Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Here's a surprise: a survey today said we pay more than anyone else in Europe for our Internet usage. That's sad, considering that we were the first country in Europe to have affordable Internet access at all -- those who were around in the salad days of 1992 will remember Cliff Stanford's bright idea for a tenner a month Internet access service called Demon.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Here's a surprise: a survey today said we pay more than anyone else in Europe for our Internet usage. That's sad, considering that we were the first country in Europe to have affordable Internet access at all -- those who were around in the salad days of 1992 will remember Cliff Stanford's bright idea for a tenner a month Internet access service called Demon. He started a little discussion group, got everyone enthusiastic and helping and... kaboom. The place hasn't been the same since. So why is it so expensive? It's even sadder now that we have Freeserve providing connectivity at no extra cost over the phone bills... ah, now there's a thing. But you know all about phone bills, distant reader.

Which is why it's time to ditch the lot. Chum Chris Lewis and myself were sitting in a pub mulling over what to get excited about next (apart from the very fine Old Speckled Hen beer). We'd done the Internet, ADSL, Open Source, online publishing... what on earth could keep our eyes bright and sparkling over the next year or so?

Then it hit us. It's not a new idea, but it seems like a good time to revive it -- Free Radio Internet. The concept is simple: take a wireless LAN adaptor, shove the aerial outside, run the appropriate software and make a connection to anyone else within range. That software not only does an IP connection between stations, it also acts as a router: as more and more people join the net, it turns into a full-blown public access IP system. As long as you've got a chain of stations between you and your destination, you can have a connection. Add a few DSL permanent connections into the Net around the place and -- wham! Free networking.

There are loads of problems with this: the frequencies you can use aren't very good, the software to run routing on such a strange network isn't yet written, and nobody's entirely sure how standard all these wireless network cards are anyway. But enough is happening on all these fronts to make it worthwhile getting the project underway. If you fancy chipping in with some time, knowledge, ideas or whatever -- email me. If there's enough interest, we'll get a web page up and running and start the new revolution. If Cliff can do it then, we can do it now.

Watch out, BT! We're about to do an end-run around the local loop...


Cryptography. Is it the most exciting thing since the Bletchley Park canteen introduced meatballs on a Tuesday, or is it just ANFWE MRTXD PQSYTH KKK? (that's an in-joke for cryptographers, by the way). I can't make sense of it.

On the one hand, the paranoid French are relaxing their "Non, Non, Non! C'est interdit, m'seuir! IN-TER-DIT!" policy towards any encryption whatsoever and allowing anyone -- even their citizens -- to use up to 128bit keys. That's good enough, really. On the other hand, despite Mandy's departure and concomitent chaos the rumours are that the DTI (under pressure, when you trace it back, from the uberspooks in the American National Security Agency) will foist key escrow on us despite nobody wanting it. (That's when you hand a copy of your keys over to a third party, who won't be allowed to tell you if they've passed them on to the police). Yet on the third hand, Intel announces today that it'll be building hardware support for encryption into future chips -- an absolute bonus for universal, uncontrolled use of the stuff and one in the eye for those who look through keyholes. What's going on? Which side is winning? It's often impossible to tell in this game.

What Intel's support will be isn't clear. I hear that it'll be a thermal noise generator: when you warm up an electronic component, it gets noisy -- and that noise is perfectly unpredictable, thus entirely what you need to scramble data in an unbreakable fashion. It's ironic -- chip designers spend lots of their young lives trying to get rid of noise. Ah, well.

Can't help but feel paranoid about this. Perhaps Intel will just make the output of that circuit look like random noise, but it'll be decodable through a secret algorithm. Or it's just the digitised sound of a Pentium III frying... Igor! More volts!


More news from Spooksville: the FBI has banned employees from bringing Furbys into work. The Feds fear that, armed with their light and sound detectors and considerable on-board processing welly, these cute critters are perfectly equipped to record secrets and take them away... but to where?

I lapse into a fever dream, where James Bond and Captain Kirk are chasing the evil Dr Ghobe' (that's Klingon for 'no', non-trekkies), who has spread an army of tribble-like Furbys around the world. They track him to his lair where he sits, scratching one behind the ears. "So, Mr Bond." he says. "You thought that the Free Radio Internet project was just some whacky ruse thought up by drunken journalists. But no! With this idea and my worldwide Furby collective I shall know everything! Everything!"

When I wake up, I decide it's a perfectly plausible plan for world domination. Watch out for the first Bluetooth-enabled wireless Furbys. My time will have come. A-hahaha! Hahahaha!


Meanwhile, someone else's plan for world domination is going sadly awry. Not only is Bill Gates suffering at the hands of a most unsympathetic court, who look increasingly likely to order pants-down-botty-out-slap-slap-slap, but a load of Linux users have spotted the clause in the Windows end-user agreement that says "if you don't want this, send it back for a refund". Which, since they bought their PCs with Windows on whether they wanted it or not, is exactly what they'll do.

You can play too, you know. Got any shrink-wrap software that fell out of your PC box when you bought it? Corporates: got licences for bundled software on that box you're running as a Novell or Linux server? Round 'em up and send 'em back! Remember: Bill can't make money if we don't give it to him -- and if we ask for it back, he'll be even more attentive! This is the sort of consumer action that fills me with glee and the big companies with horror. Oh, what fun!


What a busy day! Man from Today (the radio programme) in at 10:30 to interview me about online share trading. He extracts comments about what the regulators should do... hey, hold on. I'm a nerd. I know computers. What on earth do I know about the intricacies of financial regulation? Oh, well. Once a media tart, always a media tart. It's going out on Tuesday morning, if you're feeling in need of a reason to get out of the house in a hurry.

Then onto a modem review -- Multitech's USB model, which works a treat -- then news meetings, VPN fiddling and this 'ere diary. Next week? San Francisco for the launch of JINI (watch this space!), I embark on a passionate affair with a minor Royal and the Goodwins MeejaTart Promotion Campaign, 1999, continues!

One last stab'o'fun. Mad electrician? Try i.am/volts (and yes, that's a real URL. Tap it into your browser and see)

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