Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Telling the time in binary on the Cote d'Azur, where Dell's secrets are not revealed

Monday 31/6/2004
Bank Holiday. Nothing happens. Well, something happens: as a result of a recent birthday and a very perceptive woman I am now the very proud owner of a binary wristwatch. Press a button and it lights up the time as a couple of rows of tiny red LEDs -- each lit up for a one, or extinguished for a zero. Thus 12:45 is rendered 1010 101101: entirely mysterious to anyone who didn't spend a lot of their youth building digital circuits for fun, and thus entirely compelling to anyone who did.

That would be me, then.

Tuesday 1/6/2004
A classic news day. We pick up a rumour in the morning that Sony is going to pull out of the PDA market in the US -- but our French cousins are ahead of us and have already found someone who not only confirms this but says that the tactical withdrawal is going to be in Europe as well. Only Japan will continue to get new Clies: the French newsdesk phones PalmSource to get their reaction, but -- helas! -- find out that PalmSource had no idea that Sony was about to do any such thing. As Sony is (well, was) PalmSource's best hope of keeping PalmOS alive as an independent operating system away from the Palm platform itself, the reaction that was forthcoming was more forceful and less considered than one normally expects. When was the last time you heard a company go on the record and say "this is very bad news for us"? The way things normally work, you call up a company with a product that's just been shown to hunt down and decapitate grandmothers and get "we are very excited by the new marketing opportunities that this presents".

Later on, the company recovers its poise. Sony was never that important, it says. Small slice of revenues. Big challenge is smartphones, where elegance and single-minded task-based approach counts for loads more than shoehorning in a shrunken PC. PalmOS excellently positioned to take advantage of that space.

Who are we to say that this will not be so? But that first, unguarded and somewhat emotional reaction was so rare and precious in this world of carefully worded, dutifully guarded and perfectly spun press blather that we will cherish it for some time. And no, PalmOS really doesn't need Sony that much -- but it does need some good breaks, and soon, if it's going to withstand the Redmond whirlwind. Wednesday 2/6/2004
Dell are taking me to Cannes! To be precise, they're taking me out to the annual Dell EMEA Product Showcase (EMEA is an unlovely and rather soppy marketing term you see on business cards meaning Europe, Middle East and Africa -- or Eventually Might Escape to America). Dell is normally the beat of reviews supremo Charles McLellan, but he's on his hols so I get to wave the flag. What I don't realise until too late is that attending is dependent on signing a truly enormous non-disclosure agreement: the vast majority of Products Showcased are not to be launched until various dates in the future, and thus I cannot write about them now.

Which is a bit frustrating, but we're all going to have to be patient. Each product sits on a big list of secret things with its own date, after which beans can be spilled and cats debagged. My favourite member of that list was one which, despite much deep thought, I couldn't remember being mentioned even a little bit. "Ah, no," said the PR. "That was going to be here, but isn't now" -- and she gave a reason which I'm sure I can't disclose. "But what was it going to be?" I asked. There then followed a period of intense thought: normally, we're told about things that exist and the NDA makes us pretend they don't. This time, it didn't exist. Can an NDA cover something that isn't there?

I would tell you the conclusion of that philosophical conundrum but... ah, you're there already. Watch this space. But don't tell anyone I told you. Thursday 03/06/2004
It's day two of the Dell EMEA product showcase, and outside the hotel the sun is filtering through the palm trees onto the dusty, dog-walked concrete of La Croisette. At least, I assume so: nothing filters through the partitions of the conference rooms. There are those among us who haven't left the hotel since they arrived early yesterday -- the circuit of bedroom, breakfast room, briefings and bar is an hermetic circle that shields us from temptation while inculcating the maximum Dellyvision. However, after the day's round of Powerpoint, one-on-ones and demonstrations, the PRs silently melt away, the last scraps of copy are filed and we are free to breath in the salty air of the Cote d'Azur. After all, what's the point of coming all the way to the playground of the rich, famous and wrinkly and not stepping out to admire the yachts and the rollerbladers?

But even as I wander towards the Palais des Festivals, I feel curiously alone. It's not so curious: I am alone. Where are my fellow hacks? Investigations reveal they are incarcerated in the darkest, deepest part of the Dell dungeon, a room dedicated to demonstrating certain computers. "We're free!" I tell them. "Time off! For bad behaviour!" There is no response. I look closer through the gloom: they have a glazed expression and are wearing headphones. With boom mikes. Has some fiendish magic turned them into call-centre operatives? Is this how Dell plans to increase its profits from services?

No. This is a voluntary incarceration. They are locked in combat, eviscerating each other with machine guns, machetes, rifles and other attitude amplifiers in some sort of multiplayer arcade game called Far Cry, Far Call, Far Canal or some such. "Look at those graphics!" said one hip young gunslinger, pointing at a lens-flared sun atop some fractally generated plant life. "Have you seen outside?" I suggested. "It's even nicer, and that bloke from PC Format isn't hiding in the bushes with a sniper rifle."

Hopeless. I leave them to it, and wander onto the foreshore where the PRs are checking out the weather for the beach party later.

It's a very good party, diverting enough to help me forget that the 8 a.m. flight back home means I have to leave the hotel at 6 a.m.

Friday 4/6/2004
The party continues into the small hours, with all manner of Dellians, PRs, event organisers, Friends of Dell and assorted European hacks enjoying a late burst of freedom. There is some talk among the British contingent of breaking into the hotel and reassembling the gaming network, but I try and look stern and it soon fizzles out.

I remember the 6 a.m. start with, as it were, a start. My watch says it's one dot for the hour and three dots, one space and three dots for the minutes. That's, um, one twenty seven a.m. That or it's only one oh one and too many cocktails have fried my binocular vision. Nope, vision is fine.

Buses were caught, check-in times made, a plane to Heathrow boarded -- ham and cheese toastie for breakfast -- and once at Heathrow, another plane caught. To Edinburgh this time -- apple tart and coffee -- where I sit and write this diary. Next week, y'see, I'm at the Citrix iForum, where the aforementioned company will roll out doubtless marvellous musings on the exciting world of remote access. And iForum is at Edinburgh, therefore so am I. It does mean that nothing happened on Friday that could be of any possible interest to anyone, so I'm going to skip this day in the diary. If that's all right with you.

Thank you.