Rupert Goodwins' Diary


I was scuba-diving over the weekend -- well, learning so to do in a swimming pool -- and my ears are still not back to normal. Thus, when I take Number One Son to the Notting Hill Carnival, I tend to feel the sound systems in my chest rather than hear every sparkling nuance of the upper registers. This is Richard's first exposure to seriously loud music, and I'm gratified that his reaction is much the same as mine was -- shock, followed by delight and a clear desire for more. Grotty pub gigs for him when he's older!

As we walk the sunny West London streets, we pass various members of the 7,000 strong Metropolitan Police presence, sauntering around with the best will in the world. We even pass the Chief Constable himself, looking relaxed and cheerful as he mutters into his walkie-talkie. I wonder whether to tell him that the brand-new, multi-million pound secure Met radio system he's using can be tracked by any reasonably wily hacker with a Web connection and a couple of standard scanners. But he's looking so happy, I can't bring myself to prick his bubble -- in fact, he's almost as happy as the mixed ethnic group of people sitting on the steps opposite, industriously contributing to London's air pollution. Even such environmental misdemeanours don't seem to bother him.

I wish I understood policing. Coppers, eh?


Copper, eh? IBM has shipped the first of its new copper-containing superchips. These go faster, cost less, are smaller and better in every way to the aluminium-wired ones that have gone before. A warm feeling of technological wonderfulness suffuses my whole being, as once again clever people do good things.

It's soon replaced by awe, when I read in New Scientist that researchers are mass-producing custom-built elements in tiny semiconductor factories. Squeeze an ion in a titchy cavity made out of silicon and push a few electrons around, and you can make atoms that have never existed before. This is restructuring reality: genetic engineering for the elements of nature.

Meanwhile, Wired reports that Steve Wozniak is still a schoolteacher (cover story), Tiger Electronics is building a furry pet for Christmas (huge spread), and it's good to be in embedded systems. All about as exciting as dentistry. Lost the plot, guys.


International Child Net Porn Ring Smashed! scream the headlines. Who Will Shut Down This Evil Internet? is the subtext of some of the editorials I read from the more sensational tomes.

Scuse me? While it's true that paedophilia is one of the most distasteful subjects imaginable, and one that wrecks lives in peculiarly horrible ways, it's hard to see that the Internet is in some way responsible. I don't know who has been arrested in this latest operation, nor what their history is, but anyone willing to get past the various security and authentication checks that the creators of the ring put in place will certainly have paedophilic tendencies already. You don't go looking for this stuff out of pure curiosity -- or if you do, you will be repulsed by what you find. You won't go back for more. One of the entrance requirements for the ring is reported to have been ownership of a library of 10,000 or more pictures: people don't suddenly get the urge to collate such a gallery because they've bought a modem.

So, given that the people involved with this ring will already have been paedophiles, it seems as if the Internet provided the means for their detection and capture. Isn't this a good thing? If it wasn't for the Net, and the willingness of the ISPs to collaborate with the police, these people with their hoards would still be at large. I really can't see the Net as the villain in this piece.


The Apple iMac launch is tonight! Unfortunately, I couldn't make it -- had to attend a book launch at Filthy McNasties, by one Martin Millar. He's great and his books are wonderful chunks of wry urban adventures. Like Irvine Welsh, only they leave you smiling and without a bad taste in your mouth: I promised I'd mention his Web page, and tell everyone that his new book, Love and Peace with Melody Paradise, is an essential purchase. Which it is. And you can't help but warm to a man who puts all his rejection letters online...

News from the iMac launch is less invigorating. Robbie Williams? Blue cocktails? IMacs everywhere? What could go wrong? "It was so uncomfortable", says a source. "Less a party, more an exercise in digital futility". I hope the iMac doesn't end up like that. Still want one.


My, how we laughed. For reasons unconnected with work, I'd been messing around with some old Sinclair Spectrum web sites -- I'd been talking to another journalist about Symbian, and had pointed out that Psion started by writing games software for the ZX81 (a flight simulator, of all things). That led to a quick scan of the Web to see if that software was available anywhere -- as so much is, on emulator sites -- and a discovery that some terribly keen yet misguided individuals had been compiling lists of everyone involved in the old days.

Today, a press release arrives from IBM. IBM, it says, is about to launch the smallest hard disk drive ever, designed for PDAs, digital cameras, mobile phones and the like. Good. It's fast, tiny and very abstemious with the juice. Good, good. And it's called the Microdrive. Collapse of stout party.

If you weren't there, or have blotted the memories of those days from your mind, let me remind you what the Microdrive was. Upset by the cost of floppy disk drives, Clive Sinclair decreed that he would invent a better way to store data. He ended up with a long, endless loop of videotape about 3mm in width, held in a small black cartridge that looked like an After Eight. This slotted into a fist-sized drive with a rubber wheel and an ordinary tape head, and usually failed to store any data whatsoever. Named the Microdrive, it was universally abhorred for its unreliability: in the end, ICL made it work properly but by then it was all too late as 3.5" disk drives were cheaper anyway.

I do hope nobody tells IBM. With luck, they'll call their next PC the IBM QL, and they'll have to stretcher me away from my desk.