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THE Book Of The Month

Jerry Pournelle

Monday, July 17, 2006

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For many years the Book of the Month has been a feature in the Computing At Chaos Manor column. This was in two parts: The Book of the Month, which is general reading, and The Computer Book Of The Month, which is self explanatory. The Computer book list is likely to become obsolete quickly.

The general reading recommendations are not obsolete. I have recommended everything from novels to histories to political science to the unclassifiable, some because I think they are fun to read, some because it is good for your soul.

I have changed the name of original page I kept these on. If you want the Computer books up to when I began to neglect this duty, you will find that and more on the  OLD PAGE.

In June 2001, reader  Tim Pope  compiled a new list. This is now complete through all published reviews from 1994 through 2000. I'll try to keep it up to date.

I didn't, but in May, 2002, reader Stephen St. Onge compiled the list from May 2001 to May 2002, then again for June to November, 2002. My thanks.

Finally, in January 2003 Paul Walker did a complete edit and fixed all the links. A great deal of work, and my heartiest thanks. Paul has recently refurbished the page again.

And in January 2004 Mr. St. Onge brought it up to date to December 2003. My thanks.

And since then I have brought the list up to date through June 2006.



Year Month
 1994   Jan   Feb   Mar   Apr   May   Jun   Jul   Aug   Sep   Oct   Nov   Dec 
 1995   Jan   Feb   Mar   Apr   May   Jun   Jul   Aug   Sep   Oct   Nov   Dec 
 1996   Jan   Feb   Mar   Apr   May   Jun   Jul   Aug   Sep   Oct   Nov   Dec 
 1997   Jan   Feb   Mar   Apr   May   Jun   Jul   Aug   Sep   Oct   Nov   Dec 
 1998   Jan   Feb   Mar   Apr   May   Jun   Jul   Aug   Sep   Oct   Nov   Dec 
 1999   Jan   Feb   Mar   Apr   May   Jun   Jul   Aug   Sep   Oct   Nov   Dec 
 2000   Jan   Feb   Mar   Apr   May   Jun   Jul   Aug   Sep   Oct   Nov   Dec 
 2001   Jan   Feb   Mar   Apr   May   Jun   Jul   Aug   Sep   Oct   Nov   Dec 
 2002   Jan   Feb   Mar   Apr   May   Jun   Jul   Aug   Sep   Oct   Nov   Dec 
 2003   Jan   Feb   Mar   Apr   May   Jun   Jul   Aug   Sep   Oct   Nov   Dec 
 2004   Jan   Feb   Mar   Apr   May   Jun   Jul   Aug   Sep   Oct   Nov   Dec 
 2005  Jan   Feb  Mar  Apr  May  Jun  Jul  Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 2006 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun            


>From the January 1994 Column - Travels and Travails Column The book of the month is Joel N. Shurkin's Terman's Kids: The Groundbreaking Study of How the Gifted Grow Up (Little, Brown, 1992). Lewis Terman did a great deal of pioneer work in intelligence testing and did studies of gifted children. One of his groups, more than 1500 California children with genius- and near-genius-level IQs, became known as "the Term-ites" and were featured in a number of studies. Shurkin is the chief science writer at Stanford University and has a deservedly good reputation for accuracy as well as readability. This book follows the Termites up to the present. If you're interested in gifted children, you'll find this book fascinating.

>From the February 1994 Column - None

>From the March 1994 Column John Keegan's A History of Warfare (Knopf, 1993) is one of the few books I'll call important: it's an examination of why men--and that's not sexism, but the subject of the book--fight, and whether we still need war. Agree or not, you're in for a heck of a ride. And so you are with John Podhoretz's A Hell Of A Ride (Simon &; Schuster, 1993), an insider's story of just what happened to send George Bush from an unbeatable 91 percent popularity to defeat by an Arkansas governor. Not quite as funny as O'Rourke, and perhaps a bit more serious.

>From the April 1994 Column - None

>From the May 1994 Column - Crash, Bang--Quake Column On which score, the book of the month is Edward Luttwak's Reclaiming the Endangered American Dream (Simon & Schuster, 1993). In my judgment, Luttwak is better at diagnosing than prescribing, but this book deserves a careful reading by anyone who is concerned with just where this nation is going. Agree with him or not, he clearly gives you much to think about.

>From the June 1994 Column - A Pentium Is Sounded Out Column The book of the month is by Richard E. Cytowic, M.D., The Man Who Tasted Shapes (Tarcher/Putnam, 1993). You may never have heard of synesthesia, a sort of scrambling of senses that might cause you to smell in colors or, as the title suggests, taste shapes; but it's very real, and this entertaining book tells of some experiences the author has had with such people, using their experiences to inquire into the nature of sensation and perception. I guess that sounds more like a book reviewer than me, which means I'm getting tired. Anyway, you'll like the book.

>From the July 1994 Column - An Educational Trip Column The book of the month is Alvin and Heidi Toffler's War and Anti-War (Little, Brown, 1993). I recently had dinner with the Tofflers, who are as interesting in person as their books. This is one of their better ones, and I'd have been proud to have written it. I've also recently discovered a series of novels by Patrick O'Brian. They're British Navy novels set in the Napoleonic era, and if you liked Horatio Hornblower, you'll love Jack Aubrey. It's best if you start with the first one, Master & Commander (Norton, 1970). Fair warning, there are 20 books in the series, and once you start, it will be hard to stop.

The Aubrey-Maturin Series

  1. Master & Commander
  2. Post Captain
  3. H.M.S. Surprise
  4. The Mauritius Command
  5. Desolation Island
  6. The Fortune of War
  7. The Surgeon's Mate
  8. The Ionian Mission
  9. Treason's Harbour
  10. The Far Side of the World
  11. The Reverse of the Medal
  12. The Letter of Marque
  13. The Thirteen-Gun Salute
  14. The Nutmeg of Consolation
  15. The Truelove
  16. The Wine-Dark Sea
  17. The Commodore
  18. The Yellow Admiral
  19. The Hundred Days
  20. Blue at the Mizzen

>From the August 1994 Column - Traveling Light Column The book of the month is Fred Saberhagen's Seance for a Vampire (Tor Books, 1994), another in his series that brings Count Dracula and Sherlock Holmes together. If you don't like this sort of thing you'll hate it, but I love it.

>From the September 1994 Column - Don't Blink Column The book of the month is by Myron Magnet: The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties' Legacy to the Underclass (Morrow, 1993). It's a frightening analysis of why the good intentions of the war on poverty went wrong and the consequent moral challenge to the U.S. Highly recommended.

>From the October 1994 Column - Odds and Ends Column The first book of the month is Cheryl Currid's Computing Strategies for Reengineering Your Organization (Prima Publishing, 1993). It's a readable introduction into modern high-tech management strategy. There are a kazillion books on how to get on-line. The one I fancied this month is by Sharon Fisher and Rob Tidrow, Riding the Internet Highway (NRP, 1994). There's a lot of solid information well presented here.

>From the November 1994 Column - A Look to the Future Column The book of the month is by James Dunnigan and Raymond Macedonia, Getting It Right: American Military Reforms After Vietnam (Morrow, 1993). It's a good account of how the Army went from Vietnam to Desert Storm, readable but with plenty of detail. It's not as complete on what the Air Force did. I like to think that Possony and Pournelle's Strategy of Technology, which was a text in the Air Force Academy and War College during some of the critical years, had some influence on Air Force weapons and doctrine. That's a quibble, though; Dunnigan has done an excellent job, as usual.

>From the December 1994 Column - Can You Say Network Column The book of the month is Andy McNab's Bravo Two Zero (Dell, 1994), the autobiographical story of a sergeant of the British Special Air Services Regiment during Desert Storm.

>From the January 1995 Column - Communications Issues Column The book of the month is Hy Bender's Essential Software for Writers: A Complete Guide for Everyone Who Writes with a PC (Writers Digest Books, 1994); it's humorous and well done. It discusses a lot of software of interest to those who use computers to write.

>From the February 1995 Column - Software-Installation Hell Column The book of the month is Donald Norman's Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine (Addison-Wesley, 1994). Dr. Norman is a senior Apple Fellow. I met him at the Hackers' Conference. After spending an hour with him, I promptly bought his book and read it in two days.

>From the March 1995 Column - Unexpected Adventures Column The book of the month is by Ian Bradley and Ronald Meek, Matrices and Society: Matrix Algebra and Its Applications in the Social Sciences (Princeton University Press, 1987). Yes, I know I've recommended it before; but it's worth reading again, and I just did.

>From the April 1995 Column - Orchids and Onions Part 1 Column The book of the month is Technological Risk by H. W. Lewis (Norton, 1992). It's about the clearest and best-written exposition on the increasingly important subject of the risks involved with new technologies. It's readable, too.

>From the May 1995 Column - Prizes and Surprises Column The computer book of the month is by Gene K. Landy, The Software Developer's and Marketer's Legal Companion: Protect Your Software and Your Business The book of the month is by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart, The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World (Viking, 1994). Jack Cohen is a professor of biology in England. He was a principal consultant to Larry Niven, Steve Barnes, and me for Legacy of Heorot and our upcoming sequel, Beowulf's Children . The book is an investigation into how you can evolve simplicity from a complex world. This book isn't easy reading, but I bet you like it.

>From the June 1995 Column No book of the month per se but Jerry does mention The Bell Curve: The Reshaping of American Life by Differences in Intelligence by Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein

>From the July 1995 Column - Windows 95 Arrives Column The book of the month is Donald Kagan's On the Origins of War and The Preservation of Peace (Doubleday, 1995). This is one of those rare books I call important. By comparing the outbreak of war in ancient and modern times, Kagan gives you some insight into why wars happen and what you might do about them.

>From the August 1995 Column - Windows 95 Pastiche Column The book of the month is The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America by Philip K. Howard (Random House, 1994). If you suspect litigation and regulation have gotten out of hand, you'll be certain of it once you read this book. Some of the examples he gives are hilarious--until you realize it's all deadly serious, and people are fined, jailed, and driven out of business for transgressing absolutely senseless rules.

>From the September 1995 Column - Of COM Ports and Digital Frogs Column The book of the month is Crime , edited by James Q. Wilson and Joan Petersilia (ICS Press, 1995). This will tell you more than you want to know about crime in this country. Essays are presented from nearly every rational point of view. It's not fun reading, but perhaps it's time citizens gave some heavy thought to the problem.

>From the October 1995 Column - Death Swoops and Upgrades Column The book of the month is Independent Birth Of Organisms by Periannan Senapathy (Genome International, 1994). Fair warning: this book is heavy reading, being nothing less than a new theory of evolution; or, rather, a critique of why current theories based on Darwin can't be correct. If nothing else, this is a readable (with difficulty) introduction to modern molecular biology. I found it fascinating, but then I like complicated scientific detective stories.

>From the November 1995 Column - Digital Models Column The book of the month is Peter Magid and Ira Schneider's OS/2 Warp Uncensored (IDG Books, 1995). The title is meaningless, but the book is very complete. If you use or contemplate using OS/2, you'll find this valuable.

>From the December 1995 Column - A New Mutation Column The first book of the month is by Robert L. Forward, Indistinguishable from Magic (Baen Books, 1995). The title comes from Arthur Clarke's phrase, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Dr. Forward is a former senior scientist at Hughes, an authority on gravitation, and one heck of an imaginative writer. The second book of the month is by Richard Pipes, Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime (Random House, 1995). It's part of his history of the Seventy Years War (formerly called the cold war) and tells a grim tale of what happens when idealists and cynics fight over power. The CD-ROM of the month is Microsoft's Composer Collection, three CDs on Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. I've written about these musical biographies before. They're a great and painless way to learn about composers, their times, and major works.

>From the January 1996 Column - None

>From the February 1996 Column - SuperCow on the Beach Column The book of the month is Ivars Peterson's Fatal Defect (There appears to be another version) (Times Books, 1995, ISBN 0-8129-2023-6), which is about computer bugs that have been fatal in more than one sense. Well written and a bit frightening.

>From the March 1996 Column - An Upgrade for Mrs_ Pournelle Column The book of the month is John December's Presenting Java (Sam's Net, ISBN 1-57521-039-8). Java is Sun Microsystems' animation programming language for the Web. Since Microsoft has licensed Java, it has become the de facto standard Web language. Hot Java is a Web browser written in Java and available from http://www.java.sun.com/ . They're described in clear language in this book. Recommended.

>From the April 1996 Column - The Fragrant and the Foul Column The book of the month is The Web Page Design Cookbook (Wiley, ISBN 0-471-13039-7), an excellent tutorial guide.

>From the May 1996 Column - Of Cables and Cards Column The book of the month is a magazine : The World and I , edited by my friend Morton Kaplan. It used to be about $100 a year. Now it's a bargain at $90 for three years. It has more content than you may read, but what y ou do read will be worth the price. It covers arts, science, literature, poetry, education, culture, and once in a while has an article by me ( The World and I , Washington, D.C., (800) 822-2822 or (202) 636-1628; fax (202) 526-3497). The shameless plug of the month is Janissaries by Jerry Pournelle, recently reissued by Baen Books. Two real books of the month: Plug-N-Play Netscape for Windows by Angela Gunn and Joe Kraynak (Sam's, ISBN 1-57521-010-x), a painless way to learn Netscape and get connected through EarthLink Total Access. EarthLink Network is the Internet service provider (ISP) I presently recommend, and their Total Access software, which comes on disk with the book, is what I use. The other book of the month is Politics on the Net by Bill Mann (Que, ISBN 0-7897-0286-x). It's astonishing just how much political information (as well as polemic) there is on the Net, a nd this is a good survey.

>From the June 1996 Column - When D Equals E Column The book of the month is The Beginnings of Rome by T. J. Cornell (Routledge Publishing, 1995). As much as you want to know about the founding of Rome. If you like that kind of book, you will like this one a lot.

>From the July 1996 Column - Comments on Code Column The book of the month is Wendell Berry's Another Turn of the Crank (Counterpoint Press, 1995). Berry is a farmer, an agrarian, and a moralist, as well as a good writer. He has seen U.S. agriculture go from small farms to agribusiness and farming converted into an industrial activity in the name of cheap food. He doesn't like that, and his reasons are both disturbing and well worth thinking about.

>From the August 1996 Column - Adieu, Pentafluge____Hello, Cyrus Column The book of the month is Expiration Date by Tim Powers (Tor Books). It's a typical Powers story: well-researched details of a world that you'd swear is modern Los Angeles, but it clearly isn't, since in the first chapter the protagonist finds a vial containing the ghost of Thomas Alva Edison. I don't think you'll be bored.

>From the September 1996 Column - A Little Taste of Crow Column The book of the month is Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life by David Friedman (Harper Business, 1996). One doesn't normally think of an economics book as light and pleasant reading, but David makes it seem so. He also explains most of the assumptions underlying economic theory. If you have any interest in economics at all, you'll find this book both readable and fascinating; and I guarantee you'll learn something from it. David analyzes such things as the length of supermarket checkout lines, whether to change lanes on a freeway, and incidentally something about money and unemployment. He's a former King of the East in the Society for Creative Anachronism, and one of the most interesting people I know.

>From the October 1996 Column - Of Zip and Spam and NT 4_0 Column The book of the month is by Cicely Veronica Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War (Routledge). I thought I knew all I wanted to about the Defenestration of Prague , Friedrich the Winter King, Father Tilly, Cardinal Richelieu and Father Joseph "the gray eminence," and Wallenstein, but once I opened this wonderful book, I found a wealth of details more fascinating than any novel. Part of Hitler's popularity came from his promise to upset the Peace of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years War.

>From the November 1996 Column - Don't Swap Network! Column The first book of the month is also the CD-ROM of the month : Erica Sadun's Java Script CD-CookBook (Charles River Media, ISBN 1-886801-35-5). This is a "book" you read with your Web browser. Clearly written, lots of examples, and probably the first of many "books" done this way.

>From the December 1996 Column - A Hot Night at the Opera Column The book of the month is Dave Barry in Cyberspace (Crown, ISBN 0-517-59575-3). Fair warning: Dave is a Chaos Manor fan; see page 4. If you like his style of humor and you read BYTE, you will love this book. I'm not making this up.

>From the January 1997 Column - A Hard Drive and a Hot Santa Ana Column The book of the month is John Keegan's Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America. Like all Keegan's books, this is both readable and insightful. Fair warning: this is not an introductory work. You need passing familiarity with the American Revolution and the Civil War. I have one quarrel: Keegan goes to great lengths to tell why geography has dominated the wars on this continent -- but the book has almost no maps. To properly appreciate this book, you need a good historical atlas.

>From the February 1997 Column - Of Bug-Hunting and a New Frontier Column The book of the month is G. Harry Stine's Halfway to Anywhere. This is part of the story of some of the most important events in the history of space travel told by one of the participants. Fair warning: I'm rather prominently in the book. If you want to know something about single-stage-to-orbit ships like the DC/X and the upcoming X-33, this is the place to start.

>From the March 1997 Column - It Was a Great Comdex Column The book of the month is Higher Education by Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle, now out in paperback from Tor Books (ISBN 0-812-53890-0). This book was inspired by nonfiction essays about the future, which Dr. Sheffield and I wrote for a meeting of the International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences in 1992. It's a novel about the failure of the U.S. education system and one approach to doing something about it.

>From the April 1997 Column - Orchids and Onions Are Blooming Column The book of the month is Not Out of Africa by Mary Lefkowitz (Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-09837-1). This is a detailed refutation of the "all knowledge comes from Africa, and the Greeks ripped off the Egyptians and then claimed to have invented philosophy, and it's all a big plot" school of modern history. Lefkowitz is a classical scholar, and she politely but firmly takes the Afro-centered histories apart. She also explains why this is important and we all ought to care. I'm nowhere near the classical scholar Lefkowitz is, but where our expertises cross, she's certainly got her facts right; and her logic is impeccable.

>From the May 1997 Column - None

>From the June 1997 Column - Of Supercomputers, Sound Files, and Sugarscape Column The book of the month is Epstein and Axtell's Growing Artificial Societies.

>From the July 1997 Column - A Web Site for Chaos Manor Column The book of the month is Charles Harrington Elster's There's a Word for It! (Scribner, ISBN 0-684-82455-8). There's no better book for a dringle, and yes, I learned that word from the book. To go with it, there's William F. Buckley Jr.'s Buckley: The Right Word (Random House, ISBN 0-679-45214-1). They're both readable and must reads if you write much.

>From the August 1997 Column - Some Things Make You Feel Stupid Column The book of the month is The Trap by James Goldsmith (1994, Carroll & Graf, ISBN 0-7867-0185-4).

>From the September 1997 Column - New Synergies for Computing Column The book of the month is by Clive Maxfield and Alvin Brown, BEBOP Bytes Back, An Unconventional Guide to Computers (Doone Publications, ISBN 0-9651934-0-3). While this looks like a book with a CD-ROM, it's actually an entire course in practical computer application, but presented in an irreverent and amusing way. You "build" your computer on-screen, endow it with many properties, and set it tasks, all the while learning about what goes on inside a computer. Build text editors, hardware simulators, logic engines, and anything else a computer can do. If you work through this book, you will understand your computer a lot better.

>From the October 1997 Column - Virtual Publishing -- and Virtual Travel Column The book of the month is a good novel by Victor Koman called Kings of the High Frontier. Unfortunately, it's intertwined with a bad novel and at least two dull political tracts. The book is about getting to space despite NASA and the government, and I kept reading it, but I have to say, I skimmed a fair amount. Mr. Heinlein said that he never saw a book that couldn't be improved by cutting from 10 percent to 50 percent; this one is no exception. It also suffers from putting characters in funny hats (literally in one case). In fairness, it covers

>From the November 1997 Column - Fooling Around with the Web Column The book of the month is my own, but you don't have to pay to read it. The Strategy of Technology was written in 1968 by Stefan T. Possony, Francis X. Kane, and Jerry Pournelle, and published by the University Press of Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was used as a textbook in all three service academies at one time or another and numerous times over the years in the Air War College at Maxwell AFB. It has been out of print for years, although photocopies circulated with my permission. Recently, some young officers asked me to make it available. A professional Web designer, Arnold Bailey (abailey@bix.com), volunteered to turn it into good HTML, and so he did. You can find it, complete with partial revisions and notes, on my Web site at http://www.jerrypournelle.com/slowchange/Strat.html as well as a couple of other places. Fair warning, this is a cold war book, and while the principles haven't changed at all, nearly all the examples are from the Seventy Years War between the U.S.S.R. and Western civilization.

>From the December 1997 Column - Fire Three for Effect! Column The book of the month is by Lance Banning, The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic (Cornell University Press, ISBN 0-8014-3152-2). This is quite the best political biography of Madison you will ever see, and a wonderful analysis of Madison as both framer and one of the authors of The Federalist . There is today all too little attention paid to the relations between the national government and the states, and more 's the pity.

>From the January 1998 Column Two books this month . Terry Pratchett's Maskerade (Harper/Prism, ISBN 0-06-105251-5) is "yet another novel of Discworld," in which Granny Weatherwax meets the Phantom of the Opera. If you don't know about Pratchett and his insane Discworld novels, you have a treat in store for you. Incidentally, the Psygnosis game Discworld II (which includes Discworld I) would make a perfect gift for any computer-using science fiction reader.

The other book is by the late Walter M. Miller Jr., Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (Bantam, ISBN 0-553-10704-6). The cover says it is a sequel to Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz , one of the truly great science fiction works of all time, but it's better than that. This story takes place after part two of the novel but before the remodernizations of part three. Canticle was a story of fall and redemption, and by God's grace, its post-atomic war setting is far less likely than when it was written, but Miller was a wonderful writer.

>From the February 1998 Column - To Cure a Failing Memory Column The book of the month is by Tim Powers, Earthquake Weather (Tor Books, ISBN 0-312-86163-X). Powers writes modern fantasy: imagine that the Fisher King of the West has been slain in modern-day Southern California, and Dionysius must be invoked to restore the king. This is a sequel to Tim's Expiration Date.

>From the March 1998 Column - Doing Something About Microsoft Column The book of the month is by Chaim Herzog and Mordechai Gichon, Battles of the Bible (Greenhill Books, ISBN 1-85367-266-1), a 1997 reissue of an 1978 book. Herzog is a former Israeli general who made use of his Biblical knowledge in the Arab/Israeli Wars: the strategic terrain has not changed much in 2500 years.

>From the April 1998 Column - Good Enough Is Good Enough Column The first book of the month is Peter Kent's Poor Richard's Web Site: Geek-Free, Commonsense Advice on Building a Low-Cost Web Site. Check out http://www.poorrichard.com for details; the title says all that's needed. The second book of the month is Elizabeth A. Parker's Home Page Improvement (IDG Books, ISBN0-7645-3083-6), another "Gee how did you do that?" Web-page book that's written in English with lots of examples. It may or may not be significant that she is married to Rich Grace, a writer whose works I have admired. In any event, I wish I had had either, or preferably both, of these books when I set out to build a Web site.

>From the May 1998 Column - Four Ways to More Storage Column The book of the month is by George and Meredith Friedman, The Future of War (Crown, ISBN 0-517-70403-X). While I don't agree with all they say, it's a valuable contribution to the discussion of technology and warfare. Incidentally, I am doing a two-volume set on high-tech wars for St. Martin's Press, and I hope to turn in the manuscript of the first volume about the time you read this.

>June 1998

The book of the month is On Infantry by John A. English and Bruce I. Gudmundsson, an analytical military history of infantry in this century. Technical but surprisingly readable if you're interested in the subject. It's apparently out of print but I was able to get a copy through amazon.com. If that's not your cup of tea, there are a couple of new Terry Pratchett Discworld books available. Get one and laugh your head off. The computer book of the month is Edward and Jennifer Yourdon, Time Bomb 2000, Prentice Hall ISBN0-13-095284-2. I tend to think of the great Year 2000 Scare as hysteria; the Yourdons have another opinion, which they calmly and soberly present, along with precautions you can take in case they're right. They frankly scared hell out of me.



JULY 1998 

The book of the month is Paul Johnson, A History of the American People, Harper Collins, 1997; a great sprawling story of the Americans from earliest times, written by a great and readable historian. I thought I knew the American saga, but this taught me things I didn't know. 

If you're not into a thousand pages on American History, let me shamelessly recommend Starswarm, by Jerry Pournelle, Tor Books May 1998. Some think it the best thing I have ever done. Perhaps not, but I do find it Good Enough. 

The computer book of the month is Jeffrey McManus, How To Program Visual Basic 5.0 Control Creation Edition (ZD Press, ISBN 1-56276-485-3 1998). Massively illustrated, good CD of source code, and a good technical level. It assumes you know something about Visual Basic and programming, and want to get started doing something practical. Don't choose this as your first book, but it wouldn't be a bad second one.

>From the August 98 Column The book of the month is Thomas P. Hughes, Rescuing Prometheus, Pantheon, ISBN 0-679-41151-8. This is about the best account I know of the development of management and control structures for enormous projects, including the old USAF SAGE system as well as the ARPANET/Internet. Hughes doesn't say what went wrong with the Apollo program and NASA's Shuttle, but the principles of organization, management, and operations research are laid out well enough to let you think of your own explanations.

The second book of the month is extremely important to Internet users: Michael Godwin's Cyber Rights examines the tensions inherent in the notion of free speech when everyone has the ability to do instant publications. There are severe conflicts between protection of intellectual property, and the right to quote freely; there is another problem with libel and slander; and how much right does society have to suppress pornography and obscenity? Godwin has great experience in dealing with these matters, and he writes well and interestingly. The case histories are fascinating. If your business involves the Internet, or you're an eager Internet user, you really should read this book. Highly recommended.

>From the last CM Column (intended for August issue) The book of the month is, naturally, Starswarm by Jerry Pournelle (TOR Books). It's selling well: thanks. Meanwhile, Niven and I have just about finished The Burning City, about 150,000 words; technically it's a heroic fantasy, but it's got some pretty odd elements for that genre. Of course Niven and I never do anything the standard way.

>From the September 98 Column 

The computer book of the month is the O'Reilly book Office 97 Annoyances. You'll learn enough to save the price of the book in the first five chapters. All about annoying quirks and how to fix them, and you really need this book. Also, do get the O'Reilly book on the Palm Pilot (Palmpilot: The Ultimate Guide); you can learn enough from the book to decide whether you want to buy a Pilot, and if you do buy the Pilot you will want the book.

I don't recommend the most important book I read this month, despite all the hype-it's sure to become a best seller because of the timeliness and importance of the subject matter. That's just the problem: the subject is important, but you won't learn the truth here.

The book is The MICROSOFT FILE: The Secret Case Against Bill Gates by Wendy Goldman Rohm (Times Business, ISBN 0-8129-2716-8), and while it may have some facts in it, the book is so biased against Gates, and so full of petty and irrelevant insults, that it's very hard to determine what's real and what isn't. For example, many of the "secrets" are reports on conversations at which only two people were present. We are told a lot about what happened between Gates and a pretty girl named Stefanie Reichel who worked for Microsoft Europe. We're even told how she felt about these events, and there are dark hints of sexual harassment of an employee by her boss. However, she is never quoted, nor is there any source information at all: this book is as devoid of notes as a National Enquirer article. How Wendy Goldman Rohm managed to find out what Gates's former girl friends feel about him isn't told.

As it happens, I have known Gates since 1979 or so, and I know a couple of the girls he used to date before he was married. One is a good friend. I've never asked, and they've never told me, what happened on their dates, nor would I expect to be told. It's not my business, or yours.

The book is full of quotes, but it's never clear where they came from. When the Department of Justice threatened to fine Microsoft $1 million a day, within minutes people were quipping all over the Internet that Gates made more than that in an hour. Wendy Goldman Rohm reports that Gates himself thought the fines were a joke, laughed, and bragged "Every two and a half hours I make a million!" This is highly unlikely for several reasons. First, it's not true: $1 million every 2.5 hours is 9.6 million a day or $3.5 billion a year, and both Microsoft and Gates have more revenue than that. Second, in twenty years and more I have known him, Gates has never bragged about how much money he makes; why would he start now? Third, even if he did, he wouldn't say it in front of anyone who is going to repeat that story to Wendy Goldman Rohm.

There's a lot more like that: information that she is unlikely to have any reliable source for is given as if it were signed, witnessed, and notarized, and moreover given in a breathless tone that implies high truth-but there is never any source given. Yet, when it comes to some really interesting stories - such as how Microsoft rather than Digital Research happened to be the company to produce an operating system for the IBM PC - she doesn't seem to have a clue as to the real story. She has a hint about Gary Killdall's name being embedded in DOS 1.0 (it was!), but she doesn't know how or why, and she implies that Gates knowingly pirated DOS from Digital Research, which isn't true at all. The real story is a lot more interesting than that.

Rohm tells us a lot about what goes on in the Federal Trade Commission. In particular she tells us what's happening from the view of a staffer called D'Artagnan, real name Steve Newborn, who was instrumental in transferring the Microsoft case from FTC to Justice. The first time we hear of Newborn we are told that D'Artagnan had kissed someone in the elevator; the someone turns out to be newly appointed Federal Trade Commissioner Deborah Owen, who is described as wearing 'slinky skirts slit thigh high', and whose clothing style and amatory habits seem to have been more important to the FTC staff than the work they were being paid to do. Whether D'Artagnan had an affair with a Commissioner, and whether that influenced the Commissioner's vote, isn't told.

And that's the problem with this book. Sometimes she tells stories that, if true as told, are very damning to Microsoft as a company and Gates as a person. A few are shocking. Alas, there is never any more evidence for the truth of those stories than for the truth of the fictionalized mood pieces.

We hear that "In early November the rolling hills outside Doug Solomon's window hung with fog. Banks of mist were shifting… Plate glass caught his reflection. Solomon, Apple's senior vice president of strategic planning and corporate development, was six feet tall, and balding, with a gray beard and oversized glasses. He hated his appearance in Apple's annual corporate reports…"

Which is pretty lousy writing as fiction, and I'm not quite sure how it adds to the believability of reports on what Solomon said in meetings and in memos. Who is the source here? Solomon? Someone else who was at the meeting? Or someone who heard the story third hand? We don't know and we won't find out.

This book would be a pretty good starting set of notes for an investigation of Microsoft. You could follow the tales and try to see which ones could be confirmed. Some are quite damning. But without confirmation and sources, the book is simply a diatribe, a setting out of every nasty story anyone ever told about Gates and Microsoft, complete with geeky tales of bizarre behavior. There are speculations about Gates's motives presented as unquestionable fact, but there are never any sources. In other words, as fiction it's pretty dull, and as journalism it's pretty worthless, on par with the National Enquirer. You can see more of my opinion of this book on my web site.


>From the October 98 Column 

The book of the month is Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, Norton, ISBN 0-393-85005-6. I've known Bob Jastrow for several years. He's not religious, but his inquiries into what astronomers now believe about the universe force him to admit there are vast and totally unexpected similarities between the "revelation" and observation. He's also extremely readable, so if you're looking for an account of what cosmologists now think, this is a good introduction. And it's hard to quarrel with his final conclusion: "Despite scientific claims to the contrary, the destiny or meaning of the human race, and of the cosmic order, cannot be ascertained by a study of discrete biological or historical events. It is no more logical to argue that the world has no ultimate cause or purpose than to argue that it does-in both cases the empirical or scientific evidence for deciding the matter is inadequate."

Both Computer Books of the Month are from QUE: Rick and Patty Winter, The Microsoft Office 97 User Manual, ISBN 0-7897-1706-9, a relatively inexpensive (for a computer book) work subtitled "The Manual You Should Have Received With Office 97". It lives up to its name and for under $20 it's a bargain. The other Computer Book of the Month is Mark Van Name et al. Windows Performance Secrets ISBN 0-7897-1752-2. This comes with two CD's of benchmarks, and a great number of specific directions on tuning up your Windows systems to get the most out of them. Even if you're not a performance freak you will learn a lot from this book, and no gamer or user club should be without a copy.


>From the November 1998 Column There are two books this month. The first, Once a Hero by Elizabeth Moon, is a pretty standard space opera set in the world of the "Herris Serrano Series"; (Baen Books). The title character, Esmay Suiza, is an aristocrat from a provincial planet who has joined the imperial space navy and short lyafter finds herself the sole surviving officer in command of a ship in battle, which she wins, thereby saving an entire planet. That happens before the book begins: the novel is about the consequences of having been a hero. Well worked out, over detailed in spots, but still a page turner. 

The second book is quite strange. Guy Gavriel Kay writes about the 5th Century Byzantine Empire, but he doesn't call it that. Sailing to Sarantium (Harper Prism) takes place in a fantasy world; one with a history so close to our own that sometimes only the names have been changed. That is, Sarantium is Constantinople, Rhodium is Rome, Varena is Ravenna, and the geography is the Mediterranean world of Europe in the 5th Century. The story opens as Valerius, Count of the Excubitors, is raised to the Imperial throne through the intrigues of his nephew Petrus. In due time Petrus becomes emperor, and experiences the "Victory Riots." All of this happened in real history, with Justin as Valerius, Justinian as Petrus, and the Nike Sedition as the famous riots which nearly brought down Justinian and Theodora, the dancer he married who became the most famous empress in Byzantine history. She's called Aliana in this book.

 Of course if you don't know all that, it's still a whacking good story. Kay has details on chariot racing which sure feel authentic. His major character is Crispin, a master mosaic artist, and details of that art are important to the story. When Crispin interacts with characters from history including Petrus (Justinian) and his general Leontes (Belisarius), the characters are true to what history knows of their real world counterparts. Details of the book sometimes get in the way - the author cannot resist the writer's trick of making a scene important by saying "If Crispin had known this history would have been different" - but this is minor carping about a story good enough to have kept me reading 400 and more pages in one sitting. If you like historical fiction or heroic fantasy, you will like this book.


>From the December 1998 Column The entertainment book of the month is Elizabeth Moon, Rules of Engagement (Baen) the sequel to Once a Hero. Quite as good as the original. Fast action, good space opera.

>From the January 1999 Column The book of the Month is Patrick O’Brian The Hundred Days, the last of the Aubrey-Maturin sea stories [January 2002 update: there are now 20 books in the series]; the Hundred Days are of course the short reign of Napoleon after his return from exile to Elba. If you ever liked sea stories you must know of the O’Brian books; there are no others like them.

>From the February 1999 Column The book(s) of the month are Tales of the Knights Templar and On Crusade, More Tales of the Knights Templar, both edited by Katherine Kurtz and featuring stories by various authors, but all the stories are set in the same fantasy universe. (Warner Books.) The premise is that when the Knights Templar were falsely accused in 1314 by the French king Francis the Fair, some of the order escaped the persecutions to continue the work of the Templars. That’s likely straight historical fact, but in these stories the order continues to this day, and some of the stories are set in modern times. The fantasy element involves the head of John the Baptist and the Shroud of Turin, both of which figure prominently in the fantasy history of the order. Some of the stories are better than others, but I liked the series well enough to read them all, and it’s an interesting premise.

>From the March 1999 Column 

The first Computer Book of the Month is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Running Your Small Office with Microsoft Office, by Laurie Ulrich with Jon San Filippo (Alpha Books QUE ISBN 0-7897-1748-4 $16.99). This one lives up to its title: it is for rank beginners, and I doubt if any BYTE readers will find a single thing in it they don't already know. I'm not all that thrilled about some of the advice either, as for instance when Ms. Ulrich advises you to spend money on a faster processor rather than a bigger monitor. My view is the opposite, for Office applications blazing speed isn't needed, but you can't have too large a monitor: get the biggest one you can afford. It will last through several changes of computers, and save you no end of money in eye examinations not to mention headache powders. Still, if you have friends thinking of setting up a small office and completely at sea as to how to do it, this is no bad beginner's book (which is what it's intended to be, of course) and you can do a lot worse than to buy this for them just to keep them from pestering you with the obvious questions.

The Computer Book Of the Month is Real World Photoshop 5 by David Blatner and Bruce Fraser (Peachpit Press ISBN 0-201-35375-X www.peachpit.com). If you use Photoshop or are thinking of using it, get this book: it starts simple and goes into real detail, and you'll find yourself referring to it again and again. I often give review books to schools, but this one I'm keeping.

For light reading this month I've been going through the Ellis Peters "Brother Cadfael" series, beginning with the origin story "A Rare Benedictine" and going right on through. There are some twenty-one of these, and they are wonderful, invoking the time of early 12th Century England during the Civil War after the death of Henry I, when Norman and Saxon hadn't come together, and William the Conqueror's grandchildren fought it out to see who would be sovereign. They're nominally murder mysteries with a strong element of romance (Brother Cadfael is a Benedictine and not himself involved but he has a knack of helping romance along in others), and very readable. Great books to take on airplanes.

The Brother Cadfael Series

  1. A Rare Benedictine
  2. A Morbid Taste for Bones
  3. One Corpse Too Many
  4. Monk's Hood
  5. St. Peter's Fair
  6. The Leper of Saint Giles
  7. The Virgin in the Ice
  8. The Sanctuary Sparrow
  9. The Devil's Novice
  10. Dead Man's Ransom
  11. The Pilgrim of Hate
  12. An Excellent Mystery
  13. The Raven in the Foregate
  14. The Rose Rent
  15. The Hermit of Eyton Forest
  16. The Confession of Brother Haluin
  17. The Heretic's Apprentice
  18. The Potter's Field
  19. The Summer of the Danes
  20. The Holy Thief
  21. Brother Cadfael's Penance

>From the April 1999 Column The Inmates Are Running The Asylum. That’s the title of Alan Cooper’s new book (SAMS, www.samspublishing.com ), and it’s appropriate. Cooper’s subtitle is "Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy, and How to Restore the Sanity." The first part of that is correct. See the column for more on this book: I recommend it but it has problems too. Well worth your reading, though.

The second Book of the Month is Bill Gates, Business @ the Speed of Thought (Warner Books, see www.speed-of-thought.com ). This book rambles a bit, and it’s not as specific as I had hoped it would be, but it’s well worth reading by anyone using computers in their business, which is to say, by everyone in business. Gates gives specific examples of how he uses different computer capabilities and programs to run Microsoft. There’s a lot about how to use Information Technology including where to find things on the web. I think I expected more from the book than I found, but on reflection that may be because it was written primarily for business people not as familiar with computers as I am. Even so, I learned a lot from it, and I’m sure anyone involved in business will find it more than worth the price. Recommended.

>MAY 1999

The general interest books of the month are Tom Clancy and General Fred Franks, Jr. (Ret), Into the Storm - A Study in Command, and Mark Bowden Black Hawk Down. I actually bought the Clancy/Franks book on tape to listen to while driving down to the beach house, and I liked it enough that I bought the paper copy as well. This is the story of VII Corps in the Desert War. VII Corps had the toughest assignment of the war, the "Hail Mary" play. General Franks was VII Corps commander, the first amputee active duty general since the Civil War. Franks gets bad treatment in General Schwartzkopf's book on the war; here he gets to tell his side of the story, as well as go into detail on what Clausewitz meant by "friction".

Black Hawk Down is a well told story of a shameful incident in which US troops were sent on the wrong mission with the wrong intelligence by political leaders with the wrong idea and politicians who denied them the right equipment for the missions they were given. It's a compelling story of heroism and betrayal. Bowden is a lot kinder to the President and Secretary of Defense than I would be.


>From the June 1999 Column The book of the month is Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott. Scott was one of the best storytellers who ever lived. Kenilworth is about Robin Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and his romance and secret marriage with Queen Elizabeth. People don't read the old adventure stories now, largely because they find the descriptions slow-moving and dull. The trick is to skim past much of that.Scott had no choice but to put in plenty of description because most of his readers didn't travel, there were no illustrated magazines, and television didn't exist. Painting pictures in the reader's mind's eye was the only way to get people to see settings that are commonplace to television viewers, but were exotic to the people of Victorian England. I picked up Kenilworth quite by accident, but once I got to reading it, I didn't want to stop.

>From the July 99 Column The book of the month is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The White Company, his novel of medieval mercenaries. Doyle liked that book much better than he did his Sherlock Holmes series. As with all books of that era, the pace is a bit slow because so much has to be described to a readership that didn't have television or National Geographic. But the action is good, the history is accurate and gives a good feel of the times, and it's a whacking good story. [The Project Gutenberg text version can be found here]

>From the August 1999 Column 

The book of the month is John Keegan, The First World War (Knopf, 1999 ISBN 0-375-40052-4). All of Keegan's books are superb but this one is a masterpiece. He does the best job of explaining how civilized and educated people, all convinced that war was far too costly to be a useful way of solving international disputes, could find themselves unable to stop short of the most terrible war in history.

The computer books this month are Jesse Liberty, The Complete Idiot's Guide to A Career in Computer Programming (Que, 1999 ISBN 0-7897-1995-9) , and Rob Thayer et al, Visual Basic 6 Unleashed (SAMS, 1999, ISBN 0-672-31508-4). If you know someone contemplating a career in computer programming, the Liberty book will give a surprisingly good overview of what's involved, complete with a pretty good discussion of programming languages. Do understand, reading this book isn't going to make a professional of anyone; but it can show what's involved in becoming one.

>From the September 1999 Column The book of the month is Wm. F. Buckley, "The Redhunter: A Novel Based on the Life of Senator Joe McCarthy" (Little Brown, ISBN 0316115894, June 1999). This is as much nonfiction as fiction, and indeed the fictional aspects of the book are the least believable. I lived through the McCarthy era and I have definite memories of what happened; this book takes a view I didn't then hold, and tries to show what McCarthy was and was not, and what he did and did not do. It embeds the man in his times rather well, and I found myself fascinated. McCarthy certainly did his own cause more harm than good. This book shows how that happened, and to a lesser extent why. It's also a whacking good read.

October 1999 Column: The book of the month is Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by J. K. Rowling. Fair warning: the Harry Potter series of children’s books are real books, with real words. By that I don’t mean “adult”; there aren’t any words children shouldn’t hear (as if, in these days of the Internet, our children don’t know more about sex and violence than we do). What I mean is there are phonetic words like “Muggle” that kids will never have seen before. What’s great about these books is that kids want to read them, and they’re fun for adults too. In Harry Potter’s world, which looks more or less like modern England, wizardry and sorcery work, and there’s a Ministry of Magic whose major purpose is to keep Muggles - those who can’t use magic - from knowing that magic exists. There’s also a boarding school for young wizards that’s a cross between modern Eton and Tom Brown’s School Days. There’s no religious content to these books, but there is a strong ethical content: the good guys win, but it costs them, sometimes dearly, and the bad guys are really evil.

I’ve heard a few objections to these books, mostly from people who think children would be better off reading Swiss Family Robinson and Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure stories. I certainly don’t object to those, but I share Jacques Barzun’s view on what children should read: pretty well anything they want so long as it’s written with good grammar and isn’t actually depraved. (Barzun notes that at age 12 he got hold of a “highly naturalistic” novel by Mirabeau. “I thought the characters behaved in an odd manner, but I put it down to the author’s inexperience rather than my own.” If you haven’t seen his Teacher in America, let me recommend it to you.) Anyway, there’s nothing like that in these works: the 12 year old characters behave the way we did when we were 12 or so. I much enjoyed all the Harry Potter books, and if that’s what it takes to get kids reading real books as opposed to controlled vocabulary pap, I’m all for it.

The Harry Potter Series

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

>From the November 1999 Column The book of the month is Edward C. Banfield, The Unheavenly City Revisited. Banfield's careful studies of urban problems are disturbing, but anyone concerned about the future tranquility of cities really should read this book. It won't make anyone happy, but it is very hard to argue with his conclusions, which are that bad cultures produce bad results; all cultures are not equal; and without cultural changes, the inner cities are going to become less, not more livable.

>December 1999

The book of the month is a series of books on CDROM from The Oregon Institute. Long ago J A Henty wrote a series of juvenile historical novels. They take place from the time of the Crusades to the Industrial Revolution, and generally have a teen-age character, usually but not always a boy, involved in great historical events. In one, for instance, the protagonist is an apprentice to silversmith Paul Revere. In another he's a page with King Richard on crusade. The stories are interesting, and I found them fascinating from age 11 until I went into the Army. Reading on screen from CDROM isn't the best way to read a book, but it will do, and for that matter you can print the books out if you have a good printer. Anyway, the whole set, about 50 books, is available for $100 from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, 2251 Dick George Road, Cave Junction, Oregon, 97523. If you are into home schooling, you might also ask about their Self-Teaching Curriculum [ it's called the Robison Curriculum ].



>From the January 2000 Column The book of the month is a series of books on CD-ROM from The Oregon Institute. Long ago, J A Henty wrote a series of juvenile historical novels. They take place from the time of the Crusades to the Industrial Revolution, and generally have a teen-age character, usually but not always a boy, involved in great historical events.

In one, for instance, the protagonist is an apprentice to silversmith Paul Revere. In another he's a page with King Richard on crusade. The stories are interesting, and I found them fascinating from age 11 until I went into the Army. Reading on screen from CD-ROM isn't the best way to read a book, but it will do, and for that matter you can print the books out if you have a good printer. Anyway, the whole set, about 50 books, is available for $100 from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, 2251 Dick George Road, Cave Junction, Oregon, 97523. If you are into home schooling, you might also ask about their Self-Teaching Curriculum [ it's called the Robison Curriculum ].

>From the February 2000 Column The book of the month is David Gerrold's Jumping Off the Planet (Tor Books, 2000). Fair warning: the book has highly realistic portrayals of a dysfunctional family, and being told from the viewpoint of a rebellious teenager might be thought to be a little juvenile. I suspect most young people will enjoy this book, but the parents might want to read it first. There is no explicitly portrayed sex, but there are a number of off-stage sexual encounters that turn out to be important to the plot. Me, I would have encouraged my teenage boys to read it (only of course they are all grown men now), but I can understand parents who don't want that.

>From the March 2000 Column The book of the month is Charles Sheffield's, The Borderlands of Science, from Baen Books. Sheffield has his degree in physics from Oxford, and does satellite-imaging work when he's not writing science fiction. We've collaborated on some things, most notably Higher Education, and there is no one more qualified to write on the subject of where science leaves off and science fiction can begin. Charles has done a very readable work introducing writers to science, and incidentally gives a number of interesting pointers on just how to get into the science-fiction racket. This is a book suitable for nearly anyone interested in just where science may be going.

>From the April 2000 Column The book of the month is Hoodwinking the Nation by the late Julian Simon (Transaction, 1999). Simon looks into just what are the facts behind prophecies of doom, and shows how the doomsayers pull the wool over our eyes. Simon, you may recall, used to regularly win bets with doomsayers, although they often didn't pay up.

>From the May 2000 Column The book of the month is Legacy of Prometheus, by Eric Kotani and John Maddox Roberts, Forge Press, April 2000. This is a hard science-fiction novel about solar power, and when I say hard science I mean it: Eric Kotani is the pen name of my old friend Yoji Kondo, a NASA scientist who has managed to make so many contributions to astronomical science that they've gone and named an asteroid after him. It's a good read, too.

>From the June 2000 Column The book of the month is Richard Pipes, Property and Freedom, Knopf 1999. I do not often use the glib reviewer's phrase "this is an important book," but in this case I will. This book is essential reading for anyone teaching political science, economics, ethics, civics, or citizenship, and for those who got through their education without any real discussion of the place of property in the development of what we call democracy and the rule of law. That means most of us, as Pipes shows. Although there is a rich heritage of theory connecting property rights to "human rights," most of it has been neglected in modern education. It shouldn't be.

>From the July 2000 Column The book of the month is Peter Huber's Hard Green, a conservationist view of environmentalism. He seems to think much as I do: the trick is to use government to do what it does best, which is nothing. In this case, get government to take over land and let it become wilderness and national parks. That is likely to do more for the environment than all the regulations in the world. It's an interesting read, anyway.

The second book of the month is Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present. This is an intellectual history of western civilization that makes an excellent read. It's also an important book, and I don't use phrases like that lightly. Universities sadly neglect history and the liberal arts: this book isn't a substitute, but reading it will fill a number of gaps, not so much in information as in connections. It reminds me a lot of Burke, but Barzun is both more scholarly and more readable, no mean feat. Highly recommended.

>From the August 2000 Column The book of the month Is Robert B. Banks' Towing Icebergs, Falling Dominoes, and Other Adventures in Applied Mathematics (Princeton University Press). If you've ever wondered what use mathematics is, this book applies fairly simple calculus to a variety of interesting themes. Might it be practical to tow an iceberg from Antarctica to the Los Angeles harbor as a freshwater supply? And so forth. Not light reading, perhaps, but I found it a good change of pace.

>From the September 2000 Column The book of the month is Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader's Companion, by James Gifford; Nitrosyncretic Press, 2000 ISBN 0-9679874-1-5. This wonderful book has a short disquisition on every known work of science fiction Grand Master Robert A. Heinlein, including works I never heard of, and I thought I knew Robert's work pretty well. It's readable, and if you're at all a Heinlein fan, it's essential.

>From the October 2000 Column The book of the month is The Code, by Ken Sheldon. Ken was my editor at Byte Magazine for years, and at another time was chief of Byte's West Coast bureau. He knows the computer world, and his novel about the largest online service in the world shows it. Roberta glommed onto this when it came and wouldn't put it down until she finished it. A compelling novel, and a real page turner. Recommended

>From the November 2000 Column The book of the month is by Donald Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan, While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion, Military Weakness, and the Threat to Peace Today, St. Martin's Press. Donald Kagan is the Yale history professor whose four-volume work on the Peloponnesian War [ one of them is The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition ] was recommended here a few years ago, and who has written extensively on history and international security. His premise has always been not only that if you want peace you must be prepared for war, but that if you want peace you must keep that peace actively. His son Frederick is a historian at West Point, so this book is likely to be influential.

While I agree with much they say, I have my doubts about the ability of the United States to "keep the peace," even if we adopt the policies both of the Kagans advocate. The United States has no very splendid record as an Imperial power, and peacekeeping in places far from home where there is no immediate and obvious threat to our national interest may change us as much as it changes the world; and not for the better.

On the other hand, if the United States wants to intervene all over the world, as we seem determined to do, we had better pay attention to the instruments we do that with. Walter Lippman's observation that foreign policy commitments are like checks drawn on the bank of military power must not be forgotten; nor should the lessons learned in the Korean War. (For that, see T. R. Fehrenbach's This Kind of War, not only the definitive history of the U.S. effort in the Korean War, but the best analysis of what we did wrong and right in that nearly forgotten conflict.)

>From the December 2000 Column The book of the month is by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson: PC Hardware in a Nutshell, O'Reilly, 2000. Like all O'Reilly books, this one is well edited and has a decent if not excellent index. Fair warning: I wrote the preface to this book, and Thompson and I are collaborating on a far more elaborate hardware book, complete with Chaos Manor war stories and considerably more detail. This book is lean and spare, as are most Nutshell books. It's also available now, and as good a desktop-reference work as you'll find. The advice on how to do things is specific and clear, and the reference data is excellent. You'll get your money's worth out of this book while you're waiting for ours. Recommended.

The second book of the month is Inside Out: Microsoft in Our Own Words, Warner Business Books, 2000. This is an enormous coffee-table book that came to me with a letter from the Microsoft director of corporate communications. In a sense, it's a huge PR press release. It has no index, and not much of a table of contents. You have no choice but to read it by browsing through.

HERE begins the compilation by Jerry Pournelle

January 2001

The book of the year is Jacques Barzun From Dawn to Decadence, Harper Collins. If you don't read another book this year read this. It will take you a month or so. It's worth the time.

The book of the month is Que's Special Edition Using Windows 2000 Server, nearly essential if you are going to set up a 2000 Server network.

The movie of the month was Miss Congeniality. I know a number of critics panned it, but I thought it was charming. Of course I almost always think Sandra Bullock movies are charming. The movie of the year was Chicken Run. I know it's not going to win any Academy Awards, but it was the funniest thing I saw in 2000.

I've also recently got a tape of one candidate for the best movie of the last century: the Claude Raines/Vivian Leigh Caesar and Cleopatra, a straightforward adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's play of the same name. Shaw's Caesar is certainly more believable than Shakespeare's. It's hard to see how men would fight and die for the pompous ass Shakespeare gives us, but Claude Raines shows us a man that fighting men would - and did - follow to hell and back.

February 2001

The book of the month is Sharon Crawford Windows 2000 PRO, The Missing Manual. ( O'Reilly, www.missingmanual.com ) This is precisely what it says it is, and if you're doing Windows 2000 Pro - and you should - you'll want this as a handbook. The second book of the month is also O'Reilly, Walter Glenn's WORD 2000 In A Nutshell: A Power User's Quick Reference (www.oreilly.com ). This is precisely what the sub-title says, and gives a quick survey of the many features most of us don't use in Word 2000. Some of those features are worth knowing about. [Apparently I did not have a general book of the month.]

March 2001

The book of the month is Bill Walsh, Lapsing Into A Comma, "A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print - and How to Avoid Them". Contemporary Books, 2000. Walsh is the copy desk chief at the Washington Post. This book belongs on your shelf alongside Stunk and White, and if you don't know about it, once you do you will thank me for telling you. The second book of the month is Clayton Christensen, The Innovator's Dilemma (Revised ed. Harper, 1997, 2000). This book is essential for anyone who wants to manage a company in this age of innovation. I don't agree with everything in it, but there is not a line in there you shouldn't think about.

The computer book of the month is Mary Millhollon with Jeff Castrina, Easy Web Page Creation, Microsoft Press, 2000. Largely intended for Front Page users, this starts at the beginning and goes through to fairly complex and impressive web sites: how to design them and what to do once you've done the design. I wish I had had it in hand when I first created mine, and I'll probably take some tips from it.

The second computer book of the month is Richard Feynman's Lectures on Computation, Perseus, 2000. Richard Feynman had the gift of presenting highly complex ideas in a way that made them look simple. If you're in computer science or thinking of going there, read

April 2001

There are two books this month. One, KALVAN KINGMAKER [no reference to this book can be found on Amazon or Barnes and Noble] by John F. Carr, is the sequel to the John F. Carr/Roland Green Great King's War set in the Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen universe of the late H. Beam Piper. Those addicted to Piper's universe simply can't afford to miss this one. Pequod Press, 2001, hardbound. John F. Carr was for about 15 years my co-editor on a number of anthologies. Most of us have been waiting for this book for a long time.

Second, Tim Powers, Declare (Wm. Morrow, 2001) is the ultimate conspiracy novel. The title comes from a passage in the Book of Job. Characters include Kim Philby. As you read this book you will begin to think you understand what's going on. You'll have that experience again and again as the plot turns and twists. Declare, if thou hast understanding…

The computer book of the month is Mark Lutz and David Ascher, Learning Python, O'Reilly. This is a good general introduction not only to Python but to object-oriented programming languages in general. If you ever wrote programs in Pascal or BASIC or dBase-2 and have any interest in getting back, or if you program in C++ and want to know what Python is all about, this is the right book to start with.


May 2001

I do not usually review books I don't care for, but I have a warning this time: there is a series called Cassell's History of Warfare in multiple volumes from Cassell and Company. The general series editor is John Keegan, and they are beautifully produced, and practically worthless as history. The illustrations are lovely, and there are a few good maps, but the text is perfunctory. There is little detail and almost no sense of strategic importance, and I cannot recommend any of the series. I wish otherwise.

The book of the month is Jeanne Guillemin, Anthrax (University of California Press). This is a chilling account of the 1979 anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk when some of the products of a Soviet germ warfare laboratory were accidentally released. The Soviets denied that, of course; Jeanne Guillemin builds her case in a story as well told as a good detective novel. If you worry at all about germ warfare, you need to read this book.

The computer book of the month is Brenda Kienan, Managing Your E-Commerce Business, Microsoft Press. I don't encourage you to spend money on starting an e-commerce business, but if you want to know most of the details of how to do that, you'll find them in this book.

My thanks to Stephen St. Onge for collecting all these.

June 2001:

For book of the month I return to a previous recommendation: From Dawn to decadence by Jacques Barzun. Given the rather spotty — I am tempted to say miserable — state of our school system we are in danger of losing the continuity of western civilization. This book, by itself, can help change that: It goes through the history of ideas and puts them in context. It's highly readable as well as thought provoking, and I can literally say I wish every U.S. citizen would read this book.

The computer book of the month is Anthony Bolante's Premiere for Macintosh and Windows, Peachpit Press. This is a good book to take you from bare minimum to mid competence with what has become the standard video editing software, and it will serve as a good basic handbook as well. (column 249)

July 2001:

The Computer Book of the Month is a pair of Peachpit/Macromedia Press books: Dreamweaver 4 for Windows and Macintosh, and Macromedia Generator and Flash Demystified. The first of these books is a good handbook for use with Dreamweaver. It is not sufficient to introduce you to the product without some prior experience in web building, but it probably would be good enough to convert someone like me from FrontPage to Dreamweaver given that I had the time to learn it. Dreamweaver is an excellent program. It was good when it first came out, and has improved since. I rather wish I had learned it: There are many effects easily done in Dreamweaver that are clunky to difficult to impossible in FrontPage.

You will find "The Official Guide to Generator and Flash" interesting, which shows you what these programs can do. Vector-based animations and interactive movies are popping up all over the place, and web authoring is just beginning: If you have any interest in developer level skills, this book will give you a good picture of what you're going to have to learn (and teach you a good bit of it in the bargain). Neither of these books is simple and easy, but no book covering these subjects is likely to be.

The Book of the Month is Tom Wakeford's Liasons of Life, which presents an alternative view of the place of microbes in human evolution. I can't say I agree with everything here but there's a lot going on in biology since I looked last. If new theories of biology and evolution aren't sufficiently interesting, try James Chatters's Ancient Encounters: Kennewich Man and the First Americans. This one is fascinating to me because Niven and I are doing another book set in North America 14,000 years ago... column (250)

August 2001:

The book of the month is Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, a great sprawling novel that jumps between World War II and grandchildren of those characters. Ostensibly about code breaking and efforts to conceal that codes have been broken, this is also a grab bag of diversions and observations by Stephenson that make John D. MacDonald's books look highly focused in comparison. It will take you a while to read it, but unlike most of his books, this one almost has a real ending. Byte.com readers will like it.

The computer book of the month is Linnea Dayton and Jack Davis's The Photoshop 6 WOW! Book [see also The Photoshop 7 WOW! Book] from Peachpit Press. It's not cheap, but it starts at a fairly simple level and goes through to a pretty advanced level on using Photoshop to create effects. If you're interested in computer graphics art and have some hopes of learning to do it professionally, you will be glad to have this book. Recommended.

September 2001:

The book of the month is Big Chief Elizabeth by Giles Milton. This is the story of the English colonization of America, and what happened to Sir Walter Raleigh's lost colony on Roanoke Island. It's also about politics in Elizabeth's court, and somewhat less so about the time of her successor James I and VI, King of England and Scotland. Fascinating all the way. The second book of the month is one I somehow missed when it first came out, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I said of his Cryptonomicon that I probably could have written that book but I wouldn't have wanted to: Not that it wasn't good, but it wasn't the kind of thing I do. Snow Crash is different: I couldn't have written this if my life depended on it. It's inconsistent, part novel and part satire, and don't start it if you have a lot to do because you will have a lot of trouble putting it down. Incidentally, the unabridged version of this from Books On Tape is excellent and the experience of having this read to you may be even better than that of reading it yourself. I don't say that of many books.

The computer book of the month is a Peachpit Press Visual Quickstart Guide, Jeff Carlson's Palm Organizers. Good handbook on Palm-based systems and how to use them.

October 2001:

The book of the month is David Weber and John Ringo, March Upcountry (Baen Books 2001). This is military hard science fiction, with a good story, lots of action, and believable characters. The main character is a spoiled brat who grows up. If you like military science fiction you'll like this. Pure fun with some good sense behind it.

The computer books of the month are both from O'Reilly Press: Sharon Crawford, Windows 2000 Pro: The Missing Manual; and Mitch Tulloch, Windows 2000 Administration in a Nutshell. I recommend Windows 2000 Pro, and Chaos Manor runs under a domain controlled by Windows 2000 Server; but the manuals that come with Windows 2000 are pitiful, and the online help isn't a lot better. Between these two books you have a chance of finding out how to do things you must do to keep W2K going.

November 2001:

{repeat recommendation of Windows 2000 Pro: The Missing Manual, Windows 2000 Administration in a Nutshell} ...

While I am on the subject of missing manuals and reference works, if you don't have the O'Reilly PC Hardware in a Nutshell by Robert and Barbara Thompson, you should: The subtitle "A Desktop Quick Reference" is accurate. If you still operate with NT you definitely need it, but it belongs on the Windows 2000 reference shelf as well. ...

I've already mentioned several reference books. The Computer Book of the month Hacking Exposed, by Stuart McClure, Joel Scambray, and George Kurtz (Osborne McGraw Hill). This book is heavy going, not light reading, but it will tell you more about what hackers have done and can — and can't — do than anything else I have seen. It's also chock full of tips on countermeasures and just plain usability tricks. Recommended. ...

For light reading this month I went through several of the Harry Potter books. They're as much fun on the second reading as the first, and I can't wait to see the movie...

December 2001:

The book of the month is Victor Davis Hanson's Carnage and Culture. Hanson is the author of The Western Way of War, and this book continues his investigation into why western civilization has been able to use warfare in a decisive manner. To the best of my knowledge, Fletcher Pratt was the first to raise that question in his The Battles that Changed History (1956), but he didn't answer it. Hanson tries with a look at a series of western battles from ancient to modern times. All cultures have wars: Why has the western way of war been decisive?

The computer book of the month is Andrew Troelsen's Visual Basic.NET and the .NET Platform: An Advanced Guide. The title is accurate: It's quite advanced. On the other hand, you don't need to be an expert to make use of this book. Like it or hate it, Visual Basic and Visual Studio and the .NET platform are going to be important, and everyone in the computer business needs to know something about them. This book is one of the Intertec Instructor Series from A! Apress. That series includes C# and the .NET Platform by the same author, also worth your attention as C# gains in importance as a programming language.

January 2002:

The book of the month is The Root of All Evil, another collection of the User Friendly comic strips < http://www.userfriendly.org/ > from Illiad, otherwise known as J.D. Frazer. This is the third in the series from O'Reilly, and continues the mad antics of the techies vs. the marketers in a Linux house. The book contains a (short) introduction by me. Oddly enough, not only was I not paid for writing that (I was glad to do it) but I wasn't even told when the book came out, and while I get O'Reilly technical books for review, I didn't get a review copy. I had to buy one. Buy it. Of course, I bought it from Amazon through my own web site, so I get a bit of the money back, but buying review books is likely to get me thrown out of the guild...

February 2002:

First, Bernard Lewis's What Went Wrong, a masterly analysis of Islamic culture, which does a pretty good job of explaining how things in the Middle East have come to this pass. Lewis is generally considered to be the antidote to the pernicious "postmodernist" Edward Said — between Lewis's new book and David Pryce-Jones's The Closed Circle, one can get a pretty good idea of where we've been in regards to the Arab world, and possibly some insight into where things may be going.

Second, Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World is a highly sensible presentation of just what's happening on the environmental scene. Lomborg looks at, and presents, real data, not just hunches. He has been reviled by some environmentalists on the grounds that he may not be wrong but he's doing damage to the movement by concluding that things are not always as bad as they have been painted. That seems an odd attitude for people calling themselves scientists. Lomberg's book is slow reading precisely because it is so rich in primary data, but if you've been concerned about the environment, you really need to read this book.

March 2002:

The book of the month is The Law of Falling Bodies by my former BYTE associate Edmund X. DeJesus (ISBN 0-595-20200-4). It's readable and contains both a good scientific puzzle and an interesting romantic novel. The publisher is which is a Print On Demand house. I'll have a good bit more to say about those in another column. Meanwhile, this was a fun read.

The computer book of the month is by Ken Getz, Paul Litwin, and Andy Baron, entitled Access Cookbook (O'Reilly). The title pretty well says it all, and if you work with Access or plan to or even just want to know some of the things Access can do, you need this book.

The second computer book of the month is J. Tarin Towers's, Macromedia Dreamweaver for Windows and Macintosh (Peachpit Press). If you're planning on web designs, there are two major paths: Microsoft FrontPage, which is fairly easy to learn and often good enough — it's what I use for my own site — and Macromedia's Dreamweaver with its various toolboxes and add-ons. Of the two, it's pretty clear that Dreamweaver will take you farther and give you more capabilities. It's also harder to learn, or it was that way for me; and it may take you beyond where you want to go. A good way to find out is to go through this book, which goes from the basic to the advanced. I suspect that if I'd had this book when I first started designing my web page I might have gone a different route.

April 2002:

The first computer book of the month is Sergei Dunaev's, Advanced Internet Programming Technologies and Applications, A-List Charles River Media, 2002. The book assumes you know something about Active X and Java, and mostly it lives at the "advanced" level, but you don't have to be an expert to follow what's going on. If you're an intermediate-level programmer familiar with programming techniques, you can learn a lot from the examples in this book. For those trying to brush up on Internet programming skills, or learn some new ones, this is worth the time you'll spend on it.

The other two computer books this month are both from Microsoft Press. Greg Holden's E-Commerce Essentials came out in 2001 and I'm just getting to it, but it's still current. It assumes you'll use FrontPage to set up your web site, and then proceed to build a web store. There's a good bit about using wizards and such. The book wasn't a lot of help to me because its better features require FrontPage with the Server Extensions enabled, and due to my odd connectivity problems at Chaos Manor those don't work properly with my remote site, and I don't have the connectivity to host my own; but the book does show me what I can do as soon as I get the Extensions connected, and I can hardly wait. It's still worth getting this book if you're contemplating a commercial web site. Its companion book, Brenda Kienan's Managing Your E-Commerce Business, has some decent information, but is interesting in part because of the cheery optimism that was so prevalent before the dot bust. It's still an interesting introduction to web commerce and site design, but the basic assumption that anyone with a good idea and some time can go build a web business is now a bit questionable...

The book of the month is Sam Williams's Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software (O'Reilly). Get this book and read it. I'd be astonished if you agreed with all or even much of what Stallman believes, but you will be better off for understanding what he is saying. I first met Richard Stallman (he called himself RMS in those days) when he was a graduate student at MIT and I was just learning about the ARPANET. He was immensely helpful to me in those days, patiently showing me things about emacs — his full-screen editor that he wrote in TECO, and the less said about TECO the better — as well as adding some special code to take care of things I wanted to accomplish. I learned then that RMS and I have a common failing: We don't suffer fools gladly or indeed at all, and we are sometimes wrong about who is a fool. But that's another story for another time.

This book is part biography, part philosophical tirade, and part bemused observation. It's well worth the time you put into reading it.

May 2002:

The book of the month is Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power, by Victor Davis Hanson. This is another of Hanson's masterful analyses on why western civilization has been so successful in war and what might happen to change that. The section on the Battle of Lepanto is as good as anything I have seen on that subject..



June 2002: The book of the month is The New World Strategy (Simon and Schuster Touchstone, 1995) by Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr. His On Strategy was about the best analysis of what happened in Vietnam, although I think he didn't understand the strategic importance of the South East Asian War: While it appeared to be a defeat of the West, and locally it certainly was, it was a victorious campaign of attrition in the Seventy Years War, the last phase of which we call The Cold War. The U.S,. for better or worse, employed a strategy of containment, denying the Soviet Union new conquests to feed from; we held Vietnam long enough to make their victory nearly worthless while the costs to them were high. Summers' On Strategy is a good analysis of our local defeat, but does not see the grand strategic victory.

The New World Strategy advises us to return to our roots; its most important conclusion is that there will be no great military revolution that changes everything. The principles remain. I may disagree with Summers on details, but I agree completely with that. The Strategy of Technology, by Possony and Pournelle, made that point 30 years ago. We wrote as theorists. Summers writes from military experience.

The second book of the month is just plain fun. Fair warning, some of you will hate it. J. Neil Schulman's Escape From Heaven (Pulpless Press, 2002) is a romp, an attempt to rewrite C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, with the theology removed. It's fair to say that Schulman, behind the pure fun he's having, has the serious Miltonic purpose of justifying God's ways to man. Milton would have thought him a heretic, and I suspect C.S. Lewis would have said Schulman (like Heinlein in Job) missed the point; but for all that it's a good read, and if the assumptions annoy you that might make you rethink your own: no bad thing. Like much of Schulman's work this suffers from inside jokes that break reader empathy—but that's a hard temptation to resist, and I found I kept reading to the end.

The computer book of the month is Open Source, The Unauthorized White Papers, by Donald K. Rosenberg (M&T Books, an imprint of IDG Books International). If you are seriously contemplating business decisions involving Open Source software, you had better read this book if you haven't already; and if you have read it, it does no harm to read it again.

New editions of previous books of the month aren't generally selected, but I do want to remind you of the new edition of Robert Bruce Thompson's PC Hardware In A Nutshell. This is the single most useful book on this subject that I know of. Not only does it tell you about all you need to know about upgrading and maintenance, but there are URLs to even more technical details if you want them. Recommended.

July 2002

A couple of years ago the book of the month was Guy Gavriel Kay's Sailing to Sarantium. There is a sequel, Lord of Emperors. The two are a compelling, if strangely conceived, alternate-history portrait of the Byzantine Empire under Justinian and Theodora. I am not entirely sure I approve of Kay's practice of writing history with the names changed and some fantasy elements inserted in place of religion, but I do find myself reading the books. Now Kay has done it again, with The Lions of Al-Rassan. This is set in Medieval Spain and is essentially a "sideways" retelling of the story of El Cid. As with Kay's other works, it has believable characters and a subtle and interwoven plot. It's an arresting rendition of the zeitgeist of Al-Andalus, as the Iberian Peninsula was called during those times.

The computer books of the month are David Pogue, Windows XP Home Edition, The Missing Manual (O'Reilly) which bills itself as "The book that should have been in the box," and lives up to that. I don't recommend XP Home edition, but if you use it, you'll need this book.

Only slightly less useful is Louis Columbus's, The Microsoft Windows XP Professional Handbook, (Charles River Media). I say slightly less useful simply because I don't find XP Professional as confusing as Home edition; there's plenty of information in this book, and I found out about a number of features in XP that I either didn't know or had forgotten about. Recommended.

August 2002:

I don't know what to make of Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind Of Science (Wolfram Media Inc.). There are 900 pages of text and another 300 pages of detailed notes, and according to the book jacket about 1000 original illustrations, many of them computer generated pictures. Reviews have ranged from favorable comparisons to Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach, to Hegel and Schopenhauer. There are also less favorable reviews. One fairly well-known scientist has called the book "pretentious nonsense." Mostly, it is a generalization of a personal account of a search for ways to generate highly complex systems from very simple rules. If that interests you, so will this book.

And The Prince, by Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling, is out from Baen Books. This collects all my Falkenberg stories and all the Prince Lysander stories into one enormous volume, along with a couple of new scenes.

The computer book of the month is Microsoft Press' Microsoft Visio Version 2002 Inside Out by Nanette J. Eaton. If you already know about Visio 2002, you'll find this a useful handbook. If you don't know about Visio, this book will tell you a lot, and you may discover that you really need the program. Visio makes "active" flow and organization charts, does layouts, and in general makes diagrammatic graphics a great deal easier and more pleasant. As with most modern programs, the manuals supplied with the program are worse than inadequate; this book is a sort of replacement for the missing manuals, but I sure wish publishers would start putting manuals back in the box again.

September 2002:

There are several books this month. First, for pure fun get Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy (Baen Books). The premise of these stories is that Richard I Coeur de Leone survived and was succeeded by his cousin Arthur; and the Plantagenets have not only reigned, but ruled, the Anglo-French Empire ever since. Meanwhile, the laws of magic were discovered, and because they had reduced magic to a reliable technology, there was little study of science. Lord Darcy is a detective investigator for the Duke of Normandy. Randall was a Nero Wolfe and Agatha Christie fan; if you like that kind of mystery with a science fantasy touch, you'll love Lord Darcy.

More seriously I have been reading The End Of The Bronze Age by Professor Robert Drews. Somewhere about 1200 BC, around the time of the Trojan War, "The Catastrophe" happened in the Eastern Mediterranean. The palace centered world of the Mycenaeans was utterly destroyed, not just in Greece but all over. Writing was lost. The First Dark Age descended. Why? What happened to those fortresses and palaces which were so thoroughly wrecked? A hundred years later everyone thought they had been built by Cyclops, since men so obviously lacked the capability to build walls that high and strong. This book looks at possible reasons for the First Dark Age.

The computer book of the month is Andrew S. Tanenbaum, Computer Networks, Fourth Edition. If you do much with networks you probably have this book; it's pretty well the standard introduction to the subject. If you don't know about it and you are at all interested in how networks work, from the overview to the reasonably technical level, you need this book. It uses plain language to explain POP3 and TCP and WAP and the like, and the explanations are both correct and comprehensible. It's not as up to date on security aspects such as LEAP and PEAP and such, but those are pretty new, and you need the background you can get from this book to learn much about them anyway.

October 2002:

The book of the month is Philip Bobbit's, The Shield of Achilles (Knopf). This is a highly readable treatise on military history and the modern industrial state, and Bobbit does a very good job of showing some important but often overlooked relationships between military technology and forms of government. This book, along with the previously recommended intellectual history From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun, are pretty good midlevel guides to understanding the modern age. I am often asked to recommend some books for general education; my advice is to start with Fletcher Pratt's The Battles That Changed History, which is a lot more than the title suggests; then read Bobbit and Barzun. Barzun alone is one of the best bibliographic resources you'll ever find. No set of three books will comprise anything like an education in Western history, of course; but those three do a pretty darned good job of showing what there is to learn.

A second book of the month to go with Bobbit is Paul Johnson's Napoleon, one of the Penguin biography series. Bonaparte was one of the most important figures in recent history, and Johnson does a great job of embedding him in his time without resorting to the kind of sentimentality that makes Carlyle's biography wonderfully readable but sometimes misleading.

The computer book of the month is Computing In Russia, edited by Georg Trogemann, Alexander Y. Nitussov, and Wolfgang Ernst (Vieweg). This is precisely what the title implies, a comprehensive, profusely footnoted, sometimes dry and sometimes fascinating survey of computing in Russia. It gives both history and a modern summary in most areas of computing, and if the subject interests you at all, this is probably the book to read. I note that many of the people discussed in the book were Academicians who took Mrs. Pournelle and me to a formal dinner when we visited the then USSR in 1989.

November 2002:

The first computer book of the month is MPEG-4 Jump-Start (Prentice Hall), by Aaron E. Walsh and Mikael Bourges-Sevenier. This is one of Prentice Hall's "Jump-Start" series books, and like all of them, it's an impressive work, beginning at a reasonable level and going into enough detail that you could actually begin working on scene compositions and the like. Clearly, there's no single book that can make you an audio-video web content producer, but this one is a pretty good start. If you then want more technical details, The MPEG-4 Book edited by Fernando Pereira and Touradj Ebrahami (Prentice-Hall IMSC Press Multimedia Series) will take you about as far as you can go without enrolling in classroom instruction; it's a reference work and handbook. The two together are a pretty good education in MPEG-4. I think I am safe in saying that MPEG-4 added to high-speed end-user connectivity will spark another revolution in entertainment and education.

The principal computer book of the month is David A. Karp's, Windows XP Annoyances (O'Reilly). This is a truly important book, and like all the "annoyances" books from O'Reilly it addresses, documents, and gives fixes or workarounds for literally hundreds of major and minor Windows XP problems. Tired of the "personalizations" that are a "feature" in Windows XP? Here's how to turn them off. File deletion, Internet Connection Sharing, hundreds of other features and annoyances, all explained. If you run Windows XP or will have to, get this book. Highly recommended.

The book of the month is Max Boot's The Savage Wars of Peace (BASIC Books). This is a history of American involvement in "small wars" as the Marines like to term them; the number of such operations may be a surprise to those educated in today's schools. Boot has given us a good history of these wars, and drawn some of the lessons we ought to have learned from them. It looks likely that the United States may find itself involved in more than one "peacekeeping operation": Boot's title indicates just how bloody some of those small wars can be. It's good to be prepared for what it will take to suppress a series of international nuisances.

December 2002:

The book of the month is Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking of World Order. You may add this to the list I gave a couple of months ago that included Philip Bobbit's The Shield of Achilles. Huntington surveys just where we are now that the Cold War is over, and looks at what has happened to great civilizations throughout history. He isn't the first to conclude that we have some soft spots. As many have concluded, civilizations don't fall because they are unable to defend themselves; they collapse because they are unwilling to defend themselves. There are signs that this could happen to the West.

The computer book of the month is David Blatner and Bruce Fraser, Real World Photoshop 6: Industrial-Strength Production Techniques (Peachpit Press). This book assumes you know something, but not much, about Photoshop 6 and goes on from there. Photoshop is, of course, the essential program for professional work with photo images. Microsoft PhotoDraw, and various other substitutes, will work quite well for the sort of thing most of us do with photographs, but when the professionals break out a photo editor, 90 percent of the time it's Photoshop. Learning Photoshop takes time: Years, usually. This book can cut some of that learning time.

January 2003:

The book of the month is American Empire, The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy, by Andrew J. Bacevich, Harvard University Press 2002. This is a persuasive history of US foreign policy from the viewpoints of the late Charles A. Beard, and William Appleman Williams. Bacevich writes well, and does an excellent job of summarizing the world as Beard saw it—and as he might see it now. Beard was once one of the most popular historians of the Century. His overview of U.S. history, The Rise of American Civilization (written with his wife, Mary Beard) was a best seller and Book of the Month selection, and Beard's histories sold more than 10 million copies during his lifetime. Bacevich does an excellent job of showing what happened to Beard—and why his views may yet be important. Bacevich has an eye for small details that illustrate large points. His book presents a view I don't entirely accept, but I can't think anyone trying to understand what's about to happen in the Middle East and the rest of the world will not be better informed for having read Bacevich. And on that score—being better informed and equipped to understand what's happening—let me recommend Anthony Everitt, Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician (Random House). There was a time when everyone knew Cicero. I could wish for the health of the republic that this were still so.

The computer book of the month is from O' Reilly: UNIX Power Tools, by Shelley Powers, Jerry Peek, Tim O'Reilly, and Mike Loukides. In addition to the book there's an accompanying web site where you can find and download many of the programs discussed in the book. Mac OS X, and Linux have made UNIX important again, and this book is a good handbook and reference work. It's also not a bad way to learn some of the things UNIX can do.

February 2003:

The computer book of the month is Essential Blogging by J. Scott Johnson, Cory Doctorow, et. al. from O'Reilly. I consider the term "blog" (derived from web log) ugly, but it has caught on, as has the habit of "blogging"; it is estimated that there are half a million blogs online, with thousands more coming in every day. The habit of keeping public diaries seems to be catching. Some of these are fairly important web sites visited by hundreds of thousands to millions; others, like mine at www.jerrypournelle.com have reasonable traffic (I am astonished at how many people visit my web site every month); and some are lucky to have got 200 visits in the past year.

The blogging phenomenon has generated a lot of special purpose software that builds data bases, follows threads, allows visitors to post and keeps track of those guest posts, and the like. Essential Blogging is an essential book for bloggers, covering the best software for various purposes; it's written by people who have "been and done" as we used to say in the military. Recommended.

The book of the month is James Fenton's An Introduction to English Poetry (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), which you may think an unusual choice, but it's important. This book is readable, and tells what English poetry is about. It includes sections on rhyme, rhythm, and meter, including what an iambic pentameter is, what a sonnet is and why the form is important, more about sestinas than I really wanted to know, stress patterns, the trochee, and other arcana. All this is important because it's all in danger of being lost. Most modern "poetry" is "free verse" which follows no form and often has no effect beyond academic promotion for its author despite the fact that no one outside academia ever heard or read any of it. Poetry used to move people. Holmes' poem about the USS Constitution: "Aye, tear her tattered ensign down! Long has it waved on high, and many an eye has danced to see that banner in the sky," with the line "the harpies of the shore shall pluck the eagle of the sea!" saved the USS Constitution from the ship breakers. Kipling's verses characterized and prolonged an empire, and poems like "Danegeld" and "The Grave of a Hundred Heads" have relevance to us today. That can hardly be claimed for much "free verse."

Fenton's book is readable and important, and teaches us things we ought to have learned in Freshman English but didn't. Read it for your soul's good.

March, 2003

The first computer book of the month is Seth Fogie and Cyrus Peikara, Windows Internet Security (Prentice Hall, 2001; ISBN 0-130-42831-0).  This is readable and comprehensive, and while it probably wasn't intended to scare the daylights out of you, it may do just that.  If you are responsible for Windows systems that connect to the Internet you should be familiar with what's in this book.

A second book of more specialized interest is OpenOffice.org 1.0 Resource Kit by Solveig Haugland and Floyd Jones, (Prentice Hall, 2003; ISBN 0-131-40745-7).  This goes into OpenOffice in some detail and the included CD has a number of useful, well, resources.  If you're interested in OpenOffice and want to know more about what they're trying to accomplish, this is a good way to learn.

April, 2003

Another thing you can do with computer power is download the latest version of Python, and start writing programs.  You may even be able to teach your computer to do something useful.

Python is an interpreted computer language available for many different platforms.  It's startlingly easy to learn the basics of Python programming, partly because the language is well designed, but also because there are dozens of tutorials with examples.  Both the language and the tutorials are free, although I won't guarantee you won't get hooked and start investing more time than you thought you would not only in writing programs, but in working with the volunteers who make up the Python community.  I discovered Python some years ago, and every now and then I haul out the tutorials and the books.  O'Reilly has several good books, of which Python In A Nutshell by Alex Martelli (O'Reilly & Associates, 2003; 0-596-00188-6) is probably the best for giving you some idea of what Python is about and how to do useful things with it.

Interpreted programs are generally easier to debug than compiled programs.  You can take them apart into small pieces and test each piece, and once you get your program back together and running there's a fair chance it will do what you wanted it to do.  The problem with interpreted programs is that each statement has to be interpreted, which makes the programs run fairly slowly; which brings us back to fast machines and what to do with all that computing power.  I've always said the real computer revolution will come when it's as easy to become a programmer as it is to become a writer.

Note I am not saying that it's easy to become a writer.  It's hard work if you want to be a good writer.  On the other hand, you don't have to spend a lot of time learning the mechanics of writing.  You just do it.  Programming ought to be like that: why should you spend years learning how to teach the machine to do anything at all when the goal is to teach the machine to do something useful?

In the early days of the computer revolution all kinds of people tried programming.  Some of them already knew how to do useful things, and then learned how to teach a computer to do them.  I wrote, in Commercial BASIC, an accounting program that I still use.  True, I use it because I am accustomed to it and I don't want to learn something else, not because it's anything like the best program available; but my point is that I have never been a programmer, but I was able to write a program that did something useful.

If you want to try your hand at programming, get Python and the tutorials and have at it.  It's at least as much fun as most computer games, and it could lead to something more than a high score. . . .

The computer book of the month is Python in a Nutshell, for reasons already discussed above.  If that's not your bag, try the fourth edition of Hacking Exposed, by Stuart McClure, Joel Scambray, and George Kurtz (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2003; 0-072-22742-7).  There's a useful CD-ROM.  This is both a handbook on security and a sometimes dense introduction to the subject.

May 2003

The Book of the Month is Higher Education by Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle (Tor Books, Jupiter imprint, 1997; ISBN 0-812-53890-0).  It has been out for a while, and Charles died last year, so it's hardly new; but I have been looking through it since I discovered that it is being taught in a few college classes, and I may write a sequel to it.  If you have read that (and I hope you have) you might then turn to James Fenton, The Strength of Poetry, (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002; ISBN 0-374-52848-9).  I recommended Fenton's An Introduction to English Poetry (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002; ISBN 0-374-10464-6) in the February column.  This book is readable for fun, and you might be surprised at how learning how others write can help your own writing.

The computer books of the month are Mark L. Chambers, Creating Your Own DVDs and CDs (Prentice Hall PTR, 2002; ISBN 0-131-00105-1), and Jan S. Smith, Printing Projects Made Fun and Easy (Prentice Hall PTR, 2002; ISBN 0-131-40411-3).  Both of these are labeled as "the official hp guide," both have CDs included, and both are very good introductions as well as handbooks.  Every now and then I am astonished at just how far along the state of the art has moved since I last looked.  These books will get you sort of up to date on what desktop computer users can do easily and inexpensively.


June 2003


The book of the month is Prime Obsession by John Derbyshire .  The subtitle of the book is "Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics" (Joseph Henry Press, 2003; ISBN 0309085497).  I vaguely remember the Riemann Hypothesis from college days, but I had pretty well forgotten it; the only number theory puzzle I recalled was Fermat's Last Theorem, and I remember that largely because there was a wonderful story "The Devil and Simon Flagg," about a mathematician's deal with the devil.  Now, suddenly, there are two books about the Riemann Hypothesis.  Derbyshire alternates between explaining the mathematics and giving details of the lives of Bernhard Riemann and other mathematicians, and the result is a readable and enjoyable book.


I can also recommend Wil McCarthy, Hacking Matter: Levitating Chairs, Quantum Mirages, and the Infinite Weirdness of Programmable Atoms (Basic Books, 2003; ISBN 046504428X)   If that subtitle doesn't intrigue you, I don't suppose anything I can say will.  McCarthy writes about technologies that have potential to take us to Vernor Vinge's singularity within your lifetimes.  It's certainly worth thinking about.


The computer book of the month is William Boswell, Inside Windows Server 2003 (Addison Wesley, 2003; ISBN 0735711585)   This is something between an introduction and a handbook; if you're a system administrator you can use this as a guide to setting up a Windows Server 2003 system, and it's complete enough—and well enough indexed—to serve as your reference handbook.  If you're trying to figure out whether you are going to want Windows Server 2003, this book at 1200+ pages is a bit long for reading, but the information is all in there.


July 2003


For forty years, Richard Helms served his country in one capacity or another within the world of intelligence, beginning as a cub reporter and intelligence stringer in Nazi Germany and finishing as Director of Central Intelligence, or DCI, responsible not only for running the CIA but for the U.S. intelligence community as a whole.  Helms passed away last year; his posthumously-published memoirs, A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the CIA (Random House, 2003; ISBN 037550012X) , is the first book of the month, and is definitely a worthwhile read for anyone interested in getting a glimpse of the role intelligence played during a critical period in the history of the United States.


The second book of the month continues the same theme: Philip Taubman's Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Hidden Story of America's Space Espionage (Simon & Schuster, 2003; 0684856999) is an extremely valuable contribution to the history of what is colloquially known as the Cold War (I call it the Seventy Years' War, myself, for reasons which should be obvious).  President Eisenhower—one of the shrewdest and most visionary chief executives this country has ever elected—was an early and enthusiastic proponent of intelligence as a means of both preparedness and of averting accidental war in the nuclear age.  Mr. Taubman relates how the best and brightest at the CIA, Lockheed, Boeing, RAND, Eastman Kodak, and other familiar organizations developed from scratch the basis for the truly revolutionary photointelligence, SIGINT, and other technical means which are to this day critical to the national security of the United States and her allies.  There are many unsung heroes whose stories are finally told in Secret Empire, among them those of Americans who lost their lives when their reconnaissance aircraft were shot from the skies over the former USSR.  The Cold War wasn't always so cold, and Taubman's book is a much-needed corrective.


The computer book of the month is Jim Keogh, The Essential Guide to Networking (Prentice Hall PTR, 2000; ISBN 0130305480) .  Like all the Prentice Hall "Essential Guide" series, this is both an introduction and a handbook.  It starts at quite a basic level, and while it won't make you a professional network administrator, it will give you a pretty good idea of what the job entails.  John Vacca's Essential Guide to Storage Area Networks (Prentice Hall, 2001; ISBN 0130935751)  does the same thing for the SAN, but goes into enough technical detail to be useful to SAN administrators.  I've seen a number of the Prentice Hall Essential Guides now, and they're all very well done.


August 2003


The book of the month is Christopher Anvil, Interstellar Patrol (Baen Books, 2003; ISBN 0743436008) .  This is a compilation of Anvil stories published from 1958 to 1969.  Each story sort of stood alone, but they were all linked not only through the characters but in development.  This is the first time they have all been put together.  Warning: this is "space opera" pure and simple.  Don't expect any deep and hidden meaning.


I've already mentioned the computer book of the month, the latest edition of Robert and Barbara Thompson's PC Hardware in a Nutshell (O'Reilly, 2003; ISBN 059600513X)   If you build your own systems or are thinking of doing that, you need this book.


September 2003


The book of the month is Sol Stern, Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice (Encounter Books, 2003; ISBN 1893554074).  It seems clear enough to me that the U.S. school system is badly broken—twenty years ago the National Commission on Education said "If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States we would rightfully consider it an act of war"—but I have very mixed emotions about vouchers and "privatization" of schools.  This book makes the best case I have seen for breaking up the public school monopoly, with both positive examples of success in Milwaukee, and negative examples of disasters in the public school systems.  It's not intended to be a balanced presentation, but you won't have any problems finding a defense of the public schools.


The Computer Book of the Month is A History of Computing Technology, second edition, by Michael R. Williams (IEEE Press, 1997; ISBN 0818677392) .  This book covers everything from ancient Chinese arithmetic and Napier's Bones through the slide rule.  Williams spends quite some time on Charles Babbage, both on his life and the calculating machine for which he is famous; until reading this book, I had no idea that Babbage, while an undergraduate at Cambridge, collaborated on a translation of LaCroix's calculus text that was good enough to be the standard English text for half a century!  Williams also covers the considerable history of mechanical calculating machines, primarily for ballistic and tide tables, preceding the Second World War and the still not entirely unclassified doings at Bletchley Park.  The last half of the book is a history of tube, core and transistor computing (about 1939 through 1964), discussing everything from ENIAC, the Russian Zuse machines and the Harvard Mark I to a dozen others like LEO and SAGE.  Considering its publisher, Williams unsurprisingly spends considerable time on unusual machine instruction sets (like EDSAC), with diagrams showing logic paths and illustrations of the equipment in question.  It's good general reading, too, for those whose personal experience with computers probably started well after punch cards, mercury delay lines, and paper tape.


October 2003


The book of the month is Merrill R. Chapman, In Search of Stupidity, a history of our industry with the subtitle "Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters" (A! Apress, 2003; ISBN 1590591046)   I know many of the stories he tells, and he has most of them right.  He leaves out details: The first review of Wayne Ratliff's Vulcan—which became dBase 2—was mine in BYTE, and that review caused George Tate to buy Vulcan and rename it.  He's got the story right though, how Ashton-Tate (Ashton was George Tate's parrot) became one of the giants, up there with Microsoft at the time; and how after George died suddenly, Ed Esber, his successor, managed to run the company into the ground by alienating all the developers and being jealous of any profits other than his own.  There are plenty of lessons in here for the future.


Incidentally, A! Apress has a very good line of books, including The Dreamweaver Developer's Instant Troublshooter , with tons of tips for Dreamweaver users.  I wish I had that good a book on FrontPage.


The Computer Book of the Month is Preston Gralla's Windows XP Hacks, "100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools" (O'Reilly, 2003; ISBN 0596005113) .  Most of the tips in this book aren't "hacks" in any sense that I understand the word, and perhaps a third of them are useless, but there are enough useful tips on using XP to make this well worth the price.


November 2003


The book of the month is Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver (William Morrow, 2003; ISBN 0380977427).  This enormous 900 page novel tells the story of the ancestor of the fictitious hero of Cryptonomicon.  It's set in Restoration England; Counter-Reformation Europe just after the 30 years war; and the Americas in the time of the Salem Witch trials.  You get the London Plague and Fire, Leibnitz vs. Newton on the invention of calculus, the founding of the Royal Society, the second Siege of Vienna, and a partridge in a pear tree.  It will take you a while to read it, and you'll love every minute.


The second book of the month is Paul Johnson, ART: A New History (HarperCollins, 2003; ISBN 0060530758), and that will take you another two months to read: You'll be a better person for having done so.  It's also very readable.


The computer book of the month is Michael Howard and David LeBlanc, Writing Secure Code (Microsoft Press, 2002; ISBN 0735617228).  It carries a cover blurb from Bill Gates: "Required reading at Microsoft."  It discusses both philosophy and techniques, it's huge, it is not light reading, and I highly recommend it for anyone who has to deal with IT matters.


December 2003


Last month I recommended Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver before I had finished reading it.  I am obliged to tell you that half way into the book, everything changes, and instead of following, however deviously, a plot line you are now subjected to endless pages designed largely to show you the results of Stephenson's research on Central Europe in the late 17th Century.  If you like that sort of thing, fine; but of plot there is none, and while the characters are interesting at first, long periods in which they don't do much, and act out of character, makes them less so.  The book reminds me of Ewell Gibbons on eating a pine tree: Many parts are edible.


The book of the month is Thomas Powers, Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda (New York Times Review Books, 2002; ISBN 1590170237).  Powers is not non-partisan, but his is probably the most objective account in the unclassified press.  His biography of Richard Helms was based on interviews with Helms, and Helms himself vetted at least two of Powers's books on intelligence.  The intelligence game is shadowy, and no history of that period can be complete without some reference to my old mentor, the late Stefan T. Possony (who doesn't appear in this book at all); but this book is well worth reading for its broad scope and sometimes it gets into depths that surprised me.  It's certainly a better book than most of the conspiratorial volumes.


The computer book of the month is Mitch Tulloch, Windows Server 2003 In A Nutshell (O'Reilly & Associates, 2003; ISBN 0596004044) .  For Windows 2000 Server you will want the Que "Special Edition" Using Windows 2000 Server by Roger Jennings (ISBN 0789721228) , which is complete and was invaluable in my efforts to get the Mac and my Windows Active Directory Network in communication; I don't believe there is anything similar for Windows 2003 Server, and the O'Reilly book, while more reference than introduction, is the best I've seen on 2003 Server so far.  While I'm on books and series, the Pogue Press O'Reilly "Missing Manual" series are excellent, as for instance the Windows XP Home Edition  and Windows XP Pro books by David Pogue.


January 2004

The Movie of the Year was Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I’ve seen it three times now and all I can say is Goshwowoboyoboy and make other appreciative noises. I only wish Tolkien had lived to see how well they did this. The Movie of the month was Big Fish: we saw this with our youngest son, his girl friend, and her parents, which makes a pretty representative group, and we were all agreed, it was both funny and just plain good. Albert Finney was superb as usual, but so were all the supporting cast, particularly Helena Bonham Carter as both The Witch and the girl who might or might not have been Finney’s mistress. You’ll like this film.

The book of the month is John Keegan’s Intelligence in War, Knopf, which is a good companion to last month’s Intelligence Wars by Thomas Powers. If I seem to be stuck on the intelligence game lately, it’s because the subject is terribly important. The United States has been floundering about due to disorganization in both the CIA and FBI, and those organizations are too important to be left broken.

The Game of the Year was Medieval: Total War from Activision, and yes, I know, it was a 2002 Best of the Year winner in many surveys. I choose games for awards depending on when I play them, not when they were published...

February 2004

The movie of the month is Lost In Translation, which will be enjoyed by both my American and my Japanese readers, although for different reasons. The difference in the two cultures is rather skillfully and sympathetically explored as part of a romantic comedy that will appeal to both men and women. The reviews concentrate on the performances, and I agree, they’re very good, but the incidentals and backgrounds, and the fine touches, are all there as well. You’ll like this movie.

 The game of the month is the Trials of Atlantis extension to Dark Age of Camelot, a massively multi-player dungeon game. I find I get just about what I want from this game: as much intensity as I like, plus a way to be distracted without being totally involved, as when I have one machine set to let me go to DAOC and practice spellcrafting and other player skill crafts. The Trials of Atlantis add tasks at the high end of player development and absolutely require you to be able to work cooperatively.

 The computer book of the month is David Pogue, MAC OS X, The Missing Manual, Second Edition. It lives up to its description as “The book that should have been in the box,” and I can’t imagine anyone using a Mac not finding it useful.

  The other computer book of the month is also from O’Reilly, Mark Lutz and David Ascher, Learning Python. Python is a structured programming language that simplifies writing programs. It’s a lot easier to learn than C++ and while not quite as fast for big and complex programs, it’s a lot easier to get programs running under Python, and most won’t notice the speed differences. Most computer users don’t try to write programs. I think that’s a mistake. In any event, this book will teach a good bit of what programming is about. Try it. You may like it.

 The book of the month is BURNING TOWER by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, but since that was just turned in and isn’t in print yet, you won’t be able to read it. If you have some free time and an interest in world events, get the 1993 book by Sir James Goldsmith, THE TRAP, and read it in the light of what has happened in the past decade. And if you’re a navy buff you will like Robert Massie’s Castles of Steel about WW I battleships.

March 2004

The book of the month is the crime series stories of William Coughlin. In particular I have In The Presence of Enemies, but there are others including Shadow of a Doubt, and Death Penalty. I don’t have a lot of time for light reading any longer, so I don’t see many such works: these were recommended by my son to Roberta, she read them, and recommended them to me; and I find his books hard to put down.

 The computer book of the month is Owen Linzmayer Apple Confidential 2.0 (No Starch Press ISBN 1-59327-010-0). This  is the revised edition of a classic: the history of the Apple Computing Company, from name selection and the forgotten third founding partner to The Return of King Steve. I was around for much of this. I also spent some time with Steve Wozniak at the first Hacker’s Conference, some twenty years and more ago: this was not long after Woz had been dumped from Apple. So far as I can tell, this book is quite accurate. It’s also fascinating.

 The second computer book of the month is one I may already have mentioned: The Little Mac OS X Book, Second Edition, by Robin Williams, Peachpit Press, is the standard introduction and reference work for the Mac OS.

 The game of the Month is Star Wars Galaxies, perhaps the best multi-player on line role playing game I have ever tried.

 The movie of the month is The Passion of the Christ. This will affect Christians differently from others, of course. It stays pretty close to the Gospel text, with minor additions all consistent with the Gospel stories. There has been a lot of controversy about this picture. Some of it was silly: the languages in the movie are Latin and Aramaic, with English subtitles. For a short while there were some pretended “scholars” taking Producer Mel Gibson to task for having the Roman soldiers speak Latin, under the theory they would have spoken Greek. This is the silly nonsense of hysterical people. Obviously the Roman Army in the days of Tiberius Caesar spoke the language of Rome.

 There were also accusations that the movie will excite anti-Jewish feelings; I have seen none of that. We saw this in a packed theater. Four screens showed the picture, four showings per screen that Saturday, and every showing was sold out. This was a working class theater and we sat in a row with a dozen women about 23 or 24 years old. They were chattering, talking on cell phones, and generally amusing themselves through the pre-show and previews: when the movie began they were absolutely silent. So were all the others in the theater. No one left to go to the bathroom. The mood in the theater was hushed after it was over.

 It will be interesting to see what Hollywood makes of this picture come next year’s Oscars. It can hardly be ignored.

 April 2004

The movie of the month won’t appeal to everyone, but if you liked either of the X-Men movies, you will love Hellboy. Clearly this isn’t a chick flick. There’s humor, and action, and great graphic effects, and in general it’s a romp.

 The book of the month is John Myers Myers, Silverlock, New England Science Fantasy Association Press. This is a loving reproduction of a book that has long been a favorite of mine. It has off and on been a commercial success, despite being about as odd a book as you will ever see. The book is about a character who wanders into the Commonwealth of letters, but doesn’t realize where he is. Characters include Don Quixote, Beowulf, Queen Semiramis, Heracles, the Duke of Bilgewater, and Sam Houston; as I said, an odd book. This edition has a number of features, including a short introduction I did to an earlier commercial edition; maps; short prefaces by both Poul and Karen Anderson; and some guides to the literary works referenced in the story. All told a splendid effort by NESFA.

 A second book of the month is Starswarm by Jerry Pournelle. This is a handsome new mass market edition with an illustrative cover, part of Tor’s new Starscape Juvenile series. If you missed this when it came out a few years ago, now’s your chance. Like all juvenile works this is, I hope, readable by adults; I know for a fact that boys and girls like it.

 The games of the month: Battlefield Viet Nam, and Unreal Tournament 2004. That latter is for both PC and Mac. Both of these are first person shooters, which means I am taking the recommendation from connoisseurs of that genre: I am never quick enough to be very good at that sort of game even if I did enjoy the original Doom. People who like this kind of game like these a lot.

 The computer book of the month is Thomas Cormen et. al., Introduction to Algorithms (2nd ed) MIT Press. This is something between a textbook and a reference work, although I know of no better reference books. We recommended the first edition a dozen or so years ago, and this is an improvement: if you’re involved in computer science, you need to read and understand this book.


May 2004

The movie of the month is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but be warned: although this is billed as a Jim Carey/Kate Winslet romantic comedy, it’s both more and less than that. My wife thought it a nightmare, close onto being a horror movie. Others see it as a cautionary tale. It is much like a story by Phil Dick, who could easily have written this: there are hilarious parts, but there is always the ominous undertone, and you can’t be sure of anything. I am not sorry to have seen it.

 The game of the month remains Star Wars Galaxies (SWG), the on-line massively multiplayer roleplaying game based on the movie series. I suppose at some point I’ll go back to Dark Age of Camelot, or even Everquest. I’ve never given up my accounts. But I have managed to get Ventrilo (http://www.ventrilo.com) working on SWG and that adds a lot. Ventrilo is a voice communication system that works seamlessly with SWG, and has a lot of nifty features like button mapping. I’ve mapped the center wheel button (never used in SWG) to be the push-to-talk switch. I’m using it with a Plantronics behind-the-head headset, and it all Just Works. It’s a lot of fun to hunt huge beasts with a team of comrades you can talk to.

 The book of the month is the new edition of Starswarm by Jerry Pournelle. Tor brought it out as part of their new Starscape series, and I have to say, immodestly, that it sure does read good. Starswarm is officially a juvenile, which means that the lead characters are young, and there are no sex scenes. It’s certainly suitable for young people, but I haven’ had many complaints from adults either.

 The computer book of the month is Chris Hurley et. al., WarDriving: Drive, Detect, Defend, A Guide to Wireless Security, Syngress (Black Hat) distributed by O’Reilly. The title says about all you need to know. If you want to try some WarDriving, you need this book. And if you’re concerned about being a victim, you certainly need it.


June 2004

The Book of the Month is Richard Ben Cramer, HOW ISRAEL LOST, The Four Questions. This book will break your heart. Cramer, an American of Jewish ancestry, was the correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and knows the Middle East better than most anyone now writing about that place. I thought I had an understanding of the problems before I read this book; now I know I didn’t understand at all.

 The computer book of the month is Paraglyph Press, Joli Ballew and Jeff Duntemann, Degunking Windows. It’s the usual collection of tricks for speeding up your Windows system and while some of the tricks it shows are obvious, others are not.

 You might also keep an eye out for Bob Thompson’s new book from O’Reilly on building your own PC; he’s just turned it in, but O’Reilly gets books out fast.

 The Movie of the Month is the latest Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s a bit darker than the earlier ones. Harry and his friends are growing up. But it remains delightful. Shrek 2 is also delightful. Today we were up in the hills above Hollywood and I giggled to see that they have painted the Cinerama Dome Shrek green, and it has grown two ogre horns...

July 2004

The book of the month is Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, by Steve Coll (Penguin Press). This is both fascinating reading and very good information, and his characterization of the various amateurs and professionals who have been influential in the US Intelligence organizations is spot on. Coll, Managing Editor of the Washington Post, doesn’t so much draw conclusions as show what happened: much of it inevitable given the way things were.

 If that’s too heavy for you, get out your old copy of Heinlein’s Starman Jones, a juvenile written in 1953 and still able to keep you turning pages. I dug it out because my new novel begins with a teen-age character, and it’s always well to refresh your recollection of how the master handled such things.

 The gadgets of the month are the Coleman Outrider “windup” radio and Freeplay “Sherpa” flashlight. I’ve had these a year now, and take them with me on all automobile trips, including out into the Mojave for the SpaceShipOne launch. You can get about a half hour of light, and an hour of radio, by vigorously winding the crank handle on these nearly indestructible gizmos. They’re handsome, rugged, and Just Work and I wouldn’t be without them.

 On the subject of Coleman, a year or so ago I reported on the Coleman RoadTrip Grille. My son Richard took that out to the XCOR hangar, where they entertained hundreds of guests for the SpaceShipOne launch. His big brother Alex was the cook; unfortunately, while Alex loves to barbeque, he never worked as a short order cook. Chaos Manor Associate Eric Pobirs has, and as Eric puts it, “This is a perfect example of why when you work in a commercial kitchen they tell you that every two hours you will clean the grill, and it doesn’t matter how many orders are stacked up or who is yelling at you...”

 [Photo of grill on fire]

 Of course at a rocket company there are always lots of ways to put out a fire. In this case they doused it with outgas from the liquid nitrogen Dewar. I am pleased to say that although one (since replaced) grill panel cracked under the cold stress, the Coleman survived nicely, several hundred people were fed from it, and it has subsequently been taken on a camping trip to Baja California.

 The game of the month is, astonishingly, Microprose’s ancient THIS MEANS WAR. A story goes with that. When we set up Microsoft Virtual PC, we needed programs to test in it. One ancient game, Chaos Overlords, ran on first installation with no problems. THIS MEANS WAR was always a problem: many never did get it to play properly when it came out. It always worked for me, but not this time: the game cannot be played except in 256 colors, and when you change video settings you must restart the machine: the Read Me file explicitly says the game blows up if you try to change colors or resolutions “on the fly”. Alas, if you change to 256 colors and reset the Windows 98 Virtual PC (that is, reset the guest machine; the “real” system doesn’t reset, of course), it comes up in True Color: apparently you can’t get the virtual machine to believe you really want to restart in 256 colors! The result is that the game can’t be played on our Virtual PC. For some reason, though, I tried installing it on the Athlon Windows 98 system I keep for running ancient accounting software, and lo! it installed and ran first off. Next thing I knew, I was playing with it, and it’s a pretty good old game. It’s a “real time strategy” game, one of the earliest, but it has the neat feature that you can pause the game and give each unit its orders. I wish all “real time strategy” games let you do that.

 The movie of the month is not The Chronicles of Riddick. I really wanted to like this movie, but no amount of willing suspension of disbelief could get past its sheer predictability. Some of the special effects were pretty good, but on the whole it was boring, and it sure was a waste of talent to cast Dame Judi Dench in this mess. Go see Spiderman 2 instead.

 The computer book of the month is Sarah Millstein and Rael Dornfest, Google, The Missing Manual (Pogue Press, O’Reilly). Like all the “missing manual” books this one has the subtitle “The book that should have been in the box,” but of course Google doesn’t come in a box, so that’s a bit silly. The book is useful, though, giving some insights into how Google works, and strategies for both finding things and being found. For Mac users there’s Inside .Mac by Chuck Toporek, (O’Reilly) which explains in considerable detail why you need .Mac membership and what you can get from it.

 And on the subject of security, Computer Security for the Home and Small Office, by Thomas C. Greene (Apress, www.apress.com), is a valuable addition to the literature. All such books have the problem that they become obsolete in a fairly short time, but this one goes into some basics that Small Office IS people should know, and deals with both Windows and Linux systems. It claims to be beginner/intermediate, but beginners will have to read closely – which is no bad thing, actually.

August 2004

There are two games this month. First is DOOM III. I don’t much like shooters, but this one is really engrossing, or at least it is when played on a really good machine like Wendy the Intel Prescott 3.6 GHz with nVidia’s GeForce 6 video board, and Intel’s wonderful built-in sound with something like Klipsch speakers. They say play this in a dark room with the lights out at full volume, and I can testify that’s a scary experience.

 The second game of the month is the ineptly named Nemesis of the Roman Empire (http://www.enlight.com/nemesis/). I say ineptly named because this is supposed to be about the Punic Wars, and Hannibal, and that all happened during the Republic. Nemesis is a “real time strategy” game; that term now means “ultra-fast tactics”, there being little strategy in any of the RTS games. Still, this is not just a mouseclicker. You do need to have some tactical wits about you. Combined arms armies, used properly, do well. There’s also a sort of role-playing feature. For whatever reason, I find this enjoyable.

 The book of the month is Jane Jacobs, DARK AGE AHEAD, (Random House, 2004). I don’t always agree with Jacobs, but I cannot recall ever regretting spending time reading her. I learned a lot from her THE DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT AMERICAN CITIES, and earlier works, and much of what I invented in OATH OF FEALTY, the novel Niven and I wrote about arcologies, is based on principles I gleaned from Jacobs. In the present case she looks at what happens in a Dark Age, and how it’s not preposterous to think we might get there from here. Her chapter on how schools went from being places of education to factories for producing people with credentials ought to be read by every parent and school board member in the United States and Canada.

The computer book of the month is Susan Snedaker, “Best Damn Windows 2003 Server Book Period”, Snygress Press. I can’t say the title appeals to me, but it’s apt. This book is complete, and covers subjects I had been wondering about, as well as a lot of stuff I never thought to ask about. There’s an excellent discussion of Active Directory that I wish I’d read a year ago. If you use or will be using Windows 2003 Server you will want this book.

The movie of the month is The Bourne Supremacy. It doesn’t bear heavy duty intellectual analysis, but it’s great fun, and the acting is good for that kind of movie. My wife liked it a lot, which tells you something since she’s not really an action flick fan.  

September 2004

While I was back East my naval officer son and I saw King Arthur. This was not a movie I expected to like, but David Weber, author of the Honor Harrington series, told me he had found it surprisingly good, so I did want to see it; and like David, I found that despite some rather odd lapses, overall the movie was pretty good.  The premise is that Arthur was the Roman/Briton commander of a group of Sarmatian auxiliaries stationed in Britain as the Roman Empire was collapsing. The Sarmatians are historical, and there is some evidence that at least one detachment did serve in Britain; and they were heavily armored cavalry. Their commander was called “The Dragon” and they carried dragon banners, all of which figure heavily in Arthurian myth.

I don’t for a moment believe this is the “true” story of Arthur and his knights, but it’s done well enough that I had no trouble believing it while I was watching. The battle scenes are well done. The Saxons are portrayed as rather more stupid than history shows them, but the movie does make it plausible that a dozen heavily armored knights could determine the outcome of a battle involving a thousand men on a side. All told, I liked it.

 The game of the month is Medieval: Total War The Viking Expansion. Not only does this expansion give a new campaign, it fixes some bugs and introduces new units. This game is unique in that much of the game is driven by scripts which you can edit. The preferences of the AI players, the starting units, the capabilities of units, even the personalities of leaders are all in those scripts, and there’s a considerable on-line lore on how to doctor up the game to make it more realistic. I have enjoyed playing about with the scripts: indeed, rather more than I have playing the game itself, and I like playing it a lot since it is turn based strategic with real time tactical battles. The battles are pretty realistic. The Medieval version came after the Japanese era game (Shogun) and now they’re coming out with one based on the Romans. I’m looking forward to that.

 The book of the month is, I guess, Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age. It’s set in Shanghai in a time when nanotechnology has been fully developed, and like all Stephenson books, there are many excursions to wherever his mind takes him. There are also major contradictions: if you have certain technologies you may have problems but they won’t be the problems he gives his characters. There’s a plot, sort of, but some of the main threads just peter out, and like most of his books, there is no real ending; he just got tired of his characters and stopped writing. Still, there are parts where you really want to keep turning the pages, and I don’t regret reading it.

 If that doesn’t appeal to you, try Norton’s STAR ATLAS and Reference Handbook, edited by Ian Ridpath (20th Edition). This is a standard reference work on astronomy: instruments and techniques, time measurements, star locations, maps of the craters on Mars and the Moon, and nearly anything else you might want to know about.

 The computer book of the month is from O’Reilly: Robert and Barbara Thompson’s latest, BUILDING THE PERFECT PC. I don’t much care for the title, but Tim O’Reilly himself picked that title so I guess I can’t complain. It’s O’Reilly’s first full four-color book. Think of this as a companion to PC HARDWARE IN A NUTSHELL, and another of those books you must have if you’re going to build your own systems.

October 2004

The game of the month is a lament. I sure miss a lot of the old turn-based strategy games, particularly the battle simulations from SSI. The good news is that DOSBOX http://dosbox.sourceforge.net/news.php?show_news=1 gets a number of those running properly. The bad news is that I gave away a lot of those SSI games that I wish I had kept, and I’ll probably have to go haunt eBay to buy new copies now that I have ways to run them again.

 I did get in a few hours at Dark Age of Camelot, where they have made several improvements in the character advancement system to benefit part time players like me; but for the most part this month has been too busy for games. So it goes.

 The movie of the month is Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which is a romp. Don’t expect to see Oscar quality acting, but then you wouldn’t want to take a movie derived in equal parts from comics and Anime very seriously. It’s pure fun.

 The book of the month is WHO ARE WE? by Samuel P. Huntington. It’s a deep inquiry into America’s national identity crisis, and ought to be required reading for anyone who is serious about self government. Another book I recently read all over again was my own The Survival of Freedom (Jerry Pournelle, editor; Fawcett Books), an anthology of stories and essays on the future of liberty. I’d recommend it but I doubt you can find a copy. One day I may revise the essays and see if anyone wants to publish it again.

 The computer book of the month is David Pogue MAC OS X; The Missing Manual. If you want to connect your Mac to a Windows Active Directory system you’ll need this. Actually, you’ll need this book for almost anything you want to do with a Mac; it really is the book that should have been in the box. If you have no interest in Macs, get Ken Milburn, Digital Photography Expert Techniques, which is massively illustrated, readable, and full of information about taking better pictures with digital cameras. I only wish I had the time and patience to master this book; but just thumbing through it now and then helps.

November 2004

The game of the month is ROME: TOTAL WAR. It takes an hour to install, what with all the options, and the online updating, and the rest of it. I have some complaints, as given above. But I sure like it. Fair warning, it eats time. I wouldn’t bother with the Prima Game Guide book which gives no more information than the excellent manual that comes with the game. If you want some strategy guidance, Google “smackus maximus”.

 The movie of the month is, hands down, The Incredibles. This is a winner on all counts. Ever wonder about the secret life of superheroes in a witness protection program (to hide them from unscrupulous lawyers)? It’s shown in fascinating detail here. The villains are villainous, the children are too cute for words, and it’s all just a lot of fun.

 I have two books of the month, both on the same theme. First. Cowboy Capitalism: European Myths, American Reality, by Olaf Gersemann. The publisher is Cato Institute, which should be warning enough of the viewpoint, but the arguments are sound and there is a lot of data, unlike the usual tome on economic policy. The second book is Bill Blunden’s Offshoring It: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which once again is long on data, and intelligently discusses an important subject.

 The Computer Book of the Month is The Nolo Press legal work GETTING PERMISSION: How to License & Clear Copyrighted Materials Online and Off by Richard Stim. This is comprehensive and very useful for anyone compiling materials for publication.  The other computer book of the month is Mac OS X Power Hound, Panther Edition, by Rob Griffiths. It’s a compilation of tricks and procedures for Mac users, and I suspect it will be as useful to experienced Mac users as it has been to me. There’s just a lot of good stuff in there.

December 2004

Everquest II

Everquest is sufficiently addicting that some called it “Evercrack”, and it has certainly been wildly successful for Sony. Now they have Everquest II, which has a complex relationship with the old Everquest. The old version is still the most popular MMRPG – Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game – around, and I doubt Sony wants to kill that golden goose. Moreover, they have made it pretty near impossible to bring anything from the original game to EQ II.

Pretty near, but not entirely: the vestige of EQ is that some EQ II players have been given the privilege of having a title from the old game, so you will see “Victorini of Terris Thule”, meaning someone who had a character on the Terris Thule server of EQ I. Otherwise, though, there’s no connection other than general experience at playing in MMRPG environments.

The spells and combat systems are similar but different, but what’s really changed is the economy. EQ I was awash in money. Everyone had enough money to buy the most expensive items, and it wasn’t unusual to see a very new – say Level 8 – player decked out in armor and with weapons that could only be acquired by Level 50 players. In some cases this was simply an experienced player starting a new character and passing along some earned bounty. In other cases, people bought Everquest currency on Ebay and used that to buy equipment.

I was not astonished to note that a week after EQ II began you could also buy EQ II currency on Ebay; but it is very expensive compared to EQ I, largely because EQ II is both stingy with rewards, and has a number of ways to sop up surplus gold and silver. The result has been that even copper is valuable, silver is precious, gold is rare, and I haven’t seen anyone with a single platinum piece, although I note that some houses in the capital city sell for platinum prices. No one I know of has such a house.

EQ II is at least as much fun as the old Everquest, and of course everyone starts off relatively equal. The game isn’t dominated by elder players with high levels and years of experience. This makes it a lot easier to find people of your own level to group with.

They are still tinkering with the craft system, and well they should: as it stands it can be seriously frustrating, particularly when combined with the lack of pockets: you have fewer inventory slots (almost none compared with, say, Dark Age of Camelot, but few even compared to EQ I), and multiple inventory slot backpacks are expensive and hard to find. In theory they can be made by players, but in fact the lack of inventory makes manufacture extremely difficult: about the time you collect all the materials you need for making something, you run out of places to put it once made.

Meanwhile you are standing at a work station trying to craft a spell potion, while in the background you hear a non-player character talking endless banalities about misplacing his ledger, and about the time you are ready to make something useful you have run out of places to put it, or of money, or something else happens. I know the designers are trying for balance, and hope to prevent EQ II from being flooded with money and goods; but I think they have gone about this the wrong way. Moreover, they have deliberately attempted to make it hard for someone to make money by “endlessly clicking to make products” – but of course in the real world that is precisely how many people do make a living. I used to tell my students “there’s a desk in your future; it will have an inbasket and an outbasket and you will take papers from one pile, do things to them, and put them in another. Get used to the idea.” It seems to me that if anyone wants to get “rich” in Everquest II by doing hard work of that kind, there shouldn’t be any objection to that, so long as it doesn’t have to be me.

The sales system is even worse, which is astonishing because they have a very good sales system in Star Wars Galaxies. In SWG if you want to sell an item you list it with a vending machine. It vanishes from your inventory, and if someone buys it you get the money and a message. The equivalent in EQ II are the brokers in the workshops, but in EQ II if you list something for sale it stays in your inventory – thus making it impossible to have very much for sale – and moreover you have to be logged on to the game, on line, and in your room doing nothing while hoping someone will buy. This keeps the server full of people logged in but doing nothing, and makes it incredibly boring to try to sell anything. The obvious remedy would be to allow you to list the items with the broker, let them vanish from your inventory, and get paid if the broker sells them.

While they are at it, they ought to create “lockers” in the workshops: something like the bank, a place you can put stuff that you’re using as crafting materials, and the resulting products both intermediate and final. This would be easy to implement, and make crafting a lot easier and more fun. One presumes that player fun is the object, although there’s some evidence that in the tradeoff programmer control is far more important.

The crafting system is seriously broken, but I find the quests fun, and the game adventures more than amusing. Alas, because the crafting system is so bad, I have yet to find a decent helmet for my paladin, my sword is obsolete, and there’s nothing I can buy to fix that. Oh well. I do find the game attractive.

Winding Down

 The game of the month is Everquest II, which I reviewed above. I’ve had fun with it.

 The Movie of the Month is The Polar Express, which is fun to see as a movie, but also interesting for the way it was made, with the star playing half a dozen quite different characters. Technology is allowing some amazing things to get on the screen. If you see The Polar Express, you might also want to get the book http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0395389496/qid=1102462767/sr=2-1/ref=pd_ka_b_2_1/103-5055059-5941469 by Chris Van Allsburg. They’re quite different, and the book is a very nice Christmas story.

 The book of the month is David McCullough’s John Adams, a very readable account of one of the most intellectual of the Founding Fathers. Without Washington’s charisma and leadership we would never have been able to form the Union, but without Adams and his legal sense it is not likely to have held together long. Washington, Hamilton, and Adams were all pretty essential in the making of the New Order of ordered liberty. Incidentally, although Adams supported the Sedition Act which allowed punishment and suppression of “seditious libel,” he would have been the first to denounce the new Treasury regulations requiring publishers in the United States to obtain a Federal license before publishing dissenting works condemned by their home countries – regulations that would have required, for instance, a license to publish Dr. Zhivago, or dissenting works out of Cuba. Punishing sedition after publication upon proof that it is seditious libel is nowhere near the same thing as requiring a license before publication: whatever else the First Amendment was intended to protect, it most certainly abolished the very notion of prior restraint, and Adams would have been among the most vigorous opponents of anything like federal licensing for publications.

 Another book of the month is Neal Stephenson’s three volume series ending with The System of the World. This giant exposition into the 17th and early 18th Centuries is a tour de force. Parts of it are hard to read and some of it is needless, but it’s certainly a worthwhile experience.

 The first computer book of the month is James C. Foster and Steven C. Foster, Programmer’s Ultimate Security DeskRef, Syngress. Encyclopedic in form, it is precisely what the title says it is.

 The second computer book of the month is a pair of O’Reilly books in their “Hacks” series: PDF Hacks, and Paypal Hacks. We’ve mentioned before that Amazon and Lightning Press have a system through which you can sell documents through the Amazon store. Basically, you buy ISBN’s from Bowker, put your documents in PDF, Microsoft Reader, and other formats as you choose, set a price, and upload to Lightning, after which you’re a publisher, and your works are listed in the Amazon index. Francis Hamit has been doing this with his magazine articles and other publications, and while sales build slowly, they do build. The PDF Hacks book is useful in getting material into the right format; anyone who works with PDF needs this book. The Paypal books told me a lot about using Paypal, and I’ll be incorporating some of that into my web site.

January 2005

Winding Down

 The movie of the month was The Aviator. It’s also a candidate for Movie of the Year, with Lord of the Rings: Return of the King as its only real competition. When I was at Boeing we worked with Howard Hughes, who came up to Seattle to buy the first commercial jet airliners (Boeing 707) for his TWA airline. He lived aboard his private Constellation parked out on Boeing Field. So did some of the 18 Starlet Stewardesses he brought with him. They were there for months. A friend of mine was working on interior design and thus met Hughes and the Starlets, dated one of the young ladies, and later married her. Hughes gave them a Cadillac for a wedding present. The movie may have got a few details wrong, but it was pretty accurate in depicting Hughes as he was in those days. I spent a good part of my life in the aerospace industry and I have met few engineers who did not admire the man.

 The Aviator does an amazing job with special effects: unless you’re really trying, you can’t tell when reality lets off and special effects begin. It’s also a riveting movie. By all means see it.

 The movie of the year, though, has to be The Return of the King. That’s also the DVD of the year.

 The DVD of the month is Kill Bill, Parts 1 and 2; a romp, with Uma Thurman in best form, and a plot that actually makes sense if you will grant certain outrageous premises such as the existence of well organized international hit squads, and a strange inability of the Japanese authorities to notice mass slaughter including decapitation going on in Tokyo restaurants. I don’t suppose I need to warn you that these movies have quite graphic violence in them.

 The Book of the month is Broken: The Troubled Past and Uncertain Future of the FBI, by Richard Gid Powers (Free Press). If this book doesn’t scare you silly, nothing will. Among other things he tells the story of how the FBI arrested Zacarias Moussaoui, a man with no flight experience who paid for access to a 747 flight simulator, whose visa had expired, and who was known by French intelligence to be a member of al Qaeda; then released him without searching his computer because FBI supervisors determined that action against Moussaoui “might appear to unfriendly observers to be racial profiling.”  Lest you think this a lone incident by one imbecile in a supervisory position, there are plenty of others, enough to show the entire Bureau is permeated with an attitude inimical to security operations. It’s entirely possible that the new quick fix Intelligence Act and reorganization won’t do much good.

The first Computer Book of the Month is David Pogue, iMovie 4 & iDVD, The Missing Manual, O’Reilly. Mac users will need this book if they plan to do much with those programs; all the O’Reilly “missing manual” books have the subtitle “The book that should have been in the box,” and that’s generally correct.

 The second Computer Book of the Month is Susan Snedaker and David H. Bendell, How To Cheat At Managing Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003, Syngress. One of the subtitles is “The Perfect Guide if ‘System Administrator’ is NOT your primary job function.” This ought to make it pretty clear who this book is intended for; it’s one of those books you may not need, but if you do need it, you need it very badly.

 Finally, while I have recommended Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson’s Building the Perfect PC (O’Reilly), I find it has never actually been named Computer Book of the Month. It should be. If you contemplate building a PC, whether to replace your TiVo, hold a LAN party, play high end games, write your book, or for Aunt Minnie to answer her email with, this is the book; and if you contemplate building a PC but aren’t sure you ought to, this book will tell you what you need to know for a sane decision, as well as walk you through actually building the machine. Fair warning, I wrote the preface for this book. I was paid with a free copy…

 The Game of the Month is still Everquest II, which has better graphics and user interface than Everquest. I have not given up my original Everquest accounts but my characters there have been languishing while I spend what time I have for such things in EQ II. It’s easy to play, easy to get into, and while a bit more fun if you can get up a good group, there’s a lot worth doing solo as well. Sony has pulled off another grand coup with this one. I still have some problems with the crafting system, but EQ II has had the most rapid bug and feature updates I have ever seen in an on-line game. They’re listening, and I’m having fun. After considerable thought, I’ve decided that EQ II is also the Game of the Year for 2004, with Medieval: Total War as a close second and Rome: Total War as third.


 February 2005

The Game of the Month remains Everquest II. Sony has done this one right. There are still problems with the crafting system: player made equipment can’t really compete with stuff you can get from quests, and that’s sad. It’s also tedious to do crafting, and the lack of lockers and other conveniences in the crafting establishments doesn’t help a bit. Finally, the marketing system sucks dead bunnies: they really need to go over to something like the Star Wars Galaxies marketing system, with vendors accepting wares for sale on consignment in exchange for a small markup. This nonsense about having to sit in your hotel room waiting for customers is boring and needless. On the other hand, Sony has added many new quests and features, and has done well by the adventurer class. Now it’s time for them to look at the problems of crafters and merchants.


The Movie of the Month is a DVD, since we didn’t get out to the Movies: Gwyneth Paltrow in “Sylvia”, a not entirely inaccurate biographical film about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Plath committed suicide some years ago; Hughes, her widower, became Poet Laureate of England. Niven and I are dealing with both of them in our upcoming sequel to INFERNO, which we hope to write in a year or so.


The book of the month is BURNING TOWER by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Simon and Schuster, 2005. This is the sequel to our THE BURNING CITY (Simon and Schuster/Pocket Books) but it’s a stand alone novel; you don’t need to have read the previous work. So far all the reviews have been good. BURNING TOWER takes place in the North American Southwest about 14,000 years ago, not long after Atlantis sank.


If you don’t care for BURNING TOWER, the other books of the month are ARIEL, Poems by Sylvia Plath, Her Husband by Diane Middlebrook (a biography of Ted Hughes) and The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. It’s probably easy to infer what I’ve been reading and working on since last December, but in fact I found all those works very much worth reading: we haven’t chosen to continue the story of Plath and Hughes entirely by accident.



Caption: the books of the month, along with the Sylvia DVD.


The Computer Book of the Month is Paraglyph Press, SMALL WEBSITES, GREAT RESULTS by Doug Addison. This is a book for small business people who need a web site to advertise or sell their wares, and haven’t the time to learn web design from the ground up.  The other Computer Books of the Month are a series from O’Reilly called PERSONAL TRAINER. There is one on Windows XP, which I doubt anyone reading this will find useful, but there are two others, PowerPoint 2003 Personal Trainer and Excel 2003 Personal Trainer that can be really useful to those who have to use those programs and don’t know much about them.


 March 2005

I had expected the Game of the Month to be the new release of Sid Meier’s Pirates! I very much enjoyed the game on my early Macintosh, and was disappointed when I couldn’t get any of the PC or Windows versions to run well; so when the new one came out I leaped at it.


Alas, it has been a disappointment to me, largely because there is no game speed control. Now I realize I can jigger one up. I can run it on a slow machine and employ one of those programs that waste cycles, but I don’t really want to do that; perhaps it’s mere funk. For me, though, the game plays too fast, so that it’s more like a shooter than the delightful combination humor/role playing game that the original Pirates! was.


Clearly my view isn’t shared by all. The game has many excellent reviews, and indeed, except for the unchangeable too-fast game speed, I found little to dislike. It retains much of the flavor of the old game, but with better graphics. There’s a lot to like about it, but I find that it tires me to play it for long. Ah well, back to Everquest II, except that I find I am putting too much time into that.


The book of the month is Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead (Random House, 2004) and I realize I have recommended it before. It’s worth reading again, or if you missed it last time, worth going out to find. It won’t take long to read, and it should disturb you.


The first computer book of the month is Kathy Jacobs and Bill Jelen, Life on OneNote (Holy Macro Press, 2004). If you are a TabletPC user, or thinking of becoming one, you’ll want Michael Linenberger, Seize the work Day: Using the TabletPC to Take Total Control of Your Work and Meeting Day (New Academy, 2004). It has a wealth of examples of TabletPC applications and how to use them.


If you are building your own equipment you already know you need Bob and Barbara Thompson’s Building the Perfect PC (O’Reilly); you’ll also want their PC Hardware Buyer’s Guide (O’Reilly, 2005) to help you choose components.


Caption: books and games this month. Sid Meier’s Pirates, Jane Jacobs’ Dark Age Ahead, Thompson’s PC Hardware Buyer’s Guide. Several books on OneNote. And of course Niven and Pournelle, Burning Tower…


I took a trip to Utah as Guest of Honor at a convention at Brigham Young University in February. I had a delightful time, but between that and other work I didn’t see any movies. If you’re bored rent Spiderman 2.


April 2005

Winding Down


If you like Sims games, you’ll like Sims2 University. I fear I long ago got over the thrill of living a virtual life through little computer people, but some really go for that stuff. Given the time I waste with Everquest II I can hardly complain about people liking Sims.


The game of the month is Everquest II, which remains fun. Sony has done a great job of adding quests and adventures to the game to keep it interesting. It eats time I don’t have, and I suppose I’ll have to give it up one day, but I do enjoy it.


The movie of the month is the Bruce Willis flick Hostage. There aren’t any surprises here: either you like this kind of movie or you don’t. If you do, it’s very good. On the other hand, if you’d as soon stay home and watch TV, the new Fox series “House” about a brilliant diagnostician is the best new TV series of the year. The writers have done a fine job of giving good actors good material.


The book of the month is Gene Riehl, Sleeper, an FBI thriller. Riehl is a former FBI agent. We expect to meet him shortly at a Mystery Writers of America meeting. One of the cover blurbs for this book says “Gene Riehl has taken his experiences and turned them into a thriller that is good till the last page.” Precisely.


The computer book of the month is Roderick W. Smith, Linux in a Windows World, O’Reilly. If you have an office full of Windows 2000 and NT 4 systems, you have a problem: Microsoft isn’t going to be supporting them any more. It’s expensive to upgrade to Windows XP, even assuming you don’t need any hardware upgrades. You can hope that there won’t be any more security hole exploits in 2000 and NT 4 – that Microsoft found and plugged them all before abandoning these operating systems – but that’s a pretty daring assumption with an enormous downside if you’re wrong. Another alternative is to upgrade through Linux. Since you’ll undoubtedly have Windows XP systems as well, you’ll need to know what to do next: this book is a good introduction to the subject.


Linux is here to stay. It’s even dominant in some applications, like TV set top boxes. It’s a Windows world, still, but there’s enough Linux in it that the most fanatical Windows adherents need to learn something about it.


May  2005

Winding Down


I seem to have given a lot of good reasons why I didn’t get to some of the material I had intended to. Apologies. During the brief period when I was in aerospace technical management I used to tell the young engineers who worked for me that the cheapest commodity in the market was a good excuse. Some months, though, things just work that way, and April was certainly the cruelest month for me.


The game of the month remains Everquest II. I find I have enticed some of my readers into wasting time there. If you want to find me, I am on the “good” side of the Grobb server. I didn’t get on very much in April, and I won’t be around much in May, unless pensiones in Rome have free wireless Internet. I do find I enjoy the game when I can get to it.


The movie of the month was The Upside of Anger. It gets that designation because it was the only movie we had time to see. I found it amusing enough, but not terribly memorable. As it happens, when we got to the theater we had our choice between Upside and Sin City, and I wasn’t ready to be depressed by what is said to be a “great” movie that’s true to the graphic novel art form it came from. Those who really like that sort of thing will undoubtedly love Sin City.


One reason for our upcoming trip is that Roberta and I are embarking on a new book, a high tech novel set in present time rather than a future science fiction book. My first published novel, Red Heroin (Berkeley Books, 1968), was in that genre so it’s not entirely unknown to me. Roberta did technical research at Boeing when I was in graduate school, so she’s helping collect details; the result is we’re reading a lot of both fiction and non-fiction about the spy and terrorism business. The book of the month is April Smith, North of Montana, an excellent story and a realistic account of the life of a woman FBI agent; at least it’s authentic as far as I can tell. I know more about how things work in the Agency than in the Bureau; the FBI has always been rather secretive about its internal procedures, and its liaison officers are rewarded for how little information they can give to outsiders. This is a well told story, and a lot more than a simple detective novel; indeed the plot line, while realistic, is only a minor part of the story. The ease with which a man’s life can be destroyed through false accusations and manipulation of the FBI is shown in terrifying detail.


The computer book of the month is Jonathan Hassell, Learning Windows Server 2003, O’Reilly, December 2004. This is subtitled “The no-nonsense guide”, and it lives up to that, starting with some straightforward words on how to decide whether to upgrade to Server 2003. Migration from both NT and Windows 2000 Server is covered. There’s nothing about the 64-bit edition of Windows 2003 Server, but from the administrator’s view there’s no real difference anyway. Hassell knows his subject, and if you find yourself needing to migrate to 2003 Server, this is the book to have when you do it.


June 2005

Winding Down


There are two series of computer books well worth your notice.


First, there is the O’Reilly “Annoyances” series, of which the best is PC Annoyances by Steve Bass, now in its second edition. Others in the series include Internet Annoyances, by Preston Gralla, and Home Networking Annoyances by Kathy Ivens.


The second set is the “Degunking” series from Paraglyph Press. These include Degunking Windows, by Joli Ballew and Jeff Duntemann, and Degunking your EMAIL, SPAM, and VIRUSES by Jeff Duntemann.


Every one of these books is worth going through. In each case you’ll find a bunch of stuff you already knew, and other stuff of no interest to you, but in every book there will be a couple of gems. I’d be astonished if there weren’t something worth discovering for each of you in each book. Whether you’ll learn enough to justify the cost of the book is another story. Probably you will: I certainly did. Better, perhaps, would be to get together with some friends. Each of you buy one of the books, read it, then swap them around. You’ll all learn something.


For example: I had no idea there was a “science only” search engine that looks mainly at scientific and scholarly journals. It’s called Scirus at http://www.scirus.com and if you do science work or reporting it’s well worth knowing about. I found that in the Internet Annoyances book, and it wasn’t the only valuable thing I found in that book.


It’s the same for all the others in the Annoyances series. Clearly it would be unfair to go through and cherry pick the most valuable tips: but there are a number of them in each book.


The Degunking Windows book is far the more valuable of the two in that series, but there’s some good stuff in the other one as well. The books are written in a breezy style but they can get quite specific. Reading these I was, well, reminded, of Samuel Johnson’s famous dictum that people seldom need educating, but they often need reminding; the Degunking books had that effect, of reminding me to do things I knew about but hadn’t got around to doing.


The book of the month is A New Republic: A History of the United States in the Twentieth Century, by John Lukacs (New Haven, Yale University Press). This is a revised and retitled edition of Lukacs’ 1983 Outgrowing Democracy. Lukacs points out the profound changes in American values and institutions that often go unnoticed but affect us all. My father once told me that 1956 was a crucial year in the history of America, because the Suez affair was a turning point in the Cold War. Lukacs also identifies the mid-fifties as crucial for other reasons, although the Suez affair remains important as a reversal of a long-standing set of policies.


The movie of the month is Cinderella Man, probably the best movie so far this year, and alas, far better than Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Not that the Star Wars movie isn’t worth seeing (or that anything I say would much affect its paid receipts); but for all its box office success, Revenge of the Sith works from a deeply flawed script and story line. Cinderella Man is both inspiring and entertaining.


The game of the month was Rome: Total War, a far better game than many of those just coming out. I found myself intrigued by the strategic problems of the Scipii, and allowed the game to absorb more time than I probably should have given it. Ah well.


Next month I’ll have a report on the trip to England and the conference on warfare in the future (http://www.wiltonpark.org.uk/documents/conferences/WP787/pdfs/WP787prog.pdf ). My colleagues Vernor Vinge and Orson Scott Card will be there along with a bunch of military and academic professionals, and I expect to enjoy this immensely.


July 2005

Winding Down


There are several books this month. I’ve already mentioned one, talk is cheap by James E. Gaskin, on Voice Over IP (O’Reilly).  The next computer book of the month is Word Annoyances, by Guy Hart-Davis, (O’Reilly). I’ve used Word for twenty years, and I am learning something new practically on every page. I long since trained myself to put up with some of the annoyances; now I discover there are things I could do about them. If you use Word, you need this book.



The final computer book of the month is also from O’Reilly: Astronomy Hacks by Robert and Barbara Thompson. I’m not an amateur astronomer, although I’ve often thought I’d like to try it. For those in the same situation, this book will tell you whether it’s worth your while, and if so, not only how to get started, but how to be pretty good at it. If you’re already deep into amateur astronomy I’m not competent to judge whether or not you need this book because I don’t know how much you know; but having known Thompson for a while, I’d be astonished if you didn’t find out things you never knew in every chapter. I asked him to pick out a representative hack, and he chose #29 as his favorite: Plan and Prepare for a Messier Marathon: Locate, observe, and log all 110 Messier Objects in one night. I know just enough to know what Messier Objects are, but I’m certain I have never seen all 110 of them. I probably could have when I did my turn on the board of the Lowell Observatory, but I was too busy getting Shoemaker a computer. Ah, well. As with all the books Bob Thompson does with his wife, it’s both technically competent and very readable.


The Movie of the Month is Howl’s Moving Castle, a Miyazaki film (we may all thank our lucky stars that he hasn’t really retired) that is both reminiscent of Spirited Away and quite different. It is based on an English novel by Diana Wynn-Jones, and is, I think, the first movie Miyazaki has made based on a Western story. No matter: the mythology is alien enough (I suspect it is alien to both Western and Japanese audiences) and simply wonderful. The story is more coherent than Spirited Away, and the special effects are stunning. This is a must see movie.


The second Movie of the Month is Bewitched, largely because that’s the only one I managed to see other than Howl. I intend to see Batman Begins and the War of the Worlds, and I may even get to Fantastic Four although the reviews have been discouraging. Bewitched wasn’t my first choice of a movie but Roberta wanted to see it, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. Nicole Kidman plays the ingénue so well that you hardly notice much else when she’s around. Michael Caine is superb as usual, and Shirley MacLaine steals every scene she’s in, which is a pretty good trick if you’re in a scene with Kidman. I enjoyed every minute of it, and it was only afterwards that I noticed that the plot doesn’t make much sense. It didn’t have to.


The book of the month is Forrest McDonald, Recovering the Past. McDonald is arguably the best living American historian, and the reason you ought to read this autobiography is that you’ll not only see why, but also learn about his other books, such as We The People, which remain in print and are national treasures.


August 2005

Winding Down


My associates are urging me to add a new section to the column: The Longhorn Feature Loss Watch. I’m tempted as VISTA rolls out, but so far I have resisted.


The Game of the Month remains Everquest II, which says something about that game: it has held my interest for several months now, despite a number of other games that have piled up. I can also recommend Sid Meier’s Pirates! (Fireaxis) I still think the ships sail too fast, but I find I can get used to the speed. The game is the same whacky combination of spoof and action that made the original Pirates! game so much fun. Alas, it takes time from getting my Everquest II Paladin to level 50.


The movie of the month is March of the Penguins, a film for children of all ages. Just plain delightful. No wonder it’s the second highest moneymaker in the history of documentary films.


The computer books of the month are both O’Reilly and both about the Mac. The first, David Pogue’s OSX Tiger, The Missing Manual, is another of the excellent O’Reilly “missing manual” series. I can say categorically that I have never seen a book in that series that you shouldn’t buy if you use the products the books cover. I’m not sure I’ve ever said that about a series of books before. The other book of the month is Dave Taylor, UNIX for Mac OS X Tiger. This is a valuable introduction into the command line processes hiding under the hood in your Mac OS X machine. If you use a Mac and you’re not already a UNIX guru, this book will make your life easier. As we’ve observed often, with the Mac nearly everything is very easy or impossible; but with OS X, some “impossible” things now become, not easy, but at least feasible, provided you know how to get at them through UNIX commands.


The book of the month is Nicholas Ostler, Empires of the Word, a history of the world through the history of languages. (Harper Collins, 2005) If you’re at all interested in the subject of language, you will not be able to stop reading this once you start. You have been warned.


When I began this month’s column, I was worried about having enough to write about. Now I see I have neglected a number of important items, including Plextor’s ConvertX PVR for converting and recording TV, a whole series of lectures by the best history teacher of the last century, and my successful efforts to implement Voice Over IP, along with some astonishing holes in the Windows XP SP 2 Bluetooth implementation. All that will have to wait until next month.


The Microsoft Professional Developers Conference will be in September. By then we should know a great deal more about VISTA ne Longhorn. We’ll have a show report, then a lot more in the October column. The computer revolution continues.


September 2005

The really important movies for the season haven’t happened yet: I am told that The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will be wonderful, and there is good evidence that this is true. Firefly, a Joss Wheedon movie based on characters from his enjoyable television series of the same name, is well worth seeing. Firefly was a western in space, pure fun and adventure and related to serious science fiction only in the sense that the Old Doc Hubbard science fiction stories in Astounding were science fiction; but enjoyable none the less. And of course the new Harry Potter movie will be out later this fall, although I hardly have to tell you not to miss it.

The movie of the month is James Cameron's Aliens of the Deep ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0417415/ <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0417415/>), an IMAX 3D film centered around 40 dives on 10 spots, all around deep-ocean volcanic vents and the weird life that thrives on them. He and his team show creatures literally never seen before by Man, linking their study to any eventual finds of life on other planets. It has stunning images (and the 3D works to their advantage), it's of course well directed, and the deep-diving vehicles are a contrast between old-style Russian Titanium bathyscapes and the newest (American?) bathyspheres. At 48 minutes, it's a bit short on the undersea exploration, but once again Cameron uses IMAX to gently educate and definitely entertain.

The game of the month is Microsoft’s Dungeon Siege II, which is an improvement over the already enjoyable Dungeon Siege I. You can play Dungeon Siege alone, in a LAN party with friends, or on line with either friends or a pickup group, and it’s as good a way to while away an afternoon as any. My preference in online games remains Everquest II, but then I have a lot of time and energy invested in that. I used to like Star Wars Galaxies a lot but they kept tweaking it until it really wasn’t so much fun any longer, at least for me. In any event you won’t regret getting Dungeon Siege II, although you may find yourself spending too much time investigating one more place; it’s very seductive that way.

There are two books of the month. One is of far more interest to me than most of you, but it is in fact an interesting book: The Haunting of Sylvia Plath, by Jacqueline Rose. Unlike some of Sylvia Plath’s biographers, Ms. Rose is a dish, and that’s more relevant than you think: Sylvia Plath was a highly attractive woman, both physically endowed and greatly talented, and there is a sense in which only someone equally endowed (and successful) with no need to feel jealousy can adequately both understand Plath and convey that understanding to those who don’t share her talents. In any event, the lovely Professor Rose has managed to do this with some grace and charm.

The second book of the month is Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, originally written as by “Anonymous”. The author has been identified as Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer who has frequently written about terrorist organizations and counter-terrorist strategy. One need not agree with his central thesis that the West is losing the war to find a great deal worth thinking about in this book, and I recommend that anyone with an interest in the subject add it to the reading list no matter what your actual views on the war may be. This book is far more about organizations and attitudes than technology and technique; but those who employ and command technologies will benefit from knowing about organizations and attitudes. Technology does not operate in a vacuum, and wars are about bending other people to your will. Sometimes the best way to do that is to break things and kill people. Sometimes there are more effective and less costly ways. It is well to be aware of that.

We have a number of Computer Books of the Month. Each is of somewhat specialized interest and falls in the category of “if you need it, you need it bad,” but the first is arguably of general interest.

The first is John Locke’s OPEN SOURCE SOLUTIONS for Small Business Problems, from Charles River Media. If you are seriously contemplating switching to Linux systems for your business, you need this book; and if you aren’t, it may still be of interest. The second chapter of the book is “Why You Need A Server,” and if you don’t have one, you probably ought to get the book just for that. There are also chapters on applications, security, transitions, and such like, all in readable English.

The second is considerably more specialized. Maven, A Developer’s Notebook, by Vincent Massol and Timothy O’Brien (O’Reilly) is about the Maven Java “project comprehension tool” for building your project. Chances are if you don’t work on Java projects (and perhaps even if you do) you have never heard of Maven; which is one reason to look into this book, if only to see whether you ought to learn more. Like all O’Reilly books it is cleanly edited. I won’t pretend it is easy reading, even for Java programmers.

Even less readable is C. J. Date’s Database in Depth (O’Reilly), which is more a computer science textbook than a handbook despite the author’s insistence that it is written for practitioners rather than novices. He’s right, in the sense that if you haven’t had some experience with databases much of the book will take some hard slogging; but he’s wrong in that comprehending this book and its principles will be quite valuable to students.

My final Computer Book of the Month is Brian Hook’s Write Portable Code, An introduction to developing software for multiple platforms. It’s part of a No Starch Press series on similar topics. I am neither a user nor an admirer of any variant of C – I remain stubbornly convinced that strongly typed languages with range checking make for far better code with far less debugging – but experienced C users advise me that I will not go wrong by recommending this book.


October 2005

The Movie of the Month is Serenity, Joss Wheedon’s full length (2 hours, actually) movie about the crew you met in the TV Series Firefly. It was delightful, pure space opera well done. The TV series didn’t have any special effects and was very good despite that. Serenity has excellent special effects, but they don’t get in the way of a good story and a good cast. Fair warning: my wife went to Serenity with me. She says she liked it, but I now owe her two chick flicks. She at first said three, but on reflection decided that the love story in Serenity was enough to cover one of them.

If you find yourself owing chick flicks to your significant other, I can recommend Reese Witherspoon in Just Like Heaven. I liked it a lot, as did Roberta.

Not long after Katrina I met the owner of Weathered Stone (http://www.weathered-stone.com/). This is literally a stone veneer. It’s about 1/32 inch thick, and when applied wet conforms to surfaces so that it can be molded and bent. When it sets up it’s hard like stone. I have no idea how well it would wear as a countertop; it certainly feels durable. The company was damaged in the Katrina hurricane and didn’t have all its displays at Marty Winston’s early look show, but I was impressed enough to look into this for my own use. I can’t recommend it because I haven’t used it, but I was sure intrigued.

The book of the month is The E-Bomb by Doug Beason, Ph.D. I know Doug better as Colonel Doug Beason, USAF Ret. He is also a former professor at the US Air Force Academy where he used The Strategy of Technology (Possony and Pournelle) as a textbook. More to the point, he is also the former commander of the USAF labs at Kirtland, where he had such programs as the airborne laser. This book will tell you about directed energy weapons, which are the most important weapons developments since the atomic bomb. The “death ray” and “disintegrator” of the old science fiction movies were fiction; modern directed energy weapons are fact, and this book will tell you more about them than any other source I know. Highly recommended.

The first computer book of the month is Jack Herrington, Podcasting Hacks (O’Reilly). As with all O’Reilly books, this one is well organized and complete. While the previously mentioned Georhegan and Klass Podcast Solutions (Apress) is a better introduction to the subject of Podcasting, if you’re serious about getting into the game you will want both books.

John Locke’s book OPEN SOURCE SOLUTIONS For Small Business Problems (Charles River Media) is a bit odd in that it starts at a pretty elementary level, but contains advice useful to those actually trying to work on problems at a professional level. We suppose it’s intended for small business owners who want to get their hands dirty, or perhaps just to understand why Open Source gurus charge so much money. If you’re in small business and either have adopted Open Source or are contemplating going over to Open Source systems, you will do well to invest the time it takes to read this book. There is no chance you won’t learn something important from doing so.


November 2005

The book of the month is How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. A readable book by a professional historian, Woods shows how Catholic theology led to science through the Scholastics and their concepts of order. Even more interesting is the Scholastic contribution to the science of economics; the late Murray Rothbard noted that their concepts lead directly to the Austrian school that includes von Mises and Roepke. This book is real history, not apologetics or polemics.

There are two games this month, and of course either one makes a great Christmas gift so long as you understand they are time bandits. The long awaited Civilization IV is out, and all reports are that it was worth waiting for. I put it that way because I confess I haven’t installed it yet, lest it eat so much time I missed the deadline for this column. The last iteration of Civilization did something like that: the game is addicting, and once you get started it’s hard to stop. “Just one more turn…”

The other game of the month is the Barbarian Invasions expansion pack for Rome: Total War. This introduces new playable factions, new units, and new strategies, and takes place at the critical moment of the fall of the Roman Empire. Rome is already split into Eastern and Western Empires, and one scenario will be to emulate Justinian and try to force the Western Empire to join the Eastern. You can also play the Western Emperor: try to hold on to Spain while building a base for resisting the Germans. Cultivating loyal generals, so that you don’t have to personally command your main force lest it revolt, is a key problem for both you and the old Roman Emperors. As Tacitus said, the legions had discovered the dread secret that emperors could be made in places other than Rome.

The movie of the month for us was Wallace and Grommit, Curse of the WereRabbit. The story line was extremely well done, and although Grommit never speaks – he is a dog, after all – he communicates very well. Roberta says this doesn’t count as a chick flick, so I still owe her for the action movies I like, but it doesn’t rack up the chick flick debt either. Of course this movie is leaving the theaters, so you may want to watch for it on DVD. If you have kids they will like Chicken Little a lot, and adults won’t hate it. Of course the real movies this month will be the new Harry Potter, and the C. S. Lewis Narnia movie, but I don’t have to tell you that.

The computer book of the month is useful for BYTE and Dobbs readers, and very much suitable for giving to your friends, particularly those who tend to ask you advice about their Windows systems. Joli Ballew and Jeff Dunteman have come out with a second edition of Degunking Windows (Paraglyph Press) and it’s better than the first edition. BYTE readers may profit from the chapters on Registry Cleaning and the recommended tools for doing that. There’s sound advice in every chapter, and although BYTE readers will know about most of the tips given here, I can pretty well guarantee you’ll learn a few you didn’t know. Recommended.

The second computer book of the month is also from Paraglyph: Jesse M. Torres and Peter Sideris, Surviving PC Disasters, Mishaps, and Blunders. This is the book to get for yourself, just in case. Hold on to it, and loan it to a friend at need. Most of it is just common sense, but if you’ve just had a disaster, common sense is the one thing you won’t have: just having a book that shows someone else has thought through the situation can help.


December 2005

The movie of the month was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a darker and more mature picture than the three previous Harry Potter films. And of course I file this just before the studio opening of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which looks to be the best movie since Lord of the Rings.

The game of the month is Guild Wars, a new and somewhat different kind of on-line multi-player game. As a game it has some great features, including the ability to have “henchmen,” non-player characters, as allies to accompany you on missions if you can’t find another player to go with you. The story line is well thought out, and there’s an interesting way to separate the raw newcomer players from the old hands. Alas, that also requires that most of the game be played in fields of destruction, in contrast to the very pretty and pleasant areas for the newcomers. I confess I am having problems getting used to the unrelieved desolation; I’d like to see more grass and happy people. The game mechanics, though, are about as good as any I have seen in multi-player games, and I have had fun with it. Guild Wars is unique in not having any monthly fees; once you buy the game, you have unlimited hours of play if you want. I expect they’re planning upgrades to sell you, of course, but still, no monthly fees…

The book of the month is one you probably can’t find. I located a copy of the late Walt Kelly’s I Go Pogo, a collection of some of his most delightful comics. I pity generations who didn’t grow up with Pogo Possum, Albert the Alligator, Churchy La Femme, the Cowbirds, and their – not precisely enemies, but opponents, Sarcophagus J. Macabre the natural borned buzzard, Simple J. Malarky, and the rest. Pogo was wonderful.

A book you can and ought to get is Terry Pratchett’s latest, THUD!, which is sort of about Sam Vines the Commander of the Guard, but also about the war of the Trolls and Dwarves, which happened so long ago no one remembers what it was about or who won, but which echoes through time to modern Ankh-Morpork. And now a Dwarf champion has been murdered with a troll club… Terry Pratchett is hilarious, but he also has something to say.

The Computer Book of the Month is Pogue Press, an O’Reilly imprint, Matthew MacDonald Excel for Starters, The Missing Manual. Like all the Missing Manual series this is well written and well edited, and Alex, who thinks of himself as proficient in Excel since he spends weeks torturing data in Excel spreadsheets, learned several things he didn’t know just glancing through it. If you need to know Excel – and you probably do even if you don’t think so – then this is a good book to start with.


January 2006

Winding Down

The book of the month is Phillip Kurland, The Founders’ Constitution (5 volume set). This may give more than you really wanted to know about the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, in that it follows the debates, and presents many of the documents the Framers would have been familiar with. It goes into great detail, and if you have any desire to know about the intention of the Framers, this is the source to have. I only wish this had been available thirty years ago when I taught Constitutional Law; I would certainly have seen that the school library had a copy, and I’d have been sorely tempted to assign them as textbooks.

There were a number of excellent computer books last year, but if I had to choose the one most useful to me, it would be Robert and Barbara Thompson’s Building the Perfect PC, from O’Reilly. Of course I build a lot of PC’s. I have no problems choosing the recipient of the Chaos Manor Orchid for publishers: hands down the most useful computer book line last year was O’Reilly, with books ranging from highly technical to simply useful. Having said that, I must add that there are a lot of good publishers out there, and if the quality of computer books is any indication, the industry is in great health.

A close runner up for computer book of the year is Michael Geoghegan and Dan Klass, Podcast Solutions (Apress), which is the best introductory through professional level book on Podcasting I have found. If the notion of doing some podcasts appeals to you, get this book before you start. You won’t regret it.

The computer book of the month is Auri Rahimzadeh, Hacking the PSP: Cool Hacks, Mods, and Customizations for the Sony Playstation Portable, (Extreme Tech). This is a specialized book: either you are interested in the subject, or you are not. If you are, you will want this book.

Last year was wonderful for movies. We had The Lord of the Rings Volume 3 The Return of the King, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the wonderful The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, adapted from C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series. These were all fantasies, which is interesting; I usually like to include some good science fiction in my annual recommendations. Fortunately there was one, not quite in the same league with those three, but definitely worth seeing: Joss Whedon’s Serenity, which used the characters (and cast) of the TV Series Firefly to make an epic style movie. It had some flaws, but not many, and was a whale of a lot of fun to watch.


February 2006

The game of the month was Sid Meier’s Civilization IV, which eats far more time than I ought to let it have. It’s taking me a while to get used to; while the overall play of Civ IV is easier than in previous versions, and there’s a lot less micromanagement, some of the tricks we used – capture enemy Settlers and put them to work transforming your land, since they don’t cost anything to maintain – don’t work. On the other hand, you’re not constantly shifting troops around to put down riots, and that’s a blessing. All told, if you don’t have this game, and you like turn based strategy games at all, you will want to get this one.

The gadget of the month is the OSIM® uZap™ Oscillating Massage Belt from Brookstone (http://www.brookstone.com/shop/product.asp?product_code=531715&search_type=search&search_words=uzap&prodtemp=t2)  . This is another variety of passive exercise machine, and I don’t suppose it works any better for taking off weight than any of those others did. On the other hand, it does feel pretty good when it’s giving you its massage. It’s easy to use, and while when I first started playing with it I did so out of a sense of duty – very much one of those silly things I do so you don’t have to – I have found myself rather fond of it, and I’ve continued to use it because I like it. You might want to go to a Brookstone store and try it out. I find I can write while it’s working on my tummy – it’s going now – and it does pretty good things for lower back ache.

The movie of the month is Disney Studios 8 Below, about a team of 8 Husky sled dogs left over the winter in Antarctica. One of the dogs looks a lot like Sable, our red Siberian “empty nest dog,” so I suppose it was predictable that we’d like the movie, but in fact it’s quite well done. This isn’t the sort of movie that wins awards, but it sure was fun to see, and the dogs are beautiful. And if you have not seen The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, run, do not walk, to a theater where it’s showing. You do not want to miss that film, and you want to see it in a theater, not on a TV screen. This is C. S. Lewis’s wonderful story told in all its glory, and there’s not a dull moment in it from the opening air raid in London to the end.

The book of the month is George Packer, The Assassins’ Gate, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. His viewpoint is not mine, but he is an honest reporter, and many of the incidents he witnessed speak for themselves. The United States is not good at imperialism, but we are trying to operate in a land that has no traditions of freedom and democracy. We can’t treat the population of Iraq as allies and colleagues because while most of them may be exactly that, enough are not that it is far too risky. Treating them with suspicion undermines our purpose in being there.

In another life I was a strategy analyst and advisor, and one thing I have learned: armies break things and kill people, and if they are not good at that, they are no good as an army. The US Army is very good at breaking things and killing people. It is not so good at building democratic institutions. Now very elite forces can sometimes do both: be effective combat soldiers, yet useful as occupiers. It takes very dedicated troops and elite units to do that, and even for them it’s a temporary thing. For long term occupation duty you need constabulary trained in military government. That’s not an army, and won’t be much use at fighting wars. The United States doesn’t have such a force. Keep those principles in mind as you read this book.

The first computer book of the month is Chris Pine, Learn to Program, The Pragmatic Programmers. This book is written in a breezy informal style, but it does cover systematic principles of programming starting at a very elementary level. The language used for instruction is Ruby, which, like Python, is a free language available on line. If you have ever wondered if you have a knack for programming, this is an inexpensive way to find out.

The second book of the month is just out, Repairing and Upgrading Your PC, by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson, O’Reilly. This is the essential handbook for keeping your system going, and you need a copy, just in case.


March 2006

Winding Down

The games of the month remain EverQuest II and Guild Wars on line, and Sid Meier’s Civilization IV in house. I have to say that CIV IV doesn’t seem to hold up as well as earlier Civilization games did, but perhaps I am playing at too low a level. I’ve played several times, and by the 1900’s I am so far ahead that it’s unlikely anyone can catch up with me; and not much is happening.

I fear I have not seen any of the Oscar nominated movies, and none of them attract me. Keira Knightley is magnificent in Pride and Prejudice, so if you’re in the mood for a Georgian period chick flick, this is as good as that genre gets. Meanwhile, Joss Whedon’s Serenity is out on DVD, and if you missed it in theaters, here’s your chance to see a rip roaring space opera with good performances and action so fast you won’t have time to pick the science apart.

The book of the month is Applied Economics, Thinking Beyond Stage One, by Thomas Sowell. Thomas Carlyle called economics “the dismal science,” and the description is apt, but it’s still important to understand basic economic principles. The problem is that reading about economic principles is usually boring. Sowell uses examples and clear writing to present essential lessons with a minimum of pain. Of course the book is politically incorrect.

A second book of the month is A Murder in Macedon, by Anna Apostolou. It’s a novel about one of the most famous murders in history, the assassination of Phillip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. There never was any question about who killed Phillip. Pausanius, a captain of the Royal Guard and scion of an important aristocratic family, stabbed Phillip in front of the entire army. The mystery remains, why did he do it, and who else was in the conspiracy? This very readable historical novel presents one theory.

The computer book of the month is about Photoshop CS2. If you have ever wondered just what all you can do with Photoshop in this modern era, Adobe Photoshop CS2 Visual Encyclopedia by Stephen Romanielo (Wiley) will not only show you what’s possible but go a long way toward teaching you how to do it. CS2 is the latest version of Photoshop; our internationally known graphics artist David Em believes it is a significant upgrade and well worth the upgrade. This book is just stuffed with useful tips and babytalk instructions. If you find yourself having to learn or upgrade Photoshop, you need this book. It goes over all the tools, gives examples of their use, then presents a number of projects. Highly recommended.

April 2006

Winding Down

The game of the month is Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, which we discussed earlier. In my judgment, it’s the best role-playing game around.

The Movie of the Month is Ice Age 2: Meltdown. It’s a children’s movie, I guess, but Roberta and I enjoyed it greatly. It’s fun, easy to watch, and just the right thing to see if you’ve been working too hard.

The book of the month is Charles Murray’s In Our Hands.

In Our Hands

It’s not a computer book, but it may be important. Charles Murray’s IN OUR HANDS: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State (American Enterprise Institute) presents a plan to scrap all existing welfare and income transfer programs – Social Security, Medicare, and all forms of welfare – and replace them with a single program to pay every American citizen age 21 and older $10,000 a year for life.

It sounds nuts, but I have known Murray for years, and he’s anything but a nut. He’s a libertarian sociologist, which is a pretty rare bird; and unlike most sociologists I know, he’s well grounded in the mathematics required to do economic and statistical analysis. Moreover, he has made the worst-case most conservative assumptions you can make for his economic predictions. With all that, his plan initially costs more than we pay at present, but somewhere around 2015 begins to cost less. That assumes quite predictable increases in the cost of our present system.

Many of my associates have what look like obvious questions about Murray’s plan. If you’re interested in such matters I urge you to read his book, not a summary that repeats his arguments: whether the summary is done by one of Murray’s sympathizers ( I count him as a friend; we have been in a discussion group for years) or one of his enemies, it is unlikely to be as carefully done as Murray himself writes. Unlike most sociologists, Murray knows both his mathematical/statistical tools and his economics, and he covers the questions well.

Murray says that the chances of our adopting his plan are quite slim; but since we are going to have to replace what we are doing, we may as well consider something that seems preferable.

His examples are well chosen, he writes interestingly, and he deals with all the questions you probably have. If we are fortunate, this book will expand our policy horizons and cause new debates. We can quibble about when the system we employ now will bankrupt us, but it does seem inevitable that it will. As Herb Stein was fond of saying, if something cannot go on for forever, it will stop. Our present welfare system cannot possibly go on forever.


The Computer book of the month is Google: The Missing Manual (2nd Edition, O’Reilly). I thought I knew how to use Google, but it turns out I didn’t. This book tells about advanced search techniques, and the Google Answers research service, which I had never heard of. Did you know that Google bought Urchin, one of the premium web-tracking services, and reduced their $500/month price tag to zero? It’s now called Google Analytics, and it will analyze your web site, track your visitors, and summarize their habits.

There’s lots more in the Google Missing Manual. I’ve found it one of the most useful books I’ve run across this year, and I can’t think how anyone who bothers to read this column could fail to find something useful, worth more than the price of the book. Highly recommended.


May 2006

Winding Down

The game of the month remains Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which may well be the best role playing game I have ever seen.

The only movie we saw this month was one I can’t recommend.

The book of the month is Martin Gardner’s Weird Water & Fuzzy Logic. It’s an extension of his Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. Martin Gardner is a national treasure.

The second book of the month is by Elonka Dunin, the game developer. The Mammoth Book of Secret Code Puzzles is exactly what you think it is from the title. If you like solving code puzzles, this is the book for you.

The computer book of the month is Brett McLaughlin, Head Rush Ajax, O’Reilly. Ajax is the Java-xml synthesis that sparks the new wave in web applications. As an example, look at Google Earth. The Head Rush series presents material in a unique way. If what you want is a systematic handbook of Ajax, this is probably not your book; but if programming books put you to sleep, try a Head Rush book. It may keep you awake and teach you something. If you do web designs, you very likely need this book.

The second computer book of the month is Matthew MacDonald, The Book of Visual Basic 2005, which a systematic presentation. It assumes you know something about Visual Basic and need to know more about the .NET framework. Visual Basic has become the most widely used programming language in the world, and as computers become more powerful (and thus can execute VB programs faster without the need for hand optimizations) is likely to become more so.


June 2006

Winding Down

The movie of the month is Cars, the Pixar/Disney film. It’s not as well done as Toy Story, but then what is? Fair warning: the first few minutes are not very exciting; indeed the pace was so slow that we thought of walking out of a theater full of restless kids there for opening weekend. Fortunately we stayed, and we’re glad we did. If you have liked any of the previous Pixar films you’ll like this one.

The game of the month is World of Warcraft. It may well be the best of the MMORPG genre.

The first book of the month is Eric Sink on the Business of Software; foreword by Joel Spolsky. (Apress ISBN 1-59059-623-4) If you have ever thought of starting your own software company, or you are in management in such a company, you will want to read this book. Eric Sink is a programmer who has become an owner/manager, and his stories are drawn from experience. Should a software company hire “real management” or promote programmers? Can programmers manage “a real business”? What do you need to attract venture capital, and why is it not always a good idea? And so forth. Highly recommended.

The second book of the month is Bruce Frey, Statistics Hacks, O’Reilly ISBN0-596-10164-3. Many of the O’Reilly “Hacks” series are misnamed, and this is certainly one of them. It’s divided into 75 “hacks” distributed through six chapters, and the requirement that the book be organized this way isn’t always helpful; nor is it obvious that, for example, Hack 75: Seek out New Life and New Civilizations, a short essay on using linguistic statistics (etoin shrdlu) to look at the Drake Equation (itself derived from Fermi’s famous after-dinner question, “Where are they?”) is a “hack” in any meaningful sense of the word.

Indeed, most of the “hacks” are like that: short essays about a reasonable subject, but they aren’t “hacks” as most of us use the term. A hack, to professional programmers, is a quick and dirty solution to a problem. The term derives from people who would make furniture with an axe; it works, but elegant it ain’t. In the days before disk storage and memory plenty, when saving a few bytes could be important, there were some famous hackers who could make a computer program do more with fewer resources than anyone expected. One of the better known hackers who could bum code was Bill Gates. Dan Bricklin was another. The problem with using hacks, as both Bricklin and Gates will tell you, is that it sometimes makes it impossible for anyone else to work on the code because the hacks make it incomprehensible. Hacks, kludges, and other workarounds are far less important now than they were when memory was scarce and disk space expensive. Fortunately, Statistics Hacks, although organized into “hacks”, doesn’t really teach hacking at all.

Instead, it’s a pretty good introduction to statistics and statistical inference, written in a breezy style that’s far more readable than most introductory textbooks. Moreover, Frey does try to present some of the assumptions that underlie statistical inference and predictions, and does that better than most statistical texts.

Understanding statistics and the nature of statistical inferences is important. Those required to take “stat” courses offered by any department other than mathematics are well advised to get this book, since most department statistics courses, such as “ed stat” and the courses taught in the psychology department, present cookbook techniques with little reasoning on when and whether these techniques should be applied. Frey’s Statistics Hacks is no substitute for the calculus of probability and Fisher’s Foundation of Statistics, but very few users of statistical techniques get to the point of reading Fisher. I won’t say Frey is the next best thing, but it’s pretty good. Recommended.

The third book of the month is WINDOWS XP VISUAL ENCYCLOPEDIA, by Kate Chase and Jim Boyce, Wiley, ISBN 0-471-75686-5. Buy this book for Aunt Minnie, or for Bart the secretarial intern, and it will save you a lot of time. It’s well organized and everything is illustrated with screen shots; it certainly lives up to the term “visual”. Old hands won’t learn much, but for those who don’t use Windows all the time this is as good a handbook as I have seen.








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