Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday

I don't understand markets. Ascend, makers of ISP equipment and the company best positioned to carry on making loads of dosh during the next two stages of Internet growth, is doing well despite all the palaver in the Far East (an important market segment). The company's got increased turnover and a healthy -- if slightly diminished - net income this quarter, and while it has some problems it does a good job and clearly has some fine people producing great technologies. Yet the stock market hates it, showing it little of the indulgence it extends to some far dodgier Web-based companies. On good results today, the stock fell. If it was marketing apples over the Internet and had just announced a million dollar loss for the eighteenth month in a row, the stock would be stratospheric.

People with braces really shouldn't be let near a computer.

Tuesday

This has nothing to do with computers, except that it came from an e-mail correspondent of mine. In fact, it's rather naughty. Home Secretaries and their offspring should look away now.

It transpires that in New Zealand, there is a large and bountiful business in growing the local variety of cannabis. The climate is conducive and the woodlands plentiful, so the local longhairs trek out into the forest, sow their seeds and return some months later to harvest the illicit wares. The plods discovered by helicopter nearly an acre of the finest weed burgeoning upwards in the middle of a national park, and decided to stake the place out the better to apprehend those who do such naughtiness.

NZ is a close community, though, and somehow the farmers got wind of this. They didn't bother to come back, so the police stayed there for weeks watching the cannabis bud, flower and finally seed. Eventually, it became clear that nothing was doing and so the decision was made to burn it all.

"Oh no", said the forestry commission. "This is a national park. You can't set an acre of anything alight here." Hm. A solution! Cut down the plants, transport them to the nearest beach (some 10 miles away) and ignite the lot there. So the machetes came out and the plants were heaped up, put into a big net and carried by the self-same helicopter to their final burning place.

Trouble is, when you take a large number of plants full of seeds and fly them in a net over a forest by helicopter, the seeds tend to fall out. What was a single acre plantation has now grown to a stretch of ground some ten by two miles... "Can we use weed killer?" the police asked. "Oh no", said the forestry commission. "This is a national park".

The sheep are reported to be 'very happy, thanks'.

Wednesday

An interesting meeting with [CENSORED] at [CENSORED], discussing ADSL issues under non-disclosure. So I can't talk about that. But perhaps they'll let me off if I reveal one of the more entertaining aspects of the whole issue. As y'all know by now, ADSL is basically a very, very fast modem - it sends up to 8 megabits per second down an ordinary telephone line. It's great. It's cool. It's going to make a whole new world. (It is, it is.)

However, it works by basically having 256 ordinary modems in one chip, each with its own radio frequency transmitter and receiver. All these separate signals are zapped down the line, received and recombined. One of the things that can slow ADSL down, therefore, is interference - noise, other radio stations on the same frequency, that sort of thing. One of the worst offenders, [CENSORED] says, is other components within a PC. These can mess up the highest frequency signals and drop ADSL's top speed down from 8 to 6 megabits.

"Oh," says I. "You mean fast buses, overclocked CPUs, unshielded disk drive connectors?" "No," says they. "It's the fan in the power supply. Nine times out of ten, it's making enough radio noise to drown out Brian Blessed".

So, when you phone up technical support and complain that your ADSL modem's not going fast enough, don't be surprised if they tell you that the wind's blowing in the wrong direction. Sometimes, I wonder about all this high technology...

Thursday

Intel has its Christmas Party today, a bare month after everyone else. A good idea, of course; just enough time after the New Year to get detoxed, and well clear of the impossibly jammed schedule of the pre-holiday PR blitz. But why, when there were only four parties this month, were they ALL on the 22nd? Ah well.

This is a very pleasant if horizontally laid-back affair, in the leopardskin basement of Planet Hollywood. We mingle with the Intellites, swapping tales of the good old days of Multibus and 386s, then watch a couple of stand-up comedians. Best line? "My grandfather wasn't very well, so my grandmother covered his back with lard. He went downhill rapidly after that..."

As we left, we chanced our arms at a lucky dip. I got a Pentium II chocolate bar (delicious, especially without the heatsink). However, I'm still disturbed by the image it conjures up of Andy Grove as Willy Wonka, surrounded by Bunny Suited Oompa-Loompas in a Hollywood version of a chip fab plant. Not sure that the analogy won't bear some extension, to be honest...

Friday

Microsoft to buy BT. Microsoft, Intel and Compaq to announce ADSL services and standards in conjunction with four out of the five American regional telephone companies on Monday. Microsoft and Siemens putting NT into telecoms switchgear. Microsoft's telecommunications control software business unit is nearing its first birthday. The world telecommunications market is worth some £500 billion. Let's play spot the strategy, shall we?

I think I'll move to New Zealand and communicate by Morse.

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