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(OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?

by revdiablo (Prior)
on Sep 23, 2003 at 06:36 UTC ( #293413=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

Recently I was asking some questions in an online forum which I frequent -- namely, #perl on the freenode irc network -- and one person's answer referred me to the Camel. I was treated with shock and indignation when I mentioned I do not own a copy of the Camel, nor do I have any intention of purchasing a copy. It came as a surprise to me that, apparently, all Real Perl Programmers (tm) are required to not only have books about Perl, but one specific book. (I must note that I've been solely using perldoc and, more recently, other online resources for my Perl learning journey. It might not be the most efficient route, but I tend to think it is as effective.)

This got me thinking. For myself, I find dead tree tomes not particularly well suited to covering technical topics. I am often groping for some efficient way to search the text, and this leaves me at the mercy of the author or publisher's index (or lack thereof). Another issue I have with technical books is updatededness. Or maybe it's malleability. It seems that computer programs are much more malleable than books that are printed to describe them, which leads to a sort of impedence mismatch in my brain. Perhaps I have just been unfortunate that the few books of purely technical nature I have tried to use have left a very bad taste in my mouth.

So what I come here to ask, oh learnéd monks, is if I am completely nuts. Are paper and ink books an irreplaceable resource in the journey to enlightenment that is Perl? Does the Camel book, in particular, contain something that is not duplicated in perldoc or the collective knowledge of many questions asked and answered? And most important to me, am I the only person who considers himself a merely decent Perl coder but doesn't own any printed materials on the subject?

PS: please do not think I am trying to insult any of the undoubtely many book-using (and even book-writing) patrons of this fine place. I realize my predilection towards electronic documents might be somewhat odd, and I am willing to accept that. Also, I do not have a dislike for books in general. In fact, I feel just as strongly that great works of fiction and other stories fit much better on paper than on a computer (of course, the reasons are completely different, but I digress).

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Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by submersible_toaster (Chaplain) on Sep 23, 2003 at 06:57 UTC

    Familiarity? Not speaking for anyone else in this regard I shall relate a short story.

    When starting my first tech support job, I knew vaguely TCP/IP, some systemV type shell and that I was jumping into the deep end into boiling water. Before starting I had asked one of my similarly geeky (but more successful) school friends what I could do to get up to speed, what are some more valuable skills to have. Two words and a gesture were all he gave me, 'Learn perl' pointing to a tatty copy of the o'reilly 'perl in a nutshell'. This is in fact the only paper perl reference I have ever owned, buying new edition on occasion. Why do I keep buying the same one ? Familiarity. - that book saved my stressed out backside more time and frustration that I can express. It was good advice then and I have clung to it.

    As you say, this is not the forum for a trees vs electrons debate. I use both to the extent that I LOVE having a solid reference on my desk, books smell good (!?) , I've never come across a coffee ring on a perldoc -f page, but can reminisce about almost every abused corner and tear of each of my copies of 'perl in a nutshell'. The perlers who can't believe you don't have a copy of the Camel may have similar quirky feelings about that book - but who am I to speculate.


    I can't believe it's not psellchecked

      It's interesting to me that Perl in a Nutshell is your must-have book. It's one of my least-used Perl references -- I think the only one I've used less is Advanced Perl Programming, because I simply haven't been doing much with most of what it covers. (Though, honestly, I really should sit down and read some parts of it more closely; I'd probably use it more if I were more familiar with it.)

      My current must-haves are:

      1. Perl Cookbook
      2. Perl Pocket Reference
      3. the Camel

      I'd reverse the order of that list for starting out, though: The Camel is thorough and detailed. Once I was familiar with that, I came to rely more on the pocket ref as a memory jogger. The Cookbook is more of an algorithmic reference and memory jogger -- but if you don't understand the examples, you won't be able to apply them appropriately, so it's not a good starting point. I do use Nutshell occasionally, usually to doublecheck syntax and available methods for DBI.

      Once I'm familiar with a book, I can easily turn to exactly where the information I want is. I can bookmark at arbitrary locations much more easily than in most softcopy formats. While I'm usually working in a windowed environment these days, that hasn't always been the case, and it's much easier to use an offline reference when you only have a single term. And you can't get softcopy signed. :)

Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by Abigail-II (Bishop) on Sep 23, 2003 at 08:45 UTC
    I learned Perl from the manuals. The first Perl book I bought was long after I considered myself experience - it was the second edition of the Camel, and I only bought it because my employer was going to pay for it.

    Currently, I have a shelf full of Perl books. I'd say I got 30% for free, 50% I bought at YAPC actions and the remaining 20% I bought. Only a few books I read completely (most of them because of reviewing), others I only read parts or browsed through them. I'd say that a third of the Perl books I own, I've never looked into yet.

    That doesn't mean I don't prefer books in general. But I know Perl already so I've no reason to look into learning Perl books, I don't see the point of books of the form "Perl and X", and, most of all, I know where to find things in the manual. That doesn't mean I think the manual is perfect, far from that. But with the Camel, I always think, what does this book have that the manual doesn't? Furthermore, I'm not at all thrilled about the quality of the Perl books. There are a lot of bad books, there are a bunch of so-so books, a couple of average books, and very few good books. I don't know any excellent of gem Perl books. It's striking that the book I find most useful for a Perl programmer doesn't contain anything about Perl. It's Stevens' Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment.

    Abigail

Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by gmax (Abbot) on Sep 23, 2003 at 08:56 UTC
    Are paper and ink books an irreplaceable resource in the journey to enlightenment that is Perl?

    Irreplaceable? No. You can learn Perl just by reading the perldocs and whatever you manage to find online, if that suits you. However, learning methods are subjective, and for many people a book has a usefulness that is hard to replace. Think about practical issues: you can read a book when you sit at your desk, or in an armchair, in a train seat, in a airplane seat, in bed, while walking, even in your bathroom. Now, you could do some of the above with a light laptop, until you run out of batteries, but mostly, reading from a computer screen for long time is more stressful than reading a real book.

    Electronic reference is better than paper, because you can search it quickly. That's why I have bought the Camel book both on paper and on CD. :)

    Does the Camel book, in particular, contain something that is not duplicated in perldoc or the collective knowledge of many questions asked and answered?

    Yes. The footnotes ;)

    Seriously, though, the book is a masterpiece. It does teach Perl without the dead seriousness that other reference manuals have. It's funny, informative, detailed, deep, almost complete (related to Perl 5.6 that was the current version when the book was printed), and most important, it addresses the reader as an intelligent person, not as a dumb moron who must find where the ON switch is.

    The Camel book is a book for smart programmers with a sense of humor. It's a book for people who want a confrontation with a Wizard Programmer who talks to you as a peer, rather than a condescending professor who treats you as a helpless case.

    If you are a smart Perl programmer, get a copy!

    P.S. I don't get any royalties for this advocacy. :)

    Update
    Fixed a rough mistake. I wrote "Perl 6" instead of "Perl 5.6". It was perhaps an unconscious wish :). Thanks to larsen for reporting it.

    Update(2)
    Fixed a typo. Thanks to Nkuvu.

    _ _ _ _ (_|| | |(_|>< _|
Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by BMaximus (Chaplain) on Sep 23, 2003 at 10:58 UTC
    I guess you can say I prefere both. I know thats probably a boring answer but it is true. I started with "Learning Perl" then went to the Camel book and then went to the Panther book. All three have been very valuable in learning Perl but what has been the most helpful to me is PM and the ability to rummage through it. 90% of the time I can find an answer. The other 10% of the time I post a question and it gets answered within 24 hours of it being posted regardless of whether the question is a simple one or not. The books have given me the ability to deduce a lot about Perl programming by feeding me information and insight the author has bothered to put there "If you do this, that will happen ... try it, you'll see." I have an extensive Perl library that I use very often. I just like reading the technical books. I guess I can attribute the fact that I have such an easy time with Perl to those books and can't really answer the question as to why I have such a hard time with other programing languages despite the fact that I have books on them as well.

    So bearing the obvious answer to the question as to whether you need a copy of the Camel book or not. Its really up to you. There will be programmers who say that your not complete without a copy and poopoo you for not having one but your not programming to make them happy are you?

    BMaximus
Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by Anonymous Monk on Sep 23, 2003 at 11:05 UTC

    There's two steps to efficient learning in this area:

    1. Learning to learn. Grab a general book on the subject, read through it cover to cover. Get a general feel for the language, understand its basic architecture, learn the terminology, remember a few useful functions, and so forth.
    2. Specifics. What's the best data structure for this problem? What's the most effective way to parse XML? How do I create an array of hashes? What exactly does map do and why does everyone love it?

    For number one, dead tree or online books are good. For number two, you can use a reference-style book like Programming Perl (which I think is one of the few excellent Perl books out there) or you can just read the docs and do a few searches. Personally I think Programming Perl is rather well packaged and would save you some time, but either will work well and you'll probably find yourself referring to perldoc every once in a while anyways. So you're not crazy, at least when it comes to this issue :).

Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by hardburn (Abbot) on Sep 23, 2003 at 13:53 UTC

    As a general rule, I only buy computer books that are going to be applicable for a long time. For instance, Knuth is always going to be important unless there is a fundamental change in the mathmatics of how computers work--maybe not even then. OTOH, a book on all the latest CPAN modules will be obsolete before they start printing it. I wouldn't bother buying it.

    IMHO, the Camel is right on the edge of the rule above. It will last at least until Perl6 comes out (and even then, much of the information in it will still be good). I mirror your concerns about the index--fortuantly, the index in the Camel is very good. My dirty little secret is that I've read very few of the various perlfaqs--most of the information I need from them is in the Camel already (though there are always some faqs that didn't get into the print version, although these are usually on very specific subjects, like compiling perl on VMS).

    ----
    I wanted to explore how Perl's closures can be manipulated, and ended up creating an object system by accident.
    -- Schemer

    Note: All code is untested, unless otherwise stated

      It will last at least until Perl6 comes out

      A few (obvious) points:

      1. Perl 6 isn't currently out. It may not be for a very long time, and it may change to be more perl5ish.
      2. Once Perl 6 comes out, Perl 5 isn't going anywhere. People will still develop new applications with it, old ones will have to be maintained, etc.
      3. Learning a specific language that is considered obsolete isn't a bad thing. Learning COBOL can teach you wonders about good language design ;-)

      Your general rule is fairly effective though, most overly specific books I pass on after about a year.

      I mirror your concerns about the index--fortuantly, the index in the Camel is very good.

      One of the reasons O'Reilly books can't charme is are the poor indices, with no exception of the Camel. Granted, the index of Camel III is better than the Camel II, but it's still poor. (Early prints didn't even have an entry for 'regular expression', IIRC). You mention Knuth. Take the index of The Art of Computer Programming, and compare that with the index of the Camel.

      What I also don't understand is that you wouldn't buy certain classes of books, because they are easily outdated, yet you break a lance for the Camel. The Camel was released shortly after 5.6.0, and large chunks were written before 5.6.0 was finalized. We know have 5.8.0 with 5.8.1 around the corner. I'd say the Camel III is suffers from being outdated as well.

      Abigail

        One of the reasons O'Reilly books can't charme is are the poor indices . . .

        Perhap. I'm comparing the Camel's index with the multitude of "Learning Perl for Fools" books out there, where they basically slap an index with a few common terms and leave the rest to the poor sod that bought the book.

        What I also don't understand is that you wouldn't buy certain classes of books, because they are easily outdated, yet you break a lance for the Camel.

        How much fundamental of the Camel was really obsoleted by 5.6.* or 5.8.*? Declaring variables is still the same. Looping and conditionals are the same. Declaring subroutines is the same, with at best a few attributes being added, if anything. Builtins are pretty much the same, with a few details being different. Complex datastructures, packages/modules, and OO programming are the same (notwithstanding meryln's complaints about ref $class || $class;, or the various other object systems you can use under Perl). Trying to output native, optimized code from your Perl code is still a tricky proposition. Tied filehandles became useable in 5.6.0 (IIRC), but that's a fairly small portion of the book, and it covers them anyway. Threading became somewhat useable in 5.8.0, but again, it's a small part of the book.

        So small, specific sections might be a bit out of date, but I don't forsee it being unuseable at least until Perl6. That's a long ways off and a lot of Perl5 stuff will still be applicable by then. Probably Perl4, too.

        ----
        I wanted to explore how Perl's closures can be manipulated, and ended up creating an object system by accident.
        -- Schemer

        Note: All code is untested, unless otherwise stated

        My Camel II certainly has an index entry for regular expressions. I can check the pink Camel when I get home tonight, but I've always been happy with ORA indices. I've occasionally wished for an index in the pocket refs, though.
Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by dragonchild (Archbishop) on Sep 23, 2003 at 14:50 UTC
    It's very hard to take perldoc into the bathroom with you. I have learned more useless tidbits by taking the camel to the throne with me.

    Also, I happen to like curling up in Borders (or a similar bookstore) with a cup of tea and read. Sometimes it's David Weber, sometimes it's Vi in a Nutshell. I know I can find every piece of information I need about the programming I do online (except for VBA, but the books aren't a help with that, either!), but I don't do all my programming research logged in. For those many times I'm not, I like paper.

    Now, once e-books are a reality, I will gladly move all my computer books to that format, because I want the search capabilities that perldoc.com has. But, that's not for several years.

    ------
    We are the carpenters and bricklayers of the Information Age.

    The idea is a little like C++ templates, except not quite so brain-meltingly complicated. -- TheDamian, Exegesis 6

    Please remember that I'm crufty and crochety. All opinions are purely mine and all code is untested, unless otherwise specified.

      Now, once e-books are a reality

      What exactly are you looking for? If you're talking about being able to download pdf or any other simple, single file of the book you will have two choices:

      1. Restricted computing (aka DRM)
      2. An indefinate wait for some silly company to do it and go broke.

      If you're just looking for reasonable accessibility, have a look at Safari. It's an awesome service in terms of price, selection, and nifty little features like code searches.

        Personally, I think e-books will be practical when these requirements are met:

        1. The reader isn't bulky.
        2. Random access is easy.

        #1 is probably doable within the next few years. LCD screens are being made from modified ink jet printers, so we can expect readers to become easy to fold up, stuff in your pocket, etc. Things we can't do with laptops, tablet computers, and PDAs (PDAs come close, but don't go quite far enough).

        #2 might be asking the impossible, but I still hold hope that someone will do something clever. By random access, I mean that I can open a book to the general area I know a subject is at, having read over the book before and need to look up the specifics. Hyperlinks are a good attempt at this, but aren't quite enough.

        ----
        I wanted to explore how Perl's closures can be manipulated, and ended up creating an object system by accident.
        -- Schemer

        Note: All code is untested, unless otherwise stated

Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by mpeppler (Vicar) on Sep 23, 2003 at 15:05 UTC
    In general I prefer books (or printed manuals) because I find them easier to read, easier to jump from one place to the other, for making annotations, etc. I learned perl from the manual page, back when there was only one manual page, and although I did have a copy of the original Camel many years ago I don't have the book now. As Abigail noted, the important thing for me regarding perl is to know where to look for things when I need them (and I'll second the vote for Stevens' Unix Network Programing!).

    I have similar problems with the Sybase documentation - it stretches over 15 or so PDF files, some of which should really be read cover to cover, but reading a 600 page PDF file on a computer screen isn't the most pleasant thing to do, especially when you don't have a 20 year old's eyes anymore. I'd much prefer to have these manuals in paper format, but unfortunately that's not an option anymore. I suppose I could print them, but that would take a month on my little ink-jet :-)

    Michael

Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by Rex(Wrecks) (Curate) on Sep 23, 2003 at 17:26 UTC
    Online books were covered briefly in a node above, but that is where it is at! I really like the online versions of O'Reilly Books. Much easier to search for reference points, as well as bookmark. I find my traditional "dead tree" books start to look like ugly bushes with all the post-it notes sprouting from them.

    Try the online books, the advantage is having things written with teaching/learning as a more focal point rather than documetation which has a different approach. They are both useful, and while good documentation is golden, a well written book is priceless, regardless of how it is displayed.

    "Nothing is sure but death and taxes" I say combine the two and its death to all taxes!
Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by perrin (Chancellor) on Sep 23, 2003 at 18:44 UTC
    Here are some reasons why I bought the camel book, even though the man pages are fine:
    • It's a good book. It's more entertaining than the man pages and packed full of historical anecdotes and such.
    • It's nice to give a little money to Larry and the other writers, as well as O'Reilly, which does a lot for the Perl community.
    • The number of copies of the camel that O'Reilly sells are often cited as evidence of how many Perl programmers are out there.

      These are basically the reasons I purchased it as well.


      ---
      demerphq

        First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
        -- Gandhi


Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by chaoticset (Chaplain) on Sep 23, 2003 at 22:48 UTC


    So what I come here to ask, oh learnÚd monks, is if I am completely nuts. Are paper and ink books an irreplaceable resource in the journey to enlightenment that is Perl?
    Absolutely not. The only requirement for a person to learn anything is that they're willing to make a few million mistakes. You could learn Perl with just perl, and you could eventually know it well. You could learn Perl just by using CPAN, and you could eventually know it well. It's just less likely, because there's a much steeper learning curve there.

    The difference between paper and electronic documents is irrelevant, essentially just a question of which you prefer. Those who truly hate paper will purchase the Bookshelf, sell their physical copy of the Nutshell that came with it, and trot along on their merry way. Those who truly hate reading on a screen can sit and print the entirety of the man pages.

    The real thing about the Camel is that it was canonical for the old guard, it became canonical for the new guard, and that it continues to be both an excellent reference material as well as an entertaining read. Not an easy thing, which you know from those other printed reference materials.

    I wouldn't worry about it, if I were you. If it really bothers you, buy the Bookshelf, and read the book in your preferred environment.

    (And send me your copy of the Nutshell if you do...! I have a friend who learns from reference materials and needs a copy... ;) )

    -----------------------
    You are what you think.

Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by poqui (Deacon) on Sep 24, 2003 at 02:39 UTC
    I don't know that its essential, but I like my books too much to do without them.
    I started trying to learn perl from the online documentation, but I didn't quite get it until I got the books. I started out with "Learning Perl" and jumped right in with the Camel next. Later, I got the Panther and the Cookbook.
    I must agree with the others, though, that the footnotes and the approach and humor of the writing alone make the Camel book worth buying and reading.
Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by lachoy (Parson) on Sep 24, 2003 at 04:03 UTC
    There's a very interesting -- non-technical! -- article The Social Life of Paper that has a few words about our attachment to paper. For me this attachment manifests itself with tech manuals as a notion of 'thumbspace'. That is, I couldn't tell you to save my life the chapter where the Owl discusses how Perl's 'g' modifier works. But my thumb is smart enough to get within a couple of pages on the first try. No need to remember a page number, or flip to the index, it's just there. For me, pixels have a very hard time capturing that: no sort of searching front end you bolt onto a text can be as intuitive as this. (This is also why I'm reluctant to get new revisions of texts I consult fairly frequently -- need to train the thumb again...)

    Chris
    M-x auto-bs-mode

Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by Caillte (Friar) on Sep 24, 2003 at 10:03 UTC

    From my own experience, both formats have their advantages. Perldoc (and other online doc formats) is great when you just want the facts (Does this make me sound like Dragnet?) but I find printed copy much better for getting to the real guts of a subject.

    As an example, while I was at uni I tried learning OO programming in perl from perltoot in the perldocs. It never sank in until I printed the whole file out and took it home with me to read over the weekend (This was when I didn't have a computer at home, too). It turned out so useful that I still had that document in a paper binder 2 years later, and occasionally referred to it too!

    Put simply, I do not find electronic documents condusive to meditation and quiet contemplation. And we, as monks, should be right behind that, right? ;)


    This page is intentionally left justified.

Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by zakzebrowski (Curate) on Sep 24, 2003 at 13:12 UTC
    I tend to read a book when I'm learning something completly new for the first time... (eg. First perl book: Learning perl) With the perldoc pages and this site, and a college education (eg, knowing where to look / how problems have been previously been solved), you're good to go...

    ----
    Zak
    undef$/;$mmm="J\nutsu\nutss\nuts\nutst\nuts A\nutsn\nutso\nutst\nutsh\ +nutse\nutsr\nuts P\nutse\nutsr\nutsl\nuts H\nutsa\nutsc\nutsk\nutse\n +utsr\nuts";open($DOH,"<",\$mmm);$_=$forbbiden=<$DOH>;s/\nuts//g;print +;
Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by woolfy (Hermit) on Sep 24, 2003 at 13:35 UTC
    You learned Perl your way, so who would I be to call you crazy. Just my compliments to you for not having the need for a book.

    There are several categories of people when it comes to learning anything, and learning a programming language is just one thing that can be learned:

    • Reading books, magazines and other dead tree material
    • Attending courses, lectures, training sessions and conferences
    • Reading online/offline documentation and tutorials
    • Frequenting online communities
    • Installing (Perl) and start "playing" (with scripts and modules)
    I think the majority of the monks and other programmers have at least one Perl book.

    For me personally it is a combination of all 5 mentioned ways: I am learning Perl from more than one book at the same time, also using the online and offline documentation tutorials and visiting Perl Monks and other online communities. I've got my own personal tutor/mentor and I've attended some courses. And I'm still on my way to become a good programmer... (if ever) :-)

     Does the Camel book, in particular, contain something that is not duplicated in perldoc or the collective knowledge of many questions asked and answered?

    Maybe not for you. But I've got both the CD bookshelf (with the Camel and the Llama book and the Cookbook), Learning Perl in 24 hours, and several other books. When I don't understand the explanation of something in one book, I'll take another book and see if the explanation there is different, from another angle, with other examples.

    Because you seem to like the flying electrons, you might want to look at the many books that are available online.

    Personally, I had quite some difficulty with the difference between lists and arrays (especially why that difference is important). Each of the books has a different approach, other examples. The online doc has yet another approach and fellow monks show more insight. Do I understand it now? I'll see when I'll make my first mistake... Now I've got my sources and I know where to look.

Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by nimdokk (Vicar) on Sep 24, 2003 at 13:45 UTC
    For me at least, it really depends. I have picked up a book and learned straight from that, at least well enough to get going on the subject. I also find that being in a class, where you are face-to-face with other students and an instructor is quite helpful as well. So too is reading the documentation online. It perhaps depends on where you are at in your learning as to which is most helpful. It really depends on the situation and circumstances involved. Ultimately, you have to know yourself and how you yourself learn and then select the best technique (or combination of techniques) to learn whatever it might be (not limited to just learning Perl or some other programming language).


    "Ex libris un peut de tout"
Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by helgi (Hermit) on Sep 25, 2003 at 15:53 UTC
    In theory I much prefer electronics to paper for technical documentation. perldoc is my favorite reading matter.

    In practice I find that it's hard to take my computer with me to the toilet and to bed with me.

    Both are nice.


    --
    Regards,
    Helgi Briem
    hbriem AT simnet DOT is

Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons?
by revdiablo (Prior) on Sep 25, 2003 at 17:01 UTC

    WOW! Heaps and heaps of replies. This is really far more than I expected. A round of thanks (and beers if it were feasible) to all who replied; you given me much food for thought.

    It seems that my suspicion was correct. Almost all of the replies seem to advocate tech books for one reason or another. Apparently I am unique in that I don't have nor desire them for any reason. Since many people brought up the same points, I'll just reply to them here (in case anybody cares anymore).

    Books are portable.
    This is definitely true, and would be a real boon if I ever had a desire to learn about technical stuff when not able to reach a computer. For some reason I do not ever have this desire. In fact, reading about programming when I can't sit down and play around with what I'm reading about is more frustrating than just about anything for me. The closest I come is getting up and walking around (or taking a visit to the Throne) while thinking about Hard Problems (tm).

    Written-Word-on-Paper is cool.
    Absolutely; I really do enjoy the medium. As I mentioned in the OP, I couldn't ever imagine reading a good novel on a computer screen and enjoying it as much as in a nice paper format. That said, this feeling does not extend to computer stuff for me. Perhaps there is some strange disconnect in my brain, but it just doesn't feel the same.

    Online books are a happy medium.
    I actually have to disagree with this, for the most part. While they do have the benefit of searchability, they have the detriment of being written for the (more pleasant) medium they are usually used on. Unless the book is a pretty terse reference type, reading it on a computer screen would seem very tedious and frustrating.

    Everyone learns differently.
    This is the case indeed. Many different methods of learning where brought up, and they all have their merit. Strangely enough reading quick references is usually my preferred method of learning about computer topics, so online docs (which are truly written and intended for online consumption; see above) are ideal for me. Perhaps this is the root cause of my peculiar learning habits.

    Once again, thanks to all for the replies! And just for the record, I am considering buying the Camel for the anecdotes and humor mentioned in some of the posts. I might just learn some Perl reading it, but that'll be the secondary goal. :)

    PS: special mention goes to lachoy at Re: (OT) I prefer to do my learning with: dead trees or flying electrons? for the link to The Social Life of Paper. A very interesting read indeed!

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