It's quiet in the office. Manek Dubash - thespian manqué and flamboyant deputy editor -- and Ed Henning - ex-Emerson Lake and Palmer roadie and European labs director - have gone to Comdex. The rest of us flick through the newswires and monitor the Web. Hey, who wants to party down in Vegas when we can watch the rain fall on Tower Bridge?
Actually, that's a very good question. Time was when computer shows were unavoidable. If you wanted to see what new products were being launched, get the gossip and make sure your face was known, there was no alternative to attending one or other of the Comdexes. Now you can hunt down your prey via e-mail, see everything you need to on the Web and generally do the whole schmeer from your desktop. Once upon a time, people thought that videoconferencing would replace business travel: I suspect they'd just got the wrong technology.
But I do miss Las Vegas, even if I no longer have the energy to behave quite as badly as once I did. Gone are the days of finding that no bars were open at 5:30am: that might have had something to do with me and Ms X seeming to have stumbled into the Nevadan desert. We hitchhiked back while singing Convoy in one of those huge American 18-wheeler trucks, then burst into a publisher's hotel room and demanded that the naked, terrified man buy us breakfast. Some things the Web just can't do...
More details emerge, painfully, about Rockwell's lawsuit against Bay Networks, one of its own customers. Bay, you may remember, had the temerity to build a modem that does both Rockwell's K56flex and 3Com's x2 56kbps technology: Rockwell decided to show its commitment to customer choice and its advanced client relationship techniques by sending the lawyers in.
Turns out that the modem in question doesn't do both modes simultaneously. You have to load different firmware into the flash memory to set the mode. What a good idea! Now, it shouldn't be beyond the wit of a half-decent DSP hacker to write alternative code for many existing modems - yes, it would violate licencing conditions, so I couldn't possibly suggest it. Nor that such code could be easily distributed over the Internet. Nor that such guerrilla action would perhaps make those bloody modem companies see sense and finally let the ITU set the standard.
So don't even think it, you naughty hackers you.
1998 will be the Year of Speech Recognition, eh? I asked Maggie 'Usability' Williams, who's been testing the latest products in the labs, what she thought of this suggestion.
"Well, Rubbered, shave gutter log way to glow beefheart flail quirk kneely arse well as a peeboard. Eye wooden wreck on end them."
According to the Press Gazette, VNU, our esteemed colleagues in the magazine publishing industry, is worried about staff turnover. While it's a lively industry anyway and it's rare for a month to go by without at least one journo hopping from Ziff to EMAP to Dennis to VNU to Future, it is undoubtedly true that the revolving door at VNU's Soho headquarters goes around a little faster than most.
To combat this, the management at Broadwick Street is introducing psychometric testing. Wacky! Nothing is more likely to send hacks hurtling into the arms of a competitor than the idea that someone wants to see inside their heads. Whenever a company does this sort of thing - and I've seen it happen more than once - the question that never gets answered is why nobody ever thinks to just ask the employees what they think. Every company has problems: most of them are twice as visible to the workers as the bosses.
Manek's back from Comdex! And he's got a red stylus for his Palm Pilot! I hate him, I hate him, I hate him.
But I don't hate NetMeeting. A friend persuaded me to download it at home, and two minutes later his happy face was smiling at me from his front room. I had some new software on my machine to show him; he wanted to point out some Web stuff to me. NetMeeting worked admirably well at connecting our computers - and us - together across the Net. Nice one, Microsoft.