In his introduction to Informatica 1.0, author Peter M. Black notes that his original pitch to Random House was that his book would be similar to The Whole Earth Catalog, only 30 years later–without the chemical toilets and backpacking gear. What he offers instead is a catalog for a wired world that is always in search of more information. The products he reviews and recommends are separated into five categories: hardware (telescopes, digital cameras, laptops, electric cars, etc.), sources (Web sites), software, plasticware (videos, DVDs, CDs), and paperware (books). Among the items covered: the BedLounge, a chair that’s perfect for the growing number of people who use laptops to get a little more work done before turning over; the Suncatcher Solar Panel, a portable power source for portable devices; Cardscan, software that reads business cards and stores the data in your personal information manager; Great Speeches of the 20th Century, an audio CD collection of some of the best oratory, from Edison and Teddy Roosevelt to Reagan and Clinton; and The Victorian Internet, a book about the rise of the telegraph and the 19th century’s online pioneers.

As part of its effort to help readers become informed buyers, Informatica 1.0 offers various lists of Rules to Buy By (for example, buy a slower processor and more RAM; trust, but verify; buy from a manufacturer that will swap out for repair). Ironically, Black consistently contends that people should not buy version 1.0 of anything. “V1.0 always stinks up the room…. It is generally more expensive, more trouble, and consumes more resources.” It’s therefore easy to predict that many of the items in this book will become outdated. In fact, it’s entirely possible that some items–digital cameras, certain software, various URLs–will have been eclipsed by the time the book hits the shelves. Black seems to have covered his bases, however, with–you guessed it–a Web site. His hope is that readers will visit for downloadable updates that will cost several bucks. “The charter,” Black writes, “will be to hunt for things, services and ideas that are on their way to v2.0.” –John Russell