Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Senorita eaten by telephone box! BT sells voice by the packet! Naked woman prompts Rupert to strip off in your office! Read this week's diary, or else!
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Monday 8/12/2003
A nasty case of a Spaniard in the works hits the news, where a Madrid telephone box caught a teenager and wouldn't let them her go for two hours. This is the result of an anti-theft device designed to stop the time-honoured tradition of blocking up the coin return chute with a bit of carrier bag: the idea is that any returned dosh builds up until the blocker-upper returns, removes the bag and cops a shower of gold. Stick your finger up one of the new improved boxes, however, and the steel jaws of justice clamp down firmly.

As the teenager in question was trying to retrieve a legitimate refund, there clearly needs to be some fine-tuning. Or does there? If you, like me, have spent some time in the distant past watching late night Channel 4 Euro-movies, you will have seen La Cabina, a very unsettling flick that scores very highly in the "I saw this weird movie I can't forget but have no idea what it was called" stakes. In it, a bloke goes into a telephone box, the door sticks and the rest of the movie details his attempts to get attention and get free. In the end, just as a local builder is about to smash his way in, the telephone company arrives. At last! Freedom! But in a twist that can only have been written by someone with deep experience of European telcos, the company hauls box and bloke onto the back of a low-loader and transports the set into the depths of a mountain tunnel where in a shocking denoument the pair of them are deposited as just the latest in a huge pile of kiosks... containing skeletons!

I have no evidence that this was commissioned as a training film for BT's broadband division. But then, none is needed.

Tuesday 9/12/2003
And talking about BT and broadband: a quick quiz. Which company said that voice over IP would never be a commercial reality because the quality was too bad, it was too unreliable, the ordinary phone system would always be superior and people could never be bothered to cope with the technicalities? Yeah, you got it. Now, of course, BT's spotted that if it gives away a voice-over-IP telephone adaptor and signs people up it can sell telephone services over rival cable co's broadband connections. As if by magic -- whammo! Say goodbye to technical problems! Say hello to 'free weekend and evening calls' -- up to an hour in length -- and cheap (by BT's terms) international calls. To seventeen different countries!

You also get to say goodbye to 999 calls, directory enquiries, fax numbers and premium rate numbers, none of which will be connected by the service. You also can't dial ISPs, which makes sense, except why then have the hour limit on free phone calls?

So, a bit of a dog's breakfast -- and why you need an adaptor when other services run either via an adaptor or a piece of software on your PC isn't clear. You can't junk your existing voiceline, because you don't want to lose the ability to call 999, unless you've already got a mobile phone. Then the chances are you've already got a deal where weekend and evening calls are substantially discounted anyway -- so why pay £7.50 a month for yet another number?  BT can't easily add 999 services, as the regulations state that you have to be able to make them during a power cut, and until we all get giant UPSs running our home computers, routers, monitors and broadband modems that ain't going to happen.

Why do people want voice over IP? Because you don't pay by the minute, and the old nonsense about peak rate, standard rate and cheap rate calls don't apply (why should they?). Has BT missed the point altogether? Ho yus.

Wednesday 10/12/2003
"A test of football knowledge and a naked lady -- every man's ideal game?" So ran the email first thing this morning. Lord, how my soul shrivels within me, like a polythene pie wrapper dropped on a hot stove. Not that I object to naked ladies in the appropriate circumstances -- most circumstances, in fact -- but when the woman in question is called Kit Off Kirsty and disrobes on my mobile phone if I can correctly tell her who won the 1959 FA Cup, something in me wonders if there isn't a better use for the technology.

One idea is Red Hot Strip Poker, where the role of Kirsty is taken by one Kevin Holloway, director of publishing at the company who's given us this modern-day equivalent of the pub peanut card. As our Kev says: "Football, saucy ladies and a chance to show off your football knowledge to your mates -- what more do you want from a mobile phone game? Kit Off Kirsty is a bit of light-hearted fun." OK, Kevin. Slip into a pair of Speedos and climb into my mobile. If you can't answer ten questions about the Enlightenment philosophies of Locke, Voltaire and Rousseau, the Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells will appear screen left and proceed to save your soul through thermal insertion. Culture, emancipation, and the chance to spit-roast a bastion of laddism -- now that's my idea of light-hearted fun!

But there must be a market for Kirsty -- it can't just be a cynical attempt to up the ARPU (average revenue per user, the figure around which the mobile phone business revolves), can it? If so, perhaps we should learn from it and use the idea to bolster the CNET coffers. Get five questions right about BT's broadband strategy, and our own toyboy Gear Off Graeme will coyly appear from behind a huge pile of press releases with nothing but a cricket bat to preserve his modesty. Get six right about 1980s home computers, and Rump Out Rupert will shake his funky stuff to a version of Autobahn played on the ZX Spectrum's BEEP command.

Better yet -- how's this for a pitch, Cisco? A pop-up advert appears at random, and if the reader can't answer fifteen questions about wireless network security and buy an enterprise router at the end of it, I'll put on Kevin's Speedos and turn up personally at the reader's offices to mime the video of the Village People singing YMCA.

Watch that share price soar...

Thursday 11/12/2003
You may have noticed the current spate of scammer emails purporting to be from this or that bank and saying "Please re-enter your personal details at our Web site for security purposes". The site is nothing to do with the institution in question, of course: just one set up with stolen graphics and disgused URLs to look legit.Any details you enter will be immediately sent off to the Tongan Mafia or whoever, and your bank account will never be the same again.

This week's effort is aimed at Lloyds TSB customers. One of the first to spot it is long-term friend of the Diary and clued-up chap Adrian Mars: pausing only to check that it is indeed utterly fraudulent, he leaps on the blower to Bank HQ to make sure they know about it. Alas, the dastardly thieves have had the foresight to send out their spam of Satan after normal banking hours -- is there no end to their evil genius? -- and thus the only customer phone that Lloyds TSB is answering is the card loss number. The bloke at the end of that knows nothing about email scams, doesn't want to know about email scams and can make no helpful suggestions beyond "please call back in the morning".

Undaunted, Adrian phones the bank's PR. "So, what do you do about email fraud?" he asks. "Ahh... crack teams... immediate response... hotline to Scotland Yard... action taken in microseconds...." says confident PR mate. "No, not really." says Ade. "You've been under attack for a couple of hours now, which you don't know  'cos there's nobody I can tell." "Erumahum...." says PR man. "I'll get back to you."

Three minutes later, and Ping! Adrian has mail. Adrian has mail from deep inside Lloyd TSB with a very impressive cc list, saying "Please send us the dodgy email ASAP." Which he does... only to get it back moments later. Lloyd's anti-spam filters have spotted some of the tricks used by the scammers in their HTML, and roundly rejected Ade's missive and the attached specimen. You can't phone 'em in, you can't email 'em in -- it has to be said, the company's very good at keeping out the bad news.

Needless to say, this is swiftly sorted. Lloyds TSB eventually closes down the fake site, Adrian gets on Sky News at 7:30 in the morning (tee hee) to bask in the limelight of doing the right thing, and the ramparts of commerce repel another set of horned invaders. But if it wasn't for those darned kids, eh?

Friday 12/12/2003
Now, I've been very good (you listening, Santa?) at overlooking some infelicities from certain other technology news Web sites. Even when they publish snide comments saying that because CNET has bought the mp3.com domain, we can't possibly write about online digital media distribution without larding our text with constant disclaimers. That's a valid point of view, certainly, but hard to back up when you yourself run an ISP, flog twenty tons of kit and countless books you also review, and all that jazz. But it's a tough world out there, and far be it from us to pass judgement.

However, sometimes it can go a little awry. Take our brothers in packets The Register, who have some sort of deal going with a company called Expansys. Not sure exactly what they do -- Expansys, not the Reg, silly! -- but it involves a little banner that pops up from time to time saying The Register, Powered By Expansys. All fine, except that the X is in a long, swishy, hand-painted blue style, while the rest of the lettering is a nice outline white sans typeface. Not a problem by itself, were the background to the banner not also a sort of blue -- with the result that the Reg is apparently powered by e-pansys.

I don't know what an e-pansy is, but it doesn't sound very butch.

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