Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Getting to Mars without Bush is easier than getting to America without queuing. Or so says Rupert, when he's not giving Jeeves a piece of his mind...

Monday 12/1/2004
Despite my booze-free January I'm still well into the lardy end of the spectrum, which is just as well: they say it takes a big man to admit he was wrong. Especially when it involves what the Americans would delicately call bathroom matters.

But wrong I was. Back in October 2002, I poked the mildest of fun http://comment.zdnet.co.uk/rupertgoodwins/0,39020691,2124145,00.htm at IBM, which had patented  a system for queuing for the lavatory. As I said at the time, Big Blue -- sounds a bit like a toilet cleansing product, that -- had avoided the difficult bit of predicting how long the person in front of you would take and merely codified something mankind had never had a problem with.

But these are hard times, with enemies without and within, and we are told that we must accept every indignity in the fight against terrorism. This now includes, according to the US Transport Security Administration (TSA), not queuing for the loo at all when we're flying. Passengers are not to congregate in groups in any area of the aircraft, especially around the lavatories. Looks like we might need IBM's patented motion management mechanism, after all.

Fans of faceless bureaucracy could do worse than look up the TSA's many mentions online -- it is well on the way to beating anything the Soviets produced. You can be banned from flying on a whim -- with no right of appeal. You can have arbitrary items confiscated. You can be forced to strip off in public and if you complain, you'll be arrested. You can be questioned for hours if you're overheard criticising President Bush. And now you can't queue for the loo -- although what you're supposed to do instead isn't specified.

I think the terrorists are doing much better at messing with our lives than they could ever have hoped.

(thanks to Greg Aharonian's Internet Patent News Service for reminding me about the above)

Tuesday 13/1/2004
The SCO Versus The World  affair grinds on, but it really does look like SCO is losing the plot. Today, SCO has filed a set of documents as part of its case against IBM -- it would take too long to go into the details, and you can and should hop over to www.groklaw.net to gasp in awe, but they make compelling reading.

You remember the fuss that SCO made about 'millions of lines' of code that IBM had appropriated from SCO's copyright Unix and inserted into Linux? Fully twenty percent of Linux was SCO's, the company said. Why, they'd employed a team of mathematicians from MIT to analyse it -- and sorry, but it was going to cost $700 for a licence if anyone wanted to run Linux in the future. That was last summer -- since then, not one of those lines of code has actually been published (oh, and that team of mathematicians from MIT? Nobody at MIT knew anything about them).

Guess how many lines of code are included in the documents that SCO has been forced to provide to the court (and IBM) in order to specify exactly what the case hinges on. Oh, well done.

Instead, we get marvellous lines like "Our engineers have reached the conclusion that parts of Linux have almost certainly been copied or derived…";" The AIO code contributed to Linux by IBM was written by an engineer who had a detailed knowledge and familiarity with the same area of technology in Dynix/ptx, and who likely used the same methods and/or structures…"; and that sorry things were late and incomplete, but directors had been on holiday over Christmas and nobody could get hold of them.

In other words: we've got a hunch. Oh, and some of Linux was written by someone who knew what they were doing. And this $3bn lawsuit and the court order to comply with the evidence? Heck, we'd love to, but. You know. Christmas. Think of the kids!

So far, not one claim that SCO has made has received the benefit of evidence. Not only is there no sign of copied code, but even if it was found it now looks more than plausible that SCO didn't own the rights to control the code in that way in the first place, Novell is now waving documents that say quite the opposite.

And now, SCO is trying to get licence fees out of European companies. Hey, if  you get a letter from SCO -- let us know. We'd love to see it -- and we can suggest some interesting questions you might like to ask before signing on the dotted line.

Next court hearing: 23rd Jan. Can't wait.

Wednesday 14/1/2004
We're going to Mars! No, not you and I -- although wouldn't we have fun? -- but the we as in We Came In Peace For All Mankind.  Leaving behind the mundane matters of war, terrorism, mad cows and trillion-dollar deficits, Dubya finally makes his speech about returning to the moon and thence on to Mars. It was due last month, on the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first powered flight, but got delayed when someone noticed the Mars landings.

Excited? If there was any chance he meant it, then I'd be excited. But it's an election year and promises cost nothing -- oh, there's an extra billion dollars a year for NASA, but compare that to the billion and  a half being spent on promoting the idea of marriage (if you're not one of 'em preverts, of course). It's nothing.

The good space stuff comes from robot exploration: manned stuff is good for politics, which is what fuelled the Apollo mission. Had to get there before the Ruskies, who'd committed the unpardonable sin of being first into space. Nothing else mattered -- not the spin-off technologies, not the experience, most certainly not the science. This time, there's no race: America's won already. The Chinese? Nowhere. The Americans are more worried about us Europeans -- but with the US spending twenty billion on the military use of space against around fifteen on NASA, there's no real competition.

Without that competition people won't go to Mars, no matter what Bush says. However, if you want to be part of a project that is going to get there, though, now's your chance. A group of radio hams have been busy monitoring the Mars Express mission, and are now planning their own Mars orbiter, to pop over to see the neighbours in 2007 or 2009.  They've already managed to get four satellites into Earth orbit, and by the joys of Newtonian mechanics that's more than half-way there. Have a look at http://www.amsat-dl.org/p5a/ and see if you fancy being a part of it…

Thursday 15/1/2004
I wish I had a gold medal to award for common sense in technology. Not that there'd be much call for it -- I could probably manage a four-yearly ceremony, like the Olympics -- but today I'd be lighting the flame and polishing my trumpet for the big fanfare. Front and centre, Warp Records, for conspicuous services to online music!

You may not have heard of Warp, whose roster includes Luke Vibert, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, Broadcast and so on, but the label's been one of the finest sources of innovative electronic music for a good few years. They've had over a hundred albums out, plus countless EPs, remixes and so on -- and now they've put it all online.

The service, bleep.com, is everything that online music should be. You can browse freely, pick tracks or albums, pay by credit card, and download your booty as very well encoded, un-DRM'd MP3s. That's it. Doesn't matter who you are, where you are or what you want to do with the music  -- well, any more than if you're buying on CD -- there's absolutely no messing around. "We don't want to treat our customers like potential criminals" say the label. Tracks cost 99p and albums cost £6.99, which is very reasonable -- considering that these days, I buy an album, slap it on the server and never touch it again. After bandwidth costs, the artists get half the revenue from the service..

It is impossible to explain to the sane exactly why I was speechless with glee as Aphex Twin's ultra-rare EPs Hangable Auto Bulb 1 and 2 came thundering down the broadband, but it is another giant leap for mankind.

It's simple, effective, fast and is exactly what the industry needs. Give us the chance, we said, and we'll buy the stuff online that we can only find illicitly: the extremely positive reaction to bleep.com is a sign that we were right.

Friday 16/1/2004
Friday morning post: the usual PR bumf, an incomprehensible pension statement that seems to suggest my retirement fund is being carefully managed until there's nothing left, and an invitation to Farm Animal And Livestock Technology 2004 in Idaho. Ho hum. But wait, what's this? A letter from Ask Jeeves?

"Dear Rupert," it starts. "We're not sure what search engine you turn to by instinct when you need to do some online research, but we noticed you recently mentioned searching online in an article…" and off it goes. Try Ask Jeeves next time, it finishes. It "is a highly cost effective marketing platform to run results driven marketing campaigns for leading advertisers and media agencies."

Well, chaps, if you read any articles I write you'll know I mention Google pretty often as my search engine of choice. Just like everyone else does. And the article quoted was about Google's IPO, not about searching. When's your IPO, eh? And lastly, you appear to be mistaking me for someone who regards "results driven marketing campaigns" with something other than instinctive loathing and repugnance.  Not to mention media agencies, which are truly the most terrifying excrescences on the pimpled face of our benighted industry: if you're not in the biz you won't know what they do: it doesn't help if you are.

Talking of which, a freelance friend accepted a job writing some promotional puffery for one such agency. The brief waffled on for a bit, and then said "We'd particularly like to concentrate on Broadband Media Event Zones." Pally scratched their chin, checked on Google (got that? Google! The Search Engine Of Choice for the New Generation) but no, had no idea what on earth one of those was. So he asked the agency.

"Ah!" said the agency contact, brightly. "I made that phrase up! Good, isn't it? I was thinking of places where you've got something going on and the organisers create a place where all the media have access to the Internet. I don't know whether that ever happens, but it would be nice if it did. Wouldn't it?"

You can't make it up.

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