Guy Kewney's Diary

MondayFirst day of the New Year. Sort of.
Written by Guy Kewney, Contributor

John Markoff, of the New York Times, invites me for a beer.


Mssrs. Dvorak, Markoff & Zachary would like to invite you to the inaugural meeting of the Oswald Spengler Society to celebrate the general decline of the West and everything else.

Location: Thirsty Bear, 661 Howard (between 3rd and New Montgomery)

Time: Tuesday, January 6, 1998. 5:30pm - 7pm Interim web page: http://dvorak.org/spengler

The Oswald Spengler Society celebrates "the decline of the West since 1997" which sounds good to me. If only I were in San Francisco, eh?


There are, Peter Jackson rightly observes (he's Editorial Fellow on PC Mag, like me) some phrases which really induce instant trance. Fujitsu has mastered the art of trotting them out. I have a press release which informs me that TeamWare Flow2.0 "Is Chosen As The Product of Choice..." which is an ominous start before we get down to the hard stuff, "for Collaborative and Ad-hoc Workflow applications."

What the blue blazes is an Ad-hoc workflow application? Who on earth cares?

Actually, the answer is that soon, everybody will. The world is full of bureaucrats, and their objective is a quiet life. This means that as soon as something happens which is out of the ordinary, they produce a list of things to do to make sure it never happens again.

It's a process like damming a river. You block it with a log, and two side flows develop. You block both of those, and you have four subsidiary side flows. The blocks for those... and so on. Before you know where you are, you have a rickety log-jam through which nobody can thread a sensible path, but which doesn't actually slow the river down even a bit. And the disease has spread to IT, and IT is now in the business of trying to predict every possible eventuality in the range of events that might befall a modern corporation.

Yes, I'm in a gratuitously ill humour. I have some excuse: after having spent some part of every day for the last six weeks trying to organise an NDA briefing with Sun, I have suffered an embarrassing personal injury; and can't even get down stairs. Workflow. Bah.

In an attempt to retrieve the situation with Sun (three top level executives are presumably seething somewhere in a hotel in Piccadilly) I ring around all the Sun numbers I know. Various people offer to take messages. Something tells me that these people don't know what a PC is. "Guy Kewney? Of Peacey Mac?" Something tells me the messages aren't getting through in time to avert a disastrous breach of diplomatic relations...


The plan, today, was to finish off the Kewney At Large column for PC Mag. We write ("editorial we") like buggers and end up with an interesting summary of Intel's chip surplus story. "That," remarks the Vampire -- with a sweep of his cape and a flash of his fangs -- "is a pretty good 'Trends' story. Can you let me have something else for KAL?"

The result is a total block for the rest of the day, in which I neither can, nor want to, write. It rains too hard to take the dog for a walk, too.

He dies. A pork chop driven through the liver, I think. Can't afford a steak through the heart...


It turns out that two days ago, Digital and Sequent left me a fax, offering a share in a phone conference call with Casey Powell (Sequent) and Robert Palmer (Digital) explaining a deal to put Digital Unix onto the new Intel chip. Naturally, nobody thought to use the phone for its more obvious (non-fax) function, and tell me personaly about this, with the result that (since I wasn't at my desk the last two days) it's all history.

It's also all nonsense. The conference call session was recorded, and I play it back. About the only statement made during the whole announcement which isn't hilariously stupid, is the observation (by Palmer) that DEC Unix has the advantage of being in the same byte-code sequence as Intel. Powell then answers questions by a bunch of Unix hacks, who ask why he's deserting Windows for Unix. He comes up with a gem: "Unix is the best path to NT."

And Hell is the best way to a path of good intentions, and a fall cometh before pride. In short, NT is the best way I can think of for explaining to relatively ignorant system admin 'experts' that they really do need Unix, after all.

And anyway, what is all this about? It's about the 'Merced' chip -- the 64-bit processor which Intel is now hyping, and which even the most rose-tinted of spectacles can't bring any closer than late 1999. We're supposed to believe that a chip which exists only in simulation, is going to magically solve all the system bottlenecks that computer designers have been cramming their fingers through for the last two decades, and ship on time, and that this will mean endless fortune for both DEC and Sequent?

Let's save our laughter for another 24 months. No, flup that; let's go catch up with Dilbert.


The phone is pretty hot this morning, as the panic calls go out for people who have so far failed to call back.

What is happening to BT's ADSL test in Richmond? My best source is silent. Where are the Romtec figures about the Xmas break? They answer the phone with a robot who claims to take a message. Nothing comes back. What does Context think about TFT displays? They promise to find Jeremy.

Silence reigns. Eventually, utterly fed up with this, I wander down the corridor to the "tossers" and bully them into buying bread and cheese from the local Safeway, and we have one of our regular chimpanzee tea party lunches.

This turns out to be the most productive part of the day, because we're plotting revenge on a couple of spammers and cracker-hackers. In short, our Web site has been systematically and fiercely probed by someone who knows all the published security weaknesses in Unix, and is testing our defences to every one. Suspicion would normally fall on one of us, of course. In this case, however, the whisper is that we know the ISP who is providing the cracker attacks. Ho ho ho!

The spammer, a purveyor of cheap photographic services, has committed an elementary error. He's given his address. Better still, he has a Freepost address. At last, we know what to do with all those out of date copies of the Yellow Pages, PC Pro and Internet Explorer User Guide!

Half way through this hilarity, my mobile phone rings. It is home, telling me that they can't get me on my desk number. "Naturally, " I tell them complacently, "because I'm not there. I'm having a chimpanzee party."

It turns out, though, that this has nothing to do with it. For reasons that only computers know, my phone has disabled itself, and it is telling the PSTN that it is defunct. Which presumably explains the morning's silence.

Strangely, our Editor seems not to be reassured by this. "I need your Kewney's World NOW!" he explains sweetly. Behind him, the Editor of PC Mag is equally unimpressed. "We need Trends. I know it's a week early, but we need it ALL this afternoon."

At that point, Martin is foolish enough to raise the subject of my diary. Enough! I'm off. See you next week.

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