Hi honey, I'm home! Apologies for the lack of diary these past couple of weeks. I've been on holiday and thence to New York. Jetlag, Christmas parties and general seasonal festivity affective disorder have combined to keep me away from my keyboard - thanks to everyone who complained that the diary was missing. "I even had to read Guy's" said one bibulous hack - shame on you, sir!
So, for this final diary for 1998 I'm not going to do a day-by-day account. Instead, here are some of the more enjoyable moments from the past fortnight.
Last week, IBM flew me and others out to this glittering metropolis in order to tell us about San Francisco - the company's business Java development product - and let us see the Java Business Expo. All very enjoyable: the San Francisco event was particularly notable for the sheer enthusiasm of all taking part. You go to a Microsoft launch, you get talked at. It's hardly worth asking questions, because you'll get the corporate line through and through. This was fantastically different: people were being open about mistakes in the past and flaws in the present, but still so full of genuine excitement about what was happening that one couldn't help but catch the buzz. If the applications developers being shown off were typical - and one must say that IBM would only choose the good news to show us - then Java is well on course to become one of the most effective business development tools of the next few years. Some of the stories were remarkable: development time more than halved, performance more than doubled, genuine flexibility and cross-platform portability. It all sounded and looked the business.
And as for New York: it remains my favourite American city by a long chalk, even though the current crackdown on naughtiness in all forms has taken some of the sparkle off the place. When there, I'm a man transformed. Revitalised. In the four hours between leaving the Java Business Expo and getting to the evening launch of Java 2, I managed to consume one Reuben Reuben (pastrami, melted cheese, chopped cabbage on bread. Enormous), one very dry and devastatingly cold Martini (surely America's primary claim to civilised nationhood), a copy of the New York Times and several millimetres of shoe leather. This was in the service of The Christmas Shopping, which I crammed into two hours of slog down Seventh Avenue and up Ninth. This included a visit to a curious emporium the size of a supermarket and staffed entirely by Hassidic Jews. Truly, I was in a Woody Allen movie.
That feeling continued when I got to check out of the hotel, only to find they'd charged me $400 for ninety minutes of phone calls to London. Over four dollars a minute for something that cost then well under ten cents? One mild-mannered British computer hack transformed into an outraged telecommunications expert in seconds, and delivered a long, impassioned and terribly detailed lecture on the details of international telephone systems to a hapless desk clerk. The manager was called, and the lecture repeated - with embellishments. We came to a much more sensible agreement after I pointed out that if they'd done the same markup on the M&Ms in the minibar they'd cost $30 - extortion even by mid-town Manhattan standards.
Much the same thing was repeated at the check-in desk at JFK (surely America's primary claim to third-world status). OK, so I'd lost my ticket (left in the seat back pouch on the incoming flight). But Virgin wanted me to pay again, saying that it'd refund the money after two months. This time I was on far shakier grounds, but flushed with success from my last encounter I managed to talk my way out of that one, too. Now, I never do this. I have the standard English cringe when confronted with dodgy service, and couldn't normally haggle ten pence off the price of a carpet. But New York does something to a chap...
As does a seven hour flight through the night with no sleep, followed by a day in the office, followed by Ziff's legendary Christmas Party. This one was exceptionally fine, held in a club described by a very senior management figure as just like a Turkish brothel'. Various infamous events were celebrated in our annual awards ceremony, there was much laughter and cous-cous, beer and dancing. Even David Craver, our amiable yet strategically sensible MD, was seen cutting a rug, and the evening decomposed wonderfully.
Paris (OK, London again really)
It's always nice when friends do well. I met Andrew Brown, a journalist of considerable talent whose success is not impeded by his growing resemblance to Ambassador Londo Mollari from Babylon 5, hair and all, and found out that not only has he finished his latest book but it promises great things. It's called The Darwin Wars, and it's all about why certain famous scientists hate other famous scientists. Brown gleefully recalled how much these academics disliked him poking around, and promises to have some of the most vitriolic quotes reprinted on the back cover. Look out for it - Simon and Schuster, next Spring - and I'll write it up here as soon as I get my hands on a copy.
The other top-notch effort comes from another journo, Steve Homer. He had an idea three weeks ago, got it up on the Web a week ago and it's now live. www.gift-net.com is that idea - links through to 100 sites around the world where you can buy gifts and have them sent on locally. Nice, eh? Completely bypasses the international mail, and lets you get a nice prezzy to Aunty Matilda in Darwin at the last possible minute.
Go and see - not only is it a splendid concept, but it's a great showcase as to how the online world is changing the rules of business.
Right. That's it. I'm off now until 1999: thanks for reading this year and I very much look forward to more nonsense in the lead up to The Big One. Have a triff Crimble.
Oh, and one final thought: never try to take your laptop apart when you're drunk. It's a very bad idea.
Ho ho ho!