It's going to be a pig of a week, too: I'm supposed to have a column written for PC Direct tomorrow; Wednesday is one of the hardest editions of Kewney's World I've ever had to put together...
Slow start. Trudge into office with a question about the PC Direct copy, needed today! Now!.
The office is empty. "Where's all the Editorial staff?"
"They're in New York, on an incentive trip, a sort of reward for performance."
I think we can sort of assume that the deadline date had some buffer space built into it.
A pig of a day. Jumpy as heck, trying to write a piece about IBM which doesn't turn into a rant. I do try to like the products, and I try to admire the corporate professionalism... but I'll just leave it with a reference to /KW and an observation that it is now a WHOLE YEAR since the corporate press office said: "Why are you using a Toshiba portable? You should try out one of our ThinkPads, I bet you'd like it better!" and I still don't actually have a working ThinkPad in my possession. It's been in Greenock "overnight" for two weeks, now...
Today's the day the Gas people come to service the system (according to the letter they sent). Another day working from home, which is VERY annoying, because I wanted to have lunch with some senior Microsoft executives. Kathleen Hebert, head of the Project team (they sell Project, a project planning tool which has become remarkably successful in the last two years). So I scan the news.
"I started out this evening saying I hoped to represent the voice of the customer."
Who can this be, you wonder. The Ombudsman? Head of Strategy for Ofgas? The Consumer Protection Minister? Wrong! It's that well-known philanthropist, that altruistic benefactor of the down-trodden, that champion of the charities: Lou Gerstner, chairman of IBM, talking at Hannover's computer fair, CeBIT.
Gerstner as representative of the customer! Dracula as protector of the Blood Transfusion Service! Gazza as head of the National Organisation of Women! Ian Paisley as spokesman for the Catholic Priests' Association! Has Lou Gerstner lost every marble he ever had? (You need not bother emailing me with the answer to that one, by the way...)
Little things like this help to amuse you when you're waiting for the gas engineer to come.
Another thing to do which is fun, is writing about changes in IBM. One of those magic events which makes it all worth it: I spent most of yesterday writing a piece, explaining to readers of Kewney's World how the company is heading for a nasty bump into financial instability unless it pulls off some kind of miracle. And one of the points I made was that the rats are deserting the sinking ship in droves, and the company is sitting on a "secret" stockpile of out of date equipment it can't sell..
And as I write, voice mail from my mole inside IBM: "Did you know, Mike Lunch, former head of IBM PC company, has resigned? He is off to SCC, to be managing director of Peter Rigby's outfit." And no sooner have I replaced the receiver, than in comes email from a reader: "Did you see, Business Week estimates IBM has 40 weeks worth of unsold server inventory?"
Lou Gerstner's interest in the customer is the interest of the wolf in the sheep. How can he have the cheek to stand up and claim to "represent the voice of the customer"?
Around one o'clock, fed up with waiting for the Gas man who Cometh Not, a phone call to the Service centre. "What address did you say? No, sorry, nothing booked out for you."
It is a mystery to me, that the Gas company is allowed to operate a computer. Letting them loose on the international superhighway is an act of negligence, equivalent to putting a two-year-old in charge of a Centurion Tank in the middle of London.
Last year, I found them preparing to cut off my personal supply of gas for "non-payment". Investigation showed that we had filled in a Direct Debit form, sent it off, registered it with the bank; and the debits had simply not been made. "What bank are you with?" said the Gas person sceptically. Halifax, I said. "No, that's not on our computer."
That's it! It's not on the Gas Board computer, so the Halifax doesn't exist! Gone, with one digital swipe. And whose name goes on the HPI "bad debtors" file?
Well, we're not playing this game with the Gas Computer again. Here is notice, you clowns at the Gas company: next time you send me a note saying an engineer will call, and nobody shows up, you will get billed at my full computer consultancy rate. For a day's lost work. And just so you know, if I had operated this last year, the cumulative bill would have reached £3,000. You're going to have to sell me a lot of gas, to keep up.
The good news is, the Microsoft lunch is a late one: I arrive, tripping over the lintel of Scott's Restaurant downstairs room, bang on cue as the waiter pulls out his elegant pencil and asks what we want to eat.
The bad news: I don't think the piece we ran, calling Microsoft UK an unimportant parasitic growth on the Seattle body, went down terribly well with my hosts. They're really quite proud of their Wish Lines announcement, which they hand me, right on cue. "We issued this last week, exactly seven days ago," they say in hurt tones.
Couldn't really ask for more, actually. It basically confirms exactly what we were saying: Microsoft wants UK customers to put forward suggestions, in the hope that finally, Redmond might take UK customers and their wishes seriously. Nice to see a step in the right direction. For your next trick, reading, try this: when someone rings up with a serious bug to report, try listening. Right now, I know of several people who won't ring, because this is what they will hear:
"This is the Microsoft Technical Support line. Your 90 day free support period has expired. Please pay us £200 for the privilege of reporting bugs in our software."
It would be nice to report nice things about the Outlaw 3D card. Alas, until they get the drivers sorted out, all I can tell you is that Laplink remote control picks up exactly the same bitmap for each and every Windows desktop icon. It is green, with grey lines in it, and looks like a square of green paint spilled onto the floor with lumps in it.
And after you try to open a Netscape or Internet Explorer window, the stack fills up and crashes; and the machine locks.
After the fifth time of this, my colleagues got wise to me, and stopped answering the phone. I had to send myself email at work by logging on to CIX and mailing copy to my editors there from there.
Mind you, this beats going in to the office carrying yet another week's worth of useless press releases. I mean! "Elonex wins bid at Rotherham Borough Council." An order for 20 or 30 PCs, and I'm meant to waste the 60 seconds it takes to tear it open, unfold it, read it, and bin it?
Time to plan a sailing trip, and time to ignore that awful news from the Pacific of Tracey Edwards and her disastrous breakdown (bust mast) on that huge and beautiful catamaran, Alliance and Royal. And just think: another week of British Standard Time, and then we have a whole hour extra sunlight per day when the clocks go forward.
I'll just get this across to the Online Team before Lotus Notes...