If you travel away from the sun for approximately 93 million miles, take a left on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood and then your first right, you will soon come upon the storehouse of all human technical and scientific knowledge.
Well, a good deal of it anyway. There, in an unassuming building on Sycamore Avenue is Opamp Technical Books, one of the country's largest such stores.
In an era where it's more common to surf the Net than the waves, Opamp has become the literary mecca for computer jocks, scientists, professors, engineers, builders, designers, technicians--indeed, anyone who needs a formula, a principle, a theorem, a handbook, a construction code or a computer manual.
From relativity to refrigeration, from the arcana of applied mathematics to the practicalities of programming, from fractals to film editing, soil mechanics to statistics--it is all there.
Opamp is the domain of owner and president Lyn Luzwick, 41, who founded the bookstore 17 years ago in a tiny room next to her parents' audio/video equipment company, Opamp Labs, and has piloted it through steady growth ever since. (Her brother has a business on the same block that makes telescope mounts, but that's another story).
Inside, Opamp resembles a cross between a busy college bookstore and the phone center of a telethon for a very successful disease. At any given time, any one of the 30 employees are either helping people who have walked in, or are at their desks fielding phone calls from customers across the country, looking up titles in computer databases, or retrieving books from the shelves.
In a cramped and busy room in the back, half a dozen people are packaging books for shipment. If a technical book can't be found in Opamp's in-store inventory of 50,000 or so volumes--no one seems to know the exact figure--the Opamp salespeople will track it down.
"We have access to millions of titles," said Ron Spyrison, Opamp's marketing manager. "We can get any book to anybody, anywhere, usually by the next day. If you're willing to pay for it, we can get the book to you in a matter of hours."
Still, to look at it, you wouldn't think Opamp one of the busiest bookstores west of the Mississippi. Luzwick was cagey about the exact number of books the store sells, but when pressed she grudgingly estimated that the store gets approximately 1,000 calls each day, along with fax and electronic mail orders, from all over the country.
Beyond this, Luzwick became even more vague about the number of books Opamp moves. "Let's just say that the publishing reps tell us we're one of their largest accounts," Luzwick said. Questioned further about book sales, Luzwick began to pet a tan and black German shepherd that appeared to be sleeping under her desk.
"This is Holly," Luzwick said. "She looks calm now, but you should see how mean she can get after closing time." A reporter stops probing for sales figures.
In any case, business is brisk enough to allow Luzwick to conduct a vast and much overdue expansion into the adjoining building. That will give Opamp another 5,000 square feet of back-office and store space, and an additional 10,000 square feet of customer parking.
Is Luzwick a technical type herself? "I have read every single book in this place," she said. Even the 98 different titles about the Internet? The two yards of books on soil mechanics? The entire wall of books about business, management and marketing?
"OK, I lied," Luzwick admitted. "My reading tastes actually run more in the direction of 'The National Enquirer,' or 'The Star,' or 'The Weekly World News.' "
Every experienced time-waster knows it is possible to spend hours at a time browsing around a good bookstore, occasionally pulling books down and reading the randomly selected paragraph. At Opamp, this can be a particularly psychedelic experience. Consider this moving passage from "Principles of Sedimentology and Stratigraphy": "Third-order surfaces form bounding surfaces for bundles of laminae within cosets of cross-laminae."
A stroll around the store reveals a kind of beauty in the language of the normally inscrutable subject matter. In the physics section, for example, there is the perfectly titled, "Uncertainty," by M.G. Morgan and Max Henrion, which could only be a collection of poetry or a study of subatomic particles. And, also in the physics section, what sounds like that subject's equivalent of a steamy bodice-ripper: "Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics," by J.S. Bell.
Then there is "A Practical Guide to Splines," by Carl de Boor. Now, who among us does not need to brush up on the latest in spline theory? In fact, who among us has ever seen the word before?
But the best has got to be "Catastrophe Theory," by Domenico Castrigiano and Sandra Hayes, which is either a study of romance among single people in Los Angeles, or a branch of theoretical mathematics. The authors write forcefully: "It should be remarked that the linearization lemma can be used to show that C may actually be chosen to fulfill zC(t)=c(t) for t in a small interval J around O."
We shall consider it remarked.