoint some everyday ailments. Much treatment can be carried out at home that today might need hospital treatment. It may be far cheaper and pleasanter for the patient to have monitoring equipment brought  home and connected through the terminal to a hospital computer.”

What happened instead Many doctors and pharmacists use computers to double-check diagnoses and also warn of interactions between drugs. Diagnosis by computer-assisted tomography is widespread in hospitals. Many invalids stuck at home use beepers to call help when needed. Most patients trust neither computers nor doctors.

The whole family

Kemeny said:

“Father, if he brings his work home from the office, can use the terminal in place of a sizable office staff. Mother can do most of her shopping through a computer terminal. If by 1990 the roles of men and women have been completely reversed, the computer terminal will be equally happy to work out business problems for mother and to help father with his shopping and housework. Children will find the home terminal an immeasurable asset in doing homework; indeed the child of 1990 will find it impossible to conceive how the older generation managed to get through school without the help of a computer.”

What happened instead The feminist revolution has encouraged role reversal. Kids use computers mainly to play games, practice programming, do word processing, print greeting cards & posters, send e-mail, and access the Internet.

Teach your kids

Here’s how to introduce kids to computers.


Here’s how to develop the curriculum.

When should kids start learning about computers? Programs have been developed even for kids in nursery school! You can get “alphabet fun” programs: when the kid presses the A key, pictures of apples appear all over the screen; when the kid presses B, the screen is filled with bears; C generates cats, etc. To make the program fun, the pictures on the screen are animated; they dance!

Kids should start writing simple programs in BASIC when they’re in the third grade. (The brightest kids can start even younger!) Before the third grade, the typical kid should learn how to run other people’s programs and maybe learn LOGO (a language that’s easier than BASIC for beginners).

Which kids should take computer courses? Expose all kids to a computer. Give them the opportunity to press the buttons, run programs, and do other fun things.

Let all kids deal with the computer before entering high school. The intro instruction should be broad: dip into BASIC programming, hardware jargon, applications (such as word processing), and social effects.

The intro is important for all kids, regardless of math ability. Most computer programming requires hardly any math.

Include even the kids who are “slow” or “hate school”, since the computer often helps them “turn on” to school. LOGO’s been particularly effective at that.

If your school lacks enough computers to start an extensive program, wheel the computers from classroom to classroom so each kid gets to spend at least a few minutes with the computer each semester. Let kids who want to go further join an after-school computer club.

Which language should kids learn to program in? More programs have been written in BASIC than any other computer language. A person who doesn’t understand BASIC is “out of touch” with reality and a computer illiterate. Every kid should learn BASIC before graduating from high school.

The youngest kids might also want to try LOGO, which lets you draw pictures more easily than BASIC. The oldest kids might also want to try PASCAL, C++, or JAVA, which are more “sophisticated” than BASIC. But BASIC’s the most “practical” language to learn, since it can handle a wider variety of applications easily. Another advantage of BASIC is that it comes free with most computers; the other languages cost extra (except for free versions that are unreasonably awkward).

What should a computer course emphasize? The course should emphasize hands-on programming with a wide variety of amusing applications.

The course should not be restricted to math and science. In fact, less than half the programming examples should involve math or science. Most examples should involve the arts, business, word processing, etc.

If the computer course is taught by a math teacher, the school’s principal should make sure the teacher doesn’t spend too much time talking about math.

In the “computer curriculum”, how important are music & graphics? Any computer for kids should play music and draw color graphics, because music & graphics create fun and maintain the kids’ interest.

Any course on computer programming should discuss how to program music and graphics. Besides being fun, such a discussion emphasizes that computers are not “just for numbers”, and also illustrates visually the effects of programming concepts such as FOR … NEXT loops.

What homework should a computer course assign? The homework should including writing a computer program. To make that practical, the school must have enough computers to handle all the kids. Though the teacher should assign some standard exercises, the kids should also be encouraged to invent their own programming projects.

In what order should computer topics be taught? The course should begin with hands-on experience. The kids should write elementary programs (in BASIC or LOGO) and also run programs that others wrote. As the course progresses and programming examples become more complex, give the kids a breather by inserting light-hearted topics such as video games, computer graphics, word processing, the Internet, business software, kinds of hardware, computer companies, effects on society, and careers.

Educational applications

The computer can help teach many topics.

English While trying to write a program, the kid learns the importance of punctuation: the kid learns to distinguish colons, semicolons, commas, periods, parentheses, and brackets. The kid also learns the importance of spelling: if the kid misspells the word PRINT or INPUT, the computer gripes. The kid learns to handle long words, while wading through computer manuals.

Some kids “hate to write English compositions”. The computer can change that attitude!

If you let a kid use a word-processing program, the kid suddenly discovers that writing an English composition can be fun! The composition suddenly becomes “electronic”; it appears on screen! Revising the composition can be even more fun since the kid gets to use the computer’s nifty editing tools. The whole experience becomes as much fun as a video game. The typical word processor can correct spelling without forcing the kid to endlessly thumb through the dictionary; it even corrects grammar and style. Watching the computer correct spelling, grammar, and style is educational and fun.

To make the kid understand why parts of speech (such as “nouns”, “verbs”, and “adjectives”) are important, give the kid a computer program that writes sentences by choosing random nouns, random verbs, and random adjectives. Then tell the kid to invent his own nouns, verbs, and adjectives, feed them into the program, and watch what kind of sentences the program produces now.

Young kids enjoy a program called Story Machine.

It gives you a list of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and other parts of speech that you can use to build a story. You type the story using any words on the list. As you type the story, the computer will automatically illustrates it! For example, if you type, “The boy eats the apple,” your screen will automatically show a picture of a boy eating an apple! If you type several sentences, to form a longer story, the computer will automatically illustrate the entire story and produce an animated cartoon of it! The program will also criticize your story’s structure. For example, if you say “The boy eats the apple” but the boy isn’t near the apple yet, the program will recommend that you insert a sentence such as “The boy runs to the apple” beforehand. The program comes on a $25 disk from Softkey (1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02139, phone 617-494-1200). To run the program, you need an Apple 2 computer.

History The computer can make history come “alive” by throwing the student into an historical situation.

For example, a graduate of my teacher-training institute wrote a program that says, “It’s 1910. You’re Kaiser Wilhelm. What are you going to do?” Then it gives you several choices.

For example, it asks “Would you like to make a treaty with Russia?” If you answer “yes”, the computer replies, “Russia breaks the treaty. Now what are you going to do?” No matter how you answer the questions, there are only two ways the program can end: either “You’ve plunged Europe into a World War” or “You’ve turned Germany into a second-rate country”. After running that program several times, you get a real feeling for the terrible jam that the Kaiser was in, and you begin to pity him. Running the program is more dramatic than reading a book about the Kaiser’s problems, because the program forces you to step into the Kaiser’s shoes and react to his surroundings: you are there. When you finish running the program, you feel you’ve lived another life — the life of a 1910 Kaiser.

Such a program is called an historical simulation, since it makes the computer simulate (imitate) an historical event.

Current events The best way to teach current events is through simulation.

For example, when California’s Governor Brown had trouble controlling medflies, teachers wrote programs that began by saying, “You’re Governor Brown. What are you going to do?” (One of the programs was even called “Medfly Mania”.)

The best way to encourage the student to analyze the conflict between Israel and the Arabs is have the student run a program that begins by saying “You’re Israel’s Prime Minister” then run a program that says “You’re the PLO’s leader, Yassir Arafat”.

By running both programs, the student learns to take both sides of the argument and understands the emotions of both leaders. Such programs could help warring nations understand each other enough to bring peace!

When Three-Mile Island almost exploded, teachers wrote a program saying “You’re in the control room at Three-Mile Island”.

Your computer’s screen shows a picture of the control room. Your goal: make as much money as possible for the electric company without blowing the place up. You can buy two versions of the program: one’s called just “Three-Mile Island”; the other’s called “Scram”. To teach kids about Three-Mile Island, it’s easier to buy the program than to get permission from parents to “take the kids on a field trip to Three-Mile Island” (which also requires that you sit on a bus while listening to 100 choruses of “100 bottles of beer on the wall” and worrying about kids who get lost at Three-Mile Island).

The best way to teach economics and politics is to give the student a program that says “You’re running the country” and then asks the student to input an economic and political strategy. At the end of the program, the computer tells how many years the student lasted in office, how well the country fared, and how many people want to assassinate him.

The best way to learn anything is “by experience”. Computer simulations let the student learn by “simulated experience”, which condenses into a few minutes what would otherwise require many years of “natural experience”.

Biology The computer can do genetics calculations: it can compute the probabilities of having various kinds of offspring and predict how the characteristics of the population will shift over time.

The computer can handle taxonomy: it can classify different kinds of animals and plants.

The computer asks you a series of questions about an organism and finally tells you the organism’s name. One of the most popular programs is a game called “Animals”, which lets the student teach the computer which questions to ask.

To teach ecology, a graduate of my teacher-training institute wrote a simulation program that begins by saying, “You’re the game warden of New Jersey. What are you going to do?”

It asks how many weeks you want the deer-hunting season to last. If you make the hunting season too long, hunters kill all the deer, and deer-loving environmentalists hate you. On the other hand, if you make the deer-hunting season too short, hunters hate you; moreover, the deer overpopulate, can’t find enough to eat, then die of starvation, whereupon everybody hates you. Your goal is to stay in office as long as possible.

Sex education When Dartmouth College (which for centuries had been all-male and rowdy) suddenly became coed in 1971, its biology department realized the importance of teaching about birth control. The professors wrote a program that asks how old you are and which birth control method you wish to use this year.

You have 9 choices, such as pill, diaphragm, IUD, condom, rhythm method, and “Providence”. After you type your choice, the computer computes the probability of having children and may print (if you’re unlucky) ***BOY*** or ***GIRL***. The computation is based, as in nature, on a combination of science and chance (random numbers). Then the computer asks your strategy for the next year. The program continues until the computer finally prints ***MENOPAUSE***. The program lets you explore how different strategies yield different numbers of children. It’s safer to experiment with the program than to experiment on your body. It’s also faster, but maybe not as fun.

How can programs that tutor, drill, and test students be made exciting? Let the programs use the same techniques that make video games exciting.

Let the programs include animated graphics and require the student to answer quickly. Display a running total of the student’s points, so whenever the student answers correctly the screen shows the score increase immediately.

At the end of the educational game, the computer shouldn’t say “excellent” or “fair” or “poor”. Instead, it should just state the total number of points accumulated and ask whether the student wants to try again, to increase the score.

If the student’s score is high, the computer should reward the student by giving praise and storing the student’s name on the disk. If the student’s score is low, no criticism should be given other than asking “Would you like to try again?”


Here’s advice on how to manage the school’s computers.

Should kids play games on the computers? Give each kid the experience of briefly playing high-speed computer games.

They’re fun, encourage speed and agility, reward self-improvement, create a positive attitude towards computers and technology, lead the kid to thinking about strategies and programming methods, and provide examples of the best programs ever invented.

But discourage kids from spending excessive time on games.

Give game-players lower priority than other kids who want to use the computers. To do that, you can restrict game-playing to just a few of the computers or a few times of day, or require game-players to leave when non-game-players want to use their computers.

By charging a small fee for game-playing, you can collect enough money to buy more computers.

Which rooms should contain computers? The safest place to put computers is in the library.

That reduces the chance of theft, encourages disks to be checked out like books, and makes sure the computer lab is run by a humanities-oriented librarian instead of a narrow-minded mathematician.

Most librarians know how to run audio-visual equipment and access big databases, so they don’t fear technology. Since librarians enjoy humanities (especially reading) but can also deal with scientific technology, librarians are the ideal choice for running a computer center that meets the needs of the whole school. The library’s the only place in the school where all students and faculty can feel comfortable — except for the cafeteria.

Try moving some cheap computers into the cafeteria for students to use during lunch and study breaks.

That will increase the computers’ visibility and turn lunch into an intellectual affair. With adequate supervision, you can overcome the cafeteria’s dangers (theft, food fights, and spilled drinks).

How can you supervise computers cheaply? Get parents to volunteer. Many parents would love the opportunity to work in a computer environment, in the hope of entering a full-blown computer career later.

Turn your school’s computer club into a “Computer Service Organization” that helps teach the rest of the school about computers. The club’s members can mention such service on their résumés, which will help them get into college.

Give a speech to all students: tell them to help each other at the computers. Encourage teamwork.

How can you pay less for software? If you’re a teacher, tell your hot-shot students to write software for you.

Your students will love the opportunity to work on a project that’s useful. Tell the students that if their software is good you’ll write them glowing recommendations saying that they computerized the school.

Many software publishers give educational discounts. Some publishers offer “site licenses”, where you pay a big fee but then can make as many copies of the software as you wish. The nicest publishers of business software offer “trial size” versions (for $10 or even free), which let you practice the software but require you to keep your documents and files brief.

Avoid dangers

How could computers change human society? The many good ways are obvious. Here are the bad ones.


Although the computer can have a mechanical breakdown, the usual reason for computer errors is mental breakdown — on the part of the people who run it. The usual computer blooper is caused by a programmer who writes a wrong program, or a user who inputs a wrong number. If you want the computer to write a check for $10.00 but you forget to type the decimal point, the computer will nonchalantly write a check for $1000.

The biggest computer blooper ever made occurred at Cape Kennedy:

A rocket rose majestically from its launch pad and headed toward Venus. Suddenly it began to wobble. It had to be destroyed after less than 5 minutes of flight. The loss was put at $18,500,000. What went wrong? After much head-scratching, the answer was finally found. In one of the lines of one of the programs, a programmer omitted a hyphen.

In one city’s computer center, every inhabitant’s vital statistics were put on cards. One lady in the town was 107, but the number 107 wouldn’t fit on the card properly, because the space allotted for AGE was only two digits.

The computer just examined the last two digits, which were 07, and assumed she was 7 years old. Since she was 7 and not going to school, the computer printed a truant notice. So city officials visited the home of the 107-year-old lady and demanded to see her mom.

A man in Germany received a bill from a computer requesting the payment of “zero deutschmark”.

He ignored it, but two weeks later the machine sent him a letter reminding him that he had not paid the sum of “zero deutschmark”. Two weeks after that another and more strongly worded letter arrived. He still took no action other than photocopying the letters and gleefully showing them to his friends. But the computer persisted and eventually announced that it was referring his failure to pay to the company lawyers. So he telephoned the company. They explained to him there was a minor oversight in the program, assured him it was being corrected, but requested him to send a check for “zero deutschmark” to simplify the reconciliation. He duly made out a check for “0.0 DM.” and mailed it. Two days later the check was returned to him from the bank with a polite (nonautomated) letter stating that the bank’s computer was unable to process the check.

That last anecdote was from Martin and Norman’s The Computerized Society. This is from Time Magazine:

Rex Reed, writer and sometime actor, ordered a bed from a Manhattan department store. Three months passed. Then came the long anticipated announcement: the bed will be delivered on Friday.

Reed waited all day. No bed. Having disposed of his other bed, he slept on the floor.

Next day deliverers brought the bed but couldn’t put it up. No screws.

On Monday, men appeared with the screws. But they couldn’t put in the mattresses. No slats. “That’s not our department.”

Reed hired a carpenter to build them. The department store’s slats finally arrived 15 weeks later.

Undaunted, Reed went to the store to buy sheets. Two men came up and declared: “You’re under arrest.” Why? “You’re using a stolen credit card. Rex Reed is dead.” Great confusion. Reed flashed all his identity cards. The detectives apologized — and then tore up his store charge card. Why? “Our computer has been told that you are dead. And we cannot change this.”

On a less humorous note, a woman died from freezing because an errant computer thought she hadn’t paid her utility bill.

At the end of 1999, people were nervous about the year 2000 problem (which is also called the Y2K problem and the millennium bug). Here’s what those people said:

“Many people still use old computer programs that store each year as a 2-digit number. For example, the year 1983 is stored as 83. When the year 2000 comes, some of those old programs will still assume the first two digits of the year will be 19. So they’ll store the year 2000 as 00 and assume it means 1900. They’ll think the clock has been turned back to the year 1900, think bills that were due are being paid at the wrong time, and think machines haven’t been repaired at the right time, so they’ll shut down all the machines they control, including cars, elevators (which will plunge), airplanes (which will crash), hospital life-support systems (which will shut down and kill all their patients), utility companies (which will shut off your electricity, water, and phones), and bank machines (which will give customers no more cash).”

Programmers worked to solve that problem. January 1, 2000, came and went without major disasters.


Since the computer’s a labor-saving device, it may make laborers unemployed. Clerks and other low-echelon white-collar workers might find themselves jobless and penniless.

Newspaper companies in New York City realized they’d save money by hiring fewer printers and using computers instead. But the printers union, upset, cried “Breach of contract!” The companies and printers finally agreed to get the computers, hire no new printers, but retain the current ones until retirement.

The advent of computers doesn’t have to mean fewer jobs. In fact, new ones are created.

Not all computer-related jobs require abstract thinking: there’s a need for mechanics, typists, secretaries, salespeople, editors, librarians, etc. There’s a need for people to tell the programmers what kind of things to program. Running a computer center is a business, and there’s a need for business executives.

When computers do human work, will there be enough work left for us humans to do? Don’t worry: when no work is necessary, humans have an amazing talent for inventing it.

That’s the purpose of Madison Avenue — to create new longings. Instead of significantly shortening the work week, Americans have always opted for a work week of nearly equal length but devoted to more luxurious ends. That’s the gung-ho Protestant work ethic we’re so famous for. Computers will change but not reduce our work.

…That’s what will happen in the long run. But for the next decade or two, as society shifts to computers, many folks will be temporarily out of a job.


Since the computer handles numbers easily, it encourages people to reduce problems to numbers. That’s both good and bad:

It’s good because it forces people to be precise. It’s bad because some people are starting to make quantification a goal in itself, forgetting that it’s but a tool to other ends. Counting the words that Shakespeare wrote is of no value in itself: it must be put to some use. In both the humanities and the social sciences, I’m afraid the motto of the future will be, “If you can’t think, count.” Some cynics have remarked, “The problem with computers is that they make meaningless research possible.”

Since only quantifiable problems can be computerized, there’s a danger that, in a burst of computer enthusiasm, people will decide that unquantifiable problems aren’t worth investigating, or that unquantifiable aspects of an otherwise quantifiable problem should be ignored. John Kemeny gives this example:

At an open hearing about designing a new Los Angeles freeway, some voters complained bitterly that the freeway would go right through the midst of a part of the city heavily populated by blacks and destroy the community spirit they’d slowly and painfully built up. The voters’ arguments were defeated by the simple statement that, according to an excellent computer, the proposed route was the best possible.

Apparently nobody knew enough to ask how the computer had been instructed to evaluate the routes. Was it asked just to consider the costs of building & acquiring property (in which case it would have found routing through a ghetto area highly advantageous), or was it also asked to take into account human suffering a route would cause?

Perhaps the voters would have agreed it’s not possible to measure human suffering in terms of dollars. But if we omit consideration of human suffering, then we’re equating its cost to zero, which is certainly the worst of all procedures!

People are being reduced to numbers: telephone numbers, social security numbers, zip codes, etc. When you start treating another human as just a wrong telephone number and hang up in his face, something is wrong.

Asocial behavior

The computer’s a seductive toy that can wreck your social life.

When you walk up to the computer, you expect to spend just a few minutes but wind up spending hours instead. Whether catching bugs or playing Pac-Man, you’ll probably while away lots of time. You may find yourself spending more time with the computer than with people. That can be dangerous. For the average American child, his mother’s a TV set. Will the computer replace TV as the national fixation?

Getting along with the computer is easy — perhaps too easy. Though it can gripe at you, it can’t yell. If you don’t like its behavior, you can turn it off. You can’t do the same thing to people. Excessive time spent with the computer can leave you unprepared for the ambiguities and tensions of real life.

The computer replaces warmth by precision. Excessive time spent with it might inhibit your development as a loving individual.


Computerization is part of the coming technological bureaucracy. Like all bureaucracy, it encourages the individual to say, “Don’t blame me — I can’t change the bureaucracy.” But now the words read, “Don’t blame me — the computer did it.”

When John Kemeny’s sister asked a saleswoman whether a certain item was in stock, the woman said she couldn’t answer, because the info was kept by a computer. The woman hadn’t been able to answer questions about stock even before the computer came in; the computer was just a new scapegoat.

Computers will run governments and wars. The thought of someone saying, “I can’t change that — that’s the way the computer does it” is frightening.

Concentrated power

As computers amass more info about people, computers will become centers of knowledge. The people who control them — the programmers, sociologists, generals, and politicians — will gain lots of power. The thought of so much power being concentrated in the hands of a few is frightening. A handful of people, pressing the wrong buttons, could atom-bomb the earth.

Nobody should have complete control over a computer center. The power should be diversified. Sensitive data and programs should be protected by passwords and other devices, so no single individual can access all of it.


The computer’s the biggest tool in the kit of the white-collar criminal. All he has to do is insert a zero, and the computer will send him a paycheck for ten times the correct amount.

To catch computer criminals, computers are programmed to do lots of double-checking; but if the criminal evades the double-checks, he won’t get caught. Police have a hard time finding computer criminals, because fingerprints and other traditional forms of evidence are irrelevant. Most computers have passwords to try to stop people from fooling around with sensitive data, but a bright programmer can devise tricks to get around the passwords.

The crudest is to bug the wires that go to the terminals. The cleverest is to slip extra lines into an innocent program and get someone else to run it; the extra lines transfer money to the programmer’s account.

Since you must be smart to be a computer criminal, if you’re caught you’ll be admired. Instead of saying “What a terrible thing you’ve done!” folks say “Gee, you must be smart. Tell me how you did it.” A bright button-down computer criminal who steals $100,000 electronically gets a lighter sentence than the dude who must resort to a gun to get $1000. Is that justice?

Invaded privacy

Of all the harm computers can do, “invaded privacy” worries people the most. George Orwell, in his book 1984, warned that someday “Big Brother will be watching you” via a computer. His prediction’s already a reality: your whereabouts are constantly checked by computers owned by the FBI, the IRS, the military, credit-card companies, and mail-order houses.

My brother once wrote an innocent letter asking for stamps. Instead of using his own name, he used the name of our dog, Rusty. Since then, we’ve received letters from many organizations, all addressed to “Mr. Rusty”. Our dog’s name sits in computers all across the country.

The info computers have stored about you may be misleading. If you never find out about the error, the consequences can haunt you the rest of your life. Examples:

A teacher saw one of the little boys in her class kiss another boy. She entered on his computerized school records, “displays homosexual tendencies”.

According to computer records, a certain man had “three lawsuits against him”. In fact, the first was a scare suit 30 years before, over a magazine subscription he never ordered; the second had been withdrawn after a compromise over a disputed fee; the third case had been settled in his favor.

You’ve a right to see what info is stored about you, and change it if it’s wrong. For example, if a teacher or employer writes a “confidential recommendation” about you, you’ve a right to examine it, to prevent misleading statements from haunting you for life.

Even if the info stored about you is accurate, you’ve a right to prevent its dissemination to the general public. No organization should store or disseminate info unjustifiably.

What’s “justifiable”? Fearing “Big Brother”, people don’t want politicians to access personal info. On the other hand, fearing criminals, people want the police to have a free hand in sleuthing. How to give info to the police without giving it to politicians can be puzzling.

Outdated info should be obliterated. An individual shouldn’t be haunted by his distant past; he should be given a chance to turn over a new leaf. Moreover, info 50 years old may be couched in words that have been redefined. To be a “leftist”, for example, means something different in each decade.

Only facts should be stored, not opinions. It’s okay to store that someone lives on Fifth Avenue, but not that he lives in a “nice neighborhood”.

It’s unfortunate that people feel a need for privacy. If the info stored about you is correct, why argue? But many people feel a need to be secretive, and I suppose people have that right. It’s called the right to be “let alone”.

People don’t want to feel their whole lives are on stage, recorded by a computer. It inhibits them from acting free and natural.

Even if the computer doesn’t store any damaging info about you, the mere thought that all your actions are being recorded is damaging, because it makes you act more conservatively. You may be afraid to adopt a good but unusual lifestyle, because anything “different” about you will look bad on the computerized records used by banks, credit-card companies, insurance companies, and other conservative institutions. The harmful thing is not that Big Brother is watching, but that you feel he’s watching. You are subjugated.

Read good books

Begin by reading The Secret Guide to Computers.

Then read the hardware and software manuals that came with your computer. Although a beginner can’t understand those manuals, you’ll understand them — after you’ve mastered The Secret Guide to Computers!

Then read some of these books:

software:                  PCs for Busy People by Einstein (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, $23)

                                     Office 2000 for Busy People by Weverka (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, $20)

hardware:                    How Computers Work by White (Ziff-Davis, $40)

                                     The Winn L. Rosch Hardware Bible by Rosch (Que, $40)

repairs:                     A+ Certification for Dummies by Gilster (IDG, $30)

                                     The Complete PC Upgrade & Maintenance Guide by Minasi (Sybex, $40)

Windows 98:                Windows 98 for Dummies by Rathbone (IDG, $20)

                                     Windows 98 Secrets by Livingston & Straub (IDG, $50)

Windows 3.1 & 3.11:    More Windows for Dummies by Rathbone (IDG, $20)

                                     Windows 3.1 Secrets by Livingston (IDG, $40)

MS-DOS:                       DOS for Dummies by Gookin (IDG, $17)

                                     Running MS-DOS by Wolverton (Microsoft, $20)

Mac:                             Macs for Dummies by Pogue (IDG, $20)

                                     The Macintosh Bible by Judson (Peachpit, $30)

hacker subculture:      Hackers by Levy (Delta, $13)

                                     The New Hacker’s Dictionary by Raymond (MIT Press, $23)

Bill Gates’ life:             Hard Drive by Wallace & Erickson (Harper-Collins, $14)

                                     Gates by Manes & Andrews (Touchstone, $14)

Internet survey:       The Internet for Dummies by Levine & Baroudi & Young (IDG, $20)

                                     Microsoft Internet Explorer Book by Pfaffenberger (Microsoft, $25)

Internet Netscape:   Netscape and the World Wide Web for Dummies by Hoffman (IDG, $20)

                                     Netscape Navigator 3.0 Book by James (Netscape/Ventana, $40)

Internet sites:              The Internet Yellow Pages by Hahn & Stout (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, $30)

                                     Internet Insider by Prevost (Oracle & Osborne/McGraw-Hill, $15)

classic BASIC:             BASIC & the Personal Computer by Dwyer & Critchfield (Addison-Wesley, OP)

                                     Guide to Structured Programming in BASIC by Presley (Lawrenceville, $35)

Visual BASIC:           Visual BASIC 4 for Windows for Dummies by Wang (IDG, $20)

                                     The Beginner’s Guide to Visual BASIC 4 by Wright (Wrox, $35)

DBASE:                         Everyman’s Database Primer by Byers & Prague (Prentice-Hall, $20)

                                     DBASE 2 for the Programmer by Dinerstein (Scott Foresman, $18)

PASCAL:                       Introduction to PASCAL by Zaks (Sybex, OP)

                                     Oh! Pascal! by Cooper & Clancy (Norton, $47)

C:                                 The C Programming Language by Kernighan & Ritchie (Prentice-Hall, $38)

                                     The C Primer by Hancock & Krieger (McGraw-Hill, $30)

LOGO:                           LOGO for the Apple II by Abelson (McGraw-Hill, $30)

                                     Mindstorms by Papert (Basic Books & International Soc. for Technology, $14)

FORTRAN:                    FORTRAN 77 for Humans by Page & Didday (West, $43)

                                     The Elements of FORTRAN Style by Kreitzberg & Shneiderman (Harcourt, OP)

COBOL:                     A Simplified Guide to Structured COBOL Programming by McCracken (Wiley, OP)

                                     Structured ANS COBOL by Murach & Noll (Mike Murach, 2 volumes, $33 each)

language survey:      Introduction to Programming Languages by Peterson (Prentice-Hall, $49)

                                     Programming Languages by Tucker (McGraw-Hill, OP)

numeric languages: SPSS Primer by Klecka & Nie & Hadlai (SPSS & McGraw-Hill, $16)

                                     APL an Interactive Approach by Gilman & Rose (Krieger, $48)

stack languages:      Starting FORTH by Brodie (Prentice-Hall, $35)

                                     LISP by Winston & Horn (Addison-Wesley, $40)

assembly language: Ass. Lang. Primer for the IBM PC&XT by Lafore (New American Library, OP)

                                    Assembly Language for the PC by Socha & Norton (Brady/Prentice-Hall, OP)

For each topic, I’ve shown the two best books. If you read both books about the topic, you’ll become an expert.

For each book, I’ve shown the title, author, and publisher. I’ve also shown the list price (rounded to the nearest dollar) or said “OP” (which means “Out of Print”). If a book is OP, try to find it at your local library.

Share our knowledge

Thank you for reading The Secret Guide to Computers. If you have any questions about what you’ve read, phone me at 603-666-6644, day or night.


You’ve been reading the 27th edition. I’ve been revising the Guide for over 27 years:

Edition        Published        Format          Total pages & price  How typed           What it praised         New tutorials it included

edition 0      1972 spring           pamphlet    17 pages          free     typewriter              HP-2000                      BASIC

edition 1      1972 fall                pamphlet    12 pages          free     typewriter              DEC-10                        DEC computers

edition 2      1972 fall                pamphlet    20 pages          free     typewriter              DEC-10                        FORTRAN

edition 3      1972 fall                pamphlet    32 pages          $1       typewriter              DEC-10                        data files

edition 4      1973 January      2 pamphlets   63 pages          $2       typewriter              DEC-10                        ALGOL

edition 5      1973 September     booklet       73 pages          $2       typewriter              DEC-10                        graphics

edition 6      1974 July            3 booklets    260 pages          $5.20  typewriter              DEC-10                        artificial intelligence, numerical analysis

editions 7-9  1976-1979             6 booklets    410 pages        $16.25  typewriter              TRS-80 model 1           hardware, micros, COBOL, language survey

edition 10    1980-1982             8 booklets    696 pages        $29.60  typewriter              TRS-80 model 3           discount dealers, video graphics, PASCAL

edition 11    1983-1984            2 books        750 pages        $28       TRS-80 model 3     IBM PC                        IBM PC, word processing

edition 12    1986-1987             3 books        909 pages        $24       TRS-80 model 3     clones by LeadingEdge  DOS, WordPerfect, spreadsheets, DBASE, C, LOGO

edition 13    1988 Sept.-Oct.  3 books        909 pages        $24       TRS-80 model 3     clones by Swan              Q&A

edition 14    1990 June              reference   607 2-column  $15       Word Perfect 5.0       clones by Gateway        Mac, Excel, Quattro

edition 15    1991 September     reference   607 2-column  $15       Word Perfect 5.1       clones by Gateway        Windows, advanced WordPerfect

edition 16    1992 May              reference   607 2-column  $15       Word Perfect 5.1       clones by Micro Express  DOS 5, Quattro Pro

edition 17    1993 April                reference   607 2-column  $15       Word Perfect 5.1       clones by Vtech            Mac System 7, Microsoft Word, Excel 4, repairs

edition 18    1993 August          reference   607 2-column  $15       Word Perfect 5.1       clones by Vtech            DOS 6

edition 19    1994 August          reference   639 2-column  $15       Word Perfect 5.1       clones by Vtech            Pentium, multimedia computers, DOS 6.2

edition 20    1995 March           reference   639 2-column  $15       Word Perfect 5.1       clones by Quantex        Microsoft Word 6, Terminal, AMIBIOS

edition 21    1995 November     reference   639 2-column  $15       Word Perfect 5.1       clones by Quantex        Windows 95, QBASIC

edition 22    1996 June              reference   639 2-column  $15       Word Perfect 5.1       clones by Quantex        Internet, advanced Windows 95

edition 23    1997 May              reference   639 2-column  $15       Microsoft Word 7  clones by Quantex        Visual BASIC, viruses, advanced Internet

edition 24    1997 December     reference   639 2-column  $15       Microsoft Word 7  clones by Quantex        Pentium 2, AMD K-6, backup-storage devices

edition 25    1998 December     reference   639 2-column  $15       Microsoft Word 7  clones by NuTrend        Windows 98, iMac, Microsoft Word 97, Excel 97, Works

edition 26    1999 September     reference   639 2-column  $16.50  Microsoft Word 7  clones by NuTrend        Microsoft Word 2000, Excel 2000, create Web pages

edition 27    2000 October        reference   639 2-column  $16.50  Microsoft Word 7  clones by NuTrend        FileMaker, Access, PowerPoint, Publisher, C++, JAVA

To get on the mailing list for a free brochure about the 28th edition, use the coupon on page 639, or just send me a postcard with your name, address, and the words “send 28th edition info”.

Let’s meet

I hope to meet you someday. If you ever visit New Hampshire, drop in! Say hello and browse through my computer library. My heavy workload prevents me from chatting long, but at least we can grin.

If you like, join one of my blitz courses, where we cover everything worth knowing about computers in one intensive weekend. I give the course in many cities and charge just $2.50 per hour.

I can also visit your home town and give a course to you and your friends privately. If you have lots of friends, the cost per person can get quite cheap.

For more information about what I can do for you at little or no charge, phone me at 603-666-6644 or mail the coupon on the back page.

How to give a course

After you practice using computers and become a computer expert, why not give your own courses? You too can become a guru. Here are some suggestions.

When giving a course, you won’t have enough time to cover every detail, so don’t even try. Tell the students that the details can be found in The Secret Guide to Computers and the manuals that come with their computers.

Instead of grinding through details, have fun! Demonstrate hardware and software that the audience hasn’t seen, argue cheerily about computer hassles, let the audience ask lots of questions, and give the audience hands-on experience aided by tutors.

Here are some of the lines I use to liven up my classes and loosen up my students. Feel free to copy them.

“Hi, I’m Russ. I’m supposed to turn all of you into computer experts by five o’clock. I’ll try.”

“In this course, I’m your slave. Anything you want, you get.”

“If you’re a boring group, we’ll follow the curriculum. If you’re interesting, you’ll ask lots of questions and we’ll dig into the good stuff.”

“Don’t bother taking notes. If God wanted you to be a Xerox machine, He would have made you look that way. So just relax. If you forget what I say, phone me anytime, and I’ll repeat it all back to you.”

“There’s no attendance requirement. Leave whenever you wish. If we hit a topic that bores you, that’s a good time to go to the bathroom, get some munchies, or take a walk in the fresh air. Better yet, play with the computers at the back of the room, so you become super-smart. The tutors will get you any software you wish.”

When you’re planning to teach a course, phone me for free help with curriculum, dramatics, and tricks of the trade.

Your first course might have some rough edges, because you haven’t had experience yet in giving demonstrations, fielding audience questions, and dramatically varying the pace so that your audience stays awake. So for your first course, play safe: charge as little as possible, so everybody in the audience feels the course was a “good deal” and a “wonderful bargain” and nobody feels “ripped off”. For that first course your goal should not be money: instead, your goal should be to gain experience and a good reputation.

No matter how great you think you are, your audience will tire of you eventually. To keep your audience awake, offer variety by including your friends as part of your act.

Good luck. Try hard. You can cast a spell over the audience. Courses change lives.

Your source of free help, at your service, your computer butler,

Russ Walter, 603-666-6644