Which spreadsheet should I use? How do I create columns in my Microsoft Word document? What is RAM, anyway? If you've ever asked questions like those and spent hours trying to find answers, here's something to cheer you up: someone who seems to have an answer for everything. His name is Russ Walter, and he's the author and publisher of The Secret Guide to Computers (21st ed., 1995). While a prep-school teacher in the 1970s, Walter jotted notes on how to program in BASIC. He gave those notes to his students and to anyone else who wanted them. The notes grew into the guide, he explains, which has gone through 21 editions since 1972.

But what sets Russ Walter apart from most computer-guide writers is that he publishes his home phone number (617-666-2666, in Somerville, Mass.) and encourages people to call. He asks, however, that callers read the latest edition of his book first. "I don't have time to read to people," he says. He already spends a third of his waking hours on the phone, and he expects to get busier in the next few months. "All the major computer companies are cutting back on technical support, and I'm waiting for the backlash." Although Walter has an assistant, he answers all calls personally, even calls about noncomputer topics. And he doesn't mind questions about personal issues. In fact, he's trying to find time to write a book called The Secret Guide to Tricky Living. Given his schedule, that book may take a while. But if you'd like to start with the computer guide, call him at home. Guides are $15, but he gives discounts for orders of two or more.

-- Sarah Schafer