Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tropical paradises, Dixons shop assistants and Amazonian warriors are all very well, but when Rupert starts writing poetry about Bluetooth it's time to worry

Monday 23/06/2006
Could it be better? Niue is a small Pacific island with sun, surf, palm trees... and now, free island-wide Wi-Fi. The two thousand inhabitants -- and anyone who turns up on a yacht -- can now not only lounge in the shade sipping refreshing drinks and lazily listening to the waves, but they can fire up the laptop and surf for real. Paradise. Until the weapon too deadly to use found out about it. The monstrous hive-mind called Slashdot.org caught wind of this story, and as is its wont went looking for some exotic Web site on the island to find out more. You don't get much bandwidth coming into a place like that, and in less time than it takes to stroke a coconut the links were saturated beyond endurance. This could be the first time Slashdot has knocked an entire nation off the Net, and while I'm not sure international convention allows action by a worldwide collective of argumentative nerds to be construed as an act of war, stranger things have happened. Ironically, Niue has done rather well out of the Web so far. Its domain name, .nu, has proved very popular -- especially in Scandinavian countries where nu means 'new' -- and the country has been quick to commercialise the distribution of reassuringly expensive domain registrations. Most of these are hosted in Europe or America, of course -- but Slashdot's fearsome efficiency managed to hunt down one of the few genuine local sites. People worry about exotic tourism ruining nature's bounty. Perhaps Lonely Planet should start doing a Web guide. Tuesday 24/06/2006
Aunty's on the blower, wondering if I'd do an interview with Radio 5 Live about Dixons. Actually, what they want is for me to go into a shop, act dumb and see what sort of service transpires when I ask about buying a computer. Well, OK. I'm not a very good journalist like that -- I don't like being devious, even if it's perfectly possible to pull the trick off without actually telling porkies. But the feeling in the office before I pop off to Holborn is that the BBC is a bit anti-Dixons, and that it may be something of a set-up. I know what they mean, and it makes me even more uncomfortable. Not that Dixons doesn't deserve critical scrutiny: I feel its approach to extended guarantees borders on the fraudulent, and my experience talking to ex-Dixonites makes me suspect it's not the most enlightened of employers. It's also commercially very aggressive: whether you're a supplier, a customer or a competitor -- I've been involved with all three groups -- you will be regarded as rightful prey first and foremost. As for its near-monopoly on high street electrical retailing... But. Dixons is not alone. I've had far worse service in Maplins, the electronic mail order business that's now expanding into the high street retail gap left by the departing Tandy's, and you get hit on for five-year extended warranties almost everywhere. There are good independents, and one good chain -- Richer Sounds, whom I warmly recommend at every chance -- but Dixons is the norm, just more so. You might not know that when you listen to the BBC with its consumerist hat on. In this case, I think it went OK. I wandered into Dixons on High Holborn, looked at computers as if I'd never seen one before, and up popped Tom. He was a more mature employee, shall we say, and someone who had clearly spent many years in the trade. He knew what he was talking about, and only occasionally erred on the side of enthusiasm over fact. Still gave me the heavy sell on a stupendously over-priced extended warranty, so I was able to give the reporter from the Beeb a balanced account of things. Wednesday 25/06/2006
I'm bored with writing about the Recording Industry Association of America and its steadfast campaign to alienate its customers. But it won't give up -- now, it's planning on taking thousands upon thousands of individuals to court for extreme naughtiness. Remember, kids: it's only by making sure people can't listen to music before choosing what to buy that the music industry can survive. I'm worried. I've been using peer-to-peer file-sharing software today, grabbing an entire album. That should stand out like a sore thumb to the RIAA's scanners. But I wonder if it will realise that I did this with the copyright holder's express permission -- I was talking to the composer on a bulletin board about a piece of music I'd heard of theirs on the radio, and they quietly slipped me an email giving access details of some unreleased work. However, the same day as news comes in of the RIAA's actions, BusinessWeek reports that Amazon's policy of giving away almost all of its crown jewels -- the database of information it holds on products -- is powering a new, exciting and potentially profitable range of ideas. By making its data available to everyone through XML Web service feeds, it's encouraging people to automate product searches and comparisons, price displays, their own online shops built on top of Amazon, all manner of things. Amazon gets a lot of sales and even more exposure -- Amazon Everywhere is only a matter of time. And it's helping the fight against the RIAA. There's an increasing groundswell for an RIAA boycott: if it's involved with an album, don't buy the music. But how can you tell? There's no RIAA Inside logo on CDs produced by record labels affiliated with the association, and somehow I doubt there ever will. Aha! But there is an online database of RIAA members. And Amazon will tell you who is responsible for any album, through those handy-dandy Web services feeds. Combine the two -- as the RIAA Radar does -- and you can find out before you buy. Or not. Will open systems lead to falling record sales? One way or another, it looks as if they will. Thursday 26/06/2006
Wrote a news story today about a zoo in Denmark that's using Bluetooth to track children as they wander around the place. Which is a fun thing by itself, but as I was typing away I was irresistibly reminded of an old music hall turn of which I'm fond. And I'm never one to resist temptation... The Lion, The Chips And The Ringtone (with apologies to Stanley Holloway and Marriott Edgar) There's a big zoo near Aalborg in Denmark
With lions and tigers and all
Where the children kept wandering freely
And never returned to a call
The keepers were vexed by this problem
And decided that wireless was best
They bought a big bag of Bluetooth
And fixed the bits to the kids' vests
The first beta test was called Albrecht
A Ramsbottom, there with his Ma.
"Don't worry" they told his poor mother
"With Bluetooth, he'll never be far"
"The server keeps tags on your offspring
In a big Danish place tree, all sweet
You send it a mobile message
It'll tell you just where to meet"
A grand little lad was young Albrecht
All dressed in his best, quite a swell
With a phone with an Eminen ringtone
The finest that Voda could sell
Away from the gaze of his mother
Albrecht inspected the kit
No logo, no chrome, not a Nike?
No kid would be seen dead with such sh..
So Albrecht, disliking the module
Hurled it straight at a big chimpanzee.
The chimp took one look at the gadget
And ate it, with cackling glee.
His mother grew tired of the penguins
She hadn't seen Al for an age.
"He's off with the apes," said the system
"Zone Thirty. Inside the cage"
But Albrecht was not in Zone Thirty
He'd gone over to Zone Thirty One
Where Wallace, an scabby old lion
Was asleep in the rare Danish sun
Now Albrecht had heard about lions
How they was ferocious and wild
And to see Wallace lying so peaceful
Well it didn't seem right to the child
But he knew not to wake the old hunter
The snores, now, were something to hear
If he recorded them into his mobile
They'd give all his posse the fear
So straight way the stout little fellow
As brave as a gangsta on crack
Took his phone with the Eninem ringtone
Held it up to the comatose cat
By this time, his mother was worried
Who knows what wildlife he'd wreck?
So to forestall an expensive lawsuit
She decided to call him and check
The ringtone went off with a clatter
And Wallace awoke with a roar
Not liking American rappers
He decided to even the score
The keeper heard the commotion
And went to the cage at a run
And there was The Real Slim Shady
At play in the lion's fat tum
You could see what Wallace was thinking
Between burping and licking his lips
"I've always found children quite toothsome
But they taste even better with chips"
The moral for techno designers
Who make clever things for their pay
Is no matter how smart they are inside
The users will have the last say
Friday 27/06/2003
And I can slide into the weekend happy in the knowledge that I once again belong to a space-faring nation. Well, Europe anyway: it's good that we're part of the flotilla of spacecraft going to Mars (even if Beagle 2's complement of Blur tune and Hirst spot painting might prove problematic if the Martians are Daily Mail readers who like Oasis), but better still that we've got together with the Japanese to send some bits to Mercury. It won't go until 2010 -- when, you may remember, we also have to fix a broken computer drooling into its monolith on Jupiter orbit -- but when it does, it'll have two orbiters to map the planet and a genuine first, a lander. Mercury's not a nice place. It's either extraordinarily hot or hardware-manglingly cold, although there may be small spots near the poles where things are less extreme. The radiation from the Sun is enough to melt a bishop, and the whole place is named after a dead rock star with a dodgy 'tache. None of that matters. Real science is there for the taking, and we're going to take it. Damn the greedbots of industry and the railings of lawyers -- this is the stuff from which history is hewn. Golly, it's hot in here. Perhaps I should go and lie down for a bit. See you next week. Click here to see more of Rupert's diaries.

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