Surely, this is the mother of all Monday mornings. Tube trains full of whey-faced bankers, grey streets studded with grey-tinged suits: nobody seems happy to be back. Awww. In my case, the major drop in quality of life is having to leave my 2Mbps DSL connection at home and slum it with the proles at Ziff, hooked up on the mere 512k corporate line. Can the jovial banter and intellectual fencing of my peers compensate for the missing meg and a half? I'll let you know when the Santa Syndrome's worn off and our collective IQ rises back into three figures.
Still, some news has seeped in over the break to delight us sullen hacks. One of the better selling toys in the US, apparently, was an animated cuddly toy licenced from Disney. It's cute. It's wholesome. It's called My Interactive Pooh. And the Furby fever may break, as reports flood in that the little darlings can spasm into rigor mortis after their second set of batteries -- the plastic gears inside are prone to slip and jam. Curiously, the same mishap afflicted the mobile hip-bath fondly remembered as Sir Clive Sinclair's C5: is the newly-shaven off-centre genius secretly behind this latest fad?
A short note arrives at my desktop: it is an ex-Hayes bod signalling the death knell of the erstwhile modem market leader. After getting into Chapter 11 -- the last chance saloon of American companies -- for the second time, the bankers have got bored and the Atlanta company is no more.
Shame, but hardly surprising. When I started at PC Magazine seven years ago, Hayes was a byword for advanced communications technology. I remember being asked what sort of equipment I wanted: it was with trepidation that I asked for a Smartmodem 9600, as it felt akin to demanding a company Jag. The next year, we did a modem round-up on the magazine and had to exclude Hayes because the company hadn't bothered to add fax capabilities to their UK line. The modems themselves were lovely, but the gossip about the company soon left technology far behind. Cock-ups, personnel problems, marketing madness and the most baroque soap opera concerning Dennis Hayes' personal affairs seemed to be the most interesting news coming out of the company for years.
As for the UK arm's chances: I couldn't say. Hayes Europe is profitable, and has long since arranged its own supplies of modems from the Far East. It's also independent financially, and in my experience has shown a great deal more awareness and sense than its American owners: at the moment, it's fine. But with no R&D, no noticeable marketing strategy and a desperately competitive environment, it won't have long before it too loses its way. It needs imaginative, capable and notably bold ideas, and soon.
The jury is out.
PANIC! DESPAIR! DISASTER! Or so says Finjan, a company who's found a frighteningly powerful new attack mechanism on the Web. With a little programming, HTML can be persuaded to bully Excel into sending J Random Hacker the intimate details of your hard disk! Oh no! Who can save us? Hey -- Finjan can! What a good thing they spotted this impending global catastrophe just in time to sell us the fix!
At this point, my specially designed 450MHz 64-bit turbo-powered, liquid-cooled coincidence detecting co-processor leaped into life. (This was originally designed to cope with the mental strain caused by anti-virus companies having libraries of tens of thousands of infective agents, twenty of which had ever caused problems in real life.) Using its super-powers, we leaped at the problem and found that there were at least two other cures -- neither of which cost anything -- but since nobody had ever spotted the thing going off it was hardly a matter of life and death.
But do feel free to send Finjan some money anyway. They gave us all nice tiny brass coffee-pots when they came to visit us last year.
Ya know those cool little Diamond Rios? MP3 players, churning out compressed music from memory cards. Well cool. Well tiny. Well -- expensive, aren't they? Not the players, but the cards, which cost so much they succeed in making UK CD prices look almost a bargain.
What you want, I discover, is a minidisc player. Especially one with an optical digital input. Especially when you can then arrange the same from a soundcard, and move stuff over in a variety of interesting and flexible ways. And the media is cheap -- if you can't buy a 74 minute recordable disk for under two quid, you ain't trying (paying forty quid for ten discs from Dixons is most definitely not trying, by the way.)
I'm a complete convert to this technology. More to come, as I really get stuck in.
A curious coincidence piques my co-processor once more, but it soon settles down to sleep mode. In the morning, I field an unhappy phone call from a pal whose evening helping of The Archers is no longer as bucolic as he would like. Instead, a pirate radio station just up the road is flooding Ambridge with beats of a repetitive nature: it's surprising the cows give any milk with that racket going on. I commiserate, and remember fondly my own thoroughly illegal experiments with pirate radio when I was a mere transistor of a lad. At least we had the decency to scramble up onto Dartmoor with a Russian tank radio and a small tape recorder, broadcasting on a quiet waveband to three listeners in Belgium while nervously hiding behind a sheep in case the Busbies came a-calling.
But those days are hopefully behind us. Take a look at http://www.b0rk.co.uk/fm/ -- well, prepare for a shock, then take a look. This is an online radio station run by a load of Quake players (Quakers? I don't think so) -- but the good thing is, anyone can put together a show with MP3 files, CDs and live audio and book a slot for broadcasting. Free pirate stations, and they can't touch you! (as long as you keep off the copyright infringements of course.)
We've never had proper public access broadcasting in this country -- hence the pirates. But now, despite fifty years of constant naysaying from the Powers That Be, the Quake community has changed all that.
And I'm sure they won't be the last.