Rupert Goodwins' Diary


What can I say about DSL? I've now been on BT's ADSL trial for a couple of weeks now, and it is fabulous. In some ways, it really shows up the raw spots on the Internet: when you get some things coming in at the speed of light, the slow bits and the broken links become really annoying. But having it there all the time, with the entirety of the Internet just an Alt-Tab away, changes the computing experience entirely.

And is it fast? Yes, it's fast. I've taken to sitting at work, tut-tutting at my Web browser and saying `Of course, it's much faster at home'. I normally then say `Ouch', as an irate co-worker decides to do an impromptu drop-kick test on whatever heavy PDA is currently in the office, with my head as the impact zone. You don't think they're jealous, do you? Hee-hee!

However: DSL can be damaging to your health. A friend of mine, also on the trial, was noticably shaken when I met them one evening. Apparently, they were looking at some high-speed streaming video from Germany (there's not very much about, so you takes what you finds), when the connection got slow The face of the Teuton being transmitted broke up into large colourful blocks, and wobbled around no end - thus triggering, my friend related, an immediate flashback to an experience they had some twenty years ago with some illicit chemicals where an entire room of people's faces did exactly the same.

Later that evening, I'm asked what I think of the AOL/Netscape/Sun menage-a-trois. How odd, I think. Perhaps AOL wants a good presence on the Web, and NetCentral is certainly that - but $4 billion good? Perhaps AOL wants control over its own browser software. Perhaps it's getting substantial dosh from Sun for the Netscape server stuff. And that $4 billion isn't really there at all. But nothing quite makes sense. Definitely one news story that's very deserving of being left alone until something actually happens that actually affects someone.


Off to Dublin, where the girls are (by repute) so pretty and the buildings are covered in big black irregular splodges. At least, my destination -- Gateway's factory on the outskirts of the fair city -- has said décor. Cold? It was Friesian!

Gateway has gathered us (around 15 journalists) to let us know of its cunning plan. While the world and its Compaq is going direct, sell-on-the-Web and cut out the middleman - Gateway's going indirect. For its upmarket servers, the product of its merger with ALR, it is appointing a load of dealers and providing them with all manner of juicy benefits. I suppose it doesn't fancy coping with support, and I suppose people buying servers would really rather have a human involved in any transaction that involves their company's electronic lifeblood. But still, it seems an odd thing to do. We shall see.

We sit through the PowerPoint briefings (have I ever said how much I hate PowerPoint? Nothing in particular about it warrants my intense dislike, but it's a crystallisation of the least attractive bits of corporate culture. A bit like The Suit -- which, I read, more than 50% of American business people fully expect to have disappeared, along with the tie, as part of the ordinary business scene within the next ten years. Fight on, my open-necked brothers and T-shirted sisters, fight on. We are so nearly there...). We do the factory tour -- the comparison with the Dell factory in Austin, Texas where I was a couple of years ago is most instructive. Stasis at Dell was as common as motion at Gateway. We eat a substantial Irish lunch of roast beef and four vegetables - two of which are potatoes, none of which is green - and we do a little more PowerPointing.

Then came the evening. I know what you're expecting here - sordid details of Guinness and diddly-dee music, Garda and late-night chases through the countryside, illicit liaisons and Joycean excess. Well, I'm not saying. Put it this way: we showed those tiresome stag parties in Temple Bar how one really does have a good time without damaging one's dignity. Although the incident with the giant elk was probably pushing it a bit...


Calamity! I am undone! The flight back leaves Dublin Airport at eleven. I awake, slowly, at ten to eleven, in an abandoned hotel. How could they DO this to me? There were a handy five other Ziffies on the trip: would they all have left me here to unknown terrors behind enemy lines?

Now, before you wag your fingers at me for perhaps overdoing it the night before and being in some way an architect of my own downfall -- a factor, I admit, but not normally an overriding one -- I wish the court to consider the following factors. Uniquely, in my experience, the hotel room had no alarm clock. Also, the phone didn't work - no, not even a little bit. So, when (as it transpires) the hotel front desk tried to phone me the next morning, it's hardly surprising that they got no answer -- although since I'd asked for the phone to be fixed the night before, it's a little strange that they tried at all.

As for the strange case of the missing Ziffies: my natural good humour and respect for my co-workers means I shall have to be as mysteriously obtuse here as I was about the night before.

And so on, and so forth. I finally crawl into the office at 6pm, which is unfortunate as I have to give a -- spit, boil, hawk, ptui -- PowerPoint presentation at 9am the next morning and I have an 8pm appointment this evening. Which leaves me the midnight hours to put the darn thing together.


Am I tired? Am I more cream-crackered than Mr Jacob's factory? Yes. I give my talk (about The Future Of Technology to a gazillion BT management types in an airless basement in Tottenham Court Road: for some reason, this scene had never suggested itself to me whenever I'd mused on my future). I get back to work in time to see UUNet, which is doing quite nice things with global roaming for its dial-up corporate customers. I realise after the event that I should've asked things about stuff like DNS latency, but my own internal name lookup server is showing severe signs of lag.


Y'know, I'm really, really confused about this DSL business. Today, BT tells me that its going to be launching BT Interactive on December 9th. Now, BT Interactive is the content that all us triallists get connected to by default - it's going to be a collation of video-on-demand, news, weather, education, and other online services that all demand high-bandwidth connection. It needs, in fact, DSL. So is this the launch of the service. "No", said the PR. But DSL will be necessary for BT Interactive? "Yesss...", said the PR.

So that's clear, then.

Other oddities: BT has spent thousands per triallist providing routers, modems, PC World engineers and other bits -- but do we have anywhere to report technical problems, suggestions or give feedback? Not really: there's a helpline number, but that's really there to get people going. They gave me a general purpose email address, which hasn't replied in over a week to a request I sent about proxy configuration.

Odd way to run a trial. One might even suspect that they were just doing it to generate some traffic to fine-tune their connectivity before launching DSL to everyone, very soon, and us triallists are just necessary bits of the machine.

But it is wonderful. You'll love it. When you get it. Hey, don't point that PDA at me.... OUCH!