McKay's Used Books

Posted on September 10, 2007 by Steve

William Gibson seems a bit unnerved at the way "every class of human artifact is being sorted and rationalized by this economically driven machine," referring to eBay.

I suppose if I wanted to blow a few hundred dollars I could locate and accumulate fondly-remembered childhood toys and scratch all the book titles off my To Buy list. But there's still something to be said for the serendipitous find.

McKay's has long been a favorite haunt and source for reading material, and I was disappointed when their nearby location shut down. This weekend we tried a local alternative and found that any ratty paperback was $7 or more, so we trekked on down to Manassas. Within minutes of walking in to McKay's, I found a pair of books that had been on my list for years. Both in dust jackets, in very good shape, ten dollars total. Oh, both were signed by the author as well.

There were many other books for one to three dollars that I might have picked up in the days of shelf space and leisure time, but for now I just grabbed one, and later realized that I had already read it.

So it appears it is still possible to be a "picker."

Book: The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel

Posted on September 07, 2007 by Steve

I read the first of this series in the bookstore; it was too good to go to the trouble of purchasing. There are more pleasingly implausible lessons in the Travel edition: how to crash land a plane into water, how to stop a runaway train, how to survive a riot. Some of the items are disappointingly practical, like passing a bribe or purifying water (boil for ten minutes, and "be sure to let the water cool before drinking it").

The long list of expert consultants notwithstanding, some of the advice seems pretty poor. You'll spend days trying to catch a fish with a shirt stretched over a branch loop, and even that survivor guy on the Discovery Channel has a hard time making animal traps work.

To escape a smoky room in a burning hotel, they suggest breaking through a random wall, neglecting to mention the map usually posted on the back of the door, which may reveal a stairwell a short dash away.

And they're right that jumping before a falling elevator hits the bottom is unlikely to help, but not because it's too hard to time it right or because the crashing ceiling will crush you in mid-jump. The biggest reason is that you can only reduce your speed of impact by the speed of your jump. A well-timed three-foot-high jump at the end of a 50-foot fall will be the same as a 47-foot fall without the jump. More importantly, you want be on the floor to take advantage of whatever brief deceleration there is as the car crashes and elevator gear below crumples. Physics geeks please chime in if I'm wrong here.