Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Martian Red - it's today's colour. Especially if you're running an online poll, trying to scare a teenager or running Robot Wars on the planet itself...

Monday 19/01/2004
Has anyone seen a sense of humour lying around? Last seen chatting to its friend, the Sense of Proportion, but both missing presumed being held in Camp Delta as a threat to global security. Now, it takes a certain kind of nuclear-powered stupidity to persist in saying "Yes, there's a bomb in my bag" when you're surrounded by armed goons at the airport, but of course she didn't -- and, regardless of what the Terrorism Experts say, this is not a technique used by bombers. You could excuse a sense of humour failure here, and would possibly even expect one among airport security staff -- people who rarely pursue a second career in stand-up comedy.

But Microsoft threatening to go to court over Mike Rowe's Web site? That's Mike Rowe, 17? Does Bill Gates forget the sorts of stunts he pulled when he was a young hacker, desperate to do anything to get more time on computers that were perhaps not put on God's earth to do the young man's bidding? This sort of attitude can only engender contempt, ridicule and heavy-handed satire.

So it is with a light heart that I point you to  Be warned, it has rude words right from the off -- and makes no bones about the fact that it sounds awfully like another Web site belonging to our friends. But before anyone decides to press the red button and activate the laser-guided lawyers slumbering in their underground pods, they should read the End User Licencing Agreement on the site. It is a mish-mash of unreasonable, ridiculous, stupidly restrictive, incredibly expensive and utterly one-sided terms that no sane person would contemplate for a nanosecond: in other words, a masterpiece of the art.

We've tried reason. We've tried outrage. Perhaps a long session of scorn, disdain and open contempt will get through...

Tuesday 20/01/2004
Keep it with Kodak? No, thanks. The company deserves a lot of respect: it saw the problem coming, it took action to avert the consequences and it's been reacting with sanity and far-sightedness throughout. But even Kodak couldn't turn back the tide of digital photography, and we won't know for a while whether it'll make the transition to the new world intact. Recently, though, it announced a major retrenchment -- it's stopping a huge swathe of 35mm film and camera products, and is pulling out of a lot of that market worldwide.

Famously, Kodak always saw cameras as 'film burners' and made no bones about exploiting the market. Now film has gone away, and we're all using flash memory and hard disks. Is that where the market will stay? Probably not: storing a picture on a camera in any form is a pretty inefficient thing to do. You want at the least to copy it to somewhere safe as soon as possible and, if you can, sort it into some sort of contextually appropriate long-term storage and publish it as soon as possible.

All these things become a lot easier once proper broadband wireless networking becomes standard. Point and shoot becomes point, shoot and send. Camera phones are just the first wave: why would any camera not sprout that functionality once the bandwidth becomes good enough?

It'll mean a lot more fun for those who take pictures surreptitiously, of course. The old image of security guards pulling the film from the camera and exposing it to sunlight will be history: the modern equivalent of bouncers forcing you to delete your pictures from the compact flash card won't be far behind. Not that this always works: as a bootlegging photographer of my acquaintance points out, very few of these people know that most of these cards use standard filing systems and undelete has no problems with them at all.

Not that this helps Kodak, for whom there may well be no undelete.

Wednesday 21/01/2004
Outsourcing is getting to be really big business --the number of billion dollar deals doubled last year, according to Datamonitor. And these are just the sort of technology-related jobs that we were supposed to embrace to revitalise our post-industrial economy, now that making cotton shirts and steel girders for the Empire isn't quite the thing. That's the trouble -- or the great saving grace -- of industrial capitalism: the impetus is to deskill and reduce cost on production while improving efficiency and techniques. At some point, it will always be easier and cheaper to take a mature technology and transfer it to a place with lots of people and a much lower cost base.

But it's not just the big stuff that's going. Shopping in Camden with a friend, we popped into Holt's -- one of the country's finest purveyors of Doctor Marten's footwear and the only place to find many of the classic designs. As my friend was purchasing a fetching pair in oxblood red, he asked whether it would be possible to get his old shoes revitalised. Yes, certainly. Do they do it on the premises? Hardly. Although they still go out to a local cobbler, it's looking as if it'll be cheaper, quicker and more efficient to DHL them to Calcutta to have them rebuilt.

If it's got to that point, what's left? Stuff that's in situ, like washing machines, plumbing and the larger car, will presumably have to be left to the local artisan to fix, but anything portable is liable to find itself shoved in a Jiffy bag and despatched to the subcontinent pronto. As for the bigger stuff, I rather think we'll invent ourselves out of a job again. Take a look at all that remote viewing and tele-surgery stuff, where a surgeon half a world away watches an operation over a high-definition video link and either operates via a robot or by talking to a local, less skilled doctor. Now think videophones and Mumbai call-centres stuffed with highly trained washing machine, car and plumbing experts. Phone up, show them the problem, show them your credit card and they'll talk you through.

Thursday 22/1/2004
You may not have noticed it amid the crashing space probes, terrorism scares, global warming fears and other minor worldwide issues, but two of the things that really worries the Americans at the moment are homosexuality and marriage. They worry about them individually, and they really worry about them in combination. Y'see, the centrepiece of the American Way is the Family, and the lynchpin of the Family is Marriage -- you'll have seen this in action on Jerry Springer -- and everyone must get married. Unless you're a homosexualist, then you must not get married in case you, er, well, at this point I rather lose the plot.  It's something to do with religion and sex, and you know where that leads.

However, the general trend in developed countries is to let gays marry if they like: why should us breeders have to fund divorce lawyers all by ourselves? The American establishment has spotted this trend, and is busy deciding whether to be against it, very against it, or so against it that it changes the Constitution to prevent it ever happening. Blame the Founding Fathers who might have put the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence, but plum darn forgot to add the codicil "unless you're a goddamn pervert". Busy, I guess.

To that end, the American Family Association -- that's wholesome heterosexual families -- set up a poll on its Web site to find out just how against gay marriage the great American public was.  Somehow -- and this caught the AFA by surprise -- quite a lot of people found out about the poll and decided to take part. The AFA suspect it's got something to do with the Internet. Nonetheless, the facts are in: the poll scored nearly a million votes and turned out in favour of gay marriage by almost two to one.

And now, of course, the grand plan -- to present the poll to Congress -- has had to be abandoned. It must have been the wrong sort of public, says the AFA, with gay activitists "doing their number" on the site. It's come to a sorry state of affairs if activists feel they can influence politics, and a God-fearing nation can't take an opinion poll without knowing in advance what the results will be.

Friday 23/1/2004
As I type this, I'm watching the clock and anxiously waiting for the next scheduled attempt to communicate with the Mars rover. The Great Galactic Ghoul -- that mysterious Mars monster reputed to have eaten the two-thirds of martian probes that have gone missing -- clearly just took a little time to amble over from the Beagle landing site. It got there in the end.

The situation's not without its humour, though. A correspondent on the newsgroups notes that things started to go wrong when the Australians were communicating with Spirit, then "their snake- and spider-infested telemetry station suffers the all-too-common 'storm' as the Foster's-addled lads that comprise its  'crew' muck about inside of its antenna playing cricket....and WHOOSH!  The subtle touch of death via the British Commonwealth's limitless space experience strikes down Spirit, just like it struck down Britain itself.. Remember all those Soviet Mars probes that didn't work...remember how  Britain gave the Soviet Union all those free jet engines after WW II?  Well.... I'll bet those Soviet Mars landers had BRITISH COMMONWEALTH  MADE PARTS ON THEM!!!  This must mean WAR."

We have been warned. Myself, I reckon Beagle got Spirit through the top of the carapace with the hydraulic spike, and is even now pushing it over to Viking, the House Robot.

Good luck in getting the thing back, chaps, and let's hope the second rover lands safely this weekend. On the current odds, out of Beagle, Spirit and Opportunity (the second rover), one should survive and prosper: fingers crossed (and tentacles, them what has 'em).