Editors' Day is the day the various writers and labs testers of PC Magazine go down to a secret place in the country. It's easily the hardest day's work any of us do. A dozen manufacturers are lined up for each group of reporters, sorted into software companies, peripheral companies, network companies. And, one by one, we get half an hour for these guys to tell us what's new.
Normally, PC Magazine does this twice a year. It's a big catch-up exercise, and really rather valuable for us, writers; and equally a big forecasting opportunity, as people get the chance to tell us what's coming.
It's also the chore to end all chores, and at the end of the exercise, few are not utterly exhausted. Two of these in a year are an endurance challenge. So it was, I think, careless of the Editor-In-Chief to describe his plan for running three Editors' Days in 1998 as "providing a bonus day". Retribution, I suspect, is being planned.
As to what happened in our Tring retreat, I can't tell you much, beyond the fact that I discovered Vogon Software, who do data recovery. This is one of those nice stories, where you write about a new product and delight the purveyors of the product, and get all your readers saying; "Oh, thank you!" -- because data recovery is as important to the data society as antibiotics are to human society; you hope you never need it, but when you do, you are truly grateful.
The rest, will trickle out over the next few months.
As I slam the front door of my house, the phone rings inside. By the time I've operated the various security systems to get back in, the phone has taken the message: "Hello Mr Kewney; your pine chest is ready for delivery; please confirm you'll be in."
Pine Chest? I call back: "What pine chest?"
Apparently my wife has ordered one, and it's in, and we owe them £200. And can they deliver it now, please.
Two hours later, they still haven't arrived. I manage to pass the time by phoning people and asking them questions about their hardware. In particular, I'm amused to get voice mail from someone at IBM, saying that they've "fixed" my ThinkPad 560. It's evidently a nice, helpful chap, without pencil or paper to his name, because he's done what I told him you could do, but didn't want to.
If you set your keyboard to "international" English, it assumes that you want to create German and French and other accents. So to get an o-umlaut, you type
"o in that order -- quote, then letter o. Which is irritating if you actually want to type a letter o as the first letter of a quote. And this notebook I've got, insists on using this "international" setting. You can "cure it" (I told the helpful guy a couple of weeks back) by loading a UK keyboard driver, but this puts the quotes on the 2 and 7 keys, where I don't want them.
That's not its only fault; it also won't run several games, and doesn't have a mouse when you run a DOS program like EDIT.EXE (or any other DOS application). And there are other oddities. Which is why we agreed that it was best to send it back to its maker, and get it fixed.
The phone call, is to tell me it's fixed and being delivered. It's a long voice mail message, basically telling me that I must be a real dimwit not to realise I can fix the problem simply by loading a UK keyboard driver.
The pine chest hasn't shown up. Not to worry, I can profitably spend the time installing the updated LineOne software from the CD they've sent me, on my new home PC. In goes the disc; up comes a screen inviting me to click to join >herehere
This isn't really very strange. For Explorer to find the site, Windows would have to have a connection to the Internet. To get a connection, it would have to dial. To dial, it would need a networking connection through the modem, a TCP/IP stack correctly configured, dial-up networking correctly set up. And, of course, a phone number.
Meanwhile, my Internet Explorer 4.0 installation appears to have been overwritten with IE 3.0, all my MSN connectivity data has gone. I can't get to the Internet any more.
There's an 0345 number to call; first option is "If you are getting 'site not found' messages..."
After a few minutes, a helpful young man comes on line, and talks me through the install. He tells me what phone numbers to enter, what DNS settings LineOne requires, what TCP/IP options. We type it all in, we reset the system, we type more in, we reset it again. Nothing. "I'll have to escalate this, I'm afraid. What is your phone number?"
The man arrives from the pine furniture company. "I've been here before!" he says, surprised. I do notice that he appears not to have a pine chest. "Yes, I think we must have already delivered it. I wonder whose chest that was..."
A working-from-home day; waiting for LineOne to "escalate" things. Eventually, it dawns on me they aren't going to. I dial again, get asked who I was talking to. Apparently, if I don't know who I was talking to, they can't help me. Don't they keep a record of who I am, and what the problem was? Apparently, yes, but only stored under an index accessed by support operative name.
I mention the name Andrew Burke, managing director of LineOne. Magically, suddenly, the indexing system reveals the name of the man I was talking to yesterday! Magically, rapidly, he calls me back; he's helpful, swift, and within five minutes, magically, smoothly, we're online.
Science. Isn't it wonderful?
The man from Franklin, he was going to show me a Rex PDA today. It turns out that he meant Wednesday.
A woman rings up and asks to speak to "Sophie". I protest that I am not, and never intend to be, Sophie. She sounds puzzled. "Sophie told me to call this number on Monday," she says. I point out that it's Thursday. "Really? You sure?"
A friend rings to say that our meeting for lunch will have to be cancelled; he's in hospital. "Nothing serious, just severe bruising to my leg," he says. He was driving in, when his car stopped working. He summoned the AA, and while he and the AA man were peering under the bonnet, a woman shot past them, braked hard, reversed violently back, and failed to stop before colliding with the front of the car. Which is where my friend was standing.
"Can you give me some petrol, because I'm afraid I'm getting low?" she asks.
Simon Lucy sends me a URL from a company purporting to have invented the 90gigabyte chip, shipping end '99. The warning bells don't really start ringing until I go up to the home page of their site, where I discover lots of pointers to "Rosswell Incident Technology transfer" data, including the (apparently widely known) information that all Lucent/Bell Labs inventions in semiconductors were made after they analysed the Rosswell wreckage. As Simon remarks: couldn't they have waited till April 1?
Rupert interrupts my end-of day summarising for Kewney's World by wandering over to my desk. He tells a tale of my colleague, the loveable Vampire, flitting helplessly around on a snow-covered mountain, forced to call back to his family in London in order to order a snow-plough for the side of the Eiger. I simply don't believe a word of it.
Apparently, true -- see his diary...
I'm not really allowed to tell you what I did Friday. In the morning, I looked at some cameras that will be shipping in June, and I agreed not to talk about those till next month. And in the afternoon, I looked at the New Pilot, 3Com III.
The good news, however, I can pass on right now; there's no need to postpone buying a Pilot. Based on what I saw, the new machine is fine, good value. But everything about it is upgradeable-to. If you have a Professional today, you should be able to plug all the new stuff in.
The bad news, of course, is that you're probably going to think that Palm III is rather ho-hum when you see it. But I'm afraid I have to admit, this hardly matters; because it's still a nicer machine than the Windows CE Palm PC.
The rest of the day is spent trying to foretell the future of scanners. In the end, I have to admit defeat. Does this bother my Editor? "Just write what you have, Guy, just write what you have."
That won't take long...