Gill Smith
Gill Smith - Comedy Writer & Performer

Gill's Journal, Issue

Eureka
Quarterly magazine of The ARM Club the Leading Independant
RISC OS Computer User Club.

This new year everyone who calls themself a spod deserves to stand up and give themselves a pat on the back. Ok, that involves a bit too much contortionism - stick to feeling proud of yourselves. I suppose you'll want me to explain why. Alright then. No, it's not because of the enormous success of RISC OS '99, although I should say that those who sorted that out deserve a lot more than a pat on the back. No, it's because as of last November, you spods have officially been recognised publicly! (Cue wild cheering!)

So spods get recognised at last, but has the Reader's Digest got it right? Gill Smith looks at their definition and the perils spods face in the new century.

November's issue of Reader's Digest, in the regular feature "It pays to Enrich your Word Power" posed the question of what a 'spod' is. They aren't the first people to ask me such a question, but they are the first to also answer it. The traditional four possibilities that RD offer mostly miss the mark, but one comes close. Anyone favour 'garden tool'? Or perhaps 'unappetising meal' or 'office' ? I thought not.

I don't really agree with the definition they give as correct - 'a dull person' - with a fuller description, which implies a bookworm. Personally, I think spods are much more technologically advanced than a bookworm. Books are only in the spod's vocabulary because they were one of the first products sold by e-commerce on the internet. Of course, all spods use 'Bookmarks' with abandon, but that's due to stealing the term from the dark ages, where it goes back further than the days of the Acorn Electron.

In spite of this minor dispute I have with RD, this is interesting proof that 'spod' has entered the English language. Recognising this, if felt it my duty to go shopping instead of attending the Birmingham show, as I wouldn't want to be mistaken for a spod, and having helped out at Epsom, that could have been dangerous. I can only apologise to anyone who'd hoped to say 'hello' there - I have a reputation to maintain you know! My husband managed somehow to allow himself to get to a show approximately 30 mins late - the others looked confused when he arrived - normally you expect to see Toby a good hour before anything starts!

So, fully recognised by the great British public, what does the future hold for spods? Well, there are many options, and largely we will all have to wait and see. RISC OS '99 gave you the chance to see how the Acorn market has changed, adapted and - dare I say it - in places, even thrived, in just one year since Acorn gave up the ghost, leaving everyone confused. Most people I spoke to at the show seemed impressed by the new atmosphere.

Personally, I never had the chance to see Acorn at their best, so I get occasional History lessons from spods who watched the rise of Acorn through slightly rose-tinted spectacles. They had to watch and wonder just over a year ago, when the changes at Acorn left their friends worrying about jobs, no certain future for ARM technology in personal computers, and only misty views of what might happen to The ARM Club. Instead of gracefully letting things go, they organised a show, somehow miraculously timed, that the only complaints we've heard from the industry is from those who refused to come!

Beyond that, the future is still unclear. New technology, in new places - such as the graphics on "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" - now sold around the world, using the same technology, although rumour has it the Italians aren't impressed by winning a million lira and still needing more cash for the bus ticket home! This is bringing money into the arena, allowing further development to be funded, and giving the future of ARM technology that "will-he? wont-he?" quality of the 125,000 question.

Outside of the RISC market, technology is changing at it's usual fast pace, with digital TV, DVD, and a constant stream of simpler and cheaper ways to get on the internet. It's definitely time for an Acorn web browser to compare in functionality with the big names in PC technology, as competition seems to be moving in that direction. TVs are getting bigger and stranger shaped, just as computers are becoming smaller and stranger coloured. This millennium could start with one of the most exciting centuries you've ever lived in!

More and more of us use a computer of some sort at work. Suddenly, it simply is a way of life. Every Christmas TV advert screamed out to get your credit card out at Spend.Lots.com! Friends e-mail you jokes many times over, forgetting that you sent it to them a few days before. Life starts to depend on the machine on the desk. For most of us, at work at least, that's a PC running some system designed by a guy called Bill from the states. You may have heard of him. He's had a bit of bother with the law recently. As we left work on Christmas eve, we were still awaiting a version that definitely wouldn't have any problems in January. We probably still are, when you read this, in about February. Nothing seems to have gone too badly wrong, sadly. So much for a week off while they fixed everything - I'm going to have to get the Millenium 'flu bug instead, now that it's officially an epidemic.

As for the real 'Millenium bug' that passed so quietly, we have only have ourselves to blame for it at all. We got two digit dates, because this 'passing phase' of having computers at home and in every business wasn't going to last. It still hasn't quite passed. Now we even have to check the technology in our videos and microwaves for Millenium compliance. That's assuming you're in the small percentage of the population who can program the vid in the first place.

Of course, although I started writing this on a PC (at lunchtime!) I had it safely backed up on the RISC PC at home, to ensure that it does actually get to you in this first Eureka issue of the New Millenium. Well, I'm still alive, and haven't been hit by a plane falling out of the sky - I trust you're fine too? Seemed a bit daft, checking that the fridge will still work, but for those of you with ARM technology, knowing that if anything goes wrong, you could still e-mail for pizza, if the phone lines were fine and the Pizza company running a compliant system.

I'm just amused by all the hype. By the time you read this, planes were supposed to have plummeted from the sky, hospitals were supposed to have stopped working - bring a torch with your millenium baby, cars were thought to do all sorts of strange things, and your company should have been wishing that they'd offered you much more money to work, as the phone lines were going to go mad with trivial questions from the exciting sort of people who are checking their systems at midnight - find a party!

Your television, video, Hi-Fi and even telephone lines were possibly going to stop working, and the whole modern world was expected come to a standstill. As it was, our phone line went down before Christmas instead, due, we believe, to the 'wrong kind of snow' in our line box, and I spent New Years Eve afternoon watching TV and wondering if Peter Snow's Millenium bug Swingometer was bug-free. It seemed to be, disappointingly.

Power companies were thought likely to fail, and we'd all be back to the dark ages (about 1975) but worse still, you'd have to have to make sure you could find a good old fashioned pub that pulls it's pints properly - the biggest bug catastrophe was going to be if the electronic pumps stopped working at midnight!

Little do most of the unsuspecting public know, but actually, it still isn't all over. There are a whole series of other dates that may cause complications. The next, approaching fast, is February 29th , as some systems may not be able to cope with the complications of a leap year, in a century year (meaning there shouldn't be one) but a special century year (meaning there should.) I'm not sure I follow it all, so I just hope that the original programmers had at least worked that out. It's the sort of technical trivia I know most of my techie friends would have liked!

Just in case I've confused you, there is a Leap day this year. The one day in four years that a girl can propose to you, instead of vice versa, and you'll be stuck behind your office computer, trying to check that it's all still working efficiently. Real pity, now that I've even caught the lovely Philippa Forester referring to spods. Ho hum. Such is the life of a bookish, dull person. Sorry.

Written by Gill Smith. Published Spring 2000. Reproduced with permission.