Rupert Goodwins' Diary

MondayNow this is scary: an email arrives in my Notes box with absolutely no ID on it whatsoever. No name, no reply-to, no nothing. Just a "Rupert Goodwins@INET", which looks as if it might be me.

Rather nervously, I open it. It turns out to be from Tony Blair. Or rather, the 10 Downing Street site, which I was poking around in last week and where I asked for email updates. They don't want a reply, obviously...

And guess what: the Government, having made an election manifesto pledge of a Freedom of Information Act, has put it back again, this time to late 1999. The sponsoring minister has been sacked, and more control over it has been handed to Straw and Mandelson, who both despise the idea.

GAH! Come on, Shayler, come on...


Another worrying trend: in the US, programmers hired to fix Year 2000 problems are taking a long look at the scale of the problem, turning around and running for the hills. Literally -- they're buying hundred-acre plots in Oregon, picking up a years' worth of dried food and ammo, and preparing to sit out the End Of The World As We Know It. A friend suggests that this is surefire proof of the severity of the situation.

Nonsense. It doesn't take much to send American programmers round the bend -- that's assuming you can get them anywhere near the bend in the first place. A good millennial scare is just what we need to flush out the closet religious, survivalist and alien-worshipping nutters: the only problem in the UK is where do we put them? What little wide open space we have is rather nice or already full of peculiar folk (hey, I come from Plymouth, which borders with Cornwall. I know what I'm talking about here).

The Reverend Ian Paisley appears on the television, and suddenly all becomes clear. Forget the Millennium Dome -- let's make the seven counties the Millennium Zone. Clear out the technology and leave it to those who suspect it's all going to crumble anyway. Come to think of it, hasn't the clock already stopped for the Orange Order, some time in the 17th century?


I don't suppose I can complain: having whinged for the past two months about the wet weather, it seems churlish to point out that now the sun's appeared London Underground has become hot and steamy enough to parboil potatoes. I take myself and my potatoes through the three mile District/Central Line sauna from Tower Hill to Bond Street. It seems as if half the tourist population of the world is doing the same -- not for the first time, I consider building Rucksack Incendiary Bombs. An RIB would look like a pregnant crocodile clip: one tags it onto a floating strap that Yuri from Sebastopol has just shoved in your face, and one legs it. Thirty seconds later, the bleeder ignites and voila - - one less rucksack, and one more cubic metre of air on the Underground.

I have the plans, and I am a desperate man.

Why Bond Street? That's where the Churchill Intercontinental Hotel is, and that's where Virata ("Yes, we've had the Viagra jokes") is showing off its latest technology. About which I can say nothing, just at the moment, but watch this space. The meeting is enlivened considerably because the CEO of the company, Charles Cotton, is an ex-Sinclair Research chap and we spend more time swapping tales of mutual friends than we do discussing the mmmph-mppph shhhhh. Clive Sinclair is back in the media: both because a BBC 2 Learning Zone programme on him was repeated last week and, more salaciously, he appeared on the front page of the Sunday Sport. Why? Because he was at a strip show in Stringfellows. I didn't examine the publication closely enough to see whether it made any boffin' the boffin jokes: suffice it to say that Sir Clive's interest in carbon-based life is just as strong as any affinity he has for silicon. Without an E on the end, of course.


Wireless LANs are here again, tra-la-la-la-lah! A hundred dollars a pop, and Diamond Multimedia will hook up your PC to your laptop, or your laptop to your modem... and in future your VCR, home alarm and what have you. No cabling, and a megabit to play with.

The fun will come when the bloke next door (or the hacker in the van out the front) gets one. How secure are they? "Absolutely secure" say the people who sell them. In tests, ten out of ten such claims have been shown to be... optimistic is the safest word, I guess. There's no reason they can't be made secure, but have the companies concerned done an audit on the product? Oh well. If they haven't, be sure someone else will.


Those clever Massachusetts Institute of Technology bods are at it again. This time, it's a computer which knows you're getting bored by watching your body language: the idea is that it then does something to maintain your interest: collects your email for you, fast-forwards your VCR, changes the screen colour, or whatever.

A brilliant idea, but I'd be particularly impressed if they could teach the same trick to computer programmers.

And while we're at MIT -- Nicolas Negroponte, Professor of Applied Cleverness at that institution, writes in the latest Wired that he's finally given up on his Macintosh and moved to Windows. Which, surprise, he's finding "needs to be much more friendly". Gosh, they breed ‘em bright in Boston. The true significance, of course, is that now Old Nick's given up on the Mac it's safe for the rest of us to quietly sneak back in. What a relief -- we can stop pretending that Linux is important...

Album Of The Week: Music Has The Right To Children, by Boards of Canada. It's a Warp CD, so of course it's worth listening to, but this dark, noodling hour of Scottish ambient techno seeps into the cerebellum like olive oil in the underpants seeps between the cheeks.

Sicko Of The Week: McAfee's ‘suicide' advert: if you don't use our software, you'll end up killing yourself. With a cute graphic by way of illustration. Way to go, McAfee.