Rupert Goodwins' Diary

From American pie to RIPA hacker honeypots to Cornish dishes, no tasty corner of the globe escapes Rupert Goodwins' diarising digits. But was he really a Norwegian stripper?

Monday 8/07/2002
Warren Buffett doesn't have as big a profile over here as he does in the US, where the Oracle of Omaha still has the legendary ability to pick stocks that make a lot of money. One of the richest people in the US, his down-home style and legendary parsimony has helped make him a folk hero, and there are plenty of people who've made useful amounts of money just following his lead. As he likes picking stocks with a long-term view -- famously, if he can't see where a company will be in ten years' time, he won't invest -- he stayed out of the Net bubble. And now he's investing $100m -- cigarette money by his standards, but a sizeable chunk nonetheless -- in Level 3, a telecoms company. Recently, investors would more willingly have held a decomposing dog than telecoms equity, so Buffett's move is seen as very newsworthy. And it's certainly true that when all the dust dies down and the weaker creatures have gone to the wall, there'll still be a strong, expanding and profitable market in telecommunications. Perhaps he can see that future beginning to shape up through the haze. Or perhaps he's lost his marbles. I know which I'd choose to believe. The stock market responds by plunging further into gloom. Tuesday 9/07/2002
At last! Strong, clear moral leadership from a powerful, spotless leader: President George W. Bush speaks out against corporate shenanigans. No more dodgy dealings, no more misreportings, no more "criminal fraud committed by corporate officers and directors." Once again, those doubting Thomases that claim Americans don't do irony stand dumbfounded. President Clinton is shortly expected to give an homage to family values and sexual continence, while Margaret Thatcher's moving plea for greater respect for the intellectual and cultural life of the country is eagerly awaited. Predictably, the stock market responds to Bush's new-found love for rigorous regulation by plunging beyond gloom into dismay I have heard it advanced that the current financial scandals are indeed Clinton's fault -- apparently it was the national mood of permissiveness he fostered by not behaving himself with his intern -- but not by anyone on this side of the Atlantic. In general, though, there seems to be an air that if you found yourself at the top of a large corporation at any time in the last ten years and failed to insert your proboscis as deep into the company's money artery as possible, you were culpably stupid. Perhaps it's just that the US press spent years of their lives investigating Clinton's alleged misdemeanours in Whitewater and found nothing, but there doesn't seem to be much spirit to haul Dubya over the coals for doing exactly what he claims is going to be a sin akin to baking your mother into an apple pie over a toasty flag furnace. Still, there's more. There's bound to be more. We haven't even started on Jeb, the brother in Florida. Wednesday 10/07/2002
Yet more RIPA-based confusion, this time among the ISPs. A provision of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act comes into force in twenty days' time, requiring larger ISPs to have the ability to forward your data to the police -- or whoever has the appropriate warrant. Exactly what this means, how it's to be done and who foots the bill are all grey areas -- but nonetheless, any ISP serving more than 10,000 people must be able to do it within one working day of being asked, from the first of August. Now, there are plenty of sharp sticks here with which the cynical can prod the apparently incompetent Home Office, under whose auspices RIPA is being rolled out. What's to stop a criminal from using a smaller ISP? What if they use someone else's account? How are ISPs who don't obey the summons going to be taken to court, if it means publicising the details that the cops are so keen to keep secret? But for me, the best bit is that the ISPs will be required to deliver this data in real time to the person who holds the warrant. As it's unthinkable that every PC Plod in the land will have the appropriate equipment and software to receive such a stream, I imagine that all the warrant traffic will go through some central service, to which the ISPs will have to connect. Now, how attractive will that central service be to hackers? Every large ISP in the land will have to have the details of how to connect to it, and how to authorise their connections, and to get it all working within one working day: that means a lot of people to be trained and a lot of information to be spread, as you can't risk not being able to comply just because your pet anorak's on holiday. Do you know what the turnover is among ISP technical staff? How long will it be before the details of the warrant system are out there with the l33t? Now: imagine the fun if the details -- and data -- of every RIPA warrant connection were to be made public by some evil hacker d00d. Course, it won't happen. Not with our famously competent, efficient and IT savvy Home Office. Thursday 11/07/2002
Our roving broadband reporter, Graeme "Fat Pipe" Wearden is despatched to Goonhilly Downs, the satellite station deep in the Cornish countryside which BT proudly proclaims as the biggest on earth. It's an anorak's nirvana: huge parabolic dishes point proudly out to sea, named after various members of Arthurian legend. The Romano-Celts weren't noted for their high technology and skills in microwave engineering, but you know how romantic engineers can get. "Scoop" Wearden didn't quite manage to penetrate the secrets of the 'experimental' section of the site, the scattering of small dishes tucked away in the southernmost extremity that never get a mention in the PR puff -- our sources say that it's amazing what you can pick up from the deep south-west if you know what you're listening to or, even better, if you don't -- but he did report a presentation where a picture of Sir Peter Bonfield took pride of place. As the bluff, beardy countenance of Sir Peter departed the BT boardroom some six months ago, this raises certain fears about the staff down in Goonhilly. Are they, posits Graeme, like some lost outpost of Japanese soldiers on a Pacific island, gamely fighting on for country and Emperor while not knowing the cause is long since lost? It's certainly true that the strange light, air and rocks of Cornwall do twist a man's perceptions in curious, almost mystical ways. But I prefer instead to think of the cargo cults of the South Seas, where long after the US Air Force had been, dropped supplies and gone, the natives continued to call out on hand-made models of radio sets while wearing wooden headphones and sitting beside bamboo aerials. Has anyone done an anthropological study of the tribe of Goonhilly? Or, for that matter, the board of BT? There has to be an explanation somewhere... Friday 12/07/2002
Microsoft gets the Norwegian blues, as the Nordic government cancels the contract that gave Bill and pals sole supplier status for public service software. It is an ex-contract. As the impetus seems to be towards open-source software, there's even a good chance that Python will be involved at some point. Nobody expects Microsoft to take this sitting down, and while the company won't comment at the moment -- and nobody ever got rich suing the government -- it'll be quite out of character if the Americans don't aggressively seek to enforce the contract. The interesting questions of what the contract said, who signed it and what will take its place will have to wait until I either learn Norwegian or find someone else who speaks the language. I long ago went off Norway, as the customs service required me to take all my clothes off on entry to Oslo one evening a few years back. My crime was to not have booked a hotel, which instantly labelled me a drugs trafficker: they do this quite a lot, judging by the full-colour printed leaflet they gave me afterwards saying "So, we've peered up your parts and you want to complain?" (précis of leaflet: "Tough."). The morose customs agent even had the gall to say: "It's worse for us than it is for you." I resisted the temptation to ask him to give it a go and find out. But if Norway is going to think twice about handing over its entire governmental doings to Microsoft, I may yet think more warmly of the place. Be a while before I go back to Oslo, mind. To have your say online click on TalkBack and go to the ZDNet UK forums.