Unlike computers, books have lasting value

I suppose most of my readers know that it is pretty easy to get usable computer hardware for free. If the hardware is not fast enough for the latest incarnation of MS Windows, OS X or the some of the recent shoot-em-ups most people are willing to update their hardware to something more recent. If their old hardware happens to be more than, for example, five to seven years old, it is probably impossible to sell at any reasonable price. For people like me, those computers are still more than usable.

Unfortunately, I've not been able to find any real use for hardware that is about 20 years old. Of course, I still could write my text files using WordPerfect 5.1 if I just could find somewhere installation floppies still functioning. Or I could use the computer for playing some classic MS DOS games. Just being geekier than the people around me might be a reason for doing that instead of playing the games using a DOS emulator running under Linux. Or I could use a 386 as a terminal for ssh sessions on some of my more recent computers.

Books, on the other hand, do not lose their value as fast as the computers do. I still enjoy reading books printed decades ago. I enjoy reading Roman and Greek classics in translation and sometimes even in the original language -- if I have some extra time to spend with Latin grammar and old dictionaries.

Even computer books can be useful for decades. I found in the local university library a few old books about AWK, Perl and Emacs that are still very helpful for a semi-computer-illiterate like me. Unfortunately, it is a lot more difficult to find classic O'Reilly books for free than it is to get free hardware. But I'll continue my search for them...

Of course, there are some interesting books that can be downloaded for free, for example the Unix Text Processing by Dale Dougherty and Tim O'Reilly. The book was originally published in 1987 but you can still learn a lot from it if you are just learning to use the GNU command line tools.


Xyzzy said...

I grew up reading the hardcovers that my parents & maternal grandmother grew up with. I'm one of the oddballs that illicitly reads ebooks (I use an old PDA) to get to know an author, then buy physical copies since most aren't on BookMooch.

There are actually a few different free online Linux/shell ebooks, if you look around. I'd offer bookmarks, except my own on the topic are kind of a jumble mixing free & illicit web-based copies that I've used as quick reference in a pinch. :-p

"If their old hardware happens to be more than, for example, five to seven years old, it is probably impossible to sell at any reasonable price."

Depends on what you figure a 'reasonable' price is... In late spring year, I couldn't find a working 1 GHz laptop under $100 -- right now, it looks like laptops over 1.6GHz (a speed that even small cheapos had 6 years ago) are averaging around $140... That's a lot less than we paid brand-new, but given a netbook is $300 new, well...

Also, "vintage" hardware isn't particularly cheap anymore, since people formally collect that stuff these days. I think it's more analogous to how past generations collected classic cars, since a lot of the fascination is in fixing the hardware & restoring appearance.

Anonymous said...

About 2 months ago I got - for free - two boxes of books about Unix from 1995-2000. Very good books about shell programming, compilation, Unix tools, Editors etc. If you can't get these easily make some friendships in technical universities - they're usually getting rid of computer books every... 5-6 years. Some books are taken by professors, some by students.
I usually read e-books on my HP-200LX, a 15-year old PDA which runs about 2 weeks on a pair of rechargeable batteries. This is quite good, as I can keep many books there and I'm quite independent of one energy source - AA batteries are in almost every shop. It's quite hard for a good book today, especially in my country, where not much people read books regularly.