Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wednesday 29/10/2004My beloved father the self-described 'thick west-country vicar' has long since ceased to be either a vicar or live in the West Country (and you can't be that thick and get an MA from John's at Cambridge, can you?).

Wednesday 29/10/2004
My beloved father the self-described 'thick west-country vicar' has long since ceased to be either a vicar or live in the West Country (and you can't be that thick and get an MA from John's at Cambridge, can you?). However, until this week he's been priest-in-charge of Isleham parish in Cambridgeshire -- his attempts to take early retirement were stumped when the incumbent in his chosen parish had a heart attack about four months after my father arrived. So with the chap invalided out of the service and no replacement on the horizon, my father slipped on the old cassock and did a bit of light priesting.

As of this week -- and to the considerable relief of my mother -- that's over. He's now properly retired, following one final communion service last Sunday that involved a number of theological innovations which I'm sure would have got the old goat burned at the stake back in the days. A lot of work went into sorting out the Creed fifteen hundred years ago together with a number of rather messy schisms and altogether too much politics -- I'm sure the Church Fathers never intended it to be replaced by a version accompanied by a synthetic computerised banjo.

But I digress (it's a family tradition). As I was visiting for this service, I thought I'd perform my own work of mercy and upgrade their digital Freeview set-top box. This was a Nokia 221T I'd bought for them more than a year ago and it was running an old and rather buggy version of the firmware. While updates are occasionally broadcast over the air, you have to know about them and put the box into a special receive mode at the right time: neither of these things is obvious and it never happened. The latest version of the software does all this automatically, but of course you have to get it into the box.

Fortunately, the box has a serial port and can accept an update from a PC -- so I arrived equipped with the firmware and the appropriate updating software. Unfortunately, Nokia decided to make the serial port male, just like the one on a PC, presumably in case anyone ever decided to offer a subscription service that needed a modem.

Of course, nobody has. The only thing that ever gets plugged into that socket is a PC -- which means the dreaded Null Modem Cable is needed.

It's been a long time since I've had to tackle RS-232 head on, and whoever came up with the old saying that "any job involving serial cables, no matter how trivial it may seem, takes one-man day" deserves a medal for spot-onification. I started at 8 p.m., and by 2 a.m. I was a desperate man. I'd scoured the parish for cables, test meters and spare adaptors. I'd found a Laplink cable (remember them?) in the attic of an ex-veterinarian friend of my father's and got a digital meter from the chap next door (who had just that second come back from the hospital following a heart operation, and was rather bemused by the local priest turning up on the doorstep and asking for such things). I'd tried uploading the software from a laptop, a tablet PC and a desktop running Windows 98. I'd tried about 50 combinations of cables. I'd even cannibalised an old (and archaeologically significant) Sinclair QL serial lead for the right sort of connector.

Nothing worked. The set-top box remained stubbornly attached to version 1.0 of the firmware, and as I was determined to remain stubbornly attached to my sanity I called it a night and gave up.

Nokia: get a clue. Get USB. There is no place in the modern world for the arcane nonsense of RS-232, especially when configured in a way nobody will ever use. You have given an old man an extra strand of grey hair, and a little part of my soul will forever curse you.