Online Library

by Bob Seidel

Before we begin today's topic, I did want to alert my readers about a situation I am seeing with local Dell service. I have had two cases very recently where an on-site Dell serviceperson fixed (or attempted to fix) a hardware problem, but then informed the customer that they had to reformat their hard drives and reinstall Windows, and left. I did not understand the rationale behind this request, but more important was that the serviceperson just left the customer high and dry, perhaps to incur hundreds of dollars of expense to finish the repair.

I discussed software support with Dell and found out that their on-site technicians are only there to service hardware. They are not trained specifically on software issues. Dell performs all software service (including the reinstallation of Windows) over the phone. Just keep that in mind when dealing with Dell on service issues. You should also make sure you always have good backups - a good idea in general, but mandatory if the hard drive needs to be reformatted and Windows reinstalled.

Today's topic: the Brunswick County Library System is finally online! I really missed that capability when I moved down here full-time from Raleigh. The Wake County library system had a Unix-based command line style interface that was old and clunky, but it did the job. Finding books and reserving them worked very well. We now have that capability here. Just go to It's a full HTML implementation, and a very effective interface. You can't reserve books yet, but you can examine the catalog, locate books at the various branches, and it also has a nice dictionary and thesaurus function. Log on and explore it!

One of the things you can do is to sort a book list by most popular. This is a cool way to find popular books that you might have missed. Well, I did that, and found a sci-fi book I missed by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter called "Time's Eye". Now, Mr. Clarke is getting old, and this book was probably written by Mr. Baxter with plot and style help from Mr. Clarke, but that's OK. So, I eagerly tore into it this weekend, and got a major disappointment. The book is a shameless rip-off of the "Riverworld" series by Phillip Jose Farmer. Let's call "Riverworld" R and "Time's Eye" TE for the sake of brevity.

Both are series of books (or, at least TE claims to be the start of one). In R, humanity is resurrected by aliens on a planet containing one huge, long river. In TE, various pieces of Earth from different ages (and the people captured in them) are thrown together in a new, patchwork quilt Earth. Both plots have famous historical figures (Richard Francis Burton and Mark Twain to name a few in R, Alexander the Great, Rudyard Kipling, and Genghis Khan in TE). In both, the last age of humanity is our modern day - nothing from the future. In both, modern people are conquered or controlled by more ancient, supposedly less ethical and tougher people. In both, there are two eventual sides, which hold a huge final battle with whatever weapons they could scour or invent. Both novels concern the next evolutionary step of man.

But where R was really excellent and imaginative fiction, and well written, TE is not. R had literary style; TE is very hard to follow and has strange plot jumps. It is unfortunate that Clarke had actually said it all in his earlier, classic book "Childhood's End" - a slim novel that was beautifully written and to the point. Also marring TE are some gratuitous quotes taken from Clarke's "2001 - A Space Odyssey" or its follow-on books: "will I dream" voiced by an artificial intelligence phone which is about to be switched off, and "But she will think of something" voiced by a cave-person type beginning to learn in TE and reminiscent of the thoughts of the Star-Child at the end of "2001". TE will definitely not be on my re-read list.

So, many of you are probably asking why Bob is doing book reviews now in his column, to which I answer "Why not!" See you next week.

(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)