Guy Kewney's Weekend Diary

Monday

The idea of this column, of course, is global omnipresence. Reading it, you are supposed to never be able to guess where I am, geographically. So I can only apologise for starting with the information that I'm firmly London based.

In Redmond, Washington (near Seattle) word finally filters out as to why Microsoft Network isn't too quick right now. Some hacker, it seems, went into their main site, and brought it down with a security loophole -- and not just any old hack.microsoft.com trick, either. In order to fix the system, Microsoft has to update its own NT servers.

Sensibly, up till this point, Microsoft hadn't installed Service Pack 3 on its own machines. But to block this loophole, of course, it has to. At that point, as you'd expect, the thing falls apart in a splendid way, and it takes days to get going. Service Pack 3 or SP3 was first introduced to me by an angry systems integrator as "Stuffs Punters" and it's quite gratifying to find that it can bite the hand that feeds it as well as the hands of paying customers.

Late home. Some idiot starts an argument with the driver of our Tube train at Kings Cross, because he stopped about 40 feet short. Before he has a chance to move on, a fully-fledged rant breaks out. At least, I assume this is what happened, because I was in the last carriage. That's the one still stuck in the tunnel.

A great week to be a Londoner, I can see.

Tuesday

Tom Shuster runs Novell in the UK, which means he's a man in need of good public relations. A strange way of going about it: Tom, today, is in the Ritz. He wants to have Morning Tea, the bastard. Bastard, because Tuesday is hot, and the Ritz has a dress code. So in the heat of the midday sun, I'm forced to don smart trousers, jacket and tie -- and smart black shoes to go with them.

I suppose it shows the power of sympathy with a victim of Microsoft hype. Novell, says every pundit I know, is "suffering from Microsoft in the war with Windows NT Server."

Well, yes, but (as Tom cogently points out) only because the pundits say so. To quote an IT manager I know well, the only reason there are all these companies doing "public commitments" to NT as their strategic networking platform, is that the people making the announcements aren't the people who are going to have to make it work.

"Think of the reason villages and parishes don't keep embassies and visas," remarks networking expert David Morton acidly, "and you'll see why I don't want to start working with Microsoft's 'trusted domains' and the like. Also, I don't trust them."

He's not alone; a quick trawl of my bastard operator friends elicits the news that they are indeed buying NT servers, but only for show, and for workgroup networks. For the real work, they are buying Unix as usual. And of course Novell has now embedded its directory structure in every version of Unix (pretty much) except IBM's AIX.

So I ask Tom about AIX. He looks embarrassed, mutters something about not commenting on unreleased products. A quick phone check with sources: yup: IBM will announce NDS for AIX in September, and show it at Comdex or Interop.

Wednesday

Clustering, it says. La Gavroche restaurant, and the usually secretive boffins of CRL. Irresistible! What with all the hype about clustering and Wolf Pack... I set out early.

Fortunately, I know London well, having lived here for 35 years and spent most of those walking around on foot. So I spend a few minutes online before I set out into the sunshine. Le Gavroche, as you may not know if you don't have my easy familiarity with Soho, is a delightful restaurant near Old Compton Street. The connection is with the little orphan, star of the abortive revolution which Victor Hugo immortalised in Les Miserables -- playing in Leicester Square.

So Leicester Square tube it is. A delightful summery morning stroll, marred only by the malfunctioning of my cellphone. Vodafone is sick; the invisible worm that flies in the night has entered it, howling storm and all. NO SERVICE. No trouble. I stroll through Chinatown.

CRL, though few know about it, is the former Central Research Laboratories of EMI. They have a plethora of technology genius ideas: recently, for example, I found myself praising their stealth techniques with watermarks in graphics. They take a graphics image and alter tiny parts of it in such a way as to embed ascii data; even if enlarged, shrunk, cut, pasted, compressed and re-packaged in a new format, your copyright message will still be there. I didn't know they were into NT clusters, though.

It turns out I don't know Soho quite as well as I thought I did.

A phone by the side of the road, and 20p and directory enquiries gives me Le Gavroche; while I wait for the thing to ring, I hum tunes from the musical. They don't answer. So I start doing the unforgivable; I start popping into Soho wine bars, asking the proprietors where the dratted place is, because I simply can't find it.

They agree that it might be Greek Street. I've walked down Greek Street, and it isn't. Well, Dean Street? I don't think so... but I have another stroll. Vodafone bursts into life with voice-mail: it's the people from CRL, wondering where I am. I call Le Gavroche again. "We're 43 Upper Brook Street."

Fortunately, I know London well. Brook Street is parallel to Conduit Street, which runs into the West side of Soho. A short stroll. I head along Old Compton Street, past the peep-show hustlers. It is getting late, and perhaps a taxi? No, nonsense! Tush. What am I, an American tourist?

Fortunately, I know London well. Across Regent Street, into Saville Row, and up. Damn. This is Conduit Street, and where the dickens is Brook Street?

Again, I resort to restaurateurs. "Keep going," one urges me, "it runs into Grosvenor Square."

It's a good thing I know London well, because otherwise, I'd be tempted to think that Grosvenor Square was the *other* side of Bond Street! Which would be a long walk from Leicester Square, of course. Maybe a taxi ... no, after walking all this way, that would be silly. Here we are: Brook Street. Now, where on earth is "upper" Brook Street?

Right over by Marble Arch, more correctly known to us London cognoscenti as Cumberland Gate, is the answer.

Clustering, it turns out, is the art of searching for similar groups of words in large text databases, and nothing to do with Wolf Pack. And next time, I take the taxi.

Thursday

The cat attacks my favourite Berlin beer glass -- an Erdinger Weissbier souvenir -- reducing it to splinters. It takes the best part of two hours to find a piece of glass about 2mm long, inside my foot.

The plan is to have lunch with an IT manager, expert in Web push technology, because I need to chat to BackWeb. He's reasonably forgiving about my arrival 40 minutes late, still limping; we go to his favourite nightclub where (he assures me) London cognoscenti like himself know that it will be empty for lunch.

Chatting happily amongst an inexplicable 50-plus souls, all after the same menu, he outlines the demands of modern publishing "push". Warmly he endorses the Unix platform. "We won't go to NT," he assures me. "If I did that, the IT staff would all leave, because it's so easy to install, they'd have nothing to do."

Hmm. This doesn't actually square with what IT staff tell me. They speak in tooth-grinding terms about keeping the thing going, not installing it; yes, anybody can install an NT server, but can you optimise it?

"Is that hard, then?" asks my luncheon companion.

Friday

I am a Backweb user. Or perhaps, Backweb uses me; it dumps data onto my desktop at regular intervals, and I have to get a software windscreen wiper one day. Today, it is telling me about itself: BackWeb has bought Lanacom. Lanacom (after PointCast) is the other leading "push" provider on the Web, with Headliner. Both BackWeb and Headliner are more text and data services, compared to PointCast's multimedia aggregation distribution -- so says Bill Eye, at BackWeb in San Jose, when I call.

Somehow, I am able to keep things civil -- an effort Bill probably doesn't appreciate. Fact is, though, that I had planned to work from home today, and I can't. And the reason seems to be that BackWeb has obeyed my careless command to download "everything" and in a moment of idiocy, I noticed that this included screen savers, and I didn't stop it.

The result is that a new screen saver has installed itself, complete with new wallpaper; and the wallpaper is too big for my system memory. This means when I dial into the office machine, the Laplink connection downloads the desktop AND the wallpaper, and causes a fatal systems crash.

And wouldn't you know; it is no longer possible to reset the host computer if you are not doing remote control? "Here's your car. It's locked. The keys are inside." Very funny.

I spend the day doing a review of Laplink for NT; not a lot to say, this far. I'm stupidly sitting at the screen, which is the same on the Windows 95 machine as it is on the NT machine right next. And the point, asks my colleague?

Well, it beats walking around Belgravia. I found myself doing that, yesterday, after my lunch with the IT director; I visited NChannel's launch in the Hyde Park Corner Intercontinental Hotel. Yes; right slap bang in the middle of the pro-hunting lobby march down Piccadilly. They locked us into Green Park underground.

You try it with a hole in your foot where the cat was playing with beer glasses, see how much you laugh.

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