After relocating to the Dallas area from rural northern Nevada, I’m thinking about the bookshelf I left behind. My reading is now from downloads displayed on a glowing tablet. It’s easy on the eyes, and handy for traveling. My only complaint comes from my cheapskate side. I cringe to pay $11 for a Kindle download of a book I already own, or could buy a second used copy for $5. I’d like to find a way to share ebooks with friends and family like I would with a hard copy, but haven’t figured out how to do that. Apparently, I can “loan” an ebook to someone, and I’m unable to view it while they have access. That makes sense.
When I looked into it earlier, I was stunned to find that Amazon had a patent on what is essentially the used ebook market. Usually, when I read a news story about a patent, it’s about as accurate as news stories about guns (in which seemingly every gun that isn’t a Glock is an AK-47, and clips are loaded with bullets). My usual beef is that they don’t even mention the patent number. That has gotten better with online media. A Wired magazine story about the Amazon patent has a hot link to the Patent Office.
When I read about a patent in the popular press, I first check out the patent for myself. I Google: “patent 8,364,595” and can read the whole thing. In this case, I’m amazed to read the actual claims that Amazon got allowed. They actually got a patent on using a computer system to enact the following steps:
…storing a used digital object … in which first user has legitimately obtained access rights; determining that the used digital object is available for transfer … providing an indication that the used digital object is available for transfer… receiving a request to transfer the used digital object to … an account of a second …; authorizing transfer of the used digital object … transferring the used digital object … and deleting the used digital object from the first personalized data store
I eliminated some words, but they got a patent on the idea that I decide to sell an ebook, tell Amazon, they list it for sale, you decide to buy it, and Amazon lets you access it and prevents me from accessing it. Which is, excuse me…OBVIOUS. That’s a word I hate to use, as I hear it too often from people who don’t like a patent. But there’s no flash of invention here. It’s simply an obvious answer to the common question of “how could you operate a used bookstore for ebooks?” It’s also a good reminder of what patents can and can’t do. This means that Amazon can prevent anyone else from setting up a competing used ebook market, even if Amazon never offers a used marketplace themselves. At least until 2029, when the patent expires.
In hopes that it might lead to some good suggestions from readers, I decided to share with you some of my favorite book titles. As I consider them, they share a common theme: Geekery.
Geekery (or Geekdom) is simply a passion or enthusiasm for some kind of “technology.” You might argue that one could be an opera geek, but I’ll call that something else. Maybe one could be a geek for knitting, which is technological in my book. Maybe I’m just a technology geek (which is weird, because programming the cable box gives me hives). I figure that since our industry is filled with geeks, the readers might appreciate my list. A dozen years ago, I turned my gun-geekery into a new career direction, and I know I’m not alone as one who turned a hobby into a business. Here’s my list, in no particular order.
Everything I needed to know about guns, I learned in John Ross’ Unintended Consequences. Precision handloading. The history of the National Firearms Act. Fast and fancy revolver tricks. Long range shooting calculations. How to stop a cape buffalo stampede. And just about everything else pertaining to firearms.
The story begins with the history of the gun culture, and educates the reader about seminal events that are essential to understanding and advocating for gun rights. It then follows the life of Henry Bowman, who, like the classic Hitchcock plot element of the wrongly accused man, must fight a war for his own liberty, and that of the nation.
The book is a long, comfortable read to savor. The first time through will keep readers awake into the wee hours. And it’s a great way to spend a week at a beach resort, except that it’s not available as an ebook, so you get to carry a book that weighs as much a John Ross S&W Performance Center 5″ .500 Magnum, the gun that was inspired by the favorite sidearm of the book’s hero.
Some criticize the lurid sex scenes, and I wonder whether a teen edition would make sense. The author says that women write to complain that there isn’t enough sex. A few critics complain that there is too much gun technology, but to me that’s the most valuable parts.
Personally, I’m not that interested in meeting movie stars and other celebrities. But when I met John Ross about ten years ago at SHOT, and had a chance to hang out and chat in the Dillon booth back room, I was as star-struck as my 14-year-old brother- in-law would be to meet Justin Bieber! It’s an honor when those one truly admires calls you for advice, and I’m always happy to share a little knowledge with the author who “taught me everything I needed to know” about this industry.
I’m also a space program geek, and have read just about every book written by the Apollo astronauts, along with dozens about the space program. There are lots of great books, like Michael Collins’ Carrying the Fire, and Andrew Chaikin’s A Man on the Moon which was the basis for the outstanding Tom Hanks’ HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon. Challenger: A Major Malfunction is a fascinating lesson in technological project management failure. But the gem of the bookshelf is Apollo the work of Charles Murray of The Bell Curve fame, with co-author Catherine Bly Cox. I was nearly seven years old when Neil and Buzz landed on the moon, which was old enough to be inspired, but a little too young to fully appreciate it, and ultimately left me with a hunger to learn more. My father was an aerospace engineer and looked just like those mission control guys with their crew cuts, white shirts, and pocket protectors (later long side burns and garish Ban-Lon shirts).
Murray’s Apollo was based on interviews with all the key players. It focused on the geeks who built the machines and made them fly. Especially the mission control guys. I was fascinated to learn what all those folks actually did, and how the guys in the back room were geniuses who saved the missions more than once. My favorite parts are the “how they did that” secrets. Like the crawler that transported the rocket to the launch pad. They almost used barges and canals – imagine trying to manage that with a crosswind! The giant engines were described in detail. To get the fuel to mix quickly and cleanly, the liquid fuel was jetted through a pair of holes that were angled toward each other, the pairs of streams joining to make a fan shape, and then the fuel fans and oxygen fans intersect to mix instantly. What seemed to be a miracle of technology had some fascinating real world engineering work to make it happen.
If you think you would enjoy hearing from an old mission controller all about how we got to the moon, this book has all the answers.
The other great technology achievement of the 20th century was The Making of the Atomic Bomb, which is the title of a wonderful book by Richard Rhodes. This contains all the history, personalities, and most import to the geeks, the real story of how they made the bomb work, as an engineering project. All the geeky details are here in a book that tells one of the most fascinating stories ever. I’m ready to buy this on Kindle for a re-read.
Two incredible stories are told in Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, by author Gary Kinder. The tale of the sinking of the steamship SS Central American, and rescue of many of its passengers and crew makes the Titanic pale by comparison. The history of the journey from the California gold rush, across Panama, and to the bottom of the Atlantic is interwoven with a modern tale of efforts to recover the gold. The modern tale documents how one rebellious technical genius did the impossible. Even the admiralty law details are fascinating, and the technical inventiveness of the effort makes the head spin. And who needs to patent the innovations when the gold is its own reward? The personalities in both stories are fascinating, making this book a great read on many levels. Perfect for a beach chair by the sea.
If you like puzzles, history, and a great story, The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography by Simon Singh is a fun book. It doesn’t drop you into intimidating prime factor and Diffie-Hellman schemes without preparing you to understand them (though I did write some interesting patents on the topic about 15 years ago)… You also don’t need a masters degree to follow the progress of coding through the ages. I love the way the author takes you through the levels of codes. From the basic ones that you learn how to code and decode, to progressively more complex codes that build upon the ones that came before. The reader’s knowledge grows in parallel to historic advancement of cryptography. The WWII Enigma story is made clear, and the modern cryptography is put into perspective. There are plenty of interactive codes and puzzles in the book to keep the enthusiast busy. If you like this book, also check out Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem by the same author and John Lynch.
I’m not sure what that term means, but Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon is one cool book. You could call it science fiction, but there are no aliens or spacecraft. It’s like the old Michener books (and Ross’ Unintended Consequences) in that it puts fictional characters into historical events. This one jumps between WWII and the modern era with characters linked over the generations as only fiction can provide. More crypto as our WWII hero leads seemingly pointless missions to give cover for intelligence gathered from cracking Enigma – sinking a convoy based on decrypted intel reveals that the code is broken, so our hero’s hopeless group must be on hand to appear to spot the convoy, no matter how much of a pointless or suicidal mission it might seem. A 14-year-old book about the internet is going to seem dated, except that the author seems to have predicted just about everything wisely. The modern plot revolves around a Bitcoin-like scheme, with more sunken treasure, and Nazi gold. This one meets my highest standard, which is that it’s great as a re-read.
You may have bumped into author Matt Bracken at the SHOT Show over the years. He’s a former Navy SEAL who went on to design and build a steel sailboat and sail it solo on extensive ocean voyages. He follows a new model of publishing, which is to own the publishing company. His Kindle downloads regularly hit #1 in their category. His Enemies trilogy tells a story of a present-day government turned oppressive, and the heroic characters who fight for liberty. There is plenty of gun geekery, and from-the-headlines plot elements. The first book, Enemies Foreign and Domestic revolves around a federal government plot to create gun violence in order to justify sweeping gun control laws. Sounds a lot like Fast and Furious, which occurred years after Matt warned of it. The first book will hook you to read the rest, which get even better. I’m pleased to have become friends with Matt, and think his Facebook page is one of the best sources for news about liberty and gun control around. Matt is also a great source of book recommendations.
I remember joining Matt on his boat for a day sail a few years ago, and hearing him tell about the mental survival techniques used by an American who spent eight years in the Soviet gulag. The prisoner would pace in his cell, measuring the total distance covered, and imagine walking across Russia, Europe, and across the ocean, home to America. After years of pacing, he had marked off the distance, still trapped in his cell. Alexander Dolgun’s story: An American in the Gulag is an autobiographical work of a man who was either an American spy, or probably just an irresponsible U.S. Embassy employee in Moscow who got caught up in the system. Dolgun’s story is surprisingly uplifting, considering it’s about interrogation, sleep deprivation, starvation, and tyranny. It reveals a touching strength of character, and actually has a happy ending. This obscure book isn’t available in electronic form, but like most of those on this list, is available for a penny plus shipping on Amazon.
My apologies for the shameless plug of my own Bulletproof Firearms Business: The Legal Secrets to Success Under Fire. I just had one client order a bunch so he could give them as Christmas gifts to his key employees. I was flattered, but wonder if it might come across as a lump of coal? Anyway, if you read this far, and are willing to forgive this shameless plug, I’ll send anyone who emails my admin a free copy of the book. Send your mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org.