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Computing At Chaos Manor:
December 20, 2010

The User's Column, December 2010
Column 364
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2010 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.


I have made arrangements to go to CES this year, so with luck next month’s column will come from there, and I should have some reports from the show floor — well, actually the press room.

It will be interesting to see what new user products have emerged from the exponential growth of computer potential. Moore’s Law began as a simple observation about progress in chip design — the number of transistors you could get on a chip tended to rise exponentially — and evolved into a general statement about computer power. There are many ways of stating it, but the most common is probably that computers double in power every year and a half or so. This fits general observations and expectations. It doesn’t describe user experiences. Our machines don’t get twice as good every year or so. We can say they’re a lot better, and easier to use, and getting better all the time, but that’s about as far as we’ll go.

Still, they do improve. We haven’t yet achieved the goal of “user friendly” computers that we all dreamed of back in the early days, but they are mostly no longer user hostile. Aunt Minnie can now use a computer, Grandmother can instantly get both still and motion pictures of the grandchildren, commerce moves increasingly to the Internet, there’s a revolution going on in publishing— It does look exponential, doesn’t it? Our user experiences don’t seem to be twice as good every year, but they’re sure a lot better now than they were five years ago.

Of course all that depends on software. Perhaps we need a “Moore’s Law” for software: as the machines get more powerful, it ought to be easier to write application software. Of course as the hardware gets better, programmers think of complicated ways to use the new power. Still, it ought to be easier to program really powerful computers with vast resources than it was to figure out how to accomplish things with the limited memory and storage we had in the early days, and indeed it is. How much easier depends on developments in systems software development. It’s clear that software improvement is exponential, but the doubling time is longer than two years.

Anyway, that’s the line of reasoning that led me to decide to go to CES this year and see just where we have got with this computer revolution.

Net Neutrality

Those who want the government to regulate the Internet have usually demanded “net neutrality”, but there doesn’t seem to be any great consensus on what “net neutrality” is. The courts and the Congress have been surprisingly united in keeping government out of the Internet, but on December 21, 2010, Winterset, the FCC , having asserted authority in the matter, will take up Internet regulation. We may find that we prefer King Log to King Stork, but that remains to be seen.

Chrome is Coming

The alpha test copies of the Google netbook running Chrome OS are out. See "Google Goes to the Cloud" if you are interested in details. The main thing about the new Google Chrome Operating System which is intended to compete with Windows and the Apple OS (as well as Linux, but the Linux market isn't large enough to justify the Google investments in Chrome) is that Chrome is "Net Computing" or NC, which we've seen before, but this time with a vengeance. Under Chrome as currently conceived, your computer is not very useful unless connected to the net. When it is net connected, though, it will be powerful and -- well, you get the idea.

One presumes that when practical Chrome OS systems come out, they will have ways of getting some work done, and accessing important data, even when there is no net connection. One also presumes an easy capability for automatically backing up data on hard drives or thumb drives; at the moment any large amounts of data will have to reside in the cloud. Of course that raises security problems. Google says, loudly and frequently, that the company is addressing them.

We went through this once before when Netscape was the dominant web browser. The Internet was coming, everything old was new again, and Network Computers, NC, were going to so dominate the computer scene that it would put Microsoft out of business. Up to then Gates and Microsoft had little interest in Internet browsers, but the prospect of an NC operating system awoke the giant. Gates said “I don’t know what ‘NC’ means, but it certainly is Not Compatible.” In those days most software had to be Microsoft Compatible, businesses didn’t dare risk being Not Compatible, and the Network Computer didn’t get very far. Meanwhile, Netscape’s revenue depended on the Netscape Browser. It didn’t take long for Microsoft to introduce and market — actually they gave it away — Internet Explorer. It became popular, Netscape didn’t develop a web based operating system and eventually was sold, and Microsoft was not driven out of business. So it goes.

Of course in those times the computer technology wasn’t there: Network Computing worked all right for a smaller user community, in which everyone had a computer for general work and could send off problems that required a “supercomputer” to the Net. A number of small universities and high schools used this capability to great advantage. Now, of course, you never hear of someone sending a problem off to a supercomputer in Illinois; everyone has what used to be thought of as a supercomputer on his desk, and if not there’s a network giving access to one somewhere on campus. Distributed computing arrived long enough ago that few remember the days of time sharing on a big mainframe. We are assured that now we can go back to time sharing, but this time on a cloud of infinite capacity.

The question is whether there is a need for widespread cloud computing when very powerful machines, with vast amounts of data storage, are right here on our desks, and more storage is so cheap that it’s easier to replace a flaky terabyte drive than to buy the excellent SpinRite program to fix it. There was a time when SpinRite was a necessary program. (Steve Gibson’s Gibson Research which is worth a visit; if you don’t know about his Shield’s Up security tests, you should).

Computing power is cheap, mass storage is cheap, and if the Net is out you can still do quite a lot of work on your local system. And many of us might not be so comfortable with having all our files out in the cloud.

We’ll see.

Cyberwar

Some experts object that it’s not war. We don’t have an accepted term for what is going on: intelligence, spying, espionage, sabotage, covert actions, all of the above. The threat is real. Whether computing through the cloud will be safer and more secure is debatable. We’re having enough problems with securing what we have.

Iran certainly knows this. Their nuclear enrichment program was set back by months, possibly years, by a highly sophisticated worm tailored to affect the uranium hexafluoride centrifuges that are the heart of uranium enrichment technology. No one knows who unleashed the Stuxnet worm, but the program’s sophistication argues against its authors being any kind of private group. It would take a very large company, or a nation, to come up with the resources to write that worm, and they’d also have to find the intelligence resources to get the data from Siemens on the logic controllers that run the centrifuges (and also the routines that report the condition of the controllers — they have to think they are not being harmed even as they are being run in an erratic manner that wears them out). Another intelligence operation was needed to get the certificates of authenticity that allowed the worm to penetrate the whole Iranian network. It was quite an operation.

Then we have WikiLeaks. It’s probably not relevant in a discussion of vulnerabilities, since there was no actual hack involved, but it does show what can happen despite security measures when someone with access decides to act. Could there be any such vulnerabilities in the Cloud?

Zoom 3G Wireless-N Travel Router

For all the concerns about security, there are astonishing numbers of people connecting to the Internet with inadequate protection, as for instance using the local hotel or coffee shop open wireless network. The hotel Ethernet connection is safer, but it’s still vulnerable. I don’t personally know anyone who got bit using Windows 7, but I know of several who connected up to a hotel Internet cable in XP days and got hit with a broadcasted virus.

I always feel safer behind a router. The one I generally use is a small D-Link router that will connect to the hotel’s Ethernet cable, then sets up a WPA2 secure wireless net; alternatively it can connect to my laptop with an Ethernet cable.

The Zoom3G Wireless-N Travel Router (link( is a neat little cigarette pack sized gadget with an Ethernet port you can connect to the WAN. It then sets up a wireless station and propagates the “Zoom” net by default. If you have a 3G modem, there’s a connector for using that instead of the Ethernet port as the WAN.

I used this with both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro, and setting it up was trivially easy. It’s not much more difficult with a Lenovo running Window 7. It just works. In my case I connected it to the Chaos Manor Ethernet. I presume it will work as simply with a 3G modem.

Fair warning: the default setup is a completely wide open network with no security whatever. If you want to set up your wireless net with security and a password, you must first program the router. That turns out to be quite simple. Just connect the Ethernet port on the Router to the Ethernet port on a computer, open a browser, and go to 192.168.1.1 . The connects you to the Router and you can set up security.

The Zoom is battery powered. That will run it for about 3 hours. A small charger comes with it. The instructions are clear. I was favorably impressed.

Road Warrior Security

Testing the Zoom got me thinking about security on the road. It wasn’t all that long ago that a friend got a pot full of worms by connecting to a hotel Ethernet connector. That’s one reason I always carry a portable router when I go on the road. Of course the router is only functioning as a firewall, but in the old days it was an axiom that machines couldn’t really protect themselves from worms burrowing under the security systems: you needed a separate box as a firewall, and a Net Address Translation router was the preferred method. Windows and Apple have developed much better firewall software since those times, but the principle remains: having something between you and the raw Internet out there can keep you hidden and protect you from attacks.

It caused me to think: what's really needed is a system that will let you log on to an unsecured wireless internet, then function as a router between you and that wireless net.

Peter Glaskowsky notes that

It doesn't need to act as a router if yours is the only machine on the other side, but it would be useful for the device to provide firewall, NAT (network address translation), and possibly some kind of transparent VPN services to the connected machine.

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Which is of course what I meant: I use the term “router” in a rather generic sense. It’s the NAT and firewall I was interested in.

Eric Pobirs noted

Some cell phones do that now. They access the telco wireless network and act as a WiFi hotspot locally. Pretty much the same thing as tether without the actual tether. From there, providing services like NAT, Firewall, etc. is just software. Although battery life is an issue, as always, the typical smartphone has gobs of horsepower to spare for this sort of thing.

A cellular network isn't really unsecured to the extent that you need an account that passes validation. But it is a similar situation to what you describe. As for a dedicated little box to do this for WiFi networks, the question is one of paranoia. All this is really doing is taking some software processes out of your machine and running it on a separate intermediary device. It is an added level of safety in exchange for some hassle and another power draw to manage. But a good security setup on your computer should achieve the same thing with less hassle and very little reduction in security.

I suppose you could get this effect with off the shelf gear by having two WiFi routers, one of which is set to act as a bridge and feeding into the WAN port of the other, which would do it's regular tasks. It would be pretty trivial to have a router with two wireless connections with the routing functions 'in between' to do the same thing in one box. But again, it's added cost and hassle to move some operations outside your system for a small security gain. Especially in an era of multicore laptops and now multicore smartphones.

Eric

The bottom line being that I don’t know of any device that would log on to a wireless network as the Zoom connects to an Ethernet access to the Internet, do NAT and firewall functions, and connect with an Ethernet connection to your laptop. That would be a useful device to have.

Zoom Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard for iPad

This is an alternative to the Apple wireless Bluetooth Keyboard for your iPad. http://www.zoomtel.com/graphics/datasheets/keyboards/9010_31510_spec.pdf It works. It’s easy to install. Unlike the Apple keyboard with disposable batteries, this has a rechargeable battery and comes with a Zoom retractable USB (mini-USB to standard USB) cable, which you can plug into a laptop USB port or into an Apple or Kindle charger.

At 8 ¾” by 3 ¾” it’s smaller than the Apple keyboard (11 ¼” by 5 ¼”); enough so that I was unable to use it for touch typing. Your mileage may be different, since I am a sloppy typist and pretty set in my ways, and I’ve always been particular about keyboards. The Zoom is fine for two finger typing, and might be all right for touch typing with people with smaller hands than mine.

It’s certainly easier to carry than the standard Apple wireless keyboard, so if portability is your main concern, this is a good accessory to the iPad. If you use the iPad for a lot of writing, I’m pretty sure you’ll prefer the Apple, but for casual notes, web browsing, and most email the Zoom is likely to be Good Enough, and it’s certainly easier to use it than to try to do much writing on the iPad screen itself.

Zoom 56K V.92/V.90 USB External Modem

http://www.zoom.com/products/dial_up_internal.backup.html

I haven’t had to use a modem for several years, but I can recall when I had to carry a modem on all my trips because it wasn’t certain that the hotels I stayed in would have high speed Internet connections. In those days the smallest modem was still larger than a pack of cigarettes. This Zoom modem is not much larger than a thumb drive.

It comes with software for installation on Windows and Mac OS, and I’m told it works with Linux systems; I presume that anyone who runs Linux and needs a modem will be able to figure out how to use it. For Windows and Mac OS it’s simple enough. Of course it’s slow; I was astonished at just how slow. As I said, I haven’t done a modem connection for some time. It’s all right for plaintext email, but you can wait a long time for complicated pages with visuals to download; not that I expect anyone to be surprised.

If you need a modem, this one seems to work just fine, indeed, better and more smoothly than I remember modems working back in the bad old days when modems and telephone lines were the only way I had to file a column and deal with my email and web page when I was on the road.

Kindle Formatting

My daughter, Dr. Jennifer Pournelle, has written a book in the Mote in God’s Eye universe, and is publishing it in eBook formats including the Kindle. I wrote this on my web page:

OUTIES: A novel by Dr. Jennifer Pournelle. For those who don't know, she's my daughter, an anthropologist/archeologist, university publications editor, former Army Intelligence officer, and a generally good writer. OUTIES is "authorized" and boasts blurbs by Niven and me. It makes use of the Mote universe and some of the Mote characters with our permission. Good reading. https://sites.google.com/site/newbrooklandpress/

Jennifer has extensive experience in academic editing and publishing, and decided to put this out as an eBook. A primary reason to publish a book with traditional publishers is that they provide editing, distribution, advertising, and production, and pay an advance to allow the author to complete the book. Jennifer didn’t really need an editor, since she could do that herself and get some editorial suggestions from other professionals, and the book was finished so she didn’t need an advance. This looked like a good one to use for the eBook publishing experiment.

The problem was getting the book into the proper format. Her first attempt looked good before it got translated by Amazon to the published format, but not so good after that, so she pulled it and redid it. Here are her notes on this:

OK, just thought I'd let you know that, and how, I resolved my image problems with the Kindle uploader.

You have to sign up at https://authorcentral.amazon.com/ .

What they don't tell you up front regarding image specifications is: it depends.

1. Text-plus-graphics. IF the image includes BOTH image and text (like, say, a back cover), the following rules apply (and the upload converter is a bot, so it is very literal about rules):

* EXACT image size 500 X 600 pixels. They SAY that's "maximum," but I could not get it to work at any other size.

* Within that image, they SAY that the MINIMUM pixel size for a lower-case letter "a" is 6 pixels. However, I could not get it to accept less than 9 pixels.

* They SAY that the image must be saved to such-and-such dpi. The real constraint seems to be a file size less than 100 kb.

* Finally, they SAY color will be converted to grayscale on upload. Howwever, I could not get it to work unless I desaturated/saved to grayscale BEFORE upload.

2. Dingbats. The Kindle uploader does not recognize "wingding" or any other dingbat fonts or characters. So, if you want a dingbat, you have to save it as an image. Ignore what they tell you. This works:

* do a screen capture; clip & save as .jpg

* h= min 40 pixels, w= minimum 40 pixels

* Desaturate/save to greyscale EVEN IF your image is black-and-white only. Don't ask me why.

Took 3 days of back-and-forth to get this right.

--
Dr.Jennifer R. Pournelle

The direct link to Amazon sales is here. That's probably a more convenient way to buy the book. It can be read with Kindle application software on all machines that will run Kindle apps. Note that the Amazon subtitle is "Mote in God's Eye" and that isn't correct: this is set in the Mote universe, but it takes place off in the boonies.

For those who downloaded the first Kindle version (which didn’t look too good) there is a simple remedy.

Just open the reader app, delete,and redownload. Kindle Whispersync knows they own it, so they can download it to as many places/as many times as they like.

I just personally tested this on Kindle for PC and Kindle for iPhone.

Just delete the old version on your local device, then re-sync. It downloads the new version. If you have problems, go to the Whispersync "my account," click the "Deliver to" drop down, and force it to re-deliver. But this shouldn't be necessary. More on that here.

For full details on all the fixes, see my "A Note from the Author: Images Fixed, and Other Stuff Too!," at this link.

--
Dr. Jennifer R. Pournelle

It’s getting easier to self-publish all the time.

Dingbats and Wingdings

Jennifer mentions dingbats. This is important in some books, including mine. I have for years developed a convention: when I want to indicate a scene change or short passage of time, I insert several blank lines; but if I want to change point of view, or indicate a break larger than just a pause but not quite so great as a chapter ending, I generally insert what used to be known in the publishing industry as an “ornament.” Niven and I use this convention in most of our books, and sometimes it can be important: it certainly was in Escape from Hell, where we had a series of scenes with complex viewpoint changes, and the ornaments made it much clearer to the readers.

Dingbats are a standard font. Examples: ( ♦ ◊ • ♠ ) They are called Wingdings in Microsoft Word. It would be enormously useful if Amazon were to include them in the authorial formatting armory. I expect that will come about eventually.

[They're even harder to do in HTML. Those above are HTML character codes that resemble Dingbats - BPB]

Build or Buy?

For years I have built my own desktop computers. No one in his right mind would try to build his own notebook, but with desktops there are good reasons for building rather than buying.

I mention this because there is a new (third) edition of Robert Bruce Thompson’s Building the Perfect PC. I wrote the prefaces to the first two editions, and I have supplied one for this edition. In it I said “If you’re contemplating building your own PC, you need to know about the new trends before you decide what to build. For that matter, you need to know what’s going on before you buy a ready-built system, and other than in this book it’s hard to find all that information in one place.” I believed that when I wrote it, and it’s still true.

This is the right book for those who like to keep up with trends in small computer technology , and it’s indispensible for those who are building their own systems. Recommended.

Franklin Discover Reading Aids

I have always kept a magnifying glass with light source, and as I get older it gets more use. There are plenty of cheap plastic devices available, of course, but Franklin Discover has a Spot line of really solid magnifiers with LED lighting. They come in several sizes and with from 2 to 12 LED’s. The most expensive one is the 89 mm lens with 12 LED’s. The aluminum handle and lens holder give it a hard solid feel, the glass is clear, and it has a good heft. The lighting switch is well placed. I like it.

The smaller models work as well, and all have that solid professional feel. All of them come with a fitted case so they can be thrown into a desk drawer without worrying about scratching the lens.

If price is a big factor you can find illuminated magnifiers for less money, but I haven’t seen any illuminated magnifiers I like better. They make great gifts.

Franklin Anybook Reader

As you can probably tell, Franklin sent me a box of gadgets. One of them is the Franklin Anybook Reader, which is a kid-friendly digital voice recorder with an elementary symbol-recognition scanner, and a sheet of stickers. You can buy more stickers from Franklin.

That doesn’t sound very exciting, but it turns out it can be for some. The Anybook Reader works this way: find a children’s book page you want to read out loud. Put a unique sticker on that page. Key the reader wand, which looks a bit like an electric tooth brush, to the sticker. Read the page. Now when the kid wants to have that read to her or more likely him, it only requires pressing the button on the reader: it sees the symbol on the sticker and reads the message keyed to that sticker. Typically that would be the text on the page, but it can include comments and endearments and such at whim.

The voice quality is good, which it should be considering the price (about fifty bucks; there are cheaper versions with less recording time than the model I have, but they’re still a bit pricey). Speaking of price, surprisingly the two needed AAA batteries are not included in the box. One presumes they are left out to avoid possible lawsuits: someone might give the package to a child without realizing that no child can possibly learn to operate this without a smart adult to get things started. You will need a small Phillips screwdriver to insert the batteries and secure them.

Once I got it turned on it took me about twenty minutes to figure out how to use it to make a recording. The instructions are laconic, and there’s a dearth of illustrations. Eventually I got the hang of it. The voice quality is good. Some of the stickers have pre-recorded sounds. The chicken sticker clucks when touched with the wand, the dog barks, the fire engine — well, you get the idea. A child only needs to learn how to turn it on; after that it’s a matter of touching a sticker. A child can operate the gadget to listen, but an adult has to learn how before making a recording.

Making the recording is an all or nothing deal: there’s no pause button. There’s no cough button. You hold down a button and talk, and when you let go the recording ends; there’s no way to add to that recording, nor can you edit it. There’s no provision for downloading anything recorded and edited elsewhere such as on a computer; that would have been a good feature, but it’s not there.

Some may like this, and it has received glowing reviews elsewhere, but I found it disappointing. All told this is a pretty pricey gadget for what it does.

hField Wi-Fire Wireless Adapter

The Wi-Fire long-range Wi-Fi adapter is a powered USB-connected antenna for extending Wi-Fi connectivity arrangements. (http://www.hfield.com/) To use it you install the software from the CD, then attach the Wi-Fire to a USB port. It’s quite simple, at least with Windows 7 and OS X.

I have an uneasy Wi-Fi connection from the monk’s cell — a back bedroom with no telephone, no games, and no books not relevant to what I’m working on — to the Chaos Manor Wi-Fi net. I tried the Wi-Fire up there, and it works: day to day the connectivity indicator on my Lenovo laptop is generally orange, sometimes shifting to green and sometimes not; with the Wi-Fire antenna in place it was solid green and always very solid. File transfer speeds increased greatly with the Wi-Fire.

The Wi-Fire is said to extend Wi-Fi range to 1000 feet. I expect that’s under ideal conditions; I’d be more inclined to say five or six hundred feet would be more accurate. Still, that’s a good solid increase in Wi-Fi range.

If you have a need for increased Wi-Fi range, or increased signal strength to a distant Wi-Fi net, this is the gadget for you. It’s about the size of a pack of playing cards, and it’s fairly unobtrusive. I didn’t much care for the way it tries to clip to a laptop, but it sits just fine on a flat surface. I presume it uses power and thus lower’s your laptop’s battery life, but I didn’t notice any such effect.

It just works, and if you need this, you will need it bad.

Two Photography Books

I have always been interested in photography as an art. That doesn’t mean I am any good at it, or ever will be, but I always appreciate good books on the subject.

The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum is a reprint with very little revision of a classic work on mostly black and white photography, and has long had the reputation of being a one-book course on the subject. The chapters on composition and appreciation of what you’re doing remain valuable. Alas, most of the technical tips involve developing and printing, which is fast becoming a lost art; there’s little to nothing on using digital cameras and digital editing. Burnbaum’s observations on what makes a good black and white photograph are still very good. Much of the book is just out of date, but there’s some gold remaining in them hills.

Why Photographs Work by George Barr takes an entirely different approach. The subtitle “52 Great Images: Who Made Them, What Makes Them Special, and Why” pretty well summarizes the book. Barr’s appreciations of these photographs— both film and digital, some color, some black and white, followed by comments by the photographers on what they were trying to achieve, will delight lovers of fine photographs and provide insights to budding photography disciples. Recommended for photography lovers.

PowerPivot for Excel 2010

PowerPivot for Excel 2010 Give your Data Meaning is a book well above my level of expertise, so consider this more an indication that it exists than an actual review. Excel user who want to create complex reports will find a great number of techniques for drawing conclusions from data bases and data analyses. PowerPivot is a feature included in Excel 2010, and for those who aren’t familiar with it, Microsoft gives an introduction at this MSDN link. If you’re in the data analysis and reporting business, you probably ought to be familiar with this. I am told it’s catching on in some industries. I didn’t have any problem reading sections of this book, and what I saw was interesting enough. Modern computers can do marvelous things with data collections, and learning how to use tools like this will be important in many professions. When I was in Operations Research we had to build and solve our models with Monroe Calculators and make presentations with ViewGraph, both lost technologies: If I’d had even an early edition of Excel I’d have been thought the greatest OR man who ever lived. Now we have Excel 2010 and PowerPivot, and I’m frankly amazed at what can be done with them. Of course knowing the tools doesn’t mean one will have the proper insights for using them, but if you don’t know the tools exist you will never learn.

Windows 7 Enterprise Desktop Administrator Self-Paced Training Kit

Windows 7 Enterprise Desktop Administrator Self-Paced Training Kit by Craig Zacker and Orin Thomas is precisely what the title implies: it’s a course for certification in Windows 7 for desktop administrators. In this age of certificates and certification, it’s harder and harder to get ahead in information technology without jumping through certification hoops. Smaller businesses may not insist on them, but if you want into the corporate maze as an IT professional, you have to get the certificates.

Microsoft provides a number of training aids and tools for getting certified; this is one of them. As with many of these Microsoft Press training courses it’s very complete, and doesn’t assume much. There are lessons, lesson plans, exams, test answers, and the lot, most of it in high school language. A certification course is not a particularly good way to learn the ins and outs of technology management, but it’s darned near required to get past a certification examination. Sociologists have long studied ‘professions’ and their jargon (including that of professional thieves and confidence men) and have noted that all professions develop a jargon in which ordinary words acquire different meanings: learning that jargon is one of the hurdles to getting into the profession. Information Technology didn’t take long to develop its own language.

If you’re interested in IT as a career, you need to learn how to prepare for certification examinations. This book and a bit of experience can do that for you.

Winding Down

The book of the month is Sir Dominic Flandry, The Last Knight of Terra, by Poul Anderson. It is part of the Baen recollection and reissue of Poul’s great saga of Terran civilization in interstellar space. Poul’s stories range from unapologetic action adventure space opera to rather touching stories, and since it’s Anderson, you often get both in one segment. This collection includes full novels as well as novellas and short stories, and tells of the later exploits of Captain Sir Dominic Flandry, Intelligence Officer, adventurer, and bon vivant, a combination of Agent 007 and Mycroft Holmes. They’re whacking good tales, and they hold up a lot better than much of the classic science fiction adventure written in those times.

The computer book of the month is iPad Programming A Quick-Start Guide for iPhone Developers by Daniel H. Steinberg and Eric T Freeman. This is not an introduction to writing apps. It assumes you know the essentials of writing iPhone applications, and are now transitioning to the iPad, so much of the emphasis in the book is on the differences and in particular the strengths of the iPad. If you write iPhone applications you will want this book, and if you are contemplating writing applications for either iPhone or iPad, this is a good way to learn something of what’s involved and what are the strong points of the iPad. It’s well edited and clearly written. Recommended.

The second computer book of the month is not really like unto the first. iPhone Open Application Development has been around a while, but this second edition is a good starting place for reasonably experienced C and C++ programmers who are interested in jailbreaking their iPhone and moving away from the crowd. At worst you’ll learn just what the difficulties are.

The movie of the month is the Johnny Depp Alice in Wonderland, a strange, even bizarre, twist on the original Alice stories. I didn’t see it when it first came out because 3D tends to give me a headache, but if you like 3D you would probably like this in that medium. I recently saw it in 2D and it’s interesting.

This is hardly a children’s movie. I tend to pay more attention to story than to special effects, particularly in a fantasy: this story was quite original. I do not think Dodgson would have approved of this twist of his characters and story line, but it is not impossible. He almost certainly would have enjoyed some of the jokes, and the taming of the frumious bandersnatch might have pleasantly surprised him. It’s an enjoyable movie, and may receive an Oscar nomination.