Rupert Goodwins' Diary

When I was very small (oh, OK, when I was smaller than I am now but still the same shape), I didn't give a flying frog for computers. Then I wandered into WH Smith in Plymouth one day, and wondered why the shop was absolutely packed with people not buying things.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

When I was very small (oh, OK, when I was smaller than I am now but still the same shape), I didn't give a flying frog for computers. Then I wandered into WH Smith in Plymouth one day, and wondered why the shop was absolutely packed with people not buying things. In the corner was a ZX81: the rest of the place was packed by its acolytes. Coo, I thought. When I'd fought my way to the corner and worked out what was going on, I was hit by a mighty obsession. I wanted one. I had to have one. In the end, after a summer spent working as a spotty TV repair boy, I could afford a ZX81 kit. Six weeks after sending off the cheque, it turned up.

Lovely. Happy Rupert.

Then the buggers at Sinclair sent me a brochure about the Spectrum. Unhappy Rupert. Had to have one: in the end, my parents starved for a month and I got one.

Lovely. Happy Rupert.

Since then, my insatiable desire has flicked to Amigas, 386s with VGAs and Pentiums with 3D everything. I got myself a job where such things drift past like dead dogs down the Thames, and the desire grew weak.

Then I saw a Silicon Graphics Indigo workstation, and it was back. I played with one, and truly fell in lust. But SGI, like workstation makers everywhere, wanted both arms, both legs and one (1) internal organ of my choice: worse, the bleeders would only leave one at the office for two weeks. Once you get to play with live video as if it were Plasticene you never lose the taste for it, so I waved the Indigo off with a tear in my eye.

Unlovely. Sad Rupert.

Today, they launch their first Intel-based workstations, and they're just as droolsome as before. And just as expensive. Yet there's hope: the company has realised that its proprietary, high-cost approach doesn't cut the mustard when you can go out and for the price of a SGI memory upgrade buy three Alpha-based boxes stuffed with Linux and use them to make a movie like Titanic (I exaggerate but hey, this is Hollywood). In a world where the desire for top-notch graphic capability has percolated into millions of homes; where everyone wants digital video for games and entertainment, it's unthinkable that SGI can't get the consumer religion. And then it'll make computers that I can afford, and I'll be a happy Rupert again.


Someone once described the computer industry as the Alpen of business: "Once you've removed the nuts and the fruits, all you've got left are the flakes." I think they were jealous of our well-balanced approach to life and the incredible sexual attractiveness that comes from really understanding 80386 machine code.

But even by the standards of our business, Joe Firmage is extraordinary. He's made two fortunes; one from Novell and one from USWeb, and has now departed the boardroom to spend more time with his aliens. Or something: reports differ, but he's certainly very keen on UFOs and 'what actually happened at Roswell'.

Which, if you follow his arguments, gave us not only endless acres of very dodgy reportage but also the transistor and other exciting developments. You may say that the transistor was the end result of twenty years investigation into the semiconductor effect -- known since the turn of the century -- and that its genesis is very well documented. But no: it came out just after Roswell and is clearly thus of Alien Origin.

Firmage is not alone. Not happy with just the transistor, certain aficionados of the theory now claim to have discovered evidence of another alien device, the transcapacitor. For more details, take a look at the American Computer Company's Web site these people have not only identified and built this wondrous device (runs a thousand times faster! Uses no power! Can be used for anything!) but have included it into a laptop. Which you can buy!

If we get one to investigate at Ziff, we'll let you know. Hey, what's that black helicopter hovering outside my window?


"We're Number One" chants Freeserve as its membership hits 900,000. "No you're not. We're Number One" answers AOL which, with 550,000 members, bases its argument on the idea that each membership can support up to four other screen names with their own separate email. Well, shucks. Freeserve's accounts can hold as many email names as they like. Truth is, AOL's making much more money than Freeserve and is much less at the mercy of any sudden changes in Oftel's rules about how phone calls can be charged for and who gets the dosh.

And how about ADSL? No call charges there at all: in the US, AOL has bitten the bullet and is working with ADSL providers to make it part of their service options. AOL over here must do the same -- but since it charges for its service, it can move people across without completely crippling its revenue stream. Freeserve, if confronted by a flat-rate access network, would shrivel and die in days.

This year, ADSL will hit the nation and change everything. If you ask any ISP where it'll be in 2000 and the answer doesn't include those four letters of delight -- don't buy them apples.


Overnight, I produce enough phlegm to float to Finsbury Park -- but you didn't need to know that. The big story today is that an Irish schoolgirl has knocked out an encryption code that apparently does the job ten times faster than any other -- and she wants to make it public. Coo.

I end up chatting to various meeja types about this in my Insta-Techno-Pundit role: it's gratifying to find so many people in mainstream TV and radio taking IT seriously without any trace of gee-whizzery or patronisation. Perhaps we're finally getting there. But they're not entirely happy with everything that's happening: I talk to one person who's organisation is being moved into the HQ of another. Where, he says miserably, they're going to be hot-desking -- you don't have a desk of your own, but sit at the first free one when you come into work in the morning.

This makes economic sense: if one's entire business environment is held on computer, you can just sit anywhere and plug in to work. It takes fewer desks, less expensive floor space, and is much more flexible. But people hate it: we're not efficient work machines, we're naked apes who laugh, fart and want our territories. Otherwise we sicken and die.


Tsumani of snot now lapping at Snowdonia's peak. Lie in bed a bit, get up and write about VPNs a bit, try and send stuff in via exploding Notes client. Go back to bed. Get up again. Find BT has upgraded ADSL server and watch -- with watery eyes -- a full-screen, full-rate, full colour video promoting ADSL. No, it's not quite broadcast quality but it's near as dammit. And this is coming down my phone line, through standard bits and pieces?

I am almost lifted from my glutinous gloom. Then the browser crashes with a list of script errors and a thudding buzz emanating from the computer's speaker.

Oh well. Perfection lies a way away yet.

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