Last day of the hols. Swiz. Before I take my leave of the bucolic paradise on the edge of Plymouth where I've been catching the sun, I have another go at fixing my father's PC. Poor chap is desperate to get onto the Internet and e-mail, but something's up with the motherboard and the way it handles the serial port: nothing works properly from within Windows. The only solution I can think of - and I've been thinking for rather a long time - is to buy him a new computer, but that seems a bit excessive. I've been playing around with serial communications on PCs now for more than ten years, and still can't find what's wrong with this one: the thought surfaces, as it often does, "what chance have the punters got?".
As for the rest of the holidays: you probably don't want to hear about the women (two Canadian, one Irish), the drinking, the strange goings-on in the Queens Arms, Tamerton Foliot, or the stranger goings on at a Barbican art gallery. None of the above have anything to do with computers, and besides you might be working for the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary.
Back at work, and a huge pile of unattended work awaits my pleasure. Is this fair? Alas, yes. However, much happiness is engendered when I learn I'm to be shipped over to the US in a couple of weeks time by Xerox (and, presumably, faxed back). Two days in New York seeing a "top secret product launch" (it's a printer. But I didn't tell you that, because they didn't tell me), followed by two days at Xerox PARC. For anyone with an interest in the technical side of computing, this is as close to heaven as one can get without glugging down the poison in San Diego.
Xerox PARC is the birthplace of the graphical user interface and Ethernet, among others. I check out their web site - these people are seriously nutzoid. Smart Matter, anyone? That's stuff which is dynamically reconfigurable on the quantum level, with enough inate processing and sensor technology to work out what it should do and when it should do it - bit like life, only more flexible. To go with that, Xerox has evolved a new method of programming the stuff? it's too bizarre for words.
I'm going to have a great time. And, of course, I'll be reporting back?
AOL to buy CompuServe? Coo. I e-mail a friend who left CIS to work for AOL, and gently rib her about not being to escape. She does the electronic equivalent of giggling, gets all prim: "can't comment on unannounced projects", and giggles again.
What will happen? The two are a good match: AOL is strong on community usage, people logging on to talk to other people, while CIS has many more online resources. Joining the two gargantuan - and technically extremely ugly - systems together just has to be the Project from Hell to end all PfHs. It would undoubtedly be quicker and more efficient to start from scratch? but that would cost a great deal. I don't envy those charged with making this happen; it's going to be worse than reunifying Germany.
Spend an hour on the blower to Adaptec in the States. Boring manufacturer of SCSI interface cards? No longer! In a transformation worthy of Superman, the company has started doing digital satellite receiver cards for PCs. I am regaled by stories of 5000 Web sites being broadcast daily; all you need to is sit there and receive the data you want - the same cards also do satellite TV and audio reception, and just about anything else you might fancy. The networks are being put into place now, with US launch of service towards the end of this year, UK/European launch beginning of next. All the big players - News International, Microsoft, Fox and so on - are planning some really big things: it's going to be cheap (between £200 and £300 for the card, before discounts) and it's going to be fun.
I agree to do some video projector reviews for PC Magazine. "Does this involve me taking some home and spending the weekend watching movies on my bedroom wall?," I ask. "Oh, if you must..." they say.
I must. So, if anyone's driving through Highgate late at night and they think they see a ten-foot Harrison Ford peering at them from behind the net curtains, it's just me catching up on the Director's Cut of Bladerunner.
Ah. It's a job.