Guy Kewney's Diary

MondayThis is my first day back on my feet after a week cultivating viruses in large numbers. The phrase "on my feet" is figurative.

Another figurative expression turns out to have passed its use-by date. When I was a brat, people would describe my state of health as "coughing like a train". These days, you have to specify "coughing like a steam-engine" or nobody has the faintest idea of what you're hinting at.

The day is mostly spent marvelling at just how uninventive the human brain is under the influence of high temperature. Semi-delirium, like dreaming, always seems more impressive from the inside. Fortunately, I was too ill to get out of bed and find the modem last week, or I might have transmitted some of that via e-mail.

Sample:

"Have you considered the importance of backup. Routine maintenance, like ear-wax, the same sort of thing in spades. Probably, the same sort of thing. Not much different, anyway in the same way. Here's the reason. Anyway, like earwax, it can build up."

I don't recall what on earth I was thinking; I do remember saying to myself: "This will certainly get them talking!"

Tuesday

A long, slow, careful journey to the office.

Anguished call from Mike Lunch, in response to a recent piece about the power cable for the ThinkPad range. "You rather went to town on us!" he says. "What's the problem?"

The problem is that the new ThinkPads have non-standard cables. You can't plug in any old tea-kettle lead, and you can't use the ghetto-blaster cable. A stupid, proprietary three-wires socket has been introduced. I remember going on about it at some length (because I was VERY ANGRY!) in a recently column.

"Nonsense! I've just got my new TP 560, and it's got a standard ghetto-blaster cable!"

If this is true, it's excellent news!

In the office, I hang around feebly leaning on furniture. Everybody avoids me, and my colleague doesn't want her water-bottle back. Another long, slow, and careful journey home. "Are you going to be able to write anything for "Trends" this month?" the vampire asks anxiously. Oh, yes. That. ear-wax and backup technology not any good, then?

"No."

Wednesday

Fascinating stuff talking to people inside Intel, trying to work out why people have pre-announced MMX-2. It doesn't ship till mid-'99. Some of this stuff got into Kewney's World - but the bit that didn't, is the fact that of course the next chip Intel announces won't actually be a new chip as such. It's a new packaging; the Mobile PII. Obviously, the Slot 1 package (often described as a "toast rack") won't fit inside a modern notebook. So Intel is coming out with two ways of fitting the PII chip and its associated huge wodge of cache RAM into a smaller block, generating less heat.

Press release: BT WirePlay now has Quake II. Actually, I'd quite like to try this out. My experience of playing Quake in multi-player mode has been restricted to hiding in corners while the online chaps shoot the crapulence out of me on the office LAN. After 6 PM, of course... but the typical Quake player has to find frag-bait by visiting the Web, and there, the slowness of inter-machine 'ping' can make battles more of a lottery than an exercise in skill. The fact that you can see your opponent means that the system predicted he would be there at the speed he was moving earlier. But in fact, if the pings get caught up in the system, he may well not even be in the room by the time your rocket shell explodes.

Wireplay is BT's money-making scheme for letting people dial into a Quake Server, and boy can it make money. Current rates are £9.95 per month inc. VAT (plus Lo-call charges) or 2.5p per minute for evenings and weekends (6p per minute at all other times). Typically, a frag-fest runs for more than an hour at a time. Phone bills of well over £200 a month can be generated incredibly quickly.

I've told them I'll give it a go. More reports as events warrant...

Thursday

Breakfast with IBM. They have their new server boss and their new PSG (Personal Systems Group) boss rolled out for inspection at an informal gathering of analysts and executives. Useful stuff, because you can get to grips with people, and ask questions -- like, for example, whether the new ThinkPads have three- or two-wire leads.

It is agreed, by the way, that the definitive statement about cables will be prepared, and a piece written, by me, saying how IBM UK has triumphed over the idiots in the US who designed these things, and has gone for the standard ghetto-blaster design.

The debate over breakfast is mostly about the new servers, and since IBM can't really say much about the forthcoming eight-way Pentium II servers until Intel announces the Corollary machine, conversation is limited to witticisms about whether modern IBM servers are just PCs on castors. David Samuels, head of servers, says they aren't. I say they are. He also says they're "optimised for NT" which irritates my colleague Chris Bidmead, who wants to know what this means. An embarrassed silence. "We'll find out, and get back to you," they finally agree. Snigger...

On the way back, we bump into two vampires outside the National Film Theatre. They are working for the Blood Transfusion service, and want to make an instant withdrawal. I have to say that the lady vampire is very cute, but she doesn't fool me; this is broad daylight! I make it back to the office with my full quota of vital fluids. Support your office vampire, I say. Actually, I can't give blood; the Transfusion people are squeamish about people who pass out on their tables. They sent me home last time with my donor card marked "Not to give blood." I did try to appeal; the receptionist asked me what my blood group was. "A Plus," I said proudly. "It's not what we're short of, to be honest," she admitted.

Friday

An expert -- I'm tempted to say THE expert -- on Year 2000 problems for PCs: Karl Feilder at Greenwich Mean Time -- comes in to show me just how wrong it is to be complacent.

You know what a "pivot date" is? It's the way programs like Excel and Sage deal with two-figure dates. If the pivot date for a package is "29" then any date like 6/6/29 will be taken as 2029, and any date like 6/6/31 will be 1931. Entertainingly, Excel has a different pivot date for every version. So a date taken from an old Excel or 1-2-3 spreadsheet cut and paste into a new one, will very possibly suddenly become 100 years earlier. Or later. You want to know how Visual Basic works out what century it is? Up to version 3.0, it was easy. It's the same as the clock on the PC. Is today's date 19XX? Then the date you've entered is 19XX. After 31/12/99, it will become 20XX. Simple. After that, from version 4.0 onwards, different bugs apply...

The amazing thing is: the number of large companies who believe that all the "mission critical" stuff is done on the mainframe, and that nothing important happens on PCs. They also believe (and are encouraged to believe) that PCs are mostly Y2K compliant. Feilder can puncture this complacency quicker than I can collapse the smile on an IBM press officer's face... more on this next week.

The press officer's face will never inflate again. Alas, my old mate Mike Lunch has an American ThinkPad 560, which did indeed arrive with two-wire ghetto-blaster cable. No longer: such things are ended, and the stupid, proprietary, non-standard cable "is the new standard for all ThinkPad machines," sobs poor Vince.

It really wasn't kind of me to ask him whether he thought it was a good idea. I suppose he must have known it was Friday 13th by the end of the day, poor lad.

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