Not a bad day, really, considering a) the car has a flat tyre and b) I can't find my Pilot. I know I had the Pilot on Friday because I left it behind. I was half way out of the office when I realised I'd left it in its cradle, and had to go back to get it. And where is it now? I even check the laundry basket, on the grounds that the thing is small enough to leave in a trouser pocket. No sign. In disgust, I take the car to the tyre shop, and tell them to fix the puncture, rotate the tyres from front to rear, and ring me when it's finished. Voice-mail waits for me on (to a chorus of disapproving frowns from my colleagues) my late arrival.
"Drayton Park Tyres here: your car is ready for collection." Is this a sign that the day is going to get steadily better?
No. The phone is a useless ornament; everybody I call is out. The guy at IBM says he'll call; he doesn't. Then someone else does, and says that they have a new Pentium II desktop to review. Why me? I'm innocent -- pass the buck to First Leaks. And it goes downhill from there.
Trip to a book shop to get a copy of a reported bargain: a book on the Dead Sea Scrolls and a whole bunch of Holy Grail fantasy. The thesis of the book -- which I need for an Internet argument -- is that the search for the San Greal or Holy Chalice, is a careless mistranslation of the secret Templar search for the True Heir of King David -- the Blood Royal. Which in Spanish of the time, would have been Sang Real. An excellent pun. Trouble is, you can't buy a book on the Grail without attracting nutters; and sure enough, the bookshop owner turns up on schedule. "That's all crap," he informs me, taking £20 for a £13.95 book, and giving me 5p change. He gestures to a holy icon on the wall, and attempts to engage me in Conversion. I tell him to concentrate on arithmetic, and escape with my change.
Deep Throat calls, to confirm that Computacenter is planning a share issue, or going public, or whatever. A quick call to Official Sources yields only cautious denial. Back to Deep Throat. "Yes, of course he's going to deny it. But if they aren't getting ready for going public, then they're paying Goldman Sachs an awful lot of money for no reason..." Later he calls again, to tell me that I ought to call Kleinworts. I think I'm beginning to understand how merchant bankers make all the money they do; and it has something to do with the sort of people who employ them. The phrase "more money than sense" keeps popping up out of the cliché cache.
My colleague Jonno gives me a utility to synch my Pilot to Lotus Notes. I can't! Instead of creating dates in the Pilot, all that happens is that all my memos are deleted. Yeah, I did mean to go through them and delete most of them, but there were a couple of poems in that lot. Gone.
Is life worth living? The heck with this: time to collect the car, anyway. Home early.
Breakfast with the energetic and modest Alan Samuels, who is fixing IBM's server business in the UK. He'll not last, this guy; too low a score on the BS meter. For example, nine months ago, IBM trumpeted its intention of having several hundred Windows NT experts at the end of a phone line to support server customers.
Pretty funny, I thought. I know how many true NT experts there are in the country, and I know IBM salary policy, and I know what these experts cost per day. So I felt no compunction in pointing out that the boast was empty. But Samuels now tells me it's true: they've hired genuine, top-notch NT experts, and yes, he knows what they cost.
"How many have you hired?" is my response (thinking to myself: "I bet he hasn't got ten, yet").
"In the UK? About six."
That's pretty impressive, actually, to anybody who understands the problem. Most people running NT servers have discovered that if they call their supplier, they actually know more than the "support staff" who charge by the minute. But just occasionally, you bump into a really nasty problem -- probably as a result of running Exchange -- which only a real expert can sort out. If IBM has six such, it's doing rather well. I doubt Microsoft has as many. Last time I chatted to a Microsoft NT product manager, I poured scorn on the idea of selling a network operating system without a manual. "Oh, don't we supply a manual?" he asked, amazed.
Back to the office to check mail, and package up the ailing ThinkPad: a search through a hitherto disregarded black bag yields a result! Yes! Found my Pilot!
Now to do a hotsynch -- send all the data from the Pilot to the PC, and all the new stuff on the PC to the Pilot. But this time, we're including the Lotus Notes calendar. Excitement mounts.
So much for fantasy. It wasn't like that; what happened was that I just dropped the Pilot into its cradle as normal. And so I was more than a trifle astonished to see something utterly new: "Password for Guy Kewney?" on the PC screen. It doesn't say "Lotus Notes Password" or anything helpful like that, but I managed to arrive at a total of four with the pair of twos I had, and instead of entering the LAN password, got the right one.
Then I thought about this. The more I thought about it, the more I worried. Eventually, I dug out my Options cellular modem, and plugged that onto the end of the Pilot, and told the PC that HotSynch should be "remote."
Both my suspicions were instantly confirmed. First, you can't switch to "modem" hotsynch without closing down and re-starting. Fair enough, I suppose. And second, the request for the password is put up on the PC, not the Pilot. So there you are, in Finland or Singapore, and dialling via GSM phone to update your diary: and in London on your desktop, your PC asks you for a password.
The solution is one you have to be aware of before you step into the plane: go to the Tools menu in Lotus Notes, and check the box which says "Share password with add-ons." Unfortunately, this only works if you leave Notes running. I discover this awkward fact after getting home. Too late! Somewhere on a screen near the Tower of London is a dialogue box saying "Password for Guy Kewney" and somewhere in Stoke Newington is a Pilot saying; "Establishing connection."
The new Pilot, version 3, is a secret. I know it's a secret, you know it's a secret. I spoke to Ed Colligan a week ago, and wrote a piece saying that he said it was a secret. And all the time he and I and you were nodding our heads and agreeing it was a secret, a company called Symbol was prepared to tell anybody who liked about their new handheld models.
One of these, is the Pilot 3.
The wretches have even released a picture of their new Pilot clone, which features two green buttons at the top of the screen, apparently to hold and release add-in cards like the Motorola Pager Card for Pilot. A matter of serious indifference, of course, to UK users who can't use US pagers. They also have an infra-red beamer, so you can hotsynch without cables. Apparently, you don't even need to have the thing out in the open to work, because this new IRDA standard works through the holes in the fabric of your jacket. Oh, and it plugs into a LAN to hotsynch, too. The launch will be in Hannover at CeBIT next month. Now, why did Pilot's Official Source not tell me about this?
A call to Pilot's official sources reveals that they're all hiding under tables.
Oh, and did we tell you about our ruggedised version, asks Symbol? Yeah, neat; it's going to be out in December, but it will be waterproof. Not just waterproof in the sense that you can walk home in the rain; you can use it underwater.
Nobody can talk about anything except share options. The secret is out, and our publisher is to go public. And we're quietly warned not to say anything in public that could constitute insider dealing within the Meaning Of The Act. Phew; at least I don't have to waste time speculating on how I would re-arrange my investment portfolio if I had one, to accommodate any putative option purchases with spare cash, if I had any...
So, moving swiftly on to safer news, I haul out an archive of unopened envelopes left on the doorstep by the postman this morning. There inside, it says that the new 56K modem standard will be called V.90 and will be agreed between 3Com (US Robotics) and Rockwell.
Both modem makers now insist that you can call into an exchange supporting either K56flex or X2 technologies, and can use either K56flex or X2 modems, and both will co-exist with each other, and with the V.90 standard. And do you know? I couldn't really care. I want a 128K digital link or better, and it's technologically possible, and why are these idiots wasting my time with a 33 kilobit modem technology that will probably only run at 28 kilobits anyway?
It's not the best day ever for 3Com, actually; it becomes necessary to plug a new notebook into the office LAN, and the only interface card I can find is a 3Com PCMCIA standard PC Card. It plugs in, plays, and can't find the server. Panic in the IT department, and a Xircom card is extracted from a haphazard pile of plugs and cables. It plugs in, requires a disk, can't find the files on it, and also can't see the server.
A nice bunch of bastard operators invite me out to a site near Potters Bar to see their network management software fall over. It's apparently a high security site, so we have to go into the building through the car park to avoid security. That works.
Why is LAN and remote server management software so universally awful? I can't think of any other area in the software business -- with one obvious exception -- which makes so much fuss to get so little done. It all just about, sort of, works, as long as you have exactly the configuration they developed it on, and don't require any more facilities than the universal LAN management software requires under SNMP. I think the "S" stands for "Simpleminded."
The exception is, of course, backup software. In an innocent spirit of conversational wit, I make the mistake of asking them what network backup software they use. Vituperation breaks out; epithets are uttered, expletives emitted. These are people with a grudge, I quickly discover.
At some point in the discussion of system clocks, I will concede that my expertise is going to prove inadequate. I know, for example, that the Motorola real time clock chip has about fifty bytes of electrically programmable memory, and that one of its standard locations contains the second count, another contains the minute count, and so on up to day, month, year. What there isn't, is a century count. Different operating systems have different ways of storing a flag that tells you what century it is, and naturally, they store them in different memory locations.
It turns out that these unfortunates have suffered some bizarre conflict between their standard Unix server real time clock, and another "server" somewhere on the network, with the result that their intermediate backups have been taking place in reverse for several months. According to one of the systems guys, it's the fault of some intellectually inadequate individual with the title of IT Director, who came up with a "quick fix" for the fact that backup takes place overnight. He hacked together something which checked the archive bit on the NT machine, and then compared dates, and then copied the new one over the old one. Somehow, in the course of doing this hack, he screwed up the time algorithm so that it checks a system flag which assumes that a utility is running which posts the correct century somewhere in the real time clock chip.
And the result has been that the old files have been religiously copied over the new ones, because they've been showing a date of 2098, because they were actually 1998 but the clock got the century wrong. This wouldn't have mattered, but for the fact that someone did a "restore" using Windows.
A pity: what could have been a nice lunch turns into a back-biting session, and I can't even drink the beer, because of having to drive to the office. And it becomes clear that it would be tactless to mention the name of the site I was visiting. In fact, even mentioning Potters Bar, may be to risk someone getting fired next week.
Oh, yes; the reason I have to drive to the office is simple: I have to write this diary, and the cable I was using for playing around with Ethernet cards yesterday is now plugged into my desktop PC.
Not until I attempt to do a remote login to Notes from my home office, do I discover that the cable is not talking to the LAN. It does, of course, explain why neither notebook card would detect the server -- but by the Lord Harry, why couldn't we have discovered this when I was at St Katharine's Dock, instead of in Potters Bar?