Have you had an Ebay Disappointment? I have. Bought an oscilloscope -- every home should have one -- that is cheap, ancient, 'working' according to the guy. He's a bit rubbish at answering his emails, which is not a good sign, and it takes a while and a few excuses before the postie finally produces a large, heavy package. Excitement! It turns up bashed to pieces in the post, with the knobs smashed to smithereens and various components hanging off leads inside the box. In short, it's dead -- and after intensive investigations, it turns out you can't get spare parts for Philips test equipment, let alone old stuff. Matey doesn't answer emails. In fact, he's moved. Bah. But things aren't as bad for me as for those suckers who've been caught up in the Great Iraq Fire Sale on eBay. Tons of rubbish, but the best and most tempting offer is for those neat sets of cards issued to the coalition forces with the faces of the evildoers printed thereon. Bidding for one of those gets up to around $500-- well, they are iconic, interesting and culturally significant. What they aren't is at all rare. Not only can you buy the cards from the original suppliers for around $6 all-in, but the US Department of Defense has put the PDF up on its Web site, so you can print your own. Fab, and I don't feel nearly so bad about being ripped off over a dodgy scope. Tuesday 15/04/2003
We've got one of them new-fangled Intel 3GHz Pentium 4s with the 800MHz front side bus, nicely fitted inside a big fast box from one of Intel's friends. Slap on the benchmarks, press the big red button, hang onto hats, socks and other easily detached items of peripheral clothing, and... bang! Blue Screen Of Death. It's not a normal BSOD. No reams of hex dumps, register contents and stack vomit, just a terse message and a couple of strings of zeros. Hm. Try again. And again, the latest and greatest ends up in a virtual heap on the floor, more Norman Wisdom than Paula Radcliffe. We're digesting this when the news comes in that Intel, bless, has withdrawn the chip due to a "small anomaly observed in validation testing on a small number of chips" We have no trouble believing this, but despite much needling we're unable to find out what the anomaly is, nor why it would only appear on a few chips -- and if so, why they couldn't just junk those. Nobody gets 100 percent yield, specially not on a new and particularly fast design. So it must be something more than that -- but at least Intel hasn't got as far as an FDIV recall. We don't know that our ill computer is really demonstrating whatever it is that Intel is trying to hide. But it remains a possibility. If only I had a scope to hang off the bus... Wednesday 16/04/2003
Is Apple going to buy Universal Records? Can I think of anything odder? It's true that Steve Jobs considers himself something of a player -- well, setting up a reasonably successful film studio in Pixar can't have hurt the man's ego -- and it's also true that Apple is preparing an online music operation. But if you're doing that, the last thing you want to do is buy a record company -- as Bertlesmann found when it got Napster. None of the other companies want anything to do with you, and where's the point in having a record shop with only one label in it? (Unless it's Warp, of course. But the thought of Richard D. James, aka the Aphex Twin, in charge of product development at Apple is not a good one). Nah, as far as can be ascertained it's a case of Apple going to Vivendi -- who owns Universal -- and offering money for back catalogue online distribution rights. Vivendi, keen to offload as much as possible in order to pay off its no-longer-trendy enormodebt, said "Why not take the lot?"; Apple went "Well, I'll think about that," at which point Vivendi leaked the best possible spin on the response in order to drive up the price with the other companies who are also sniffing around. Which may include Microsoft. Nice. In any case, Apple Records? Not the best of associations for a business. Thursday 17/04/2003
"Why aren't you on the telly any more?" asked a fan the other day. Well, I say a fan -- I mean our MD, who very much enjoys each occurrence of "ZDNet UK" in the mainstream media. The rule is, I haul myself into the TV or radio studios at any time of the day or night (you can end up going in at 11:30 p.m. and back at 5:30 a.m.) to answer three questions lasting forty-five seconds in return for a cup of coffee and a byline mentioning my employment. The BBC knows this, and uses me shamelessly. I love it. Well, I tell my eager audience, there's a war on, and everyone's busy with things other than goings-on in the high-tech playpen. You wait, I continue with more confidence than was warranted, just as soon as the Marines are eating their MREs in Tikrit Central I'll be back on the box as quickly as you can say "AMD's red ink". And so it came to pass: today, there's an interview with Click Online (on News 24 several times over this coming weekend and BBC 1 on Sunday) about cyber-terrorism, another with World Business Report about Apple and Universal, and one on Radio 5 Live and one on World Service, both about AOL and spam. I'm back! But I really should get an agent... Friday 18/04/2003
At the time of writing, Friday hasn't happened yet. But that's never stopped me. Easter will be spent in London, with lashings of ginger beer and full advantage taken of the vast empty spaces left by the hordes who've departed for foreign climes. Sol permitting, one such place should be Hampstead Heath, which is a grand place for a picnic. But be careful: odd things happen. A friend -- now long since departed -- was enjoying an Easter perambulation on the Heath one year when he came across a large cross embedded firmly in the ground overlooking central London. Being an easy-going chap, he wasn't quick to take offence from any religion -- but this was different! Vandalism of one of his favourite bits of urban countryside. So he set about pulling it down. After about quarter of an hour of huffing and puffing, down it came. He looked up from his labours to see several members of the Heath's constabulary bearing down on him at some speed, with a couple of Angry Christians in their wake. Turns out that said erection was in fact 'a long running tradition' and due to problems from local kids the fuzz had been lying in wait. Turning the other cheek wasn't on the menu that day: the agenda was strictly smiting the ungodly. My friend survived without being landed with the sort of record that gets you thrown out of America these days -- can you imagine explaining this to immigration at Atlanta? -- but it just goes to show. Live and let live: it's not just a good idea, it's the law. Especially on the Heath. Click here to see more of Rupert's diaries.