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Computing At Chaos Manor:
July 11, 2008

The User's Column, July, 2008
Column 336, Part 1
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2008 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.


For the record, I continue to use the iMac 20 with Office 2008 as the main engine for writing this column. Part of the column was written on the MacBook Air in a medical waiting room. Communications between the different Macs is, well, different from Windows networking, and for the most part I prefer the Windows system with drive letter assignments, because I can copy whole directories (including subdirectories) with xcopy C:\directory T:\directory /e/s/d/y; this gets all and only the files with later dates, and is extremely convenient. I have yet to find a way to do this with Mac OS X.

I am rapidly concluding that given powerful enough hardware the operating system becomes irrelevant; the decision factor is the application you prefer. And, of course, with VMware you can run XP and any of its applications as an application in Mac OS X. "Sufficiently powerful" hardware is a moving target. My main enterprise system will shortly be an Intel Core 2 Extreme Quad white box with WD VelociRaptor disk drives (link) and Vista Ultimate.

From everything I have seen this will handle all of Outlook's quirks without problems. As I have said before, I rather like Outlook (or at least I am very accustomed to it) but the program will bring most hardware to its knees. With mere 2 core CPU systems, Outlook can not only freeze, but actually crash, when trying to process incoming mail. Of course I use both InBoxer (link) and a fairly complex system of rules to sort incoming mail, and those use CPU cycles like mad. I am quite confident that an enterprise system using the Intel Core 2 Extreme will solve all those problems, and I should have a full report later this month. Do note that most gamers use the Extreme, and you can find dozens of enthusiastic reviews; but what we do at Chaos Manor is somewhat different. I'm just trying to get my work done, and my "main" machine often has a dozen and more windows open, runs Python programs, generally has at least one Adobe Reader PDF file open (and wow can they eat cycles, although I don't know why), keeps my web site in FrontPage open, has at least one Word window open, and always has Outlook open. All that requires lots of CPU cycles. At the moment an Intel Core 2 Quad Extreme might be a bit too expensive for everyone, but fortunately Moore's Law continues...

Internet Whirlwinds and the Silly Season

It's mid summer, what the newswire organizations used to call the silly season, when there are few real stories and not much interest in journalism to begin with. This year it's worse. There's a national election, but both parties have chosen their candidates. The political conventions, which used to be big staged events with lots of hoop-la but which really did decide who would be the candidates for the most powerful job on earth, are now coronations few will watch and even fewer look forward to.

There's not a lot new in technology, either. Normally I'd compensate for that lack by experimenting, doing silly things so you don't have to, and I have a bit of that to report; but I am still recovering from 50,000 rad of hard x-rays to my skull, and that doesn't leave me with much in the way of either energy or spirit of adventure. The good news is that I am recovering, I have a bit more energy every day, and my appetite is back. With luck I'll be back to tinkering soon. Meanwhile, my newspaper is full of silly season stories.

Case in point: the Los Angeles Times has a David Sarno column about the Great Xeni Jardin Boing Boing Flap. The terrible news is that about a year ago, Xeni Jardin erased (well, "depublished") "dozens of post from her Boing Boing blog, without telling the readers or co-authors she did so." A year later someone noticed, and this "kicked up an online whirlwind."

Now I'm a reasonably savvy guy. I don't spend my life cruising the Internet, but as readers of my web page www.jerrypournelle.com know, I have correspondents who see that I'm informed about what's going on; and alas, I never heard about this terrible situation until Sarno the Web Scout, probably stuck for a column subject in the silly season, wrote it up on the Calendar Page of the LA Times. Apparently this is a disaster of some kind, and terribly important to the future of the web.

Boing Boing released a statement. "Violet behaved in a way that made us reconsider whether we wanted to lend her any credibility or associate with her. It's our blog and so we made an editorial decision, like we do every single day." Violet Blue was a San Francisco sex columnist to whom Jardin linked frequently, and those links were what Jardin deleted.

There's more, but I frankly find it held my interest no more than any other silly season story.

The question is, are Internet Whirlwinds important? They can be. The big Internet Flap over scribd and author rights (this link has my take) made drastic changes in SFWA policy, and changed the self-image of the Science Fiction Writers of America. SFWA became afraid of the storm, and effectively got out of the business of protecting author rights. That may or may not have been the right thing to do, but it was fear of Internet storms that forced SFWA's hand. Scribd in theory reformed itself and stopped stealing from widows and orphans (at one point scribd had the entire oeuvres of the late Poul Anderson and Jack Chalker available for free download), but a recent check shows that you can get almost everything Isaac Asimov ever wrote, as well as some of my work. SFWA used to be pretty aggressive about defending author rights, but since the authors' association was punished by Internet Whirlwinds, it has done essentially nothing for a year. So it goes.

This isn't the place to reopen the question of copyright protection on the Internet for discussion in any detail. There is a strong school that says that eBook piracy is a Good Thing: that the more one's books are pirated, the more of those books will be sold in paper. There's even a fair amount of evidence for that position. Of course if the books aren't in print because the author's widow is trying to negotiate a new publishing deal, the "free publicity" isn't likely to be too useful; but perhaps giving away eBooks helps paper book sales.

It's less clear, though, whether that holds true for eBooks themselves. I am not certain that there has ever been a case where a pirated copy of an eBook led to an actual sale. What I do know is that eBook rights are now selling for decent advances (at least mine are), meaning that publishers expect to make sales and collect revenue; and widespread eBook piracy does not seem to make that likely.

Whatever the commercial facts, the Internet Whirlwind in the SFWA / scribd case had some effects on the real world by changing SFWA's policies. Whether the Jardin/Violet Blue affair will affect anyone other than the participants is another matter. Perhaps I am hopelessly behind the times, but I suspect the Internet Whirlwind's bark is far worse than its bite. I always wanted SFWA to ignore Boing Boing and its Whirlwinds in beer mugs; but that may be wishful thinking. I confess to being concerned that people who think this case is terribly important have some impact on authors' future income.

Peter Glaskowsky adds

I don't think the Boing Boing thing is particularly notable; that site has so many problems with its "editorial standards" that one more is almost irrelevant.

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YouTube and Viacom

Meanwhile, if you ever watched any YouTube clip at any time, Viacom knows it. A federal judge has ordered YouTube to turn over the records of everyone who ever looked at a YouTube to Viacom, and apparently that's going to happen.

This is bigger than the usual silly season story. What will be done with those records? Will Viacom use data mining techniques to build up tailored advertisements? Viacom promises to keep all personal information private, but we have all seen how that works: some disgruntled employee discovers that a Congressman watched a pornographic clip before it was removed, and thinks the world has a right to know; or a political operative finds some embarrassing pattern in an opponent's viewing; etc. Promises of anonymity aren't always kept.

Meanwhile one group is suing to get all those records erased, but I note that the academics think of all this data as an anthropological treasure, and are prepared to get an injunction forbidding its destruction. We haven't heard the last of this story.

The Future of Print

Last month we marked a trend: we are headed for an enormous expansion of computer power available to just about everyone. Peter Glaskowsky properly warns me not to call it "infinite computing power", but compared to what we have now, or expected a few years ago, it's hard not to think of it as unlimited: we have the hardware power to do most of what we imagine we can do in software. Of course actually writing that software is another matter.

There are some exceptions. Peter Glaskowsky notes

Ebook publishing and reading aren't functions of computing performance. Power consumption and display quality aren't improving very quickly. For example, we're still a long way away from photo- quality or video-capable ebook displays.

I can only say that the Kindle's battery life and resolution are more than Good Enough right now, and I expect both to improve; more on that in a moment. My question is, given that we will have capabilities beyond what most of us dreamed of twenty years ago, what will all that power do to the publishing industry?

Electronic books are catching on. Ebooks are still a fairly small factor in a professional writer's income, but electronic journalism is very important. On-line magazines survive when their print edition origins fail. I get negligible income from advertising in Chaos Manor Reviews, but the subscription income is important. Of course a subscription here is to both Chaos Manor Reviews and my web site, and indeed that web site had a good many subscribers before Chaos Manor reviews began; but my point is that it's possible for a columnist to survive without a publisher; at least a domestic publisher. I know, because I am doing it.

Although eBooks are not yet a major factor in author income, that will almost undoubtedly change as eBooks catch on. We already have good enough hardware: I have been using the Amazon Kindle for months now, and in some ways reading a novel on the Kindle is easier than reading it on paper. For one thing, it's entirely a one-handed operation. With books, either hardbound or paper, I generally need both hands to turn the pages. It's a bit harder to browse through the book skipping pages, but then that's probably not the right way to read a book anyway. The Kindle has provisions for skipping several pages — use Alt-Next Page — if I really want to browse swiftly.

The Kindle will also display newspapers and magazines. It can be your web browser. It uses 3G wireless connectivity and so far that has been free although most analysts think Amazon will eventually charge for that service. The Kindle isn't a telephone, but it wouldn't take much to make it become one. It already has a usable hard keyboard that takes getting used to, but potentially is faster than the iPhone touch screen.

Kindle gives easy access to thousands of free books, as well as to deeply discounted prices for best sellers, most of those available nearly instantly by wireless. You can convert most eBooks not protected by Digital Rights Management with no trouble at all; the simplest way is to email the book to yourself at your Kindle address. It takes under five minutes to arrive by wireless, and Amazon charges a whole dime to do it.

I find I have no problems reading books on the Kindle, and it's sure convenient to have dozens of books available wherever I go. It seems inevitable that given Amazon's marketing capabilities and incentives, there will be a gradual increase in Kindle book sales at the expense of printed book sales. It also seems inevitable that within a year or so there will be a new and improved Kindle. That's all right: today's Kindle is worth its current price, and when the new one comes out I'll buy that and give my old one to someone who'll use it.

The real question is, are there things you can do with eBooks that you can't do with print? As an example, you can certainly include maps. Lots of maps. Illustrations. The original Janissaries series was intended as novella length stories massively illustrated, and the first two Ace books in that series had dozens of illustrations. Ebooks can include lots of illustrations. Of course the illustrations require an artist, and that won't be free; but there won't be additional production costs. It's easy to include maps and illustrations.

A Shrek in Every Studio?

I would not be astonished if within five years, surely within ten, every serious writer has the hardware and software to produce Shrek-quality videos. Now just because one has the tools to do that doesn't mean that one is talented enough to do it, and the result is likely to be a large number of very bad films with high production qualities; but there will be a small number of darned good ones, too.

At that point, "enhancements" to eBooks can be almost anything you like. Character sketches. Still and moving pictures. Costumes. Illustrations. The scene on the bridge during a space battle, with the reader able to see what the commander sees. Stock shots of weapons systems. Cut scenes from public domain combat movies. Fencing matches. Fights. You name it, the author can include it as part of the reading experience.

At which point it behooves the author to decide just how much ‘enhancement' is wanted, and just how much is too much. That is: one advantage of print media is that we can engage the reader's imagination. If we show pictures of the characters, the reader sees what the author wanted the reader to see: but is that an enhancement or a distraction? Who's to say that the reader's imagined character wasn't more real — at least to that reader — than the author's?

I've been looking into possible ‘enhancements' of some of my older books. It's an ongoing project, and given what most readers use to read eBooks it may not be worth the effort — now. That won't be the case several years from now. I'm getting ready for the next generation of Kindle and iPhone and other pocket computers.

A Writer's Tool Kit

My favorite laptop computer remains the MacBook Air. It's light, the battery lasts, and it's truly easy to use. Apple has reduced the price of the solid-state Air by $500, too. What I like about the Air is that I can actually use it as a laptop without a table, and do so in almost any light condition from bright daylight to total darkness. It takes almost no time to start work with the Air: take it out of my carrying case and open it. What I was working on when I closed it instantly appears.

Of course even with the price reduction, a MacBook Air can be a fairly hefty investment, particularly since it's not really enough computer to be the only machine one has. In that case, one gets a MacBook — unless you are accustomed to Windows and don't want to learn a new system. In that case there are a number of alternatives. My daughter used an HP iPAQ (link) with a folding keyboard, and was able to pound out reports and do email and web browsing while bouncing across the Iraqi desert. She was also very fond of the audio recording ability build into the iPAQ. I find that the major disadvantage of the iPAQ is the small screen size. The folding external keyboard works quite well, and both iPAQ and keyboard will fit into a fairly small carry case; but I find I don't use it much.

Before I got the MacBook Air I often carried the NEC MobilePro 780. It's no longer being made, but mine works just fine. The keyboard is large enough for easy use, and the text on the screen is visible and looks pretty nice. For a couple of years it was "the computer I had with me", which meant I did a fair amount of work on it. Now Khaos the MacBook Air is generally the computer I have with me. See this link for more details. She's expensive, but she saves me time; and time is what I have least of, so the investment is worth it — for me. But then I'm an established writer.

There are many other alternatives for writers on the road. My son Phillip is doing a tour in the Pentagon. He lives in Fairfax right on a Pentagon bus line; this means that for two hours a day he's sitting on a bus. He can read — but he can also write, and he's been thinking of getting into my racket.

When he told me he'd got a Jornada and was using it for writing on the bus, I asked for a report. Like my NEC MobilePro, the Jornada is no longer made, but they're available from many sources. Here is his report:

Phillip Pournelle's Jornada experience:

Back in 1991 I was loaned a Poqet computer. It was the size of a large cigar case and weighed a few pounds. It had a real keyboard and a reasonable size screen. I could type rather quickly. Since I couldn't touch type (still can't), I could actually type faster on the Poqet than a normal keyboard, as little time was lost moving my eyes back and forth from the keys to the screen.

The Poqet easily fit into my book bag and was very transportable. It had a menu driven DOS and was very easy to use. A 3.5 inch disk drive came with it, making it relatively easy to transfer files to my desk top. I used it mostly to draft letters to friends and notes from classes. My only complaint with it was the prodigious rate it consumed AA batteries, particularly the disk drive.

Unfortunately the review period for the Poqet was only for a year and it had to be returned. I liked the Poqet because it is truly transportable. It easily fit in my book bag and did not weigh much. It was easy to take out and work on. I could use it on the bus, ship, or airplane. It left plenty of room for my lunch, books and other items. When I travel I like to keep a few essentials in my carry on in case my luggage is misplaced.

This year I've decided to give the family business a try. I'm doing well enough in my current profession, but it wouldn't hurt to know if I could make it in another. I don't have a lot of time on my hands except in my commute on the bus. I have up to two hours a day where my and forty of my closest friends let our chauffeur worry about DC traffic. But I needed something to draft my stories in. I also wanted to be able to work in Excel and maybe some other programs to support writing and my other hobbies. I remembered fondly my use of the Poqet and considered purchasing one.

I did some research and found you can purchase the Poqet. Unfortunately, the 3.5-inch disk drive is no longer available. Instead files would have to be transferred via a PC Card or smart card. This would require an additional purchase of the smart card reader and then figuring out how to use them. The Poqet operating system didn't offer Excel or any other of the Microsoft office programs. So I looked at several other pocket computers.

I don't have a lot of time on my hands. I really wanted something easy to use that was not going to present me with a lot of trouble learning to transfer files. I didn't want a lot of features and games (too many distractions). I wanted a reasonable sized keyboard and a reasonably sized viewscreen.

I purchased the HP Jornada 728. It uses the Windows 2000 for handheld computers and offers reasonable versions of the Microsoft office programs including Word and Excel. The keyboard is a little smaller than I remember the Poqet having (either that or my hands have become larger), so it took a while to get used to typing. The screen is an active color monitor six inches wide and two and a quarter in height.

The Windows operating system works from a stylus that slips into a slot on the front. While there are slots for smart cards, PC Cards, and Compact Flash, I've never had to use them. I suppose if I were to need more memory for any stories I draft, I can easily add more.

The Jornada is very transportable. It easily fits into my bag and is pretty rugged. When folded the Jornada is seven inches long and three and a half inches in width and one inch in thickness. It weighs only a couple pounds.

The main reason I purchased it was the straightforward manner it offers to transfer files. The Jornada comes with a cradle that offers both serial and USB connections to a desktop computer. It then employs Microsoft's ActiveSync program to check which files on either end have been updated and makes the appropriate changes. Pretty straight forward normally. On a few occasions I've had to unplug and reseat the USB cable to get things moving.

Other than getting used to the keyboard, my complaint would have to be that at times the screen can be overwhelmed by sunlight. On bright sunny days I have to think about what seat I'm going to take for the ride home in the evening. I have to sit where there is some shade or I won't be able to see the screen.

Overall, I like the Jornada. It is not a computer for someone who wants a lot of features. There is a telephone modem, audio system, microphone, and an IR port. I don't use any of them. For my needs as an aspiring writer, who wants few distractions and ease of use, the Jornada was a good choice.

My daughter thinks it is very cute. She refers to it as the "baby computer." She's also written some of her own material in it...

Phillip Pournelle

Captain Morse adds:

My personal fave in the 2 lb. computer category is the ASUS Eee PC. The original was pretty functional, but there are new models now I have yet to play with, including one that even runs Windows XP for those who are truly allergic to Linux. HP has the 2133, but I've only seen that on the Web.

Ron Morse

Of course a good pocket computer can also function as an eBook reader. In my case I carry both Khaos the MacBook Air, and my Kindle; but then I've been used to carrying a brief case for most of my life.

Supernatural Backups

For some it's obvious: once you have a system set up with operating system and applications, you need to make a good backup so that if something happens to the system, you at least be back where you started without having to do reinstallations of either OS or applications.

This is in addition to your data. Most of us back up data often. We're not so fastidious with the system itself.

Symantec's Ghost, and the same company's Backup and Restore, will do that: either will make a disk image that can be restored by booting with the program CD. Thus if a system crashes or is infected by a virus or Trojan, it's easy enough to scrub the disk to bare metal, then restore the OS and applications; after which you bring back your data.

The disk image can be made on an external drive such as the Seagate Free Agent Pro (link) — mine is a full terabyte but they come in smaller sizes — or burned to a CD or DVD. The advantage of the external USB or Firewire drive is speed; the advantage of removable media is that a copy can be kept off premises.

One of the more interesting uses for disk image backup programs is to use them with virtual machines in VMware. If anything goes wrong with the virtual machine, it's child's play to erase it and reinstall from an image. For that matter, entire virtual machines can be sent to colleagues so that you are both running the exact same setup. This is becoming more common with enterprise development houses using a Big Mac (my generic term for a big quad core Mac Pro) to run virtual copies of XP or Vista or Linux.

Peter Glaskowsky comments:

As for the backup thing, that's what I do-- as soon as I have a machine fully configured, I do a backup that I save forever. And then I do periodic disk-image backups after that. Although it's nice to have incremental backups, like from Apple's Time Machine, I don't trust those nearly as much as a disk image.

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Book Reviews

Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, by Robert Bruce Thompson. O'Reilly.

When I was a boy there were a lot of scientific kits sold as toys. There were electronics work benches with triode vacuum tubes — this was before Shockley discovered the transistor at the now defunct Bell Labs — microscope kits ranging from really cheap little units to semi-professional microscopes; and chemistry sets. As I recall the most popular brand was made by Gilbert, and the most expensive might cost as much as thirty-five dollars.

Today you can buy good electronic kits and very good microscopes at decent prices, but there are no good chemistry sets. The lawyers have managed to degrade the utility of the microscope and electronics kits (and many of the electronics "kits" are actually software programs); but their real effect has been the chemistry sets. There aren't any worth having.

When I was a lad, all boys wanted a chemistry set, although some wanted them more than others. I never knew a girl to want one, but those were different times. Boy or girl, it doesn't matter if today's kids want a chemistry set: there aren't any. Even the most expensive are nearly worthless, having neither interesting chemicals nor a decent manual.

That all changes with Thompson's book, which tells you how to assemble your own chemistry set, and goes through, step by step, all the experiments we had in the best of the Gilbert sets when I was a youth: but unlike the rather thin manuals of the 1930's and 1940's, Thompson proceeds systematically, encouraging keeping good records of both procedures and quantities. I am not sure how that would have affected me when I was nine years old and playing with the Gilbert set: would I have resented the stern requirements to keep good records, or would I have taken the advice and learned a valuable lesson that I was not to learn until college? I really don't know: but if anything can persuade young people to proceed systematically, take good measurements, and keep good records, I think this book will do it.

Anyone interested in learning basic practical chemistry will find this book not merely useful but invaluable. There are sections on equipment — I can recall when, in high school, my friend Allen Cleveland and I used to use the Central Lab Equipment catalog as a dream book. There are good warnings on dangers, and on what chemicals need proper disposal. There are sections on where to find chemicals.

The only complaint I might have had about this book when I was a lad is that it's pretty wordy. That's partly due to legal requirements, of course, and partly due to Thompson's intention that chemistry experiments be educational as well as fun. With bright enough kids that's almost always true; and it's quite possible that those who would find the book too wordy for their enjoyment would be happier doing something else. This is not, after all, a book on how to make whiz-bangs and funny smells.

I can certainly recommend this book for any home school that intends to cover chemistry; and for any high school chemistry teacher for whom chemistry is not a first love and who wants to present material systematically. And any parent whose kids ask about chemistry sets ought to buy this book before replying.

H. Beam Piper A Biography, by John F. Carr McFarland & Company

I met Beam Piper in the early 1960's. He was twice my age, but we became instant friends: we shared an historical perspective, an interest in obscure historical details as well as the vast sweep of history, and a rather dry sense of irony. I knew him for about four years, during which we saw each other at conventions and exchanged letters. At that time my interest in science fiction was as a reader; my career was in the aerospace industry.

Beam committed suicide in 1964. When I learned of that I was convinced that it had been murder, so much so that I telephoned the chief of police in Beam's home town. He soon convinced me that it was all true. Beam shot himself. Over time a raft of stories came out as to why.

Ten years later John Carr came to work for me as my Senior Editorial Associate, and over a dozen years we put out well over a score of anthologies and collections of both original and reprint stories from short works to full novels. John became interested in Beam Piper and his works, and went on to become the world's leading expert on the life and times of my late friend and colleague. He has now written the definitive biography of the late H. Beam Piper; and I learned a lot from it. It turns out that many of the personal stories Beam told his friends about his life were not only untrue, but deliberate lies. Carr goes into this in great detail.

One surprise to me was that Beam had essentially no education. He never claimed otherwise, but I had always assumed he was a graduate of some Pennsylvania university; he certainly knew more history than most college graduates, and he had read and was familiar with details of more books than almost anyone I ever knew (Robert Heinlein excepted). There are other surprises in Carr's well written biography.

Beam Piper is largely forgotten now; but for those who have any interest in his life, this is the proper book.

Your Brain The Missing Manual Matthew MacDonald Pogue Press O'Reilly

I am a fan of most of the O'Reilly Missing Manual books, but I don't understand this one. The book presents a great deal of information — but without much in the way of sources. The author is a programmer; not what you would call a qualified authority on neurological psychology in his own right, so when he tells about false memories — a matter of enormous importance in these days of abuse accusations — he's giving his conclusions, formed from — what? From reading scientific studies? From his personal observations? He doesn't say. Incidentally, I agree with his views; but then I know from experience that it's easy to implant false memories. As an example, I know a psychologist who managed to convince a young witness that he had been molested by the judge (whom the boy had never met until the trial). The techniques for implanting false memories, some of them fantastical, are now well known — and it is also known that that false memory is indistinguishable (to the subject) from memories with a real basis in fact. This principle is only now being brought, slowly, into our legal system.

Similarly, his observations on IQ, on nature vs. nurture, and other fairly important subjects are interesting and I would agree with some of his summations: but these are very controversial areas, and I see no reason to prefer his conclusions to my own, particularly since I have no idea what studies he bases his views on.

This is an interesting book, a programmer's view of brain function, epistemology, and neuro-psychiatry; but to call it the missing manual for the brain, or to imply that reading it will give you tools to retrain your brain, is to claim far more for it than I would. As an interesting read, it's fine; as a serious work on the brain, there are better works.

One of those better works is The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, M.D., Silberman Books.

This is a lot closer to what I'd call a "Missing Manual" for one's brain. It consists in part of stories and anecdotes, and in part on expositions about brain structure. The thesis of the book is the rather Freudian assertion that what we think can change the physiological structure of our brains; that stroke victims and others with brain damage can literally think and exercise their way out of at least part of their problems.

For those interested in this subject — after 50,000 rad of hard x-rays you can bet your bippy that I am — this is an important work, and one well worth study.

Google Apps: The Missing Manual Nancy Conner Pogue Press: O'Reilly

Google Apps is a collection of Google products and services that the company offers to users and organizations. They include Google Docs, a web based document creation and editing program; Gmail, otherwise known as Google Apps Email; Google Talk, an instant messaging service that can also create chat rooms; Google Calendar, which does what many calendar and scheduling programs do; Page Creator, a web page editor; and other web based services and programs, along with a control panel to tune them.

There are other Google services not part of the Google Apps package, but many of them are covered in this book. Like most of the Missing Manual series, the coverage is fairly complete and the book is done by people very familiar with (and expert in) the subject. If you are unaware of what Google offers for free — I certainly was — or want to get in on this contest between Google, Apple, and Microsoft to compete by offering more capability for less money (or for free), then this is a good place to start. At nearly 700 pages, Google Apps doesn't leave much out.

And if you are contemplating a switch from Microsoft or other paid application providers, you definitely need this book to discover just what you get — and what the limitations are. I certainly learned a lot from it. You will too.

Movies

By now you all know that Wall-e is the best Disney-Pixar film ever made. It's a picture you simply can't miss. I know that's not a very complete review, but then one doesn't need to be complete when talking about something this good. Go see it.