Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Microsoft's Spot remover, an irate civil servant and important news for pig walkers - all part of the exciting yet porky life of Rupert this week

Monday 17/11/2003
News reaches us today that one of Microsoft's recent innovations, Spot -- Smart Personal Object Technology, will be late to market. You might have missed this, as there's been no mention of it coming over to Europe, but Bill's been showing it off back in the Land of the Free. The flagship for Spot is a watch that picks up news and other information off the air and displays it, for a ten dollar a month fee. Overwhelmingly exciting, eh?

At the time this was announced last January, Citizen, Fossil and a company called Suunto all said they'd have product ready for this Christmas. Well, the sleigh bells are ringing on TV adverts around the globe -- but where's Spot? Here, boy! Where has that watchdog got to?

Oh no! They've killed Spot! Actually, we can't say that for sure... but there's no product yet, and people are getting very coy about when it might turn up. First quarter 2004? Well, yes, that's a possibility says Fossil. Um, says Citizen.

It could be that the planned network of transmitters isn't cutting the mustard and the information doesn't get through as planned. Or it could be that someone has finally spotted -- sorry -- that the watch is in fact a direct equivalent of the Seiko Messagewatch, launched nearly ten years ago and with an information feed costing just three dollars a month. Or perhaps the Timex Beepwear, which unlike the Messagewatch is still going.

Either way, it's taken a year for Microsoft and its friends to take a decade-old technology and fail to bring it to market. Windows for Wristwatches is still some way away. Perhaps it's just a wind-up.

Tuesday 18/11/2003
I'm not sure why it's happening now, but BigChampagne is in the news. The company was in Wire earlier this year and now they're back on Associated Press: every so often someone trips over what they're up to and thinks it's worth writing up. Not that they've been trying to hide it -- they monitor the peer-to-peer music-swapping world, and report back to the record companies what are the most popular files by the most popular artists.

I suppose it's the irony that makes it newsworthy, as if gun makers made a point of analysing murder autopsy reports in order to make their products work better. After all, how can the record companies see the Kazaa kids as a hive of evildoers one minute and "the most vast and scaleable sample audience the world has ever seen" the next, without some semblance of a clue sinking in?

What's most interesting is the way the data's being used -- if an album track starts peaking, then it's an easy matter to get the word out to radio stations and make the MP3 available as a single from a paid-for service such as iTunes. Could it be that the value to the record companies of having file-trading going on will finally become apparent?

Ah well. It's not as if any music I'm interested in will show up on anyone's radar any time soon -- after a week of hunting, I finally managed to track down the Monsoon Bassoon EP track that had quite perversely grabbed my imagination (it's OK, the band's long since died, and having heard the track I can see why. They've reincarnated as Stars In Battledress. Like you care).

And before you ask, no, I've no idea what our American parent company CNET is planning to do with the brand it bought last week. I imagine it'll have something to do with music. Which will be cool -- I always wanted to work in the music industry. Wonder when I'll get the spangly suit and big car?

Wednesday 19/11/2003
You know you're onto something when a PR starts shouting at you. I've never been behind the scenes at St Thetic's Academy for Press Relations -- the top-secret bootcamp where Her Majesty's finest are turned into lean, mean, briefing machines -- but I imagine that showing anger to a journalist is high on the list of unpardonable offences. As they say about pig-wrestling: you get dirty, and the pig enjoys it.

So when punk princess Jo "Stud-U-Like" Best, reporter with our esteemed colleagues on, got a bloke from the Home Office phoning her up and doing a respectable impression of Brian Blessed stubbing his toe, she took it as quite the compliment. This had the beneficial effect of further infuriating our uncivil servant, to the point at which our intrepid hackette was on the verge of threatening to hang up if the shouting didn't stop.

And the cause of this official ire? Jo Best had reported that the government had sneaked through the Order that, despite almost universal disapproval, set out to make ISPs and telcos collect enormous amounts of data on everything their subscribers do, and deliver it on demand to a wide range of officials. So far, so accurate -- but what incensed Mr Shouty was the sentence that: "The government is monitoring every phone call, Web site visit and email." "We're NOT!" he said, "The ISPs are merely collecting data that MIGHT be looked at," "You're making them," said JB, "and you're looking at the data." "Now you're playing with semantics!" shouted the red-faced man from the ministry -- you didn't need a court order to hear his veins pop, even this far from Whitehall.

It's a fair cop. Journalists do indeed think about the meaning of words when they're writing, and may on occasion be guilty of choosing ones that mean what they want to say. It's also a fair bet that the Home Office is desperately hoping that nobody writes too much about the fact that vast swathes of officialdom now have legal access to find out every Web site you visit, every email you send and the details of every phone call you make.

So don't tell anyone, there's a dear. It'll be our little secret. Oh, and that bloke from the Ministry of Gambling who's just read that you've visited ZDNet UK.

Thursday 20/11/2003
Sendo's going back into the Asian market with its new Symbian phone, the Sendo-X. I really don't understand why this isn't bigger news -- it's not as if the UK has any other mobile phone makers, let alone ones that have done the grim fandango with Microsoft (the company that can't reinvent the radio pager) and are still here to defiantly tell the tale. Well, it can't tell it quite yet -- we await the end of the court case for the full skinny on what it's like to slip into the crocodile pond and escape with one's dangly bits intact. Perhaps it's because everybody else is busy shipping new phones and we're all a bit weary of the things, or perhaps it's because the mainstream media really can't bring itself to believe there is such a beast as the native UK mobile phone manufacturing industry. Or maybe Sendo sounds too oriental, or maybe it's because it's concentrated on the cheaper end of the market.

Nevertheless, there it is. The company's profitable, too, and judging from the excited squeaks coming from within Sendo about the Sendo-X ("It's fabulous! Oh, I wish I could show it to you!") it's going to be in with a shout for the posh end. Either that, or the company's been putting something strange in its employees' tea. Well, they do come from Birmingham.

However -- next week, I find out. With luck and a following wind, I get one in my clammy paws and finally find out whether it really is the great new hope or just a great big hype.

Friday 21/11/2003
Let it not be said that our beloved leaders are a po-faced bunch of over-officious nannying non-entities with nothing to do except create endless red tape and wind it round our ankles. I won't hear it. In fact, I've long seen the more bureaucratic part of my life as a piece of performance art -- a bunch of random activities to be acted out with style, precision and flair but by no means to be taken seriously. Only by seeing the entire local, national, European and international web of rules and regulation as a very superior piece of Situationalist -- nay, Pythonesque -- set of events can sanity be retained.

Now we have proof that this is indeed the case. When the Gov isn't shuffling Orders through the back door that let the local sanitation inspector peer into your inbox, it's doing things like PRIMO -- the Pigs (Records, Identification and Movement) (Interim Measures) (England) (No.2) Order 2002. This covers how to shift your pig from farm to farm, auction, slaughterhouse and so on: due to swine fever, foot and mouth and doubtless a high incidence of ingrowing toenails, you must mark your pig and log its movements.

OK, I hear you ask, but what if I have a pet pig? It must be exempt, surely? An Englishman (or Scotswoman, for that matter) must have the basic right to walk out with their personal swine. Aha! Glad you brought that up. This possibility had slipped the great minds at DEFRA, the Department for Enraging Farmers and Ruining Agriculture. And so it has come to pass that before you embark with your porker on a lead for your morning constitutional, you must obtain and fill out the Pet Pig Walking Licence.  It details the route you will take -- previously certified by a DEFRA official -- and must be shown on demand to a police officer, inspector, and quite possibly someone from your local ISP.

Rule Britannia!