Archive for the ‘Books’ Category.

Most Common Book Title?

I have no data on it, but "Dust" must be up there somewhere.  Was looking for a book of that name and found five zillion different ones on Amazon.

Best Bridge Book Ever (IMHO) Back In Print

One thing I think I have never mentioned before on this site is that in college, I was a fanatical bridge player.  I developed this odd social life of bridge in the afternoon and beer pong at night.  When I got tired of playing other students, my friend and I would go into town and play the local residents, who were sharks.

Anyway, people new to bridge are always intimidated by bidding, and certainly there is a learning curve there (which I made worse by using the Precision rather than the Goren standard system).  But with some time, bidding becomes rote.  Only perhaps in one in ten or twenty hands is the last increment of bidding expertise really useful, and then usually only when playing duplicate where even a few extra points really matter.

Once your bidding is mostly up to snuff, the game is all about card play.   A good player will play out the entire hand, with guesses as to which cards are held by which players, before the first card is led.

The single best book I have ever read on card play is Card Play Technique by Mollo and Gardener.  Thirty years ago there was about one source for this often out-of-print book and I bought a dozen copies, slowly giving most of them away over time.  Now, however, it is back in print.  If you play bridge, you have probably read this book, but if not, buy yourself a copy for Christmas.

Business Model Ripped From the Pages of My Book BMOC

Apparently, a company named "Sumpto" has adopted a business model right out of my novel BMOC (written about 7 years ago).  This is a scene where entrepreneur Preston Marsh is interviewing and trying to recruit the protagonist Susan out of business school.  They are discussing the business model of his company called BMOC.  Half of its business model was that companies paid BMOC to place their products in the hands of influential high school students.

[Marsh:] The real innovation, though is… do you know what a product placement is?”

[Susan:] “Sure. It’s when a company pays to get their product into a TV show or movie – like when Reese’s pieces were used in the movie ET or I guess if you showed Seabiscuit eating Purina Horse Chow.”

“Exactly! And product placements are particularly effective. They act like an ad but they can’t be ignored like an ad. Anyway, we have taken product placements one step further: We get paid by major manufacturers to place their products not in movies but in the hands of the most popular kids in high school, the ones who really lead opinion as to what’s cool and not cool who we…”

“Who you happen to have on retainer anyway.”

“Exactly. But be careful how you think about ‘on retainer.’ The natural reaction is to assume this means money, but in our case it’s not. We keep the most popular people on retainer merely by …”

“Giving them free products,” Susan interrupted again, with growing excitement, “that manufacturers are already paying you to put in their hands.”

This is from Sumpto's web site.  (You will have to click through, for some reason even copying it as text is crashing my site, not sure why).

A big hat tip to reader Don, who not only found the site but paid me the indirect complement of having remembered my book.  Thanks!

Yet another case when I was 7-10 years too early (at Mercata were were about 10 years too early to cash in on social media as Groupon did with a similar model to ours).  But honestly, I was trying to make up quasi-outrageous business models.  For god sakes the other two major business ventures in the book were building fountains to harvest the coins thrown in them and selling musical tones for elevators.  I had no idea I should have been getting venture funding.

By the way, for the dozens of my literary fans, I am almost done with my next book, which is  really going to be good.   This novel writing thing really is about practice.  Teasers to follow...

Books that Don't Suck: Wool

I recently discussed a book that sucks, so here is one that does not suck: Wool.  I am not sure what makes it so compelling, but I had a lost couple of days when I blew off what I was supposed to be doing and read all of the first five books (the first few are short so that all five are only about 500 pages altogether).

Save time and buy the anthology.

 

I don't know how many of you read it, but for me Wool seems to echo many themes from A Canticle for Leibowitz.  The series are totally different in style and content and story-telling and characters, but none-the-less they both address themes like the recurrence, almost cyclicality, of man's failings and the role of rules (even arbitrary rules) and authority in breaking or reinforcing these cycles.

And speaking of things this novel reminded me of, in the latter parts of the anthology we are introduced in Wool to a sort of instruction manual for the state that is a kind of dark version of Seldon's psycho-history in the Foundation novels.

The whole novel is familiar and highly creative at the same time.  Go buy it.

Reality Overruns My Fiction

In the current novel I am writing, set in the future, the dollar has collapsed and everyone uses something called "zons" instead, a currency backed not by gold or the full faith and credit of the US Government (lol) but on the stable pricing and the promise of redemption at Amazon.com.   Yesterday, reality overran this admittedly small element of my story.  I will need to write faster.

All These Years I Was Driving Right Past...

Apparently, the home in which L. Ron Hubbard invented Scientology is right here in Phoenix.  In fact, it is right by my kids' school and I drive past it almost every day.  In the next few days I will take a camera and snap a picture or two.

I was a fan of Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth"  (the book, not the movie) as a young adult -- it is a classic example of 1950's pulp science fiction -- though I picked it up a few years ago out of nostalgia and found that it did not wear very well.  I do not know much about Scientology, though I wonder why folks who go all-in for it aren't at least a bit suspicious of a religion involving ancient aliens that was cooked up by a science fiction writer.

The whole thing makes for a fascinating story, and I think it would be fabulous book material for someone who is not either a proselytizing Scientologist or an angry ex-Scientologist with an ax to grind.

Scene from the Fountainhead

It appears that a scene in the Fountainhead that I thought was a facetious absurdity actually occurred:

Famous architects dress as their buildings:

No Cosmo-Slotnick building

Most Unfortunately Yet Appropriately Named Book Ever

Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story (I kid you not).

Some of the reviews are classic, though I am disappointed many of them are "please remove this book."  Why should we let this jerk hide?  The book up with its amazing irony and spate of scathing review comments is much better than being disappeared.

Neal Stephenson's Reamde: Disappointing

Well, I finished Reamde this weekend.   It was only OK.  It is a straight up modern adventure book, like perhaps a Vince Flynn novel, chasing terrorists around the globe.  I enjoy Stephenson for his big, sometimes outrageous ideas, his witty prose, and his love affair with the geek culture.  Except for the latter, none of this is in evidence in this book.  It is certainly a more popularly accessible book, but that is certainly not what I want from Stephenson.

Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash are among my favorite novels.  One of the reason I liked them were for the prose he brought to bear on even (or especially) trivial topics.  His long passages on eating Cap'n Crunch or getting wisdom teeth removed in Cryptonomicon are classics.   I got very little of this kind of thrill in Reamde, made worse by the fact that there were just too many main characters, none of whom were very well developed for me.

At some points, this book held my attention, and at some points it dragged.  The book in some ways is almost the same structure as a comedic farce -- a whole bunch of characters who are dragged along by events into increasingly unlikely circumstances.   There is no looming event or goal that drives the narrative in a, say, Clancy novel.  Its just a lot of falling into one mess after another.   Its also a bit unseriousness - it feels like the teens in Scooby Doo chasing terrorists.  (One problem is that Stephenson's bad guys are too likable - they are always smart and ironic gentlemanly - so its hard to get as worked up about heading them off as one might in a classic thriller).

Some playwright or critic once wrote (sorry, can't remember the name) that if you put a gun out on the stage in Act 1, someone better use it in Act 3.  (OK, it was Chekov, though why he said "gun" rather than "phaser" is beyond me).  In this book, Stephenson leaves guns unused all over the stage.  In particular, Stephenson comes up with one of his patented interesting-crazy ideas of using an MMRPG to crowd-source security analysis.  I felt sure that in the manhunts that followed, that particular gun would be picked up and used to help drive to the climax, but we never hear of it again.  In fact, we learn a lot of interesting things about this game in the book, which seems to be absolutely central to the plot, but in the end turns out to be entirely peripheral, an early macguffin to kick start the plot.

Another example is the HUGE amounts of the book go to talking about an interesting social realignment happening in the game, to absolutely no end.  OK, so characters have abandoned the good and evil alignments put in by the game masters for a new emergent faction division.  I thought sure we would see some kind of real-world parallel to this happening in the book, or some insight drawn from this that helps solve the real world problem.  Nothing.

Overall, a disappointing book I would not have finished had it not been by Stephenson.

Postscript:  If you become interested in the dynamics of the MMRPG in the book, where there are no character levels (only a skill system) and money and money making is central to the the game, the closest analog I have ever seen is not a fantasy game but EVE Online, a space-based game (also, to a lesser extent, Star Wars Galaxies as well, but that is now defunct).  EVE Online probably has the most interesting economy of any MMRPG I have played and I know they employ an economist who sometimes writes articles about his work.

Not Yet Good News

Amazon is promising textbook rentals on the Kindle that could save 80% over the cost of buying new.  That is good news, and any competition to break up the cozy and price-inflated textbook market is welcome.

But Amazon is going to have to rethink the Kindle and its software before this is ever going to work.  I am a huge fan of the Kindle (though I have switched my reading to the Kindle app on the iPad).  But it works best reading a book straight through.  Want to page back and find a particular section -- good luck.  The iPad app actually works better, with a touch screen slider that allows a little better browsing.  But for textbooks, they really need some kind of page navigation like coverflow in the iPod (which I hate by the way in the iPod but would love for pages in a textbook).

Big Amazon Prime Disapointment

I have been an Amazon Prime customer for years, and have been very satisfied to get the free two-day shipping.    And they have always done a good job with this, and in the past I have had literally hundreds of shipments in a row arrive on time.

However, two of my last three orders have been late, and the last order, which should have been here on Thursday, still, two days later, has not arrived despite the fact the system says it was delivered June 23 at 12:54.

But it is actually fairly easy to figure out why the service has deteriorated.  On both these late orders, Amazon used the USPS to deliver the package.  That explains a lot.  The USPS has awful, unreliable service and has absolutely no package tracking capability.  Not only is it my package missing, but neither Amazon, myself, or the USPS have any way to find out where it is.

This is awful service.  I am not only a pretty high-volume customer, but I have paid an annual fee to get premium shipping -- and I can tell you that there is likely no one on Earth who considers the USPS a premium shipping option.  If they keep sending my 2-day packages snail mail, there will no longer be any point to being a prime member.  Maybe they will offer a super-prime membership sometime in the future that guarantees they will not use USPS (though I suppose I can get this now by clicking the one-day shipping button and paying the $3 or whatever it is extra).

Teaching Company Sale

I have bought numerous audio and video Teaching Company courses and have never been disappointed.  Until tomorrow they are having a 70% off sale on many of their courses.

A few I have heard and would recommend:

History of the US

History of London

Big History

American Civil War

Chinese History

Modern Western Civ (I am doing this one now)

Early Middle Ages (one of three by same professor on the Middle Ages.  All three are awesome)  here is late Middle Ages

History of Ancient Rome (not rated as well on this site but this is probably my favorite)

World War I

World War II

I am kind of amazed how long the list is, but I have actually listened to several others I would not recommend or that are not on sale.

Update: Use coupon code VFRC to get an additional $20 if you spend over $50.  By the way, I don't get any commissions.  I just believe in the product.

Book Recommendation

Last week I asked readers to help me remember the name of a science fiction book centered around an OCD man who has to carefully follow a specific routine or else reality unravels, an event that leaves the world subtly, or sometimes not so subtly, changed.

The book is called Resonance, and I re-read it this weekend.  I had forgotten a lot of it but it really is a terrific, under-hyped book.  There is real suspense as the unraveling of the world accelerates and our hero starts to better understand exactly what is going on.  What I enjoyed the most was how there were two people in the book who had special, err, powers but who initially totally interpreted what these powers were or how they worked.

I have never seen a paperback version of it, but commenters tell me you can find it in the Baen free library (if so, that is a screaming deal because this is a pretty good book) and it is available on the Kindle.

Book Bleg

I am trying to remember the name of a science fiction novel that came probably between 5 and 10 years ago.  The novel centers around a man who is strongly OCD (or Aspergers maybe), who tries to closely adhere to a very set process and schedule for his life, else reality will "unravel," bringing both small and large changes in his life (ie he finds his home somewhere else).  It turns out that what is in fact happening is that he can jump between parallel universes, and eventually he is called on to use this skill to save all the universes from some catastrophe.  Does that ring any bells with anyone?  I know a couple of kids who are old enough to understand they have similar traits that might appreciate them at the center of a novel.

By the way, I seem to remember Orson Scott Card (?)  has a novel where the main character was OCD, where folks who had certain compulsions were treated as prophets.  Can't remember the name of that one either.  I remember the protagonist would trace cracks on the floor when she got upset.

Update: Found it:  Resonance.  Thanks to commenter Joe Martin.  He has a link to it in the Baen free library.

Book Review

Doublethink reviews a collection of dystopic short stories, and picks their favorites.

Kindle Recommendation

In the spirit of 99-cent books on Kindle, I found an author on Kindle named John Locke, who has written about 6 books about his assassin-protagonist Donovan Creed (he also wrote a western, of all things, which was also very good).  He seems to be a Kindle-only sensation.  I have not seen him other places but a while back he had all his books in the top 100 at the same time.

The books are short and an easy read.  This is not Hemingway, these are classic summer beach books, but I found him pretty enjoyable.

I Would Love A Place Like This

Book Update

I had a nice Instalanche this morning on my post about the 99-cent price point on the Amazon Kindle for my book BMOC.  I also got a bit of attention at the KindleBoards forum.  So my book is nosing into the top 500 on Kindle, but until my kid noticed I did not see the other topical rankings:

LOL, #1 in Books>Entertainment>Humor>Laywers.  #2 on the same but for business.  Whole new niches beckon!  (Actually, these categories kind of make sense, though I am not sure who chose them --  I am not sure I did).

99-Cent Kindle Book Update

For the second straight day, I have sold fifty copies of BMOC, for a total of a hundred in two days, at 99-cents.  Fifty copies is more than I was selling in several weeks at the old price.  Thanks to Glen Reynolds for linking the idea.

99-cent Book Experience, Day 1

Well, it may only be a short-term kick driven by you fine readers  (my thanks) but yesterday in the first day at the 99-cent price point I sold fifty copies of BMOC and jumped to number 2067 in the sales rank.  Since my main goal is to be read, rather than make money, this is great.

Amazon Bargain

My novel BMOC is now $0.99 at Amazon.  With my second book coming out sometime soon (I hope) I thought I would experiment with online pricing models.  I sold about 30 a month at the old price, but Glen Reynolds linked an article praising the 99-cent Kindle price point.  So what the heck, let's try it.  My loss is your gain, as the ads say.

Reasons you might like the novel:

  • It's a sort of combination of Harvard Business School case study and murder mystery, with some humor thrown in
  • The business at the center of the novel is actually the good guy (err gal, I guess, since the protagonist is female). While sympathetic to capitalism, the book is primarily a light crime novel, not some sort of Randian morality tale.
  • The villains include a media mogul, a tort lawyer, a local news anchor, and a US Senator  -- just like life!
  • Several of the business models were made up on the fly when I attended boring cocktail parties and entertained myself creating whimsical businesses for myself.  Since that time, readers of the book have emailed me with news stories of recent startup companies following almost identical strategies.
  • 4-stars at Amazon

Public Choice Theory

I asked Don Boudreaux his opinion of the best primer on public choice theory, a topic of interest to many libertarians.  He recommended William Mitchell & Randy Simmons, Beyond Politics (1994).  I have ordered a used copy from Amazon and will give my thoughts on it once I have had a chance to peruse it.

Idea for a Novel

I was doing something today that I generally avoid, which is thinking about Sarah Palin.  How bizarre would it be to wake up one morning and find that some random maniac you had never met in a city you might never have visited had gone on a killing spree and prominent people were all over the media blaming you for the killing. Not your political party, not all those who shared your views, not all those from a similar group, but you personally. Blood on your hands.   How weird would that be  (and how pissed off would I be -- I can say that I would have lashed out publicly early and hard and often, much harder than Palin's video, though no one ever has called me "presidential" in temperament).

Seems like there should be a novel in there somewhere.  Yeah, I know the falsely accused thing is done all the time (e.g. the Prisoner) but I can't shake the feeling there is an interesting concept here.

First Ever Inside Reference to My Novel

This is probably the first ever inside reference to my novel. The funny part is that when I read TJIC's post, I thought "hmm, Preston Marsh, where have I heard that name?"  LOL.  By the way, the business idea Travis has is actually intriguing

Restaurants get napkins and linens as a service "“ every day, they trade huge bags of dirty whites for clean whites. They are in the business of cooking food and hiring wait staff, not in the business of knowing how to bleach things (or in the business of picking out linens that can stand up to bleach).

So what does clothing as a service entail? It could include cleaning, sizing, rotating wardrobes as fashions change, etc.

It removes some hassles, and bundles responsibilities in the place where there are economies of scale "“ people in the fashion industry can and will know more about sizing, cleaning, coordinating, etc. than consumers.

I and others have thoughts on the model in the comments.

By the way, for those who have not read my book, Preston Marsh is an entrepreneur who has made money in a series of sortof odd business models.  Years ago I used to get bored at parties (actually, I still get bored at parties but I no longer use this entertainment technique) and make up occupations for myself.  I remember convincing one woman who had recent evidence that I could not ski well that I was on the Olympic Ski Jumping Team  ("You don't have to turn in ski jumping!")

Anyway, all the business models in the books are ones I made up for myself on the fly at parties.  One involves building fountains in malls and then recouping the investment by harvesting coins from them.  Another, which is central to the book, is a sort of guerrilla marketing startup which does some lifestyle consulting with teens but makes its money placing products in the hands of the coolest, trendsetting teens at high schools (a model that has since been emulated by a couple of real-life companies).

By the way, the book is still on sale at Amazon and available on the Kindle for download.  Just search "BMOC."

My First Novel Now on Kindle

My first novel, "BMOC," is now on Kindle for $4.99, a substantial discount off the  $17.95 price Amazon has for the dead tree version.  Incredibly, my author royalty is WAY more for the Kindle version even at that price than for the paper version.

Anyway, if you like this site, you might check it out.  The novel is part murder mystery, party comedy, and part business book.   I used to have fun with my friends at business school and later in nconsulting thinking up odd new business models (e.g. coin harvesting from fountains) and this book embodies some of the odder ones we came up with.  Though as wacky as the business model of the main company in the book (called "BMOC" appropriately enough) was supposed to be, since writing it I have had a number of people send me stories of startups pursuing eerily similar approaches to marketing.  Anyway, the book is a light read though with adult language and a tiny bit of sex.