Guy Kewney's Christmas Diary

The run-up to ChristmasWe had grand plans for a diary, Christmas week. In the end, it just got too damn hectic. Also, I got my new email address.

Really, there isn't an easy way to explain this. You would think, in the email stakes, getting your surname as a domain was enough of a coup for anybody. Well, no. In the case of kewney.com, it's too easy; there just aren't enough Kewneys in the world. I've lost the darn password to it, anyway, so the home page sucks.

So I was a sitting duck for David Prais's new wheeze.

Prais was the guy who launched Gateway 2000 in the UK; a relaxed, easy-going guy, and nothing can faze him; and about the only thing that turned out to be more than he could take, was the diet of beef which is almost all there is to eat in Sioux City. Which is where promotion took him. Enough! - he left to set up http://www.Chumbo.com, where you can buy software online. And Chumbo, apparently, means "lead" (plumbers' metal) in Portuguese.

While he was looking for suitable domain names, he found several still unclaimed; and one in particular. He rang me. "Hey Guy! Want free email?"

"Certainly not," I told him bored. "I have more email addresses..."

"I've just registered..." and he told me what he'd registered.

"Oh, please! Yes!!" I yelled.

Now, how to explain this?

Let's try language. You know how there are collective nouns which are singularly appropriate - like a gaggle of geese or a giggle of schoolgirls, a blag of journalists or a ballyhoo of publicists? And you may not have heard that when it comes to City folk, the normal term is a "wunch" of bankers. Well, my new email address is not guy@wunch, nor guy@banker. But it does begin with a "W".

My wife thinks its very childish of me. She's almost certainly right...

Christmas Eve

It was a lonely day in the office. I was there, because I was trying to get information on flat screen displays - TFTs. It turned out to be unreasonably hard to get anybody to talk sense on the subject.

Look at it like this: the average notebook, these days, includes a colour TFT display. The average notebook includes about £1,000 worth of chips and disks and keyboard switches; and costs about £1,500 overall. And so we can deduce that a workmanlike TFT can be obtained, in the smaller sizes at least, for well under £1,000. And if you go up to the big new displays that all the Tillamook notebooks have, you can see that not only are they big and about a grand, but also, that they are mean with electricity.

So then you buy a TFT display for your desktop, and it costs £2,000 and uses 80W.

The problem, of course, is not the cost of each TFT display; it's the fact that there simply aren't enough. The little 8-inch ones are two a penny now; nobody wants them. The 800 x 600 pixel ones are pretty much standard issue. It's the 1024 x 768 pixel jobbies, bright enough for two people to stand next to, which are what people want - usually, because they have very little office desk space. And the factories simply can't make enough to meet the likely demand if they cost £1,000.

The other reason to get into the office, rather than teleworking from home, is this K6 machine, which is sick. Someone has experimentally installed "Memphis" on it, and a very old version of this pre-beta Windows 98 it is, too; so old, that it won't boot. Also, the SCSI drive is sick, the disk screams, and the sound card thinks its an AWE32. It won't let me install Windows 95 on it; it says the media is unsuitable. Also, there's a previous version, it says. "This isn't the upgrade version."

About the only thing I can think of, is to do a Dos backup "restore" on it. That usually trashes the disk. Success! it worked, as usual. But at the end of the operation, although the disk is a blancmange (not hard at all) it won't let me format it with Dos 6.X - so it's back to collect the Universal Boot Disk which Gateway supplied with their new box. This does the trick usually; it's about the only guaranteed way of finding the CD drivers.

Christmas Day

No escape for the wicked. The K6 machine HAS to be working by Monday. The old notebook is returning to its maker, and a brand-new IBM 560 ThinkPad is taking over as evaluation box. Before the ThinkPad can arrive, the old one has to go; so all the data has to be backed up. And while I do have a nice new Plasmon CD-R to play with, there's simply no way of plugging a SCSI cable into the old notebook. So I can't back up the hard disk to CD; unless I get the new K6 motherboard working in this old frame.

Good news: the backup/restore trick worked. The Universal Boot Disk has done its magic; I now have C:\ at two gigabytes, D:\ at two gigabytes, and E:\ at half a gigabyte.

Bad news: I've got no SCSI cable suitable. I have Mac SCSI. Bah.

That apart, I had a brilliant Xmas. I made the mistake of getting into an argument with an old hand at systems support, who tried to impress me with his prowess as a travelling Fixit Man. He tells me, incautiously, that 10 years ago, living in London, he drove 120,000 miles a year, doing remote support.

I can't make the maths work.

Let's assume I've got this wrong - after all, it is Xmas. But my

figures:

Average traffic speed in London is less than 20mph.

Driving for eight hours a day, you'd do 160 miles a day.

In a five day week, you'd cover 800 miles.

In a year, you'd reach 40K.

The maths is still frightening, if we let him drive on motorways!

Assume 120K a year, if you average 60 mph, means you spend 10 hours a day at the wheel (leaving out weekends).

In return, I get a pitying look.

"You assume I worked eight hours a day. That's your first mistake. My day started at 7am and rarely finished before 7pm," he said. "Next you assume 160 miles a day - but my minimum daily distance was 300. So on a basic week I was doing 78K a year. But I never did a basic week. I did longer days, also worked most Saturdays and traveled all over as well as my "basic patch" and that a lot of travel was motorway; dual carriageway or fast flowing 'A' roads with a minimum speed of 40mph, so it is easy to see that 120K is very achievable. And all my figures above are based on a five-day week whereas I was working closer to a 6.5 day week."

I leaned back in my comfy chair, sipped a drop of Budvar. "Too clever for yourself, Stuart!" I pointed out. "The figures you have shown me, indicate you spent about 90 per cent of your working day behind the wheel. When did you actually get any work done?"

The answer, of course, is that he worked in the IT department of a company of idiots. The IT help people were not allowed to check with "customers" about their error reports; and so nine times out of 10, this highly paid professional would do a 500 mile round trip just to find that some egoist in Plymouth had tripped over the screen power cable. The whole setup was a total waste of talent and money. And what makes it frightening, is that nobody knew, nor cared; and that it still goes on, today.

Monday 29

Naturally, the K6 isn't working properly. It refuses to boot.

A press release comes in, finally, from a hard-working PR expert, full of information about flat screens. It has been included as a MIME attachment to an email message. It is in Word 97 format, and reads: ",  & **!~ " where each of those characters is a square indicating that Windows has looked at it, done its futile best, and run away.

A panic phone call from a programmer in Seattle. "They're trying to make it illegal to pay us overtime!"

Email follows:

The WSDMA, a "labor" organization, has quietly asked the Washington Dept. of Labor and Industry to strip computer professionals making over $27.63 an hour of their overtime.

Furthermore, the proposed law is written in such a way as to exempt "Any employee who is a computer system analyst, computer programmer, software engineer, software developer or other similarly skilled worker" even from the minimum wage provisions of Washington state law.

If approved, the law will be adopted Dec 31, 1997, and become effective Feb 1, 1998.

The WSDMA's largest member is Microsoft, the largest employer of computer contractors in the region with an estimated 3-5,000 such employees. The company recently lost a labor case brought by a group of contract workers. It is the company's acknowledged policy to employ contract workers to avoid the cost of benefits, vacation, etc.

Recent applicants have confirmed that Microsoft explicitly requires all contract workers to work "a minimum of 50-55 hours a week".

A quick check with Rupert reveals he's had the same message. We shake our heads, sadly. Is it not amazing, we say, to what depths people will stoop, out of petty spite against Microsoft. To pretend that Microsoft would do this sort of thing. It's just jealousy of Bill Gates and his wealth. Obviously.

Comments can be sent to Linda Merz of the Washington State Dept. of Labor and Industry at (360) 902-5403 or merl235@lni.wa.gov.

Tuesday

The plan is to get Kewney At Large written for PC Mag today. Not a drop to drink last night; and the worst hangover of the year. There ain't no justice... after two futile overdoses of aspirin, yours truly retires to bed till midnight. At which point, we wake up, bright, refreshed, and hungry.

Wednesday

Another lonely day in the office. Two or three bits of mail arrive; a nice Christmas card from Uncle Clive, a gender-bender connector for a male-to-female parallel port. And about 4.30, the only other inhabitant of the office, the "Goods Inwards" chap, says: "That's it - nobody else is going to be bringing stuff in. I'm off. See you next year!" and roughly 40 seconds after he gets into the lift, the Goods Inwards doorbell rings.

It is a man with a press release.

You have to admire the tenacity of these people. An anonymous one, too, not addressed to anybody at all; a plain white envelope to "Ziff-Davis Inc" and actually addressed to our old office on the other (South) side of the Thames.

Well, no point in wasting time opening it. Into the bin. On second thoughts, heck; even the most humble press release is worth a glance, eh? I haul it out.

It's a cheque for £29,506.41 from one of our advertisers.

Thursday

Really? There was a Thursday? Oh yeah; I managed to make it to the TV, plugged in my brand-new Xmas present of the New Improved Star Wars Trilogy, and discovered that the head had chosen this minute to get so dirty it wouldn't play it. There may be no God, but Puck certainly is still in business...

Friday

The IBM ThinkPad is here. It has a diskette, so I can't load Quake from CD. It may have six gigabytes of hard disk, but the only way of loading it, is via a modem, or via Laplink. Laplink it is; we shove Quake across from the old notebook. It crashes the thing stone bloody dead.

The HiServe is now successfully set up; it is running Windows NT. Everything is ready for the Citrix experiment; there's the mini-hub. There's the 10-base T cable. There are the NICs, all set up in their various PCs. And where, do you suppose, is the power supply that Asante provided with the mini-hub? All I need is 15V AC!

You're right. It's gone.

Look on the bright side: this way, I get to have the weekend off. Have a Happy New Year, eh?

mailto: guy@wanker.com

Yes!

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