Guy Kewney's Weekend Diary

This was the week when it suddenly struck me that I'd been away. Things, it seems, have been happening; half my colleagues were suddenly obsessed with their appearance.

Monday

Today, it was Charles (First Looks editor) who showed up neatly shorn. "Hello, it's Spring!," I said. He looked embarrassed. "You've had a haircut," I explained. "Er, yes," he said, and moved away. Odd.

The day started off with a visit by AMD. Actually, it was a visit by NexGen; Dana Karelle was one of the boy geniuses that AMD acquired with the takeover last year. And he was talking about the new K6 chip, and I can't tell you a thing about it until they announce it; and even the date of the announcement is a secret.

But in the course of looking for news of the chip, I did discover that benchmarks comparing new Intel chips with old ones are hot potatoes. In particular, I found Dr Tom Pabst's benchtest site which was in turmoil.

Here's the problem: Intel's Pentium II (Klamath) is probably going to appear in PCs come May (perhaps earlier? we don't know yet). It's a weird beast; it isn't a chip any more, but a daughter-board. You can't plug it into a socket; it slots into a special bus on the motherboard, and needs screws to hold it down. What it is: a Pentium Pro (or P6) without the big RAM cache alongside the processor, but with MMX instructions.

Now, officially, there are no Klamath chips in existence. In reality, there are lots, washing round laboratories everywhere. One such laboratory is Tom's lab; except embarrassingly, the chip he has is not one that Intel gave him. Intel gave it to someone else, with STRICT instructions to keep it secret. They didn't...

All of which wouldn't matter, except for the fact that Tom isn't part of the PC mafia.

It is understood, in normal PC circles, that only a cad would test Intel's new chip against its old one "clock for clock". That is to say, in the old days when the 486 was launched, it was a 33MHz part, and it was faster than a 386 at 25 MHz. What you were not supposed to do was compare the 33 MHz 486 with a 33 MHz 386. After all, there are no 33 MHz 386 parts, Intel would have told you.

Currently, there are no 233 MHz Pentium chips. Klamath runs at 233 MHz. Klamath is quicker, on bench tests, than the Pentium 200. Tom thought this was interesting; and plugged a 233 MHz clock into his Pentium. In short, he over-clocked it. [Omnes: tch, tch!] Amazing! -- the thing was as fast as the Klamath...

At that point, the ordure entered the air-conditioning...

It got to the point where Intel actually posted a letter which said, officially, that they would NOT be taking legal action against Tom.

And the reason the Klamath wasn't any faster? "This early sample has less functionality than the full production version..."

What AMD will be doing, however, is to get into the chipset business. The reason: its next-generation chip will fit into a standard Pentium socket. Intel's chip won't. So it's up to AMD to make sure that there are motherboards that support the Pentium chip socket at the new clock rates.

You can also expect some kind of "AMD INSIDE" advertising campaign. I kinda like the idea. Last time AMD decided to do some corporate advertising, they put together a campaign which showed an aeroplane without wings and a car without wheels. The market got the idea: "If you buy an AMD chip, you're missing something important." The campaign this time, apparently, is rather cleverer.

Feel free to mail me with suggested campaign themes... we'll give a mention for your home page if yours is worthy of a wider audience.

Oh, and the AMD chip will be faster than the Klamath... but I can't tell you that for another few weeks.

Tuesday

A lovely day. Peter, the other "Editorial Fellow" at Ziff, shows up looking very spruce. "You've had a haircut," I remark. "Yes, and?," he responds testily. Odd. Is everybody going for new jobs?

I have finally managed to get through to a tech support person at MSN! Not only that, but it's a human, who understands that Microsoft can make mistakes, and it's up to him to fix them. Amazing... he must be for the chop.

We spend the morning futilely trying to get my (perfectly standard) Toshiba notebook to use its (perfectly ordinary) USR Sportster modem to dial MSN.

We re-install MSN 1.3. We move various files from different directories to backup directories. We try dialling. Hours go by (literally) and eventually, in despair, I remind him of my theory that it isn't MSN that's actually gone sour; it's dialup networking. "Hmph," he says dubiously, but admits that it's worth deleting the "connectoids".

A connectoid? Go to My Computer in Win 95; and pick "Dialup Networking." You'll see "Make new connection" and possibly "My connection" and possibly "Microsoft Network", as three labelled icons. Those are connectoids; things that automate connection. Or, to put it in clearer English: these are connectoids; pigs.

We delete the connectoids. They are, if you examine them, exactly the same as the ones you get when invoking MSN dialler. You would imagine, in a sensible system, that they'd simply be shortcuts (with different parameters) to the same software. They aren't. They're copies of something which didn't work, and which can't be fixed from where you made them. It's mad. But once deleted, MSN automatically tries to use them, and when it can't, it makes new ones.

Which appear to work. This is more than can be said about MSN, which shows a blank screen whatever I do. But I'm not bothered; I use MSN mainly for its Internet IP service - and that does work. I finish the experiment by dialling into MSN, setting up a UDP link with Laplink across the Internet to my desktop machine, which I remotely control to set up a Telnet session to CIX...

I know. Bloody silly. But fun!

The afternoon: well, it's a mess of apologies. I did tell Dave that I'd meet him at 12.30. I was on the phone to MSN tech support. I was an hour late. He'd gone. And who can blame him?

He tells me he's in a bit of a state; the Federation Against Software Theft has showed up, and his Managing Director, not knowing any better, invited them in to do an "audit." Apparently, there is unregistered software on some hard disks.

Wednesday

Two more colleagues arrive with smart new hairstyles. "Hello, going for a 'dental appointment' are we?" I ask one. He looks blank. "Smart shirt," I add meaningfully. Clean shoes, too, I notice. Good grief, he really is going for a job interview, and I've been utterly tactless. Oh, dear...

Dave has had another FAST visit. They say they can "fix him up" with reference to the unlicensed software, if he becomes a corporate member. A payment of just £1,000 will put him right. Is this true, I wonder? - and start dialling Bastard Operator From Hell types in various companies.

It turns out it's nearly true.

First thing you find out: FAST is, indeed, conducting an awareness campaign, aiming to recruit dozens of thousands of large corporations. And it has set up an agency with either the DTI or Trading Standards Office, to administer this.

But what it's really all about is a change in the law: the new Criminal Justice Act, as of last year, made the DTI responsible for enforcing copyright law.

It's a nest of vipers, this. FAST, in the old days under ex-copper Bob Hay, was a nice friendly sort of strict Aunt. They reminded you that you really ought to pay for software, and you said: "Oh, yes, dammit" and sent some cheques off.

These days, the BSA or Business Software Alliance, is rather more heavy-handed; it has actually prosecuted people. And it has even sent the cops in, armed with Anton Piller orders: break in at 5 AM, take all the computers, and remove them to a safe place, to check for pirate code.

The trouble is, you see, that everybody has unlicensed software. You show me someone without, and I'll show you a diskless workstation user; and even then, I'm inclined to be sceptical. And the MIS support folks are simply not set up to be able to police this. Apart from the fact that they'd lose their last friends in the company if they tried to stop people using "evaluation copies" of this and that, they don't have the powers. More important, perhaps, they don't have the time.

Suddenly, however, it's The Law, not just a Good Idea.

The result, whether FAST realises it or not, is that FAST is being seen as the evil one, the bunch of slimeballs who try to get MIS staff into trouble, the snoops, the pry-ers, and the ones who try to extort £1,000 from the company in exchange for hushing it all up. It won't end here; this one will get worse before it gets better.

The day ends prematurely. "Everybody outside," announces "Godfather" Ed Henning. "Come on, come on; I've got a plane to catch."

It turns out that we're five years old (PC Magazine UK) and all the five-year-old members have to be photographed. That includes me, and I'd forgotten. I take my place as the only scruffy one (apart from The Godfather, who has a pony-tail to disguise the lack of a new haircut) in the freezing wind.

Nice to know people aren't leaving in droves, after all...

Thursday

It would be hard to imagine a bigger cock-up than yesterday's launch of LineOne.

The story is of some importance. It's a joint venture between News International and BT. It's also the UK's answer to MSN; all the things that MSN was going to be, in a way. The Times and the Sunday Times and the News of the World and the Sun - in fact, everything that News International can put up in electronic form. Plus, for a total of £16 per month, unlimited Web access through BT Internet.

From the demonstration, done by Chris Lloyd (formerly Innovations Editor at the Sunday Times) it is amazing. There's a complete "live" feed of news from the Press Association ("you won't use this professionally, will you?") and 12 live news-room journalists just to feed this -- plus Harper-Collins, and lots of other sources.

You can see why the Guardian might not give it much house space (it didn't mention it!) nor the Mirror/ Independent (not a whisper); but if you're wondering why you read nothing else about it yet, the answer is that the launch was held in a small back room in Wapping, without maps to get you there; with jobsworth gatekeepers who wouldn't let you in (I had to get through three) and with a gate list of everybody who'd turned the invite down. At that, I seem to be the only person I know apart from Wendy Grossman, who was invited. And it's almost exactly two months too late to make my June edition...

Give it a week, and then try searching around lineone.net for it; or ring News International for an install disk. If you don't yet have Web access at home, this could be for you.

The day ends with the fourth of my attempts to contact "Uncle" Clive Sinclair, a Knight of the realm these days. Word is that he's about to spring something on the world. "Not till summer," he tells me from his new headquarters, North of Kings Cross. "Just doing bicycle engines, right now. But I do have some ideas..."

We agree to meet and have a cup of tea.

Friday

The "oh God" of hangovers visited me this morning. Something to do with the CIX meeting the night before, perhaps? Who can say. But the hangover isn't the biggest thing on my mind: no, it's my new, wonderful, backlit Palm Pilot.

This isn't quite as disgusting as you may think. It's the old USR Pilot, under a change of name because of a lawsuit from Pilot Software; and with new operating system and applications. Rupert has one, and now so do I, and all is well with the world.

It isn't often you'll find something quite as nice as the Pilot; small as a pack of cards, and containing every name, address and phone number that's important to me. Also my diary. And notes made at Wednesday's BT/NI. Let's see... oh yes; Rupert Gavin, head of the BT Internet side, was there, I see from my notes. His portable GSM phone kept ringing.

"You better turn that off," I told him. "I can't," he responded, "I'm on the National Emergency List."

Apparently, the days when Post Office officials were Civil Service Mandarins have persisted through the structure of BT, even after detachment from the old PO, and after privatisation; and these guys are equipped with military rank and must be contactable. I tried to get Rupert to tell me what his rank was, but he wouldn't.