A worried phone call from a good friend. She's consulting somewhere in town, and uses AOL for her personal email. From habit, she installs the AOL client software on a PC: these days, you can use a couple of smaller programs to get mail and stuff, but that's only been a recent innovation and she hasn't got around to getting them running.
Disaster. Something goes wrong and the AOL software crashes, taking the computer's networking with it. After an hour reinstalling everything, it's almost back to normal -- except that IP doesn't work. Much faffing later, and it still doesn't work and nobody can see why. She calls me: after all, I've spent a long time at the sharp end of Windows 95's networking stacks and know my gateway from my subnet mask.
Another hour later, and I admit defeat. We've been through everything, but the packets refuse to get out of the machine -- or perhaps it can't see packets coming back. Or something. How can we tell? Windows has no diagnostic capabilities. With more people on the Net, there's going to be a large cash reward for the first clever soul to develop some no-thought-required IP problem solving package. Get to it!
More nonsense accrues about BT's Home Highway. You've read the story so far on ZD Net, but there's more -- like the glum engineer who was installing ISDN at a correspondent's house, and who suggested that if Home Highway is anything like as successful as BT is planning then they'll run out of trained installers. Not that it matters, the morose wire monkey continued, as they won't give us the right test equipment anyway.
And another pal slips me the wink that even if ISPs wanted to support 128k two-phone-calls-at-once access from Home Highwayers, lots of them couldn't. A popular make of router can't cope: if the two calls come in on different ISDN trunks, and they quite probably will, then they'll go to two different routers. These routers have two modes of operation - ignorance of each other, or working together. If the routers are ignorant of each other, then the two calls will never be combined and the link will fail. If the routers are configured to work together, then the two calls will combine and you'll get a 128k link -- until something goes wrong. At that point, every router in the group - not just those two - will fail.
Needless to say, ISPs are unhappy with either of these scenarios. And BT's Home Highway service is already being nicknamed Home Highwayman -- "after all," said one jaundiced hack, "it's robbing the poor to give to the rich".
I'm summoned by the Beeb to the Business Breakfast. 5am start, in the studios at 6, makeup lady has to use JCB to get enough slap on to hide the bags... ah, fame!
It then goes downhill. I thought I was there to discuss NatWest's new Zenda service - a computerised (but with real people) information service that manages your time and information for you. It'll warn you when birthdays are coming up, feed you newswire services via filters, handle financial info, all that sort of thing. Very interesting, and there are loads of good questions to ask about it - what will the bank do with all the demographic information it gathers? What role does the media have now banks are doing newswire services? Why a bank, anyhow?
The first question from the presenter is "Are there too many gadgets in our lives?" and it goes on from there. Sigh. And they called me Robert Goodwins -- interesting, given they called me Rupert when they first asked me on. Mind you, watching the autocue for other items I'm struck by the large numbers of spelling and punctuation mistakes. This isn't news, it's entertainment. And I got out of bed for it. Fool.
My colleague Lem Bingley has returned from his holidays, looking tanned and jetlagged. He sits down at his computer and starts to check his email while regaling us with happy tales of driving from Mexico to Canada. After a while his voice trails off. He's staring at the screen. 'Oh, no...' he says, and blanches beneath his Montana-browned skin.
With good reason. Just before he left, he wrote a piece for IT Week on why Linux isn't ready for corporate use -- at least, not yet. Fair enough. But then some bright spark decided it would make a perfect piece for online publication and, while Lem was thousands of miles from any browser, shoved it up on here.
The result has been not dissimilar to taking all one's clothes off, smearing honey over one's torso from Adam's apple to Eve's exciter, and violently prodding a beehive with a short stick. To say that Linux supporters count among their number the excitable, the defensive and the downright abusive would not be to say that there aren't any cool, sane, reasonable ones. It's just that the sensible types don't tend to write. While the others... well. A typical quote:"How much did Microsoft pay you to write that drivel? The only excuses for such nonsense are technical incompetence, journalistic incompetence or bribery - perhaps all three. What's it to be?"
I think he's up to around a hundred responses so far, but I daren't ask. Fortunately, there are enough gems in the dross to make it worth his while to keep going through them. But, Linuxians, it's not big or clever to respond to something that you don't like with invective, personal abuse or arrogance. I know you all think we're in the pay of Evil Bill (reading some of the anti-ZD Net stuff on slashdot.org is remarkable. How do these people know so much more about the company than we do?) , but you'll make far more impact if you use logic and evidence to back up your fanaticism.
As for Lem -- he's beginning to get worried that some sort of jihad is forming. I'll give him Salman's number, and they can meet up for a drink somewhere. I hear Montana's nice at this time of year.
We coin a new collective noun for bankers to replace the very 80's 'Wunch'; we decide that 'Plummet' will be more accurate. As the air crackles and pops with the sound of imploding roubles, we take bets as to the effect of all this kerfuffle on the IT industry. It's probably not going to do the business of being a computer salesman in Georgia much good.
However, there is one planning resource that Yeltsin has missed. Have a go yourself: the Silicon Valley Tarot Deck is ideal for planning that IPO or debugging that Internet stack installation. Hey, it works for me.