Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday - The Trials Of eParenthood

Day off. Turned up for an afternoon of fatherhood with Number One Son: it's reached the point where we talk of Visual Basic and array handling, PDAs and CD-ROM drives as much as we talk about The Simpsons and killer ghouls. Was I that much of an anorak when I was twelve? (yes, of course).

I think he wants his own email account and modem. I've been a Guardian-reading bleeding-heart pinko liberal media tart for a while now, and have always been of the opinion that the less control The Powers That Be exert over the Internet, the better. Let a thousand flowers bloom - and if some of them offend thee, well, you don't have to pluck 'em. Yet the thought of Goodwins Junior wandering blithely around some of the places out there on the Web is quite sobering: do I actually believe my own, anti-censorship attitude when it comes to the crunch?

On the whole: yes, I do. The lad's sensible enough not to go rushing out to try and build a nuclear bomb or seduce the entire Dagenham Girl Pipers band, and when I remember some of the things I got up to at his age... anyway. Didn't do me any harm (at least, not now I've got the anti-drool sheeting fitted to the keyboard. Those electric shocks were wicked).

Tuesday - The Cable Guys

I've succumbed. Three years ago, I didn't have a television. Today, I'm getting cable. Since I'm a denizen of North London, it falls to Cable London to provide the service. They sent me a special Easter offer, with cut-price telephone and a free second TV outlet in the bedroom, and I gave in (why? The Goodies and South Park, mostly. And I have a secret fondness for aeroplanes, which seem to make up 90% of Discovery's output). I'm also hoping to be in a position to beta test cable modems, which may be coming sooner than we think.

Anyway. The installation team (two lads of sturdy Basildon stock: how come these people never want a cup of coffee or tea any more, but always want to use your loo?) zap in, drill holes, thread cables, make phone calls and bang. I'm connected. Lovely. QVC. How achingly beautiful that capo di monte walrus is. And the telephone? And the second TV outlet? The Cable Lads look puzzled. "Snot on our list..."

They leave. I phone. "The telephone will be installed by 1pm", says the woman. I sit at home, tapping away industriously, and call again at 1:30pm. "Oh... hold on". Ten minutes of music. "Er, we have you down for installation, but we haven't assigned anyone to you. No idea how that happened. Sorry. Can you wait in until six?" No, I couldn't (what do these people imagine we do all day?).

As for the second outlet... nobody seems to know anything. I content myself with looking up the specifications of the set-top box on the Web, the intricacies of hybrid fibre coax distribution systems and the format of their authentication schemes for pay-per-view. Interesting. And these people are going to give us all megabit cable modems and run network access? Ho, ho, ho.

Wednesday - Palm's Technological Breakthrough

The Palm III is in, and is getting reviewed. You know the score: just like a Palm Pilot but rounder, more memory and an infra-red port. One of our reviewers phones up the marketing bod in charge of the Palm, and asks: 'So, what can you do with the infra-red?' 'That's a great thing', said the bod. 'You can upgrade your memory with it.' Our reviewer thinks for a second - surely Marketing Bod means update? - and asks, 'What, you mean upgrade the 2Mb static RAM?'. 'Yeah. To four megabytes.'

'Via infrared?' 'Yep, through infrared'.

Barely able to contain himself, our heroic reviewer calls the American side of the operation and says 'Your bloke in the UK has just told me that I can upgrade from two to four megabytes via the infrared port.' Silence. Then, 'Oh no, you can't do that. At least, I don't think you can. I'll check.'

I hope someone's told Intel.

Thursday

3Com's excitingly named Mike Valiant comes in to talk to me about ADSL and other delights. It turns out that people are already using the technology in the UK on campuses and the like, and it's all fab. A memory struggles out: doesn't BT sell a service where you can hire a twisted pair from your site to an exchange and then from the exchange to a second site? That means we could have an ADSL link from Ziff Towers to somewhere nearby - like the gaff of Chris Lewis, ZDNet UK Main Man, who lives just down the road.

A few moments on the BT Web site and exactly that service is uncovered - KeyLine Standard. At least, it may be the right service: the details are sketchy and somewhat contradictory. And there's no telephone number to call. Eventually find one that looks promising: 'Business Data Sales' I phone up. 'KeyLine wot?' says Ron from Romford. 'Nah, we don't do nuffink like that.'. 'It's on your web site...' 'Really? Wot is it?' I explain. 'Oh, like a sort of private telephone line?' I get transferred to someone who also hasn't heard of the service, and then tells me that because I want to link a business to a residence, it's not allowed anyway. I can't buy a business service for residential use. 'It's for home working!' I say. She's heard of this, and grudgingly allows that I might be permitted to buy the service - if she knew what it was. She gives me another number which is busy.

Later, we get through. The voice informs us that there are only two people in the company who know about this service, and they're both out. These are the people who are going to give us all megabit DSL modems and run network access? Ho, ho, ho.

Friday

You'll no doubt have noticed the story about Number 10's website spewing out Microsoft ODBC error messages instead of coming up with the goods. At the time of writing, it's 'been fixed' more than once: nobody, alas, has told the error messages which are still in residence. I overheard some of the phone conversations between Chris Lewis and the various people connected with the web site: did you know that the site was launched three times yesterday, at 10am, 2pm and 'sometime later in the evening'? It all depended who you talked to. Still, the developers have clearly done their research: "It's the firewall causing the problems." "How, exactly?" "Oh, we can't tell you that. Security forbids it."

Sir Humphrey would be delighted.

One hopes that the problems (which look to me a lot more like Microsoft's back-end processor overloading than a firewall issue) will help the Government reassess its entirely unhealthy obsession with all things MS.

Given that our glorious leader has expressed a complete dislike of actually using technology, though, it's clear that the Seattle lobby will carry on tickling his ear for a while yet.

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