Strongly Emergent

What comes from combining humans, computers, and narrative

Textbook Economics

I’ve come across an interesting dynamic with my textbooks. I tend to pick up a couple of new ones every six weeks or so because of my school schedule. They’re necessary for a relatively short time, which means that I don’t have much inertia when a “do I get rid of this?” decision comes up. I have a very strong inertia for books - I hate getting rid of things in general, I have a distinct case of “but I might use that!” and that means that I have a hard time getting rid of books normally.

The textbooks, however, get around this. I don’t own them for long enough that inertia overrides other factors, and while I do develop an emotional relationship with them, it’s antagonistic sometimes, so that’s a wash. Importantly, there’s also a decision point every six weeks or so where I can get actual money for the books. So I get to ask myself - will this book be valuable enough as a reference work that I want to forgo getting money for it? Judging my textbooks by that standard has been interesting.

  • CompTIA A+ Guide To Managing & Maintaining Your PC, 6th Edition: A half-assed textbook, and makes a terrible, terrible reference book. I’d have sold it if I could, and right now I’m trying to figure out a way to give it away constructively.
  • 70-270: Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows XP Professional: Hideously dated despite XP sticking around, would sell it if I could, but no such luck. Same for the accompanying exercise book. Microsoft Press is not endearing its products to me, and I bet I’ll have to deal with more of them in the future.
  • MS Office Textbook, title not recalled: Absolute junk, got rid of it as soon as possible, a gratuitously bad reference work and for my frame of mind an even worse textbook.
  • CompTIA Net+ Study Guide: Has significant flaws - its security chapters are long on “woooo, evil hackers!” and on goofy names for attacks - but overall it’s worth keeping for reference. Author attempts to be hip and with it, very mixed results, but at least doesn’t sound like the soulless corporate drone who wrote the A+ Guide.
  • Dreamweaver CS3 Hands-On Training: Thoroughly mediocre, has a fawning, sales-brochure tone about the product. The class is inspiring a hearty contempt for Dreamweaver, as recently seen on this blog, so there’s no way I’m keeping this one.
  • Adobe Classroom In A Book Flash CS3 Professional: Also crap, also a sales brochure for the product (although I expect it a little more, similar to what I expect from Microsoft Press). Mildly more worth as a reference work and mildly better software, still not keeping it.

I’m looking forward to classes like I took in my first attempt at college, where it was a lecturer and an O'Reilly book or two. O'Reilly books, whether meant as textbooks or not, generally retain a lot of value as reference works - it’s pretty much universal across computer folk that they’ll have O'Reilly books sitting around. Most of them have better typography and design than the glossy textbooks I’ve been using, too.

This ties into a general crankiness of mine about shiny things. I mistrust them. Past a very low threshhold, it’s hard to make additional dollars spent on thick pages, color printing, and big pictures pay off in better information absorption/retention rates. More commonly, extra money spent on prettying things up will have no effect on those rates, and be wasted - be spent on things besides rigorous content. I feel like money misspent in that direction is money spent to deceive me, and money that results in higher prices because it adds features that I don’t value. I want content. As a result, I like the O'Reilly books because they put aside the temptation to be shiny and deliver excellent content, reliably.

This is also the reason why I want this web site to get more spare and lean in the future. I want it to be a web site that I’d want to read. There is a place for bright color and CSS tricks and busy graphics. That place is not on a page where the primary content is straight text. When straight text is the content, everything else is a distraction. I aspire to the Tuftean ideal where communicating data well is the entire task of the page - no wasted “ink” at all.