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What’s the strangest thing you ever found in a book? (noctslackv2.wordpress.com)
1070 points by ColinWright on Aug 3, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 467 comments

I once took a critical thinking course and bought the textbook 2nd hand from the college bookstore. A week or two in, I noticed half of a sentence written in the margin. As the professor started teaching the topic from that page, he rhetorically asked a question, did not get an answer, and then answered himself with the sentence from the book. I filliped ahead and found that the entire book was annotated with all of his answers, anecdotes, and various other helpful notes. There was even a table that accurately listed his wardrobe choices! The notes were in several different handwritings, and the book had been resold over a dozen times, so that professor must have been teaching the same class the exact same way for a decade or more. I quickly became a star pupil as I always had an answer ready. I added a few notes along the way and then sold it back to the bookstore at the end of the year. I really wanted to keep it for posterity, but It just seemed wrong to take it out of circulation.

So my version of that story is less analog and arguably less academically honest. I had a somewhat challenging mid-level math class in college where after each homework assignment and test the professor would give us a URL to a PDF of his scanned handwritten completed version of the work. The URL path was something like /math-321/2019/fall/test-1.pdf, and the professor diligently made sure that each file wasn't available until after each test was graded. Unfortunately, the professor was not sufficiently diligent to remove URLs using the exact same pattern for previous years and semesters of the same course. I discovered throughout the course that there had been some trivial changes to the assignments and tests (moving questions around, slightly changing constants, etc.) and only a few non-trivial changes.

Reminds me of over a decade ago I was in a high school AP course. At the start of the course, the teacher recommended we get a AP prep book to study throughout the year, and recommended 2 brands. She specifically said not to get one brand, noting that it was of inferior quality. I had already got the prep book she didn't recommend as I had found it on sale before that remark was made. I later learned that she used that book for all of her test questions, sometimes literally copying the test from the book with minimal editing. I got a 100% on a test out of the blue after averaging in the 80s and then had to make it less obvious.

Similarly, with a slight twist, a prof I had used to recommend we read the entire text book, not just the chapters required for the class. It was an open book exam so people figured they could annotate the pages or whatever and didn't bother to follow his adcice. He would often say, 'everything [we] ever want to know is in that book!'

He was right. The final exam was verbatim the practice exam given at the end of the book. As luck would have it, I had discovered the practice exams a week earlier. Once I realized they were identical to the final, I literally copied the answers and handed it in. It was a 3 hour exam and half the class was done in 15 minutes.

I had one where on the first day of the semester, the very first thing the minute the class started, the professor casually said "if you do every homework problem in the book, you'll get an A on the final."

Not everyone was there on time, some students were going to drop & add the class and most people weren't paying attention.

He casually joked for a couple minutes then settled down to get started.

There was never another hint.

When the final came, each question was verbatim from homework problems that were not assigned.

I had an exam once where we were told to read the entire question paper first.

At the end it told you to ignore all previous questions and just do this one.

2nd favourite exam question after an economics multiple choice exam where we had to calculate the probability of passing the exam just by guessing.

I once had a sociology professor whose final was multiple choice and every answer (out of 50) was a B, except for the last, which was a C.

That’s a fun anecdote, but horrible teaching.

Here's my little related story. I was in one of my fave used book stores (Baldwin's Book Barn in West Chester, PA) which is not exactly close to where I was living at the time. After browsing for an hour or so and picking out a few books, I spied a title on a top shelf that I thought was interesting but couldn't remember ever seeing before. I pulled the book down and began perusing it, and on the inside cover there was a familiar-looking stamped bookplate that said "Property of <My Name>." I was a little freaked out because I couldn't remember ever owning the book. After thinking about it a few minutes, I dimly recalled lending the book to somebody years ago and I guess it was never returned to me. When I went downstairs to the checkout counter, I showed the older man working that day my ID and the bookplate while telling my story, saying I never got a chance to read this book. He very kindly told me to just take the book and didn't charge me for it, saying "I'm just glad it found its way back to you."

What a lovely story, thank you for sharing.

It depends what the class was for. I had a sort of similar experience with a physics class where the professor would take a break mid-exam and just give everyone the answers, but it was a class that was a prerequisite for engineering students who didn't care and really didn't need to, and also a stepping stone for the passionate physics students who did care, but would do the heavy lifting later. The prof was well-regarded for spending his time more on helping with true understanding for the students who cared.

That describes my entire education.

Wouldn't you rather learn the material?

Sure. Not a lot of learning going on during exams, I'm afraid.

Cheating on the exam means it wasn't learned.

My chapter of Tau Beta Pi (engineering honor society) got so tired of how unfair it was that people would share around old tests and decided to do something about it. Since there is no way to stop people from doing this, we got permission from the dean to start a test and study sheet bank and made it publicly accessible on a website.

Over his whole career as a professor, my father was so concerned about test sharing that he kept a file of every test he ever gave and was careful to never ask the same question twice.

> my father was so concerned about test sharing that he kept a file of every test

I finished 2nd in my high school class (humble brag) because my best friend cheated (and got a zero) for an important biology term paper.


- My friend hated biology and he decided he would save time by submitting his older brother's bio term paper as his (his brother was 4 years older).

- A month after we handed in our term papers, the bio teacher asks my friend to step into his office, whereupon he shows him a copy of his brother's term paper. Big fat zero.

- It dinged my friend just enough that (even though he was more talented) he finished 3rd in the class.

- I ended up getting a tuition waiver to our state university (where we both went).

That laziness cost him about $10K in tuition (in 1980s dollars).

edit: the person who finished 1st in our class went to Yale. She was more talented than both of us combined.

Respect, the amount of work to do that is mind boggling.

Its easy to spot the pattern and useful to know what wont be asked.

Errr... many questions can just vary numbers a bit. There's very little value to knowing that the inverse of 3 mod 7 won't be asked this exam - it's trivial to change the numbers and test the same knowledge with a slightly but sufficiently different question.

I imagine there's a somewhat similar type of questions for non-CS disciplines (same case description, different key clue, hence different answer).

It's not entirely trivial, it takes work. If you are simply changing the number but ask the inverse of x mod y every time you didn't win the game. 2 out of 3 times changes nothing.

I had the most fun with multiple choice tests. I took the average A,B,C and D answers from previous tests. The teacher not paranoid would have a lot of B, slightly less A and C and below average D answers. The paranoid teacher would have perfect distribution. The supper paranoid used some kind of RNG which also comes in patterns.

One of each type came to ask me how I did it at the end. The last one was funniest. He had one test with a trick question that everyone got wrong. It just didn't have enough C. One of my answers was more likely wrong than right. I had to go over the A,B,D answer candidates a few times. Reduced the list to 3 potential trick questions. Figured out that 2 of them were correct. Don't ask me why but the remaining one must have been C.

He explained how over his [long] career he started out with to few D answers. I name the other teachers still doing that. He then went for the perfect distribution. I name the teachers still doing that. And now he thought he had the perfect formula. How am I suppose to fix this?? He asked. I'm like, I'm not doing your homework but I do foresee a very interesting meeting with the other teachers.

edit: I did study but cheating was just to much fun. When they switched to tests on computers I made a good bit of money as administrator. I swapped some of the answers around so that the wrong answer was right and everyone got poor grades. They would purchase the list of correct answers from me. Then after they aced it I would reduce their grade to something sensible for the student. When they protested I told them that they paid for answers not for grades. Grades are very expensive as -hey- they could potentially ruin this good thing I got going here!

Am I understanding this comment correctly that you were administering tests and rigging them to cause people to fail and then charging people money to get the rigged answers for the tests so they could pass?

If so, this is some real unethical and criminal behavior.

But I'm inclined to think it's all made up considering the first part of the comment seems to imply that you were doing well on tests simply by guessing the answers based an A,B,C,D distribution. Which is silly as the best you are going to do with that strategy is maybe get a slight hint for a few of the more difficult questions.

> Am I understanding this comment correctly that you were administering tests and rigging them to cause people to fail

They got many answers wrong on the test but I adjusted their grades later. The grades do have to be credible for the show to continue.

> and then charging people money to get the rigged answers for the tests so they could pass?

People who didn't bother to study purchased the answers but if they always had low grades they would forever have low grades.

> If so, this is some real unethical and criminal behavior.

The only thing that really bothered me was this: Modifying the log files left a log entry with a terminal number in the log. I provided the teaches with a fair clue by changing the test answers and indeed eventually they smelled a rat. The cat and mouse game couldn't go on forever, eventually they would figure it out. I picked a scapegoat, a girl who couldn't hurt a fly. It couldn't have happened to a nicer person.

The teachers ganged up around her pointed and shouted then suspended her for a week.

I thought they acted ridiculous so I erased everything from the server and arranged for backups to be formatted when attached.

A few years later I ran into her and apologized but she didn't recall the event.

The teachers were very happy to return to paper based tests.

> unethical and criminal behavior

Ah yes, was I ever that young? We got computers in school and all we were allowed to do was tests. I assure you I've learned quite a lot. For example: Backups should have write protect implemented in hardware. Who in their right mind....

Yeah. Tests are broken :-)

Oral examination is way superior but you need a healthy “students to prof” ratio for that

My discrete mathematics course had an oral exam for the final exam. I took it as a summer course and the books didn’t arrive until 1/3 into the class’s.

I felt like I was BSing my entire oral exam but got an A.

I was never the same after that course. 10 hours a day of logical homework fundamentally changed how I thought.

To this day I still cringe when people use phrases like everyone or all without actually meaning the set of everyone in existence.

Many of my CS classes posted pdfs of a bunch of previous exams on the course resource site to study from.

I did the same, shared with my fellows, got denounced, got a written warning by the university and the faculty hated me afterwards for "hacking".

Gods I miss the halcyon days of pulling the entire file directory down and rooting around for interesting stuff like that.

> slightly changing constants

As a maths lecturer once said: some of the problems will be similar with some of the numbers changed. Pi, however, will remain the same. ;)

My digital logic professor was so lazy he reused previous year homework questions on exams and exams were completely open notes. The old questions were available with answers on old versions of the course website that were still online. Everyone just brought the answers to each exam.

He may not have been lazy; he may not believe in the system.

He was probably still believing in the salary he was drawing from the system.

Exams are for you to evaluate your progress, a professor doesn't give a flying duck about your grades, maybe only in the statical sense. You are only lying to yourself.

Your GPA may be what gets your foot in the door, but your knowledge and your ability will determine the long arc of your career.

In a similar vein, I also found a 1950's guide to a happy marriage that had been thoroughly annotated by the husband. He was so honest that it was like finding someone's therapy session notes at a thrift store. The inside cover had a pro-con table, with 'appearance' as the first entry in the con section. Inside the back cover was a game-plan that seemed to indicate that he wanted to strengthen his marriage, so I guess that's nice. I just hope that his wife didn't crack it open before it ended up in the donate pile.

Would love to find that book as I'm sure his annotations help set expectations.

It's nice when you find someone trying to improve there love life when the honeymoon phase is over and the somewhat crushing reality of her/him shortcomings come to the surface.

Not a book, but I just picked up a index card metal box from the Goodwill. Somewhere around 50 index cards, diligently updated with new addresses, half on type half by hand. This guy was in correspondence, or at least subscribed to a half dozen oddball societies, religious groups and more boring local plumbing companies etc. It's a fascinating bit, I think for my next RR&R Challenge, I might try to find out who this guy was. Would make at least for a fun tale cold calling and saying "Hey, can you tell me what the current address you have on file for account #217 is?" . Most recent update looks to be around the year 2000.

Your professor was the Half-Blood Prince.

Yes! This is exactly what this story reminded me of.

I took an intro econ course in college in 1999. The professor gave us his past tests to use as practice and some of them dated back to the late 1950's.

A joke I heard around 1988:

A young man went back to visit his old economics professor, under whom he had studied many years earlier. He took a look at the final exam the professor was preparing to give the students. He said, "Professor, this exam is identical to the one you gave us year ago!"

The professor replied, "That's okay, all the answers have changed."

I took an OS course in 2005. The professor told us we wouldn't have to consider certain classes of scheduler because "none of the real computers the university bought had 'dynamic resource allocation'". I asked what he meant by that, and he said "requests for additional (or free'ing) memory, file handles, and other non-compute resources". I asked which machines had such features, and he replied with something weird like "UNIVAXEN". It was a ridiculous course.


The term is "dynamic storage allocation." We're talking about something so old I'm afraid I can't explain beyond that. I am a mere programmer and I don't wear a lab coat.

sounds like a weird portmanteau of unix and vaxen, a term I have heard used for the old dec vax machines, which did indeed run unix. so, not entirely gibberish, just mostly gibberish.

I took a German literature course in the 90s, the professor used the same quizzes and tests since the early 60s.

A buddy of mine had a copy and I took the class for an easy A. The only gotcha is that you had to be physically present and give him advance notice of you were to be out.

This is bringing back bad memories of my Electromagnetic Fields class...

“None shall pass!”

My EM theory second year was quite tricky


We had the “test of knowledge”, which if you didn’t pass (multiple attempts), you didn’t pass the course.

It was 60 questions in 180 seconds. No hard calculations, just stuff you were an embarrassment to the prof if you passed EM and didn’t know.

He gave it right before break (3 hour class). I got a 96 first attempt. Next highest grade was a 30. He said I could leave as the remainder of class was to go over the test. I literally strutted out and said I was going to have a cold beer. Good times.

Was there supply-demand curve pushing in the 1950s?

The classic supply-demand curve picture dates from 1890, so that would be a firm yes.

This is like the Harry Potter book where Harry gets Voldemorts old potions notebook. It made him a star pupil too.

Do you have a scar on your eyebrow?

That's the sixth book, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince". But if I recall correctly, the original owner of the book, the Half-Blood Prince, was none other than Snape, not Voldemort.

God I thought that was such a weird book. It attempts to build loads of tension around the idea that an old textbook has gasp prewritten notes in it. I know that it tries to imply it might be Voldemort's textbook but even if it was... would that be a huge deal unless it had something useful/interesting specifically about Voldemort? For me at least that part of it fell spectacularly flat

Actually Harry dismisses the idea about it being Voldemort very early in the book because Voldemort would never call himself half-blood.

Yeah that is true, and I do kind of remember that. Admittedly it has been a while and I have a (possibly incorrect) memory that it took annoyingly long for him to do that. My memory is also that despite dismissing it as Voldemort this text book was still treated as super ominous even after

Did you read the second book? Voldemort's diary plays a huge part in that one, so it's not surprising that the characters would find Voldemort's text book interesting or ominous (possible horcrux too).

I did read the second book but the problem is that from a story perspective another old book being a horcrux would be... kinda lame IMO

All the HP books were like that.

In most cases, somebody just doing the obvious thing at the beginning of the book would have left nothing to write about in the rest. So, they just didn't do that thing.

I stand corrected. Thanks.

> ... found that the entire book was annotated with all of his answers, anecdotes, and various other helpful notes.

Didn't that defeat the purpose of the critical thinking course?

"You dare use my own spells against me, Potter."

I hope you didn't cast any random spells scrawled in your Advanced Potion-Making book. Sectumsempra is a nono, I hear.

Recently I read HPMOR and this paragraph was one of many delights there:

The cold in the room seemed to deepen. “A sixth-year Gryffindor cast a curse at one of my more promising students, a sixth-year Slytherin.”

Harry swallowed. “What...sort of curse?”

And the fury on Professor Quirrell’s face was no longer contained. “Why bother to ask an unimportant question like that, Mr Potter? Our friend the sixth-year Gryffindor did not think it was important!”

“Are you serious?” Harry said before he could stop himself.

“No, I’m in a terrible mood today for no particular reason. Yes I’m serious, you fool! He didn’t know. He actually didn’t know. I didn’t believe it until the Aurors confirmed it under Veritaserum. He is in his sixth year at Hogwarts and he cast a high-level Dark curse without knowing what it did.”

“You don’t mean,” Harry said, “that he was mistaken about what it did, that he somehow read the wrong spell description—”

“All he knew was that it was meant to be directed at an enemy. He knew that was all he knew.”

And that had been enough to cast the spell. “I do not understand how anything with that small a brain could walk upright.”

“Indeed, Mr Potter,” said Professor Quirrell.

There was a pause. Professor Quirrell leaned forward and picked up the silver inkwell from his desk, turning it around in his hands, staring at it as though wondering how he could go about torturing an inkwell to death.

“Was the sixth-year Slytherin seriously hurt?” said Harry.


“Was the sixth-year Gryffindor raised by Muggles?”


“Is Dumbledore refusing to expel him because the poor boy didn’t know?”

Professor Quirrell’s hands whitened on the inkwell. “Do you have a point, Mr Potter, or are you just stating the obvious?”

“Professor Quirrell,” said Harry gravely, “all the Muggle-raised students in Hogwarts need a safety lecture in which they are told the things so ridiculously obvious that no wizardborn would ever think to mention them. Don’t cast curses if you don’t know what they do, if you discover something dangerous don’t tell the world about it, don’t brew high-level potions without supervision in a bathroom, the reason why there are underage magic laws, all the basics.”

Do you recommend HMOR? I’ve never heard of it, but the Wikipedia page sounded interesting

It's very funny. Every chapter has something. From Chapter 48 (about two pages long):

And when Harry had offered that hypothesis, Draco had claimed that he could remember a story - Harry hoped to Cthulhu that this one story was just a fairy tale, it had that ring to it, but there was a story - about Salazar Slytherin sending a brave young viper on a mission to gather information from other snakes.

If any snake a Parselmouth had talked to, could make other snakes self-aware by talking to them, then...


Harry didn't even know why his mind was going all "then... then..." when he knew perfectly well how the exponential progression would work, it was just the sheer moral horror of it that was blowing his mind.

And what if someone had invented a spell like that to talk to cows?

What if there were Poultrymouths?

I thought it was quite good. If you basically like Harry Potter but find it infuriating how often the protagonists problems could have been solved in five minutes if they would have just told the adults... then HPMOR might interest you. Now, it's a didactic book, it's rather long, and you may or may not agree with the author's worldview, so whether you'll really enjoy it I can't say. But it's very well-written and in some ways tells a more "believable" Harry Potter story than the originals.

I feel like basically the only way in which the original Harry Potter story is more believable is that in the original story, almost everyone is impressively thoughtless

Well, in HPMOR, Harry discovers at the end he would have solved a quite major problem very early on if he had bothered to inform Dumbledore of some extremely important facts regarding Professor Quirrel.

Absolutely. It's probably the best book i've ever read.

Describing it as a Harry Potter fanfic is technically accurate but really doesn't do it justice. It's basically a story of what would happen if an extremely smart, educated and technically minded person would do if put into the role of Harry Potter.

Completely agree with other commenter. It's a very interesting read. I don't necessarily agree with every statement but it's a learning experience that is made exceptionally enjoyable by fantastic writing.

Definitely. I might not always agree with the author, but reading it is like having an intelligent and funny conversation.

It's ok for fanfiction, but very poor compared to literature.

Just don’t actually think about it too deeply or the entire premise falls apart. The world is 100% operating on the rule of cool, and that's ok.

no it's terrible, see: https://danluu.com/su3su2u1/hpmor/

Hmm. I disagree with several things in that review, but I think this is su3su2u1’s biggest mistake:

> The author is practically screaming “wouldn’t it be lazy that Harry’s darkside is because he is a horcrux?”

This is completely backwards. Eliezer goes to great lengths to put big clues all over the place that Harry is not a normal 11–year old, with the intent that the reader will _notice_ that something is wrong and try to figure out what it could be. Yes, “Harry is a Horcrux” might feel like an anticlimax, or even a cliche, because that’s how the original books went. But you’re supposed to look even deeper and realize what a horcrux really is. In order to work, a Horcrux has to preserve a copy of the caster’s memories, personality, intentions, etc. What really happened that night in Godric’s Hollow is that Voldemort copied his own memories and personality into the brain of an infant named Harry Potter.

I think it is fair to say that Eliezer is treating this as much like a Fair–Play Mystery as he can, so that it is possible for the user to make correct predictions about the end of the story. Not everyone likes this type of story, but for those who do the game of putting the book down at a certain point so that you can puzzle out the murderer’s identity is a big part of the draw. The “rules” of the Fair–Play Mystery are there to ensure that the author remembers to actually make all the clues available to the reader, that it isn’t always just the butler, etc.

To that end, he has several important scenes that examine the consequences of erasing memories, or adding new ones. The most blatant is when Harry is training with Mr Bester, who has all memory of the training erased after each session. As a result, Mr Bester ends up asking the same questions over and over, and being surprised and troubled by the same revelations each time he reads Harry’s mind. And then of course there is Rita Skeeter, and later Hermione, to hammer the lesson home.

Worst "book" I've ever read, legitimately. I would read almost anything else over that. I've never read the review and I only read 5-6 chapters of the fanfic, but everything in that review rings true. The story was so hollow and lifeless that I couldn't bring myself to read further.

> Worst "book" I've ever read, legitimately.


> I only read 5-6 chapters

So you didn't read it.

As others have mentioned, the first couple of chapters are definitely not the best. But yeah, the book isn't for everyone.

Actually, I agree with lots of the stuff said by the reviewer, but most of them are not such dealbreakers for me as they are for him. At least I read the book as having fun with all the gaps in the wizard world and the personal fantasies of the author are on the back burner.

The reviewer is seemingly an extremely bright and well educated person and also seems to be more familiar with most of the concepts introduced in the books than the original author. The reviewer also an educator and it makes sense that Eliezer's ham-fisted attempts to teach through writing would be annoying to him.

The critique goes deeper. This is where it's most on point:

"So I wonder- is this story ACTUALLY teaching people things? Or is it just a way for people who already know some of the material to feel superior to Hariezer’s many foils?"

Actually that's exactly what rubs me wrong about the entire "rationalist community". A lot of it is convoluted ways for people to congratulate themselves how much smarter than everyone else they are.

Thanks for linking this - I've read HPMOR half a dozen times (because it's entertaining, not because it's a great work of art) and this is a really good and entertaining discussion of it

I liked reading HPMOR and I am enjoying this "rebuttal" as well.

Especially the first few chapters, because there were more attempts at science explanation in HPMOR's initial chapters.

It starts terrible (I have read extracts of the first chapters to others and they don't fail to get laughs that the author did not intend) but you get used to its and the writer improves making it a very nice read by the end.

Overall, I would recommend to not give up in the first chapters.

I wholeheartedly recommend it

It is good, but loooong. I would suggest the audio-book for a painless experience.

That's basically the plot of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince!

Reminds me of a geology professor I had in college. She had a fully photographic memory and recited the entire book, word for word, front to back during class without anything at her lectern. As impressive as that was, it's also what made me skip her class except for tests, because what's the point?

Yeah, once I figured out a professor was teaching straight out of the textbook I’d just skip class and read the book before the tests. Was always the general ed classes nobody cared about, including the instructor, so no harm done.

You lived the Half Blood Prince!

That element of the Half-Blood Prince was taken from real life. Used textbooks have been preferred by students for precisely for this reason (well, cost too, but this is a well-known benefit) in colleges since... well, probably since textbooks have existed.

Halfway through my college experience (around 2002 or so), the university started putting up blinders in the bookstore while they stocked shelves and wouldn't let you buy your books until basically the first day of class, specifically in an attempt to stymie students finding their books, looking them up, and buying them at 1/10th the price online.

I mean, it wasn't my first experience with the university prioritizing profit over helping students, but it was definitely emblematic.

Most of us figured out that we could get along fine not having the textbook in the first couple of weeks of class. But ultimately, the university was out to actively sabotage the used textbook market. The only source of used books was online. So I never got to experience this community of used book students.

They go through some pretty extreme lengths to get you to waste money on buying books from them. The English classes my university published a new "reader textbook" ever quarter. It was just a crappy bounded letter paper book with section from various novels that they change up every quarter so you couldn't use an old one. The on campus copy center and nearby kinkos/staples/officemax/officedepot wouldn't photocopy it but a half hour drive out would reach stores that didn't care. A photocopy costed about 1/5 of the price the university was selling it at.

Years ago at the university, we had to buy straightup photocopies of articles and such out of books/magazines/whatever that the class would be taught off of at the campus bookstore at prices much higher than per-page copy.

Something about paying the source for licensing and distribution was the reason given.

On the other hand, my physics prof in relativity made us buy photocopies of his lecture notes, since he didn't like any of the available textbooks. (Don't sneer - I'm pretty sure he was better than any of them.) His notes cost, IIRC, $4 for 90-100 pages. This was 1983, but still, four cents a page is pretty good.

I had this one class on Picasso where the professor absolutely refused to use the only real book on the subject because the author didn’t properly give him credit from his thesis research so he handed out a folder of articles we passed around to make copies of. No licensing and distribution fees involved.

Some book publishers also release new versions that change nothing other than make slight changes and reorderings of the exercises so that you can't easily use an old version for your homework assignments.

I remember we had a forum group where 1 person each assignment would go to library to find out which question matched the one in the old book so his or her fellow peers all went out and bought the old one

What happened if you ordered the books only after the first day of class?

At my school the savvy students wouldn't buy their books until after the first session of a course anyway, since the professors would often, in that first meeting, explain that some books listed in the syllabus as required were actually optional, or that they'd support some set of older editions of a book than the syllabus listed ("it lists the 5th edition, but it's OK if you get the 4th, and if all you can get ahold of is the 3rd, see me after class and we'll get something sorted out—but nothing older than that").

That's what we did. We waited for the bookstore to open the aisles, found the books, ordered them online, and waited a few weeks to get them. This was before Amazon Prime shipping, you see. The professors were usually sympathetic.

Except my political science prof. So I just dropped the course. Fuck him and his unironic bowtie.

In my experience they run out of books

All the students in a course I was teaching apparently were using Chegg for the previous year’s textbook so I decided to use as a supplement (to Strang [which was not the previous year’s book but had all the answers online anyway]) an old Mir publishers book on Diff Eq which I can’t remember exactly how I got (either a bookstore in the French quarter or maybe a library remainder sale).

At any rate it turns out the English printing is so rare not only can it not be found on Libgen - the few copies online are selling for hundreds of dollars (which I certainly would not have paid for it). So not only did I luck into a paper fortune (I suspect this is a rather illiquid market - plus I had to go through and fix a bunch of typos by hand, so much for the Soviet STEM educational complex) the kids _definitely_ couldn’t find this on the Internet.

Did you put it on libgen?

I may soon - there is a book scanner in the med school library and I doubt very much they care about a Soviet copyrighted book (if USSR even asserted such a thing abroad or Russia does now for them).

Russia increasingly does not care about copyright of foreign stuff, so there's that symmetry going too.

This thread is bringing back so many bad memories.

>Used textbooks have been preferred by students for precisely for this reason

Same as good class hand notes from students, that get (or used to get) photocopied and handed down through the years to new students...

Yeah, I actually bought the textbook in '03, a few years before Half-Blood Prince was published. The whole experience did ruin the twist a bit as I saw it coming a mile away.

Well of course, but the element of the book being annotated by the professor himself is quite interesting and most similar to HBP.

I don't think the parent is saying that the professor annotated the book, as that probably doesn't make any sense.

As I interpreted their story, the professor had a habit of asking questions and then answering them himself, if nobody offered an answer. Students wrote down those answers in the margins of the book.

Over time, the book collected a lot of these notes from different students.

Oh thanks! I totally misunderstood too.

This can make a nice movie plot.


This is really awesome. It's literally a real-life version of what happens in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. :)

From the wiki page: `Harry finds an old potions textbook, once belonging to "The Half-Blood Prince", an individual who wrote numerous spells and tips in the book. Harry, using the tips in the book, excels in Potions class, winning a bottle of Felix Felicis, or "Liquid Luck".`

  > I really wanted to keep it for posterity
Actually, by reselling the book back to the bookstore, you did literally ensure it's utility for posterity.

Seems like the story of half blood prince right there.

Hahaha sounds like the “half-blooded” Prince’s book!

Talk about critical thinking...

In my middle school German textbook, I found the following note (translation my own):

Hi Katie, we should meet up over tea over these images. The first image should be a simple sketch of two dudes playing football, tell the guys in graphics that the one they gave me is waaa too complex. The second image should be a chick playing tennis.

The note went on in this manner for a couple more sentences, describing all the images on the page. Because I was a blind student who used a screen reader, I had to get the PDF version from the publishing company, which I then put in a specialized ebook reading app for the blind. I strongly suspect that the editors of that book used some PDF tricks for hiding information to post notes to each other. Whether they were alt descriptions, white fonts on white background, regions shrunk to be 1px tall by 1px wide or something else entirely, I do not know. That file was intended for printing, not digital distribution, so I guess that they decided the notes didn't need removing as long as they weren't visible.

Having a thorough description of the page's images seems like an nice unexpected benefit for accessibility.

Do you use any tools to interpret images in other content?

Modern versions of Chrome and Edge have features that try to guess what an image contains using AI techniques. Same with iOs and Mac OS. Modern iPhones even try to recognize controls on the screen, but my phone is too old for that to work. These solutions are still in their infancy, though, and therefore far from perfect. They might help us jump through a small accessibility hurdle once in a while, but without serious accessibility work from developers, we're doomed anyway.

I'll one-up this a bit: a blind woman called Kristy Viers demonstrates on YouTube how she uses various things, among them iPhone with the onscreen six-finger Braille keyboard. But also she uses the ‘magnifier’ app to tell her what is there around her, i.e. what the camera sees: https://youtube.com/watch?v=8CAafjodkyE

(The videos are filmed by her boyfriend, in case someone has to wonder.)

I realize that the vid is not too informative to a blind person, other than a vague demo. IDK where to find more info on the setup, since I'm not a user of iPhones myself. Comments on YouTube say that the magnifier app is in the accessibility options, that it adds a home screen app when enabled, and that it works at least on iPhone 10 since that's what Kristy uses.

I would also guess that such usage requires persistent mobile connection and consumes considerable traffic and battery—but again, with modern tech magic I won't bet against it working locally on the phone.

On Android, the feature called ‘Lens’ in the Google's camera app can describe some things, more useful to seeing people IMO: e.g. the model of a car—basically the same as Google's image search does, these days. Also purportedly can read and translate text signs. But IDK how far that goes, never heard of it doing stuff like those descriptions by the iPhone magnifier.

I checked the magnifier app on my iPhone 6s and couldn’t find anything related to narrating what it sees.

It’s very possible that recognition happens locally, Apple has been making efforts in this direction for other functions (photos) but maybe the 6s is just too old and can’t do it.

As far as I understand, the narration is handled by the ‘voiceover’ feature, which is a generic accessibility feature, precisely the one that reads screen contents and controls. In the demo, Kristy taps the screen each time to invoke the voiceover description.

In fact, I'm not sure that the magnifier is necessary at all for the descriptions: this page says that Voiceover simply does that in the camera app: https://support.apple.com/en-gb/guide/iphone/iph37e6b3844/io...

And this page says that ‘image descriptions’ in Voiceover options should be turned on for that: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT211899

It seems that Voiceover is available since iOS 12: https://support.apple.com/en-gb/guide/iphone/iph3e2e415f/12....

iPhone 6S shipped with iOS 9 but is upgradable to the current 15.6. Though features may indeed depend on the particular phone, i.e. the hardware.

Also, apparently Voiceover changes the way the phone should be controlled, to its own set of gestures—so it's not a feature to use just with the camera. However, it sounds to me like blind users would find it helpful anyway.

That is a beautiful poetic extra dimension of the book that only could could receive.

> He looked around at the faces in the crowd and said, “I’m opening the bidding at one dollar.” I about shit myself. I bid the $1 immediately to get things rolling. Well, after I bid, he looked around and said, “Once, twice, sold that man there for $1.” I just laughed… and wondered how the Hell I was going to get this pallet home and what I was going to do with all those books.

> When I asked the auctioneer afterwards why he’d let it go so cheaply, he said, “Did you see anyone trampling you to get in a bid?” I said no, I didn’t. His reply, with a smirk on his face, was, “Gotta’ know your audience in this job.”

> Well, needless to say, I got the books home and spent a few years going through them and selling some, giving some away, etc. However, that’s not the point of this story. The point was finding things in books. So, with that in mind…

Dude goes to an auction and finds books. Nobody bids on the books. Dude is amazed that the auctioneer is willing to sell him something nobody wants for a low price. Dude spends years going through those books.

I'm happy for this guy.

The books were worth tens of thousands of dollars (sold individually on the second-hand book market, after being carefully catalogued etc.), but nobody interested in buying books happened to be at the auction and the auctioneer set a $1 minimum bid because he didn’t know anything about books and was more interested in disposing of the books than making money from the sale. The auction house could surely get significantly more for their books if they knew the right venue to sell them (somewhere frequented by used booksellers), but I guess it wasn’t worth their trouble to figure out where that might be.

This is sort of like the time I went to a car auction as a kid and some college students bought a lightly used stretch limo in perfect working order for (the minimum bid of) $100.

In the late 90s in Atlanta I got my first ever Mac computer (Performa iirc??) at an estate sale for free because it was "broken". The way we established that it was broken was because the power switch on the back of it did not do anything. I got home, did some light digging on the internet and determined that the power switch on the back is the main power, and that actually turning on the computer involved pushing one of the keys on the keyboard.

Booted up just fine.

I miss estate sales.

Why did you stop going to estate sales?

> he didn’t know anything about books and was more interested in disposing of the books than making money from the sale.

This reminds me of one of the strangest things I ever read in the books:

My Arabic Library

About eighteen months before I arrived in Iraq, one of my predecessors had ordered My Arabic Library, $88,000 worth of books, an entire shipping container. My Arabic Library was a Bush-era, US government–wide project to translate classic American books, so we now have Tom Sawyer, The House of the Seven Gables, and Of Mice and Men in Arabic. The Embassy had big plans for the books, claiming, “It is so important that the children of Baghdad, the next generation of leaders of Iraq, obtain basic literacy skills. A love of learning and literacy will mean better job opportunities for them when they grow up. They will be able to better support their families and help build a more prosperous Iraq.”

Everyone forgot about the books until we learned that a truck was bringing them in from Jordan. After our prayers that the driver would abandon the truck en route failed, my team was stuck with the problem of what to do with a container of books that no one wanted. Apparently, there was little interest among Iraqi schools in reading The Crucible or Moby-Dick, as the books didn’t fit into their centralized curriculum. I was charged with getting rid of them, to anywhere; the lucky winner needed only a truck. We cajoled a nearby school to take the whole mess from us as a personal favor. Their only condition was that they would not have to do the loading themselves, so that is how a couple of us ended up humping books into a flatbed truck while a high school principal and a local truck driver sat in the shade smoking, watching us. We heard later from a third party that, failing to sell the books on the black market, the principal just dumped them behind the school.

Peter Van Buren, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People

This was very strange to me cause I used to think of American government as very efficient, and with experience of solving exactly the same problem many times already - Germany, Japan, Korea. And the thought that somebody could just waste my yearly taxes on nothing - was very strange and disturbing.

> “It is so important that the children of Baghdad, the next generation of leaders of Iraq, obtain basic literacy skills. A love of learning and literacy will mean better job opportunities for them when they grow up. They will be able to better support their families and help build a more prosperous Iraq.”

Baghdad, before the invasion, was known for the high percentage of readers compared to other cities in the Middle East. We -Arabs- had a saying: "Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, and Baghdad reads." I doubt the above quote being the true goal of "My Arabic Library" project. I guess it was an attempt to change the culture of people by exposing them to American literature, which would help eventually the political cause of US government in Iraq.

I can’t speak for the mind of the State Department, obviously - but I guess the main purpose of the project was to advance its author’s career. Van Buren’s book is full of such projects, whose main goals were to look good on American television - just once is good. Total lack of a strategic vision.

But if there was a strategic vision in some unseen echelons of American decision making - its goal does not look like to make Iraq successful.

> And the thought that somebody could just waste my yearly taxes on nothing - was very strange and disturbing.

I've been told the US military is a veritable cornucopia of waste.

To be fair, Van Buren (and My Arabic Library project) was not in the military. He was in the State Department.

The idea of sending books that are deeply close to American history seems like an obviously terrible idea. Yeah no shit that wasn't going to resonate with an Iraqi child. A lot of these books are culturally foreign to American kids.

Great books are often cross-cultural. We Russian kids enjoyed Tom Sawyer very much. “It”s not every day that a boy gets a chance to paint a fence”… There was (and is) a lot of buzz in Russian culture about Moby Dick though I personally failed to enjoy it. Never heard of Of Mice and Men though - probably because our communists were rather puritanic.

I think problem was that planting a book-reading habits require a lot more work than providing books.

Good double feature with the Shiv Ramdas rice truck story: https://twitter.com/nameshiv/status/1301521850552315904

Like most used things these days, book buying/selling/collecting was way easier 20 years ago, before smart phones.

Nowadays half of the market is flippers and scalpers, prices have shot up, and nobody is getting a pallet of good books for a dollar anymore.

I'm not sure I agree with this. The prices that things sold at might have been cheaper 20 years ago, but the advent of the web with used-goods marketplaces has allowed people to access things that were previously not available or hard to find.

I can go onto ebay and order things from the US that were never available locally in my home country. The same with Yahoo! Auctions for items sold only to the Japanese market. And not only can I access things that I couldn't before, but I can easily search for things. Want a copy of an obscure record? No need to search dozens of local stores - Discogs will probably have a few copies for sale. Need a book to complete a collection? Try a quick search on Amazon or Abebooks.

While the prices that things sell for may be higher, I find that it is considerably easier to collect things now than it would have been before the web.

I mostly agree, but there are exceptions. For my birthday a couple years ago my son showed up with a couple cardboard boxes full of books. Turned out to be a complete set of "Great Books of the Western World," worth well over $1,000. He had picked it up for about $30 at an estate sale a couple days before.

Lol. No.

I bought a bunch of architecture books a few years ago at an estate sale for $5. Flipped through them and my son looked them up on eBay - we sold the collection for several thousand dollars.

I found bookfinder.com a very helpful tool for acquiring used books at the best price.

I also love the 1999 UI, and it’s super snappy.

> The books were worth tens of thousands of dollars

The article does not say that or anything remotely similar.


> ... I looked through some of the books in the top boxes and realized that there were some very old, and often valuable, books in this boxes.

You're right that this isn't saying that the books were definitely worth a lot of money, so it really say something remotely similar.

That's a far stretch to "tens of thousands of dollars." A valuable second-hand book can be $50.

The article is about a guy who finds a friend inside of his pallet of books and you're all arguing about the theoretical value of the books.

Never change, HN.

Pointless arguments happen all over the Internet. Have since the beginning. It's a human thing, not an HN thing

I quite recently bought a used book for something like $100. Certain books can be expensive, it was not a popular or particularly good book, but the writer was a character and I guess therefore his written books are valuable niche items... Also no more will be printed, so there is limited supply. Similar for some old music sheets or records.

However these are definitely not liquid, if you are going to sell them you maybe have to store them for a long time.

...and there are good condition, first-edition old books that sell for thousands. How does that relate to this thread?

Idk with the amount of books referenced and the definitive fact the some of them were resold at least indicates a good chance of making thousands of dollars, otherwise It’s logical to assume if the effort has not been worth it the author would have commented as such.

A lot of older books that are now out of print often run many hundreds of dollars, if not more. For example, I've been trying to find a complete unabridged edition of Fraser's Golden Bough, which isn't that niche - you'll find it cited somewhere in any work on mythology- and it seems to run in the high-hundreds to low thousands. A quick look shows a first edition selling for 12k all by itself.

Similarly, I'm looking for the complete Collected Works of Carl Jung, and that's got a hefty price too. Maybe one day. :)

I'm sure both of these examples are sitting in some old man's study and are getting sold for nothing at estate sales, if they aren't just thrown in a dumpster or pulped after being donated to a library that can't get rid of them either. But nobody is indexing estate sales.

But a pallet of old academic books is unlikely to be composed of such books. It is probable that most of the books are worth less than the cost of shipping, and some of the books will have some value but not tremendous value. It is astonishing the number of wonderful, high quality books that can be bought on Abebooks for $1.

Did you look at the picture? https://i.imgur.com/0qiTKSQ.jpg Books I commonly buy secondhand that look roughly like those pictured are anywhere from $10–$200 each (depending on how common the particular book/edition is); we’re talking about pretty ordinary old academic books, nothing fancy or extremely rare. A pallet of books is ~500–1000 books (there are maybe 400 in the picture, but the blog author claims that is a "sampling").

That's selection bias because you are only looking at books that you actually wanted. An average book is worth much less than a book that someone actually wants.

An average (~worthless) book is something like a pulp romance novel, political book by a sitting politician, self-help guide, .... These are printed in the millions and used copies can typically be found for $1–$5 + shipping costs. That’s not the same kind of books primarily shown/described here.

Any scholarly person who loves old hardback books and spends a few decades collecting ones they personally want or need is going to end up with some worthless books, a large number that sell for $10–50 each, and a few that are worth hundreds each. It’s just inevitable, unless they go out of their way to only collect junk.

If I had to guess I’d put the price of the old man’s collection in the $10k–$30k range. But it’s plausible it could be more, if he collected anything rare.

> Collected Works of Carl Jung

Out of curiosity, why this specific publication? Can’t you get everything in that collection from other publications (perhaps not in one volume)?

I had a first edition "Understand? Good. Play!" (A book of translations of quotes from Hatsumi Masaaki, GM of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu...

At one point it was hard to get and were selling for $700 - they are now $50.

Had a friend find a bunch of $100 bills in a used book in Salvation Army in SF...

I have a book printed less than 5 years ago that routinely sells for $800 online now. The niche religious press that published it simply cannot keep all of the authors work in print and his more academic work gets printed maybe once a decade in a run of 1000.

It's true, if none of the books were rare, it might have only been thousands of dollars.

It easily could have been worth tens of dollars. Random books donated to Salvation Army aren't likely to be ones that people actually want.

Books by the Foot will sell you books for about $0.20 per book https://booksbythefoot.com/product/shelf-filler-bulk/

The article said, "there were some very old, and often valuable, books in this boxes," which is somewhat difficult to interpret but seems to be saying that many of the books were valuable in the sense of fetching a high price, unlike those sold on the rather offensive page you link.

Good auctioneers make sure that there is a buyer for specific things like that. I'm surprised that there wasn't a used book buyer in the crowd. Though maybe his guy didn't show up.

It's a Salvation Army auction. I imagine the main purpose is to dump stuff that they haven't found any other use for. They get all this stuff for free, any money they happen to make from an auction is just a nice bonus.

Exactly this - and 99% of the time a “pallet of books from Salvation Army/Goodwill” will be entirely romance novels and cookbooks and not worth the pulp.

Good auctioneers make sure there are at least two buyers for specific things like that.

That depends. For things they expect to go be worth a lot they want two buyers. However for things like scrap metal they just want one buyer - they know that buyer will get a great deal, but the value in scrap isn't high enough to support two and so getting a second buyer means both will disappear soon.

Good auctioneers know what goes to each category.

Your summary is kinda accurate, but I can't help but feel that you've missed the point completely.

It's not the point, it's just the part of it I enjoyed

Dude found friend.

You’d love the “Time Enough at Last” episode of The Twilight Zone if you’ve never seen it. Maybe don’t Google it, though!

I feel stupid for just now realizing there's a link and OP is not just asking HN.

In the late 1990s, after watching the movie WarGames (1983), I saw a scene where Matthew Broderick's character is researching the computer scientist Stephen Falken to try to guess his password. There was a brief glimpse of a Scientific American magazine cover[1] titled "Falken's maze: Teaching a machine to learn". That sounded fascinating and I went to the university library to find that issue of Scientific American in bound periodicals. As you have likely already guessed, it turned out that the cover had been faked for the movie and that the actual cover was something completely different. But someone had handwritten on the cover page: "I bet you were looking for Falken's maze!"

[1] https://www.mscroggs.co.uk/blog/tags/books (halfway down has a photo of the Scientific American issue)

Watching the film The Last Emperor I noted the scene in which a TIME photographer was present for the Emperor's coronation (as a Japanese puppet). The thought occurred that this quite probably was an actual occurrence, and that there should be an article corresponding to the story. My uni library had a collection of back issues, and sure enough, I found the article and read it ... an interesting corroboration, counterpoint, and expansion to what was shown in the film (remarkably true to life as best as I could tell).

I realize it is not the same as finding a friend, but I recently found five crisp $20 bills in a used logic text book at an Amvets thrift store. I opened the book because it was written by Irving Copi, who wrote my undergrad logic text. I was paranoid it was counterfeit, but it was very much real money. To make things better, the first $20 I spent was to get a pizza and the employee said a mistake happened at the pizzeria and they accidentally made too many pies and gave me an extra large pie for free. I was on a roll.

I was with my girlfriend at a restaurant whose decor was filled with a bunch of old furniture and knickknacks. Next to our table was a stack of books. My girlfriend opened the top one and inside the cover was a bunch of money - maybe $200 in twenties?

Over dinner we talked about what to do about this, and ultimately she added $20 more to the stash and left it in the book.

That restaurant is now gone.

taking 'leave a place nicer than you found it' to a whole new level

Congratulations, she's a keeper !

I did not expect that.

I want this story to continue, and for each of the five twenties that you spend, some increasingly elaborate and unlikely good thing happens.

I went through a couple years where I was finding cash kind of a lot. Not life changing amounts, but something.

At work in the secure area when locking up I found a 10 inside the door. I didn't know what to do with it so I tacked it on the bulletin board by the door. Really obvious. Nobody took it for 2 weeks (which is kind of remarkable), so I took it back to buy lunch.

I found a twenty in the snow on the street in cambridge. But it was new snow and easy to follow the tracks. It led to the security guard at the University. He was really thankfully to have it back.

Later that spring I found a crumpled $50 blowing down the street. It was near the faculty club. "Tumble Money" my partner said. Also 50s aren't really common. I kept 30 and donated 20 to charity.

But lamentably my good fortune in the finding of cash has come to an end. Perhaps the rise of the credit card changed my fortunes.

> At work in the secure area when locking up I found a 10 inside the door. I didn't know what to do with it so I tacked it on the bulletin board by the door. Really obvious. Nobody took it for 2 weeks (which is kind of remarkable), so I took it back to buy lunch.

When I've worked in secure areas, I've never had the slightest concern about theft. We even did an experiment where we left a couple $1 bills out on the table in the coffee area for a week... anybody could have picked them up, especially the security guards and janitors who roamed the building at night with nobody else around, but they just stayed there.

Working in that sort of high-trust environment is really, really nice.

There are some places in Asia where you can go to a coffee shop, let your $1000+ laptop on a table, go for a 30 mins walk, come back and nothing happened neither to your laptop or your bag. I actually do it all the time.

I'm sure I could be gone all day and nothing would happen but after 40 mins some instinct kicks in and I feel the urge to go back check everything's still there.

Where i live you can get your laptop stolen while typing on it if you sit outside :(

( oak cliff in Dallas )

Kind of related, I had some instant noodles that I didn't much care for, so I taped some money to them and left them with a note in a common area anonymously saying that I would pay someone to take them. I had to add more money a few times before someone did. It's amusing to invert the system.

Very nice but what about repeating it with $100? :)

If I still worked in such a place, I'd be willing to try the experiment with $100.

On the other hand I'd speculate that in a workplace, people are more likely to pick up $3 than they are to pick up $100. "It's just a couple bucks, somebody probably just forgot it here"

> I found a twenty in the snow on the street in cambridge.

The most money I've found was in Cambridge (USA), in Harvard Square.

There was an envelope/paper on the ground of a traffic island, and in it was a bunch of cash. I couldn't see anyone around who might've just dropped it, so, on a hunch, I walked into the nearest bank. I waited in line, got to the teller, and said, this is a long shot, but did they happen to know who dropped this money. As I was saying that, someone off to the side spoke up and said it was them. They'd been making the deposit for the nearby small store where they worked. They offered me a big discount in the store.

Other than that, I track found pennies in GnuCash, to have an accurate accounting of my luck and/or sidewalk germ exposure.

This goes back to when my daughter was little, many years pre-covid. Whenever we went to a pizza restaurant that had a mini arcade with games and vending machines, she would check all of the change return trays. And inevitably, she would come back with a quarter or two. Every time. I figured maybe it was luck coming from her Irish ancestry.

I found $20 on my block this morning in New Orleans. It belonged to my neighbor across the street fixing his car. He offered me a beer at 945 in the morning. I guess this city is a high trust environment :D

>But lamentably my good fortune in the finding of cash has come to an end. Perhaps the rise of the credit card changed my fortunes.

I'm a moderator of /r/silverbugs and we see some fun ones sometimes, if you pop over there and search "coinstar" you'll find the occasional post where members check the coin return on coinstar machines (you dump coins into a hopper, it gives you a gift card/credit at the store) and find 90% silver coins as the machines tend to reject them. Sadly all I've ever found is a nasty penny or two and a 1 euro coin which I think I chucked in the trash given I'm in central Indiana.

I remember finding a $20 on the floor in middle school once. Felt like a fortune.

My father once lost quite a large amount of cash that was supposed to be used for an overseas family trip. It was a very awkward situation in our family, because he had the slight suspicion that one of us children could have taken the money. Luckily, about a year later my brother opened a large book on seafaring from my fathers shelf and found an envelope with exactly the missing sum. Only then my father remembered that he had hidden the money there and we could procees with our holiday plannings.

Cash is always interesting. Cash in a logic book too, that seems like clean money!

One time in Japan there was a car sitting in front of my apartment for months, nobody used it, nobody touched it. It seemed abandoned. It definitely looked out of place due to its age as well, though it was in good shape.

Eventually me and the pals got amused, and annoyed, and started to do funny stuff you'd only do if amused and annoyed by an abandoned car. Like, trying the doors on one restless day while you wait for the yakimo hours to arrive.


A bunch of sports gear, cassettes.


Sports gear...uh...sexy times stuff...and uh...a purse.

A peek in the purse. My first time seeing thick bundles of cash, basically $100s! Stacks of 'em!

I watched enough movies to know that loose $100s, found loosely, may be OK to take, or even just to ask somebody about.

But bundles, in a purse, in an abandoned car, in a neighborhood where we had heard some organized crime rumors...nope.

Creepy af though. We wondered if she had run away, disappeared, what.

Trouble is, luck is conserved. That's why you got COVID and a tax audit and three cavities at your next dental exam.

At least that's what I tell myself when someone randomly finds $100 in a book...

Surely it's sufficient that someone else forgot the $100 in the book.

If you avoid luck, then you will lead a very unhappy life ...

That's a brutal exchange rate. Maybe if they found $50,000.

I lent one my cool science fiction books to a good friend, and once I got it back and decided to re-read it myself, found that he was using a $10 canadian as bookmark. It's one of my bookmarks now, although I may use it next time I go to Vancouver. Maybe. It's pleasantly plasticky in that ineffable "Canadien" way.

Just before covid started a friend of mine found a $100 bill in a purse at Goodwill, all of our friends went nuts on Facbeook reporting back on all the random (never money) stuff they were finding in pockets of purses/garments at Goodwill over the next couple of weeks.

> the first $20 I spent was to get a pizza

Story would be even better if you had traded the pizza for 10 bitcoin.

When I was 13, I checked out Steven Levy's "Hackers" from the public library.

Inside I found a handwritten note from a 14 year old boy which said something to the effect of "If you like stuff like this, call me!" So I did! We ended up being friends for a couple years and exchanging C64 software and talking about nerd stuff.

that's a great story. before the internet there were no easy ways to find others who were into computers. as far as i can remember i was the only one in my school who would hang out in the schools computer room after classes. i am pretty sure there were other kids in other schools that were interested in computers, but i had no way of finding them. meeting someone like that would have been great.

We used to place ads in a newspaper to find fellow Commodore/Amiga/Spectrum/Atari users to trade games with. It was not uncommon that my Saturdays involved my parents dropping me off at some random person's house (which might or might not have been my age) and picking me up a few hours later.

This scene was incredibly strong in Norway back in the days, speaking as a then-teenager there.

These days this would not fly... The risk of dropping a kid at some stranger's house all alone with a few floppies or tapes in this day and age could get a parent a stern visit from social services. But it was acceptable in the 80s...

nonsense. as soon as i have an address and a name, they are not a stranger anymore. i know exactly where my kids are, and no social services can tell me who i am allowed to trust and associate with.

I think you missed the jesting tone this was written in, but it's ok, I blame the font selection. It's too serious. ;-)

heh, sorry, a wink or /s would have helped. the problem is that i believe there are people who actually think that way. reality is stranger than fiction.

That it is indeed...

There was a manga comic series called "20th Century Boys" which was a conspiracy thriller mixed with 1970s Japanese nostalgia. One of the story's scenes involved the protagonists rummaging through a library looking for a particular book. When they find the book and open it, a scrap of paper from decades ago falls out, which happens to be the vital clue to move the plot forward.

When you are reading the comic book, right as you come across the scene where the heroes open the book, when you turn to the next page the same scrap of paper seen in that scene falls out of the actual book you're holding. That sent chills down my spine when I first encountered it; pretty genius.

Years ago, I went into this third hand style book shop. It is located in the bottom of a church basement in the Midwest. It is the type of place you can get a grocery bag full of books for $30. Oddly, they also had some full sets of various encyclopedia books for free. I thought it could be an interesting set to have around so I grabbed one. It was a New Illustrated Columbia Encyclopedia 1975.

Months later, I was looking something up for fun. It was not a book I had touched yet, and I found the following letter hand written on a sheet of lined notebook paper. I found it oddly interesting and tried looking the names a few times. I did not get anywhere near the article story, wish I had.

“Being of sound mind and body, declare this to be my last will and testament.

To my mother, I leave nothing.

To my father, I leave Farrah and the wish to be cremated and scattered over aspen, Colorado.

To Rhonda Sollberger, I leave my cat, puffer, my rabbit, Oliver, my model house collection, and my stereo.

To Tony I leave Karen.

To Karen I leave Tony.

To Gail, I leave my teddy bear, and my rainbow sweater (She’ll grow into it soon.)

To Heather Bright, I leave my Canada Dry can, and my tequila bottle.

To Mark Frang, I leave him feeling guilty and gray skico. Also some of my ashes are to be sprinkled in his room, to remind him the sad that I am not here is all his fault.

To Adheimme Boman, I leave all the items in my play house that belong to her. 13235 is the combination.

To Todd Glass, I leave my Muppit poster (It’s just his type!)

To my Grandparents, I leave fond memories.

Signed. Jeanne Gammon Witness. Rhonda Sollberger“

> It is the type of place you can get a grocery bag full of books for $30.

Try a church barn sale sometime. You can get a wheelbarrow of the greats for 20 bucks.

Truly, I have not read yet as a middle aged man all the books I bought as a teenager.

One Rhonda Sollberger is fairly easily found on Facebook via Google (different last name currently). The others are trickier.

Stop that, please. Some things are genuinely better left as is.

Is it just me, or is anyone else upset that mystery just can't exist anymore. Everything has to have a connection. It's just depressing.

Also, this may not be a memory that Rhonda wants dug up.

I don't think the people in the story would be upset at being shown a note from a (presumably long gone) friend?

I bought my brother a book as a gift. A book I love called "powers of 10" which is a series of pictures each taken from an order of magnitude greater distance. It starts with atoms and goes all the way up to the milky way. It's such a good way to understand the relative size of things in our universe.

I bought it used on Amazon. It was an old library book that still had the sleeve and index cards with the date stamps of when it was last checked out.

This particular book, that I bought sight unseen from Amazon, used, for my brother's birthday had only been checked out once in its life at the library. It was last checked out on my brother's exact birthday. The book I randomly bought him had a stamp of his exact birthday, only.

Talk about going from thinking we're so small in the universe to that kind of coincidence.

Edited to fix a misspelling

> It starts with atoms and goes all the way up to the milky way.


I assumed you linked "powers of ten"[1]

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fKBhvDjuy0

A couple years ago I was trying to get ahold of Michael Spivak's Differential Geometry series. It was impossible to find copies of the book without paying 4 figures on sketchy listings off eBay, Craigslist, Amazon, or AbeBooks. Eventually I decided to dig around and see if I could contact him directly. When I found his contact info, I kindly wrote him an email, to which he took several months to respond. After several months of waiting for a reply, he surprisingly responded to me several months later. We continued to communicate and I sent payment to him via PayPal, and received the books. It was only a few months later that I found out he had passed away. I just found out, per a PDF on tug.org, that "he suffered a broken hip earlier in the fall, and had been confined to an extended care facility following that mishap."[1] Very sad to see him go, but I am forever grateful that he took the time to patiently work with me to obtain copies of his books. Today, his books are all available at mathpop.com, it seems the distributor got the series hooked into Amazon so they're more easily accessible.

[1] https://tug.org/TUGboat/tb42-3/tb132beeton-spivak.pdf

Luckily now they are (all 5) free online:


I wrote about this once before, but I had a very similar situation, except with family photos instead of books. The story was that someone's apartment was cleared out after they were evicted. Well, after a few years of the stuff sitting in storage, I got around to looking through it, and with a bit of sleuthing, I tracked down the person who the family photos belonged to and gave them a call.

The call did not go well. It is certainly possible that I could have approached the phone call better, and maybe I should have tried harder, but they were suspicious, rude, and quite possibly upset. So I never took the family photos to them, and eventually disposed of them.

You really never know how people will respond to having their past thrust at them like this. Or how they'll respond to strange phone calls.

You really never know how people will respond to having their past thrust at them like this. Or how they'll respond to strange phone calls.

I've bought many books over the years that had prior owner's names marked inside somewhere. On a few occasions I've bothered to try and identify/find the person in question. Once or twice I was successful, but I never bothered contacting them just to say "Hey, I bought this book you used to own". Well, except for one time.

I was on an Inductive Logic Programming / Prolog kick, and bought several used books on the subject. Something like two or three had all been owned by the same previous owner. I looked him up and found out that he was an academic and appeared to still be working, so I thought "what the heck" and sent him a note just to say "Hey, funny story, I bought these books and <blah, blah, blah>."

Not sure what I expected, if anything, in return, but the response I did get was quite chilly. It was something along the lines of "Oh, I donated those to a place that was supposed to be sending them to Africa" or something like that. There was definitely no sense that this individual was happy to hear from the new owner of his old books, or was interested in discussing the subject.

Which is fine. Like I said, I had no idea what to expect, and certainly would have had no right to expect any particular response. But it just goes to show... you are correct in saying

"You really never know how people will respond to having their past thrust at them like this. Or how they'll respond to strange phone calls." (or strange emails in this case)

When I was young, my collection of books ebbed and flowed based on how much spare cash I had. In lean times, I'd end up selling them, then eventually accumulate more. Once I got my career on a more consistent path, I collected books and ended up with a pretty diverse set, but in the back of my head I used the fact that I hadn't sold them as a barometer for my financial stability. Anyway, a couple of years ago, at the behest of my wife, I went through and culled about 1/3 of them. Took them to Half Price Books, where I was offered $8 for the lot. At first I was a little taken aback by that price, but then I realized I was handing them a box of the shittiest books I owned. If anyone doxes me to tell me how lovely their third-hand copy of Chilton's 1984 Audi 4000 manual is...I mean I would congratulate them for their effort, but I don't exactly sit around pining about a reconnection to that book.

When I moved out of my parent's home I of course left a bunch of random stuff behind including a few boxes of books that I didn't want to haul. Left them in the garage and forgot about them. A few years later my dad was cleaning up the darker corners of the garage and called me up, 'Hey there are some boxes of books in the garage, do you want them or can I just take them to goodwill.' I didn't want them at the time, I hadn't wanted them for years and I couldn't be bothered, so he ended up donating them.

A few years later I got a hankering to read the Dune series again and realized that they had been in one of those boxes. So I went to a used bookstore and found all the original dune books but god emperor. A few weeks later in another used bookstore I found a copy of god emperor. A beat up paperback, beat up in a very particular way. I flipped to the inner back cover where I found my initials. Apparently somehow my copy of god emperor donated out on the kitsap peninsula years before made it's way into a second hand book shop in seattle where I repurchased it.

That's so cool. Synchrony

If anyone doxes me to tell me how lovely their third-hand copy of Chilton's 1984 Audi 4000 manual is.

Fair enough. But at the same time, I'd almost bet that somewhere, out there, is some person who sold their copy of the Chilton's 1984 Audi 4000 manual, but JUST LOVED THAT CAR, and loves all things Audi, and would be tickled to tears to meet another Audi owner/enthusiast, etc, yadda yadda. That connection would probably result in the two individuals becoming lifelong friends or something.

It's all so unpredictable. Heh.

In the 80's my family lost a suitcase of family photos and letters. Literally fell of a truck in the middle of Siberia. a few year later they were reunited with them thanks to a stranger who found them and tracked my family down (obviously this was pre-internet). My family was very grateful.

I'm glad!

You can beat yourself up over it, but the reality is that you're right: Some people handle the past differently from others.

You did the right thing by attempting to reunite them with their (presumably) priceless property. Most people likely wouldn't react this way. I know my parents lost a TON of personal items, including countless photos, when the moving company that was hired by the USAF to move them out of CA to another assignment went under. I'd imagine they'd both have been amazed, surprised, and incredibly grateful for someone to have gone through the trouble you did.

...but who knows? Perhaps there was a divorce or bad blood in that family. At least you can say for certain you have a clear conscience, though!

> I know my parents lost a TON of personal items, including countless photos, when the moving company that was hired by the USAF to move them out of CA to another assignment went under.

I'm close to someone who grew up in the military and lost ~all their family photos and childhood things the same [EDIT: "a similar", rather] way. A little bit lost with every move, nearly all of it gone by the end. Might be a common problem for folks in the military even if something weird like the moving company going under mid-move doesn't happen.

I think you're right, unfortunately. If it's not lost wholesale (as in my parents' case) it's a war of attrition.

They had a number of interesting artifacts (my mother's Australian) and other items that would've been of value for posterity's sake. Especially now that my father has since passed--photographs from his earlier years would have been worth much more to us now.

As a Christian, I'm not hugely fussed over the loss of the material things, but the archivist in my heart is pained to no end!

I found a bunch of books and photo albums sitting out for garbage collection.

The albums were full of family photos stretching over years. I tracked down the owner via facebook. She had moved to another country and -- I suspect had separated from her husband.

She was not interested in the photo albums. It seemed rather poignant. I wonder what the story was behind it.

This has nothing to do with books, but my (now ex) wife and I met another couple many years ago, and we were friendly for a short while until they moved away. A year later, my wife got an itch to talk to the other wife. She had no address or contact info, but my wife was part bloodhound at this sort of thing, remembered her mentioning her parents in another state, and eventually tracked them down to see if she could get the other lady's contact info.

The other lady called my wife back... and the conversation went something like "how did you find me? Please don't ever contact me or my parents again, just pretend you never met me, and please, please, don't ever let my husband know where I am."

True, though sometimes it works out.

Found a diary hidden in attic and after some research was able to track down the owner and return it; they were happy and enjoyed getting it back.

My dad died a couple of months ago and I'm still sorting through his and my mother's stuff, including a lot of books.

I discovered in one of them he'd written a fake dedication from the author "To ____ who could have written this far better than I".

And in the front of a copy of Tristram Shandy he'd written: "This is the 3rd copy I have bought. All the others have been STOLEN. If I ever get to read it I may find out why!"

Makes me miss him more.

Hilarious! A passive reader he was not. :)

I hope going through the books helps you remember good memories.


This might be giving away some secret of sorts but here we go: Sarasota is a unique place. Goodwill maintains dedicated bookstores - selling books at $2 each. Needless to say the stores are always well visited. There are always new amazing books streaming through. I once met a young bookseller lady from Houston who drove all the way to fill her truck with books from here. And, as the article hinted at, the area itself acts twofold: as a magnet and a filter. Being an artsy famous cultured beach town it attracts the often rich and successful retirees who, after having spent a life of collecting books but then because of age and many moves having to narrow down their collection end up with the best of the best books on any topic thus singled out and neatly brought to Sarasota. When these fine folks pass away they leave the treasures for the rest of us (unless their children have any idea what they are just about to give away). So, very often, you would bump into a new book, look at the artful ‘Ex libris’ sticker left on the first page and realize another collection of someone interesting just arrived. To honor those I usually try to pick up all their treasures and add them to my own collection which the kids have been instructed to keep together and hand down over the centuries…

I bought a Ti-92 graphing calculator in the early 2000's for very cheap, couple dollars, secondhand.

I found this odd because at the time they still went for a lot of money. Inside the very large battery door[1] I found a person's name and phone number. I thought about contacting them to see if it was stolen, but first I googled the name and found a several month old local news article about the person dying in a helicopter crash of all things. Very strange.

1. https://guide-images.cdn.ifixit.com/igi/LSItvlpfiCKAvBIb

Sounds like an idea for a kids book, “The Haunted Calculator”

Every calculation returns 666DEAD

Not the strangest thing in the world, but I'm currently on a Mark Twain reading binge. He's absolutely amazing - if all you've read of his is Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, you need to read his non-fiction travelogues. His observations were prescient almost beyond belief, and his acerbic humor is laugh out loud funny.

Here's the strange bit: His book "Roughing It" is about his experience as a young man of moving to the West, spending a few years in Nevada and San Francisco, and then visiting The Kingdom of Hawaii where he tried surfing. In 1865.

> In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf-bathing. Each heathen would paddle three or four hundred yards out to sea, (taking a short board with him), then face the shore and wait for a particularly prodigious billow to come along; at the right moment he would fling his board upon its foamy crest and himself upon the board, and here he would come whizzing by like a bombshell! It did not seem that a lightning express train could shoot along at a more hair-lifting speed. I tried surf-bathing once, subsequently, but made a failure of it. I got the board placed right, and at the right moment, too; but missed the connection myself.—The board struck the shore in three quarters of a second, without any cargo, and I struck the bottom about the same time, with a couple of barrels of water in me. None but natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly.

Sam embraced and exaggerated his "Southern gentleman" Mark Twain persona later in life so much, the idea that earlier in life he was in Hawaii, hanging out and surfing is quite amusing to me. Victorian surfing?? Who knew?

"Roughing It" is one of my all time favorite books. I grew up around Virginia City (Reno/Carson) and will be moving back to that region in a couple of weeks. It remains one of my favorite books. I need to give it another read.

Nice! I live in the Bay Area and been to Tahoe a bunch of times, though never to the Nevada side. I didn’t know anything about the Comstock Lode besides the name. It’s an amazing story. But is Virginia City just sitting on top of a massive empty mine to this day??

Twain’s descriptions of how empty Tahoe was then are pretty incredible to imagine. He guessed that they may have been the only people camping on the lake at the time.

The part where he accidentally starts a raging forest fire that spreads over the mountains is much less humorous today, I have to admit. Hopefully it was one of the times he was exaggerating for effect.

Oh man, you have got to visit Virginia City. Yes, it's really sitting on top of mines. And you can do some mine tours. It's a bit on the touristy side, but I have a picture of me and my family visiting there in the early 80's, and then another pic from almost the same spot (quite coincidentally!) just a couple of months ago, and not a lot has changed.

There are also excellent museums in Carson City. And, you can take the train from VC down to CC! Something I have yet to do, but am going to do soon.

If you need a local contact, hit me up. username at gmail.

Coming back to the thread later, I apparently totally misunderstood the assignment. Sorry for the wall of text, I was over eager to share.


1) A note from one feminine-name to another assuring her that the book it was in (which was a gift, evidently, and this the accompanying card) would be a good start to her college journey, and wishing her success. It's a Modern Library copy of Plato's Republic published in IIRC the '50s. The hand and condition of the note fit with its having been gifted around that time—so, probably it was gifted new, not long after the publication date. Found it really touching for some reason, always wished (voyeuristically, I suppose) I could learn how all that turned out.

2) Set of Ex Libris stickers in the front of a multi-volume Folio Society history of England identifying it as from the library of a moderately well-known (so I gather—I'd not heard of 'em) 1980s Conservative British politician (I'm in the US, and the online listing I bought them from made no note of this). Had a title, too, Lord something-or-other. Judging from the tightness of the spines I don't think they'd ever been opened, probably just office decoration. Now that I think about it, I should see if I can track down photos of the guy's office and spot these in the background... 5-volume set, so it might be possible to pick them out even in a poor photo.

3) Late 19th century reading-size catholic bible that must have been a family bible, because it had about a hundred years of family history in it, up to IIRC the 1920s, going all the way back to "The Old Country". I've held on to it for years because I keep thinking I should do something to preserve that or get it to someone who cares, but realistically, probably never will.

OMG your 3) could be extremely valuable to the family. Check ancestry.com and see if you can find any of the family; descendents that appear in the tree – if any – are most likely to be the ones that would die to have the book and you may be able to look them up and contact them.

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