Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Foamy colleagues awaken schoolday memories, and Rupert finds out more than he bargained for about lifts...

Monday 14/07/2003
Ah, the traditional street cries of the down and outs of Olde London Towne. The tube station drugs dealer: "Wannany blow, mate?"; the merry tramp: "Got any change? What, coppers? You takin' the mick?" and the dot-com paper millionaire: "Big Issue! Big Issue!" The newest is also the most plaintively evocative, that of the mobile phone dealer: "Who will buy my lovely 3G phone? Who will buy? Look, it's got footie and everything. Oh, sod it. Big Issue! Big Issue!" For it is truly said: two-way video on your mobile phone is not proving the hit of the year. NEC thinks it has the answer -- build in a digital TV tuner so you can watch Top Of The Pops on the top deck of the bus. Well, yes. Why not. It's hard to see this as the saviour of the entire 3G project -- after all, how many people have bothered with pocket TVs already? As Clive Sinclair found out, the market is smaller than the sets themselves. The fact that the digital television network isn't really developed enough to support portable tellies with their token antennas won't help. Moved by the plight of the mobile phone companies, we convene an emergency meeting in the Bit and Pixel down the road to brainstorm some smart ideas. As the evening progresses, three in particular prove popular. Anti beer-goggles: You phone up a (guaranteed sober) friend in HQ, and send back video of the person you drunkenly think would be a good bet for the evening. Responses would range from "What species is THAT?" and "Oh lord, no. Back away from the bar and go home. Now." to "Roger, go for main engine launch" and "Err, not sure. Get their phone number and pass it over." Streetfinder: You slide onto a night bus or late cab, point your videophone out of the window and get your mate at home to watch until you get into your street. Then they wake you up. Home, James: As before, but you get your mate to point their camera out of the window. Then tell the cabbie "Tha's where I live. Off you go" before slumping into a much-needed slumber. Winners, all. 3G mobile phone companies, you have our numbers. We await your call. Tuesday 15/07/2003
It's our quarterly company review meeting and party -- and as things are going well, the latter part of the afternoon has been declared an Official Fun Event. Hurrah! The details have been left in the hands of the Ents Committee -- a mysterious group composed of go-for-it young bucks, and they have decided to hire an It's A Knockout events team. The entire company decamps to the nearby Artillery Fields park, where an array of inflatable contraptions glow menacingly in the hot summer sun like the psychedelic playthings of a giant toddler. There are loudspeakers on poles, ropes marking out activity areas, and keen people in singlets bouncing around with gleams in their eyes. We are formed into teams. There are exercises. Yes, it's school sports day all over again. (Perhaps you enjoyed school sports days, or at least found them a pleasant break from routine. For me, it was a regular climax in the rhythm of humiliation that was the lot of the fat boy at a sporty school. Perhaps there were PE lessons where I didn't end up the butt of jokes from the crew-cut rugby nut in charge, and times when I might even have enjoyed failing to climb ropes or vault horses: I don't remember those. I remember much else, though, and the day I finally got enough seniority at the place to politely decline all such miseries was a day of supreme liberation. It all comes crashing back as I line up behind my teammates, and while doubtless the catharsis would be useful during a session with a shrink it's not really in keeping with the fun and games. After the first effort, I retire to a corner of the field and sit things out.) Everyone else has a whale of a time, as you might expect when one's colleagues and oneself are dressed up in penguin suits, covered in foam, showered in buckets of water, slid down slopes doused with Fairy Liquid and given strange objects to carry through long rubber tunnels. A select group of editorial types had previously noted that soft drinks only were to be served throughout the afternoon: towards the end a writers' flagon of orange juice and ice was procured and enhanced somewhat with an illicit bottle of vodka. See, told you it was just like school sports day. Rather wonderfully, it turns out that following my early retirement from the Blue Team, it turned into a hypercompetitive lean, mean racing machine -- winning first place, champagne and medals. My policy of going for the 1500 Metre Sulk paid off, to the palpable shock of my more active colleagues. "Whose medal is that?" asks Graeme 'Slope' Wearden, whose antics trying to clamber up the liquid-soaked inflatable mountain now grace the memory card of my camera. "Mine, of course" I say, and wish I could bottle the frank disbelief that flows forth. Wednesday 16/07/2003
A quiet day in the office -- why, did you think we went home after the sports day? -- marked only by quiet groans. Whether this is the after-effects of the evening or a reaction to yet another set of digital camera pics getting uploaded to the work server, I cannot tell. The best news today is that eight bit refuses to die. Yet another company -- I make it around the fifth -- has decided to take the Commodore 64 brand and see if it can squeeze some more juice out of the ancient elephant. Ironstone has licensed the brand from the current owners, Tulip, and will be creating a portal together with a slightly changed logo that it has some hope of legally controlling. Sensibly, the company says it won't be trying to shut down the fan sites -- which have, after all, acted as a life support machine so far -- but will be going after high street and other vendors who ship emulators and games packages for profit. You have to admire their courage, but there's clearly some money to be made on the back of what is almost open-source products and it might as well be someone with an interest in the brand. There's still a niche here. One of the best things about ancient home computers was that you -- yes you, there in the bedroom -- could write a pretty nifty game for them by yourself in a reasonable time. You can't do that with a PS/2, but you can still do it, easier than ever, on an ordinary PC with an emulator. In the bad old days, it took ages writing stuff by hand and saving it on tape -- now we have hard disks and great editors. Nothing better to write a Spectrum game on than a 2GHz Pentium 4. A good game on an old platform will still find many thousands of eager players, and although the money to be made there is fairly minimal you can bet your bottom C15 cassette that if you make a splash with the fans you'll find a big company eager to port your pet onto current consoles. Fame awaits. Get to it. Thursday 17/07/2003
There are days when technology is not my friend. This morning, as I prepare to write about web services -- conclusion: industry politics and market manipulation lead technical excellence and common sense by three goals to one at half time -- my computer freezes in mid mouse movement. I say another word associated with movements, and commence diagnostics: nothing doing. Solid as a rock, with my various documents, Web pages and emails fossilised on the screen. Of course, with interrupts off the power switch doesn't work: in and out with the mains lead -- don't you love that meaty pop it makes as the power supply capacitors charge up? -- and back it comes. This time, it lasts just long enough for me to log in. There then follows half an hour of swapping processor, memory, peripheral cards, wires, plugs, sockets... all to no good effect. Something has died on the motherboard -- probably of boredom, given the number of Microsoft middleware corporate positional documents I'd been reading. Come lunchtime, and no work has been done. I get into the lift and moodily poke the ground floor button as if it alone is responsible for my misery. Simultaneously, my cellphone goes off. It's the Scottish Lady, currently installed chez moi during a visit to the Smoke. "Hello... er, your laptop is making a strange ticking noise and there's a blue screen on it saying something about memory dumps." She's always been an enthusiastic sneezer. Where the nostrils lead, the whole body spasm follows: it's quite a spectacular sight, on a par with Old Faithful or Vesuvius. This time, I later discover, a miscreant pollen grain triggers a major neurological event while she's typing away on the family laptop: this gets banged down on the Pictish knees with enough force to brain a badger. Unsurprisingly, it takes exception to this and the hard disk -- an IBM Travelstar with 'pixie dust' molecular coating -- departs this life sounding like a clock with a stutter. So much for pixies. But I don't know this yet. I'm still in the lift, trying to work things out over the phone and thinking the blackest of thoughts. Hey, hold on. Why am I still in the lift? Why does it say Third Floor? Why are the doors shut? That's right. The lift too is on the fritz, and I am trapped within. Anyone got an opening for an apple grower? Friday 18/07/2003
Conversations you wish you hadn't had, number 44. Gingerly entering the lift, I find it contains a cheery bloke in overalls. He's going to our floor -- we've got the builders in, so I ask "You here to sort out the partitions?" "Nah, mate. Lifts." Aha. "Good," I say, "They need it." I recount yesterday's exciting lunchtime treat. "Yeaaaah," he says, thoughtfully. "They do that. These lifts are fine, it's the controllers that are the trouble." There are basic rules to having conversations like this: if you find yourself on a plane sitting next to someone leafing through Aircraft Mechanic Monthly or Explosions At Altitude - The Mystery And The Carnage, it's best to keep to yourself. But nobody's told me, so I plough gamely on. "Controllers?" I say, and do the "let's drop a technical term in to seem as if I know what I'm talking about" tack. "Are they solid state on this installation?" "Hah! That's the thing. They're relay logic." Relay logic, distant reader, is a kind of clockwork computing of roughly the same vintage as the kind of telephone exchange that made 'dukka-dukka-dukka' noises when you were trying to get through to Dial-A-Disc. Even BT's scrapped relay logic by now. "No wonder they don't work!" I said. "Is it ever going to be upgraded?" "Oh, could be." he said. "The building management had a meeting yesterday to decide whether to put in a solid state replacement." "That'll be better" I said. "Yeah. Solid state works fine most of the time. But when it goes wrong, it really, really goes wrong. Gotta go. Bye!" And he vanished into a small door I'd never seen before. See what I mean? Doctor says I need more exercise. Stairwell, here I come. Click here to see more of Rupert's diaries.