There is no reason, as millions of Americans head back to the classroom, that executives should not be hitting the books as well. Here are suggestions for what to do on long flights when the laptop battery, as usual, fails to fulfill its promised life.
* No Excuses Management: Proven Systems for Starting Fast, Growing Quickly and Surviving Hard Times, T. J. Rodgers, William Taylor and Rick Foreman ($35, Currency/Doubleday).
"A computer chip is the result of literally a thousand interdisciplinary tasks," the authors of this business boot camp manual assert. "Doing 999 of them right guarantees failure, not success."
There is nothing warm and fuzzy about the management philosophy of Mr. Rodgers, the founder of Cypress Semiconductor, and his co-authors. In Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood, the computer chip industry, the phrase "we're tough" was literally part of his company's original credo.
"No Excuses Management" is a fascinating look behind the scenes at a semiconductor company at a time when semiconductors are the strongest segment of the domestic economy. It also is intended to be a blueprint for other companies that want to be lean and mean.
Simply put, the management principles enumerated here are based on no, rather than yes: no secrets, no surprises, no politics, no distractions, no confusion, no waste, no illusions. And above all, no excuses. This philosophy loves winners and hates whiners.
A few years ago, when many people were wringing their hands about the suspected threat to America's high-technology industry posed by Japan, Mr. Rodgers was fixing bayonets and developing management systems that took no prisoners, even among his own staff. These systems have been encoded into computer programs that streamline the process of setting goals and tracking progress.
A diskette containing demonstrations of two No Excuses Management programs is included with the book.
* Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine, Donald A. Norman ($22.95, Addison-Wesley).
Mr. Norman, one of the senior researchers at Apple Computer Inc. and the author of "The Design of Everyday Things," argues that we too often design systems around technology rather than around human qualities that are less precise and less repetitive than those of computers.
Although Mr. Rodgers portrays executive decision-making as a logical process, Mr. Norman says it is often illogical, drawing on personal experience, analogies and serendipity. Automating the decision-making process in a company hinders the informal communication channels that are, he contends, just as valid as purely logical systems, if not more so.
Unlike some thinkers, Mr. Norman does not advocate reducing the role of information technologies in the office. Rather, he suggests, these technologies must be redesigned to put humans, rather than computers, at the center.
* The Electronic Invasion: A Survival Guide for the Brave New World of Business Communications, Cheryl Currid ($26.95, Brady Books).
Many books advise technically savvy executives how to scale down their corporate computing to client-server networks, or similarly eyeball-glazing topics. Other books are aimed at "dummies," or novice PC users. Here is a book for executive dummies.
Some people may find it hard to believe that there are still some executives who have managed to remain untouched by local area networks, electronic mail, facsimile machines, voice mail, video teleconferencing and other electronic office tools.
Yet that is the audience Ms. Currid addresses in this friendly guidebook.
Ms. Currid, a former director of applied information technology at Coca-Cola Foods, has written for the technologically timid. The book has all the warmth and fuzziness lacking in Mr. Rodgers' spartan tome, and the practical advice missing in "Things That Make Us Smart."
In other words, this is not a book for executives who write their own Lotus 1-2-3 macros or who travel with a bandoleer belt slung with EO Personal Communicators, cellular phones and digital beepers.
Instead, "The Electronic Invasion" addresses the things that make us feel dumb. There are basic explanations of how local area networks work, how to send effective electronic mail ("Don't send it when you're angry"), step-by-step plans to master the fax machine, and how to record a meaningful voice-mail message ("Write it out before recording it").
Some advice will surely amuse or annoy seasoned computer users. But it will provide comfort to those executives who have been waiting for something like "Everything You Wanted to Know About Office Electronics but Were Afraid to Ask."
* The Joy of Cybersex: An Underground Guide to Electronic Erotica, by Phillip Robinson and Nancy Tamosaitis ($24.95, Brady Books).
It was inevitable that personal computers would become a medium for sexually explicit material, just as print, film and video technologies did before them. Computers add an extra dimension of interactivity, however, and have become hosts for a surprising variety of so-called adult services.
About the best things that can be said about this book are that it illuminates what has for years been a shadowy area of the personal computer culture and that it shows how computer erotica appears to provide many people with a "safe" alternative to real, personal relationships in a world where HIV is deadlier than computer viruses.
* Virtual Light, by William Gibson ($21.95, Bantam Books), and A Philosophical Investigation, by Philip Kerr ($20, Farrar, Straus & Giroux).
These are ripping yarns for executives who have a fondness for computers, science fiction and mystery (and who have a stomach for crude language and human bodies in various stages of disassembly).
The chilling visions of corporate information systems in a virtual realm called cyberspace were first put forth by Mr. Gibson nearly a decade ago in his science fiction classic "Neuromancer." After that first novel, he became something of a cult figure because so many of the supposedly fantastical technologies in the book were plausible.
It was even more amazing when Mr. Gibson revealed that he was not particularly computer literate. His vivid descriptions of the dimension called cyberspace, to which one gained access through "the Net," were simply extrapolated from his observations about the information systems of today.
The future was darker, raunchier and more sinister than we might imagine, but it was also disturbingly believable from a technological perspective.
In Mr. Gibson's new novel, "Virtual Light," executives looking for more guidance and insight into the dazzling but dark future of information systems will find a more mundane world, a decaying San Francisco of 15 years hence.
Mr. Kerr's "A Philosophical Investigation" is another example of fiction with a plausible technological undercurrent.
The caper takes place in London about 25 years from now, and involves an intuitive homicide detective, a subverted biogenetics experiment, a computer system gone awry, a madman who thinks he is the reincarnation of the philosopher Wittgenstein, and a team of serial killers.
(Peter Lewis works out of the New York Times' Austin, Texas, bureau:  328-8258.)