Rupert Goodwins' Diary

There's nothing but madness in the world this week as gamers drop off their perches, wireless marketeers lose their marbles and the full horror of Linux graces Rupert's desktop.

Monday 7/10/2002
No high fives for the Wi-Fis. While I bow to no man in my appreciation of the sterling work done by the IEEE in making the standards that make the wireless networks, the wireless industry's grasp of nomenclature is woeful. In the beginning was the 802.11 standard -- OK, so it sounds like the sort of thing a trainspotter would say when discussing bogie configurations, but that was in the days when only engineers cared. Then the rot set in. Real people got interested, and a new and faster standard came along. Now, you or I would take the opportunity to invest in a sensible name at this point, something like I Can't Believe It's Not Cabled, thus leaving the way forward for future excitement such as I Can't Believe It's Not Cabled Turbo, Extra, Economy, Super Secure, Video Grade or Cheapskate. But no, the IEEE decided to call it 802.11b. There's a last desperate twitch of logic there, but only if you don't realise that virtually every other letter of the alphabet had also been stapled to the end of the hapless 802.11 moniker. When an even faster version of the network came along, it had to be called not 802.11c but 802.11a. So a is faster than b is faster than the unadorned version. And g is as fast as a but compatible with b, which a is not. But that's not confusing enough, thought the 802.11 alliance. They had come up with a name for 802.11b -- that's the second version, remember, and the first to find favour with the masses - of Wi-Fi. Why Wi-Fi, we shall never know. Likewise, why the non-compatible but much faster 802.11a was called Wi-Fi5 is a mystery, but at least it was less confusing than doing what they've just decided to do -- call it just Wi-Fi again. It beats me. At least the consortium behind the Philips-led very low power low speed wireless network is having none of it, and is calling their effort Zigbee. They don't even pretend to have any reason why: ask them, and they say that they'll tell us just as soon as they've thought up a plausible story. Now that's marketing. Tuesday 8/10/2002
Besides keeping Linus Torvalds in gainful employ, what has Transmeta done for us? As far as ZDNet UK can tell, provided a small stream of slow laptops that extend battery life through crashing so often you reach for pencil and paper instead. I'm sure that's dreadfully unfair, but if there have been many other products in this part of town, we've missed them. The company says that seven out of the ten top notebook manufacturers use the Crusoe chip -- curiously, not here. Undaunted, Transmeta chief executive Matthew Perry is still banging the drum for the idea that a very low power consumption chip emulating the thirstier Pentium has a hot -- sorry, cool -- future. Of Intel's slowly blossoming Banias architecture, designed for exactly the same market, he'll say only that it's a Pentium III enhanced with a flock of PowerPoint slides. I don't know. I've seen those PowerPoint slides, and while it's true that Intel is very good at putting its new products in the best possible light before harsh reality downgrades expectations, some of the ideas in Banias seem very sound. It's also true that Intel is internally structured so that it has its own Transmetas battling away against each other to produce good ideas that win hearts, minds and silicon space; if you're big enough to cope with the inefficiencies that this involves, you end up with good ideas tested before the market gets to them. Regardless, Transmeta has a few months of grace before Banias comes out. What then? It would be an act of the purest fantasy to note that it has no desktop or server processors while AMD has no serious portable offering, and that one company with both technologies would be able to cut the kind of deals that only Intel manages so far. Wednesday 9/10/2002
Telewest says proudly that 10 percent of its broadband customers have upgraded to the new 1Mbps service -- that's 20,000 users. As of yesterday, make that 20,001: I took the plunge, clicked on the link, reset my cable modem and doubled my bandwidth. It's costing an extra tenner a month, but it feels like its worth it -- even if I am horribly reminded of the frog that sits in a pan of water and feels no pain as the heat is gradually increased. A tenner here, a tenner there -- now, FilmFour is only another seven quid, and then I could do with another phone line... But I can't explain why I'm prepared to do this when the tenner a month it costs for Tivo's digital video recorder service feels like a tenner too much. On the face of it, I wasn't dissatisfied with the 512kbps speed -- although the 128kbps upload was annoyingly slow, I didn't do that much with it. And now I share the flat with a fellow bandwidth-guzzling Goodwins, there's another excuse... but it is just an excuse. The Web as a whole is slower than the link ever is. I'd use a Tivo a lot more, and I've been very impressed with seeing Tivos in action at friends' places. I don't know why one feels like an unacceptable indulgence but the other is a worthwhile, defensible expense. The same problem must be afflicting Tivo in spades, as five years in it's still struggling to survive, despite having pioneered what is a brilliant idea and made quite a good job of it. Perhaps the Internet really is the new television, same as television became the new radio, and Tivo are stuck marketing a very nice wireless when all around are looking for something quite different. Thursday 10/10/2002
It's Lindows day at ZDNet UK! Yesterday, the first UK Lindows machine turned up in the office, courtesy of Evesham Technology (nee Micros), who think that slapping a £250 price tag on a box running the only sensible PC competition to Microsoft would make people sit up and take notice. And how right they were. From across the crowded office, geeks came to see what the darn thing looked like. The overall consensus was very positive, even though the combined brains of ZDNet Tech failed to sort out a networking problem -- it's not enough to know how something works with Linux, you have to know the exact details of how various bits of inscrutable magic fit together for this precise instance. Things were going swimmingly, until I tried to install a screen grabber. With Windows, this involves going to somewhere like Tucows and throwing in the word 'screen grabber', then clicking on a link, waiting for a bit (though not that long, not at one megabit. Tee hee!) and carrying on with your life. With Lindows... ah, well. You first have to find out what the appropriate utility is called. You then have to find out which one works with your distribution -- Red Hat, Debian, or any one of the near 90 others (you think I'm joking? Have a look at ) -- and your particular desktop environment running on your hardware. You then download the software, either as something that needs to be linked with the libraries on your system or something that has everything built in with static links. We'll ignore the business of downloading source code that needs to be compiled. Sometimes you need to download some new libraries: tools exist to help you do that automatically, but you need to be careful that the new libraries -- or old ones that the new application needs -- don't disrupt old ones and stop other software you have on your system already from working. Once you've done all that, you're ready to rumble. All you have to do is find out where on the system the new software resides, hook it into your desktop, run it... and find out where online the discussion group is that's looking after the bugs, features and future of the thing. I dare say that after a few months of this, it'll all seem like second nature to me. And it does emphasise with extreme clarity the need for something like Lindows' own Click-n-Run system that automates all that... but at an equivalent cost to a Windows licence. Tricky stuff, this alternative computing. Friday 11/10/2002
"Dad?". Oh dear, here it comes. At least when he was younger, it was simple stuff like "Can I have a hamster" or "Everyone else at school has proper PE kit. Doesn't granny want her nightie back yet?" Now it's all streetwise stuff like sneakers with built in Uzis. "If I promise to clean, redecorate and rewire the flat out of my pocket money, can I have a LAN party with my mates?" Obviously his allowances are way too high. I knew it was a mistake to start paying him with decimal coinage. Yet it doesn't seem an unreasonable request: I am immediately suspicious. I decide to use my famed journalistic skills at Being Nice to find out more. "A LAN party? What does that involve, beloved son and heir?" Visions of routers, hubs, Tizer and a three-layer ISO model of trifle composition suggest themselves. It is not pretty. "Just me and a few mates with our computers playing a few online games." Now, other parents might regard such an idea with righteous horror. An Englishman's home is his castle, even if the council made me take the gun emplacements and tank armour down from around the door. You don't want the Hackney Acne Squad descending like a plague of aspirant-challenged locusts and wrecking the place in the name of HalfWit or whatever bit of bloodthirsty pixel bashing keeps them off the streets. But I am nothing if not the milk of human kindness and paternal understanding. "Clean the flat before AND after, pay for a night away for me and the three female companions of my choice in a modest hotel in Cannes, restock the cellar and indemnify me against collateral damage, and I'll think about it," I said, pushing the standard disclaimer form towards him. "In blood?" he said, rolling up his sleeve and reaching for the special leather case containing the scalpels. "Oh, don't bother with that!" I said jovially. "Just pick the scab off from last time." That was last night, and already I have cause to regret my largesse. For today, the story breaks that a South Korean man has died after a two-day online gaming session. OK, so he didn't eat, drink or breath during the period. But two days? Surely my son's party was only going to last a couple of hours? He gave me the sort of withering look that only the infinite wisdom of youth can bestow -- or was it anaemia? "Two days? Lightweight. I was thinking nearer four..." And he wanders off to college, muttering something about needing a sniffer to configure the DHCP server. Oh, for the good old days when the only things a kid would sniff were bicycle seats and glue.