To: Jeff Bezos, amazon.com

From: Angela Gunn, seattleweekly.com

Re: Quarterly tech books roundup

HI, JEFF! I know I said (and keep saying) that I won't

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Synergy, Jeff, synergy!

Shifting the Amazon recommendations paradigm.

To: Jeff Bezos, amazon.com

From: Angela Gunn, seattleweekly.com

Re: Quarterly tech books roundup

HI, JEFF! I know I said (and keep saying) that I won't buy from your un-bookstore anymore, a resolve that has afforded me a number of delightful conversations with real bookstore owners around town. However, I'll confess that I visit your ever-expanding empire regularly. Books and Beanie Babies, CDs and cough syrup—you're more fun than the mall, and the parking's better. And like they say: It never hurts to window-shop.

But I'm troubled, Jeff, troubled. I've always been a bit dismissive of your "recommendations" feature, which equates purchasing a book with recommending it—a stupid assumption, but you've built one hell of a stock scam on it. So why not run with the ball? Why restrict yourself? If you're now in the business of selling everything, why recommend only books to book purchasers?

As ever, Jeff, I'm here to help. Attached please find a sampling of books currently undersynergized on your site. Feel free to pick up the thread yourself (don't worry—if you like it I know you'll have no qualms about running roughshod over any prior intellectual property claims I might have).

LET'S KICK THIS off with a nod to the coders, content providers, and support crews Amazon and every other Internet empire. Like last year's Burn Rate, this year's NetSlaves: True Tales of Working the Web (by Bill Lessard and Steve Baldwin, McGraw-Hill, $19.95) is two tons of fun industry dish. Unlike Burn Rate, however, NetSlaves is about the people actually doing the work. Psychotic managers, dishonest recruiters, stressed-to-the-breaking-point peons, and the vampirically fabulous who flock to every Internet "paradigm shift" like vultures to a carcass—Lessard and Baldwin got some astonishing stories on the record, and the result reads like a cross between Stud Terkels' Working and the industry grapevine. Extra points for the barely there pseudonyms, which afford as much disguise as lingerie on a beach ball. And Jeff, you'll be as pleased as I was shocked not to find any of your own sweatshop corps in the book—not in this edition, anyway. AG Recommends: a musical medley—Pink Floyd's The Wall, Devo's "Working in a Coal Mine," and the collected works of Woody Guthrie.

Dr. Bart Kosko is one of the country's main proponents of the science of fuzzy logic, so don't be surprised when The Fuzzy Future: From Society and Science to Heaven in a Chip (by Bart Kosko, Harmony Books, $25) predicts that everything from law to religion will one day be viewed through a lens that shows no black and white, only shades of gray. Fuzziness is a property built into any number of advanced computer systems these days; Kosko sees as inevitable a time when more human-oriented systems will also have to be able to move beyond rigid definitions of right and wrong, life and death, and other Big Questions—working through them, ironically, in the way we already make hundreds of mundane decisions daily. Fascinating, challenging stuff. AG Recommends: a nice angora sweater—put it on and maybe you'll get the cute connotations of "fuzzy" out of your head long enough to take in this heady brew.

Digital Babylon: How the Geeks, the Suits, and the Ponytails Fought to Bring Hollywood to the Internet (by John Geirland and Eva Sonesh Kedar, Arcade Publishing, $25.95) would be a better book if the authors had removed their tongues from Scott Zakarian's mouth. Zakarian was one of the people behind The Spot, the online "episodic" that made a big splash back in 1995. This is a well-written book and the authors document the events ably, but I wish they'd set up a broader canvas; even in '95, a number of fascinating people were on the online-entertainment case, and many of them actually put together projects that succeeded where (and for the same reason that) The Spot failed. The Spot is a footnote in Net history; it makes for a good story, but not a great one. AG Recommends: an hour of meditation at JenniCam (www.jennicam.com) or The Company Therapist (www.thetherapist.com)—both all the soap opera, twice the voyeurism, and way more durable than The Spot or any of its successors.

Speaking of meditation, The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet (by Margaret Wertheim, WW Norton & Co., $24.95) is an interesting attempt to put solid philosophical underpinnings to the hippie-mystical rot one reads about cyberspace in the pages of Wired and so on. Locating some of the more wifty claims for cyber-culture in the Western tradition of mind-body dualism, Wertheim explains how the idea of cyberspace (that place where no one knows you're a dog) bears more than a passing resemblance to such entities as the Christian Heavenly City (where everyone's equal in God's eyes) and exists at least in part as a response to the modern world's tendency to see existence as a quality reserved for physical, rather than spiritual, things. This is a chewy book but worth the effort, especially if you, too, sense that there's more to online community than e-commerce and blaring self-promotion. Ever wonder, Jeff? AG Recommends: a DVD copy of The Matrix.

The West may struggle to put the Net in context, but Eastern philosophy's all over the case, as evidenced by the charming Zen Computer: Mindfulness and the Machine (by Philip Toshio Sudo, Simon & Schuster, $22). Overexplaining this book would be a disservice, since Zen don't play that way, but its advice on approaching the computer with a spirit of playfulness, gratitude (after all, we earn our living with its assistance), and peace is refreshing. It's surprisingly hands-on, too; not only does it remind us to breathe, it's a nice step-by-step introduction to the components and functions of the machine. And the calligraphy's lovely. AG Recommends: one of those little desktop rock gardens with the sand and the rake, but keep it away from the keyboard.

Cellular and wireless phone owners relax: The Spacewrm is listening, but he wants you to know that you're not as weird as you think you are. After all, odds are you aren't in i listen: a document of digital voyeurism (by the Spacewrm, Incommunicado Press, $13), a collection of telephone transcripts captured and compiled by the pseudonymous electronic-music artist. This is a fun book but oddly draining; the author has picked out the cream of the bizarro-crop here, and it's definitely Jerry Springer-style riotousness, but the book is ironically lacking the rhythms of everyday life that, claims the author, make illegal monitoring so addictive for him and others. Still, this book is a great object lesson—either to remind you that personal privacy is more fragile than you think, or that, as the Spacewrm says, "we are more deviant than we come across, and . . . it's totally normal. It's okay." AG Recommends: a new cell phone—why fight it?

Of course, you should fight it; you just need to pick your battles. Perhaps The Code Book: The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography (by Simon Singh, Doubleday, $24.95) will help. For all my concerns about privacy and cryptography, I don't feel I understand the mechanics very well. The Code Book wisely waited until I was thoroughly engrossed in high historical drama before breaking out the technical stuff. The book's about secrets, which rank up there with gossip and voyeurism as things that make a techie book flow by much more pleasantly. A few hard-core gearheads might find themselves impatient with the details, but most of the rest of us can look forward to a good read that, bless it, makes the reader feel a bit smarter when it's done. Singh's an elegant writer and well-suited to the task of leading the mathematically perplexed through areas designed to be tricky. AG Recommends: a subscription to Games magazine and a secret decoder ring.

Speaking of playfulness and mathematics (how else do you explain Amazon's stock price?), The Joy Of Pi (by David Blatner, Walker & Co., $12) has been reissued in paperback, a natural format for this short, entertaining book. The pursuit of the mathematical constant pi makes a nifty detective story, and some of the curious coincidences and trivia surrounding that omnipresent number rattle around in one's head most entertainingly. Blatner doesn't trouble the reader too much with Big Math; instead, he talks a bit about the characters who have sought and continue to seek the constant and its—maybe—hidden significance, along with a few folks who are literally nuts about it. And once you read about it, you'll see pi everywhere from popular culture to your morning donut. I'd love to run across this little book in my local coffee shop; you might consider giving it to your favorite teenager confronting the rigors of geometry class. AG Recommends: the classic children's book The Phantom Tollbooth. Wait—a book for another book? What a concept! Hey, maybe I could sell that idea to an online bookstore. . . .

 
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