Rupert Goodwins' Diary


Time was when I used to blame Microsoft's PR company, Text 100, for allowing certain misconceptions to enter the journalistic food chain. Time after time some statement or promise from MS turned out to have been less than 100 per cent on the nail, and since Text was the messenger it got tarred with the same hammer. Now we can see that they are only following orders. MS showed a video to the American court that's trying the anti-monopoly case, and a sharp-eyed prosecutor spotted that it had been fiddled. What was supposedly a demonstration of the browser's irreplaceable importance to Windows turned out to be more an example of the video editor's art. MS was caught bang to rights, and had to admit it. We discussed this at IT Week. Was it perjury, we wondered, or more a case of faking evidence? Eventually we got it: MS was guilty of the crime of rank stupidity -- if this evidence wasn't as advertised, what on earth can anyone make of the rest? The summing-up by the prosecutor should be interesting. Tuesday It's been a good few years for science fiction fandom, a cult among which I'm happy to count myself. Even though the quality of SF has been more variable than usual of late, the amount of stuff that's coming true is immensely gratifying. When I was very young, I read the local library dry of SF (then moved on to everything else). I can still remember the images induced of walking on a distant planet, of soaring from star to star, of talking to immensely wise computers. We'll draw a veil over that last one -- although the global computer network is far in advance of anything Brunner or Bradbury thought up -- but the space side of things is going great guns. I don't expect to walk on Mars in person, for example -- well, not unless something unforeseen comes out of a propulsion or energy lab -- but now it seems that we'll all be there in spirit. NASA, whose PR awareness has been running at a very high level ever since Kennedy roused the whole of the free world to back the Apollo mission through a stonker of a speech, now wants to put high-bandwidth Internet access into space probes and planetary missions. In practice, it's almost happening: while I had to hang on the phone to find out what was going on with Magellan a few years back (that was the probe to radar-map Venus), I pretty well watched the Mars Rover do its thing live on a JPL website. The next step, to see raw data as it arrives and to have some form of telepresence out there, is obvious, doable and very desirable. But I won't talk about the British space exploration industry, because it's hard to type while sighing so deeply. Wednesday Hilarious jape 1: "China to make airline executives fly over Millennium: helps ensure bugs fixed" say the headlines.
Hilarious jape 2: It was all a joke, we discover. Headlines silent on this point.
Hilarious jape 3: BA, understandably unaware of jape 2, decides to follow the Chinese example.
Hilarious jape 4: Except for the chairman, who's also in charge of the Dome. He's excused so he can go to the party.
Hilarious jape 5: If anything's going to go wrong, it'll be the air traffic control systems anyway. I do so like to see a calm, researched and thoughtful response to Y2K. Thursday BT announces its broadband plans for the country: something called BeTaNet delivering video and audio and net and ecommerce and, oh, everything¬ł to people with DSL. Millions of homes wired over the next couple of years. Highly exciting. Future of online in this country for everyone. Only it doesn't announce it to us. We phone the press office to get the releases, statements, anything: nothing arrives. I do hope BT isn't still sore over Click! and Ziff's part in getting it slapped on the wrists over sales practices. It's probably just inefficiency -- as is the company's reluctance to tell anyone that Click! will be going free, a la TescoNet and Freeserve. Oops. Shouldn't we have said that? Sorry... Slip of the finger. Friday Off to the NCC -- the National Consumer Council -- which is letting journalists loose on Anna Bradley, New Director, for the first time. The occasion is the introduction of a document that's embargoed, but I don't think I'm threatening national security if I say it's on a topic of interest to all us online types (otherwise would I be there, now?) More on that next week, when the bond of honour is untied from my fingers. What was fine, though, was meeting a wide variety of other journalists. The chap from the Sun, for example, who asked a most perceptive question on European matters (they're a bright lot in Wapping, whatever else). The most fun was had with Richard Sarson, a venerable bloke, who edits the Journal of the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee (PITCOM to its friends). He'd been over to Canada recently, and was full of vim over that country's ADSL policy. There, it transpires, it's seen as an absolutely essential tool of social cohesiveness, economic development and modern industry and as a result there's considerable official support for making it available to as many people as possible at the lowest plausible price. From what he was saying, that policy is working exceptionally well. You'll see PITCOM on the Parliamentary channel from time to time, making industry and political leaders feel uncomfortable. It certainly made me feel better about the right ideas percolating upwards into what passes for the governmental mind: there's hope for us yet.