[nSLUG] Re: tech books in Halifax?

Mike Spencer mspencer at tallships.ca
Mon Oct 15 21:21:46 ADT 2007

Tyler> Where's the best place to browse tech books in Halifax?

Yow!  'Scuse me if I rant:

In 1989, my wife went to Dal for her masters and I started doing some
part time IT work there so I was spending a lot of time in Halifax
and around academics until 1994.  But when I went looking for tech
books, I hit a wall.

The Dal bookstore is run as a profit center, not as a student service.
They carry almost nothing in the way of hard core books there other
than (required) text books.  What they *do* have is priced way, way
above reasonable markup.  I even got hard confirmation of their
predatory pricing.  I spotted a copy of Kanweva's _Sparse Distributed
Memory_ there and thought (because I already owned copy) it was
most unusual that they'd have something that arcane.  By chance,
someone had left the invoice in the book.  Their retail price was way
out of line for their cost.

James Roswell made a valiant run at a tech bookstore.  In the 89-94
window, he had a fair selection of "real" tech books -- K&R, _The
Algorithmic Beauty of Plants_, that big series of books on X, O'Reilly
books etc.  But almost nobody bought "real" tech books and he gave up
on carrying them years ago.  The last time I was in, maybe a year ago,
he was reduced to a tiny space with what I took to be mostly leftovers
on the shelves.  Too bad.  He tried and the hackers just didn't come.

So anyhow, this was really pissing me off, what with Halifax and
N.S. touting Our Fair City as a center of academic excellence
fulminating with intellectual creativity and all. So I started asking
around at Dal, hitting a fairly diverse selection of faculty --
philosophy, nursing, business, classics and medicine.  Annndd... I was
told, essentially, "Oh, we don't buy books.  They're so expensive, you
know."  Say what?  I'm some kind of eccentric, poverty-stricken
artist, blacksmith, farmer and wanna-be hacker with a hobby sideline
in cognitive science, all of which pays mostly in quatloos.  And *I*
buy serious books.  Tenured Dal faculty can't afford to keep up with
the serious hard-core stuff published in their respective specialties?
Feh!  If the professors don't buy books, they can't wave them at
students, evaluate them for inquiring but inexperienced minds, loan
them to same and so on.

The one exception to the foregoing dismal picture was the med school,
where there seemed to be a covert hotbed of serious hacking.  I talked
to a couple of people who were doing very interesting projects, one in
multimedia eduware, one in AI diagnostics and one in digitized
cardiac auscultation.  But I suppose they ordered books from away, just
as they have to do with lab chemicals, surgical equipment and so on.

So here's my suggestion: Forget Halifax.  Get in you car and drive --
what? 14 hours or so? -- to Harvard Square.  Park and walk.  You'll
find several really good book stores within a few blocks with lots of
tech books (not limited to *computer* tech, either). The MIT Coop and MIT
Press store are two subway stops or 20 minutes' walk away.  And if you
buy several hundred bucks worth of books, you'll save the cost of your
gas and lodging over Halifax prices.


Tyler> I'm looking for three things: something to follow up on K&R
Tyler> with, a good general intro to Lisp...

AFAIK, Guy Steel's _Common Lisp the Language_ is still the canonical
resource.  (I've seen it on the shelf in Harvard Sq. but bought Franz
Inc.'s _Common Lisp the Reference_ instead) Lisp the Language is now
on-line at:


The reference manual for Emacs Lisp is also on-line free but may be
too infected with  Emacs' eccentricities to be of much general use. :-)

- Mike

Michael Spencer                  Nova Scotia, Canada       .~. 
mspencer at tallships.ca                                     /( )\
http://home.tallships.ca/mspencer/                        ^^-^^

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