My Excellent Book Day

There’s a great second hand book shop named “Beloved Community Book Store” at the Flying Monkey Arts Center. Today my wife Susan brought me a couple of books that she found that she just knew I would like. She had no idea …

One of them is “The Space Age” by Willy Ley. It is a first printing from 1958, and promises to answer the questions:

  • Where does space begin?
  • When will man make his first trip to the moon?
  • What is the latest information on flying saucers?
  • Have the Russians perfected an intercontinental ballistic missile?
  • Can space bacteria cause epidemics on earth?
  • How can you prepare for a space career?
  • When will we have passenger rocket ships?

This looks like a great book. Susan was right – I’ll enjoy reading it. But the second book – it floored me. It’s a pristine copy of “Rocket Manual for Amateurs” by Bertrand R. Brinley. This is a book that I spent innumerable hours consuming as a teenager. It was later severely damaged by water, and lost.

RMFA is a book that couldn’t be published today. Not because the information in it isn’t applicable, but because it would be perceived to be too dangerous, or too useful to “evil doers”. It begins with a defense against the anticipated argument of danger, so that concern isn’t such a recent one. This is a book aimed at young people. Young ~men~ specifically, but such were the times – and I’m glad we’ve moved past them more or less. From the first chapter:

” … I would say that it (an average rocketry organization) consists of seven bright young men between the ages of 13 and 17, one sympathetic and understanding parent or high school teacher who acts as an adult advisor for the group, and one engineer or chemist who acts as a technical advisor”.

This was a book full of real information. Rocket design and stability. Information about different kinds of propulsion. Nozzle design. Fin attachment. How to build static test stands. How to design a safe range. How to build launch and loading bunkers. How to track your rocket. Here’s one of my favorite illustrations – it’s not perfect because I didn’t want to break the delicate spine to scan it:

Loading a rocket engine

While only encouraging the use of a couple of relatively safe solid propellants, the book has information about a lot more. It was pretty heady stuff to read about hypergolic fuels, Fuming Nitric acids, and attempt to follow the trigonometry of trajectory analysis.

This book is where I learned about centers of pressure and thrust, where I learned that there are different alloys of steel and aluminum, and that they have numbers i.e. “SAE 1020 steel tubing”. Combined with the general environment of the Apollo program, and having a father working on the program, this book is responsible for a lot of the knowledge that later took me down what was a very interesting and rewarding career path.

I didn’t end up as a rocket scientist. But the book is a stepping stone that led to a career in special effects and fireworks, where I did build rockets but also so much more. It’s not surprising that Susan knew it would be something I would like, she knows me very well. I’ve looked for this book before, and found it only at proces I didn’t want to pay. I’m so glad to have it back on my shelf.  I went back to the book shop and paid the owner the difference between the song that Susan had paid and a fair market value. She’s a friend and a member of our tribe.

If you’re interested in the book, you can download a softcopy here.

Thank you Susan.

In a related anecdote – I also was a big fan of a book series titled “The Mad Scientists Club”. It was about the adventures of a bunch of boys who caused a lot of mostly harmless trouble, but all the technology in the book was plausible. I was a fan of both the RMFA and TMSC for years before it clicked one day that there was only one Bertrand R. Brinley and that he had authored both.

But wait, that’s not all! Arriving home, there was a package containing two copies of “Practical Arduino”, By Jon Oxer and Hugh Blemings. Hugh sent me a personal copy and one for the shelf at Antitronics. I can’t wait to read it. I’ll report back after I have. Hugh is my manager at Canonical. Well – sort of – as duties shift now and then. But this is the role I met him in. It didn’t take long to discover that we have a lot in common – microcontroller hacking, Arduino projects, Amateur Radio, and linux hacking. It’s been exciting to follow Hugh’s final stages in getting the book published, and I’m really happy for him that it’s out there.

Thank you Hugh.

OK, I have a bunch of reading to do now.

About Steve

I'm Steve Conklin, AI4QR I'm employed by Salesforce, on the SRE team for Heroku. Interests include Linux, open source software and hardware, electronics and music, and amateur radio.
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