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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

This week: a 2Mbps hole in my life, rancour in the stocks, a tale of two ISPs, the Glasgow cellphones that fazed BT, and Mexican electrons.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Monday 19/4/1999

It's been a ropy old weekend on the DSL trial. Sometimes it worketh, sometimes it worketh not, and none may know the passing of the packets. Rumours from people who claim to know people on the inside are rife, but it's fair to say that BT is not having a good time of things.

What this highlights is the extent to which a permanent Net connection at home transforms the computer. With dial-up, you have to have some task in mind. With DSL -- or cable, or whatever -- you dip into the Net as you would a bookshelf. It soon becomes a serious habit: you find yourself catching Michael Nyman's name on the credits to a TV show, thinking "Whatever happened to Peter Greenaway?" and just throwing his name at AltaVista to find out. (What you find out, however, is that Peter Greenaway fans don't put up normal web pages where you find information. No. They create non-linear experiences to tantalise and delight -- or frustrate and dismay, if you actually want to know something. Thanks, guys. It turns out he's doing operas involving animal sex. Aren't you glad you know?)

When the link's not there, you realise that you pop on and off the Net many times a day for all sorts of reasons. The computer has become part of your life -- it's yer actual information appliance. None of this -- well, almost none -- depends on high bandwidth: it'd be almost as good at 56k, most of the time. The biggest single thing BT could do for the good of the country is to make local calls free. It'll drive ecommerce, it'll create a competitive market between US and UK companies and it'll hugely encourage the sort of small Web-based startups that are going to be the bedrock of the new economy.


Tuesday 20/4/1999

Crash! That's the sound of ZDNet's new share price plummeting by around 20% in a handful of hours. Is this the big Internet stock crash we've all been nervously awaiting? The Yahoo! message boards where the net traders hang out are full of amazing amounts of venom -- one character ladles out invective-heavy deprecations of ZD together with the prediction that the stock will be worthless by the end of the day. It has all the atmosphere of a bare-knuckle fight, and if it wasn't for the fact that the stock price does have some implications for the success of the company that employs me it'd all be hugely entertaining.

If you want to see what a shareholding democracy is actually like, go and look at the ZD message board. You'll long for the day when investment meant a Post Office savings book...

Wednesday 21/4/1999

Awww! Good old Cix! This faithful labrador of an online conferencing system has learned a new trick -- it's to be allowed to register .COM, .NET and .ORG domain names! Which is only good news: the survival of such places is never to be taken for granted, and in a world where the only way forward seems to be to get millions of people and make tons of noise it's very pleasing to see other ways of doing things.

Not such a good vibe for CompuServe, however. You may recall that it decided to withdraw all the journalists' free accounts and shut down the hacks' forum, in some bizarre drive to alienate anyone who might think good of it. Well, the latest rumour is that if you phone up and say you're cancelling your account they're liable to say you can use the service free for a couple of months -- not the sign of a company flush with revenue, that. And it makes the decision to kick out all the journalists even more mysterious -- it's a good thing parent company AOL's making all that money, eh?

Thursday 22/4/1999

You know all that stuff about mobile phones microwaving your head? A crew in Strathclyde has gone one better, and put mobile phones on the exact frequency that microwave ovens use. It's the same band as wireless networking, Bluetooth and just anything else new uses -- 2.4GHz. The company, Atlantic Telecommunications, went to the DTI and said 'Can we put a mobile phone service on this band?' and the DTI went 'uuuuh... well, it's not really supposed to be for that. But why not?' and let them.

The experiment, involving bunging repeaters on the top of Glasgow tower blocks, was a great success. So much so that the DTI decided to carve the rest of the country up into zones to sell licences for others to do the same. They also asked the telecomms industry what they thought about all this -- and poor old BT missed the bus. In a glorious example of sulkiness, it claims to have missed the announcement from the DTI because the staff were all 'on holiday' -- but don't take my word for it. The DTI has a policy of posting responses to consultations on the Web, so you can see BT pouting the corporate lip for yourself.

Friday 23/4/1999 Nice little snippet from Chris Lewis, webmaestro of ZDNet. He's been following the career of the Netwinder, a little Linux box originally made by Corel in Canada. Corel sold it to a hardware company called HCC, which is continuing the unit's development and is clearly both enthusiastic and talented. Chris got a couple of Netwinders out of them, and has been happily tinkering when not talking to HCC about the product.

It turns out that they've sold more than a thousand to the Mexican education authorities, for classroom use. One of the big factors was the machine's power consumption. It uses the StrongARM processor, which is abstemious to a fault and the whole computer takes less than 15 watts, which is miserly by anyone's standards. In places like Mexico, where electricity is very expensive, this is a huge bonus. It's always good to get a perspective on how computing works in places outside the rich Western countries, where -- of course -- it has by far the greatest potential to make things better.


"Spam leaves bad taste in mouth of Net users" ran the headline. Whatever possessed me to misread the first word as "Sperm"? I think I'd better go and lie down in a darkened room for a weekend...

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