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Technology In The Workplace

For a little change of pace this month, I'll play librarian.

For a little change of pace this month, I'll play librarian. Hopefully, warm weather means leisure time and the chance to do some reading. Not heavy reading, but rather something that both educates and makes one smile. Be forewarned, the books listed are heavily biased by my personal tastes, so I'll look to you to email me suggestions for the ones that got away.

This is not a list of books from recent editions of the New York Time Book Review section; many of the books I consider classics and may have been published five or even ten years ago. This can work in your favor, since it is possible that many of the titles may now be available in both hardcover and less expensive paperback editions. Each is listed under a general category, but there is considerable overlap.

Category: General Reference, Telecommunications
Let's start with the one book I can't do without: "Newton's Telecom Dictionary." Now in its 17th edition, this book keeps getting thicker and more comprehensive in documenting the terminology, jargon, acronyms, and buzzwords of technology. This book was first written because the author, Harry Newton, was going crazy trying to understand and keep up with all the techno-babble. Don't take the title literally; this book also covers computer networking, operating systems, wireless, hardware, cabling, etc. The extensive list of acronyms is worth the price of the book. Harry Newton's personalized comments add flavor and interest.
ISBN 1-57820-069-5, $34.95.

Category: General Reference, Computing
"The New Hacker's Dictionary" is the "Newton's Telecom Dictionary" for the computer crowd. The term "hacker" is used here in its original sense, that of someone who lives and breathes computers and software, not someone who does bad things to computers. The New Hacker's Dictionary, like, Newton's book, can also come in handy as a way to enhance(?) conversation at social events with the technical crowd. Just open it to a page at random and memorize an esoteric work or phrase to throw out when the conversation gets dull (e.g. "Crippleware: software that has some important functionality deliberately removed, so as to entice potential users to pay for a working version"). Unfortunately, although this book is in the fourth printing (1999) it does not appear to have been updated since its publication in 1996 - but it's still a good read.
ISBN 0-262-68092-0, $24.95.

Category: General Reference, Visual Display of Information
How many times have you looked at a map or been in a strange airport and been totally confused? Well, maybe we can pass a law that would require every person responsible for creating methods of visual guidance and communication to read three of Edward R. Tufte's books: "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information," "Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative," and "Envisioning Information." Want to make your PowerPoint presentation really convey useful information? - take a look at these books.
ISBN 0-961-39214-2, $40 (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information).
ISBN 0-961-39212-6, $45 (Visual Explanations).
ISBN 0-961-39211-8, $48 (Envisioning Information).

Category: Computer Crime

How about a wonderful book that combines an out-of-work astronomer with the detective talents of Sherlock Holmes, the Internet, geek romance, and a plethora of unresponsive local, state, federal and military law enforcement agencies. The best part is that "The Cuckoo's Egg" is a true story based on finding out why there was a $0.75 discrepancy between two computer usage accounting systems. Great summer reading. Also scary for what it reveals about the bad guys out there.
ISBN 0-385-24946-2, $19.95.

Category: Computer Crime
Tsutomu Shimomura took it very personally when " … America's most wanted computer outlaw [Kevin Mitnick] … " took a personal interest in breaking into Tsutomu's computers. Why? Because Tsutomu Shimomura considers himself to be a computer security expert that is very much "smarter than the average bear" (that phrase should reveal my age bracket). So much so that I had trouble getting through a few sections of "Takedown" where Tsutomu almost shouts from the printed page about his superiority and the incompetency of all those around him from coworkers to law enforcement agencies. Still, this is another book that should be required reading for anyone interested in learning more about the bad guys.
ISBN 0-7868-6210-6, $24.95.

Category: History of the Internet
Ever wonder why we use the "@" symbol as the delimiter in email addresses? (a delimiter is a special symbol whose placement in a series of characters is used by the computer to separate [pharse] information. Common everyday examples of delimiters would be the slashes in a date [7/15/01] or the colon when stating a time 12:15 PM). This is a wonderful history of those who where there when it all began. If the names Cerf and Licklider don't come to mind when someone mentions the Internet, grab either "When Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet" or Nerds 2.0.1 and set a spell under a shade tree. Both are non-technical.
ISBN 0-684-83267-4, $ (When Wizards Stay Up Late)
ISBN 1-57500-106-3 $27.50 (Nerds 2.0.1)

Category: History of the World Wide Web
If you think the Internet and the World Wide Web are one-in-the-same, you are not alone, but reading "Weaving the Web" will fix all that. What makes this book so interesting is not only Tim Berners-Lee's recounting of his struggle to conceptualize and develop a universal tool to locate and access information on the Internet, but the philosophical consequences of the Web with regard to people and privacy.
ISBN 0-06-251586-1, $26.

Category: Miscellaneous, Mathematics, Non-technical

Forget the pithy sections of "The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip" about what separates us from the Dr. Doolittle crowd. What a relief to find out on page 59 that I'm not the only one who thinks that multiplying 8 times 7 in my head is much more difficult than figuring out 2 times 3. But is that just an impression or is it really true? Thankfully, author Keith Devlin believes not only that it's true, he provides a strong case for why. Surprisingly, his explanation is based not on the complexity of the math, but on the ability of language to create abstract concepts.
ISBN 0-465-01619-7, $24.95.

Well, that's it. Grab a book, a comfortable chair and the beverage of your choice. And don't forget to email me with your comments and suggestions at
Ernest Schirmer is Vice President for Technology Consulting with Syska & Hennessy, Inc. consulting engineers in New York City. For more information, please see and

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