I'm a bit puzzled, and it might be just a random coincidence, but a recent question about a book did get an almost instant downvote.

Given, there is no close request, but to me the question does not fulfil the required 'unclear/missing research/not useful' criteria. It seems well written, with a good number of details, even including a picture of he image the author remembers from that book's cover. Over all, way better supported then many other 'identify-something' questions.

And yes, it's only one downvote, but I couldn't halt to think that someone doesn't like a book being searched and since that topic hasn't come up so far, I'd like to ask:

Do we welcome book questions?

(Them being within the usual margins - like related to old computers and within historic context - of course)

We seem to accept a lot of quite vague questions even about arcade machines, so I would think book questions, at least when written that clearly, should have their place.

[And yes, I know, there are zillions of books, like "how to type in a number in an Excel sheet", one can rightful forget about and should not be remembered at all, but that's not the point]


4 Answers 4


We already have with 30 questions; many of them are questions about something read in a book, but there are a few book identification questions in addition to the new one which prompted your question:

I think questions about books can be relevant to retro-computing, considering the general idea that we want to help people trying to use retro-computers. A lot of relevant information was only available in books, so helping users find relevant retro-computing books is helpful. Of course questions and answers about specific problems are most on-topic, ideally with answers which don’t require readers to go and find a book, but given the importance of books and the fact that some topics take whole books to address means that we shouldn’t exclude book questions wholesale.

Books also have a huge cultural place in retro-computing, given their importance back in the day. Changing habits mean that present-day users might not even imagine some of the books people relied on in the past, for example the software catalogs as described in What was the title of this IBM PC software compendium book circa mid 80s? (I’m thinking of titles such as DOS Power Tools which probably seem outlandish today). I think preserving knowledge of how people worked with computers is also worthwhile here.

I don’t mean that we should allow any questions about books; questions which are otherwise off-topic shouldn’t be considered on-topic just because they are about books. However even there we probably shouldn’t be as strict as other SEs which cover current topics — in the retro world we do have widely-agreed-upon “best” books on a few topics, so even seemingly opinion-based questions might be on-topic. (But that’s arguable, so feel free to disagree with me.)

  • Thanks for the research. I'm all with you on the last paragraph - including that some will be generate strong opinion :))
    – Raffzahn
    Commented Apr 3 at 22:32

If I can personally respond to this, I understand why my question was downvoted but I asked it because I haven't been able to find anything online about these kind of "white pages" (software catalog/compendium) books that were important at the time and indexed a lot of then-current programs and games. Yes, these books are obscure now and probably as redundant as the similar internet "white pages" books, but that in itself is a good reason to at least try to identify them and preserve them. As it stands, since posting my question I have been able to identify precisely one book that may be similar to what I'm looking for, but that book hasn't been scanned and I can't even find a front cover for it.

  • I am not actually clear on why your question would be downvoted; perhaps you could expand your answer to mention those reasons?
    – cjs
    Commented Apr 9 at 18:04
  • @cjs Mainly for the same reasons that dave mentioned - questions like these pull down the overall quality if you get too many of them. That said, my thinking was "I really want to find this book, so do I post a vague question on a good forum, or not find the book at all?". Plus, I do think these kinds of books have value and I hate the idea that they've pretty much disappeared. I have so many old computer books that give an almost perfect snapshot of the time and culture but are now woefully outdated, most people don't know or care about them, and wouldn't understand why you'd want to read it. Commented Apr 10 at 10:48

Of course books (and magazines, and newsletters) are relevant. I suspect that many people in the modern age don't fully understand what life was like before the web and wikis. These publications were at the time the vast majority of our documentation and source of understanding about our systems, and are now a valuable historical record of what and how people thought in the past.

And even "just" a catalogue of software is a valuable and interesting indication of what computers were actually used for in the past when they were not powerful enough to have taken over everything in the way iPhones and the like have now.

As far as downvotes go, there are various people with certain opinions about what should be on SE sites who are sometimes just not really with the actual programme of SE, or just miss the relevance in one particular instance or two. Even I, perfect as I am, am sometimes surprised by how well received a rather stupid, obvious question can be, and how much more subtlety and depth there can be in the answers than what I'd anticipated.

So my opinion is that one or two downvotes can safely be ignored, as can downvotes that are around only ten percent of the total votes. When the whole world is looking, there will always be someone who disagrees or just, from his or her own experience, thinks something is too obvious. And especially when, as on a site like this, the need for fairly focused questions can strip some of the context that the questioner has that makes the question more important than you might think.

  • It's argued about that question being stupid or obvious. The idea, to modern eyes, that one ended the life of an application by warm resetting the entire operating system might be hard to get your head around! Commented Apr 15 at 6:10

Frame challenge :-)

I downvoted, not because it was a book, but because it was yet another "I vaguely remember something, please tell me what I am thinking of" posting.

I find such questions to be "not useful".

  • 1
    Ok. Works. Maybe I'm already going soft but I thought of it as one of the better ones, but yes, I do quite well understand that position.
    – Raffzahn
    Commented Mar 28 at 2:48
  • It's tough. II get where you're coming from but as soon as I read this question I found that I wanted to know the answer to it
    – Matt Lacey Mod
    Commented Apr 9 at 12:39
  • I can see where you are coming from totally... but people usually remember something because it really was good. People rarely remember and recall crap software and books - unless it really was dire, and if it was dire they are unlikely to ask others to try and recall what it was. So, if they are trying to remember something that they thought was good, then if it is managed to be located, it is likely that others will also find it interesting - even though they may not have "been in the market" for that particular thing, until the other person mentioned it. If that makes sense? :-) Commented Apr 9 at 20:32
  • 2
    I'll just add that I would not have asked the question if the book wasn't a good one or one that I thought was worth finding. I agree with @dave that these kind of questions can be overly vague, not relevent to 99.9% of the community and (somewhat) pointless; personally, I think the "I vaguely remember this game" questions off-topic for RC.SE because there are better places for them i.e. MobyGames, DOS gaming forums, etc. The difference with my question is that there seem to me to be a lot of "lost" books from that era and RC.SE seemed like an obvious place to ask for help. Commented Apr 10 at 10:31

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