Technicalities

If you want better understanding of the technology you'll be using soon, and perhaps the kind of tech company stocks that will be leaders in the years to come, read these books. After all, while the idea of reading up on the technology field may seem daunting, the truth is that it can be fun, too.

For instance, what's the first known instance of a commercially viable use of nanotechnology? For that matter, what is nanotechnology? The answers to these and other fascinating questions can be found in The Investor's Guide to Nanotechnology & Micromachines, by Glenn Fishbine (Wiley, 2002). In this thoroughly entertaining and educational book, Fishbine not only deals with the realities of defining opportunities for investing in nanotechnology, he explains what it is, gives a brief history of various facets of the field, and explores several applications in which commercial opportunities may be found. Whether he's discussing imaging systems, control systems, or the real nitty-gritty of quantum mechanics (quoting the famous Schroedinger: "I don't like it, and I'm sorry I ever had anything to do with it" or Richard Feynmann, a "significant contributor to the theory": "I think that I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics"), Fishbine does so with humor, understanding, and a style of explanation that neither intimidates nor obfuscates.

The first part of the book offers ways of sniffing out investing opportunities in the field of nanotechnologyaeone of the best ways is to check on what's being done at colleges, universities, and government agenciesae and to an explanation of how the research and investing system works. While you might think that this section is the main area of interest to investors, you'd be much in error to skip the rest of the book, with its discussions on the development of all sorts of technological advances and how these relate to or segue into modern technologies. Fishbine shines throughout the book, and you'll find yourself reluctant to put it down.

Oh, and the earliest example of commercially viable nanotechnology? That would be in the field of brewing, when vintners and brewers post-1680 began to classify and breed new strains of yeast. That's what nanotechnology is, you seeaetechnology so small it's invisible to the naked eye. The nano comes from nanometer, which means one billionth of a meter. A nanomachine might be able to work on a cancerous cell inside the bodyaeor do any of a number of other astonishing things. Maybe even make money some day.

Another good place to do some research, particularly on why this time it wasn't different, is Engines That Move Markets: Technology Investing from Railroads to the Internet and Beyond, by Alasdair Nairn (Wiley, 2002). This excellent book, filled with original research on booms, busts, and bubbles in new technologies from the time of the railroads and canals to today's wireless and Internet opportunities, offers clear and entertaining looks at how, time after time, investors and even so-called experts were sucked into investing in pass? technologies or taking too much of a risk with a developing technology that took a sudden left turn and left them flat.

With a foreword by Sir John Templeton, this book offers sound advice for investors eager to sharpen their wits and fortunes on the cutting-edge trends of the day, regardless of their scientific worth or economic viability. Written largely as a response to the statement "It's different this time", Nairn's exacting research and sound business theory reminds the reader that regardless of bells and whistles (no pun intended), sometimes technology itself is not enough to make a profit. He offers case after case, with fascinating details of greenmail and other scurvy tactics of the likes of Jay Gould and the Tweed Ring, the caprices of Edison and the fortunes of Bell, and Marconi's struggles for acceptance and respect. Weighing in at a hefty almost-500 pages, the book is an excellent example of how he who fails to learn from history is doomed to repeat itaebut with the lesson delivered in such grand style, with such human terms and depth of background, it is far more effective than some dry tome on the Prudent Investor citing statistics rather than human nature.

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