Remembering INPUT magazine

In 1984 a new magazine hit the racks in W. H Smiths: INPUT.

It offered to help you to “Learn programming for fun and the future” via a weekly course in programming and computing. It ran for a total of 52 issues.

I was 12 when it came out. And I collected every issue.

INPUT gave me my first proper introduction to programming. The ZX Spectrum user guide and the BASIC programming manual were useful references and supplied some example programmes. (I played a lot of Pangolins).

But it was INPUT that taught me more than just the basics and introduced me to a whole range of new topics.

Sadly, I got rid of my copies, along with all of my other 80s computer magazines many years ago. Happily, the full collection of INPUT is available on the Internet Archive.

I had a dig through it again recently. They covered a surprising range of material. Both simple and advanced programming, as well as how the hardware worked.

All of the code was provided for a range of desktop computers. I always found it interesting to compare the different versions of BASIC. I even read the C64 only features, which were usually showing of its more advanced features.

I never did get the hang of Assembly though.

The magazine included some longer tutorials that built up a programme or covered a topic over a number of issues.

One of my favourites started in Issue 9. A five part series on how to write text adventure games. I spent a lot of time playing at making my own games.

A pretty accurate depiction of the inside of my brain in the 80s. There were a lot of tapes involved. And graph paper

Looking back now, I can see that one of the biggest impacts it had on me came from a listing in Issue 2 and 3. These two articles introduced a simple filing system with basic record management and search functions. A little database to help people track their hobbies.

I used it to catalogue all the games I copied off my mates.

I made a database for my Dad to keep track of his pigeons. How many races they’d won. And which ones he’d been breeding. He never used it. But I had fun designing it.

Most of my career has involved working with data and databases. INPUT gave me not just an introduction to programming, but my first introduction to that whole topic.

There’s a line that starts with me working with that BASIC code on the ZX Spectrum which continues all the way to the present day.

During the second year of my biology degree I took a computing module. As part of that I wrote a Pascal programme to simulate the activity of restriction enzymes. It sounds fancy, but it was just string manipulation.

Looking at that code its clearly informed by what I had learned from that INPUT article. It had a simple menu system to access different functions. I even wrote some tools to help me create the data files that drove the application, so I could manage those records separately.

I had a lot of fun writing it.

I described that Pascal programme in the interview I had to take to get accepted for my Masters in Computing. It was a conversion course for people who didn’t have a Computing or Maths background. It definitely helped me get on that course.

I took all the modules about databases, obviously. As well as the networking ones. Because I was started to get interested in the web.

And then I got interested in the web as a database. And data on the web.

It’s funny how things work out.

So thanks Mum for bringing that magazine home every Thursday night. And thank you Internet Archive for making them available for me to read again.