Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Murder, drugs, Microsoft and bits of paper enlivened Rupert's life this week - and autumn's only just begun

Monday 23/09/2002
It's fun, this information technology, but sometimes lacking in colour. Not today though, as a delighted Matthew Broersma, top news hound, gets to write up a tale of murder, hit men, financial naughtiness and Web sites. The case continues, but it is alleged that the wife of the bloke who started Scoot hired a hitman to get rid of him and keep the family fortune. There are lots of other bits too, but that's steaming hot stuff for the industry. The last time I can remember anything similar was in the early 80s, when a well dodgy businessman by the name of Keith Rose ran a company called Modem House. A small company called AMD had just produced a chip that crammed everything you needed for a 300/300bps and 1200/75bps modem into one package -- remarkable for the time. As a result, anyone could build and sell a modem for not very much money. You had to have money to get your modem through the BABT approval process in order for the thing to be legally usable, but it wasn't illegal to sell them unapproved. Which, of course, Mr Rose did: hey, it got plenty of people online. He was less happy to pay some pals of mine for work they did for him, which didn't make any of us love him much. And then the modem business went away, and the next thing we heard was that Keith R was behind bars on the Isle of Wight, after a kidnapping had gone wrong to the tune of one body. He recently tried to escape by nipping over the fence and flying a light plane to freedom -- unfortunately, someone had taken the battery out and he was well and truly grounded. He's still behind bars, and as far as I know still hasn't paid my pals for their programming work. Beware the wrath of teenage nerds! Tuesday 24/09/2002
Poor Steve Ballmer can't get broadband to his house! Or so the man claims, telling a load of Microsoft's favourite developers that despite his proximity to Seattle he can't get anything better than 56kbps. He's even complained to the heads of the telcos, but no dice. Which is a charming story -- but really hard to swallow. Friends of mine with a tiny fraction of Ballmer's net worth have had leased lines to their homes since way before ADSL and cable modems turned up: he could just get a T1 in and do like proper geeks did in the olden days. Or he could get a satellite connection for a few hundred dollars, if funds are tight. And if funds are even tighter, he could find a pal within a 10-kilometre range who is in broadband territory, stick a couple of directional antennae up and get his bits by 802.11b. That he hasn't done this -- and has the temerity to complain about getting no broadband action -- is a sorry indictment of the level of technical savvy at the top of the world's most important software company. I beg any Microsoft employees reading this to come to the man's aid and save any further embarrassment -- turn up at his house with the requisite bits, and drag him into the 21st century. Please, for all our sakes. Wednesday 25/09/2002
They still don't know whether they'll be doing it over here, but AOL has fulfilled one of its fondest wishes in the US: the Microsoft and Apple-free AOL PC. The computer in question is being flogged through Wal-Mart, the high temple of low priced shopping: it's not a bad spec, with 800MHz Pentium-compatible processor, 128MB of RAM, 10GB hard drive, CD-ROM, 10/100 Ethernet, keyboard and speakers -- no monitor -- for $200, or around £130. It runs Lindows 2.0, the Linux-based OS that's heard of Windows, and according to reviews it's actually none too shabby. It runs Office 2000, according to one, but how well and how much remain open questions. The last time I paid £130 for a new computer, it was a ZX Spectrum twenty years ago, and that was great value for money. There haven't been many computers at that price point since, which is a shame -- it's all very well for lard-arsed journalists such as myself to go wittering on about what great value a £2,000 laptop is with a 2GHz Pentium leg-heater and better graphics than Michelangelo, but for huge swathes of the population £2,000 might as well be £2m. The fact that it simultaneously demonstrates that no, you don't need to send Uncle Bill a wad of used twenties every time you fancy doing a spot of browsing is a bonus, and if it gets people thinking about what they're buying and why they pay the prices they do then I'll be over the moon. But as I said, there's as yet no sign whether it'll come over here. I just hope that Alan Sugar and his Brentwood Mafia still have a taste for hard-hitting high tech action: this is exactly the sort of arena their particular brand of fisticuffs works best in. Bet he could get it down to under the ton... Thursday 26/09/2002
One of the constant wonders of the Web is the large number of pro-cannabis sites out there: my experience of our tokin' pals is that operating the remote control to replay a Nightmares on Wax CD is at the very limits of human capability. Without getting into the whole debate about legalisation, health and social impacts, even the most ardent supporters of the right to spliff wouldn't call it an activity drug. Coke makes you talk rubbish for endless hours, making everyone else suspect you're a talentless dork with too much money, speed makes you get up on stage and prove the fact: dope removes the ability to do anything much except enjoy dodgy music and consume your own body weight in Pringles. But somehow, tar-stained fingers have been extracted and keyboards dug out from mounds of ash and blim, and sativa-scented Web sites bloom like Early Haze Number One in a Dutch greenhouse. The latest is, launched today in a very hazy way at a Covent Garden nightclub by Howard Marks -- everybody's favourite superstar Welsh hashish smuggler. For an activity still roundly condoned by the Powers That Be, it's hard to see how the site could sail any closer to the wind: you can't buy half an ounce of black hash online, but everything else from seeds, papers, books, alternative smoking materials is there. Not that this stuff hasn't been online for a while, but this site refuses to be coy about it. That can only be a good thing: demonising and mystifying drug use is rarely conducive to harm reduction, and letting people who know nothing about cannabis get a view of how the scene actually works will perhaps make it less scary and encourage a little more logic. And those who are only into the whole smoking thing because it's got that aura of illicitness about it may well lose interest in the same way. Wonder what it'll do to Pringle sales... Friday 27/09/2002
Feverish activity? Imagine a whole medieval town infected with St Vitus' Dance during the Festival of Competitive Hayforking just after a cartload of amphetamine-laced itching powder spilled in the market square, and you'll be halfway towards the atmosphere in the office. Y'see, some bright spark had the idea that since we were all fully occupied creating and maintaining a Web site of international repute, we might as well do a magazine as well. Something to do with a desire to sell even more advertising, expand the brand, make money, dull stuff like that. And so it came to pass, that various people brushed off their Quark experience, discovered the delights of making text fit fixed spaces on actual pages made of actual paper, had Proustian rushes from the smell of ink, and worked darn hard. It's done! ZDNetWeek, a pearl among publications and a shining light to the nations of the world, has come to pass. If you're a subscriber, you'll be getting your first copy early in October: we recommend you read it once only while wearing kid gloves, then immediately store it in a lead envelope filled with dry, inert gas for generations yet unborn. After sending in orders worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to the advertisers, of course: they like that, and so do we. Like all good journalists, we're already planning our next publication -- perhaps a labs-based magazine doing in-depth reviews of hardware and software tied to trenchant news, inspired analysis and comprehensive how-to articles? Or maybe a home entertainment spectacular -- send us your plasma screens, kilowatt sound systems and huge leather sofas now, suppliers! PS: From the BBC News home page today -- "The dog could be the next animal to have its genome deciphered, following calls from scientists." No news as to which dog it will be, nor whether the onward march of science will be affected if it doesn't come when called... To have your say online click on TalkBack and go to the ZDNet UK forums.


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