Thursday, September 11, 2008

Technical Books

A few years ago I had the opportunity to write a technical book on the obscure topic of Microsoft's Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM). It was fun to write, and sold decently, but I didn't get rich. Technical books are perhaps the most ephemeral of all (non journalism) publications. In a quickly changing field such as computer science, books have a shelf-life of less than one year.

I started on my DCOM book in the summer of 1997, and the publisher wanted it immediately. I worked industriously, and managed to get it done in about six months. Unfortunately, several other books came out during that interval, and that cut into sales. Most of the other books were pretty good, with the exception of one (large red) book with a dramatic lack of content. (My effort certainly wasn't perfect). Anyhow, timing is everything for technical subjects.

In the past ten years, the technical book market has started to disappear. Nowadays, much of the best content is available for free online. The web also allows it to be published almost instantaneously. Dead tree books are going the way of the steam engine.

At a recent library book sale an old technical book caught my eye. The book is entitled "Steam: Its generation and use", published by the Babcock & Wilcox company in 1918. Doubtless, for its time, this was bleeding edge technology. At that period, just after the end of World War I, boiler technology was changing the world at an incredible pace. Not only was it used for heating, but for electrical generation, and powering the the steam engines that were catapulting the USA into world leadership.

I couldn't resist, and now the book graces my nonfiction book collection, right next to books on Cryptography, Data Mining, .NET programming, and of course, DCOM.
© 2008 Raoul Rubin