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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Why Rupert's not a fan of JK Rowling, Hospital radio strikes back, Not mentioning the e-word, Evidence from Palm of America's insular mentality and finally some more sartorial advice

Monday 1/11/2004
"What's in a name?" wrote Bacon. It was easy enough in those days -- you got called John Wilmot or the Earl of Rochester and nobody was the slightest bit confused. Now, we have to battle the demons of nomenclature at every turn: we have to name ourselves several times a week, and woe betide one careless choice.

Let me, like Rochester, enlarge on my theme. Each new online service we encounter demands a name and password -- in itself a senseless imposition, but never mind that. You might count yourself unfortunate if your real name is Jane Smith: the chances of you being the first such to register is tiny, and so you'll end up with some cybernetic moniker like JayZmi4334. But at least that'll be yours for good, anywhere you go.

Now imagine being called, oh, Rupert Goodwins. The only one on the planet -- there's a Rupert Goodwin in Australia but he's singular -- a fact you'd think I could use that to my advantage. No such luck. When I first started to use online services that allowed names (Prestel and CompuServe were numbers only), I could normally just call myself Rupert. As more and more people got online I had to start using RupertG, occasionally RupertGo. But still, the number of people with whom I could be confused was very small. No problem.

Things happen. In particular, J K Rowling happened. Her crime, her hideous, unforgivable crime wasn't to write Harry Potter, oh no. It was to allow the casting director of the movie franchise to pick for the role of Ron Weasley, Potter's best pal, a previously unknown child actor with the name of Rupert Grint. You see where I'm going with this.

The Net is now full of obsessive fans desperate to find young Rupert. In particular, they seek the Spell of Contact -- his email address. This highly prized item is much discussed in online forums, and by dark forces I but dimly perceive it has become known that Grint hides behind rupertg(AT)gmail.com . As this is my Gmail account, I would beg to differ. In fact, I have differed many times. I have differed to those who write in capital letters. I have differed to those who demand my presence at parties. I have differed to those who are convinced that I alone can save them from nameless horrors. They are all surprisingly difficult to differ with.

So. Dear, dear children. I am not Rupert Grint. I look far more like Rupert Goodwin -- or indeed Uluru, the rock before which he stands -- than the ginger-haired thesp. I do not know Rupert Grint, I can do you no good whatsoever in your quest. Indeed, you stand in risk of receiving a large chunk of the works of Rochester if you continue in your attempts to court my acquaintance.

Could be worse, I guess. It's not as bad as my pal Laurence Grayson, who was named thus by his parents just a couple of years before the übercamp family entertainer Larry Grayson became famous and sentenced the poor lad to 13 years of schoolboy hell.

Tuesday 2/11/2004
You may remember that last week, I took a pop at Podcasting, the latest technology enabler that will let people throughout the world discover they're no good at broadcasting just like they did with Shoutcast. I concluded my diatribe by describing the effects of unleashing the hopeless multitudes on my ears as 'Hospital radio to go'.

Oh dear. Hospital radio is not lightly dissed. Indeed, hospital radio has struck back, in the form of Nigel Dallard, secretary of the Hospital Broadcasting Association. In an email to me today, Nigel (who also enjoys working on steam railways) says:

"Have you had the misfortune to be in hospital recently, and thus the opportunity to listen to hospital radio? I sincerely hope not."

No, indeed. I have had the good fortune to avoid this opportunity.

"Most hospital radio stations these days are not run by bunches of 'wannabe DJs' or sad geeks, but by dedicated teams of individuals, from all sections of the community, committed to the cause of relieving the boredom that many patients endure when they find themselves unexpectedly in hospital. In addition to presenting the programmes, teams of volunteers -- every single person involved in hospital radio across the UK is an unpaid volunteer -- visit the wards to chat with patients, cheer them up and find out what they would like to hear."

A very good thing, But you can see the comedy potential here -- it's not always the lot of those who want to relieve boredom to exactly correspond with those who want that boredom relieved.

"Most of us have no ambition to go on and become the next Terry Wogan or Chris Moyles -- although many of those in the radio (and TV) industry have previously been involved with Hospital Radio, and a number still support us as Patron (Terry Wogan) or Ambassadors (e.g. Ken Bruce) of our national association."

Also a good thing. Speaking as a man whose reaction to Chris Moyles is probably categorisable as a medical condition in itself, I doubt any hospital-grade malady I might contract would be much improved by such an encounter.

"Many hospital radio stations have as much, if not more, IT infrastructure than the smaller commercial stations -- and rely on computers to play out specially prepared pre-recorded music and programmes during the 20 hours a day that the volunteers are unable to be in the studios live. Our aim is to sound just as professional as any other station on the dial -- just because we're unpaid does not mean that we're amateurs."

Technically speaking… oh, never mind. Carry on.

" Many patients don't even have to listen to us via those dreadful plastic tubes today either -- "

I think you'll find they're the doctors… ah, I see what you mean. Sorry.

"many hospitals have been equipped with mini cable-TV systems providing TV, radio, telephone and Internet access to every bedside, whilst other stations broadcast via low-powered AM or FM transmitters. Every year, the best of hospital radio talent -- and there's plenty of it -- is showcased at the National Hospital Radio Awards. You can find out more -- and listen to the winning entries online at www.hbauk.com."

And I can only suggest Diary readers repair there at once to check it out for themselves.

"I regularly read your columns on ZDNet. I find them both amusing and informative. Unfortunately, on this occasion, and for seemingly no good reason, you have disparaged many tens of thousands of dedicated volunteers. Please think twice before you hit 'send' next time."

Well, I did it because it was a cheap jibe at an easy target. It's not easy writing this stuff, you know, especially when it's Friday afternoon and every else has gone to the pub. [Everyone else apart from the editor waiting for this - Ed ] Apologies, and I promise never to take the mickey out of hospital radio again. I'll stick with the radio hams…

Wednesday 3/11/2004

You don't want to be reminded of Wednesday -- gloom, anger, and much swearing is the order of the day, especially among those who stayed up until 3am in the morning and went to bed still thinking that there was a chance…

So instead let's talk about Spam. Not the floods of emails offering fake Rolexes, pills and sultry Russian women -- what a lifestyle one could have were it all true -- but the real thing. Worryingly pink and with a texture unlike any other foodstuff, Spam -- that pressed brick of pork and ham -- has long enjoyed a special place in the lifestyles of the gastronomically unadventurous. It's a classic comfort food - easy to prepare and serve with lashings of nostalgia for childhood repasts. It makes me think of wilted lettuce, over-vinegared tomatoes and glutinous salad cream -- things that have made Caesar salads and mayonnaise seem rather exotic ever since.

Spam-makers Hormel are clearly conflicted about the IT meaning of the word. It's hardly flattering to be associated with endless offers of pornographic wristwatches: on the other hand the sheer ubiquitousness of the word has led to record sales in the UK and a growth rate of nearly ten percent a year while all other tinned meats are declining. So Hormel is indulging in some brand management. On the one hand, it's investing in a big TV advert to get the name across to youngsters who still don't know about the porky delights in that easy-open tin, and on the other it's taking the occasional legal pot-shot at people who use spam in business product names.

It's not going to work, any more than Hormel's wish that we say SPAM in upper-case letters when we want to talk about the pig-related substance and merely spam for the email. Although it may be a brand manager's heartache, words will do what they want to -- and this one's jumped the gap.

If Hormel could come to terms with it, it could have some fun. Perhaps it could produce Special Edition SPAM, which introduces elements of the fortune cookie: every slice you cut comes with a different promotional message. Alternatively, it could start directly marketing the product through a campaign of saturation emails, thus hopelessly confusing the issue and gaining some of the immoral low ground back for the product.

The masterstroke would be to get the endorsement of spammer Jeremy Jaynes -- now languishing for nine years for repeat spamming offences -- for the pink'n'meaty stuff itself. Imagine the tag-line: SPAM! It's in the can.

Bit more imagination, chaps, and we'll all be better off.

Thursday 4/11/2004
The PDA market is a hard furrow to plough, but sometimes you have to wonder whether Palm is deliberately aiming for the rocks. Take the experience of Richard Perlman, who is one of the great and the good of the online world -- creating telco dial-up IP access networks here, being a 10-year member of the Internet Society there -- and can be reasonably assumed to know what he's doing. He is a great Palm fan, being a continual and happy owner of various products since the III, and like many such really appreciates the product's lightness and portability because he spends a lot of time travelling. But he may not be for much longer -- if a sad tale he told to David Farber's Interesting People mailing list is anything to go by.

Enter the T5, the latest, greatest and most tempting of the Palmorama. Perlman, having started to have a few problems with the T1, snaps one up. However, he notices that the power connector is redesigned and the new US power supply/charger is 120 volts only -- and thus won't work in Europe. Is this true, he asks Palm? Doesn't matter, comes the reply. You can charge it through the USB synchronisation cable. Fair enough, he says.

Time passes -- at first, the cable's in stock but the Palm isn't, so they hold the order back -- and finally it arrives. Without the cable. It's gone out of stock in the meantime, and Palm says helpfully "You should have ordered it earlier. It takes 10 to 14 days to arrive." "Can I speak to a manager?" he asks. "There is no manager," he's told. "Corporate phone number?" "We're not allowed to release that."

Some time later, and the cable's back in stock. Palm agrees to ship it overnight. It arrives. It does not charge the T5. "Oh, we used to do one that did that, but we stopped.".

By now, Perlman is entering the realm of the miserable lapin. He asks Palm how he might therefore charge his T5 outside the US. "You have to talk to PalmOne Customer Service, sir". He does. They say "You need the international version of the T5". "Can I have one?" "No. You can't order it from inside the US." "Can I have an international power supply?" "No." "So how can I charge my T5 outside the US?" "You can't."

Well, he can -- but he has to send back his T5, get a refund, buy the same thing from the European Web site for much more money (plus shipping). Can't he just order the power supply from Europe? Perhaps. But you can't do it over the Web site, and the only way to get in contact is to buy a $15 'per call token' in advance. And there things rest.

Far be it from anyone in Europe to mention the American reputation for not understanding there's a world out there with different voltages and everything…

Friday 5/11/2004
We' ve had some daft things through the post here. A couple of years ago around this time, we got a set of loose fireworks as part of a PR campaign. We're not sure how legal that is -- oh, who are we kidding, we know exactly how illegal that is. But the office is festooned with cuddly chameleons, stuffed penguins, comedy hats, half-empty bottles (they don't stay that way for long), novelty mouse mats, novelty mice, half-full USB key drives (this year's toy of choice) and many other PR gizmos ranging from useful to tasteless.

T-shirts are a perennial favourite. The best ones are big, black and have discrete logos -- which is why most of them are small, white, festooned with ugly designs and useful only as underwear. However, I have in front of me what must be the least good idea in promotional T-shirts. Ever.

It comes from -- no, I'm not going to say who, because then they would have won. A company who has been 'Chosen as Strategic WLAN Partner for by O2", whose investment "Further Validates XXX's Business Model". There's a load of guff about it being a 'leading network operator', 'meeting evolving needs of customers', 'delivering fully integrated solutions' and so on.

What's that you say, Skippy? Sounds like a classic press release, indistinguishable from thousands of others issued by leading companies meeting the evolving needs of their customers by delivering fully integrated solutions? Why, so it is. But what makes this press release different is that it doesn't come with the promotional T-shirt -- it comes on the promotional T-shirt. Printed on.

Imagine the joy of waking up in the morning to find your partner snoozing away besides you, clad in the words of Fred Bloggs, CEO, saying "We have met O2's demanding requirements and delivered on time and on budget a key component of…" and so on, and so forth. Worse what if you were knocked over by a bus? It's one thing to have dirty grundies -- the doctors will have seen far worse -- but what will the poor nurse do when exposed to support for multiple and innovative authentication options? You'll be back on the street in seconds to gasp your last breaths away in the gutter.

So, thanks but no thanks, Mystery Company. Perhaps we'll clean the windows with it, or soak up the cat's mistakes. Next time, something snappy by John Wilmot would go down far better.