Guy Kewney's Diary

MondayOne of those maximum admin, minimum work days. You know, opening the post, sorting it, tidying the desk. In the course of all this, I found my Nokia disks.

This is a great relief. The new Nokia 8110 GSM phone doesn't require an expensive data converter to plug into a PC. No, it has a simple serial port. Trouble is, the only thing you can plug into a simple serial port with any hope of making it work, is a modem.

And the Nokia 8110 isn't a modem.

I've spent the best part of the weekend installing, re-installing, uninstalling the Cellular Data Suite. I know it works, because I managed to get it going on my Gateway 2000 deskside PC. And I'll leave it to your imagination to see how useful a tower system is as an attachment to a cellphone...

Tuesday

Angry merchant banker on the phone. He's just had to upgrade to Office 97, and it's brought work in his IT department to a complete standstill. And it's all my fault, because PC Magazine reviews software.

It seems that our habit of evaluating software by checklists has bamboozled the world into buying Microsoft code, because Microsoft creates software to hit the checklists. And he thinks we ought to provide a list of useful features, not just judge the length of the feature list.

This conversation goes nowhere, rather fast. Gently, I try to suggest that the point of providing a list of features, is so that people with a modicum of intelligence can look through the features, pick the ones that are important to them, and then compare on that basis. Why buy a word processor that has a spelling check, for example, if you never check the spelling? Or a word count if you never count? And surely he can see that for some people the spelling checker is the only thing that counts, (and presumably, the word counter is the only thing to check)?

Apparently, I'm as arrogant as Microsoft -- an accusation which hurts.

"And what's more," he adds, "your dog is on your answering machine." Not true, although the elderly cat does sleep on the phone at home. What can he mean? It's certain that he didn't ring home. A few minutes deep, relaxing breathing to calm down the temper. And then the penny drops.

Yes, I did change my voice-mail message last week, when I was out, saying: "I'm out all day at Editors' Day." And then, next day, I changed it back. And I must have done this using my cellphone, from home.

A hasty phone call to my own phone confirms that, half way through the formal, corporate phrases, Sam does indeed yawn, loudly and doggily.

Wednesday

Fujitsu arrives in the office with a 42-inch plasma colour display. Think about it: if you lay down behind it, nothing would be visible except your head and your toes. It's huge. So, unfortunately, is the price -- £10K, or thereabouts.

It would be really good to hang in the reception area of prestige offices. We will shortly be moving into new, prestigious premises, and wonder whether Fujitsu would be able to lend us one for evaluation? They hastily put it all back in its box, leaving us to mutter disappointedly, commenting on the fact that it only offers 640 by 480, and has the wrong format too, and we didn't really want one. No, not at all.

The afternoon is spent analysing a virus report. It seems we are all idle slackers; the statistics make the conclusion unavoidable. According to the National Computer Security Association in Pennsylvania, the computer virus would cease to exist if just 30 per cent of all PCs had some relatively simple, mostly up-to-date virus scanner running.

The fact that viruses are still a serious problem illustrates, therefore, that substantially fewer than 30 per cent (more like three per cent) of PCs run scanners.

The other fascinating thing is that most new viruses -- by a mile -- are Microsoft Word viruses. Concept rules: Form, the most common boot sector virus, lags by two orders of magnitude.

The afternoon is spent with IBM: not the PC Company, but the Aptiva people -- who live in a world of their own.

Try this: how about a consumer PC which has high quality sound system, and DVD, and no MPEG chip? That sort of thing. I'd tell you more about it, but most of the details are secret for another month. However, I can tell you what was funniest: the sound system.

IBM is very, very proud of its new sound system. It has been working with audio specialist Bose in Stuttgart (did you know there are four "t"s in Stuttgart?) and they've produced a pair of active-this and dynamic-that speakers, plus a lightweight sub-woofer. And after about 10 minutes of high-minded chat, someone growls: "So, play it, Sam!" and the music starts.

It's Eric Clapton, "Unplugged" or something like that. I know the music, and I have to say that all the Bose expert said about even response seems to be true; the output sounds beautifully "flat" from high treble to powerful, undistorted mid-range. But the bass? It sounds, to my cloth ears, as if it falls off very sharply at around 200Hz. In fact, if you were to think about it, it sounds as if it's just the treble and mid-range drivers that are working. I can feel, on the floor, that the sub-woofer is operating -- but hear it?

At this point, the Bose rep pipes up: "Just feel that bass!"

Yes, I can feel it. I want to hear it. So I voice my suspicions. "Absolutely flat from treble right down to nothing," insists the Boser. We PC Mag types look at each other, sceptically. I reach down under the table and pick up the bass speaker: before I can get a grip on it, it falls apart into two semi-cylinders.

The thing about a sub-woofer is that it has to contain a volume of air, and it has to be *utterly* rigid. One that's made of cheap plastic and isn't even glued together, is not going to generate any bass whatever -- and that's what we were hearing. No bass. None, whatever.

And not a single IBM or Bose person had noticed. Now, that's what I call living in a different world...

Thursday

The Nokia cellular data suite still eludes my best efforts. Finally, I lose my temper: I call up Toshiba and insist on a new machine.

To be candid, there's not the slightest chance that the fault is the Toshiba. In fact, I'm pretty sure I know what the problem is, and a few calls to Nokia tech support bear me out: it is the fact that the Nokia software is emulating a modem.

I can think of few tasks more likely to cause mayhem. A modem, all by itself, is the closest thing to a mechanical demon that you might meet in daily life. A software simulation of one is even worse, but it's hard to see what Nokia can actually do to avoid this.

Their problem is software. I use lots of communications software, and it all talks to a modem, through a serial port. Nokia doesn't provide a modem; it provides a serial port. It would, I suspect, be quite simple for Nokia to emulate the modem in the phone, but that would rather spoil the secondary object of the exercise, which is to permit the PC to talk to the phone itself, not just through it.

Inside a GSM phone, as you know, is a SIM card (subscriber identity module). It contains a list of phone numbers and names and if you've ever amused yourself typing them in on a phone keyboard, you'll instantly understand how nice it would be instead to just cut them out of your contact database, paste them into the Nokia database, and download to the phone.

So the Cellular Data Suite does this. It does it by cheating: it creates a "virtual" COM port, COM3, and the software you normally use -- Hyperterminal, or MSN, or Ameol or WinCim -- talks to COM3. Then the Nokia software takes this asynch stream of data, inserts all the handshaking needed for the phone, and redirects it to COM1 (say).

The trouble is, this clever system is almost exactly what the world's notebook makers have been adopting. They also have wireless comms in mind; but their idea is infra-red IRDA ports.

So to make the CDS work, you have to disable your IRDA redirector... and by the time you've worked this out, it's too late. Nokia has installed its hooks all around, and in, and under and about it, and you can't untangle.

I end up spending about two hours chatting to Nokia's excellent Mark Squires on his cellphone. Every time he drops out of radio range, he can plug it back in to re-charge, and I can try re-installing.

Friday

It's no damn good. I give up. I can't make it work. I have one of the nicest Orange Nokia phones you can get -- thanks, Orange -- and a cable. And the PC simply won't admit it's plugged in. And I'm going to cry.

The rest of what I did Friday will have to remain mostly secret. It'll all come out next week, I hope. But the future of mobile phones is being decided in a series of tatty meeting rooms inside the EC various Governments, and finally, a document has emerged, all about UMTS, universal mobile telephony services. And I have to go and read it all.

I may be some time...

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