Guy Kewney's Weekend Diary

Monday

The plan, ah yes, the plan. The plan was to bounce back from Comdex and Hackers, and roar into action with a visit to Cambridge, where a friend has promised that he can show me six ways to crack the security on a Mondex card.

Reality, however, is that there's a mound of unopened post. It is about to fall over, and if it does, it will crush my Windows CE machine. I mention this fact to the editor of Computer Life. "You have a CE machine? I need a review!"

At the end of the day, I get on a train to Birmingham, with a CE review in the bag, and also a survey of the suites on the market. Both required "today" and both done. Tough - Mondex will just have to get away with it for another week, I guess.

Tuesday

The Birmingham trip is to do a keynote speech at the Uniplex User Group meeting: "A Time for Choice." Well, I think they're being unnecessarily polite. Well-known cliches like "frying pan and fire" come to mind.

Uniplex is a great object lesson for the more dewy-eyed evangelists who are promoting the Network Computer as the solution to the problems of PCs. If you want to know what a Network Computer is going to look like, go visit a Uniplex user; it's Unix based (all flavours) office automation.

As recently as 1992, Uniplex was a booming, bouncing company, definitely the market leader in office automation. On an easily accessible central server, X terminals served (they are servers, right?) an array of word processing, "decision support" and other software to happy users. It was cheap, low-maintenance stuff.

Today, Uniplex is struggling; it has failed to upgrade its software to keep pace with user expectations, and one or two attempts to do so have caused more problems than they solved. And Uniplex owners (corporate MIS) are finding their users are saying: "Enough! Give us PCs with Windows!"

Of course, it's all going to be different with Java stations. The software is going to be much better than Windows, and maintaining the Java servers will not require expert staff. And I (I tell the audience) am Marie of Rumania...

Wednesday

Human speech is miraculous. Information passed directly from point to point, conveying concepts of great complexity, instantly understood.

No, not really. According to Chomsky (supposedly an expert) the amount of data transmitted in normal speech approximates to 70 bits per second. Wouldn't it be nice, if we could get it down to that sort of level when transmitting it over phone lines?

Apparently, we can.

Bob Kutnick, from Belgian-based Lernout & Hauspie, tells me over lunch that the Voxware speech compression, which is down to 2,400 bits per second, is nothing. His company already has voice compression down to 800 bits per second, and "the quality is far better than Voxware".

Nodding sceptically, I ask what sort of super-processor can manage this. "Oh, a Pentium at 133MHz would be about half-committed. Or you could do it on a five dollar DSP chip..."

Kutnick thinks that by combining the voice compression algorithms with his corporation's other technologies for speech-to-text and text-to-speech and even speech-to-speech (translation), they can cut this bit rate even further. For a smallish everyday vocabulary, he reckons, you can cut it to 40 bits per second.

Thursday

Do you ever have one of those days when you work like mad, do dozens of things, don't have time even for lunch, and discover at the end of the day that you've done absolutely nothing?

If you don't understand me, I couldn't explain. And if you do, I just did...

Friday

The Gates way of doing things is to hire lawyers, and crush the opposition. It seems the Gateway 2000 way is going to be the same.

There's a Web site called The Ultimate Collection Of Winsock Software (TUCOWS). It's one of the Web's better-known sites, full of shareware and, in order to be a bit witty, they devised a background which shows, you guessed, two cows.

So Gateway 2000, which sells computers (not shareware) from Sioux City (not Canada) has accused TUCOWS of transgressing copyright and trademark laws, in an attempt to either make Gateway look foolish, or perhaps to persuade people that they can buy Gateway computers from TUCOWS.

Well, that's the first conclusion you draw, when you find (on the TUCOWS site) a letter from Gateway chief attorney Bill Elliott, threatening "appropriate legal action" and saying:

"Dear Mr. Swedorski: It has come to our attention that your company is infringing on a valuable trademark of Gateway 2000, Inc. Specifically, we note that you are depicting Holstein cows on your Web site to promote your company. Please be advised that Gateway 2000, Inc. owns the valid and subsisting federal Reg No. 1,725,231 marks consisting of a stylised design representing cow spots. "

But I'm not fooled. It's an obvious hoax designed to get publicity from careless journalists, right? So I phone Sioux City, and ask for Bill Elliott.

Did you know that they play jokes on hold at Sioux City? No, not terribly good, but there. I heard a lot of that. Eventually, though, Elliott's office passed on a message saying as how they allowed they had sent a letter to TUCOWS and yes, it did allege breach of the registered marks. But they drew the line at confirming that the letter printed was the letter they sent. But the contents, they said, were "in line" with what they had complained of.

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