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There are so many CDs to download in Debian 3.1 so which ones are really needed to get the system up and running? I don't want to waste download time and CDs for those that are not needed.
Do you have a broadband internet connection? If so, you only need one cd:

This is the netinstall cd, you boot from it, install the base system, then any other software you want, you just apt-get install it. No need to waste your bandwidth downloading full cd's. This is the method i always use for debian.
When you say "base system", is it a bloated system like Fedora or all the things that are absolutely necessary? I am looking to learn Linux from the very beginning so am looking for a minimal install. Is netinst what I am looking for, that is, a minimal install that makes me do everything and resultantly makes me learn all the good stuff?
Base system is just that, a system that will let you boot up and login. It will have all the basic GNU tools and stuff, you basically start from scratch and apt-get everything that you want. 0 bloat. Using this method you have the most control over what is installed on your system.
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