Guy Kewney's Weekend Diary

MondayIt's 1.30 am. The sun is shining brightly, and Mount Fuji glistens vaguely through the smog as I land at Narita airport; here, the people seem to believe this makes it 9.30 am.

I'm preparing to learn to bow, Japanese style, as we approach Fujitsu's R&D laboratory in Kawasaki. This is an industrial science park just South of Tokyo. An "airport limo" looking suspiciously like a big bus picks me up, and a $20 ticket (about Y2,000) entitles me to travel the 60km to the city.

In a spirit of enterprise and duty, I decide to check out the computer stores in this high-tech city. It turns out to be a public holiday. Purveyors of bread making machinery, washing machines, portable CDs, and Shinto Shrines are open for business. The only PC-like activity appears to be a shop called Sharp, which shows signs of being a calculator operation.

I meet my host. I suppose I should try not to look surprised to discover that he's not Japanese. He's Finnish. Either that, or I think I may have over-done the sake...

Tuesday

Teamware should be on my mind. You know, groupware from ICL. "No, not ICL," says the Finn. Yes, he is Finnish, and it wasn't just jet lag; ICL does sell TeamWare, because it took over Nokia some years back; and Fujitsu sells TeamWare because it owns ICL.

The Japanese very politely let us have the morning to visit a war cemetery. Very pretty, very expensive. The afternoon isn't much better. This bunch of researchers have come up with a Thing. It is an animated Thing on screen, called The Other Earth, or TEO. Is it just me, or is it my jet-lag that makes me feel it really ought to be TOE? The Thing is apparently a bird, with teeth and a blow-hole. It's blue, unless you feed it cyber-fermented fruit. Yes, you can, and then it turns red and goes to sleep snoring. You can buy this on CD for $99. I really need to catch up on my sleep. Oh, and the bird-dolphin isn't called Teo. It's called Fin-Fin.

Wednesday

A reader complains that he's just tried to log on to MSN. Unfortunately, he has an ISDN line, not a phone and modem. Microsoft confirms that in order to log on for the first time, even if you're going to use ISDN eventually, you need to call the modem number; they don't have any ISDN ports accepting registration.

We drive to the airport past some phone booths in Tokyo, and I can't help noticing the "ISDN" message on the booths. Yes, street-side ISDN phone booths here; and in London, nothing but confusion and incompetence. Makes you proud to be British.

It's a six hour flight from Tokyo to Singapore. The bus ride is enlivened by a discussion of TeamWare's chances against rivals like Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange and Novell GroupWise. I can't help remarking on the fact that TeamWare seems a little short of legs, compared with the opposition. Everybody else seems to have two: Notes is "part of" Lotus SmartSuite, Exchange is part of Office 97 from Microsoft, and GroupWise is sold with Corel's newly-acquired WordPerfect suite. And TeamWare is part of what, exactly? "As our vice-president explained, it integrates seamlessly with whatever suite software you use," the Finn says urgently. The explanation sounds a little limp; we'll see.

Apparently there's some kind of typhoon on the way.

Thursday

Comdex Asia starts today. You don't want to get too excited about this, frankly. If Comdex means "Las Vegas and huge huge huge" to you, as it did for me, then Comdex Asia isn't Comdex.

People do go on about how Singapore is turning into this huge IT-oriented city state on the tip of the Malaysian peninsula, and how it will take over the world. Really, you can forget it. Yes, you have a private fax machine in your hotel room, but if this show depicts the strength and power of the local market, then there's one local company of any size whatever, and most of the American suppliers are simply not interested.

On the Australian booth, I meet a cheerful Polish gent with a porous nose, selling school network software. He's the star of the show.

Friday

Faced with the choice of spending the day at Comdex looking at the launch of Fin-Fin, I spend the morning in a travel agent, trying to get a flight today instead of tomorrow. Net reward: I get to spend the morning in a travel agent, and I still fly tomorrow.

The only modem contact available is with a GSM phone. This isn't the fault of Singapore's high tech revolution; it's Motorola, which has cleverly lent me the new Atlas GSM modem. As far as I can tell, there's a parameter I need to set to make it work with the Motorola phone, and I can't find out the parameter. So, not to worry, we'll plug it into the hotel phone line.

Well, we could, if Motorola or Communicate had provided a suitable cable. What we have here is an earnest attempt to be helpful; they've provided a UK BT cable. This makes the proverbial chocolate teapot look positively essential equipment; the only place in the world where it works is the UK.

Now, here's a trick question: why would I buy a portable PC and portable PCMCIA modem? Surely, because I want to travel?

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