'

Guy Kewney's Diary

MondayMonday was a "holiday", of course. This involved a process of restoring the house from backup, after spring cleaning on Friday.

Quite what the theological implications of doing a spring clean on Good Friday might be, I can't tell you. Doing it on an Easter which coincides with the Passover is an extra challenge for the liturgically incompetent like myself, but some kind of curse is clearly associated with it, because at the end of the process, all my expenses for the past three months, neatly typed up and stapled to the appropriate forms, turned out to have been archived under "Lost".

I spent the other bits of the day not sailing. Instead, the domestic office backup/restore was taking longer to restore than I'm happy with, and as a result, I missed one or two appointments this week. But at least this much did happen: my Palm Pilot Modem arrived!

Tuesday

A wonderful thing to find on your chair when you get back after a week's illness: a FedEx form from Palm Computing in California, attached to a cardboard box. Inside, a modem.

It's neither the smallest, nor the fastest modem I own. It runs at 14.4kbps. It's more than half the size of my Palm Pilot and it's completely useless for any purpose other than plugging onto the Pilot. But it has two things that other modems don't have: AAA cells. In short, it's self-powered.

What do you use it for? Easy: you plug it onto the end of your Pilot, invoke "modem HotSync" and it dials your desktop computer to swap new information on the PC into the Pilot memory; and vice versa - all new information in the Pilot gets sent to the PC. Completely automatic. A pity that the machine arrived with a US phone cable, and so I couldn't test it. I have a UK-to-US phone cable adapter, in a box that Intel provided with cables for all the countries of the world when Intel itself sold modems (PC Card modems, though nobody today remembers them).

Part of the day, I attempted (with surprisingly frequent success) to inflict April 1 hoaxes on my online friends. Two of them stayed up all night to watch an eclipse of the Moon. I believe one of them was persuaded into "spamming" about 200 IT journalists with an equally spurious account of the launch of Sir Clive Sinclair's new GSM motorbike... quite childish.

Wednesday

The modem HotSync stubbornly refuses to work. I've plugged the damn thing in, but it keeps saying "No dialtone." Fat chance of changing the init string to anything sensible and in any case I haven't time this morning - because big Dennis Hayes is in town. Not much business to discuss; he's bought Cardinal (to double his presence in computer stores) and he's joined the K56flex consortium to challenge his hated rival, USR and its X2 technology. And Hayes and Lucent, who had previously promulgated incompatible rivals to X2, have now agreed to converge by the time a draft ITU standard is released.

It's good to see Dennis himself, though. It's the first time since Hayes went into Chapter 11. That was a memorable occasion in itself. I was in Las Vegas for Comdex, two and a half years ago, and we had a date for breakfast. Having fought my way across the crowded city Strip from the MGM Grand Hotel at one end to the Hilton at the other, I rang his suite - to be greeted by a woman in tears. "He's not here. He's flown back to Atlanta, this morning!" she wept. Why, I wondered? "He's had to file for Chapter 11 protection from bankruptcy!" she howled, and put the phone down.

You don't often get a scoop that way, but it was fun at the time!

All's well as ends well, I guess. And Dennis has just taken a French company public -- something he bought 30 per cent of a couple of years back. Shares are trading at more than twice the launch price, he tells me cheerfully. I let him pay for lunch...

Thursday

Microsoft's chief anti-theft executive, Mark Roberts, turns out to be an ex-pro cricketer. This rather interferes with the amount of discussion possible over lunch, which was supposed to focus on the problems surrounding FAST, the increasingly alienated Federation Against Software Theft.

Microsoft, of course, is one of the main pioneers of the rival Business Software Alliance, which now includes giants like Lotus and Novell; and so Mark's apparent disapproval of FAST's current activities is not impartial. On the other hand, his decision to leave FAST means that you have to accept that his disapproval of FAST predates the separation, and isn't caused by it - if you see what I mean.

That said, I learned some interesting things about software piracy in 1997 - and the picture, he says, is changing. Last year, piracy was mostly accidental, caused by carelessness in corporate buyers who had 20 other things to do. This year, it's serious gangsterism.

I'm not a crime reporter. On two or three occasions, I've had to be one, when faced with serious criminals involved in stories I was writing; and frankly, I prefer to link up with one of Fleet Street's finest police specialists for those, because the business is not fun. I have a colleague who writes about the mobile phone business; it's a trade weekly full of drug dealers, phone cloners, and swindlers. And they aren't nice people.

A tip: if someone comes to your place of work and offers you 40 copies of Microsoft Office 97 as an "OEM bundle" then make your excuses and leave. There are tales to tell of people who went to jail for software piracy, rather than reveal which Far Eastern "broker" provided them with the discs. "If you can guarantee that I won't have my kneecaps shot off, I can tell you the source of our supply," one unfortunate victim of this business told Roberts. On that occasion, Microsoft was able to help; but you can see how some would rather accept a sentence than squeal. Don't get involved with these guys; they are not middle-class business executives.

Friday

I've never been to Israel. Odd really, because it's full of interesting software developers. If I had, I've have discovered that Israeli phone jacks are UK phone jacks, but don't work; they're wired wrong.

Of course, the truth is that UK phone jacks are wired wrong but the effect is the same, and an Israeli phone adapter will plug into a UK phone but it won't work.

This explains my Modem HotSync problems. Intel's magic box of cable extensions, from which I seized the UK line adapter, includes an Israel plug. It has Israel written on the side. But I didn't read the label, just grabbed the obvious UK style plug and shoved it into the wall. Today, at last, we find a genuine UK adapter. Plug the modem in, dial the PC.

Failure. It's not Pilot's fault; it's Microsoft Windows 95, which simply cannot organise different applications which want access to the serial port. I have the modem set to answer, but it's Laplink that picks up the phone. In order to get Pilot modem HotSync working, I have to travel to the PC, turn off "local" HotSync, and turn on "modem" instead. Not easy from North London without using the tube, and the tube is in a mess.

Finally, finally, it works. Takes about 20 seconds to connect, another 20 to exchange data, and it's done. A week's work? Must be, because I'm off to the dentist. No, really.