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Computing At Chaos Manor:
June 11, 2009

The User's Column, June, 2009
Column 347
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2009 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.


When I hear cheerful news about a quick economic recovery, I cheer, but I also look at the history of the Dow Jones and wonder just where this is coming from. It took a long time to get out of the Depression. We certainly recovered fast from some of the recessions following World War II, but we had powerful drivers.

One of those drivers was the Computer Revolution. When it began all the computer experts had one view, and a few visionaries had another. IBM's picture of the future of computing was ten thousand big computers, all running IBM software. A real IBM visionary might see as many as 100,000. I doubt anyone foresaw a million.

The other vision was from Bill Gates: a computer on every desk, and in every home, and in every classroom. The demand for those computers and software would drive the US economy; and so it did.

Much of that demand has been met now - or has it?

In any event we lived through two big market crashes. Recovery from one was sparked by the computer revolution. The development of the Internet got us out of the second. Alas, that recovery was followed by a round of foolishness in "financial products" that brought us to this crash, and it's not so easy to see what will drive this recovery. Something will.

Just now the big news is from Apple, which has released a feature-rich new iPhone 3G S while dropping the price of the iPhone 3G to under $100. Clearly Apple intends to increase market share. I note that for many years Apple's computer strategy was to put profits before market share, which is why the company nearly disappeared from view at one point.

Apple's computer market share has grown from iPod and iPhone sales. Of course that's an odd way to put it: the iPod and iPhone are computers! And that may be one key to economic recovery: everyone will need a pocket computer and smart phone.

An unexpected development was Apple's announcement of a new and faster MacBook Pro. I've been happy enough with the old MacBook Pro, as has my son Alex who has the big 17" model which he can boot into Windows, or boot into Mac OS X and run Apple applications, then run Windows and all its programs as an application under VMware. That works quite well, and it's fast enough for just about anything you'd want to do. Anyone who needs a lot more computing power will know that, of course.

I've said this often before: our hardware is so much better than our software that it's unlikely that there will be a great market for new hardware. Apparently many analysts agree, and the great hope is in what is called "information technology." I'm not sure just what new information technology will generate the kind of demand that drives the economy to ever higher levels. Note that the chart of the history of the Dow is logarithmic; were it a linear chart that growth line would be even steeper, and you couldn't get the whole chart on a page. There was a lot of growth. The question is, can that continue; or have we reached the "era of limits" and "national malaise" of the Jimmy Carter times? Some of us recall those times, when there was a headline article in The Futurist, flagship publication of the World Future Society that said "Why we have to get poor quick!"

In those days the great fear was that we would run out of resources, and the only hope for mankind was conservation, "soft path" technology, and learning to appreciate that we truly lived in an era of limits. One of the things we were going to have to get used to was famine and want in much of the world: the "underdeveloped nations" were just going to have to learn to live with it. We were in the era of limits.

I didn't believe that, and in A Step Farther Out (both my Galaxy column of that name, and the book that was put together from those columns) I insisted that cheap energy and freedom would produce an era of unprecedented prosperity. A few years later came the Computer Revolution, and those steep growth curves.

I am still of the opinion that cheap energy and freedom will generate great wealth. I have less optimism now, because there is so much less freedom. When the computer revolution began, there were few regulations, not many laws, and not many predatory legal sharks circling to feed off any sign of success. That is no longer true. Sarbanes-Oxley and other laws intended to protect investors from fraud have had an enormous effect in stifling start-up companies. The Americans with Disabilities Act hampers small companies as do all regulations. Microsoft has no problem with hiring compliance officers and complying with often onerous regulations; two guys in a garage looking for their first employee can't do that.

The history of civilization can be seen as a continuing conversion of output into structure. This continues until the structure makes growth difficult to impossible. Guilds, mercantile policies, Church rules, and what they used to call "permit Raj" stifle initiative and growth. Historically this has changed when resources suddenly multiply either by discovery - the discovery of the New World, as an example - or by technology, as with the several Industrial Revolutions and the Computer Revolution. Output rises, wealth rises, and the bureaucracies can't keep up. Eventually they do, of course, and the long term conversion to structure continues and overwhelms the growth.

Whether we have reached that stage now is not clear, and is as much a political as a technological question.

Searching

One growth area in information technology is in the search engine business. Of course Google has about 60% of that. Yahoo has 20%, and while Bing has increased Microsoft's share slightly, it's still only about 10%. Google has an enormous head start, people are in the habit of using Google as a first choice, and getting people to break that habit will be extremely difficult for Microsoft or anyone else.

Case in point: I use Firefox as my main web browser. I've nothing against Internet Explorer, but back before IE had easily used tabbed browsing I got used to Firefox's idiosyncrasies. Firefox has a lot of annoyances, but about the time I really get mad at it they fix the worst of them, so I have continued to use it.

One reason I like Firefox is the extensions. There are a lot of them, but the one I use most is Go To Google. This puts a tiny "G" in the lower margin of the Firefox browser; clicking on that opens the Google home page in a new tab. This is very convenient, because I find it a lot easier and more productive to work from the Google Home Page than in one of those tiny search windows in the tool bar, and I don't have to do anything special to get a new tab without disturbing the old one. I do tend to build up a huge pile of open tabs, but since I work on a 64-bit Vista system with 4 GB of memory that's no problem. About once a week I review the open tabs to see why they are open and close the ones I can't find any use for.

Alas, when I wanted to experiment with Bing, I found there is no comparable "Go to Bing" extension. I also found that Firefox has done something weird with the Tools menu; I was unable to use that to find the main Add-ons Firefox page and was reduced to using Go To Google to open a new Google window, search addon Firefox, and end up at this link. One would think I could get there from the Firefox tool bar, but if so I couldn't do it.

There wasn't any "Go to Bing" that would put up a button to open Bing in a new tab the way "GO to Google" does for Google, but there was an interesting addon called Bing and Google. Installing this one puts nothing on the Firefox layout itself, and it took me a while to find out what it does: up in the upper right of my Firefox browser there's a search window. It has a variable label with a tiny down arrow. Clicking that down arrow gives a list of search engines I can use including Google, Yahoo, Bing, Answers.com, Wikipedia, and some other stuff - and now since installing "Bing and Google" there's a menu item called, of course, "Bing and Google."

Selecting that one changes the label to Bing and Google, and searching from that results in a split screen: on the left side are the Bing search results, and on the right the Google results. This turns out to be interesting, and comparing results on various search items gives a bit of insight into what the two search engines are doing. Try, for instance, RAND Documents. The results are similar but quite different.

In many cases I find Bing more useful than Google - there are fewer sponsored links, so I am not subjected to ads for the lowest price on buying Jerry Pournelle before I get the information I was after - but using it requires that I use the little search window at the top of the screen, and that doesn't open a new tab. I find myself using the G - Go to Google - button to open a new window, then putting my search string in the small upper right window having selected the Bing label for that. Once I get one Bing result I have the Bing home page on screen.

If I had a "B" "Go to Bing" button for Firefox I'd probably use Bing more.

Incidentally, there are Firefox addons that will put Wolfram Alpha in the list of search engines accessed. You won't use that to find general information, but if you have a complex computation this is the place to go.

A Report on the Apple WDC

Chaos Manor Advisor Dan Spisak reports:

My thoughts on the WWDC announcements are somewhat colored by my uses of the hardware or lack thereof. Let's go down the list here and break it down into Good, Bad, and Ambivalent.

Good:

1. Every bloody laptop Apple make was updated and/or had its price reduced

2. Snow Leopard comes out in September

3. Apple is finally adding support for MS Exchange MAPI to Mail, iCal,and Address Book. (Don't mention to anyone at Apple that MAPI is going away in MS Exchange 2010 however)

4. Completely revamped version of Quicktime

5. iPhone 3GS supports HTML5 (this is how they do GPS geolocation inside the browser). This support is in the iPhone OS 3.0 release, not specific to the new 3GS model, so all compatible devices will support it.

6. The 13 inch Macbook is now the 13 inch MacBook Pro and now has a Firewire 800 port, but loses its digital audio output for an iPhone-style combined mic/audio out jack.

(Peter Glaskowsky adds: It's a combined jack, but supports both analog and digital output as well as analog input. I wonder if someone could be clever enough to create an external splitter with digital out and analog in?)

Ambivalent:

1. Cocoa based Finder, FINALLY. It is hoped that this will allow the Finder team to start making finder suck fewer dead bunnies but until I see it in action myself I am holding back judgment on this point.

2. Fixed battery in ALL Macbook Pros. Apple claims the battery can go for 1000 recharge cycles and be at 80% of original capacity. They also claim a 7 hour runtime on this battery. I tend to think they are inflating their claims, but the MacBook Pro 17"s that this kind of battery started out in haven't been out long enough to see if reality matches the hype.

3. iPhone 3GS is faster at common tasks than previous models

4. iPhone multitasking is still murky to me

Peter Glaskowsky adds: There's still basically no multitasking except what Apple allows for itself, like talking on the phone while you look at your calendar. There is no way for any part of an application to remain loaded or running if another app (except for the phone app) is on top.

Bad:

1. ATT can't be bothered to support MMS on iPhone at launch. It's not like they didn't see this coming from Apple. It's not like this is a new technology or anything.

2. ATT hasn't said word one about tethering the iPhone, something a bunch of other carriers worldwide have. (Tethering means being able to use your cell phone as a modem for your laptop.)

[ Closer reading of the press releases indicates that Apple and AT&T don't intend to implement tethering. In some countries the 3G network is subsidized by government or operated as a government owned monopoly; this influences decisions on tethering. JEP]

3. Anyone who bought an iPhone 3G most likely won't qualify for a subsidized phone upgrade because it's within the two year window

4. The lowest spec Macbook Pro 15" laptop no longer has a discrete graphics chip in it (Just NVIDIA 9400M)

5. To get a discrete graphics chip with 512MB of RAM you have to buy the highest spec MacBook Pro 15", otherwise it's just 256MB of RAM, which is less than the previous model.

6. Apple replaced the ExpressCard/34 slot on all the 15" Macbook Pros with SD Card slots, which are useless for professionals, but great for consumers. ExpressCard/34 slot is necessary if you want eSATA ports, or a second Firewire 800 bus (necessary for field recording audio engineers). This basically forces anyone working in the field with a need for eSATA or two Firewire buses to buy the only remaining Macbook Pro with an ExpressCard slot, the mondo huge 17" model. I feel this was a massive mis-step on Apple's part.

7. Because all MacBook Pros now have a fixed battery, you no longer have easy access to the HD in the laptop. You now have to unscrew the entire bottom to get at the HD. This is a step back from when they first released the Unibody Macbook Pros.

-Dan S.

We'll have more on what's coming from Apple next month.

The Google Grab

Google intends to make everything ever written available to everyone alive. This is a laudable ambition, but there are problems: much information is not free. It is intellectual property, protected by one or another law, and the goal of giving all that away conflicts with the rights of authors, inventors, poets, artists, and other creators.

There are those who say that giving one's works away on the Internet is actually a form of advertising, and will increase legitimate sales. That's certainly the case with some books and some authors whose works are still in print but not advertised. On the other hand some publishers are willing to pay money for electronic book rights to at least some works, and I doubt that possession of a free electronic copy of a book leads to a desire to buy a copy.

Google gets involved in this in two ways. First, Google makes it possible for people to find pirated copies of works. That's not today's topic.

Google also scans in books: the entire contents of several major libraries, including copyrighted works. This resulted in lawsuits, and eventually the Author's Guild began a class action suit in the name of all writers. Google and the Guild reached a settlement that provided for some money - not a lot - for authors whose copyrighted works were scanned by Google in exchange for (1) giving up any other right to sue Google in this matter, and (2) a great deal of rather onerous work claiming one's works one at a time. The above is a very brief summary, of course. I've covered this matter more thoroughly in previous columns.

A number of authors and author associations objected to the settlement. Without any Congressional act it fundamentally changes the nature of copyright as a result of an agreement between Google and the Guild. Some authors refer to the settlement as The Google Grab.

The original agreement had a May 5 deadline for authors to opt in or opt out, and a January 2010 deadline for claiming payments under the settlement. The May 5 deadline was set aside by the courts. Now the Justice Department is examining the anti-trust implications of the settlement, and that's far more serious. The Agreement gives Google a practical monopoly, and the Justice Department is concerned with the anti-trust implications. It should be.

As we saw above, Microsoft is trying to elbow its way into a serious position in the search engine business, but that's going to be hard work at best. Google's dominant position in the search business is comparable to Microsoft's dominance in operating systems. Moreover, Google is moving to make it easier for Microsoft applications users to work through Google by putting in hooks to allow users to access Outlook files through Google email and calendar applications. This is not good news for Microsoft.

One problem here is that Google's search engine dominance may be more stable than Microsoft's operating system and applications dominance. That is, Linux is getting more powerful and easier to use, and it's free. Apple has demonstrated that machines are now sufficiently powerful, and programmers are smart enough, to use UNIX to create an OS usable by everyone. If Apple can do that with UNIX, others will be able to do it with Linux. Some of my advisors think that has happened already: that is, Linux is sufficiently stable and powerful that if set up by an expert it can be used essentially forever by Aunt Minnie or the average small business person. Whether Linux is that powerful and stable now, it's practically inevitable that it will happen in future; and that's a much bigger problem for Microsoft than for Google.

The Google Grab - aka the Author Guild/Google Settlement - gives Google a great deal of advantage. The Justice Department interest in that deal must be good news to Microsoft.

Network Blues

I went down to the beach house to work on fiction, but the column was due, and it turned out I learned more about computer problems than I had intended. I wrote this part of the column while I was down there.

For some years I've used an elderly D-Link router down here to run a wireless network off Time Warner Cable Internet access. I suppose I should say ancient, not elderly: it was an early D-Link and had only WEP security. It worked for years, until the partners decided to update the TV and get a new set top box; and when that was all done, I simply couldn't log on to the router any longer.

Alex was going down for the weekend and I sent along a new Belkin router. I am ashamed to say I had kept that router for nearly a year without installing it; that's because I have been using a Belkin Pre-N router at Chaos Manor, and it works just fine, and it wasn't broke and I didn't want to fix it. It uses WPA-2 security, and everything works just fine. Anyway, Alex set up the Belkin with a reasonable WPA-2 password, and when anyone comes to the beach and needs to log in they find the network and give the ASCII password, and all is well. It's a Belkin N-1 Router, it works fine as has all the Belkin equipment I've experiment with over the years - I can remember when Belkin was a much smaller company, and unlike some they didn't sacrifice quality to grow - and all is well.

All is well except for me. I can't log on to my network. For some reason my Windows XP ThinkPad sees the network, asks for a password, and when I give it tells me it wants a WEP password (that is it demands 8 ASCII or 26 hex characters). Now of course the new network has a different name from the old one. The first six letters are the same, but it's longer than that. And of course I deleted the old network - which no longer exists anyway - from the list of networks that XP knows about. But nothing I can do will get me logged on to that wireless network, and I have wasted a great deal of time working on it. I spent an hour on the phone with Dan Spisak who knows Windows better than anyone I know, and we went spelunking into Network Connections, Wireless Networks, add the network and give the password, and so forth. Meanwhile, Rich was able to connect to the network with the ASUS Eee PC notebook running Ubuntu (more on that later), and his wife Herrin was able to connect with XP on an HP system just by seeing the net and giving the password, but for reasons not clear to any of us, I can't do it.

I tried eliminating all traces of the network from my laptop, so that it would see it as a brand new net; surely it would then see it, let me try to connect, ask for a password, and all would be well; in other words it would work to connect my XP system exactly as it did with Herrin's XP. Alas, that didn't work. It saw the net, asked for a password, then told me that it wants either 8 ASCII or 26 hex characters.

I eventually gave up. Our theory is that the IBM software and the Windows software are somehow fighting it out, and both lose. We spent another hour trying to find out how to tell the IBM software to stop trying. Well, first I went into the IBM network management software and told it the use WPA-2 and the password. That doesn't work. Not explanation of why. It just doesn't connect. Then we spent an hour trying to tell the IBM software to go away. It won't do it.

My concern is that somewhere along the line XP has been updated again, and when I go out into the world I won't be able to connect to any networks. That may not matter - the ThinkPad is several years old and I am sort of moving operations to an Apple MacBook Pro - but I haven't done the move yet. Apple has some annoyances too, and that ThinkPad really works well up in the Monk's Cell with my ViewSonic 19" monitor. And I don't really want to give up Windowsl I'm used to it, and usually it works. I suppose the proper thing to do is wait for Windows 7 and see how the ThinkPad responds to that.

Meanwhile I have connectivity: there's an Ethernet cable stretched across the room to the Belkin N-1 Router. That works just fine, while Rich and Herrin use the wireless router. We're all connected. But it's sure annoying.

Back Home

The curse continues. My desktop computers can see Orlando, my IBM ThinkPad, but they can't connect; and the same is true in the other direction. The network is hosed so far as the ThinkPad be concerned.

I'm facing deadlines so I don't have time to get this to a happy ending. It looks to me as if I will have to delete a bunch of stuff on Orlando and reinstall. That ought to do it, but it's infuriating.

ASUS Eee PC

I have an ASUS Eee PC notebook computer, and it's neat. The bottom line on this machine is that it is good enough to be the only PC of people who don't spend their lives on line. It's small, it's neat, and easy to carry. Logging on to the Belkin N-1 Wireless Router was trivial: it saw the net, and accepted the password.

The disk drive for the Eee PC is a silicon drive of 32 gigabytes, which makes it very fast, and of course more rugged. We are now accustomed to very much larger hard drives, but 32 gigabytes is a lot of space, particularly since Ubuntu doesn't take up much. I am told that Win 7 will run nicely on the Eee PC , but it came with Ubuntu and that's what we have been using.

The ASUS has a surprisingly good keyboard for a small notebook computer. The screen is good enough for most work. I don't do a lot of practical work with notebook computers, and when I want to work in a waiting room or other such place I tend to carry the MacBook Air because it's elegant and easy to use; so I loaned the ASUS to my son Richard. He's been carrying it for a month now, and when he came down to the beach house for the weekend it was the only computer he carried.

Richard reports:

The most interesting thing about this machine is running Ubuntu which is a windows-like OS running on Debian Linux. It has all the software you need built in like Open Office, Evolution e-mail, games and a web browser. If email and web browsing is all you're going to do this isn't a bad machine.

The big issue is adding software. Some programs are easy to install such as adobe flash player. Installing flash dramatically improves the quality of watching Youtube clips. Without the player videos are unwatchable. With flash the clips are watchable on low quality. When videos on youtube are set to HD the sound is fine but video is choppy.

This is probably due to the slow 1.5 ghz Intel Atom chip.

The problem gets more complicated when there isn't an easy installer made just for Ubuntu. I tried installing Google Earth. It didn't involve emulators or other software to necessary to run it. I had to find the terminal windows to run commands to open the tar files and install Google earth. Google earth doesn't run on this machine. It's super slow and most of the earth is covered in what looks like static from a television. Now that I want to uninstall Google earth I can't. The files are located in the opt directory and it won't let me delete them even from the command line. I think I need to login as root but that is a separate password than needed to login to a Ubuntu windows session.

I suspect this is the kind of adventure that one should expect from Linux. However, for a machine that's sold as a starter computer I suspect that's not what people are looking for. Many popular programs such as Apple iTunes don't run on Linux. I am sure there are emulators and such that may be configured but I don't have the time.

Overall it's pretty bug free. It had a benign crash one when the screen started going funky on and off but I was able to restart gracefully.

That was written in May. Richard has an even more favorable opinion of the ASUS now. He also has a favorable opinion of Ubunto and Open Office. So far he has had no problems opening Microsoft Office files of all kinds. We have exchanged documents effortlessly. Of course I don't use fancy Word formats, particularly for documents to be displayed on a note book computer; but Richard has opened some fairly complex documents without any problems at all.

I was a bit concerned about not being able to delete programs, but it turns out that's easy, but not trivially so. That is: Ubuntu like most Linux distributions has what amounts to a control panel from which you can delete applications, but that turns out not to work with programs that weren't installed through the Ubuntu installer. In other words, if you stick to programs that don't need the console - terminal window - and don't need command line commands, you won't need command lines to delete them.

Bob Thompson, who uses Ubuntu a lot, suggested that to get rid of Google Earth we should use "sudo rm -r googleearth". We also thought we had to empty the Google Earth files from the trash; like Windows, if you drag files to the trash Ubuntu doesn't actually delete files, but puts them in a trash basket - but that wasn't the case. Command line deletions are true deletions.

There is one other snag. I got the Eee PC already set up, and something is wrong with the setup: that is, the home page for each user seems to report a limited amount of disk space available per user. I don't really understand that, but then I don't really understand Linux. It may be a misunderstanding on my part. I suspect it's an easy thing to fix, but it will take a while to find out how.

My conclusion is that the ASUS Eee PC is very good for what you'd want it for. It's very portable, it's rugged, it looks good, and the keyboard is good.

My conclusion on Ubuntu is that I could probably live with it. There are games I like that I wouldn't be able to play, but I don't think of any actual work I couldn't do - provided that I had access to a Ubuntu guru. A standard UNIX guru might do at a pinch, but there are distribution-specific questions. Linux Help files follow the UNIX tradition of manual pages that remind you of things you have forgotten, but aren't very good at explaining something you don't already know. Of course there is a large Ubuntu community, and provided that you can get on line - i.e. that you have or can borrow a computer that's working and attached to the Internet - you can probably find the answer to nearly any question fairly quickly. Better, though, is access to someone who really knows the OS.

Whether or not Aunt Minnie could make do with Linux and Open Office, it's pretty clear to me that I could. Fortunately I don't have to; but I could live with the Eee PC and Ubuntu.

The Geek Atlas

The Geek Atlas, by John Graham-Cumming is an odd book, and I very nearly overlooked just how fascinating it can be. I now wish I'd had this book on my trip to England, or for that matter on my last trip to New York City.

The subtitle of this book is 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive, and it lives up to that. I opened the book at random and came up with Bloom Bridge in Dublin, where Sir William Rowan Hamilton came up with the theory of quaternions and scratched it into the bridge with a knife. Now if I ever knew what a quaternion was, I had long forgotten it, but in this computer age that's no problem; but in fact I didn't need to look it up at first, because in addition to the location, each atlas entry has a sidebar explaining why this is important. The Poldhu, Cornwall entry for Marconi's first Trans-Atlantic transmission has a brief exposition on how the device worked, and something of Marconi's history. There are two entries for Bletchley Park (halfway between Oxford and Cambridge in England). The one on the National Museum of Computing has an essay on binary arithmetic; the one on Bletchley Park naturally has an essay on code breaking and a picture of an Enigma machine.

I've been thumbing through this book, and I find it fascinating. If you are taking a trip to England, particularly, and you're interested in the history of science and discovery, you want this book. It also has some locations in the US, France, Spain, and elsewhere, but it's particularly rich on England.

Your Brain The Missing Manual

I don't think Your Brain, the Missing Manual, by Matthew MacDonald (O'Reilly) belongs in The Missing Manual series. It's not really a manual, and it's not really written by an expert on the subject.

Matthew MacDonald has done computer applications missing manuals. Now he has written a readable pop psychology work with some interesting illustrations (particularly of illusions) and a lot of advice; but I found no reason to accept his word for the efficacy of some of the advice, and some of his conclusions are unsupported. Indeed, the whole book is unsupported. The introduction says "This book is intended to be a practical book on how to get the most out of your brain. What makes it different from the average self-help guide is the fact that it's grounded in modern-day neuroscience." Alas, you have to take his word for that second sentence: he doesn't give references, and we have no idea of his sources. As with many of the Missing Manual books there is a "missing CD-ROM" available on line, and that does have some references, but then include Wikipedia references, and a number of pop sources.

There are a number of books on retraining your brain. Most are more closely coupled to research studies. One I recommend is The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Dodge, MD.

That said, I didn't find much I greatly disagreed with in MacDonald's book. Indeed, some of the chapters are quite good. Just remember, it's pop psychology.

YouTube: An Insider's Guide to Climbing the Charts

YouTube: An Insider's Guide is a pretty good book; indeed, if you're contemplating producing content for YouTube, you'd be well advised to get a copy and study it before you spend much time on your project. You'll save more time than reading it will take.

No book can guarantee that you'll "climb the charts", of course.

Winding Down

The movie of the month is UP. Disney-Pixar does it again, and I can't imagine anyone who won't like this movie.

The book of the month turns out to be a number of old Agatha Christie novels. I have the whole set - a long time ago I subscribed to some kind of offer and ended up with three dozen of her works - and they're all good reads. Mostly, though, they give a picture of a vanished civilization. England between WW I and WW II was an interesting place. It's long gone now, and if you're a fan of equality you'll think it's just as well; but there were some good points to the vanished old England, and Christie describes it well through her characters.

The computer book of the month is Google Apps Deciphered by Scott Granneman. The subtitle is "Compute in the Cloud to Streamline Your Desktop", and if you're at all interested in getting in on Google's network computing, you will want this book. For example, if you want to use Google Docs - Google's office suite with a word processor, spread sheet, and presentation builder - you'll want this book to learn about what Docs can and can't do. There's extensive material about on-line collaboration, for example. Fair warning: Granneman is very much a Google Docs advocate, and is quite certain that Google Docs will mature into something wonderful.

The book warns readers that it's not an introductory work. I suppose that's true enough, but anyone reading this column already knows enough to set up Gmail and other Google Apps. Once set up, you'll find a lot you probably didn't know about what you can do with Google Apps. Many believe that web and cloud computing will be the wave of the future. Google is betting pretty heavily on that.