Guy Kewney's Diary

Monday

Psion Dacom has had a very good year, selling PCMCIA modems, plugging PCs into cellphones, and making friends with Nokia. I think you can always tell when it's been really good, because they just buy you lunch and sit there, looking smug, instead of pumping the technical data down you. So now you know what happened Monday lunchtime.

Me: I've had a very good year with Psion, but not all of that has been success. In particular, I may have the largest extant collection of Gold Card modems, starting off with a launch in Paris one rainy day last winter when I got an early prototype, and ranging through the various "bundle" offerings that other people have offered during the year. I've done particularly well out of Psion itself, since the Series 5 works with a Psion Dacom card. Trouble is, so far, none of the things I've tried actually worked as expected.

The problem really isn't the modem's fault. You can take your Psion Dacom card, plug it into any PCMCIA socket, and watch it connect, al around the world. I've done it in America, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore... no trouble. What I can't do, and it's driving me nuts, is plug it into a Psion Series 5, or any Eat Plenty Of Carrots (EPOC)32 machine.

So another trip up to Milton Keynes is scheduled. At this rate, my car will be able to find its way blindfold, and the company accountant will start suspecting I have a mistress in the Midlands.

Psion itself has now launched an "easy" email system for its Series 5 users. It looks wonderful on paper, and if only I knew anybody who can make it work, I'd be a happy Guy. More on this as developments warrant...

One of those developments, it turns out, is going to be the launch of a new Windows portable, the CE 2 from Casio. The plan is to get to the launch tomorrow. It's a nice plan, except I suspect the managing director here is going to want to have lunch and talk about Things. You know, Secret Things. I may be some time...

Tuesday

Can't talk about Things. Secret. Well, OK, not secret: not decided. We have a mile of bare carpet in our brand new building, and nobody knows why. I had hoped to find out.

And of course, I had to let one of my colleagues cover for me at the Casio launch. It is indeed a CE 2 machine, laughably called CE Windows, and guess what: Pocket Power Point!

Have they really taken leave of their senses?

Look, I know perfectly well that Power Point is one of the most successful packages in the world, and I'm even prepared to accept that it has a place. For me, it's an utterly useless package. Imagine the scene: a stage, a charismatic figure, the spotlight focused on his dramatically alive features. He speaks: "Er.." and turns his back on the audience, loses eye contact, and examines a blue, vaguely focused 640 by 480 pixel display which says: "HP Organisation dedicated to developing, marketing and selling software for e-business."

Yes, I was at an HP thrash. It was billed as 'one of the most significant e-commerce announcements... and it turned out to be the launch of something that is part of TMPP. That's "The Moving Problem Problem" and Changengine (tm) is a business process accelerator.

When they started talking about software that involved a "process description language" that accorded with the standards agreed by the "Workflow Management Coalition" ... you think I'm making this up, don't you? I'm not. Go look at

http://www.aiai.ed.ac.uk/project/wfmc/PR/pr-interop-9jul96.html

You'll find:

"Supply Chain Interoperability

"The demonstration was divided into three scenarios based on a supply chain model in which there exist a number of collaborating organisations, each of which depends on its workflow system to accomplish work. The scenarios were

1) Retailer Replenishment Direct from the Distributor,

2) Retailer Replenishment via Third Party Warehouse, and

3) Retailer and Distributor Stock Replenishment,

including the need for customs documentation from the trucking company's Bonding Department.

"The six products involved were run in three heterogeneous environments, incorporating servers and clients on UNIX, Windows, Windows NT, and OS/2. Mail delivery was routed via a Windows NT DNS Server, and the client stations were connected using Ethernet 10BaseT. There are currently two bindings defined for the Workflow Interoperability specification, both of which were demonstrated. These are MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions), and MAPI-WF (MAPI Workflow Framework)."

Yes, I know. Now, be honest. If I put all that down in yellow text, with bullet points against a purple background, and showed it to you on a PowerPoint sequence, would it be any more gripping? OK; now imagine it on a pocket size display screen. Riveting, eh?

Wednesday

The plan was to go to the Java 97 event. Instead, internal meetings took up our time.

Perhaps the internal meeting was actually more interesting. Java is going through a crucial period, right now, but the effect is that fierce fighting is going on behind the scenes. Sunsoft is pushing hard for the right to control the standard; Microsoft equally frantically trying to prevent it. I think both sides have much to gain from seeing Java become a Sun-managed standard, but you can't persuade Bill Gates of this.

Meanwhile, we discussed the future of the PCI bus (I wrote a bit, which appeared in Kewney's World) and how four slots was not enough.

Came out of the meeting, and into a serious phone call with one of the villains of the piece: the guy from 3DFX, purveyors of 3D accelerators. You have your display card in one slot, and to get 3DFX acceleration, you have to put the 3DFX card into another. Now, where do you think the sound card goes? Yeah. And the network interface card? And the SCSI controller? And the USB controller?

"Oh, well, you'll be very pleased, Guy," says Chris Kramer of 3DFX. "We're coming out with Voodoo 2 in March, and it will take up not just one, but two slots."

The day ends in wrath. In my enthusiasm for high technology, I have downloaded Quake II Test Drive. I have this really, really fast notebook: a Dell Latitude 150 MHz Pentium, which I use to play Quake on, and which is really quite good, if I plug a mouse in the back; and Quake II turns this thing into slug which has overdosed on Valium which it took by mistake to wake it up after an all-nighter doing PowerPoint sessions. Yeah. Slow is the word.

To get it onto something else, I get a new machine out of my old friend John Shepheard at Gateway 2000; it's really speedy, and runs at 266 MHz with Pentium II and MMX and everything. And of course, I haven't got around to installing a browser on the wretched thing; so I dive into the corporate software bank where we keep all our licensed code, and install it.

Don't ask me how this happened, but I slipped through a wormhole in time, and instead of installing Netscape Communicator 4.XX, I find I've unravelled Netscape 1.X and guess what? It's fast! Not only is it fast, but if you press the STOP button, it stops!

Thursday

I'm getting just the weeniest bit fed up with the boy-racer contingent over on the Gamer titles. My experience with Quake II, to be polite, was that it has been sponsored by Intel, because where I can play Quake pretty adequately (I'm talking about the machine, not my skill) on a 120 MHz Pentium, Quake II just kills it. So, in an effort to understand what might be the problem, I buy a couple of the shoot-em-up magazines, and read the reviews.

Boy! you can tell these magazines are aimed at a younger audience, can't you. Some of them are printed in 6 point type, of the sort you probably imagine is legally banned from anything larger than a miniature whisky bottle. And rave, rave rave...

Look, call me cynical, if you must, but if someone tells you that something is, utterly, incontrovertibly, without question or doubt, "the best ever game" you'd expect it to be very, very good, eh? Better than Tomb Raider I, at any event. Yet the more I explore Quake II, the more it seems to be just quake with rather better animations for its monsters.

A sneaking, horrible doubt starts to penetrate my enthusiasm. Could it possibly be, I find myself wondering aloud, that these game magazines are utterly desperate to have "Exclusive! - The First Full Quake II Review! -- And It's Hot" all over their front covers?

Would these young Editors sell their little souls for a sneak preview? Would a gerbil sell it's soul for a sunflower seed? Would a bear...? Yes.

Let me warn you, then: if you have an ordinary 133 MHz Pentium with a so-so 3D display card, then all you will get from Quake II is a dose of envy. No: it isn't "far, far better" than Quake. No, it's not "all the good single-player features of Doom plus.." or anything like it. It's OK, but if you play multi-frag Quake, you aren't going to abandon your sport for the sake of the new version, not unless you have a 266 MHz Pentium. What a cycle hog!

Friday

A slow start; the night before was spent with Venture Capitalists. A pleasant breed, full of enthusiasm, generosity, and kind to animals. Also, tends to favour restaurants where the staff attempt to make you feel inadequate: and when you get fed up (say, because you're eating a frantically expensive lobster with your bare hands, but don't get a finger bowl) they spit in your pudding.

It was particularly poignant: Bob Jones, founder of Sonix, which he sold to 3COM, has heard that 3Com is now firing half the staff "at the Cirencester plant." In other words, half the people Jones himself hired, built up, trained. Jones himself is now a talent scout in the high tech area for Schroeder Ventures, who trade mainly on the fact that unlike Herman Hauser's organisation, they know of places outside Cambridge.

The day washes away, swept aside by a flood of panic. You don't want to know. Suffice it to say that I was supposed to be on holiday, but instead, ended up driving all over Cambridgeshire in the morning, and writing my PC Mag Kewney At Large column in the afternoon. And when I say you don't want to know, I mean it. Oh, I don't know: I'll do a Pocket Power Point presentation, and you can pop round to the Three Lords.

The final disaster of the week isn't mine. I'm merely a passive victim of poor old Chris Kramer at 3DFX. His flight from Holland gets in a piffling four hours late, and when he finally arrives at his hotel, he finds a cross set of messages from game player mags, all of whom have been sitting in reception getting more and more fed up at missing the Voodoo 2 demo.

Kramer's misery is compounded by the death of his notebook PC, into which he has to fit his chips; a replacement arrives, and a coterie of vastly amused reporters watch him try to install all his super whizzbang software. In vain. "Can we pop around on Monday, Guy? We'll try to get it all working by then!"

I guess this means we know how Monday will start. Oh, well; look on the bright side; in between 3DFX cockups, and attempts to run FX!32 Intel emulation on an Alpha machine, I'll probably miss Office for Mac. Life is getting too short, I think...