Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Cheeky boys meet Cheeky Girls, Comdex meets its maker, a dead Commodore is exhumed and the fate of several hundred oysters is revealed

Monday 21/06/04
Sorry about this, but we start the week with shocking footie-related action. Our man at the scam, Graeme 'Scoop' Wearden, was one of a number of journos invited to see the Croatia match on telly with BT at the top of the BT Tower. The joint was jumping, with a couple of 1966 England squad heros and the Cheeky Girls around to lend the event an air of... well, that unique atmosphere of elderly footballers and nanocelebs.

Graeme's head wasn't turned by all this stardom but, being a competitive chap with an interest in manly sport, he was persuaded to pony up a score to enter a couple of quizzes about the beautiful game. All for charidee, so who could complain? A tenner a quiz, and if you entered both you got your picture taken with the Cheeky Girls: if you won, you got a signed Michael Owen shirt or a shirt signed by the whole team 'using their best crayons', according to the compere.

But it was not to be - Scoop tried nobly, but only got around half marks. Tough questions. Not tough enough for BT marketing bod Danny Garvey, who tied for first place with a stonking score. He fell at the last, failing to guess the final score of the match, but still waltzed away with some football tickets. A sterling affirmation of BT's executive prowess? More a thundering technology demo: eyewitnesses reported that "Thumbs" Garvey didn't so much scratch his head for the answer as prod his Blackberry. Ooops.

This didn't impress his colleagues at BT's R&D labs at Adastral Park, who later confided to Scoop that "we don't like people who score own goals at our own ground". They also revealed the name of an online journo who frequently emails them with questions about security - not that we mind this sort of thing, the boffins sighed, but we keep having to direct him to Snope's Urban Myths site.

Back up the Tower, the evening closed with an auction to win the Cheeky Girls. "Do I hear £500?" asked the compere. No, he didn't. Nor £400 or £300. Someone eventually coughed up a few groats, but it wasn't Wearden: he was already guiltily disposing of his Cheeky Girls picture before returning to the arms of his beloved. And anyway, having been beaten by a Blackberry the poor chap didn't have enough bus fare for three.

Tuesday 22/06/04
Back at the beginning of the year, I mentioned the antics of the geek's geek, Geoff Marshall who had started up a Web site with the intent of collecting fifty-pence pieces from strangers. When he had enough, he said, he was going to go and buy an iPod.

And he has. The fifties flooded in from all over the world - the whackiest was from a hotel cleaner in St Lucia, where a friend of Geoff's was taking a holiday. He was playing with his iPod in his room (no, it's not going to be one of those stories) when she came in. "Oh," she said. "I've been reading about those. Did you know there's a man in England who's collecting money on a Web site to buy one?" Once Geoff's pal had established his credentials (look, I've told you once), the delighted maid chipped in.

So last Saturday, it was off to Richer Sounds with a big jar of coins and yer man is now properly Podded up. Actually, he didn't bring the coins -- many of the fifties were virtual coins transferred via PayPal -- but he did get his iPod. Given that it took him seven months of Web site maintenance and cajolery to get there, he's worked hard at getting it for free.

The question is: can this business model be extended? One of his friends suggested that he repeat the exercise but ask for a fiver each this time in order to buy a house. Even if he gets the same number of contributions per month, at London prices that'll take him around sixty years -- so that's probably not a goer. Shame, really. Someone else has decided to collect pictures of snowmen by email contributions and turn them into a book, which may not make anyone any money but has the benefit of being completely pointless. And there are even Web sites out there that don't ask for any money at all, but survive by -- get this -- persuading advertisers to give them cash.

It'll never fly. But congrats to Geoff for pulling it off, and congrats a second time for beating the world record for visiting all tube stations in one day (still to be authenticated, but it's looking good). The world awaits his next mission with some eagerness.

Wednesday 23/06/04
So farewell, then, Comdex. A stonking show in its day, the Computer Dealers Exposition kicked off in 1979 as a one-room affair and proceeded to track the heady rise of the industry. By the time I made it over to Las Vegas for my first show in 1993, it was a monster that drained the city of hotel rooms, cabs and hookers -- they had to bus extras in from LA to cope, although I don't think that was just on my account -- but nevertheless failed to win the hearts of the hoteliers. "These computer geeks, they just don't gamble!" complained one chap with a New Jersey accent. Ah, how wrong he was: as we all found out later, the trouble with Vegas is the stakes are too low for the nerds' taste.

And now it's dead. Well, in suspended animation waiting for the global economy to pick up, but the great round of hardware and software updates that fuelled the party have by now subsided into background noise on the Web. The action's all in consumer innovation and big iron: CES copes nicely with the first, and the Internet with the second -- why go to a city in a desert when you can get all your information and hook up with your buddies online?

A shame. I have many happy memories: of chaperoning a female colleague as a Danish computer salesman tried desperately to get into her knickers by means of ever more expensive bars. Gatecrashing a party with Michael Dell (whatever happened to him, anyway?). Eating my own body weight in freshwater oysters -- every year. Being at a Microsoft-sponsored marriage with Dr Ruth and a complete cadre of Elvis impersonators. Going out to the suburbs -- OK, the ghetto -- in a beat-up station wagon to help fix a Native American reporter's broken computer. Ah, the list goes on.

There must have been some technology there too, but that seems to have slipped my mind.

Thursday 24/06/04
Microsoft is suffering from Easter Islander syndrome: having successfully filled its own ecological niche to the exclusion of everything else, and being well into the process of cutting down all the trees, it realises that there's nothing left for it to do but hang around and wait for the crops to fail. So it's busy erecting huge statues around the place - they haven't got much of a chance of averting the fall but they look impressive and who knows, the gods may be pleased. One is in the shape of a Pocket PC, one an Xbox, one a Tablet (although that's already leaning at a dangerous angle).

And now there's a new one in the shape of, um, lots of little ones. Microsoft has decided that it wants a bite of the small but fruity High Performance Computing cherry, until now solid Linux territory. Windows Server 2003 HPC Edition will include features for running Windows on clusters of machines interconnected by a high-speed network to form a single computing resource, says the company, and it'll be out late next year.

Well, let's see. People who build huge clusters of computers like Linux because it's very, very tweakable, easy to tune and has a long record of working well in very high performance roles. Windows doesn't measure up here at all. Ah, says Microsoft, but clusters are going to become mainstream. Then people will want the convenience and simplicity of Windows, and our lower total cost of ownership. It's not entirely clear that anyone doing the sort of grunt work requiring zillions of interlinked computers will see Linux as anything other than more convenient and far simpler to use than the closed world of Windows, but the TCO argument bears investigating.

That's one calculation that won't require an array of Itaniums to compute. You want to run 512 processors in a high performance cluster? Certainly, sir. At £60 a licence, that'll be... excuse me? What are you doing with that penguin?

There's only one way this game is going to end and that's with Microsoft adopting open source -- even Linux -- themselves, in much the same way they co-opted the Internet. You mark my words: it won't be long before the Easter Island Collection is enhanced by a large, flightless seabird.

Friday 25/06/04
It's Nostalgia Friday. Let's kick off with some free publicity for my erstwhile employers, Ziff Davis Media, who might have abandoned Europe but haven't abandoned the fight. A new magazine called sync (lower case and all) has just been launched in the US, celebrating not just technology but the way it changes the way we live. Readers with long memories might remember a magazine called Computer Life that was published by Ziff, which celebrated not just technology but the way it... but that didn't have a nice lower case logo.

Readers with exceptionally long memories might also recall a magazine that celebrated not just technology but, etc, that was published way back in 1979. It did have a nice lower case logo, lasted for three years (more, I fear, than Computer Life) and was called, oh yes:

Meanwhile, you don't have to have much of a memory to recognise the Commodore name and chickenhead logo. The Pet, the Vic-20 and the Commodore 64 may have been far inferior products to our own fine Sinclair Spectrum and BBC Micro, but they nonetheless provided many years of digital excitement to the poor, the benighted and the Americans of this world. It is thus grotesquely unfair that their hallowed names should be besmirched by Tulip, the Dutch company that's ended up with the rights after many rounds of capitalist musical chairs. It has decided to exhume the old nag for one last round of flogging and is branding a set of portable MP3 players mPets and eVics and stuff like that. No doubt there'll be a marine version called a limPet and a brass one called the trumPet. And what's the point of selling an MP3 player if you can't sell the music to go with it? Cue CommodoreWorld, which will be doing yet another iTunes me-too.

Slightly more respectably, the company will also be selling retro games through the Web site and will also be providing C64 emulators for PCs, mobile phones and so on. It'll also be marketing the C64-DTV, a joystick with a built-in C64 and "30 classic retro games" on it -- presumably those that don't need a keyboard, although a USB socket might solve that.

I hope Amstrad is taking notes. The market for a Sinclair version would be huge. Huge, I tell you.