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Monday, June 04, 2012

Which Books to Keep?

Moving is an excuse to go through your possessions and weed out what you don't need anymore. Over my professional life I've collected two large bookcases full of CS, Math and Econ books and all the STOC, FOCS and Complexity proceedings from 1986 until they stopped publishing proceedings a couple of years ago. I also have a surprisingly large collection of complexity Ph.D. theses.

What do I move and what do I toss or give away? All the proceedings are now on-line. Maybe keep STOC 1987, my first conference paper? How many different editions of Li and Vitanyi's Kolmogorov tome do I need? How many Introduction to Theory textbooks? Publishers send them to me since it is the one undergraduate class I have consistently taught. I use Sipser, partly because he was my Ph.D. advisor, but mostly because it's a great book.

One approach is to toss everything. As some of my students say, if it's not on the web it can't be of much value. But I can't imagine life without some of the classics. When I want to prove something NP-complete, I still start by finding the closest related problem in Garey & Johnson to reduce from. For that one needs to skim through their list of problems. I have yet to see a good way to skim electronically.

I'm not a luddite. I do all my pleasure reading on the Kindle and read and mark up PDFs on my iPad. But when it comes to math books, we still haven't found a good replacement for paper. 

11 comments:

  1. You should take the old books, bandsaw the backing off of them, scan and OCR, then upload a torrent to the pirate bay. You can read them on your ipad. :)

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  2. One Tip: If you haven't looked at a book in 10 years you probably aren't going to ever look at it again. Give it away or sell it. If you give it away it is quite possible that whoever you give it to will never look at it and give it away when they move.

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  3. What do you use to markup PDFs on your iPad? I find the styli for the iPad too clunky to do any real writing.

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    1. I use Goodreader with Dropbox to handle the files and the keyboard for writing comments. The lack of a good stylus is a definite disadvantage over paper.

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    2. I've used iAnnotate and NoteTaker HD w/ good results. Both have the functionality to zoom in at a particular point in the PDF so note taking is very nice.

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  4. None of the conference proceedings are publicly online, and their research papers will probably remain locked up forever. I suggest scanning them in and uploading them all somewhere outside the US so this secret research can see the light of day. If we want effective research repositories, we will have to create them ourselves. Start with the older years, since those papers are less likely to be already online and their authors are likely to be out of academia.

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  5. I don't think "math books" is the right criterion. I have a few bookshelves filled with CS and math books, too. I hardly ever go to them. If I need really detailed information, I go to papers, which are available online. If I need a general survey, then Wikipedia and Wolfram often do a perfectly fine job.

    It's hard to see where books will have a special advantage going forward. Even for-profit books are increasingly available in Kindle edition, and some nice publishers such as Artima even produce PDF that you can browse at your workstation.

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  6. The first couple of "Structure in Complexity" conference proceedings are not on-line.

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  7. I hope you won't throw away any books -- there are plenty of people (students and otherwise) who will be happy to get them for free or even buy them on amazon.

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  8. Used Math books on Amazon are often absurdly priced (that is,
    rather high prices). I've seen books stay unbought for years.
    This serves nobodies interests. I recommend that Lance put them
    on amazon for a reasonable price.

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  9. I vote for you to sign them and give them away as prizes on the blog :)

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