Rupert Goodwins' Diary

The Vicar, The Grandson, The Worm And His Bishop

Monday 30/9/2002 is back up. If you missed the fuss the first time around: the site went up ostensibly as an online focus for people who wanted to organise mob justice against suspected paedophiles. Replete with such calls to arms as "We want the law changed to make it illegal to murder children and bury them in woodland. We want it to be made illegal for adults to work with children. We want an end to the ridiculous process of 'criminal trials' for suspected child killers." it would have been the sort of site that might raise a small smile but probably wouldn't be worth passing on to a friend. Then the blessings of censorship descended, the hosting company allegedly pulled the site on request from the plod, and a call to arms echoed through the online community. But it all seemed a bit too good to be true: connections were mooted between the site and a known team of online comedy writers, and some of the statements didn't quite add up. Now it's back, together with a ringing proclamation of its victory. "One small step for me, one giant leap for the fight against informal censorship by spineless ISPs and informal police officers. And a useful lesson for us all: If the police and your hosting company conspire to 'informally' revoke your right to freedom of speech, just tell them, informally, to go..." and here it gets a bit rude. Is it satire? Is it a media stunt? Is it funny? Ah, who knows. It's not as if it's hard to satirise the lynch mob mentality, which has enough contradictions and self-defeating consequences to be obvious to anyone (except, perhaps, the highly educated editor of a Sunday tabloid), but it's good to do it nonetheless. And there's something just a bit self-righteous about the site which gets on my chilblains, to be honest. Note to whoever's behind it: it's fine to fight for media freedom and the right to commit bad taste in public... but taking yourself so seriously on a comedy site doesn't quite mesh. Think of the chilblains. Tuesday 1/10/2002
Information wants to be free! But BT would rather go back to the days when it cost five pence a minute. At least, that's the feeling I get from the announcement that BTopenworld is about to slash the amount of 'unmetered' Net access you get from its Anytime and Surftime products. Not that 'unmetered' and 'unlimited' ever meant what they normally mean in the real world. Unlimited actually meant "no more than twelve hours a day" for Anytime users -- so that's anytime except half the day -- and now means "no more than 150 hours a month". Which by my calculation adds up to somewhat less than 5 hours per diem. BT says that this is just about the same as it was before and still virtually unmetered. Virtual balderdash: such statements are as fake as the "FREE CHATLINE!" adverts in the back of the newspapers that explain in the small print that they mean you pay at national rate, not at five zillion quid a nanosecond. It's quite possible that the way BT's business model is set up, it's impossible to provide wholesale unmetered access without restrictions. Whether this means we should give up on unmetered calls as a concept, or just lean heavily on BT to stop trying to scamper back into its Imperial past, is a matter for discussion. But it -- and the other 'unmetered' providers who cap you and then throw you off if you take them at their word -- should stop pretending they're selling one thing while doing something quite different. I note that Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of BT, chooses today to tell us that BT wants to win its way into the hearts of its customers. "Do we have the patience and focus to build a real relationship with the customer?" he asks. Well, real relationships need truth and trust. Perhaps he could start with Openworld. Wednesday 2/10/2002
Picture the scene of domestic tranquillity chez moi this evening. Goodwins senior (that's me) sitting quietly on the sofa, battling with network settings on his laptop and occasionally unleashing an oath fit to singe a monkey. Goodwins junior (that's him) sits quietly alongside, battling with monsters on his laptop and occasionally making a strangled sound. Swearing, like spitting at the cat and blowing one's nose on the curtains, is reserved for the alpha male of the organisation (that's me again). But sometimes, Goodwins junior can't help himself. "Oh golly!" he said, simultaneously bracing himself for a well-earned cuff around the ears with a rolled-up copy of ZDNetWeek. But I'm nothing if not a benevolent and loving parent so decide capriciously to give him a chance to justify himself. "Foul-mouthed cur! Why do you besmirch the family name so?" "But father, I was surprised by this strange email from Grandad. It contains an attachment purporting to be a document, but really with a .EXE file extension." Reluctantly, I stay my hand -- although who knows what disgusting liberalism such laxity will instil in the lad? -- and look at his screen. There indeed is an incomprehensible email from my father, complete with worrying attachment. Despite the best efforts of the parochial church council, my priestly dad has yet to succumb to senility so I conclude he's not really the source. We set to work, and soon ascertain that the Reverend Goodwins has been infected by this week's star worm, Bugbear. It's late, but not too late to alert the afflicted cleric. We phone Cambridgeshire. "Oh yes," he says. "I got it from the Bishop of Ely." And your antivirus software, father? Ah. Trust in the Lord. I remind him that even the Pope has bullet-proof glass in his Popemobile, and set about concocting a solution. My father, despite his many fine attributes and great fondness for technology, is not entirely at ease with computing. I do my best to wrap up one of the anti-Bugbear programs with some guidance in an email, but some time later it's clear that it hasn't worked and we're wandering deep into that forest of mutual frustration, the Father-Son Tech Support Phone Call. I send Richard out into the night, ostensibly to purchase some moonshine from the dodgy late night grocers next to the crack cocaine dealer in the Holloway back streets, but in truth because what I have to say to my father is not for sensitive young ears. Alas, despite my manifold imprecations and summonings of the Dark Lord Williamensis Gatesii, we're not getting very far. And it's midnight. In the end, I'm forced into an action I've long resisted. I send the Reverend Father a copy of remote control software VNC, which by dint of being exceptionally well written, easy to use and free soon gives me access to his desktop over the Internet. It then takes me a couple of moments to delouse his computer and bid the man goodnight. Next stop: the Bishop of Ely. Not being bound by family ties, I feel free to act as I wish in this case. When Richard returns, I shall get him to refuel the Scud I keep in the spare room: meanwhile, it's time to program its navigation system with the co-ordinates of a certain cathedral. Thursday 3/10/2002
So, farewell then, Teledesic. Bill Gates' bright hope of studding the sky with nearly a thousand satellites to saturate the ether with broadband has faded almost to extinction. By the time they pulled the plug, only two satellites were in production -- out of a much reduced planned constellation of forty. The company's still going, but nobody's saying what it'll do -- perhaps it'll flog off its licence to the bandwidth, or sell its intellectual property. T'aint got anything else. These aren't great days for spacemen. Iridium continues as a weird telephonic equivalent to GPS, providing remarkably cheap communications through US government subsidies and under the control of the US State Department. Globalstar filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. Even the International Space Station looks like turning into a massive investment of 3G proportions thrown away for nothing -- with Russia saying it can no longer afford to keep supplying the place, very little science being done thanks to cutbacks, and no end of little problems, it's no wonder NASA keeps so quiet about it. Strangely, astronomy seems to be hip again -- Patrick Moore is turning into a cult hero among the young, Seti@home has just hit the four million user mark, Hubble pictures regularly make the front pages of newspapers and the sort of obscure cosmology that once interested a handful of bearded physicists is daily fare on Radio 4's attempts at intellectual programming. It might not be the stuff of heroics or telephonics any more, but the final frontier is still out there. All we have to do is work out how to make money at it. Friday 4/10/2002
That Sexy Email -- In Full
To: Michael, Edwina, John, Gillian, Anne
From: John
Subj: Story Time Last night I was all geared up for a night in front of the telly watching cricket, having a curry and a couple of beers while you know who is still in opposition. Suddenly I get a text from Lamont, which says I'm coming around in a spirit of full interdepartmental disclosure. So he comes round and we engage in ministerial dialogue on all sorts of stuff and then we start intensive debriefing (as you do). Then I find myself sitting in the Speaker's Chair with a beer in one hand, Mace in the other, Surrey on the box and you know who doing the full humble petition bit. Then the phone rings, and it's the economy... so now I've got my beer, Lamont going down on sterling thanks to the ERM and UK PLC chatting to me on the dog. Lamont stops, looks up at me, winks and whispers "Say hi to the economy for me" and gets back to the job in hand. Am I the worst PM in the world or what??????????????? (Editor's note, after a full enquiry, John was sacked from his job and is now a highly paid adulterer.) To have your say online click on TalkBack and go to the ZDNet UK forums.