So I spend the time playing with radios. I'm an anorak - used to be G6HVY until I forgot to renew my licence one day and they wouldn't let me back in without a note from my mother - and still get a lot of fun by just poodling around on the airwaves. I currently live on top of a huge hill overlooking London, which is good, but right next to a pager transmitter, which is bad. Paging signals are huge great raucous beasts which go ripping through anything in their paths - my tv, my cable installation, the lot.
Out of curiousity, I talk to a rather secretive friend. "Interesting thing," he said, "is that there's free software on the Internet that lets you capture and display pager messages. All you need is the right radio, which can cost as little as a tenner, and a soundcard."
"Surely not!" I say. He insists, and demonstrates. This breaks at least two laws, so don't try this at home, but it's true. Moral? If you have a pager, assume it can be intercepted anywhere in the country. Because it can.
Getting to grips with the Linux thang, which seems to have turned into one hell of a religious revival. So if this free software's so good (and it is), how come there are no mainstream applications for it? "But there are, Rupert..." say the fans. Well, there's a pageworth but aside from Adobe you'd be hard pushed to find any mainstream names there - and an Acrobat reader doth not a rich selection make.
Why is this, I ask my Unix chums. "It's the Gnu General Public Licence", they say. "If you use anybody else's code in your product and the other code is under GPL, you have to make your source available. And who wants to do that?"
I investigate. I read the GPL. I read the Library GPL, which is designed to let you sort of use other code without having to give everything away. I wish I was a lawyer (it's OK, the feeling went away). I pop online and find fierce discussions going on between the sort of people I'd normally expect to know the answers to such dilemmae... but it would be sad if Linux was being held back not for technical reasons (and technically, it's excellent) or support issues but because people just couldn't write commercial applications without worrying about the legalities.
Meanwhile, an evil friend suggests that the best way for Microsoft to scupper Linux would be to give away millions of copies of the OS absolutely free. "The way it is at the moment," he said, "all those bright-eyed naïve users would feel totally compelled to install it, and would trash their machines utterly. They'd come running back to Uncle Bill for good..."
Apple! You crazy animals you! It seems that someone somewhere noticed that there is little point in making the coolest product for years (the eMate expanded Newton in a wonderfully curved green translucent case) if you then refuse to sell it to anyone. And yes, Apple has refused people's money because, as the company tirelessly states, "it's for the education market and you're not in education".
However, enter the iMac (spot the similarity in the name?) This tantalising (not till August) product is a Macintosh-like beast in a curvy semi-translucent blue case with no floppy disk but Internet connectivity coming out of its every port. It looks luscious. The specs look luscious. I'd love to be able to bung an Internet appliance this sexy on the desk of every cyberLuddite in the country... so what will Apple do to mess this up? What if they... you know... don't?
Don't-Spend-It-All-At-Once department. Cliff Stanford, ex-Head Demon, announces that he's taking half of his £33 million stash and putting it up for the benefit of British inventors and cash-strapped companies with good ideas. His outfit, RedBus, will also offer advice and practical management help along with the dosh, in exchange for equity and a place in the company name.
Question is: is £15 million enough? It'll probably cope with about 20 proper launches... of which by far the greater number will fail. As a correspondent on Cix remarked, it reminds him of the lottery winner who gave away around a million in response to begging letters before he realised that they weren't even bothering to send him thank-you notes...
Nevertheless. The Goodwins File Of Top-Notch Ideas is being dusted off. Cliff, you have mail... (look, the world needs stripy tomato ketchup. It worked for toothpaste...)
There goes Corel, giving away the source to its Linux port for the NetWinder computer (ya gotta, ya see, under the Gnu General Public Licence). Seems like it's getting fashionable, now that Netscape's done it - so why am I reminded of sea cucumbers? These knobbly animals, looking like nothing so much as giant gherkins of the deep, have a habit when attacked of pausing for twenty seconds and then autoeviscerating. In one violent spasm, they throw out their guts in a sticky mass, leaving the attacker to try and get the mess off while the sea cukes spring (OK, slowly slide) away.
The effect on the massed Linux online hoards? "Like, awesomely cool!" And, breaking cover for a very rare outing, one Linus Torvalds pops up on a ZDNet discussion group accusing us - us cuddly Ziffies! - of being "one of the most shamelessly biased (anti-anything-but-wintel since the mid-80s) gossip-mongerers in the computer rag business" Shame! We like Linux. We like it a lot.
I feel all hurt now. I think I'll go out and buy a Skoda.