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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

This week: St Peter "can't work under these conditions", bytes not bikes, Linux and lucre, show us yer ID darlin', and TV or not TV?
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

(Apologies for the non-appearance of the diary last week. This was due to evil hairy demons from the dark chasms of chaos infesting my computer and sucking the soulforce out of the very words I wrote. That or Windows 98 crashing once too often -- which may well amount to the same thing. If they make Exorcist II, I'm sure the DoJ will have a leading role...)

Monday 08/03/1999

Even the computer's wearing a black armband today at the news that Stanley Kubrick -- a man who wilfully made good movies -- has unexpectedly died. As the progenitor of 2001 he has a special place in the hearts of the science-fiction intelligentsia, most of whom still haven't got over the shock of being taken seriously for the first, and almost the last, time. It's especially sad for such people that AI -- the next film in production after Eyes Wide Shut -- is now presumably gone for good, as this promised to be really rather special. Kubrick building a new Earth with computer graphics -- ah, well. I expect St Peter is already sulking in his trailer, having refused to open the Pearly Gates for the sixtieth time 'until you get it right'.

For me, the bitter disappointment at AI going with Kubrick to the grave highlights one of the sadnesses of current technology: the lack of imagination. We have synthesisers that can create more instruments in a day than we've managed in four thousand years. Computer animation techniques that build universes free of the chains of physics. A whirling hyperstorm of minds on the Web that communicate across the world with as much ease as you and I around a camp fire. And what do we get? Something a bit closer to a piano than last year. Two cute insect movies. And sites trying to be television, or magazines.

It's no good looking at what used to be called the avant-garde: the paucity of new ideas at the ICA is only matched by the self-satisfied solipsism which passes as new thinking. We have built our wings: why is nobody in the sky? Kubrick said that he had been compared to Icarus, in that he flew too high and fell to earth. But, he continued, he was never sure whether that meant you just shouldn't try or whether it meant you should reconsider that whole wax-and-feathers business.

Tuesday 09/03/1999

It's Budget Day, a time of great traditions -- Gordon Brown holding up his red briefcase at arm's length, the taxman holding up the rest of us at gunpoint and the ancient ceremony of The Web Reduced To A Crawl. Eventually, we get through to the BBC's ready reckoner which asks us how much we earn, who we sleep with and how much we smoke -- I wonder if this is being recorded -- and promptly informs us that we'll be better off to the tune of Bolivia's GNP. Ooops. My mistake.

It's impressively stage managed, but illustrates another deadening lack of imagination. It's wonderful that there'll be tax benefits for research and development in industry -- if only we had much of an industry left to benefit from it. And tax-free computers at home for employees -- splendid idea. Sales of Quake should skyrocket.

And for the new, online economy? The breaks for e-commerce? The initiatives to incite investment in infrastructure, and encourage people to move into the new economy?

Yeah. The new industrial revolution's going on in California (where 40% of global internet traffic originates or terminates -- golly) and the best New Labour can offer to help us catch up is the loan of a company pushbike.

Wednesday 10/03/1999

Oh, cheer up, Goodwins! Let's look at Linux -- an increasingly popular pastime, since any mention of the L-word online automatically generates thousands of hits and hundreds of irate emails. You should see some of the incoherent personal attacks we get: I know an idea isn't responsible for the people who believe in it, but it really doesn't help if a straightforward report about, say, some of IBM's reservations about the operating system results in a two-page vomitorium of abuse.

Today, Corel says its putting a lot more applications software onto Linux. Good. And I peer over the shoulder of Chris Lewis (Webmaster extraordinaire) at Gnome, which is now out in Version 1. As an applications framework and front-end it's very impressive: you still couldn't give it to a new user and expect instant joy, but you can begin to see how to get there from here. And RedHat has accepted money from just about everyone in the world...

Trouble is, as the IBMs and Compaqs of this world are starting to seriously support Linux with money, time and people, they're going to want control. And there's no way they can be resisted: the whole open source movement is designed to encourage contributions. Watch out for some seriously exciting running battles...

Thursday 11/03/1999

Everyone gets flustered because Intel has slipped that nasty processor ID stuff into Pentium IIs without telling us! No! We'll all be watched from afar!

All nonsense, of course. What will any remote processor ID reporting use? Software. And that software will be what, precisely? Patchable. And will it be possible to plumb in false IDs, random IDs, the ID of the bloke on the next desk? Of course.

Don't worry. Be happy.

Friday 12/03/1999

Some curiously localised form of global warming has hit London this morning, as the city basks in a late spring day mistakenly delivered two months early. This is of little interest to me, of course: the world outside has few attractions since I got my DSL connection.

Today's task -- grab the new Star Wars trailer from www.starwars.com. 25 megabytes? It comes in quicker than I can scrabble around to plug in the hifi to the computer. Then there's an eight-part streamed video diary of the making of the film, which zooms in at 300Kbps for half an hour without so much as a hiccough. The more I use this technology, the better it gets -- come on, BT, get it out for the lads! (*)

Meanwhile, I read in the Economist that interactive TV -- delivered by DSL, of course -- is continuing to fail to make money anywhere. Of course it won't! It's a deadly dull concept! But telephone companies have always wanted to be broadcasters, and have been driven mad with desire: forget it, chums. Just give us the bloody bandwidth and let us develop our own ideas. We'll get there in the end.

(* and lasses, of course)

(PS -- enormous congratulations to Andrew Brown, of diary entries passim. His wonderful new book, The Darwin Wars, is now at FORTY-ONE in the Amazon.co.uk best-seller lists. Anyone with an interest in just how entertainingly human those whacky scientists can be should immediately buy a copy. And one for any evolved lifeforms you happen to know. They'll thank you for it)

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