TITLE: An Old Book Day
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: November 22, 2006 6:30 PM
After over a year in the
Big Office Downstairs
and now the
Office with a View,
I am finally unpacking all the boxes from my moves and
hanging pictures on the walls. Last year it didn't seem
to make much sense to unpack, with the impending move to
our new home, and since then I've always seemed to have
more pressing things to do. But my wife and daughters
finally tired of the bare walls and boxes on the floor,
so I decided to use this day-off-while-still-on-duty to
make a big pass at the task. It has gone well but would
have gone faster if I only I could go through boxes of
old books without looking at them.
Old books ought to be able to toss without a thought, right?
I mean, who needs a manual for a Forth-79 interpreter that
ran on a 1980 Apple ][ ? A
1971 compiler textbook
by David Gries (not even mine -- a colleague's hand-me-down)?
Who wants to thumb through Sowa's
The Thinking Computer,
Winograd and Flores's
Understanding Computers and Cognition?
Guilty as charged.
And while I may not be an active AI researcher
I still love the field and its ideas and classic texts. I spent
most of my time today browsing Raphael, Minsky, Schank's
Weld and de Kleer's
Readings in Qualitative Reasoning about Physical Systems,
the notes from a workshop on functional reasoning at
AAAI 1994 (one of the last AI conferences I attended).
These books brought back memories, of research group meetings
on Wednesday afternoons where I cut my teeth as a participant
in the academic discussion, of dissertation research, and of
becoming a scholar in my own right. There were also programming
books to be unpacked -- too many Lisp books to mention, including
first and second editions of
The Little LISPer,
and a cool old book on computer chess from 1982 that is so
out of date now as to be hardly worth a thumbing through.
But I was rapt. These books brought back memories of
implementing the software foundation for my advisor's newly
established research lab -- and reimplementing it again and
again as we moved onto ever better platforms for our needs.
(Does anyone remember PCL?) Eventually, we moved away from
Lisp altogether and into a strange language that no one
seemed to know much about... Smalltalk. And so I came to
learn OOP many years before it came into vogue via C++ and
Some of these books are classics, books I could never toss
Schank, Minsky, Raphael, The Little LISPer. Others
hold value only in memory of time and place, and how they
were with me when I learned AI and computer science.
I tossed a few books (among them the Gries compiler book)
and kept a few more. I told my daughter I was being ruthless,
but in reality I was far softer than I could have been.
That's okay... I have shelf space to spare yet, at least
in this office, and the prospect of my next move is far
enough off that I am willing to hold onto that old computer
chess book just in case I ever want to play through games by
and an early version of
or steal a little code for a program of my own.
I wonder what our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will
think of our quaint fetish for books. For me, as I close up
shop for a long weekend devoted to the American holiday of
I know that I am thankful for all the many books I've had
the pleasure to hold and read and fall asleep with, and
thankful for all the wonderful people who took the time to