It's part of the games exhibition, ECTS. The day starts off with breakfast with someone from 3DFX; he doesn't show. I suppose, given the state of the London transport subsystem, this isn't surprising, but it is vexing; 3D accelerators are all the rage at the show, and Quake II is being demoed.
Douglas Adams has finally worked out that the Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy is not suitable for turning into a movie, and over lunch, he tells me about his new book, which is. That is, he tells me that he's not going to tell me about it. "If I start saying what's going to be in it, then it won't."
The game, Starship Titanic, is "the space ship that simply cannot go wrong." It is populated by one life-form -- a parrot -- and several dozen malfunctioning robots. Alas: I'd tell you what the demo looks like, but on my machine, the only result of trying to run it is that I have to reboot the machine 17 times. At the end, I've lost my CD; it cannot be seen by the system.
The whole interview is surreal enough; the sense of disjunction is enhanced by the fact that Douglas isn't in London. He's in the South of France, on holiday and just flew in for the day to launch the game. In his ear is water, acquired swimming. He can not hear a word I say.
The company which is publishing the CD buys us lunch; and destroy any hope they may have had of a mention. It's easily done. You invite someone to lunch with a luminary like Douglas, and then instead of letting the journalist sit next to the luminary, you put your managing director next to the luminary, and send the journalist down to the far end of the table -- the other side of the PR exec. Oh, and having booked the place in Kensington (tube station closed) you drive in a fleet of limos from Olympia -- a journey that might take all of 10 minutes on foot, but takes over an hour in Princess traffic.
Work, work, work: the "Kewney At Large" column has to be finished. Lotus Notes, the transport medium for the copy, decides that next week's launch of version 4.6 is sufficient reason to go off in a huff. The server appears, vanishes, appears, vanishes. It always appears just in time for me to open a document, and vanishes about the time I'm trying to save my changes. "The specified resource is not available."
The tax man, next. He wants to be generous, but he can't, unless I give him some information. At least, that's what this highly unlikely-sounding message appears to say.
In fact, it turns out not to be the tax man; on investigating, it seems that a form has come in from IBM, which wants me to look at a low-weight notebook. It is a long form, asking me to agree to let them look at the loan machine whenever they want, and signing away my rights to most of my normal everyday freedoms; nothing unusual about that.
But there's a new clause. I have to agree "not to do productive work" with the machine.
One is tempted to make unkind remarks about the history of the ThinkPad range, and the difficulty of using some examples of the species for productive work even when making strenuous efforts to do so. One refrains, and calls IBM to ask what they think they are on?
"It's because the tax man sees a PC loan as a 'benefit in kind' which is taxable," explains the IBM press-droid. "But it's OK: your colleague Nicola has agreed that you never do productive work."
Evening: a "networking" evening with several old hacks -- or "legacy journalists" as we call ourselves, plus people from Netscape, Sun, IBM, and Oracle. Apparently, someone from Microsoft was invited, and turned down the invite.
It's all on the record, they inform us. Normally, this means that nothing interesting will be said. No exception today.
Yesterday, no Microsoft. Today, nobody else. It's crocodile tears on the menu, and poor, misunderstood Microsoft for lunch.
It seems that some weeks back, I tried to log onto a Web site, and discovered that the site owner had deliberately created a Microsoft-only site. You couldn't view his pages unless you used Internet Explorer. Bloody silly, if nothing else... but it's also evil.
Herewith, I'll restate my thesis: if Microsoft wants to compete in the browser market, then let it work through HTML and Java standards, and produce new ideas that everybody can use.
What it is actually doing, of course, is trying to put Netscape out of business; which I rather object to. I have my own problems with Netscape as a company, and its own attempts to put Netscape out of business are astonishing! -- but that doesn't excuse a blatant use of monopoly power to squash a startup.
"Oh, no, Guy; you don't understand. Yes, we are giving away Explorer, but that's standard shareware practice."
Pardon me while I wipe the tears from my nose. Microsoft, the struggling startup shareware company? Ye Gods...
New Dell servers launched today. I'm supposed to have an excellent lunch; it doesn't work out like that. We have babies.
Some months back, the family gerbil died. We replaced it with two, both male. Or, so we thought. This morning, domestic chaos, as a routine cleaning chore replacing old with fresh sawdust is interrupted by a fearsome flurry of teeth and claws, as one of the "boys" protects her brand new litter.
The morning's first appointment, with Intuit (they have to explain their own rosy view of the financial results which caused considerable disappointment to independent analysts) drags on. Well, it started late. By the time it's finished, so is the Dell lunch.
Intuit, of course, has more important things on the burner. In particular, its "open financial exchange" standard, agreed with Microsoft, which is (of all things) a database format. You keep all your bank details in this format, and then it can be uploaded to your bank; or downloaded from.
Believe it or not, the banks don't all like this idea. They say: "It doesn't allow us to add value."
Is this the week for crocodile tears? I think it must be. Banks, wanting to add value? Tax officials, wanting to be generous? I dont' think so. I know EXACTLY why the banks don't like OFX: it's because if the data is held in a standard form, then you can transfer all your current account from one bank to another.
An irritating afternoon, too: one of the best stories I've got all week. Someone is making "wavelet" compression chips, and it seems that it is several times better at squeezing video down a phone line, than MPEG. Indeed, if the first experiments with the new Analog Devices part are valid, then there's a 350 to one compression ratio. So I rush off to various academic sites, and discover that it's still regarded as highly esoteric maths -- most of the papers go back no further than 1992, and good stuff is still being discovered.
And I make the mistake of mentioning this to Rupert. "Oh, good; just what I need for my Fast Forward column," he beams. Bang goes the day's research.
The CD still doesn't work. Eventually despairing of software, I turn the PC on its side. And find that the cable has become detached. And I know who did that, too... Rupert!
Motorola --it's deliberate -- having read my analysis of why they must go it alone, and clone their own Mac notebook, decide to spite me by announcing that they are, after all, pulling right out of the Mac market. Support till the end of the year, then curtains. But, of course (they assure me) this does NOT mean that they are going to pull out of making the Power PC chip. Heavens, no.
Possibly, not; but they'll have to talk fast and long before the market believes them.
The day ends with a frantic attempt to tidy some of the carpet, which MUST be somewhere under this pile of rubbish. What's this? A press release from Bandai, dated back to 17th July. "There is only ONE Tamagotchi!" it says. Not what I'd heard; I thought there were millions?
Well, that is indeed the case; and the point of the release was to say that you should beware imitations. Why? Because the genuine article is turning into a collector's item, with early ones fetching up to £250. "It is the white with the blue buttons which is the most sought after, followed by the translucent blue."
That's nothing. A friend from Japan tells me that cellphones there are now showing up, infested. Yes, the cellphone software includes a Tamagotchi (whether genuine or not, I cannot say) which means you have to pull your phone out every few minutes, and play with the electronic pet.
It gets worse: the pet talks on the phone, and if you call someone else with a phone-dwelling Tamagotchi, they chat to each other. Well, I suppose they don't really, but they do keep tabs on how often you chat. And if you don't call that person again, the Tamagotchi pet gets sad, and sends you messages saying; "You haven't called Mishuwaka-san for three days! and I miss his Tamagotchi..." and if you don't call Mishuwaka straight away, your pet will sicken...
Which describes me own reaction.
Word comes in from the launch team on Internet Explorer version 4.0, which is due to ship in 20 days. My lips are sealed, as far as my source in Winersh (Microsoft UK HQ) is concerned; but I can tell you this: you do NOT want to overwrite the previous version on the day of launch. By all means install it -- preferably on someone else's machine. And then say: "Gosh! An even bigger bug list than for Office 97!" and delete it.
Wtihin a month of launch, the major bug-fix will appear. Wait for that. Trust me...
Want more? Read Kewney's World.