Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday"Man Shoots Computer", the headline reads. It's true - someone has been driven to madness by his PC misbehaving in Washington DC, and shot it. Way to go!

I think I'll suggest a Java Shooting Gallery to our lords and masters. Pick a picture of your computer from a set of thumbnail sketches, pick a firearm and spray the thing with shot on screen. Wouldn't take long to code... and I bet we'd learn a lot by monitoring the statistics about which model gets chosen most often.

Slight worries about bad taste, but hey. That's never stopped me before...


Hey! Let's design a Palm Pilot clone, said Texas Instruments. And did, with its Avigo. It sounds as if it's almost all there - same form factor, same basic sort of interface, same sort of software. But stupidity is never very far away in this business: the company won't release a software development kit (SDK) until the product is popular enough to create a demand for it. If you want to write software for it, you can't - unlike with the Pilot.

If TI hasn't noticed, one of the reasons people buy Pilots is that there is lots of software out there on the Web, mostly written by amateur or semi-pro developers. What's more, the sort of people who care

about that are the sort who go on to sell loads of Pilots to people they know, because they're the early adopters, the technophiles, the gadget freaks who propel a product through its difficult early months. Without the SDK, there's a very good chance that the Avigo will never be popular enough to merit it...


A bit of browsing stumbles across digital watermarks. Digimarc Technologies will take any JPEG or GIF and add invisible information that its MarcSpider web crawler will recognise. First up with the

technology is Playboy, which from next month will protect all its pictures that way. Steal one to put on your Web site, bucko, and sooner or later alarm bells will ring at Playboy HQ followed by a gruff command to "Get 'em off!" from the lawyers.

Nice idea, huh? One thing worries me - all crawlers are supposed to honour the anti-robot protocol, where a page suitably marked will not be scanned for links by automatic Web traversers. If MarcSpider follows this protocol, then bare-breasted women can shelter from the spider: if it doesn't, it runs the risk of falling into crawler traps - pages set up to link to themselves and endlessly divert the robots. I fear that all the Digimarc stuff will do is start up an entirely fresh set of network technology battles.


Bloody Microsoft! Not for the first time, my computer at home forgets how to get onto the Internet. The Microsoft Dial-Up Adaptor Is Not Configured For Use With The Networking Components Specified, it says. Eh? It won't work with TCP/IP? Try to check with the Microsoft Knowledge Index but -- aha! -- I can't log on. Gah!

Eventually reinstall, a process taking a good hour. I still have no idea what went wrong - my new settings are identical to the old ones - nor how to stop it in future. I've written network stacks in the past; if a grizzled old hacker like myself can't beat the damn software into submission, what chance has the average user?

Glance at unopened copy of Office 97 on my desk, next to the beta of IE 4.0 (the one with the biohazard warnings on it) and the 70Mb MS developers' toolkit, and wonder how long it will take everyone to realise that Microsoft has lost the plot...


Not well (omnes: Poor lamb!) but still hacking away gamely at my home computer. Considerably cheered by a tale of a friend who takes this week's Anorak Supreme award. Said friend's a Unix guru and Java-meister who works for one of those very successful UK software companies nobody's heard of. He also writes for a certain other computer magazine - the details need not concern us - under the pseudonym of David Evnull. That's a Unix joke.

It was his birthday last week. What do you get a man who has everything, including a complete set of Ren and Stimpy videos and a Sony Minidisc recorder? His girlfriend concocted the perfect surprise - a domain name of his very own. Not sure how he unwrapped it, but is now online and proudly displayed to the world: a shining example of their love and the unanswerable argument for making Mr Evnull this week's Anorak Supreme. Congratulations!

(If you know anyone who might qualify as an Anorak Supreme, mail me with their details.)