Guy Kewney's Diary

MondayAll my computers were saying "Windows has adjusted your system clock for daylight savings; please check that it's all right."

How can it be all right, if I have to get up an hour early? And then there was the rabbit.

It bit me. So, for that matter, did the clock. See, this Windows thing is clever. It checks that the daylight savings date has arrived, and if it has, it moves the clock forward an hour. And then it writes a memo to itself: "Daylight savings updated!" Brilliant!

So this machine has dual boot Windows 95 and Windows NT. Guess what... and guess who got up not just an hour early, but another hour early?

(Actually, it wasn't me. I think it was one of our technical editors. The giveaway is, everybody else seems to think it's quite funny, and he doesn't.) There's a way around this, of course; it requires what we call "forethought" -- or so one of my drinking buddies points out. "Guy, how clever do you have to be, to set the Windows 95 clock to update itself for daylight savings, and the NT clock to NOT update itself?"

Back to the sick rabbit.

What would be fun, while I'm waiting for the vet to call back and say, "no point in bringing a perfectly healthy bunny in," would be to play Quake II. BT has actually installed a dedicated Wireplay line in my office at home, so I can try out Wireplay. Apparently, the software will be with me last week, or two weeks before that. A quick call to BT's publicity experts. "Please leave a message at the tone."

Into the office, and fire up Gamespy. The system crashes. Quick check of possible causes: first is the possibility that the Web connection is defunct. Telnet works. The browser however, doesn't. The brand new COLT lines (replacing our old, CompuServe ISP service) are, naturally, not the problem. Ooooh no, definitely not. An internal memo says, "the changeover to COLT didn't work." But that (I'm told) is out of date. Now, it's working. Except, it isn't.

A visit to the server room reveals that the temperature there is around 130 F, and the emotional temperature a lot higher. "It's all ISP services, gone," says the operator from hell. Eager to cheer him up, I offer the good news: "Telnet is working," He gives me one of those looks, which tells me I've just ruined his fifth working hypothesis of the morning. Time for a tactful withdrawal, something tells me...

Not to worry: I have independent ISP, either through Demon, MSN, or Lineone. Here's the notebook; here's the docking station. Close down Windows before docking, I know that much.

Windows won't close down. Why? Because if you have the MSN dialing dialog box open, Windows can't close down. I know, don't tell me... it's "part of the operating system, not an application".

First phone call of the week, to Dixons press office. "Please ring the following pager number," says the machine. Dixons, of course, keeps scrupulous records of all incoming transactions. So they'll call me back? Hardly. I'll ring after lunch.

This is a busy week: my PC Mag (Kewney At Large) column goes to print by the end of the week (the production team calls this "Tuesday" in a quaint ritualistic phraseology used in the formal dance) so as to be early. The story has appeared on the Web: we've promised PC World that they'll be given the rights of response. All they have to do is report what their own records of the transaction show, since (they indicate indignantly) they keep detailed records.

Early indications are discouraging.

You'll perhaps recall that my sister, after two years of trying to get a PC fixed and working, finally lost her rag and went public with her complaints about Dixons MasterCare last week. In a nutshell, every time she rang, they appeared not to be able to find their detailed records of what problems had occurred, and what action had been taken. I wrote the piece, saying that Dixons clearly had no way of knowing which customer bought which PC from PC world, or what had gone wrong with it, and what had been tried. They assured me I was mistaken: they keep detailed records.

Friday night, (she reports) the local PC World rang up. "I'd be very surprised to hear we were shipping a Pentium 133 as long ago as January 1996," says the truculent "customer services manager," (presumably, reading from his detailed records) in his usual supportive, pro-active, customer-centric voice. "Have you got the receipt?" Oh ho, is it possible he doesn't have a record of the sale?

Apparently, he doesn't. "How surprised do you want me to pretend to be?" I ask my sister. She rings him back. "You can't talk to me," is his response. "In view of your ill-judged and precipitate decision to go public on the Web, a mere two years after buying the machine, I've been told it's out of my hands. You'll have to talk to my Manager."

Ten minutes later, he's back on the phone. "What date did you buy that machine, do you know?" Yes, she does.

The problem, it seems, is the software bundle. They did bundle some software with the machine, but their system doesn't appear to be very helpful on what exactly it was. What information they do have says the stuff my sister had on the hard disk was not what they offered. So the "customer services manager" writes a helpful note to her saying that her memory is incorrect, and that if she does have that software on her hard disk, she must have stolen it. "You should be aware of the penalties for having unauthorised, unlicensed software on your PC."

What the feckless man doesn't know (because the detailed records appear to fail to show it) is that when she bought the machine, the local store screwed up the transaction so badly, she asked for her money back, and asked them to cancel the whole deal. How much better for all concerned, if they had! Instead, they accepted blame, and in compensation, gave her several "complimentary" copies of software for everyday use. Exactly which software they gave her, presumably, is listed on their licence agreement with the company, in their detailed records