This is going to be an exciting week, I can tell. The PC Magazine "reliability" survey is out - at least internally - and the ordure is entering the air-conditioning. Also, everybody is going to Birmingham for Networks '97, which starts tomorrow.
Service and reliability is something PC Mag readers are always asking for when we do tests. "Yes, it may be five per cent faster at floating point with a double-size cache," they write angrily, "but what's the good of that if it spends six weeks out of its first three months sitting on the service bay at the supplier?"
Indeed, and this survey has become a big issue for the magazine, because of course it can't be our fault. We ask our readers. They tell us what machine they have, how long it worked, and who fixed it. And so on, and on.
So we've had the ghost of Andy Redfern wandering around the office like a crazed ex-Editor, which is what it is. Redfern turned out to be able to take the mental strain of going through the enormous pile of results from S&R, and turning it into meaningful reports. So successful was he that even though he is now a "Contributing Editor" and working in Newcastle for Action Aid, he still gets exhumed once a year and forced to repeat this deadly dance. Deadly, because, of course, the PC makers *hate* it. In the past it's been that only one of them, HP, ever wins, with Dan usually coming in as the favourite brand nominated. Everybody else is ANGRY!
The report comes out next week. This week is spent preparing for the storm. Andy is our umbrella.
Me: I'm out of it. Never have I experienced such pollen allergy. "Oh, but there can't be any pollen. It's raining!" Next person to offer this theory dies.
The trip to Birmingham. Compaq kindly holds a press conference in a train going up, which incidentally provides a couple of dozen journos with transport and breakfast.
It's not Compaq's day, really: they have just taken over Tandem, which now becomes an in-house "solution provider" and at the same time, they're trying to weather the storm over their notebook reliability figures.
The problem is almost certainly not as bad as it seems. It was highlighted, though, by a report from Gartner Group, which accused Compaq of supplying a quarter of its notebook machines in non-working state - a figure which Compaq (quite rightly, I think) says is "anecdotal". If they were shipping one duff machine in four, they'd be dead, dead, dead.
That said, I suspect our service and reliability figures do show Compaq notebooks being worst of the top four, and the fact that they're better this year (one in ten was DOA last year!) doesn't help fight off the gloom.
Announcing the Tandem takeover is splendid news in one respect. Unfortunately, there has been a long-running whisper that Compaq was about to "go direct" - a rumour the company stoutly denies. It now is going to provide Compaq hardware to Tandem, which will supply them direct to its big corporate buyers. "Isn't this going direct?" the question is inevitably asked. "No, Tandem will buy from other resellers," they say.
Even if Tandem does buy from resellers, the important question is whether the resellers ever believe it. With IBM making mischief behind the scenes, it's going to be a wobbly path to the future.
The show is huge. I'm virtually blind from pollen, and after lunch with the Java Forum launch, I run back to bed.
Dave Curley is VP of worldwide marketing for Mitel, and a man I've wanted to meet for a long time. Mitel is bringing the computer and the telephone closer together. It's exactly the area where I think the world is changing fastest, and this morning, once I manage to prize my stuck eyelids apart, I find I have an e-mail message from him saying how sorry he was I couldn't make yesterday's meeting.
Do you know, I couldn't even see my screen on my Pilot, my eyes were so fogged yesterday, but sure enough, there he is. I missed him.
What they were rolling out was NeVaDa, or networked voice and data. Lots of people claim to do this, and it sucks. Mitel's product may actually work. It uses ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) to manage a 155 megabit LAN backbone, allowing your office private exchange and your PCs to share the same infrastructure. In other words, only one set of wire under the floor.
And I missed him.
The US Communications Decency Act has been thrown out. All my Electronic Freedom friends are jumping up in the air and clicking their heels; they've won. CDA supporters are in retreat, shouting bravely, and using emotive slogans: Cathy Cleaver, the director of legal policy for the Family Research Council, issued a statement: "Today we're going to see the floodgates of pornography open on the Internet. This is not a good time to be a child. We're not going to give up the fight to protect children online."
When I was a kid, I remember that a half dozen of my friends clubbed together to give one girl 2/6d to take all her clothes off. Then when she did, they kept the money. Today's kids spend rather less (2/6d would translate to 12p today, but its value would be more like £5) and get Hugh Hefner to pay some woman £60,000 for the same service. I'm not altogether certain things have actually changed that much, underneath. People do seem to have the same interests...
Also, I seem to remember that when the girl complained about the fraud, she was the one who got punished, for being indecent. Life really doesn't change much, does it.
I notice it is still raining, and the pollen isn't getting any better. Reporting this to my wife is easy: she is watching me painfully cleaning the rims of my eyelids with a cotton bud at the time, and takes no convincing. Unfortunately, nobody else believes it. "How can you have allergies with all this rain?" they ask helpfully. I wish I knew: I'd be able to stop it.
At the end of the day, I much resemble a vampire. My wife bravely ventures out into the Noah's Ark backdrop that is London, to ask the advice of the local pharmacy. They give her (give! ha!) a preparation which I know is useless, because I tried it last year. But just to prove it, I squeeze a couple of drops into each eye.
Half an hour later, the itching has gone. Who can explain it? Maybe a duff bottle of drops, last year?
We're going to get a Lotus Notes "Domino" server up and running! A man from Lotus has arrived and investigated our problems; today, the chief marketing guy for the UK is having lunch with me.
The morning is spent with my trying to catch up with the week's mail, and the Lotus man trying to catch up with telephone tag.
The mail pile is AWFUL! If I tried just listing the names of the companies and a one-line summary of the announcement, I'd get home after midnight. As for the chance of assessing what they say, and spotting a news story, I'd do better stopping the first person I meet in the street, and asking: "Do you work in IT? Anything interesting?"
Call from a fellow journalist, Dick Pountain. He, like me, is suffering from rogue software: in this case, PsiWin. It's the essential code which transfers data from you Psion Series 5, to your PC.
In my case, it's transferring each Word sentence three times, truncating the first two - cutting them in half, in fact. For Dick, it's a massive GPF bringing his desktop down. Other people report equally unpredictable results, he says. I think it's what we call pre-beta code, myself.
That's it: a lot of other stuff happened, but if I tell you all about it now, I won't get my mail opened. See you next week, eh?