Intelligence: Artificial and Otherwise | Newberry

Intelligence: Artificial and Otherwise

As I face a long weekend, a period of rest and reflection (and no book donations: you DO recall what I said about being closed?) the world seems bent on making me think about things, many of which I’d rather not consider. Case in point: the CD of the Ethel Merman Disco Album. I shall either lie awake tonight wondering about it, or go to YouTube and call up a few cuts, and lie awake wishing I could unhear them.

And what am I supposed to think about the thoughtful person who donated just one volume of a mid-Victorian novel of romance and adventure? Oh sure, these things happen. But this person ALSO donated a complete photocopy of the volume that was missing. NOW what am I supposed to think? (Or what am I supposed to think instead of what I AM thinking?)

I have this three volume set of the sermons of John Tillotson, a seventeenth century Archbishop of Canterbury important in the development of English Protestantism and rather advanced in his opinion of English Catholics. (He didn’t feel they were all anti-Christian terrorists.) I know what to think about this set of books: I’m thinking somebody else can read them.

But I’m stumped by the disambiguator on Wikipedia, telling me he is NOT the same person as American singer Johnny Tillotson, perhaps not best known for performing the theme song of “Gidget.” I started out thinking, “Well, of course”, but am now wondering “How can they really be that sure?”

But the deep philosophical point on which I spent most of Thursday was “At what point does an old computer manual stop being trash and become a collectible?”

This is not an idle question for someone in this business. Christie’s and Sotheby’s have featured vintage computer material in sales (unused paper designed for use in Univac genuinely impressed me: the day I can charge a bounty for blank paper….) The issue of Science magazine which covers some techies with nothing better to do than program a computer to play chess (and spark a multi-billion dollar industry) will run you about fifty bucks these days. One has to face it: the computer has been around long enough to produce antiques. (Hope you held onto that Apple II.)

We had one of those collections come in. Someone checked their shelves and said, “Why do I have eight rows of computer manuals when Uncle Blogsy says he needs books?” And faster than you could say “geek to the rescue”, we had boxes full of them.

On my way to the recycling bin, I noticed a manual for Windows NT, and wondered, “Huh! When was that?” The date, 1998, did not shock me, but as I took another step toward the bin, I thought, “Wait. Isn’t 1998 twenty years ago now?” After checking my math with a few passersby who did not thank me for reminding them, I turned back and started to sort. I wound up with two shelves of books from the 1990s, plus a half shelf of those from 1989 and before. Which ones were collectible?

I consulted the World Wide Net on this question, and was essentially told, “Well, not most of those from the nineties.” Maybe the donor just kept the good ones, or maybe thirty years is the magic number for computer manuals. I did wind up with four books for the Collectors’ Table come July: a manual for a briefly popular and largely forgotten system, a book on computer graphics in which all the illustrations are black and white…I learned something from it all. Whether the Newberry makes any money from all this research is another question.

Tell you what, come Tuesday, when donations are possible again, why not send me some krugerrands to sort? I’ll keep the cheap ones, and the Newberry can sell the GOOD ones.

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