Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Video games that turn you into a teenager, what Donkey Kong has to teach SCO and what happens when Dixon of Dock Green takes over your ISP -- issues that keep Rupert awake at night. Now it's your turn.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor
Monday 16/06/2003
It's Monday morning, an event traditionally greeted at the House of Goodwins with cries of pain and disbelief. I'm not an AM type, but my beloved son is determined to go one better: he'll only entertain the thought of wild horses dragging him from his pit if they canter up silhouetted by the dying rays of the evening sun. I had put that down to the unavoidable consequences of my genes and the natural turpitude of the teenage years, but new research from the Akita University School of Medicine in Japan has posited an intriguing extra factor: video games. It turns out that if you play exciting video games late at night with a bright screen, not only does the thrill keep you awake past your bedtime but the combination actually resets your body clock, leaving you in a bit of a mess. They found this out by measuring melatonin levels, heart rate and rectal temperature, which if you ask me sounds like an abnormally exciting bedtime treat in any case, but these are real doctors and we must trust them. But I know that the lad enjoys his video games, and while I don't know exactly what he gets up to in his bedroom late at night I suspect there's a fair amount of digital thrillage. Shall I demand he leave the laptop outside his bedroom door at lights out? Install some form of parental monitoring system? Try and wean him off the diabolic pixel-bashing? Parenting in the 21st century. It isn't easy.
Tuesday 17/06/2003
I've been avoiding the SCO Versus The World story: there's no shortage of outraged punditry to choose from, and in the absence of solid evidence from SCO to back up its claims one can but shake one's head sadly and hope it's over soon. But today's news, that SCO has revoked IBM's AIX licence and wants all copies of the software destroyed, is just breathtaking. Together with the company's complaint that Linus Torvalds is unwilling to identify the intellectual property of each component in Linux, it marks yet another step into some deep corporate neurosis, where the real world seems increasingly detached from wherever the company imagines itself. As Linus himself points out, the nature of the Linux process means that every contribution to the source is superbly well documented. Much more than for commercial, closed-source software. And if SCO sees itself as staying in the software business, then telling everyone who may be inadvertently using their intellectual property that they must destroy it -- presumably at great inconvenience and expense -- instead of offering them a proper transfer programme is utterly self-defeating. I'm reminded of Donkey Kong, the charmingly surreal video game involving a large hairy gorilla hurtling barrels at a tiny character called Mario (whatever happened to him?). Universal decided that it was a rip-off of King Kong, and proceeded to launch huge lawsuits at everyone involved. For the whole process, it told anyone who'd listen that it had an impeccable case, that it was going to give Nintendo a right good spanking and that such an abysmal travesty deserved to get slapped down properly. Several companies caught up in the firestorm caved in and paid up, but Nintendo stuck it out -- and when it came to court, Universal had no case whatsoever. Corporate bluster doesn't count. Facts count.
Wednesday 18/06/2003
The spam that broke the camel's back landed on a whole load of desks in Redmond recently. Like any big company, Microsoft suffers from the relentless onslaught of drab rip-off emails, and it has anti-spam filters in place. But not only did this one evade the robots, it purported to be from Microsoft itself, and to have important information about security updates. You can imagine how well that went down in the corridors of power. And so, driven to distraction by the sheer cheek of it, Microsoft has pulled on its underpants over its trousers and set off on a one-company campaign to make the Net safe from spammers. Notwithstanding its rather ambivalent attitude to the problem before -- it campaigned to reduce the fines payable under proposed legislation, because it said that legitimate marketing emails could be deliberately misconstrued -- it's going for spammers in the UK and US with a battery of civil cases. It may not be a legitimate superhero, but it's more than capable of funding a trip to the courts, and anything that helps reduce its overdraft at the karma bank is to be welcomed. But some things don't change. Try going to search.msn.com and looking for the search terms Microsoft and bloatware...
Thursday 19/06/2003
News from the East Coast of that strange America, where experiments in smart mobs have proved successful. The idea is that groups of complete strangers can be assembled at a precise place and time to carry out a particular task, then dissipate back to their lives without any further ado. The trick is to make sure that those not taking part can't find out the details in advance, so two stages are involved: first, get people into a public place and pass them instructions for what happens next, then go do it. To those not in the know, the effect is totally inexplicable. The smart mob in Manhattan were informed by Web site to meet in one of a group of bars -- which one depended on your birth month -- where a location and action was distributed by a stranger in a certain kind of hat. The location proved to be a rug store, and the action was that, if approached by a salesperson, to explain that everyone present lived together in a huge warehouse and they were looking for a carpet for a... well, let's call it a group activity. Precisely ten minutes after the mob arrived, everyone left, leaving an entirely bemused salesman. Such experiments aren't new by any means -- if you think it sounds fun, read up on the Situationalists -- but prove that you can pull together a large group of people for a particular task in next to no time. But this time, anyone with the nous to google for Smart Mobs can take part, and there's nothing that anyone can do about it. San Francisco, the natural home of the prankster, is feeling a bit put out that Manhattan got there first, and moves are already afoot to pull off something big there soon. As far as I know, nobody's got anything going in Europe -- but if you do feel like making the summer pass just that little more insanely in London, let me know.
Friday 20/06/2003
It's nice to know that somewhere in a dusty Whitehall office, somebody is thinking the unthinkable. Once, it was nuclear attack from the Soviets: in response, national and local government would retreat to a series of deep bunkers dotted around the countryside and eat baked beans. Now, the Soviets are no more and such plans are outdated: instead, we are officially scared of Terrorists, who will Stop At Nothing to achieve whatever it is they want. We don't know what that is, we don't know who they are, we don't know what they might do, we don't know where they might do it. But it's all very scary. Luckily, the Cabinet Office is on the case. In the event of natural disaster or terrorism, the Civil Contingencies Bill shows the way: airlines, water, electricity, gas, telephones and other important national systems will come under police control. The BBC remains exempt -- presumably because it has its own emergency plans in place and would do what it was told anyway -- but the Internet is most definitely on the list of stuff to get Plodded. Which raises many questions. What would a police-controlled Internet look like? Would the ubiquitous WWW prefix be replaced by LOLOLO? Google.com switched over to whathavewegothere.com? The Information Superhighway converted to the Data Letsby Avenue? But we can reveal exclusively that, contrary to popular belief, Internet porn would be allowed to continue -- provided only that it promises to come quietly. Click here to see more of Rupert's diaries.
Editorial standards