ABOUT a week ago a friend in Beijing rang to tell me that the eminent historian of science, biochemist, sinologist and personal friend, Joseph Needham, had just died. We had been expecting this for almost 20 years, but it still came as a shock. He was 94. Although I trusted my friend's information, I still felt that I wanted to 'see it in print'. I first tried the Internet but got a little too bogged down and bored with trying to work out where I should search. I tried various newsgroups on China, History, Science, History of Science - all to no avail. I then went on to CompuServe and looked at the 'Newspapers'. I was not expecting to find much in the American papers and, indeed, I found nothing. I then looked at the Press Association and, sure enough, there it was - 'Scholar Of The Century Dies'. It was certainly an educational experience trying to find this information. It does go some way towards proving that you can find what you are looking for IF you know where to look. THE miniaturisation of the world continues: as reported in Technology Post, CompuServe and Sharp have developed an interface for Sharp's Zaurus ZR-5000 personal digital assistant (PDA). The CompuServe Companion for Zaurus, as it is called, will make it possible to access CompuServe 'on the fly' from the small PDA. It is certainly an interesting idea, but will it fly? If I had a lot of money I think I would buy something like this just for the fun of being one of the most wired chaps in town, but would it really be useful? I have just bought a 20-inch monitor to work with and it is one of the best investments I have ever made. I would gladly sacrifice a little speed just to have that much more real estate on my desktop. I can see full pages now when I edit them instead of half. With a PDA you get a tiny screen that is not back-lit. It is fine for making notes and looking up telephone numbers, but to log on to CompuServe and the Internet? If all that matters to you is a few stock quotations and brief E-mail then perhaps it will do. WHAT can one say about CompuServe's attempt to buy Spry? If it went through it would be the biggest 'Internet-related' deal ever at US$100 million. The great thing about CompuServe is that it provides business-like services to business people. This costs more than an Internet account but you get certain assurances that are comforting if you are a jetsetting business person. The Internet is something quite different. Everybody looks at the Internet and its 30 million members and thinks: 'I am going to make a fortune!' Unfortunately, not many of these people think things through. The Internet community is different from the CompuServe community and it is possible that CompuServe will get burnt. The same may happen with Microsoft with its foray into the Internet. CompuServe wants to design Web pages for clients and then help to 'watch' them. It will also make it safe and secure to use credit cards for ordering things. This is laudable. How much will these services cost? The money that can be made now tends to be in the area of 'exposure'; design a really smashing Web page and people will notice you. Can CompuServe do this? If it cannot, will it hire people who can? Has it shown to anybody that it understands what the Internet is all about? We shall see.