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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday

It had to happen. Sonopress --who make CDs -- sends out a press release describing their round, silver Christmas card. This time, it's a CD--ROM containing a Turki--Gotchi: software that puts a tiny turky egg on your screen. You have to hatch it, feed it and care for it as it grows up into a full--sized gobbler, and then stuff it into a virtual microwave in time for Christmas dinner.

That's more like it! Bad taste is absent far too often from the computer world, and these artificial pets can so easily play a role in real life. Those poor foxhunters, banned from their favourite spot, can run to hounds on a network of foxxigotchis, valiant Reynard scampering from screen to screen with a pack of virtual beagles in full cry after it. Pistol packing gun club members can carefully polish their cyber--Lugers. Beefeaters can guzzle binary burgers, free of the possibility of becoming prematurely spongiform...

A new age awaits.

Tuesday

It's good when some aspect of the Internet enhances one's life in a special way. A friend of a friend -- no, really -- was called to jury service the other week, and really didn't want to go. So he did his research, and found that you can absent yourself if you're ill, if you're a doctor, a criminal or a priest. Not being called the Reverend Doctor Biggs, he was stumped for a while, but then chanced across the Universal Life Church on the Web (www.ulc.org). This is a legitimate, if staunchly non--dogmatic, church in the US who will ordain anyone for free, instantly, online. You then get a certificate to print out, hang on your wall or forward to any interested authorities.

He clicked on the box, and voila! A fully--formed Reverend. He promptly wrote to the court informing them of his recent conversion and ordination, and they promptly let him off. Excellent!

Wednesday

New Scientist has a worrying item about Microsoft. You may be aware of Office Assistants, little animated characters that pop up and tell you how to do things. They are incorrigibly cutesy and quite revolting -- a paperclip, an Einstein and other sub--Disney drawings do not appeal to me. However, according to the magazine, there is a special edition for South East Asia: an Office Assistant who's a subservient, dominated woman, described as being only acceptable to the most unreformed male chauvinist pig. It's a good thing that this technology wasn't around when apartheid was still in force in South Africa, but perhaps there's still room for a Home Office edition with scarpering gypsies and Nigerian refugees being bundled back onto a plane when the software can't find the right files.

Perhaps Microsoft will indulge the rest of us with a wee cow'ring timid Bill Gates (worryingly buying a row of houses in Holland Park and in high--level discussions with the Government over digital television), saying sorry to Netscape and Compaq?

Perhaps not.

Thursday

Dell's Treasure Hunt party kicks off! The company has hired a fleet of taxies and formed attending journalists into teams of four. We're equipped with a video camera and a folder of clues -- twenty seven! -- which we have to solve by visiting various cryptically encoded places. Various amusing tasks were also set -- dress up in a sailor suit, sit on Santa's knee, shake hands with a celebrity, and find the tackiest Christmas present. Anyone in the centre of London tonight may well have spotted gaggles of cab--bound fools waving their camcorders out of the window, stealing traffic cones and so on