I've been bumping around the computer industry for about 20 years now.  I've worked with everything from a Commodore PET, to a PDP 10, VAXen, Sequent, PCs, and lots of other little boxen in between.  I've worked on all operating systems big and small, including NeXTStep, Taligent, BeOS, Linux, DOS, MacOS, OS/2, Windows, and a couple of toy ones of my own.  I've created algorithms, ported code, dabbled with audio, video, image processing, UI libraries, databases, and anything else you would expect from a lifetime of hackery.

In all this time, I've accumulated quite an impressive computer literature library.  My favorite hot spot to shop used to be Cody's Books, in Berkeley California.  Then I moved to the San Jose area, and Computer Literacy became the new hot spot.  If they didn't have it, it didn't exist.  I used to buy at least 1 book per month, and some times more than that depending on what I was doing at the time.  Mind you, these books typically cost anywhere from $35 to $65 apiece, so 20 years of doing this can really add up monetarily, and space wise.  I was, and continue to be an avid reader.  For every computer book I bought, there were probably another 4 sci fi novels I purchased as well.

Spin forward a few years.  I now have a daughter (Yasmin) who is about to turn 9 in April.  Reading to her every night since she was old enough to listen has had the intended affect.  She is an avid reader.  She will read one of those dragon novels (currently Eragon) in a day or two, and then she'll read it a couple more times for good measure.  Given her chance, she would buy 5 books a week, every week.  Un/Fortunately, I like to indulge her reding habit.  So, I buy her books whenever I can.  She also goes to the library, and reads whatever she can there.

Now the problem begins.  Two big time readers, a finite space in the house, soon becoming cluttered and cramped due to an excess of “treasures”.  Something must be done!  Last week, we came up with a system.  We created what we call the “de treasure chest”.  It is a box in her room that contains cash, a ledger, and foreign currency of various types.  The idea is, we now have a budget.  It outlines monetary policy with regards to going out, buying books, going to movies, and the like. 

We started the opening balance by salvaging pennies that we had in two containers at the house.  That netted us $20.  Then we sold off a ton of books from both of our stashes, another $45.  It turns out that children's books in good condition are worth a lot more money than computer books that were written before 2000.  Just goes to show how fickle, and short lived our technological knowledge can be.  There must be a time value of knowledge lesson in here somewhere.  I threw in $10 from loose change, and some more books, and we ended up with $80.  Now we have a system.  When we sell books to the Half Price Bookstore, we put the cash into the chest.  Rules for buying new books:  If you want to buy a new book, you have to first cough up 2 old books, and send them the be sold, and then you have to use the money that's in the treasure chest to buy new books.

In this way, we reduce the number of books that are already in the house by a little bit each time we buy a new book.  Having to use the treasure money for other desirable things forces us to think twice about buying a book rather than checking it out from the library.  It's a real struggle.  In addition, we determined that donating clothing to the Goodwill should generate some monetary reward, so $1/garment donated, goes into the treasury.

This weekend, I bought 4 new books.  They are primarily on financial management, and family estate planning.  That means I have to come up with 8 books to get rid of.

Well, I've already gotten rid of a couple hundred of my best treasures over the past couple of years, so what could possibly be left to get rid of?  Surely what's left will be classic, and I'll lose wisdom if I part with them!

Well, there are some gems, and I will be sad to see them go, but I came upon an idea.  Instead of just letting them slip below the waves, I'll catalog them as they go so that I'll have a record of what I was into at one point or another.  Since I work in the world of XML, I thought I would catalog them by making little XML entries in a file.  Of course, I don't just want to use any old schema, I want to use a schema that other people have already created to represent books.  So, I went to the OASIS website, and I saw a schema for DocBook.  http://www.oasis-open.org/docbook/xml/4.2/index.shtml

This is apparently a well known document format from the SGML days, and there is now an XML representation of same.  I'm going to spend the next few weeks cataloging at least the books that are on the 'cut' list.  And then I'll see about the rest.

On the way out the door this week are titles such as:

Design Patterns, File Structures, C++ FAQs, Inner Loops, JavaScript, The Computational Brain, A Retargetable C Compiler, Seminumerical Algorithms, The Age of Spiritual Machines, Cryptonomicon, Signal and Image Processing with Neural Networks, Nanosystems, The Stanford Graphbase,  Literate Programming, The Giant Black Book of Computer Viruses, Morphing Magic, Ants at Work, Ruminations on C++, The Best C/C++ Tips Ever, More Effective C++, C++ IO Streams Handbook, The Annotated C++ Reference Manual, The draft Standard C++ Library

If you look at the list, you'll see some old standards, and some wacky out of the way inspirationals.  One thing they have in common in many cases is that the subject matter is available online, or it's simply been subsumed in some other work that is available online, or it has become irrelevant.

Another thing I noticed is that a lot of the people who have written these books now work as my peers in the industry, and in some cases for Microsoft directly.  It becomes harder and harder to read meaningful books about the future of computing when you are responsible for creating the future of computing.  Snow Crash probably had more to do with the current distribution of network gaming platforms than any of my CS books.

At any rate, cataloging and perhaps making available in a web service, might be an interesting exercise.  Of course, since Amazon plans on digitizing 10 million books over the coming years, my efforts will be fruitless.  At the very least, I'll know what journey I took to where I am today.

These books are like the stuffed animals of childhood.  They comfort and whatnot, and at some point, it's time to let them go, face forward, and move on.  The treasure has become clutter, and that clutter will be turned into cash, so new treasures can be purchased.

Next, we will be purchasing seed catalogs to germinate our garden!