Rupert Goodwins' Weekend Diary

Summary:Monday morning. What a relief. Have spent most of the weekend recovering from Friday's Gary Numan V96 warmup gig, held down in a shed in Chelsea.

Monday morning. What a relief. Have spent most of the weekend recovering from Friday's Gary Numan V96 warmup gig, held down in a shed in Chelsea. It was a big shed, but very loud nonetheless... devotees of the pasty-faced one can catch my write-up on the Numan mailing list. Not that this is something I'd admit to 30 million people on the World Wide Web... What? Oh...

Milling around in the bar before the show, I was accosted by a tall, bald chap in an obscure T-shirt. "You Derek?" he asked. I'm not, and said so. "Really?," he said. "Not the one that does the Numan Web site?" Nope. "Oh..." he said, and wandered off.

I'm not sure what's more frightening, the idea that Numan fans have such a shaky sense of their own identity or that I look like someone who's dropped one HTML tag too many. Is it that obvious?

Worry all the way through the weekend, but Monday takes my mind off things. Highlight - of sorts - was a long conversation with a pal who's thoroughly sold on Linux, the freeware Unix operating system. Over the past four years, this experiment in Internet co-operative development has become the coolest alternative OS, especially among those who even regard Solaris with suspicion (don't even think about asking them about Windows). It's good, it's reliable, and hundreds of very dangerous people spend lots of time writing software and drivers for it.

The only trouble is its cultishness. Get collared by a Linuxian and say goodbye to the afternoon. You'll probably have to gnaw your own leg off to escape: these people have the devotion of the Popular People's Front of Judea and will talk about nothing else no matter how many cows come home. Lighten up, guys.

If you do find yourself in the above situation and don't fancy dental amputation, I have evolved a foolproof plan to extricate yourself. Merely mention some invented - but hideously obscure - Unix utility you once spotted on a Serbian FTP site, and the Linuxian will dash for the nearest browser in less time than it takes to fork a process. Don't say we never do anything for you.

Tuesday

I have a beige box to review. Whoopie. However, this one is genuinely interesting - Instant Internet from Performance Technology. The idea is simple: plug the box into a phone or ISDN line, thence into your Ethernet LAN, and finally the mains. Load the special Winsock on your workstations, and viola. Internet access via your local PPP ISP for all. Because the box does IP to IPX translation and the special Winsock translates the IPX to ordinary Winsock API, there's no IP on the LAN side at all. Hence no firewalls needed, and none of that tricksy IP address allocation. It works, too, and is undoubtedly a very fine thing indeed.

That's the good side. I phoned up Performance Technology (well, Bay Networks now since PT was absorbed into the evergrowing pulsating brain-in-a-vat that's Bay these days) to ask for the price. "Can't tell you," said the lady. "Why not?" "You're a journalist. There's only one person here who can talk to journalists, and he's on another call." In vain I said that all I wanted was the list price. In vain I offered to call back with a false beard and silly voice, pretending to be a punter. In vain I offered to resign for five minutes so she could pass over the top secret information (that would've given our Human Resources department something to think about).

Eventually, the highly trained Journalist Handler called back. "£2,195," he said. "Thank you," I said. What foolishness. Still, not as bad as IBM back in the bad old days when I reviewed a PS/2 MCA portable. Then I phoned for the price: can't tell you, you're not a dealer. Phone the dealers: can't tell you, you're not buying one, you'll have to talk to IBM. It took me two hours to find out that absolutely nobody was prepared to tell me how much the thing cost. On the principle that such coyness was unlikely to hide the bargain of a lifetime, I laid into the product and called it underperforming, overpriced and barking in all departments. I'm not sure they ever sold any.

Wednesday

Parrrrrtay! Microsoft has decided to have a First Birthday Party for Windows 95, and hired a film studio in Shepherd's Bush for the occasion (the same place also has the odd rave and hosts the annual Sex Maniac's Ball, where people... but anyway, I digress). Loads of journalists were invited and quite a few turned up - there was jelly and party games, and a giant stuffed dog named Petra. The very best bit of such occasions is not Pin The Tail On The Donkey, but Pin The Blame On The Microsoft Marketing Manager. There were quite a few there, and those who partook of the jelly (laced with vodka) or the various cocktails were easy meat for those journalists who took care to pace themselves just that little bit more. If anyone from Text 100 (Microsoft's press relations company) is reading this: we have the negatives, the signed confessions and Petra...

11pm: leave party.

Thursday

4am: leave Troy's, the infamous drinking establishment in Soho where the very, very silly go after parties finish. Nothing should be said about the journalist who decided to use the party crayons (given out in the goody bag at the end of the do) on the pen-based Sharp organiser he was supposed to be reviewing, nor the one who decided that since the bubble mixture (also in the goody bag) didn't work (which it didn't -- all you got were wet trousers) he should dump it in someone else's Guinness and see whether the victim noticed. Victim did, but only because the mixture was still in its container: when decanted out of that into the first journalist's drink, first journalist failed to notice.

8am: ouchie ouchie. Something else to blame Microsoft for. Type quietly for remainder of the day.

Friday

Day off. Take train down to Plymouth for bucolic Bank Holiday in company of The Flying Vicar (Goodwins Snr, aging country parson, trainee private pilot and estimable maverick) and Mrs G Snr (wife of above and secret videogame freak). Type up diary on the train while staring out of window at rain and fields full of mad cows (well, you'd be pretty upset if you had to stand out in the Devonian weather). Superdooper lithium battery technology on my superdooper TI Travelmate goes phhhhht at just the wrong moment, and as my hard disk spins up to speed to save the thousand word document, all goes dark. Spend first hour back in the Vicarage typing entire thing again. I love days off.

Decide not to touch another keyboard until I'm back in the smoke. Well, apart from trying to sort out TFV's modem and doing a little configuration for his printer... and he's got a couple of questions about Microsoft Publisher now that he's doing the parish magazine on it. And I did think I could show them Quake...

Oh dear.

Topics: Emerging Tech

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Editor, ZDNet UK. Ex technology/technical editor of ZDNet UK, IT Week, PC Magazine, Computer Life, Mac User, Alfa Systems, Amstrad, Sinclair. Micronet 800, Marconi Space and Defence Systems, and a dodgy TV repair shop in the back streets of Plymouth. Can still swap out a gassy PL509 with the best of 'em.Dear Reader - contact me via our m... Full Bio

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