Rupert Goodwins' Diary

This week: visible digits, archaeological remains, Gordon gets generous (prudently), one of our Sonys is missing, and Mondex gets insecure.

Monday 25/10/1999

Excited by digital TV yet? I ignored it for a while until I saw a Sky setup at a pal's house: the combination of EPG (electronic programme guide -- sort of super Teletext system) and RGB straight to the TV make it a lot more desirable.

Unfortunately, the choices available to me are minimal. Cable London, my local supplier of such things, has yet to give a date when it will be providing digital telly; I can't bolt a dish on the wall or my landlord will send my kneecaps into geostationary orbit; and does anyone really want On Digital? I should be able to use my DSL line, but so far you can't have the Internet service and the video-on-demand...

Very frustrating, as anything that involves having to deal with BT, cable companies AND Rupert Murdoch is guaranteed to be. But not as frustrating as DAB digital radio: while Sky and On are at least trying to get receivers into the home by giving them away, you can't as yet see much change from £800 if you want to experience a digital Brian Perkins (and I do). In fact, now that Sky is about to carry all the BBC radio stations on its digital satellite, I'm not sure that there's any reason to buy a home DAB tuner. What's going on here? Do people want it to fail?

And perhaps someone can tell me why certain people are claiming that medium wave transmitters should be turned off in order to reuse the frequencies, when those frequencies are only useful for broadcasting. Can't do anything else with them, 'cos of the physics -- unless, of course, you know better.

Tuesday 26/10/1999

A friend from long ago mails me QUOTES.TXT, a file from the Sinclair Research lab computers in the 1980s. It has a load of risque remarks, off-the-cuff comments, out-takes and other snippets recorded for posterity by the engineers, marketeers and managers of that far-off time and far-out company. And I'd forgotten all about them: this file brings them all back. I've posted the full file to comp.sys.sinclair (where a thriving community of Sinclairophile nutters live, in their own fashion) but here are some choice clips that might bring a smile to anyone who can remember the days of Microdrives and dead flesh keyboards.

"Who's Popeye?" -- senior marketing person "He's the sailor who ate spinach!" -- astonished junior marketeer "Oh did he, Why?" -- SMP "Because we were trying to sell him cabbage..." -- cynical third marketeer

"It worked until I enhanced it..." -- firmware engineer.

"Hopefully, it will be exactly the same size as this box... only smaller" -- SMP (again)

"It takes, on average, 23.5 years to convert a dud QL to mint" -- Finance report

"That's not a curve, it's a straight road that's bent." -- Scottish hardware engineer.

Wednesday 27/10/1999

There are rumours that the Government is going to give, or at least lease at peppercorn prices, old computers to families on benefits in order to get the Internet revolution properly going across the board. I hear some commentators saying what a gimmicky, nonsensical thing this is -- well, no it isn't. It's a very good idea. If nothing else, it's the equivalent of giving the Encyclopedia Britannica to low-income households across the nation. Try arguing against that. The fact the rest of the Internet, word processing and so on comes with the deal can't help but make the idea even better.

There's one small fly in the woodpile... I turn on the radio, where Gordon Brown is being grilled about Internet phone price charges. Hear that low, dull moaning? That's BT that is, being dragged into the realm of unmetered pricing. It's marvellous to find something you've cared about for a decade has finally made it to the top of the political agenda.

Now, what to do next?

Thursday 28/10/1999

Off to Curtain Road, deep in the heart of the excruciatingly hip Shoreditch, where Sony is launching its 3Gb DVD+RW writer.

Only it's not. Our host is apologetic: "When we sent out the invites on Monday, we had a product to launch. Now we don't." That's not actually true, as they have two CD writers to show off, but nobody was pretending that these were significant enough to justify hiring a bar in Shoreditch. It seems that the 3Gb DVD+RW had been through pre-production and was just waiting for the manufacturing go button to be pushed... when Sony decided that nobody would really want it. Y'see, it couldn't actually make DVDs you could play in a domestic DVD player -- it was really just a big optical drive, of which there are no shortage.

So Sony's gone back to build a 4.7 gig version that will record movies you can watch on your DVD player, and we'll have to wait until next year. Then of course, the VHS VCR will be fatally wounded, you'll be able to back up your Playstation II games, and you'll be able to send broadcast quality home movies to the folks in Australia. No wonder they couldn't get any enthusiasm up for the 3 gig version.

Anyway, in the absence of a killer product we eat and drink our way through Sony's marketing budget and swap gossip. Did you know that there's a Minidisc 2 with four times the capacity but the bloke who runs Sony's audio side has such a downer on the bloke who came up with MD 2 so much that it'll never find its way into a walkman? Sony must be a very interesting place to work.

And I want an Aibo.

Friday 29/10/1999

One of the dubious benefits of being an ADSL triallist has been the Mondex smart card and reader that appeared, unbidden, through my letterbox. I -- and, it transpires, all the other triallists -- have been given the chance to buy an online movie using this thrilling device. All we have to do is fill in a direct debit form and give it to one bank so it can take money from another bank whenever we spot something we like online and swipe for it.

For some reason, I haven't bothered to do this. Still, the Mondex moguls haven't given up on me. Only today I receive a long list of extra exciting ways to spend my money. I can write an electronic postcard and get someone to really post it for me! I can receive music from Radio Free Lunatech!! I can download new icons for my PC!!! Thanks, but, uh...

Still, we can't knock it so lightly. Mondex is all about online security, right? The ability to make transactions where both your money and your privacy are secure. A state-of-the-art meld of hardware, software and procedural systems guaranteed to make the system a mete and proper place in which to place our trust and our gelt.

Shame, then, that the email offering me all the above compelling services includes the email addresses of everyone on the ADSL trial in the To: field, thus contravening the Data Protection Act. Fascinating reading it makes too -- the bt.com addresses, the international non-governmental organisations with offices outside the official trial areas, banks... There's even another Rupert (hi there).

Perhaps, just for now, I'll let the card sleep in the reader.

Thought For The Week: Now that Halifax has started an online bank, should it be called Halimodem?