Rupert Goodwins' Diary

IBM's busted flush, music on the move and mobile naughtiness keep Rupert occupied, but can he survive the training day?

Monday 14/10/2002
We're all for diversity here on ZDNet UK, and roundly applaud high tech companies that branch out into new areas. However, IBM's attempt to patent the art of going to the lavatory was perhaps one step too far -- and their voluntary relinquishing of the patent awarded is a welcome return to core values. Let me explain. Two years ago, Big Blue patented a method of queuing for the smallest room in places where demand exceeded supply, such as aircraft, concert halls, railway stations and so on. A computer would assign you a place in the queue and advise you of the likely length of wait, presumably using the Q4AP protocol. Why IBM thought this was an innovation, when we've actually been rather good at using sanitation for a few thousand years, is a mystery -- as is the patent office's decision to grant it. Prior art would seem a problem, and the one area where actual innovation may have taken place -- in deciding how long the person before you was going to take -- is distressingly not covered in the filing. Other questions are also left hanging in the air: would the computer keep a log? Would the original binary system of zeros and ones be replaced by numbers one and two? How many toilet jokes can one man cram into a paragraph? But now the penny has dropped and IBM, flushed with embarrassment, has abandoned its attempts at operating cistern design. And a good job too. Tuesday 15/10/2002
A close personal friend is having trouble. His MP3 collection is edging upwards towards the 15GB mark, and while he has long lusted after a portable player that'll let him take his complete CD collection around with him, he is a Windows user and thus debarred from the magical snuffbox of iPod. But now he has another problem -- at the same time as Apple announced official Windows support for the iPod, Creative has come up with the Nomad Jukebox Zen. This may seem a right old car crash of concepts -- visualise a wizened old Japanese monk wandering from pub to pub in search of the right Wurlitzer -- but the end result is curiously iPod like. Twenty gigabytes for the price of iPod's ten, in a very iPoddy shiny metal and plastic case with a similar screen but much more conventional controls. At £200, it seems like the essential accessory for the gentleman with the more extensive musical requirements, but it's cheaper for two reasons. It's not Apple -- and my friend can live with that -- and it's slightly bigger because it uses an industry standard disk drive. My friend demands to know: is the difference in size a major factor in the usability and desirability of what is by any standards a mouthwatering toy? How about the minor difference in weight? Software? There is only one way to find out, and that's to do a comparative review. Apple has already been asked and seemed inclined to help out: our missive to Creative will be winging its way Zenwards even now. Watch this space. (Addendum: The Great Readership: Where's the jukebox joke? Rupert: You want a jukebox joke? TGR: Get on with it! R: Knock knock. TGR (sighing under their breath): Who's there? R: Wurlitzer TGR (bracing for impact): Wurlitzer who? R: Wurlitzer one for the money, two for the show... TGR: Forget we asked... ) Wednesday 16/10/2002
Today's Private Eye magazine has a witty cartoon of a telephone box marked "Over 18s Only". For readers bemused by this, there is a London tradition whereby ladies and gentlemen of the night promote their wares through colourful cards stuffed into phone boxes in the centre of town. BT keeps trying to ban them, schoolboys avidly collect them and everyone else has just learned to ignore them. Apart from side-splitting japes when large numbers are swiped and posted inside the lifts at work just prior to a visit from the Americans -- but let us not dwell on that puerile nonsense. Now, however, the same thrilling experience can be beamed to the comfort of your very own trousers courtesy of Private Media. This purveyor of pornography is setting up a service whereby for a mere six quid you can have a series of steamy SMSes sent to your phone, followed by the Web site address of the alleged creator of the sexy texts. Obviously, 3G is the natural home of such ideas. Every new technology is used for sex -- the very word pornography comes from the Greek for "writing about whores", vividly illustrating the uses of papyrus they don't tell you about on Discovery -- and just think about Alexander Graham Bell's first words on the newly invented telephone: "Mr Watson, come here, I want you." It's a commonplace in the consumer electronics industry that pornographic films were the kicker that pushed VHS ahead of Betamax, and the Internet has hardly been free of the odd off-colour picture. Watch out for the bundled phone deals, though. With mobile manufacturers desperate to explore new markets, there's room for more design innovation than just a ribbed and textured case... Thursday 17/10/2002
It's not been a good week for Microsoft. First, it's caught cheating in its advertising: what purported to be a true-life confession of a user who switched from Macintosh to XP turns out to be a concoction of an advertising agency. One wonders why they had to make it up -- could they really not find a single person who'd made that change and was prepared to talk about it? But the best bit was the way the misleading advert was uncovered: Microsoft had forgotten to remove information from the header of a Word file associated with the campaign. Security? What does Microsoft know about security? Not a lot, as the subsequent events of the week show. Its beta-test programme was hacked, letting person or persons unknown full access to a wide range of unreleased products, as well as the comments and buglists created by the testers themselves. A company spokesman said, "they are grabbing product, and it's going to be buggy and it's going to have problems", but didn't clarify how this differed from a normal launch. Doubtless these quantifiable failings of Microsoft's software, not to mention the falling market, have impacted on its bottom line -- but what's this? Sales and revenues both sharply up? Twenty-six percent? TWENTY SIX? This isn't, as you might at first think, the signs of a monopoly squeezing still more cash out of a market just because it can, but instead a rather ironic commentary on the popularity of its new licensing deals -- which are indeed another tweak on the teat of the moo-cow of the IT world. In an attempt to forestall the cost increases of the new schemes, everyone's been signing up on the old ones just before they go away and this rather expensive rebellion has boosted Redmond's reserves. It's what happens next that'll be interesting. Friday 18/10/2002
It's training day! As we're part of CNET, a great American company, we get the great American training. Herds of assorted tech team, ad sales, admin and editorial types are placed around tables and given an assortment of things to do. The aim -- to more closely understand our talents and wishes and how we align them with the expectations of the company. The method -- sorting through hundreds of cards and filling in forms. I fell at the first: having to choose between binary options such as "I like to be an expert in one thing" and "I like to know a little about a lot", I stuck my hand up and said "But I have to know a lot about a lot..." "Well, do what you can." said the bright and breezy mistress of ceremonies. The rest weren't much better: if your mind doesn't work along the lines laid down, you're not going to get very far. The best ones were the Value Cards. Brightly coloured, these were labelled with such wholesome goodness as "Creativity", "Respect", "Spiritual Growth", "Preparedness To Subsume Self To Whims Of Glorious Leaders" and so on. These were illustrated with various inspiring drawings, just in case we didn't get the message -- "Perseverance" had a little train chugging up a hill, "Fairness" a pair of scales, that sort of thing. "Spiritual Growth " was a surprised pigeon on a spring. I'm still thinking about that one. So we sat down and decided whether we rated "Intimacy" more important than "Creativity", "Integrity" ahead of "Family" and so on. I looked in vain for cards labelled "Mendacity", "Greed", "The Pub", "Jealousy" or "Iconoclastic Desire To Tear Down And Destroy" -- attributes I have found intrinsic to my own motivation and that of my fellow workers -- but failed to find them. Among the 40 or 50 pre-designed cards, we were given one blank Wild Card to write the attribute of our choice (illustration optional), but it had a glossy coating and our pens left no mark. I stuck my hand up and said "But I can't write down what I want to say". "You know what you mean, and that's what matters," said the trainer. Hmf. After we had ruthlessly classified our primary values -- I scratched "Cake" on my blank card using a fingernail -- it was time to write down what we had learned. If you're not very good at your job you become unhappy. Golly! So, better find out whether we're any good at our jobs. We then compared our ideal job with our actual job by ticking various boxes. I broke at this bit -- my ideal job involves writing novels for six months on the shores of a lake, then spending the next six in the great fleshpots of the world. Their ideal job revolved around relationships with managers, teamwork, taking responsibility for corporate growth and so on. I pondered sticking my hand up again, but by this time the Proustian recollection of primary school lessons had grown so strong I was in real danger of calling our esteemed HR professional guide "Miss". So I kept schtumm. And so it went on, though I never did find out what the pastel-shaded mandala in the middle of the table was for. I promise to pay more attention in class next time. At the end, I discovered that I am unaligned with the corporate value set. I can't have sounded the right note of concern at this self discovery because the serene composure of the trainer became disturbed at this point: "You're not allowed to say that!" she said, wondering whether to take me seriously or not. I would have played the "Irony" card, but that too seemed to be missing from the pack. There is one great and undeniable benefit from this sort of exercise: it gives a man one hell of a thirst. And on a Friday afternoon as well. My. What is a man to do? To have your say online click on TalkBack and go to the ZDNet UK forums.