TITLE: An Old Book Day AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: November 22, 2006 6:30 PM DESC: ----- BODY: 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 Conceptual Structures, Raphael'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 anymore, I still love the field and its ideas and classic texts. I spent most of my time today browsing Raphael, Minsky, Schank's Dynamic Memory, 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including first and second editions of The Little LISPer, and a cool old book on computer chess from 1982 that is so out of date now as to be hardly worth a thumbing through.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 Java. Some of these books are classics, books I could never toss out. Haugeland's Mind Design, 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 Belle and an early version of Cray Blitz, 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 Thanksgiving, 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 write them. -----