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Books you might like.....

This page is in two parts. Here at the top, I'll list the sections to be found below. Following that are the sections with the recommendations. Forgive the overkill for the number of books here at the moment, but this page will grow, if enough people say it has been of use. (Hint, hint.)

A few books I'm especially likely to tell friends about? A Dog Year, John Katz (Life with a Border Collie, easy read). Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett (Epic account of life in England in the 1100's. On a much higher plane than Follett's other books.)

A: General fiction, and books teachers might draw upon

Don't be put off by the reference to "educational" merit. These are good books to read, first. But, also, teachers might useful material in some of these. Most are worth giving to the kids to read in full, or, if time is short maybe just the indicated sections will have to do.

Rose, Cruz-Smith
Chapter Five gives an insight into life in a Victorian mine. Grim, of course, but not gratuitously gruesome. Think of it as a new "Oliver Twist" by the man who wrote Gorky Park.

A Dog Year, Jon Katz
A delightful account of life with a Border Collie. Very funny in places, moving in others. Easier reading that the books listed above, and a shorter book. Nothing to "draw on", exactly... just a good read!

Farley Mowat... Interesting writer in that you might not realize some of his books are by the same author without looking. Never Cry Wolf highly entertaining account of wildlife research work.

Great Train Robbery, Michael Chrichton (A Victorian robbery, true story, told as a thriller. Of course, he has written many other good books, too.)

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Some teachers seem to feel that studying warfare and weapons systems is somehow wrong, that it encourages an enthusiasm for death and destruction. Or maybe they're just afraid of putting their head above the parapet...

(Here begins a bit of a rant. You can skip over it if you wish.) A lot of what happens in British schools today is sad. Did you know that some Jamaican immigrants now send their kids to boarding schools... in Jamaica... to get the children into what the parents see as "good" schools? A sad development in the land of Eton. I suppose there's some hope, though: Today (31 May 2007) it was announced that teachers are now allowed to search pupils they suspect of carrying a knife. It wasn't legal yesterday. Excuse me? And what's the betting that some teacher will get into trouble because they can't prove an acceptable reason for "suspecting"? This at the time that there is talk of expanding the powers of the police to stop and quiz people. Anyone remember the trouble not long ago arising from the "sus laws" abuse? Anyway, back to books: I suspect that teachers do their pupils a disservice when they avoid "sensitive" issues. People need to know about the things that make up our world. The following are excellent on their own, but if you read them before playing Electronic Arts' / Janes' excellent 688(I) Hunter Killer, then you'll play that game with more appreciation for the accomplishments of the engineers of the real boats. I once asked someone who had a "day job" on a 688 and a second job in a computer store by a major sub base what he thought of the game. "It has everything that isn't classified" was his verdict. 688 really becomes exciting when you play it on a network against other humans. But! Back to books....!

Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy
The book goes much more fully into the issues of inter-sub warfare than the movie.
America, Stephen Coonts
Some impressive submarine warfare stuff starts at about chapter 11 (pg.216 in my copy). There are also two chilling expositions on the theme of how catastrophic an EMP weapon would be. (EMP: Electromagnetic pulse... fries microchips. Think the loss of a few computers would be a sustainable nuisance? Read the book! Pages. 230/31 are good. Also pg 160)

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I haven't seen the film version... but I doubt it can have been in the same league as the book, however good it may have been. Choose your moment before starting this book... you want to be emotionally secure, and surrounded by bright happy things. It sucked me, and a friend, down into its very bleak world. Gloriously spare writing... interesting for the style as much as for the content. It is set in a post-nuclear holocaust world... but it will also, I think, give you an idea of life in any world where war has swept away the things we take for granted. Want an idea of life in Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya? Give this a try. Don't want an idea of life in any of those places? Shouldn't you seek one?

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B: General Non-Fiction reading... also including some with educational merit

As with the previous section, these are good books to read, first. But, also, teachers might useful material in some of these. Most are worth giving to the kids to read in full, or, if time is short maybe just the indicated sections will have to do.

La Doctora, by Linnea J. Smith. Autobiography of a lady who gave up life in the US to bring medical care to the people of one tiny stretch of the Amazon... and to follow her love of the jungle. Wonderfully clear, unsentimental, readable writing style. Visit for details of obtaining the book. (Or just buy from usual sources... ISBN 0-8166-4249-4) Visit other parts of the site while you're there. A tax deductible charity for US tax payers. I've met the lady, and she is genuine.

Soul of a New Machine Tracey Kidder
The Right Stuff (The film skipped a bunch of good stuff. In the film, the old drunk in the bar who says to the young hotshots 'Wanna whiskey?' is the real Chuck Yaeger, who is a major focus of the book.)

Cuckoo's Egg, Cliff Stahl
Extraordinary true story.... it would be thought too absurd if it were a work of fiction.... of a chase through cyberspace in days long before the internet we know today. (Congratulations to Amazon for setting up its search engine to be possessive apostrophe friendly. I suppose they had to do that to help all the people searching for "Eight Wive's of Henry VIII")

Hot Zone, Richard Preston
Like Cuckoo's Egg, this is an extraordinary true story.... it would be thought too absurd if it were a work of fiction. This time it is about a near disaster with a terrible infectious agent. It could well be the story that inspired the (thankfully fictitious!) film "Outbreak", with Dustin Hoffman/ Morgan Freeman. There are some graphic accounts of some dreadful diseases in this... it is not quite as "harmless" as the other books in this "books for teachers" section.

If you enjoy Hot Zone, you might also like Cobra Event, which is a fictional bio terrorism thriller, also by Mr Preston. It is just recreational reading.

Also by Preston: The Wild Trees, amazing account of the sequoias and other big trees, and First Light: The Search for the Edge of the Universe, a "biography" of the Hale telescope on Palomar Mountain. Both books explore a mind enriching landscape populated with people, places, concepts linked to the central theme.

Blind Man's Bluff by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew
A readable non-fiction account of the submarine war waged... sailors killed... during the Cold War. A former XO of a nuclear boat I once spoke to said he had no complaints with the quality of the material.
Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sachs
A chemistry "text" combined with an autobiography of a north London childhood, author born 1933 to professional (medicine) parents. Not a book just for science enthusiasts... tells the story of chemistry more readably than the "proper" texts I spent hours digesting.

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C: Fiction with some violence, etc.

I tend to read thrillers, and of course they will have elements of violence, etc. This is not a reading list for 8 year olds. I hope, however, that in the following you will find things which expand your life 'experiences' beneficially.

Anything by the following authors: Gerald Seymour, Tim Sebastian, Ted Allbuery (Cold war thrillers), Desmond Bagley, Tony Hillerman (Detective stories set in modern day American west/ Navaho nation area), George Foy, Ridley Pearson (often rough.. but good), Harlan Coben, Donald Harstad (A retired policeman writing books that seem a little more realistic than the story lines in CSI, etc. Lots of good exposition of police procedures, too.).
Things by James (not Ken) Follett. (They always have one or two unpleasant pages, but the rest make it worth overlooking those.)
Most things by the better known Ken Follett, for fun reading, or the splendid Pillars of the Earth for something that is still fun, but on a higher plane.
Jester James Patterson and Andrew Gross
(The previous two books are completely unlike others by the same authors. It seems to me that they wanted to write something "worthwhile", by which they be remembered as more that authors of books to fill a long plane journey... as good as those other books are, in their place! (The same seems to be true of Wish You Well and Painted House by Grisham and Baldacci. And Grisham's Last Juror is in the same league. There is a trial, but the book is about much more than that.)

Angel Maker, Ridley Pearson. (I know I just mentioned him.) This is cleverly written. The odd numbered chapters are written from the point of view of a serial killer... and everything makes "sense"... from his point of view. Sort of, anyway! The even numbered chapters are written from the somewhat different point of view of the policeman trying to find the killer. Three other noteworthy Pearson books: Hidden Charges... was this the inspiration for Jurassic Park? No dinosaurs, but read it, and you'll see why I ask. Beyond Recognition.... what did the city of Hartford, CT, do to offend Pearson? And one that I can't remember the title of tells a fascinating tale of Seattle's "Underground", which is not a mass transit system.

The Poet, Michael Connelly. I like his writing in general. This example has an extraordinarily clever plot, with lots of twists and turns... and yet it doesn't become overly complex or difficult to follow. Serial killer, the FBI, and a journalist.
Trinity's Child, D Prochneau
Last Ramadan, N Lang
Kara's Game, G. Stevens (Or was it Kara's Rules?)
Fatal Cure, R Cook
Green Monday, Michael Thomas (Finance / computers)
Triad,Colin Falconer (Crime story set in Hong Kong)

Sci-Fi/ Fantasy:

Anne McCaffrey. Not only the 'Dragon' stories, but even better the ones about telepathy, telekinesis... e.g. Pegasus in flight.

Horror/ supernatural:

I'm not generally a fan of the horror/ supernatural genre, but Dean Kootz's books always grab my attention. Superb characterizations... including a great rendering of what goes on in a dog's mind, and that of an 11 year old.

This Boy's Life,Robert McCammon semi mystical evocation of 60's childhood

Techo thrillers/ military:

Nimitz Class, P Robinson. Maybe I'm too demanding of "something new", but I enjoyed this his first naval thriller more than some of the sequels.
Hunt for Red October Tom Clancy. As you are reading this on the internet, it's a safe bet you use computers! If you've ever enjoyed some of the submarine warfare games, read this book! (The movie skips the good stuff)

Azincourt, Bernard Cornwell. This is very violent... not gratuitously so, but thoroughly so! I thought I understood that life was nasty, brutish and short in bygone days... but this book really brings it home! Don't be put off by the foregoing, though... it is a fascinating read about the 1415 battle of Agincourt. The story is told through the eyes of an English yoeman archer.

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D: Investing

Old-ish books... but the advice is still sound. Get via Amazon (used books) or eBay?

Please, please, please take an interest in the stock market! Even if you only "play" the market with "imaginary" money, it is a fascinating world. I have a page with some ideas and links for beginners.

Beardstown Ladies Common Sense Guide to Investing
(Introductory level) You may have heard that some of the Ladies' performance figures have been questioned. Those mistakes do not change the fact that the book is delightfully presented, and has some pretty sound ideas.

All You Ever Needed To Know About Investing, Tobias
(Introductory level) A pretty good book for anyone to read and re-read at age 14, 18 and 21. It spends a lot of time helping you see how to avoid the need for clever investing, and then goes on to help you with that, too.

How I Trade Options, Jon Najarian
Would you enjoy playing chess over the phone, with no "real" chessboard, all in your mind? Options trading might appeal to you. It is really cool, but don't try to study it if you have a headache.

Let me introduce you to options trading. I suppose the SEC, etc, would like me to stress that this is purely an amateur's view. The price of options can go up or down. You may lose your shirt ; don't go crying to Mummy. There may be errors in the following.

You can buy or sell puts or calls. That's four things you might do.

To buy a call, you pay someone some money. That's theirs to keep, come what may. But! You have bought the right to "call" upon them to sell you x shares of company y at price z any time you wish, if you wish, which you may not, up to an agreed date.... after which you have nothing, and the seller still keeps the purchase price of the call. (It's called "the premium"). Note: You don't have to hand over the purchase price of the stocks unless you elect to exercise your right to buy.... but then you only hand over the amount agreed when you bought the call, regardless of the price of the stock in the open market on the day you exercise your right to "exercise the call", as it's called. (Sorry.)

Let's take a real life example. On 31 May 2007, you could buy the right to buy 100 shares of Amgen at $62.50 up until the end of the third week in July 07. It would cost you $35 (+ fees) to do that. At that time, you could buy 100 shares of Amgen for $5526. If (and that's the crunch!) Amgen's price goes up to, say, $65 per share before the end of the third week in July 07, you would be able to demand that the person who sold you the call sell you 100 shares for only $6250... even though, at that time, they would cost $6500 in the open market.

That's buying a call, in a nutshell. If you want to look at prices for different options, just ask Yahoo. (That link will bring up the price for various options expiring quite soon. Just click on the relevant link (just above the table) to see prices for options which have longer to run before they expire.

Of course, you might sell a call, rather than buy it.

A put is similar, but the buyer buys the right to "force" some shares onto the seller of the put. If I buy a put from you, then later I may come back to you and say "Okay, here are the shares, give me the money.". If the put was for 100 shares of Amgen at $60, and I paid $100 for the put, and the present price of Amgen in the open market is $50, then I've saved myself losing $1000 (if I have to sell the Amgen now, rather than holding on, and hoping the price is going to go back up) by spending $100 on the "insurance". Of course, if the price of Amgen is above $50, even if you want to sell them, you're not going to force them on the seller of the put, and he's earned his $100 by letting you have peace of mind.

You can be the seller of a put, just as you can be the seller of a buy.

Quite clear about the four basic things you can do with stock options? Good. I've saved you reading page one of the book. It discusses lots of neat ideas for limiting your risk without too seriously limiting your potential profits.

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E: Electronics books

Adventures with Microelectronics by Tom Duncan, ISBN 07195 3671 5
(I am a former science teacher to 8-13 yr olds.) This is a great book for getting anyone, child or adult, started in the fun world of digital electronics. No prior knowledge needed by user or helping parent. The cost of materials required is realistic, and a shopping list is provided. Contrary to many books, it isn't just a 'put it together like this and it works or it doesn't' book. The projects do a good job of preparing and inspiring the user to try modifications of the designs. You might have to look on Amazon, in their used books section, or on eBay to find this... but the information is still good.(See my electronics pages for more on these topics.)

(Title not to hand)
Arizona Microchips does a CD-ROM full of useful guidance on the application of their fine 'PIC' microcontrollers. They have been an active product line for more than ten years at Feb 2010. (See my microcontroller pages for more information.)

The following is old, in computing terms, but it was full of Good Stuff, much of which is still relevant and usable. Buy from Amazon used books, or on eBay.

PC Interfacing: Using Centronics, RS232 and Game Ports by Pei An, ISBN 0-7506-3637-8
A very useful compendium of information. Accessible to beginners; complete with detail that experienced uses might want to look up. It covers both the hardware and software aspects, with source code in Turbo Pascal 6, TP for Windows and VB3. You can download long programs from www.newnespress.com

The material is well sub-divided, allowing you to use the book as a reference work. The information is written up as a series of experiments, so even if you're not sure where to start, the book will still help you. Complete circuit diagrams are provided.

It shows you about: driving LEDs, relays, stepper motors, message display modules (LCDs, etc), high power devices (110v, 230v AC). It covers analogue to digital converters, voltage to frequency converters, various sensors with digital outputs, so you can use a PC to monitor or control the real world. Parameters such as temperature, flow rate, magnetic fields, light levels can be measured.

Pei An's book is a treasure chest! (I too, have written about connecting things to the parallel port and to the serial port, (and even, under Delphi, the games port!)... but my writings are not as polished, and only available online.)

The following are both really old, in computing terms, but they gave me a lot of fun, in their time. Buy from Amazon used books, or on eBay. It may be that you can no longer buy 6802s, which are essential to actually doing anything with the projects in these books. Even if you can't buy the 6802s, the books make good reading, and will help you expand your knowledge of the general theories, which are still relevant to design work in some areas today.

Introduction to 6800/6802 Microprocessor Systems, Simpson & Terrell, ISBN 0 408 01179 3
Good text for hobbyists wanting to make an SBC. The world is not exclusively Intel, you know! For a hobbyist, the 6802 makes a good choice: a more elegant processor, and more manageable. The TASM assembler (shareware) will let you program it from a PC. (TASM will also allow you to program for other processors, so when you want to move on, you don't need to think about new tools.) There also have been many good articles in the hobbyist magazines. The book may even be worth reading if you decide to go with a different processor. the book teaches assembly language programming as well as the hardware topics.

Twenty Two Microcomputer Projects, D Metzger, ISBN 0-13-934712-7 Also good, also 6802. This book has a more practical focus, a 'cookbook' approach, well done.

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F: Delphi Programming books

These are not "the best books on Delphi". And they are old. But for beginners trying to make a start, you could do a lot worse... if you can find them. Of course, by now they won't be as expensive as computer books usually are! (Look on Amazon (they sell used books, too) and eBay.)

Borland Delphi How To by The Waite Group, ISBN 1 57169 019 0
A book full of specific, bite sized, examples of how to achieve various results.

Delphi Made Simple by Stephen Morris, ISBN 0 7506 3246 1
This doesn't pretend to do more than get you started, but if you are having trouble achieving that, then this book is good.

Teach yourself Delphi 2 in 21 days by Osier, Grobman, Batson ISBN 0672 30863 0

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Some other good authors/ titles.... typed up in haste... sorry these aren't organized as well as the material above:

Ring of Red Roses, Eddie Shah (the journalist, crime story)
Lucy Ghosts, Eddie Shah (crime)
Blood Test, J Kellerman (psychologist / detective team)
Black As He's Painted, N March (A little more high-brow than my usual level!)
Adverse Report, G Hammond (my note says "yarn, shotguns"... whatever that means!)
Last Ramadan, N Land (Middle east thriller)
Rat Trap, Craig Thomas (Airline high jack with subtle plot)
Special Deception, Fullerton (novel plot)
(anything by), Douglas Reeman (WW II Naval stories)
Nocturne for the General, J Trenhaile (Cold war)
Secret Country, (F O'Neill)
Ambush at Osirak, H Crowden (Middle east thriller with complex plot)
Final Run, T Steele (Well developed characters)
Major Maxim, G Lyall
The Sisters, R Littel (good plot)
Sky Masters, Dale Brown (Techno thrillers, air force)
Day of Reckoning, J Katzenbach (Crime thriller, twins in plot, long forgotten sins returning to haunt you... interesting.)
Chinaman, S Leather (well developed characters, subtle plot)
Fireman, S Leather (well developed characters, Hong Kong crime)
Hawkeye, D Stryker (good plot, computes important to story)
Soldiers of God, Barnaby Williams (I found some new ideas in this. No, not an evangelical text... thriller involving flying, with a clever, well wrought plot.)
Trapdoor, BJ O'Keefe (man of industry / nuclear holocaust theme)
Day the Sun Rose Twice, Donald Thomas (Cold war thriller, rich details)
(things by...), P Lovesey (witty)
(things by..), B Bova (Sci fi, virtual reality, computers, fantasy)
Black Fire, Stuart Fox (Mystic fighter thriller set in Hong Kong.. no, not Bruce Lee stuff)
Col Cutler's Wolf, Anthony Price (Cold war thriller, well developed atmosphere)
Phoenix Pact, M Hartman (Thriller set in Hong Kong)
Red Square, E Topol & F Nezansky (Life and crime in USSR... Gorky Park-like stuff, written, I think, by Russians)
Mindwarp, James (not Ken) Follett (Sci fi... one in a series)
Raft, Stephen Baxter (Fascinating space based sci fi, with good physics)
Red Horseman, Stephen Coonts (Post Cold War scenario, terrorists obtain some ICBMs)
Shadow Over Babylon, D Mason (A middle east thriller, with superb, plot full of ideas and twists)
(title misplaced), J Hands (Good post Cold War Russia missiles thriller)
(various), S Llewelyn (Good crime/thriller stories with yachts a part of them)
Speculator, A MacAllan (Semi historical saga, good characters, period feel)
Frankenstein's Children, D Mace (Bio-techno thriller, good science, good plot revolving around genetic manipulation)
Crypotonomicon, Neal Stevenson (Zany, very clever, "big" story)
Zodiac, Neal Stevenson (As above. This one about industrial pollution in Boston, with bio hazard aspects, too)

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