Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Comicbook hero does battle with Spiderman, The Matrix, consultants and the Earl of Erroll? That'd be Rupert's week, then.

Monday 3/11/2003
No sooner have we disposed of one loony called David dangling from a crane next to the offices but we acquire another. This time it's Spiderman, disguised as not-so-mild-mannered father with a hump, D. Chick Esq. It soon turns into a trial of fortitude and endurance, not so much for Mr Chick -- who is well equipped with scran, warm clothing and many banners -- but for the rest of us. The mighty forces of lauranorda decide to seal off every road within a hundred yards of the crane -- why? He's not really Spiderman, chaps. He can't leap hundreds of feet or ensnare passing buses with his Web spinners -- so I have to walk half-way across East London,  and sneak into the tradesman's entrance to get to work. Along the way I go along Cable Street -- now there's how to have a protest -- and through a quiet housing estate. Hundreds of other besuited office workers tramp silently along the same path, bringing a curiously surreal air to the estate.

It's always inspiring to watch the boys in blue up close over time. As there is absolutely nothing for them to do except fend off irate pedestrians, there's a lot of pacing around, sitting down and standing up again. The mobile catering van is particularly popular, and there is much conspicuous consumption of newspapers. We can rest safely at our desks.

Things liven up somewhat when the TV crews appear. These cluster together at one end of Tower Bridge, satellite dishes pointing at the sun -- this being the time of year when Sol traverses the geosynchronous orbit -- and cameras pointing at anything that moves. As this doesn't include Spiderman, the crane, the sessile plod or anything resembling traffic, hapless passers -- by are the main prey.

I hang around, trying to catch their eye. My theory, such as it is, is that the Chief Constable is a secret supporter of old Spidey, perhaps because of some unfortunate domestic circumstance, and has decided to maximise publicity for the chap both short and long term by massively over-reacting. Alas, the newshounds are clearly adept at spotting a weirdo with an agenda and I get passed over. Probably just as well: ever since I did a course in libel and slander I'm hideously aware that the simple act of typing something as innocuous as "Bill Gates does eat babies, you know" can be a very expensive way of ending one's career. Be a shame to lose it all over a cartoon character. And yes, I meant Spiderman.

Tuesday 4/11/2003
What makes a news story?  Famously, it's something that somebody somewhere doesn't want you to know -- everything else is publicity. We know a story when we hear one, and Munir Kotadia heard one today. He was at a big Red Hat press do, enjoying the hospitality and the company's famously charismatic and quotable CEO, Matthew Szulik. During questions and answers, though, things took a mildly odd turn. Szulik had mentioned his ninety-year-old father as an example of someone who shouldn't really be buying Linux but would be better off with Windows.

Now that's a story -- Red Hat saying don't use Linux for the desktop 'cos it's not ready yet. It's true -- of course it's true, we all know it -- and there really shouldn't be any mileage in "CEO SPEAKS TRUTH" shock horror, but in a world beset with wishful thinking, hype and misdirection, it's a story.

So Mun gets back to the office, writes it up and it duly gets a lot of attention. Which apparently upsets one of our dear comrades in online journalism, a writer for a site we shall refer to only as The Reg. In a masterful piece of poutery, the ancient master behind the keyboard complained that not only were we guilty of schlock sensationalism but that we'd nicked his question. Which is like getting told off by a New Hampshire bishop for being a bit camp: praise indeed. Mun is suitably abashed, and we promise to try harder to uphold the standards so blazingly exemplified by the site in question.

Now, what was that about Prince Charles?

Wednesday 5/11/2003
You can't keep a good hack down. We try, lord knows we try, but every so often Graeme "Scoop" Wearden escapes from the basement and goes out into the field in search of news. This time, his capacious hooter for hot poop led him to the Houses of Parliament where Lord Phillips of Sudbury has convened a meeting looking into the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.  Now, Wearden is no stranger to the corridors of power -- the doors, however, are a different matter. The first committee room he sailed into turned out to contain a rather startled collection of Important People dealing with Northern Ireland, and you can judge for yourself  over the coming weeks and months the effect Wearden's unwarranted intervention has had on that benighted province.

He escaped capture in a thrilling chase through the Palace of Westminster, with armed police and bazooka-toting balaclavas in hot pursuit (OK, I made that bit up), and eventually found the right room. No stopping our lad!

You can read his report of the event in the news section but a couple of points were left out.  One was the contribution of the Earl of Erroll who muttered  that the Home Office was "talking bollocks". This was shortly after Simon Watkin of the HO was argued that it was better to widen RIPA's powers now and then tighten up the flaws later. Wearden was so shocked by this example of noble forthrightness that he couldn't be quite sure what the Earl had said, but fortunately his lordship boldly reiterated his point. "It's the usual load of Home Office bollocks." Couldn't have put it better myself.

And as for the other thing that Wearden found out... well, that's coming soon to a news story near you next week.

Thursday 6/11/2003
I have never made a secret of the enormous incomprehension I feel when confronted with consultants. Individually they're not too bad, but when they mass into an army and set out to lay siege to corporate budgets I fear for my sanity. I simply cannot understand why people give them so much money for what seems to be evanescent drivel. Words fail me – but not before I try them out: balderdash, witless meandering, expensive heaps of steaming offal disguised as prime steak. I really should ask the Earl of Erroll for tips next time I have to deal with these people. 

Take today's press release from Cap Gemini Ernst & Young: New Approach To ERP Projects Set To Deliver 20-30 percent ROI. This wonderful New Approach is called EDPI, or Event Driven Package Implementation, and it alone can help the problem that nearly sixty percent of customers don't believe they get a return on investment from enterprise resource planning. No matter that they got so disappointed because they believed the bloody consultants in the first place – no, what they need is yet more of the same sort of thing.

And what is EDPI? It's based on Criticality, Collaboration and Culture. It counters failure to achieve full stakeholder buy-in -- the "project bubble" -- and initiative overload. Got that? It incorporates techniques that are capable of delivering results: it's not just a one-off workshop, but a series of significant landmarks in a projects lifecycle.

No, we didn't understand it either. So we phone up and ask. "Explain this in two sentences", we said. Fifteen sentences later, we got it. EDPI is -- ta-da! -- having meetings.

That's it. Cap Gemini Ernst & Young have reinvented the meeting. I'll leave it to the company to say why having meetings is such a good idea.

"Many ERP project teams simply don't communicate how they will help realise key business strategies and therefore they fail to achieve full organisational buy-in. We ensure all stakeholders fully understand how the ERP project will help them realise their business goals, thereby creating a Solution That Sticks."

Thanks, CGEY. We'll let you know.

Friday 7/11/2003
I am predictably unmoved by the release of  the final -- please, great creator of the cosmos, let it be so -- instalment of the cretinous Matrix series of films. I found the first one a simple-minded parody of thoughtful science fiction, and it's been downhill from there.

Nonetheless, it's interesting that some people are willing to stand up and be counted for their involvement in the whole sorry farrago. One such is a chap called Dylan Evans, who co-authored a book about evolutionary psychology that was later absorbed by the amoeba-like entity that subsequently spewed out the Matrix. He takes to his word processor and tells The Guardian that the big problem these days is that nobody really understands their computers. What they need to do, he opines, is get down and dirty and tackle machine code, just like the heros of a previous era  did when faced with the crudities of 8-bit systems.

Up to a point, Dylan, up to a point. You can't get very far with assembly these days, even if it does give you an unparalleled grasp of what actually happens at the heart of the machine. That path is there for those who want to achieve true guru status -- but then, if you're that way inclined you'll get there anyway. For the rest of the world, it might be more fun to have some sort of utility that exposes the different software components of the computer and lets you hook them up in interesting and effective ways. Programming these days is far more about handling objects and communicating between them than allocating memory and fiddling with registers: something splendid that turns a PC into a big box of brightly coloured Lego code blocks would get everyone a lot further in understanding the important stuff.

But what this has to do with the Matrix, I cannot say. Nor will I be able to say in the future, as I long since determined that the second film would be my last, and not a penny more of the Goodwins fortune would go towards the brothers Wachowski.

Alas, this weekend sees my beloved son's 18th birthday party -- I'm already wrapping the demand for rent, council tax and other expenses in some brightly coloured paper -- and he's decided to take his pals to the movies. On my credit card. Six tickets please, Dad, so that's thirty-five quid. Thanks. And to see what?


I think he's going to grow up to be a consultant, you know.