Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Sony gets helpful, wireless networks down wires and mobile phone companies that do what they say? It must be Christmas.

Monday 2/12/2002
I'm staring unhappily into the bathroom mirror, and it's not a good start to the week. Due to some mysterious combination of London air, bad living and the stressful business of being, my face has taken to occasional bursts of extreme blotchiness. It can look quite spectacular -- shades of Alfred Bester's Tiger! Tiger! -- but unnerving to others. I'm somewhat comforted by the thought that Darwin had the same problem on his chin and grew that famous beard (which he apparently detested) to cover it up. Today, my forehead resembles a map of the world. Central Asia is a bit indistinct, but the Americas are strikingly delineated. Just my luck. If only I could get the blotches to resemble some long-deceased saint, I could find myself at the centre of a cult. Even get my own show on cable TV. All I'd need to do would be to come up with some ethereal daftness combining eschatology and group sex -- I can always draw the marks on in felt tip. Perhaps what's causing it is my years of exposure to wireless networking rays. In which case, I should be interested in what US network component company Broadcom have just been demonstrating -- 802.11 over wires. Now, I know this is paradoxical. Networking's like that. For example, even the name Ethernet suggests some sort of wireless medium, but for the first ten years or so of its life Ethernet was resolutely cables only. Now we have wireless Ethernet that runs down wires. No, I don't understand either. But it does look useful; you can pipe your wireless network alongside analogue video and audio, and just break out an aerial where you want the signals to radiate. It saves you running another cable alongside and positioning the access point somewhere inconvenient, and should be just what you need if you live in an old house with lots of thick stone walls wherein an incautious wave can be lost forever. It also means that you can pipe a wireless network past a zone where there is another wireless network, and neither of them mind. With AT&T and Intel talking about setting up a nationwide 802.11b public access network in the US and access points springing up from so many other sources, there are going to be some nasty bandwidth turf wars in the future, made worse because anyone using the wireless networking bands has no legal protection against interference. It's going to turn into the Wireless Wild West at some point. Just you wait. Tuesday 3/12/2002
The party season is in full swing! My geographical forehead seems to have calmed down, so I can contemplate a bit of socialising with equanimity. Tonight is a typically congested calendar entry: there are two BT parties, one at the Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street and one in the Tate Modern, and Samsung has taken over a nightclub in Leicester Square. A large ZDNet UK contingent descends on the first BT party and gets all Johnsonian: the evening is livened up by a magician who wanders around from gaggle to gaggle making things vanish. We ask him what he'd done with BT's profits and broadband strategy, but he merely smiles enigmatically and turns one of our number into a newt. Then decision time: Samsung or more BT at the Tate? As I live on the Piccadilly Line, Leicester Square makes sense, and I head a splinter group going that way. It's a Bond-themed do, with PR women doing their best Bond Girl impersonations, a really very acceptable martini to be had and the added amusement of numerous squiffy hacks trying to do Sean Connery impressions. Harmless fun. However, newshound Graeme Wearden decides to go for the Tate Modern and the BTopenworld party. Therein he discovers numbers of Arsenal footballers, fashionistas and other media-friendly demi-celebrities... and they discover him. All's going well until a marauding gang of East End dollybirds descend on him like a flock of feral sparrows and relieve him of his party bag. As this was mostly hair care and men's grooming products, and as he's always so impeccably turned out anyway, this wasn't a great loss, but from the faraway look in his eyes as he describes the event later you can tell he was expecting something a bit more raunchy than robbery at glottal-stop-point. Wednesday 4/12/2002
When it comes to keeping journalists supplied with news and review kit, different companies take different tacks. At one end of the spectrum are people like Dell, who are unimpeachable in their attentiveness: the steady stream of new computers through our door and the backup they give us when we have questions. Other companies need a bit more prodding before they disgorge their products or hook us up with the right interviewees. And then there's Sony. That's not entirely fair. Sony isn't a single organisation, it's a loose grouping of divisions who regard each other with far more venom than they show to the real competition. So the PC people aren't bad, the peripherals lot can be surprisingly good, while the PS2 division is an impregnable fortress of indifference. Weapons-grade lasers couldn't make so much as a scorchmark against their implacable escutcheon: they have the attitude that they have all the publicity they need purely by their product being so cool and in demand. The worst thing is, they're right. So surprise bordering on catatonia-induced shock is the only sane response when I'm told that there's a package at reception for me, and it turns out to be a PS2. Not only that, but one with a hard drive, network interface, keyboard, mouse and other bits -- in fact, a complete Linux system. Seems that Sony's interest in promoting Linux on that platform is strong enough to override the normal resistance and I've now got the kit over Christmas. I mention this to Goodwins Minor, whose teenage disinterest in everything is immediately replaced by an eagerness normally reserved for pizza. Is it that he now has a chance to do some development work on a real platform? He's talked about that enough. Or a chance to get his hands dirty with Linux coupled with some fun hardware for making noises and pictures? No. After much lexical analysis of the overheated stream of syllables coming out of the lad, I detect one repeated group of phonemes. GTA Vice City. GTA Vice City. GTA VICE CITY!. I believe this to be some sort of driving game, m'lud... ah well. Thursday 5/12/2002
Telcos. Hah. Mobile telcos. Double hah. Bunch of incompetent thieving greed-ridden rejects from estate agent school, right? Shockingly, this isn't always the case. For various reasons mostly connected with my own financial ineptitude, I've been stuck on a pay-as-you-go tariff from Virgin for the past couple of years. No real complaints, but roaming doesn't work too well and the call costs aren't the lowest. Yesterday, someone on the mobile conference on Cix reported a too-good-to-be-true deal from Carphone Warehouse that turned out to be kosher: Nokia 3310 phone for ten quid on the T-Mobile Free Time 750 tariff. Fourteen quid a month, 750 minutes off-peak free, 50 text messages, blah blah -- but after four months, CW pay your entire year's line rental. OK so it's last year's phone, but it's unlocked and they're reliable as anything. Just what I need after months of battling with smartphones that never do quite what you want. I order the thing over the Web, and it turns up as advertised the next day. Time to enter an unknown world... transferring my mobile number. I read up about this online: you have to get a magic code from your existing network, give it to your new network, the new network then gives it back to the old one and at some point in the future your new mobile phone magically acquires your old number. Dealing with two telcos, one of whom is losing your custom, sounds like a recipe for disaster to yours truly, but nothing ventured... And in practice, it works with an ease that beggars belief. Virgin answers its customer service phone immediately -- how come that never happened before? -- and mournfully ask why I'm leaving them. I tell them, and within seconds they give me my code over the phone and wish me a fond farewell. The customer service bod is so nice about it, I feel positively guilty about the whole business. Then I phone T-Mobile to give them the code. Again, the phone is answered in seconds by someone who knows exactly what to do: there's a brief tapping of keys and I'm given the time -- to the hour, more or less -- when the transfer will happen. And that's that. Except for the letter from Virgin that turns up later, giving me a copy of the code and another nice little farewell. So it can happen that an experience with mobile phone companies is positive, painless and productive. Many more shocks like this and I'll have hair as white as Gandalf. But it's nice to have good things to write about. Friday 6/12/2002
Graeme looks a little peaky this morning. Not content with his mugging at BTopenworld, he continued his voyage into the broadband bash scene with a visit to the Telewest party last night. And what would better befit a company at the cutting edge of home and corporate technology than a big collection of videogames -- Xbox, motorcycle and car driving arcade cabinets dotted around the place among other entertainments. It's a shame, therefore, that the party is plunged into darkness due to a power cut, and the majority of the evening is spent playing table football by candlelight. Not exactly what you expect. It made for a very dodgy trip to the gents as well, said Graeme, mouthing the words "dripping wax" and wincing in a most engaging way. We fear we too must brand the man: having read some of the things certain young ladies wrote on their business cards before handing them over, the term ubertart seems in no way too harsh. To have your say online click on TalkBack and go to the ZDNet UK forums.