Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Silicon Valley's new secret vice, what happened when the Flying Squad visited the office, and an unreserved apology to sorrowful suits? Just another five days on the other side of IT

Monday 1/12/2003
The government campaign to promote Bluetooth -- cunningly disguised as a law against handheld mobiles in cars -- is well underway, with eight drivers in Scotland feeling the long arm of the law stretch out from under the stark jacket of justice and wrap its dread hand of apprehension  around their nogoodnik Nokias of naughiness.

South of the border, we've got another two months to contemplate our Caledonian cousins getting theirs -- if you're going to introduce a difficult law, why not test it out on a spare country first? -- before it's time to reach for the hands-free.

The intention of the law is laudable, and who can deny that distractions while driving can be deadly? But Bluetooth might not be the only technological help available for motorists with wandering minds. There are plenty of dangers from the kids in the back seat, the radio and CD player, other drivers, even insects wandering into the car: clearly, this subtle yet important way of supporting industry can be extended.

The bugs and the kids are easy to deal with: a robotic hand hanging down from the centre of the roof can easy be programmed to squash the first and silence the second with a mixture of threats and promises, a clenched fist here, a dip into the sweetie tray there. Radio is harder to control -- one good joke can render a driver incapable of precision control for ten to twenty seconds, so for safety's sake a government edict forcing everyone on the road to listen to Chris Moyles must be immediately enacted. It's either that or have an official Humour Censorship Board, who listens to the output of all stations on a ten-second delay and sends out a mute signal by GPRS whenever something remotely funny happens.

As for that perennial problem, the sticking CD or jammed tape, if the Gov can force us to upgrade to wireless headsets then it can damn well do the same for MP3 players. Compulsory iPods, that's what we want -- should only cost around ten billion quid with quantity discount, or roughly the amount they'll probably end up wasting on the ID card scheme before they junk it. So they might as well just print the bloody thing on the back of the iPod, and then everyone's happy.

Technology is our friend.

Tuesday 2/12/2003
In the course of our rigorous programme of product tests, we often have need of appropriate data. When it comes to set-top boxes and hand-held devices for streaming video, this means a small collection of DVDs kept to hand from which to generate test mpegs and the like. Sometimes, we slap them onto a video projector -- even the biggies like The Matrix and Apocalypse Now get nothing more than a curious glance from passers-by.

Not so the latest acquisition, picked up by yours truly on a whim in Tower Records. Three episodes of The Sweeney, six quid, can't be bad… but I wasn't prepared for the reaction it got from certain members of the office. Amid shouts of "Get yer trousers on -- you're nicked" and "We're the Sweeney and we haven't had any dinner", the disc was ripped from my grasp and shoved into a nearby player faster than you can say "Oi! Guv!".

Anyone who feels that the existence of "Feminism Studies" in universities is indicative of an unbalanced guide to gender appreciation would find The Sweeney a most excellent antidote. For sheer alpha male primate antics, Regan's violent, boozy, fag-soaked path through the finest London villainy take some beating -- and then there's the popular game of Spot The Landmark. Yes, the Tower Thistle hotel looks as brutally ugly new as it does thirty years down the line.

All of which makes us wonder about a Sweeney distro for Linux. A few new messages -- "Close…" replaced by "Shut it!", "Are you sure?" by "Leave it aht!", and "File copy completed" by "You're going dahn, son" -- and we're half way there. With a bit more of the old rhyming slang, we can comprehensively baffle the Americans and regain control of our own operating system destiny -- "What's that bailey's bottom?", for example (Old Bailey Trial -- File and Bottom and Thighs, Size).

A whole new way of computing awaits our mincers.

Wednesday 3/12/2003
Cap Gemini Ernst & Young: An Apology

Last month, I wrote a short piece about Cap Gemini Ernst & Young's new enterprise project management system, Event Driven Package Implementation. Today, my long-suffering editor gets a call from CGE&Y expressing great displeasure that we should publish such a thing. "We're worried that it's losing us sales!" says the displeased voice. "You can't just say things like that!". "Why, what did we get wrong?" we asked. "Happy to fix any errors of fact."

So while we're waiting for CGE&Y to get back to us on those, here are some preliminary corrections and apologies to make up for causing that fine body of men and women so much unnecessary angst.

* Rupert Goodwins' Diary is NOT a guide to major enterprise-level investment strategies. If you are reading this in a board meeting of a major corporation prior to signing off on a seven-figure infrastructure spend, stop it at once. You're confusing the straights.

* CGE&Y is NOT a 1970s progressive rock band, nor did it record that seminal hit "Almost Cut My Invoiced Hours".

* Consultants are NOT people bent on extracting "money for evanescent drivel… balderdash, witless meandering, expensive heaps of steaming offal disguised as prime steak", as I mistakenly wrote last time. They are hard-working mages of the information age, with far better things to do with their time than phone up and complain about satirical rants.

* EDPI is NOT merely a reinvention of the meeting. It's ludicrously expensive, to boot.

We really are most awfully sorry.

Thursday 3/12/2003
It was the Wi-Fi and 3G Summit, and official bod Bernie Frieder was on stage. As Director of Emerging Technology for the government, he was giving forth about how the recession was over, Wi-Fi was changing the underlying delivery mechanism for the whole world, rally round the flag boys -- you get the picture.

And then PowerPoint coughed, barfed and a little bit of its own technology emerged. Up popped up a little window with unreadable writing, and sat over the presentation. Ah. Right. Hold on a sec. Buttons were pressed, mice were clicked,

"I, ah, can't seem to get rid of this little goofy thing" said the Director. "If we ignore it, perhaps it'll go away". It's not often you get such a straightforward, unambiguous statement of official strategy, nor such a beautiful demonstration of the consequences. The box didn't go away, and after a while neither could it be ignored.

Eventually, our hero burrowed into the bowels of PowerPoint, gave up and summoned an assistant from the wings. The box still refused to go away, but it was finally persuaded to sit unobtrusively in a corner and the show went on.

As a risible demonstration of technological ineptitude it might not be on a par with the splendidly named Dr Pepper, director of GCHQ, and his admission that in the mid-90s the heirs to Turing had failed completely to get the hang of this networking thing. I suppose the likelihood of Bin Laden running his entire campaign on a Windows XP-based network are somewhat limited, so GCHQ's in-house skills may not lean that way. 

It would be unfair to say that the mighty organs of government are uncomfortable with all new inventions. After all, the fire and the wheel are now fully understood (well, with the understandable exceptions of the Departments of Energy and Transport), and sometime soon we'll all understand what the hell we're doing with nuclear missiles in 2003.

Perhaps if we ignore them, they'll go away.

Friday 4/12/2003
Attention trendsetters! You know that what California did yesterday the US does today and we do tomorrow. So it is with great excitement that I can exclusively reveal the latest and most thrilling trend currently rampaging through Silicon Valley: knitting.

According to my highly placed spies, the company at the head of this tidal wave is that thrusting, go-ahead outfit called Macromedia. Small lunchtime knitting groups were set up by a handful of that company's female staff, but these soon attracted the attentions of the engineers. Now, they regularly meet and sit around in circles, needles slashing the air like tiny samurai knives, knitting such mannish apparatus as laptop, mobile phone and PDA covers.

We'll try and get you pictures. Meanwhile, what next for the woolly revolution? Now the engineers are involved, it's only a matter of time before they start to wire up chunks of IT to the process. Active Flash knitting patterns and scripts for resizing socks will be followed by a Lego RoboKnitter, optimal wool usage algorithms and, in the end, something risky involving just-in-time materials delivery from a flock of electric sheep corralled on the roof of their Townsend Street, San Francisco, HQ.

And then it'll spread. Before long, job interviews for system programmers will involve conversations like: "I see you've got C++, EJB, XML… but we really need Perl".