Rupert Goodwins' Diary

This week: power breakfasts, dismal digital, how not to get lost, and -- yes! -- more fun and games with BT! Bless?
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Monday 24/5/1999

Tee hee! I see that a top venture capitalist consultant in the States is auctioning breakfasts with himself on eBay. The last one went for $4,400, from some desperate entrepreneur willing to part with the dough just for an hour of quality, well-connected time.

Let's do the sums. Three hundred breakfasts a year at, oh, 3,300 quid? My. That's a million pounds, and you get croissants with it.

Right. I am available for a pint in the King's Head. Let's start the bidding at fifteen quid. Do I hear fifteen? Do I hear ten? Five?


Tuesday 25/5/1999

OnDigital is giving away its digital set-top boxes to anyone who subscribes. Do I want one? I've got cable (which is going digital sometime before the heat death of the universe), which gives me twice as many channels for the same monthly charge. Or I could get digital satellite, which gives me ten times as many. No, I don't want one.

It's not good, is it? And it's not helped by those people who've already got On, who tend to be apologetic about it and make it clear that they didn't really want it in the first place ("I'm in a block of flats and can't put up a dish" being typical.)

And then Chris Smith is thinking about bunging a 30 quid premium on the telly licence for digital receivers, and what on earth are they going to do about TV over DSL?

I've sat through so many high profile wireless deaths now -- BSB, Rabbit, Ionica being just the local ones -- that another won't seem too unusual. I just wish someone would try something a little exciting -- public access TV on a spare terrestrial digital slot, maybe -- and who knows? People might actually want to get involved, and we might have something new and worthwhile.

Wednesday 26/5/1999

An excited phone call from my father, the Flying Vicar (he's not a vicar any more, just a priest, but I like the sobriquet so much I'll stick with it). For his birthday, I got him a GPS hand-held receiver and he's taken it up with him on a solo for the first time. He's ecstatic! He's a new pilot and while he can do the navigation side of it perfectly well there are always times when you want some assurance about exactly where you are and where to go next. This tells you.

You've probably heard about GPS, and if you qualify as a bona fide gadget freak you've probably got one. This is the satellite global positioning system run by the US military but used by anybody: for around a hundred quid you can buy a cellphone-sized receiver that tells you where you are to within about 50 metres, anywhere on or above the Earth. For more dosh, you can get ones with built-in maps and all manner of gizmos, or you can hook the cheap ones up to a laptop or PDA running mapping software and work out what road you're on.

Obviously if you travel a lot, this is a useful gizmo. Walkers, flyers, yotties and people who live in cars all qualify. But for me? I rarely use anything other than public transport and Shank's Pony, and then mostly in familiar urban environments. Yet I suspect GPS will give me a whole summer of fun.

Y'see, once you have a GPS you can bung your current position into memory and give it a name. Later, if you want to get back there, you ask the receiver to work out direction and time and it'll pop up a little arrow -- follow that, and eventually you'll be at the point you first thought of. No maps required. Last week, I picked up my son from his school which I know mostly by its proximity to the closest tube station. I marked the point, just out of interest. Today, I asked the GPS how far it was from work. "1.45 miles," it said. "Over there." That close? Cor.

So what I'm going to do, one evening, is walk from work to the school, just following the arrow. It'll be a real exploration and I'm sure I'll discover lots of London I'd never have visited, but I know that I'll get to where I need to be. And, as I visit more bits, I'll add them to the database: it should be a great way to get to know the city.

Technology, eh?

Thursday 27/5/1999

It's Journo Hell time! Through usually reliable sources (oh, OK, the company's own Web site) I discover that BT is gearing up to launch a new service to deliver Internet connectivity at a reasonable cost to companies which have "outgrown PSTN or ISDN dial-up". Now this sounds like an excellent candidate for ADSL to me -- and there's a date attached! June 8th. I know the service name, BTnet Start, and I know it's going to cost 250 quid a month, but not much more than that. BT doesn't talk about things before they're launched -- but that's OK. There's another related service called BTnet equIP, which was apparently launched on the 17th of May. But BT hasn't told anyone about it.

Including, apparently, the Press Office. However, they suggest a PR company (of which BT has many), who I then call. The PR company knows about the service, but can't talk to me about it because "we're sort of between contracts with BT at the moment, and I've been told not to talk to the press. Try the Press Office?".

Fortunately, various people concerned with this farrago take pity on me and get me some information even though they either don't officially know or haven't been officially allowed to tell me. It's not secret information -- after all, the service has been launched -- but one gets the feeling that there's considerable official reluctance.

The marketing manager of BTnet equIP, a very amiable Trevor Fitchett, gets in contact and proves happy to talk. I ask about the strange lack of any mention of the service in public. "Oh, we have to coordinate the ET marketing campaign, and BT internal, and Oftel? it's not easy", he says.

So nothing to do with having to get stuff ready for ADSL, then?

No, of course not.

June 8th. You read it here first.

Friday 28/5/1999

Gone away. Back soon. Don't fret.

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