Rupert Goodwins' Weekend Diary

Monday

Mars! Mars! Mars! Lovely pictures, thrilling news, absolutely clogged Web sites. In the US, Mattel's Hot Wheels Action Pack of the Pathfinder Lander and Sojourner rover sells out in hours. Over here, many happy hours talking about planetary formation and robotic exploration in the pub.

Perhaps the most poignant thing is the sheer low-tech aspect of the enterprise. That Rover runs off a 2MHz 80C85 processor -- the same as in a Tandy Model 100 notebook, and around half as powerful as the processor in a ZX Spectrum -- and talks back to the lander via a cut-down walkie talkie and a 2400bps radio modem. I could build one. You could build one. One story circulating is that the Rover design stems from the day that the scientists had the funding for a previous and much larger mission turned down: as they dejectedly sat around in the lab looking at the 1/8th scale working model on the bench one said "hey, hold on a minute."

Tuesday

Blimey. It's nice to have one's cynicism blasted by good news. Following Bill Clinton's statement that the Internet should be as lightly regulated as possible, the EU agrees that it should be a free trade area. And the FCC -- America's telecommunications regulator -- keeps coming down on the side of the Internet despite every attempt by the telephone companies to hold back the flood. What is going on? Why do these people think the same way as we do? It's not on.

Still, nothing yet from New Labour about decent unravelling of British Telecom's de facto local loop monopoly. We'll be paying a penny a minute to BT for Internet access for the foreseeable future. Hrm. Back to Mars.

Wednesday

Say what you like about Sage and its accounting packages, nobody can claim that this half-billion pound Newcastle company has let success go to its head. Director Graham Wylie, possessor of a goodly chunk of the Scouse software fortune, leads a notably unaffected life with few of the trappings of power that have destroyed many a lesser person. No yacht, no Jaguar, no mansion on the coast of Northumberland for him: a suburban house and four-year-old car suffice.

And no wonder. A tale comes to light today of practically his only indulgence on record: he attended an auction of cherished car number plates and, after furious bidding, secured WYL1E for a figure not unadjacent to £25,000. The transfer was signed on the spot and some prepared plates handed over -- with joy in his heart he rushed back home and affixed them to the family motor to await his wife's return.

She took one look and said "If you think I'm ever getting into that car again with those things on, you're sadly mistaken", and that was that. In vain he tried with new plates, this time with a healthy separation between WYL and 1E : "Nope" quoth the missus. "They go, and that's that."

And they went. People with an interest in acquiring these unique and prestigious plates should apply to rootle around in the Wyliean attic, where they reside to this day.

Thursday

Oh dear. Gil Amelio resigns as head of Apple. Jobs rumoured to be flogging blocks of shares. Nobody talking about profitability any more. Sad but inevitable, as inevitable as the company's final dissolution -- it will merge with another company in much the same way as a wounded horse merges with a school of piranha.

The saddest thing is - nobody really seems to care. I can remember seeing my first Macintosh, and playing for hours with MacPaint. Then playing for even more hours trying to copy a floppy disk. There was a period of years when I longed to advise people to buy Macintoshes instead of PCs because I knew that for most of their work, it'd be a much better machine -- if only it didn't cost quite so much.

That period ended a good four years ago. I've been unable to think of a single good reason for people to buy Macintoshes since, and it seems as if everyone else has finally run out too. The few good products, such as the clamshell Newton variant, are hideously undermarketed in the US, let alone over here.

It can't be long now.

Friday

Oooh. Fun. Last weekend, I built my first colour onomatograph and have been showing it off - loudly - in the office.

Don't try it at home.

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