Usefulness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. The most useful program you can write, to practice the basics, is one that would be useful to you. Write your own address-book / contact-list program, that lets you store and find the info you want your way. Own a lot of books, or CDs or DVDs, or something else? Write a catalog program. Lend them to your friends? Extend your program to keep track of who currently has which item, so you remember to get them back. I love computer-generated images (not that they're particularly useful, or that I spend much time on it), so I have a slew of partially-written programs that make different kinds of images programmatically.
I suspect that many successful entrepeneurs start out with an idea they want for their own purposes, and then realize that other people would find a more-general version of the same thing useful for a wider range of applications!
Another approach for practicing, regardless of usefulness, is read the posts here on the DaniWeb forum, and try to program other people's assignments that sound like an interesting programming challenge to you (as opposed to sounding like an interesting finished project) without referring to their existing code. Then if you get sutck, go back to the thread and see if there's any more help there, or post your code in your own thread.
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