Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Rupert gets in a tizz over aerial nonsense, spooks with iPaqs and those whacky Hellenes.

Monday 2/09/2002
UWB is going to be a hot topic. This new radio system combines very low power, very high bandwidth and the uncanny ability to act as very precise radar. But it doesn't fit into the way ordinary radio works -- it doesn't have a frequency, instead scattering tiny parcels of energy throughout the whole radio spectrum. This is causing some concern, especially among people who rely on existing radio systems. Some, like satellite navigation and aeronautical safety and guidance, use very low levels of power indeed, and the worry that a UWB-equipped laptop will cause dangerous interference is hardly unreasonable. But there's a great deal of nonsense being spoken. "We might have to ban all laptops" says one spokesman for the CAA, "as cabin crew can't be expected to know which ones have UWB and which ones don't". Well, no. Likewise, cabin crew don't know which PDAs have cellphones built in and which ones don't, but so far nobody's raised an eyebrow over that. The solution is obvious. If a UWB device is to be approved for use on aircraft, then it has to be able to detect a signal on a special channel -- one that says "You're in a safety critical area, so shut up". Alternatively, the aircraft could have UWB detectors that trigger the attendant call button if someone in a seat turns on their radiating gadget. And if UWB can't be detected, then it's not likely to cause any problems. Lots of solutions, and the quicker people start thinking laterally about the problems then the sooner we'll have the right one. And that won't involve banning everything that moves. Tuesday 3/09/2002
A personal digital assistant is a friendly thing, and not much good for offensive action. The worst thing you can do with an iPaq is give someone a small bruise on the upper arm, or possibly squash their favourite stick insect. Or so I thought. But Matt Loney passed the following email on to me today from someone who we'll just call Doctor X: "I read your article about Intel's 3D graphics toolkit for its XScale processor. What interested me was the 3D demo on the HP iPaq handheld computer rendering on its screen, in real time, a fly-over of a detailed 3D landscape. Do you have any more information about that demonstration or a contact at Intel that I could call to get more information? I work at a US Navy R&D lab and we are in the midst of developing similar capabilities on an iPAQ. Thanks for your help XXX@XXX.navy.mil Well. While the US Navy has been known for its fascinating experiments involving running warships on Windows (subsequently towing them back to base while jolly Jack Tars signalled "Please Don't Hit Us" in semaphore from the darkened decks), the idea of modern warfare being conducted through Pocket PC 2002 brings a whole new meaning to friendly fire. User-friendly fire, perhaps. Our mystery caller doesn't tell us exactly what he's working on -- no doubt wisely -- but you can imagine that a troop of squaddies advancing through an urban environment would appreciate data from an unmanned spy plane loitering above the streets. If you can plan your next advance by virtually crawling through a 3D model of the city ahead captured moments beforehand, it saves on unpleasant surprises. Nobody likes surprises in that environment. But of course, the enemy will know what you're up to and will be trying to upload fake data to the flying eye above. What better way to get rid of those awkward visitors than to make them walk of their own volition into an ambush? And, of course, there's no reason why the modern battlefield should remain the last workplace on earth bereft of advertising -- we can look forward to banner ads for beer, guns and alternative employment, quite possibly chosen according to the intensity of the conflict in which the PDA-toting soldier finds themselves. Truly, a whole new world of warfare awaits. Wednesday 4/09/2002
Our story about the Greeks banning video games is gaining ground. Lots of people just don't believe it, but it's true enough. There are even stories of the police going into retailers and ripping Sony Playstations off the shelves. One group says that no, nobody will ever be prosecuted for home gaming. another points out that in the 1970s, people's houses were raided and arrests made for playing card games. But then lots of things happened in Greece in the 1970s that, one hopes, will not happen again. On another angle, it's interesting to see how the story spreads across the Net. News written in the ZDNet UK newsroom appears on our site first, then often gets picked up by our US and European ZDNet and CNET family. From there, it appears on newswires run by various other companies, so a few hours after a tasty story leaves the keyboard of Matt Loney, it can easily appear under ten different brands around the world. Then there are the other news sites. Some are honourable, take the story, do some more research and publish their own take on it -- often mentioning us as the original source. That's cool. Some do additional research and present the story as their own: well, fair enough. And some rewrite the paragraphs to escape copyright and bung the mutated version up: tsh... But on a good day, it's nice to see something you started make it onto the BBC or nationals -- and if it's really good, into the big name newspapers. But there's the danger that everyone who writes news will end up getting it from the Internet, and we'll end up like Shaw's old women, taking each other's washing to make ends meet. Someone somewhere has to get out of their office and into the real world to find out what's actually happening -- and with the current intense pressures on editorial budgets, there's a danger that this will just stop happening. Thursday 5/09/2002
And with a final gasp, Napster becomes an ex-pirate. Despite a last-ditch and half-hearted effort by Bertlesmann to save the lifeless corpse from complete extinction, a judge decided that it was not to be. Such is the lot of the true innovator. Working at the edge of the possible and demonstrating a whole new way of listening to music, tiny Napster drew the fire of the huge music industry edifice who decided that it was Not Allowed. Of course, there are plenty of neo-Napsters out there now -- and plenty more than the small list always quoted in the press -- and it doesn't really matter what the industry does, we'll be getting our music online from hereon in. We'll pay for it, too, given a chance and a degree of fairness. It's all a bit like pirate radio in the sixties. It didn't matter what the outraged authorities said, millions of people happily listened to Radio Caroline, Radio London and the like. A combination of legal changes and the introduction of Radio 1 and independent local radio, much of which absorbed the talent thrown up by the pirates, meant that in the end the pirate ships had a moral victory even as they puttered back to port under the watchful eye of officialdom. That's not much comfort to the pirates, but they'll be remembered for a long time. As will Napster, in whose honour I shall pause my MP3 player for a minute's silence later on tonight. Friday 6/09/2002
Due to circumstances beyond our control, the management regrets to inform you that the diary is being written on Thursday, and thus it is impossible to say what happens on Friday. We could guess, but we'd be wrong. Next week, I'm in San Jose at the Intel Developers Forum. Expect lots of chip stories -- and a first-hand account of what it's like to be on the Left Coast on the first anniversary of September 11th. Usually, I rely on the twin defences of cynicism and marguerites to cushion the effects of Californian earnestness when I'm over there, but neither will be entirely appropriate this time. Hmm. And I'm not going to let the fact I'm flying back on Friday 13th affect my steely rationalist demeanour one little bit. See you next week. I hope. To have your say online click on TalkBack and go to the ZDNet UK forums.