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Computing At Chaos Manor:
August 18, 2010

The User's Column, August 2010
Column 360
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2010 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.


I was supposed to have an iPhone 4 by now, and it's all my fault that I don't have it yet. Meanwhile my love affair with the iPad continues. I'm now reading the Wall Street Journal on it; I prefer the paper edition, but then I'm very used to newspapers and newsprint. The iPad is trying to woo me away from them. It's that good.

Leo Laporte reports a new scam: he received an email notice from Amazon that his new iPad and screenrest had just shipped. There was the usual link to a site where you could report any errors in the order. Since he hadn't ordered a new iPad he very nearly clicked on the link before sanity overtook him. The link led to somewhere in Russia. He didn't think it would be a good idea to click on that, and deleted the message. As he comments, it was a very authentic looking message. We can speculate that had he gone to the site, it would have looked just like Amazon, and would have asked for his user name and password.

It's dangerous out there.

More dangers

There are new Internet scams every day. In most cases, they are detected and a fix is concocted before you ever hear of them, and while keeping your system up to date isn't an absolute guarantee, that plus some common sense will generally keep you safe. You might also periodically have an outside scan of your system. I use the ESET On-Line Scan. It doesn't take long, and it's pretty thorough. I'm sure there are others just as good.

While you're making yourself feel better about your system, the Conficker Working Group has an "eyechart" that will do a quick test for the "Conficker" worm, which is still working its way around, and is said to have infected millions of computers. Conficker doesn't do anything until activated, and those infected with it don't know it's there. Chances are you don't have Conficker, but it doesn't take long to do the eyechart check.

What frequent updates and on-line scans won't protect you from is unsafe practices and confidence games. There's no sharp distinction between those, by the way. One con game is to induce you to go to an unsafe web site by offering you something new and interesting, such as look at a politician in a compromising situation, photographs of celebrities without clothing, etc., either as email or as links or advertisements on other web sites.

One constant threat comes about when the bad guys manage to insert an advertisement into a reputable web site, such as the London Times, New Yorker, well known merchant sites, and so forth. The advertisement transfers you to an entirely different web site, which then pops up a WARNING, generally with flashing lights, that says your system is at risk and you need a special routine to remove a virus, click here to accept the download of the cure. Another might say you need to update Flash, or Adobe Reader, or some other program you frequently use, click here to update. You can also get that warning by browsing dangerous web sites, some obviously dangerous, some seemingly innocent.

In all cases the remedy is the same: do not click anywhere on the web page you are viewing. Like most popup windows this one will have a red X that in theory will close it, but in fact the entire page is the "accept" button, and an attempt to close that popup invites the worm in.

Don't even try to close the web page. Instead close the browser. In my case I don't close the browser by clicking anywhere on that screen: I do control-alt-delete, bring up Task Manager, and use that to close the browser application. That's probably being needlessly cautious, but it doesn't take all that long.

Peter Glaskowsky says

I'm curious if there's any way for browser code to intercept Alt-F4, which would be a lot easier than going into the Task Manager to kill the browser session. A year ago I would have assumed that's impossible, but some websites are getting very good at intercepting keystrokes. I found one the other day that disabled Command-F (for Find) on Safari on the Mac. I would have thought that was impossible, too. (There was no obvious reason for disabling the Find operation, so maybe they were just intercepting everything.)

I don't know, which is why I use Task Manager. Just to be certain. I haven't quite got to the point of using the hardware reset button, but sometimes I am tempted. I just don't know what some of those worms can sneak into your browser software.

There are many web dangers out there. There are myriad web scams. Some are insidious: email from people begging you for money because they have been robbed and are now stuck in London, or Zurich, or Karachi, please wire some money I'll pay you back when I get home. Some purport to be from celebrities you may have met or whose tweets you follow. Others may be from people to whom you have sent mail. The "from" is faked by a scammer who has gotten the email address of your friend from some mailing list you are on, or through a "reply to all" that you sent to an unexamined list a scammer has wormed his way onto. I could give other examples, but surely the point is made?

Incidentally, sometimes you do need to update Adobe software, and it's important that you do so; just don't do it through some popup link. Open a new window and go to the secure Adobe update web site.

I understand that we've been through all this before. Doubtless we'll be doing it at periodic intervals for as long as this column exists.

Cookies, Flash Cookies, Paywalls, and Tracking

They're tracking us everywhere, and everyone is doing it. The automatic reaction is, wow, those tracking cookies are evil, and we ought simply to delete them and be done with it. Particularly the "Flash Cookies" that don't even appear in our Cookie list, can't be refused, and most people can't find.

Whether or not being tracked is harmful, there are arguments in favor of cookies. Rather than present them, I will point you to some cookie-friendly sites where you can learn more about the cookies and search beacons. It is interesting that monster.com thinks it necessary to explain all this to users.

I have spent a weekend fussing about with cookies: where they hide, what they do, and such like. I'm still learning. I did find that as a Firefox user there are two add-ons that are useful in dealing with cookies. One is Cookie Monster, and the other is Better Privacy. I have installed both and I have found them useful.

I also found out about Flash Cookies, which I didn't remember knowing about, although I am told I have actually written about them. On the other hand, a couple of sophisticated correspondents tell me they never heard of them before I asked about them, so it's worth while discussing them.

Unlike Cookies, Flash Cookies are hidden deep in your user library. You are never asked to give permission to install them, and unless you install something like the BetterPrivacy add-on to Firefox you won't be offered a chance to delete them. Even if you know about them, it's easy to forget they're there - and they are always being renewed even after you delete the lot of them.

I discovered all this in trying to get past the Wall Street Journal pay wall. The Wall Street Journal has the practice of presenting the first part of a story or editorial, and giving you the opportunity to subscribe if you want to see the rest of it. There is famously a way around that: Do a search on the exact title of the story (and if it's a common title, add the author); then follow the link from the search engine. For a while that worked for me, but then it stopped working. I speculated that WSJ allowed several free accesses before clamping down. I presumed they kept track of how many times I had accessed the site with a cookie. I tested this by finding and extirpating every cookie with any connection whatever with Newscorp, Dow Jones, or wsj, but that didn't change anything. Eventually I deleted all the cookies I could find. Still no result.

Then I learned about Flash Cookies, also called Local Stored Objects. These are applied if you use Adobe Flash Player - over 90% of PC users do - and unless you know how to go to the Adobe Flash Player Settings Manager on the Adobe web site, you will not know much about them. Even if you go there, ferreting out what it actually says and what you can do about it will not be obvious.

Flash Cookies can restore deleted ordinary cookies. That is, you go find the cookie for unwantedapp in the usual place your browser keeps them, delete it, and figure that's it. Then the unwantedapp Flash Cookie restores it, complete with userid. Like Zombies they come back. Flash Cookies can also be quite large, and hold a very great deal of information, far more than ordinary cookies can.

Finding where the Flash Cookies hide in your user files is not easy. Eventually I found them at C:\users\[me]\AppData\Roaming\Macromedia\Flash Player\#SharedObjects\83MTVQTL but there wasn't any simple way to manage them. My solution was to install the BetterPrivacy add-on for Firefox. This gives me a way to delete some or all of the Flash Cookies, and even better, to set some of the cookies for preservation - there is a reason to keep some of them - while deleting all others. It's also interesting to use BetterPrivacy to see what cookies various web sites install.

If you are at all concerned that they can track all the web sites you have visited, your location to zip code, what you are interested in, what you buy and where you buy it, probably sex and age - in other words enough information to identify you uniquely - you will want to think on this, particularly the Flash Cookies which have been doing a pretty good job of hiding from us until now.

The beneficial uses of cookies and tracking are that revenue from tailored advertising is what pays for the search engines that make our lives better; and besides you won't be deluged with irrelevant banner ads. The downside is that third parties can and do collect this information. One of the Flash Cookies I found was from a .gov site. Several were in .ru sites. I am not sure I want anyone in our government, or anyone in Russia, to know my web habits.

I'll have more on this another time: the subject is important. Meanwhile, you might want to think about it. The Wall Street Journal has had a recent series of articles about just how much people know about you. None of the articles mentioned Flash Cookies. I don't say that's WSJ management policy interfering with editorial independence, but I do know that Flash Cookies are a splendid tool for hiding tracking information and software, and there's a lot of money at stake here.

Incidentally, I defeated the Wall Street Journal paywall by sending their service department email pointing out that I have been paying for an annual subscription to the paper WSJ for decades, I have an account with user name and password, I can log in - but I can't get through the paywall. This morning I got email saying my account has been restored, along with an apology for the inconvenience. Of course when I went to read the Journal I got cookies, both ordinary and Flash.

Publishing

In "From Gutenberg to Zoobert" by Gordon Crovitz, a paywalled article in the Wall Street Journal for Monday, it is reported that "Amazon projects that it will sell more Kindle books than paperbacks within a year." I'm not sure I believe that projection, but even half as many would be phenomenal.

I would guess that bookstore chains that survive will become publishers, with editorial staff, advances to authors that have previously sold well or show promise, and the works. Moreover, publishers will find ways to sell eBooks. Traditional book publishing will survive, but it's going to be transmogrified. How high eBook prices will stay is an interesting question. Most readers think that Amazon's preferred $9.99 is already too high; authors (or their agents) and publishers think it is far too low. An author's share of a book is 10% to 15% of the cover price depending on the author's prestige, skill of his agent, relationship to the publisher, and the phase of the moon, but take 10% as the most likely number in hardbound and as a high number in paperback sales. In a typical paperback deal the book sells now for maybe $6.95, so the author gets seventy cents, of which his agent keeps 15% so the author gets maybe half a buck. That's not bad for a couple of years' work if the book sells millions of copies as Lucifer's Hammer did. Not terrible for books that sell a few hundred thousand copies. For books that sell about 10,000 copies in paper the publisher wants to think hard about how much to spend promoting that author's next book. Go below that and the publisher may not want the next book at all. This process is well described by my friend and colleague Norman Spinrad in his story of the publishing Death Spiral.

Assume in the eBook world that the sales will be about half the paperback sales, meaning that the author needs to get a buck or so out of the book. Traditionally, publisher and author make about the same profit on a book. That is, the publisher sells the book for about half the cover price. Out of the publisher's half he must pay the printing, transportation, and distribution and advertising costs, the author's royalty, and a share of overhead, particularly the editorial staff, which will consist of some reasonably paid senior editors who make enough to live in New York or nearby Connecticut, some underpaid middle rank editors who don't make enough to live in New York City, and a flock of junior editors, most being young women from Smith's and Briarcliff and other high prestige traditionally women's colleges in New England who live four or five girls to a room in a fifth-floor walkup in a bad part of New York city, and eat oatmeal and peanut butter unless they are fortunate enough to have an author come to town who rates a dinner on the publisher and they're lucky enough to be involved with that author's book. At least that's the way it was for the last half of the Twentieth Century, and I don't suppose things have changed all that much. Authors either graduate to being taken to dinner by senior editors or even the publisher himself, or they stay mid list and eat with the lesser editorial staff if they are invited out at all.

I watch with fascination as all this changes. If eBooks really do outsell paperbacks the consequences will be severe indeed. Monumental is not too small a word.

Questions remain. When Amazon says eBook sales are larger than paperback sales, does this mean total volume of sales including the $0.99 and free books? Or does it mean revenue flow? The critical time will be after there's more revenue from eBooks than from paperbacks. Until the, authors will still depend on traditional publishers - assuming that traditional publishers continue to exist. Amazon book sales have cut enormously into bookstore revenue. A number of bookstore chains are gone - recall when B. Dalton stores were in every mall? Borders is in trouble, and Barnes and Noble is for sale. All publishers are highly dependent on Amazon.

I had a great deal to say about this many years ago.

A Step Farther Out was the title of my column in Galaxy Science Fiction in the 1970's. Jim Baen was editor. After a few years I collected many of the columns into a book, edited by Jim Baen who was then the editor in chief of Ace Books. The book was published in 1979. It contained comments I made after the columns were written but before the book was published. A later edition in the early 1980's had further comments.

Here is an extract from the book:

But what of publishing? McCarthy [Stanford University professor John McCarthy, founder of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory] sees the end of the publishing business as we know it. If you want to publish a book, you type it into the computer terminal in your home; edit the text to suit yourself; and for a small fee put the resulting book into the central information utility data banks.

(So far I have described how I now, only two years after I wrote the above, prepare my own books. The difference is that after I have them composed on the TV-like screen, and edited to my satisfaction - a computer controlled typewriter puts it onto paper, which is mailed to New York, edited again, and given to someone to type into electronically readable form for typesetting. Obviously that stage will be eliminated soon; why can I not send a tape and be done with it? Incidentally, the NY Trib had no typewriters or paper at all: reporters and rewrite persons worked on a TV screen, editors called that up to their screens, and when done the text went directly to composing without ever being on paper at all. JEP)

Once a book is in the central utility data banks, those who want to read it can call it up to their TV screen; a royalty goes from their bank account to the author's; where is the need for printer or publisher? Of course some will still want books that you can feel and carry around; but a great deal of publishing can be as described above, and for that matter there's no reason why your home terminal cannot make at reasonable cost a hard copy of anything you really want to keep.

Few publishers own printing plants; most hire that done. What publishers provide is editorial services and distribution. The latter function will largely vanish: the information utility does that job. There remain editorial services.

With such a plethora of books as might appear given the above - after all, the only cost to "publish" a book would be to have it typed, plus a rather nominal fee to the utility for storing it - critics and editors will probably grow in importance. "Recommended and edited by Jim Baen," or "A Frederick Pohl Selection" would take on new significance, and one assumes that these editors would continue to work with authors since they'd hardly recommend a book they didn't like (and some authors might even admit that a good editor can help a book). "Big Name" authors would probably have little to worry about, with their readers setting in standing orders for their works; new writers would probably have to get a "name critic" to review their stuff.

OK; still not all that new for veteran science fiction readers; but did you catch the time scale? The equipment, all of it, exists now. The telephone net to link nearly every-one in the U.S. with the information utilities exists now. Computer electronics costs are plummeting. McCarthy's home terminal can be with us in the next five years, with the information utility fully developed in ten to fifteen.

In fact, the only obstacle is entrepreneurial: the equipment and technology exist at affordable costs. It takes only someone to organize it.

It took longer than I thought it would, but we are now past the simple information utility stage. The publishing business is undergoing fundamental transformations. The distribution mechanism is completely changed. Bookstores are losing importance and may become irrelevant. Libraries are closing, and many are no longer interested in accumulating printed books. Library sales are no longer one of the major factors in profitability of a hardbound book. Any author can "publish" an eBook - edited or not - on Amazon and in other services. One expects a flood of junk, and it will take a while for the good stuff to float to the top.

Incidentally, editing is one of the most important functions publishers perform, and maintaining a large staff of good editors is one of their major expenses. Authors traditionally resist editorial advice, and protest compulsory editing; but the fact is that authors are notoriously bad at editing their own works. There are some notable exceptions, but there are far fewer than most suppose. Most writers need good editing, and it's often hard to find outside major publishing houses. Academics usually can't do it.

By editing I mean both copy editing and general editing. Copy editing consists of getting the grammar and sentence structure right, internal consistency of character names and ages (it's astonishing how many errors of that sort authors make and fail to catch), and all the rest. When I first got into writing Mr. Heinlein told me to get Words Into Type by Skillin and Gaye, and read it once every year. I did that for the first dozen years, and it's probably time to read it again. I also read Strunk and White The Elements of Style several times. Both cover the sort of thing that good copy editors should catch. Of course copy editors can be wrong, sometimes egregiously so, insisting on changes that amount to rewrites or unacknowledged collaboration (academic editors are particularly prone to this), and when that happens authors rightfully insist on final control; but I can point to more than one case in which authors exercised final control when they should not have.

The other kind of editing consists of story editing: suggestions for expanded plot points, development of subplots, and other such matters. Sometimes this is useless; but often the intervention of a good editor can really improve a book. I recall Ed Kuhn telling me to make Lucifer's Hammer a real novel with full character development, not just another disaster story. It was the right advice at the right time, and Hammer is still a whacking good story.

One transformation I expect in the near future is for Amazon and other "self publishing" enablers to become "real" publishers, with editorial staffs and services, and advances to up and coming authors.

It's an exciting world. Story tellers traditionally thrive in hard economic times. I don't expect these times to be greatly different, and there are new opportunities for bards now.

Net Neutrality Revisited Lightly

There has been a new flurry of articles about net neutrality, and accusations that Google has turned evil because the company not only has stopped lobbying for net neutrality laws, but is not joining a consortium to lobby against net neutrality, at least as applicable to wireless networking.

The problem is simple: as more and more information comes through the Internet, the net is becoming saturated. A big proportion of net resources are used by a small number of people. One big use is downloading videos, and of those, a lot are pornography. It isn't hard to assert that slowing your download of the New York Times, or National Review, or even of the Daily Worker, so that the kid down the block isn't slowed in his download of Debbie Does Dallas, is not an optimum use of public resources. On the other hand, advocates of net neutrality legislation say, without regulation you will eventually get censorship of editorial content.

The last time I wrote about this I concluded that Federal Net Neutrality Legislation may never be needed, and certainly isn't needed now. It is a solution in need of a problem, and the problem isn't big enough to need solving. That may change, but if it does, we'll see that coming, Meanwhile the Feds have enough to do.

I see no need to change that opinion.

Print Spooler Funnies

It started simply enough when Roberta said her printer wasn't working. I thought that ought to be simple enough to fix. It was probably a corrupted driver. Or maybe the printer wasn't installed properly. I've been fixing Windows annoyances like this for years, and surely it will be easy enough with Windows 7.

Six hours later I knew better. The problem was that I knew too much, and my first attempts to fix things made it all worse.

My first attempt was to open notepad, create a "foo.txt" document (in my system any file named either foo or .foo can be deleted when found if you're not actually using it at the moment) and try to print that. All went well. The system said it was printing. The only problem was, nothing happened. It wasn't printing.

Next step is to check the cables. The printer is an older USB HP LaserJet that is attached to Roberta's Windows 7 machine. It has never given us any problems. I disconnected the USB cable. The computer gave the acknowledging beep, then another beep when I connected the cable again. Not a cable problem. Power cycling the printer gave the same result. This is an HP LaserJet 1100 and doesn't have much in the way of testing abilities - at least I wasn't able to find any way to get it to self-test - so I wasn't entirely sure that the problem wasn't the printer itself, but nothing seemed to be wrong with it.

Next look at the Printers in Windows 7. This isn't as simple as it was in previous versions of Windows. Actually it is in fact far simpler, but only if you didn't know how to do it the old way and are just trying to find it in Windows 7 for the first time. The trick is to find the printer. That turns out to be done with Start > Control Panel > Devices and Printers > then right click on the printer. The HP 1100 was there. I could see its print queue: there were two documents in it, the older .pdf document Roberta had been trying to print when she discovered her printer wasn't working, and foo.txt. Aha, thought I, and deleted the two documents. Only they didn't actually delete.

At this point I could have solved my problem in about thirty seconds had I known what to do. The proper solution to the problem would have been to go Start>Computers>C:\>Windows>System32>Spool>Printers, find the .pdf document in the spool queue, and either move it elsewhere or delete it. Delete foo.txt while I was at it. Restart the computer, and all would be well. That is eventually what I did, and it worked; but by that time I had mucked up the system into a near FUBAR state, and six hours had passed.

Instead of doing that, I tried the print troubleshooter wizard that was offered. That led me to reinstall the HP 1100 print drivers (easy enough and free, but it takes time) and try to reinstall the printer. That led to a persistent error saying "I can't add a printer because the Spooler Service is not working." That led to a lengthy Internet search, some command line stunts to start and restart the Print Service (I won't go into the details because it's not really likely you'll have to do this), and a bunch of other futile and time wasting efforts. By the time I was finished I had three instances of the HP 1100 printer installed. Whichever one I selected as default inherited the Spooler queue with the unprintable .pdf document, and no measure I could take would remove that document from the print queue.

In other words, the problem is in Windows 7: the user access to the print queue doesn't work (or doesn't always work) if you do it the Windows way. Eventually when all else failed I kept searching the Internet to find where Windows 7 actually spools documents, and came up with the location in System32; but had I not done that, I would never have solved the problem. Example: at one point I deleted every print installation on the machine. I reset the system. Then I reinstalled the HP 1100. Of course as soon as I did and let it be the default printer, it inherited the unprintable file and stopped working, and, of course, I could not delete the unprintable file from the Control Panel access to the printers. Nothing I know of can delete a bad file except going to System32>Spoolers and doing it by hand. That works.

Book Review Section

I note here that neither of the O'Reilly handbooks on Windows 7: Windows 7 the Definitive Guide and Windows 7 Annoyances have any mention of the Print Spooler problem I noted above. They're both good handbooks, and I keep them around because one or the other probably will tell me what I need to know.

They are not introductory works. For introduction to Windows 7 I recommend Windows 7 Plain & Simple from the Microsoft Press Plain and Simple series. Actually, this is considerably more than an introduction, and it's useful for old-timers like me who think they know what Windows does and doesn't do because they've been using it since Windows 3.1 or earlier. Windows 7 is different. Mostly it's simpler and easier to use, too - but the "simple and easy" isn't that at all if you're used to doing things in the old ways. Windows 7 has undergone several sea changes since Windows XP, and it can be quite frustrating trying to figure out the new "easy and simple" way to do stuff that we used to do easily if not so simply. Windows 7 does a lot more than it used to, too, and much of that isn't obvious.

The Microsoft Plain and Simple series aren't a substitute for the O'Reilly "Missing Manual" books, but they weren't intended to be. Actually, the "Missing Manual" books are a bit mistitled: they aren't really the book that most new users would expect to find in the box. They're more like the book that power users wished for; the book that most users expected to find in the box would much more closely resemble the "Plain and Simple" books.

On that score, I have Office 2010 including Outlook 2010, but I haven't quite had the nerve to try it yet. I rely on Outlook for many things, and I have fairly well set habits. Every new version of Outlook I have tried has been just a little harder to use with some of the other programs I depend on. I'll get to it eventually. When I do, I'll rely on the Microsoft Press Plain and Simple Office 2010 and Plain and Simple Outlook 2010 to get me going, but I'll also get the Missing Manuals just in case. In general if the help files and troubleshooting wizards won't solve a problem, you won't find the solution in the Plain and Simple series either.

If you're just getting interested in applications development, you'll need to know about Microsoft Silverlight, which is becoming an important tool. One way to do this is to Google Silverlight, go to the official Microsoft web sites, and look at some of the videos you will be offered. One is the official Silverlight announcement, which you can find on the Silverlight home page. Another is the Get Started video. Once you've done that, get Microsoft Press Silverlight 4 Step by Step and get to work. No book is going to make you an expert, but this one will certainly let you know the kinds of things you can do with Silverlight. It's well written and has lots of examples. If you've been to the web site and want to get started, this is the right book. Recommended.

My first experience with symbolic algebra and computer higher mathematics was when I had an ARPANET account on the MC computer at MIT. MC was the Macsyma Consortium; Macsyma was a symbolic algebra program that grew out of thesis proposals to Marvin Minsky. It was very much in a development stage at the time, but it could already work some mathematical miracles. Given its origin it was nearly inevitable that it would be developed in LISP. After ARPA support ended, there was an attempt to commercialize Macsyma, but that failed. How much influence Macsyma had on Stephen Wolfram's Mathematica is not clear, but I am certain it wasn't trivial. If you're not familiar with Mathematica, you can find out a lot more here http://www.wolfram.com/products/mathematica/history.html . When Mathematica was publicly launched in 1988 it made quite a stir and prompted a number of predictions of coming great consequences. Some of those have come true: Mathematica is pretty thoroughly integrated into the working tool sets of many scientists. Some would say too much so: it allows use of mathematical models that the users don't really understand. Others say that's not a bug, it's a feature.

If you're just learning about Mathematica, the Mathematica Cookbook by Sal Mangano (O'Reilly) is probably not the book to start with, but it might be. This book assumes you know something about both Mathematica and programming, and you're looking for ways to apply Mathematica to your work; and since it mostly tries to teach by example, it does quite a good job of that. The subtitle "Building Blocks for Science, Engineering, Finance, Music, and More" is quite applicable. Incidentally, while I vaguely knew that Mathematica had musical applications, I was surprised at how extensive those are. The Mathematica Cookbook does a good job of showing the wide range of capabilities of the Mathematica program; and since a working knowledge of how to use Mathematica is increasingly important for science and engineering students, this book could be important to them. If you're just curious about Mathematica, you can learn all you need from web browsing; but if you're likely to need heavy duty math operations and you want a systematic view of what the Mathematica program can do, get this book. Recommended.

One of the blurbs for Hello, Android, the third edition of Pragmatic's how to book on the Google Mobile Development Program, is "If you'd rather be coding than reading about coding, Hello Android is for you." It's not a bad summary. This is the third edition of a popular geek's handbook on writing applications for Android. This edition includes Android 2. If you do Android programming or want to, you probably want this.

There is almost no text in Harald Mante's Photography Unplugged (Rockynook) which was published in September 2009. Instead there are 150 pages of truly beautiful photographs, most of them in the now discontinued Kodachrome. At the end there is an index of titles and dates of the pictures. The pictures are arranged in no order I can discern. They are, as I said and I repeat, truly beautiful, and show what a master photographer can do. Some are whimsical, some are disturbing, and all of them are interesting. I'm not a big fan of big coffee table books like this, but I'm going to put this one on my coffee table.

Winding Down

If I hadn't got a review copy of Cooking for Geeks, Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food, (Kindle edition) I doubt I would have read it; I certainly didn't expect it to be the book of the month. It didn't take long for me to discover that I was glad I had the book, and I confess that I wish I'd had a copy of this back when I was an undergraduate. I'm still reading on it, and I probably will be for a while. There are recipes, there are explanations of why some things work and some don't. There are discussions of agar-agar and sous-vide. It is very much a cookbook for geeks. The contributions vary in interest (and in how much I agree with them for that matter: I'm not as hyped up on green as some of them) but they're all well edited and seldom dull. Four hundred pages on cooking, philosophy of cooking, science of cooking, and recipes. The younger you are the more you need this book. Highly recommended.

We have seen several movies this month. I can recommend Inception. The plot is hard to follow - or was for me, Roberta didn't seem to have much problem - but the effects are great and the acting is good. It's absorbing. Less so for me was Charlie St. Cloud. Roberta and several friends liked it a lot, so I may not have been in a great mood when I saw it. I suppose the Movie of the month for me was Salt, with Lara Croft as Jason Bourne. If that doesn't make sense to you, it probably means you didn't like either Tomb Raider or the Bourne trilogy, and you certainly won't like this; but if you like non-stop action, with some plot surprises (and like most such flicks a plot that will not stand up to after-picture analysis) and fairly well done characters, you'll like this one. Intellectually, Inception was the best of the three. See it if you haven't already.

The game of the month was Total War: Rome, but the fact is that I'm so far behind that I haven't had any real chance to play games. Of course the more I have to do, the more I am tempted to while away time with computer games, but I can report that I've been pretty good at resisting the temptations.

I'm scheduled to get an iPhone 4 sometime soon, and I already have a bucket of Griffin accessories for it. I expect to like it a lot, even if it is locked into AT&T.