Paul Smith's 'stuff' for Indie Magazine


The only non-artificial thing in this picture is my idiot grin.

- - - - INDIE MAGAZINE - - - -

The home of the 'Paul Smith...' feature

Or how I found myself the 'Clarkson' of the PC cables, peripherals and components world but without the curly hair and the jeans.

I’ve been a columnist and contributor to The Indie Magazine, a monthly trade publication for independent computer and console retailers, since 1997. I landed the gig when I was producing entertaining adverts for the company I worked for back then, the amusingly titled Assmann Electronics, for inclusion in the magazine.

Click on an icon to see the full-sized advert:
(Sorry about the poor quality reproductions of
these. My scanner didn't seem to like them.)

The advert I did for the inside cover of Indie. August 1996 edition The advert I did for the inside cover of Indie. September 1996 edition The advert I did for the inside cover of Indie. October 1996 edition The advert I did for the inside cover of Indie. November 1996 edition The advert I did for the inside cover of Indie. December 1996 edition
The advert I did for the inside cover of Indie. September 1997 edition The advert I did for the inside cover of Indie. October 1997 edition The advert I did for the inside cover of Indie. November 1997 edition The advert I did for the inside cover of Indie. December 1997 edition

Having been invited to do a little something for the mag, initially I wrote under the name of Tammy (no, not my ‘weekend’ name) for the feature ‘Tammy’s Tales from Telesales’...

Click on an icon to see the full-sized feature:

The feature I wrote for the back page of Indie. November 1997 edition The feature I wrote for the back page of Indie. December 1997 edition The feature I wrote for the back page of Indie. February 1998 edition The heavily rewritten and edited feature I wrote for page four of Indie. March 1998 edition

...However it was a bit crap, so Dale Bradford (Editor of Indie) asked me to do a slightly more serious column on the wonderful, dynamic I.T. industry. And so ‘Paul's Piece’ was born.

Click on a column below to see the full-sized feature:

The feature I wrote for Indie. July 1998 edition

The feature I wrote for Indie. August 1998 edition

The feature I wrote for Indie. September 1998 edition

The feature I wrote for Indie. October 1998 edition

The feature I wrote for Indie. November 1998 edition

I soon out-grew the slim column and was awarded a regular (monthly) whole page all to myself!

The page I wrote for Indie. December 1998 edition

And then, to the horror of the 3,500+ per month readership, I was reduced back down to half a page...

Below is my output for the ‘Paul's Soap Box’ and latterly 'Paul Smith Writes...' features since February 1999, shortly after I had resigned from a previous job. Please remember these were written for 'The Trade' and so you may not get every reference and in-joke. I'm sorry. Become an independent computer or console retailer and perhaps it will all make a lot more sense. Thanks. Remember too that these are the 'Pre-hacked-about-by-my-editor' versions. The ones which appeared in Indie Magazine were often far shorter and/or ruder and more libellous. If you want any or all of this stuff as anything other than a Word .DOC file, please e-mail me and I’ll send it/them in whatever format you want. Thanks.

August 2002 - The (un)Wired Generation
July 2002 - My plans for a digital empire
June 2002 - X-Bo(llo)x?
[ Comedy Interlude ]
May 2002 - It's a mad mad mad mad mad mad W-W-World
April 2002 (unused) - Words are a cage.
April 2002 (used) - The low-down on what's up.
March 2002 - Plug in, turn on, DV out.
February 2002 - A rose by any other name...
January 2002 - The subtle Art of Management.
A.K.A. 'Barely Managing'.


December 2001 - Those little things that say so much.
November 2001 - Choice is evil.
October 2001 - ECTSssszzzzzz...
September 2001 - Hardware fondness.
August 2001 (maybe) - Dangers of TV watching.
August 2001 (100% sure) - The Yankee Dollar.
July 2001 - Not here to Console you.
June 2001 - Old & Smelly.
May 2001 - It's been emotional.
April 2001 - Future news.
March 2001 - Selling myself.
February 2001 - Urine and smiles.
January 2001 - Fatal Hard Driving.

December 2000 - Christmas treats.
November 2000 - Faking it.
October 2000 - Disappointment.
September 2000 - Re-branding and e-Love.
August 2000 (1st version, rejected!) - Easy life.
August 2000 - Sony PrayStation.
[ Comedy Interlude ]
July 2000 - Lovely Charlies.
June 2000 - Being Big.
May 2000 - How did I get here?
April 2000 - W-W-Why?
March 2000 - Trade-marked for life.
February 2000 (1st, unused version) - Nightclubbing.
February 2000 - Bozo Account Managers.
January 2000 - Room 101. Bozo customers.

December 1999 - Pre-lennium Madness.
November 1999 - I went on holiday.
October 1999 - Things to try at home.
September 1999 - Just the fax ma'am, just the fax.
August 1999 - We have nothing to fear...
July 1999 - I am Scum.
June 1999 - The PC is dead.
May 1999 - Free things at Trade Shows.
April 1999 - Everyone has their place.
March 1999 - The Moral Maze.
February 1999 - "I RESIGN!"

February 1999

Why can't good telesales people stay at the job?

I'm sure you read Decembers Dealers Diary on page 36 of the Indie. This is a carefully worded response to Sparks question about distribution contacts and their migratory habits. In common with everyone except gynaecologists, every job I've done has had both an up side and a down. I like to think of it as the jobs 'Clash' rating after the band of the same name, because it's a question of "should I stay or should I go?" For example:

A long time ago I sold PCs and 'macs for Ryman the Stationers, where the good side was meeting and working with my beautiful girlfriend, Judith. The downside was a Manageress who was a Nazi Bitch Queen from Hell. After nine months the cons had outweighed the pros and so I resigned. And it's just as well, or I'd still be there, selling calculators and mobile 'phones and putting up with a continuous steaming river of bullshit for £11k p.a.

Later I had a job in telesales, a bit like the one I've got now. On the up side I enjoyed the work, had a great relationship with customers and colleagues and earned reasonable money. Without blowing my own trumpet too much, I was doing what I'm good at, being a proactive, friendly, well informed, accurate and entertaining account manager. On the down side, the beverage machine sometimes ran out of Diet Coke™ and the sandwich van was often late. Result: Happiness. However… I failed to hit target for a couple of months, which ain't good. Had I lost my silky sales skills or were there other factors at play? Had our move of warehouse lost me some local business? Had a serious lack of stock suppressed my sales figures? Had a change of management dented my confidence in the future of the company? Had an unfeasible sales target caused a crisis of motivation? I thought so. It was a fateful day when I walked into that office, explained the reasons why I was having a problem hitting my figures and asked for a little bit of help. It wasn't forthcoming. Call me crazy but I need some enthusiasm to do the job. That enthusiasm can be bought with a nice pay cheque at the end of the month or by doing satisfying and enjoyable work, better still both. Perhaps I'm greedy (a bad thing in a salesman?) because I wasn't doing the job for my basic, I was doing it for the commission, and I like to think targets are meant to be aimed for and with hard work reached. Being bottom of the '% of target' pile wasn't doing anything good for my professional pride either. The Clash rating looked shaky, so I quickly evaluated my position. I wasn't going to earn any bonus for a bit and I'd stopped enjoying myself. IT jobs in the south -east aren't hard to come by for someone with my experience, as reflected by the number of customers who'd playfully tried to head-hunt me. I had a big, fat bank account, which from a height looked remarkably like a safety net… Then I realised sometimes it's the devil you don't know that's the more attractive prospect.

So in my best Prisoner voice, I resigned.

Not without regret though. I would miss my colleagues and customers (who I'd like to thank for their kind words of support), people I regard as friends. I didn't like doing it. I don't enjoy disruption and hassle. I'm a fighter, not a quitter, but some fights you win by walking away from them. As one cliché closes another opens and a world of opportunities awaited me as I drove home. Once there, I was gassed by some undertakers and awoke in a strange world where no one would make eye contact, or talk to me, a bit like a Tiny store. I was chased by a giant white ball and everyone referred to me by my direct-dial 'phone number. But it wasn't real. I wasn't a number anymore, I was a free man! The next morning I vowed to cut hallucinogenic drugs right out of my diet. Later that same day I'd done two interviews and had two firm job offers, and I hadn't even had a chance to re-type my CV. So here's your answer to why your sales contacts change so often. The bad ones are killed and eaten, which is fair enough. The good ones make it look easy which can be a two edged sword. The core problem, as I see it, is if you think it's prices or brand names that sell IT products perhaps you're forgetting that it's sales people that sell them.

My advice to satisfied retailers is if your distribution contact is darn good and you want to keep them, don't be shy, tell them. Then write to (or e-mail) their guv'nor, just to let them know why their firm is getting your valuable business. Everyone likes a pat on the back and so will smile and be happy and you'll get a nice warm feeling inside. The tangible benefit is when your contact loves you they'll be less inclined to screw you on price, proving that a little appreciation goes a long way in this cynical business. To fellow account managers I say loyalty to your firm is important because you're being trusted with valuable customers. Stick it out through the hard times with a smile and a laugh and all the world will be yours. If you're good, you'll inevitably climb the ladder of success, which is usually A Good Thing. However don't be blind to opportunities beyond your current employer because maybe grass that looks greener actually is. If you realise you've got more in common with Gynaecologists than you thought, because you're both working with a bunch of [word removed on legal advice] then don't put up with it. Quality of life is everything and job satisfaction, as well as remuneration, has a part to play.

Next Month: Back to light-hearted japes and fluffy whimsy a subject close to retailers hearts…. Retailers spleens.

Paul 'happy bunny' Smith is a Business Development Manager. No, really.

Don't read it, download it!

March 1999

The moral maze may sound like a cheesy Channel Five game show hosted by everyone's favourite guy, Graham Norton, but it's actually the serious subject of this months Soapbox. Following the on going Pornography theme in The Indie (see the October 1998 issue on saucy software and splattered across every letters page since), I'm going to research the dark underbelly of this complex subject on your behalf, strictly in the name of quality journalism you understand. We're all adults here, aren't we? (I can hear giggling at the back). If not I suggest you stop reading now, or else risk seeing something that may disturb you, for this is a subject for much moralising. A subject to question individual freedoms and also one for hypocrisy. You already know that PC's and Porn go together like politics and corruption. The Internet is a pervert's paradise. There's no escaping the fact that if you bring a dirty book home from Holland then customs will catch you, confiscate it and do a cavity search for more. Download a ton of Hot Dutch Tottie from the web, however, and no one will ever know. Video clips, hi-res. pictures, chat rooms, even text files all offer Onanistic pleasures (I'm told). Now the home groan (sorry, grown) product is also becoming popular, in the same way video cameras aren't just for videoing children's birthday parties. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. The following is virtually a true story, only the names and events have been changed to protect the (and the not so) innocent and also protect any future business I might enjoy with a man we'll refer to only as 'Bob'...

Byte the Bullet Computers is a customer of mine, fronted by the wild 'n' crazy Bob. Whilst enjoying our weekly chat, (which involved The League of Gentlemen and the hole in the Ozone layer, and what these things mean to the independent computer retailer, interspersed with my asking if he'd like to buy a product or two and him replying no) he mentioned a recent incident. A regular and well-liked customer, who we'll call 'Mr Customer', had brought his PC in for a Ram and Processor upgrade. While in his possession, Bob, being a thorough chap, gave the machine a quick service, to the tune of a scandisk and defrag. A directory name caught his eye as it flicked past, as they sometimes do. Inquisitive Bob had a quick peek on the machines hard-drive. This is the sort of peek which involves looking for hidden files and folders, you understand. Perhaps you're tutting. Well, if he'd found Gary Glitter (allegedly) type pictures and called the police he'd have been hailed a hero for spotting a dangerous pervert. However what Bob found was of an altogether different nature. Having sold 'Mr Customer' a digital camera some months earlier Bob wasn't entirely shocked to discover undraped pictures of 'Mrs Customer' in a hidden directory. After all, why else do people buy Polaroid and other instant cameras? (Or is that just me?) Anyhow, he waded through increasingly continental bitmaps until a growing feeling of Peeping Tom-hood and mild (only mild, mind) self-disgust made him switch off. After lunch, the day was quiet and boredom, that root of much mischief, raised its ugly head. Being by nature curious (in both senses of the word) Bob fired the tower up again in search of voyeuristic pleasures. In later pictures Mrs Customer appeared to be a regular purchaser at Ann Summers parties. Eventually Bob turned the PC off with an acute feeling of embarrassment. At least I think he said he was embarrassed. By this time his recounting of the incident down the 'phone was being fitted around uncontrollable laughter. Of course when Mr Customer came into the shop to collect his upgraded machine he may have noticed how Bob was avoiding eye contact and suppressing a grin. Or he may not. Afterwards, Bob felt like a dirty old man. So he went out and found a dirty old- No, that isn't right. He reasoned that if Mr Customer hadn't been so careless the incident would never have happened, which just might be another way of saying 'I feel a bit guilty and want to blame someone else'.

I've spoken to a number of my customers about this issue. The response has been everything from frank admissions to total rejection. One chuckling shop owner told me thorough drive checks were frequently made and anything 'good' saved to a company drive for further (private) enjoyment. I was told, "If you send a book to be rebound, you can expect someone to read it, can't you? It's just human nature to be curious". (Is your reaction suitably disapproving?) The tale was recounted of a female customer who was complaining of too little drive space. The Pc had two gigabytes of the husbands saucy Internet sauced images tucked away on it. Although the shop owner hushed that incident up in the name of matrimonial harmony, she added had they discovered anything illegal it would naturally have been reported to the police. An ex-engineer, now purchaser for a large firm that had, in the past, reported at least one customer to the police explained his companies' policy was one of vigilance. If an icon was marked with a suggestive title it would be investigated, but otherwise the customers data was sacrosanct. He also made the point that if looking for images is acceptable, where do you stop? Document files could also easily include material which under the obscene publications act would be illegal to own. A third retailer dismissed the idea of inspecting customers drives as 'weird'. He said nothing like that happened in his shop and any member of staff caught doing anything unnecessary to a customers data would be instantly dismissed as that would be a clear betrayal of the customers trust. He added that after Mr Glitters (allegedly) well publicised downfall, any pervert with half a brain would back up their files and erase them prior to any work being done on their machine. Logically he felt that if he were to find something unacceptable on a customers Pc he would be placing himself in a moral dilemma. Like a burglar who discovers a murder victim, he shouldn't have been there in the first place.

So let's have a quick vote. Hands up those of you who wouldn't investigate a directory named 'iffy pics'.

Thought so.

This months product news is on another sticky subject. Adhesive labels. Most of you are dealing in CDR and CDRW drives these days which is good as the market for these products is still growing fast and as prices continue to fall they'll only get more popular. However, the ideal add-on sale (apart from media) is still slipping past many of you. I refer, of course, to the Pressit CD Labeller. Here we have a foolproof product with built in repeat sales in the shape of extra blank labels. The idea is you can effectively label, decorate and generally groovy-up home-made CDs so they look far more professional than simple hand written notes, in a way which centres the label properly to avoid drive damaging vibration. I've also heard that some CD marker pens contain chemicals that can damage the recording over time, which is something else to avoid. To sum up: If you sell CDR drives, sell these! (Now available through us, naturally.)

Paul Smith is available for Weddings and Bar Mitszars.

Don't read it, download it!

April 1999

The world has a function for everyone. Smart, witty people end up as independent computer retailers while dumb, dull ones work for local councils designing one way systems. People without charisma get to work for Post Office Counters Ltd and those without a soul become traffic wardens. Beautiful women become models, while ones with more ambition become Prime Minister. Tiny men become Jockeys. Everyone has his or her place and mine is behind a phone. You've seen the picture; I have the perfect face for telesales. This month though I've been out of the office quite a bit making a customer visit or two. In doing so my level of respect for Road Reps has gone up enormously. It's a battlefield out there! No wonder they all drive at 100mph in their Mondeo's, they're just trying to get as much horrendous traffic behind them as possible. The next time a rep arrives breathless and wild eyed at your door an hour after he was supposed to, don't ask him why he's made you wait for him, just put your arm around his shoulders and usher him to some sweet tea instead. He'll thank you for it. Continuing the 'Functional People' theme, here's some broader 'industry comment'. Picture the scene…

"Ah come in Mr….?"
"They call me Brusier"
"Well, Bruiser, please take a seat"
"Thanks, that'll look nice in my squalid council flat."
"Er, right. So, just a few questions… I see you have a few tattoos…"
"Over 40% of my body… mostly naked girls, skulls, Bulldogs and Union Jack flags, which is odd, see, because I hate the Welsh and Scottish with a passion."
"The 'cut here' one is very effective. Ok, Do you have a criminal record?"
"Nothin' at all except for GBH, ABH, wounding with intent to kill and a string of petty thefts."
"Aha. I'll just make a note of that…. Previous employment?"
"I did a paper round for a week when I was 12"
"Why did you stop?"
"I just couldn't be arsed"
"And what have you done in the twenty years since?"
"I used to steal high performance cars and thrash them… and I've eaten a lot of high cholesterol food."
"I see, I see. What about your hobbies?"
"I enjoy being rude, bloody-minded and displaying an aggressive attitude."
"Lovely, and tell me Bruiser, why do you want this job?"
"I've always wanted to miss handle and lose valuable packages containing fragile, expensive things. Or steal them. I really want a job with a long lunch break, long tea breaks and long fag breaks… and I still want to moan endlessly about it."
"You seem ideal! Congratulations Bruiser, you've passed the interview with flying colours! Welcome to Zappy Couriers!"
"Does that mean I can drive seven and a half tons of overloaded truck in a manner which displays utter contempt for other road users and total disregard for human life?"
"Yes indeed!"
"Me mum will be so proud!"

Suppliers are bastards, aren't they? We buy a special line in for one particular trade customer that we have to source in the UK. I placed my order with a large, well known distie on Friday at 3pm, expecting delivery on the next Monday, which I was told wouldn't be a problem. I called my customer and confirmed I'd ship to him for a Tuesday delivery… Is this sounding like a familiar story? Well, when I called on Monday at 4pm to ask when the courier might call, my sales contact denied all knowledge of the order and then changed his story. "Your stock has definitely gone, I'll check where it is with the courier." I chased him again at 5 o'clock and he said the couriers hadn't got back to him but he'd call them again and definitely, definitely call me back before 5.30… Half past eleven on Tuesday morning he called to tell me my stuff had been miss-directed to Barnsley and I'd have it Wednesday, 10am sharp. I called my customer who, by this time, was getting a bit anxious. I explained the whole sorry story and he being a relaxed and reasonable chap agreed Thursday-to-him would have to do. Wednesday mid day I'd had enough and called my suppliers in a foul mood. Fortunately for him my usual contact was out, so I spoke to a helpful salesgirl instead. "Oh", she said, "It's still sat in our Warehouse. It's down as a customer collection. Isn't that what you wanted?" I turned Perqual Haream then Smoke On The Water. (A whiter shade of pale, then deep purple). "Is it bollox!?" I exclaimed. We sent one of our reps up with a van to collect the goods and deliver them direct to my customer too. The whole episode could have made me look like a 'furry-friend' in my customers eyes if he wasn't an understanding bloke who trusts me to give the best service to him that I can. I've written to the sales manager at my supplier to outline my treatment and why I've been seriously considering avoiding doing any business with them in future. I was tempted to include an invoice for 200 miles worth of Diesel too. But I know one bad apple doesn't spoil an entire orchard, so I'll still buy from them through a nice lady called Claire. I also E-Mailed my ex-account manager there with a Turettes Syndrome style note, expressing in the fullest flowing terms what I thought of his service and the quality of his oh-so-poor lies. After all, was it so unlikely I was going to find out the courier had never even seen the stuff? Bullshit is sticky stuff and should only be handled by an expert! The moral of this story is; cocking-up makes you human, covering-up makes you stupid and covering-up really badly makes you a spam* called Robert. You know who you are. Suppliers aren't bastards, but some of the people working for them are.

"Which is heavier, a ton of lead or a ton of feathers?" A simple enough question and one that's been around for so long you'd think everyone would know the answer. "It's a trick question," came the reply. I agreed, it was a trick question. "Then it's the feathers!" She chirped without irony. I put my head in my hands. Logically half this country's population is of below average intelligence. Worse than that, one in ten people must consequently be in the bottom 10%. That's 6 million people. It's those kinds of statistics that scared me out of retail and into the relative sanctuary of distribution in the first place. I exclusively deal with smart business people who've built themselves a niche in this hard world by selling complex IT products and services. They are sentient multi-cellular beings far above the primeval goo. However, they deal daily with mental amoebas that think nothing of deleting system files because they look 'messy'. People who can't read the manual, not just won't. (I'd like to point out I'm a big fan of adult literacy programs, although advertising them by saying: 'write to us at the following address…' is probably not the best idea). Customers who really need colour-coded ends on their cables. You know the type I mean. And yet you deal with them with consideration and patience. I really respect retailers for that. I congratulate you all. Particularly those of you who've never killed a customer in anger. Heaven knows the temptation must be there.

Paul Smith will be attending this years NASCR Event in April and looks forward to meeting his public on his stand, where he will be available to sign copies of the Indie Magazine. No flash photography please.

*SPAM. Noun. Any useless lump of offal meat, usually pink, which contains only a slight hint of brain.

Don't read it, download it!

May 1999

Cheap, cheaper, cheapest, free.

I look down at my collection of Baseball Caps, T-shirts and colourful plastic bags with string handles and I know I've been to a trade show. Because I attended the damn fine NASCR/Indie event in Nottingham on April the 11th, I can now see character key rings, very useful squeezie-balls and logo bedecked pens by the thousand, all around me. And I've got little brochures, and big brochures and huge brochures; some as big as your 'ed! Catalogues and price guides, company profiles with glossy pictures and poorly photocopied reviews from magazines, etc. Basically my lounge floor is covered in what my girlfriend, Judith, calls 'Piles of Meaningless Crap', or PMC for short. She is not sympathetic to my cause. She doesn't understand that if one attends a trade show it is imperative to collect as much gratis 'stuff' as possible. But most shockingly I wasn't there as a punter, I was there as an exhibitor! However I found talking to other exhibitors almost as useful as talking to the many retailers who attended. Meeting other disties gives me an insight into the industry I can't usually get from the corner we call PC Cables and Accessories plus, of course, a big pile of stuff, free. I appreciate I wasn't exactly the type of potential customer other exhibitors were there to see, so I did try not to take anything I really wasn't interested in. Stuff that I'd call GPMC (Genuine PMC). What I did see was plenty of new lines we might consider distributing, seemingly at every turn. Budget software, inkjet cartridges and digital cameras all caught my eye, so expect to see some interesting, fresh products on our fax-shots. A new feature at the NASCR/Indie event was a rogue element from the ECTS; semi-clad women. A special mention must go to the SNK Girl who managed to look respectable in a grey bin liner with an uncovered midriff whilst suffering the indignity of people trying to guess her weight. The other highlights of this year's show for me were the stands of Planet and FastTrak.

Last first, Jon Silvera of FastTrak was a star for giving me a copy of the hip 'n' happenin' new music making software Dance E-Jay 2. We got chatting about the 18-month-old 'E-jay' range, which he tells me is the biggest selling music creating software range ever. I'm not surprised. As a kid I tortured family and friends with a recorder because I have the musical ability of a badger in a tumble-dryer, and yet with the Dance E-Jay demo disk I got in The Indie last year, I could knock together pretty passable tunes. Even my girlfriend likes the package and she won't usually touch my PC with a pokey stick, preferring instead to mow our lawn. Which kind of leads me on to another of Jon's interesting products; 3D Gardening software. Jon and I chewed the fat over the very limited and often patronising software for ladies of the female persuasion. Barbie anyone? Family PC's supplied with a games bundle for the kids, a CD-ROM DIY guide for him and the E-Kitchen Companion for her just aren't 'PC' anymore. I've a feeling a lot of women would turn their noses up at make-over or flower arranging software too. Like gardening software, the E-Jay range has a big female following because it isn't trying too hard to be 'just what the little lady wants'. I've just had an idea. 'Virtual Shopping for Shoes'. It could use the Quake engine and you would have to attitude-adjust unhelpful sales assistants by threatening them with your cork bottomed sandals. The grand prize, found on the last level, could be a huge pile of virtual chocolate.

Those nice people at Planet deserve, or rather are owed, a mention for their huge stand. Enough room for tables and chairs (and cat swinging) proves their serious commitment to the Indie sector and/or a desire to make exhibitors on 2m x 2m postage stamps green with envy. I say owed because I swapped a positive mention in the Indie for a copy of Ridge Racer Type 4 for the Playstation. And what a deal that was. On the one hand I had to kiss goodbye to my (hah!) journalistic principles and on the other I got a £40 game which plays as sweetly at Gran Turismo and looks almost as good! However, when I play RRT4 I get a hankering for an arcade game called GTi Club, which I used to love. It takes a lot to part me from a shiny £1 coin but this multi-player racer was so good I'd have pumped my savings into it all night long. For those of you who've not seen it, you drive a choice of small cars (Mini, Fiat 500, Renault 5, Pug205, etc) around a highly detailed mountain course and through a Mediterranean (?) seaside town. You could cut down back alleys, scattering alfresco diners as you went, to get ahead of the field then handbrake turn to take a sharp corner… Ah, memories! Let me put it this way, it's the only game Sega could port which might make me fork out hard currency on a Dreamcast.

Lastly I have to mention our own stand, and not just to tell how we gave away a nice TV to a very surprised Peter Johnson of North Notts. Computers. Exhibiting at trade shows is clearly a good way for us to meet retailers, old and new, and maybe do a bit of business, but it's also a PR exercise and, if we're lucky, a bit of a jolly. That's why we'll be shelling-out several grand on next years NASCR/Indie event too. Our only concern is the location of the show. While keeping (do funny accent) 'in t' Mid-londs' (and relax) is great for the immediate locals and ok for you boys from Manchester and Birmingham, spare a thought for John and Diane from GZ Computers in Ashford, Kent, who made a high-mileage effort to attend. Holding it in one general location saturates that area, because the show is still too small to have the nation-wide pulling power of some of the larger ones. I'm sure moving the show to less central areas would draw in a lot of new faces. Ok, it wouldn't be so good for the Sheffield contingent, sorry guys, but it could be a lot better for John, Diane and their ilk. Having advertised in the Indie for nearly four years and been very active with the NASCR membership, there couldn't have been that many people at the show that didn't know our products and us already. In that situation you're playing with the law of diminishing returns, yet we wouldn't have missed it for the world. All six members of the team attended the show, with a very early start on a Sunday morning, with tons of sport on the telly… voluntarily. We weren't even going to get paid or get time off instead, and no one was complaining! In my opinion that's real enthusiasm and serious dedication. Call us mad but we all went because we knew it would be good for us personally and good for the company in general. Except for me. I went for the free stuff.

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June 1999

The PC is dead. More than that, it's starting to smell. The beige box recalls the austere 1930s compared to a groovy iMac. The monitor is a midget next to the new generation of giant digital TV's. PCs are tolerated in the office environment because they only have photocopiers, staplers and hole-punches to compete against. And you can't do your accounts on any of those. It's a very different story in the home. Against the limp foes of yesterday, like the SNES, the all-conquering power of the 486Dx2 chip was king. Example: Doom, the finest game of all time, took years to come out on other systems. But now the best games wait to get ported to the PC. In 1998 Gran Turismo was as hot a title as money could buy, yet it's still to have a Mintel outing. Look at any software chart, like ELSPAs, and you'll see games systems are dominant. Since the virtual death of the Amiga platform and the birth of Multimedia in the early '90's it's been the home market that pushes PC architecture to higher and higher spec's. and that means games. Thus the advent of next-gen. games systems three or four years ago must of had a big dampening effect. Proof: Many PC stores also sell consoles because many stores wouldn't survive by PC business alone. You need to spend a grand plus on a full-on 'n' frisky P2 with a monstrous 3D card to compete with current £100 games systems. And the £200 128-bit Dreamcast and PSX-2 aren't all that far away. PC's still exist only because 1) You can't word-process or print with a Nintendo. 2) You can wander the 'net with them. 3) Erm, I can't think of another good reason to own a home PC, let alone spend hundreds of pounds per year upgrading it. Think about DVD for a second. It's just the technologically improved version of the CD-Rom. But like CD-Rom, DVD for PC applications is the bastard offspring of another entertainment market. Audio CD technology gave us the 'rom. Digital Versatile Disk was once the Digital Video Disk. Who wants to watch a DVD Movie on a pokey monitor when they could spread out on the sofa and watch it on a 32" Wide-screen TV instead? Popcorn in your keyboard, anyone? It's like listening to a CD through your PC's speakers. Who does that when there's a good Hi-Fi with remote control in the room? And as PCs have become more complex and software more complicated the chances of them working 100%, 100% of the time, has dropped to the chances of intelligent life being discovered on Mars, or in PC World. You have to set aside an hour to install and configure new software, plus another hour to actually get the bastard to work. Unless you're running an office app. that is. It's time to face the facts; PC's make crap games machines. The only thing which keeps them going is the considerable installed user base and the kind of specialist titles which are hard to port to a 'sole. Example: Hasbro's Rollercoaster Tycoon is fine on a PC but all those options, features and menu-in-menus would be a bugger to navigate with a pad.

Looking to the future, the Dreamcast is likely to have a built-in modem so now you can murder your mates by 'phone. The pocket-memory-card-game thingy will extend its appeal into new areas. Apply DVD technology and you've got a Video player as well as an Audio CD player, as in the old Playstation and Saturn (I've still got mine. Am I alone?) Put it all in a saucy black case with brushed aluminium detailing to stick under your vast TV and you've got a winner. Make that box openable (not actually a word, but it deserves to be) and upgradable (not actually a word either) by a Sega Licensed Technician(tm) and you've got a device which could use mass-market PC technology like hard-drives or LS120s on a games dedicated board. Don't you wish you could exchange the pants performance 'rom in your Playstation for a 40x speed one? Loading-bars would slash across the screen rather than creep like a glazier, err, glacier. The words 'Please Wait' would flash up on the screen so fast you couldn't read them. Bliss. The point of all this is if your business relies on people buying a PC from you to play games on (even if they're not admitting it, even to themselves), be afraid Be very afraid. As the wiffy Amiga was once surpassed by fresher products, so the home PC could be in the next couple of years.

786 words. Sorry. Thanks for the cheque Dale, you can be sure I'll be spending it sensibly. Wax Lamps, Pringles, The Phantom Menace merchandise… that kind of thing. Ciao.

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July 1999

He is a Politician. Therefor he is a liar. She is a Hairdresser. Therefor her name is Vikki (with little circles on top of the 'i's). I am a sales guy. Therefor I am scum. Or so you'd think. Perhaps it's simply a timing thing, but sometimes my contacts are mysteriously out. That's out in a "Tell him I'm out" kind of way. Not so bad in itself, but sometimes it's left all too painfully obvious they're around but not in the mood to discuss cables. It's that kind of thing that brings the worst out in me. My dark side, my uncontrollable sarcasm beast, is roused by people pulling my plonker. I find myself enjoying conversations like:

"Sorry Paul, John's just popped out."
"I had a pair of pants like that too."

"He's rather busy at the moment."
"I'll call back when he's finished his tea."

"Sorry Paul, Sue's gone out."
"Have you tried dousing her in petrol?"

"She's tied up in the warehouse."
"Ah, sweet memories…"

All very unprofessional, yet strangely satisfying. I'd much rather be told to sod off and call back at a more convenient time. It's ruder but at least it's honest and that's the way I prefer it. Happily most of my customers are delighted, if not apoplectic with joy, to hear from me. One waits keenly by the 'phone for my weekly call, just to beg me to recite Lewis Carroll's 'The Jabberwocky' to him. Gawd knows why, but I like to oblige. It must be a purchasing thing. He has to place a decent order to get all the funny voices though….

Which neatly brings me in a thoroughly contrived way to regional accents. Mostly I've looked after accounts in the South east of the country, which has helped me develop clipped tones that would get me an announcing job with the BBC. And I can do a good cheeky Cockney-Wide-Boy so I can wheel and deal with Peckhams finest PC floggers. Sometimes I could pass as an extra from 'Lock, stock and two smoking barrels'. Viz: "It's a deal. It's a steal. It's the sale of the flipping century. Yours for a monkey, squire. Pukka." And hence it was a dark day when I got talking to a Newcastle account prospect last week. Technical chitchat can be a minefield at the best of times, but when wrapped up in an unfamiliar accent so thick it's verbal fog, it's a nightmare. And I'm sure the guy was pissed too, which frankly didn't help. In the end I asked him to fax me his requirements. Predictably his handwriting was as impenetrable as his speech. Don't get me wrong, I love the Geordie accent. It's just I can't understand it when it's 'assisted' by a gallon of famous brown ale. To sum up. Please don't call me if you're as pished as a fart, because I will deliberately and maliciously fail to understand the word 'Scsi', no matter how loudly you sluringly shout it. Thanks.

Cheering me up this month has been a top class Nintendo 64 game called Beetle Adventure Racing. You may recall I have a fondness for a certain arcade racer called GTI Club. Well, this piece of software hokum is as close as I've found on a home system. You race themed tracks (ski-resort, volcanic island, etc.) with multiple shortcuts against a pack of VW's latest Cockroach inspired incarnations of Hitler's favourite car, whilst collecting points for hitting cardboard boxes. Imagine Starskey and Hutch meet The LoveBug. Lots of fun for kids of all ages.

That which promises to be the biggest thing since the whole concept of slicing this month prompts the return of product news. Star War(tm) Episode one(tm) The Phantom Menace(tm) is going to be the largest merchandising bonanza of the decade. While Titanic may prove to be a bigger cash cow at the box-office, when did you last see a drowned sailor action figure or a 'king-of-the-world' lunchbox? IT industry TPM branded products will include such favourites as: The Game, the mouse-pad, the mouse, the screensaver and desktop theme CD-ROM, the CD case, the PC dust cover (no, it's not made up), the other game and the Playstation sticker set. If you've not cashed in on the South Park, Lara Croft, Wallace and Gromit or StarTrek phenomena with some attractive but frivolous items, now would be your big chance! "Ey, where there's nerdish obsession there's brass", as they don't say up t' north.

750ish words. Thanks for your continued support Dale. I hope you regard the above to be a return to form.

All my love, Paul.

P.S. Have you seen the new Millennium Bug solution? It's called Y2KY-Jelly. It lets you put four digits where previously only two would fit.

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August 1999

We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.

I heard the other day that the PC industry is incestuous. It came as something of a relief, because all this time I'd thought it was just me. I'd been worrying about it, and so had my sister.

Worry is a topic that seems close to Indies hearts at the moment. For 'close' read 'squeezing it in a kinda ice-cold claw of angst and stress'. Nostradamus (1503-1566) has put the wind up everyone with his eerily accurate visions of the future. When he wrote 'Bewaere thee counterfeit Soft of Ware, yea, for it be-'eth the work of thy Devilish minions' back in the sixteenth century, how could he have foretold the coming of CDR? If he's also right about the date of the End Of The World, shortly we can all forget about margins and over-heads and enjoy 'The Rapture' instead. Which will be nice.

Before Armageddon, it's that sunny-funny time of year again (maybe for the last time, so get out there and enjoy it!) when holidays beckon, and carefree, tanned 'n' smiling faces are everywhere. Except on you perhaps, because you might have more staff than customers and more bills than cash in the bank. A holiday could be a cruel fantasy and your face may just be pale 'n' distinctly smile-free. If these descriptions sound familiar, I feel for you, I really do. We've already had quite a few customers go down on us already this year. (I can't believe they let me get away with this filth). Some owed us money and some didn't, but I feel sorry for all of them. We all like a laugh when our competitors go to the wall, but it's a very different story when it's you and you're nose-to-nose with Herr Bankruptcy. For everyone who's said, "It's as dead as a Dodo. I'm going to throw the towel in and buy an ice-cream van" in the last few months, I have some words of comfort for you. You are not alone. Everyone (except us, naturally) is quiet. But hey! Your future isn't as dark as a solar eclipse, Christmas is just five short months away! And then it's time to party, party, and party! And no more millennium integer worries until the year 10,000, or if big N is to be believed, ever again!

Stating the obvious, number 37, from a series of 80.

This industry, like all retail, is in the summer doldrums. My brother is in the 'previously enjoyed' 2nd user Automobile industry and he tells me the only way to shift a motor at the moment is to give it away. And throw in twelve months tax, a new MOT and a free hour with a prostitute, with 'extras'. I choose to think he's kidding about the prostitute. The Dreamcast will help many, just as long as Virgin don't start swapping software titles for a packet of peanuts or doing something equally crazy and detrimental to the industry. Customers may love paying a mere £29.99 for a grade-A, 100% Columbian PSX title, but if you're making the price of a can of coke on each one your heart just isn't going to be in it, is it? Let's all pray for Sega salvation. In the meantime, just hang on in there, guys. The end of the world is nigh, but the meek will inherit the earth and when they do they'll still need I.T. solutions and games consols.

I treated myself the other day to a laptop. A Daewoo 486 DX4-75 sporting 20Mb of RAM, a 540Mb 'drive, external FDD and 4x speed parallel CD-ROM drive. It's got a dual scan colour screen, a PCMCIA modem. It's sub A4 size and even came with a nice padded carry-case. Now, I reckon that's got to be comfortably worth £300 plus the VAT with a three-month warranty, retail. I bought mine out of my local paper for £160, in theory saving a whopping £200. Now, if I was smart I'd open a PC shop and deal in quality used gear and upgrades. It may be the tacky end of the market, but like 2nd user software, it's one of the few fields where you'll still find that pesky profit margin. If I've missed the boat with this acute observation, I hear someone recently paid good money to sign the Power Rangers (remember them?) for a range of games. Three years ago, guys, maybe. What will it be next? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the N64? The Flumps interactive CD-ROM? Muffin the Mule - Blood Rampage, on the PSX? Actually, I like the sound of that last one. Anyone got the number for the BBC's product licensing department?

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September 1999

Just the fax ma'am. Just the fax.

Hardly an hour passes that our fax machine doesn't vomit some hastily thrown together 'shot (yes, I said 'shot) onto my desk. I read some of them, and others just get to accompany me to the little boys room when we've run out of toilet tissue. Love them or hate them- Ahem, hate them or hate them, fax-shots are just a sales tool like any other. They just happen to be one that destroys rainforests. A bleary three page list of poorly described components boasting prices 50% higher than I already pay and large areas of black shouldn't cause a red mist to descend on me. Yet it does. At least when you get junk mail it's at someone else's expense. They've had to pay printing and postage costs and so they'll be trying to be vaguely interesting and worthwhile. When some database toting oik faxes me It's muggins who picks up his printing costs. Our old HP-Fax is getting through cartridges like they're going out of fashion. And in this thoroughly modern world it doesn't stop there. Spam e-mail is rife too. CLICK HERE FOR XXX TEEN ACTION is a pain in the arse but poses no discernible threat to the flora and fauna of the Amazon basin. Our own environmentally friendly fax-shots are kept to a single page and contain a minimum of 45% re-cycled prices.

Hey! Here comes the point!

Your own web-site for just £499! That was the tempting offer promoted on a recent unsolicited fax from 'Internet Gurus' to our offices. For your half-grand you get four, yes, FOUR (count 'em!) pages and four photographs of your choice! Ok, perhaps not a steaming hot deal for the net literate likes of you and I, but this fax does spotlight a very rapidly expanding and lucrative area of I.T. All those IBM e-commerce ads and www.addresses@splashed.com all over our televisions are starting to make fat bald men in Jaguars want a net presence. They don't know what they'll do with their site, they just know they want one. Domain names are now £50 or less, you'll find free hosting and all you need is Microsoft Publisher 97 to painlessly write HTML. The only other ingredients you need are an appointment, a metallic grey Ford Focus, a sharp suit and the feigned air of someone who knows all about Frames and Java. I kid-ye-not. Five hundred quid for a days work? Who's clock do I have to err, wind? Even my dear old dad (XJS owner) is setting up a site to promote his Automobilia (old petrol pump globes, enamel signs and the like) business to the yanks and Japanese who kill for a slice of pre-war English motoring heritage. The same heritage that fifty years ago they were trying to bomb!*

Like the fax machine boom of the 80's, the web-site will be the 'must-have' business tool of the '00's. And this time absolutely no trees have to die.

Quick, I need an idea…

The entertainment industries borders are blurring. Where once stood separate entities called Games, Films and Music, there now stands a gestalt entertainment creature with writhing tentacles and big staring eyes on stalks. It's going to get even worse when they're all on the same DVD format. We've enjoyed A Bugs Life, The Fifth Element and Golden Eye, both as a film and a game, any of which you could call a modern classic. This line of reasoning led me to a startling thought. The greatest untapped source of game ideas has to be pre-console films. Extending this thought, logically, the pinnacle of pre-console-moviedom must be The Italian Job. I was going to demand that someone quickly buy and develop the licence, but reading MCV at the weekend, I see SCi has done just that. Now I have to re-write this whole paragraph at short notice. I've a hundred words to find and I've run out of ideas. Unusually, no one has upset me this month and I've no exciting product news to make you swoon. So instead, I'll 'fill' by recall a conversation I had a month or so ago when I walked into my local used game dealer:
"I'd like South Park please", I asked, proffering debit card.
"You write for the Indie magazine, don't you?" He said, recognising my 'trademark' yellow shirt and baldness.
"Errr, yes, the odd bit", I replied, blushing daintily.
"It's an excellent mag. You're page is always a good read."
"Thanks", I said, maintaining my relaxed composure as my head swelled.
"This is really neat, It's almost as cool as when we had Dave Lee Travis in here."
I paid and left, ego dragging along on the dusty floor behind me.

*This is technically a xenophobic lie.

I hope this is ok for you. If it's 'pants' let me know and I'll make sure someone upsets me, so that I can use my angst like an old blues singer to write something of beauty, with spleen venting and name calling.

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October 1999

For me this years ECTS was a freebie free wilderness. I collected not a single baseball cap, pen or key ring. I left with a single, small carrier bag, which showed no signs of bulging. All I got was a nice drink and nibbles on the NASCR stand and a play of GT2 from Sony. I even felt the totty was not up to previous years standards. (Sorry girls.) Conceivably it's because I went on the Tuesday that I got to see the bum end of the show but can I be the only person to think it's lost a bit of its gloss? Conversely, for the first time I actually made some good contacts and lined up some nice business, so perhaps it's all for the best?

Right about now (funk soul brother) you'll be waiting for your big pile of Dreamcast machines. I hope they'll fly out of your shop like a rabid Jack Russell after a juicy postman, rather than sitting there eyeing you with a look of sneering contempt. Incidentally, has anyone else noticed the chilling similarity between the spiral Dreamcast logo and the recurring helix image from a film called 'Dark City' about aliens experimenting on the human soul? I'm praying there's no link. If the 8% margin of the Dreamcast (bad name, or is that just me again?) isn't lighting your fireworks, perhaps you should be branching out? In these crazy days of £399 PCs, give-a-way PSX software, free Tiny systems and rife piracy isn't it time you found a new niche? Maybe that's why the stuff HSM's don't like to bother with (2nd hand, Mac, etc.) seem to be a hot topic with Indies at the moment. If you're starting to feel like the local greengrocer who closed five years ago when Supermarket X opened up down the road, then here are a few suggestions:

o Open 24 hours. Why not? It apparently works for Tesco. Vital PCs and networks go wrong in the middle of the night and you could charge just about whatever you like to fix them at 2am.

o Deal in a specialist area overlooked by most multiples. Laptops, for example. I've a customer who closed his general PC retail business and opened an internet site selling portables instead. He's halved his overheads and doubled his turnover, which says to me: 'Quadruple your profits, close your shop'.

o Design a prettier PC. I've seen iMac style PC cases mushrooming around the place. It's always just been a matter of time before home systems had to stop looking like kitchen appliances and bumper-like, get colour coded. If people are happy to pay £1500 for a nice veneered box to hide their telly in, I think a margin can be squeezed from mock Tudor PC cases. Executive desks where an LCD screen and keyboard glide effortlessly out of the wood-work at the subtle touch of a button? It may sound like a Bond Villains' favourite bit of office furniture, but I can imagine several fat-cats reaching for their expense accounts for something like that.

o Target a specialist audience like flight-sim fans or arty types. If Apple can sell a machine with no floppy disk drive, you should easily be able to find yourself some men with sandals and beards and sell them iMacs to be creative on. Or alternatively you could always start a religion with them.

Product News: Papering over the cracks.

CDR media, Inkjet cartridges and Zip disks. You love them all. Because once you're sold them, you know your customer, Arnie style, will be back. It's a repeat sale. It's a customer who will wander in every couple of months, all wide eyed and innocent, hungry for more consumables. A customer who will be dazzled by your display of software/hardware/charm/audacity and perhaps make an impulse purchase. Consumables are your friend. And unbranded or 'copy' consumables can be your bestist buddy. Although Original Canon® Cartridges and Sony® CDR media will always be in demand, you can find plumper margins with a good quality copy. Since you already know this, why do so few Indies stock anything but Epson™ coated inkjet paper? And I'm not just saying this because we've just taken on distribution of the Pzazz range of retail boxed papers, with prices from just £4.16 for 100 x A4 720dpi coated 95gsm paper with an R.R.P of £7.99. Ok? We also do wilder stuff like thermal transfer paper for making your T-shirt too sexy to wear. Should you be selling this kind of stuff? Let me put it this way. No High Street Multiple I know of gets paid two grand to put some packets of inkjet paper in its window.

784 words and not many of them rude.

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November 1999

I went on Holiday.

December 1999

I was talking with a customer when, suddenly and without provocation, she asked me if I had kids balls. Well, talk about blushing! I thought my secret shame was out and we spent several minutes talking at cross-purposes. Of course in the end I discovered she was after the giant Genius™ track ball for kids. Hence: KidsBall. I haven't felt so stupid since that time I spent six months collecting blind dogs for the Guides. I turned up with 18 of the bastards and Brown Owl told me to piss off… It transpired I should have been collecting for 'Guide dogs for the blind'! Oh, how we laughed.

But it's a new N64 game that's been making me chuckle this month. A similar title is available for £60 on the Dreamcast, showing that even new consoles can take a wrong turn in the software maze. I speak, of course, of Bass Hunter 64. If ever you needed proof of the social madness pervading this decadent world at the end of the second millennium, this would be that proof. I've always believed games should let you explore a fantasy world, free of the restraint of having to live with your decisions. You can shoot German soldiers in a labyrinthine castle and not find yourself arrested and executed by firing squad. Drive like a maniac through the streets of Miami and not die in a horrific multiple pile-up. Hunt Zombies without having to visit the Time computers department of Powerhouse. Invade distant planets, battle farting dinosaurs, fly Concorde and build futuristic cities. Play God, and win. But no, this title tells us the height of escapism is a simulation of a sport (discuss) which, next to cricket, is the dullest thing on the face of this Earth. I feel myself slipping into 'Watchdog' mode; (Dear BBC) Why oh why oh why…? Fishing is all about sitting on a rain and wind swept canal bank contemplating your navel and avoiding your wife, isn't it? None of which you're going to do in front of the telly in a warm lounge. Why the hell simulate a game any idiot with a length of stick, a bit of string, a maggot and a stretch of water can enjoy for real? Now, arm the Bass with head mounted lasers, make them 15 foot long mutant killing machines with a desire for human flesh and you've got a game worthy of the title Bass Hunter.

Does e-fishing represent a signpost to the future? Can we expect a cross-stitch simulation from Codemasters? Virtual Hoovering? Watching paint dry, a game of luck and judgement for the PS2? Experience the thrills and excitement of fifty years of inner-peace and not talking in Taoist Monk 2, only for the Dreamcast? If the console and electronic games industry is to survive it needs to find new avenues. I like Lara, but sequels are the product of a stagnating form, said Andy Worhol (maybe), and that's from a man who was very into repeating things. Where are the ground breaking genres? Wolfenstein 3D made the 1st person shooter an enduring style. Lemmings re-invented the 2D scrolling platformer. Why can't we have something that fresh again? Can I ask any more rhetorical questions? Do bears…? But I have a serious suggestion. Sheep Dog Trails. Combine voice (well, whistle) recognition software for the PC version and you have the ideal 'One Man And His Dog' tie-in. Come B(u)y!

Pre-lennium madness has swept into all our lives with swathes of junk mail promising that a drinks straw in the shape of a pair glasses which spell out '2000' will become an heirloom to pass on to future generations. In this KrAZy atmosphere anything is possible. On one hand the future's so bright, we've gotta wear shades and factor 300 sunscreen, once the Ozone layer finally packs its bags and moves on. I.T. is the new Rock & Roll, we are its chosen masters and stand on the brink of a golden age. Or, if you prescribe to the other camp of thought, we stand at the brink of a Millennium Bug induced global economic crash which in ten years time will see us back in the pre-industrial age scrabbling for scraps of the once glorious technological empire we enjoy today. This, the last of the twentieth century, could be the final Pauls Soap Box. The PC it's written on could be about to become an impracticably large doorstop. I'll have to learn to write with a pen again. Quick, someone invent a biro with a built-in spell checker. (It's going to happen one day).

All that's left is for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas and, predictably, a Happy New Year, Decade, Century and Millennium. Lets all hope the 'bug threat does just turn out to be a load of old (kids) balls.

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January 2000

There's a TV show called Room 101, which I love because I believe it's what we hate which truly defines us. To know a celebrity detests line dancing and poor lane discipline too makes me feel closer to them in some slightly sad way. Although I've watched religiously, I've yet to see a famous person smile at Paul Merton and say, "Bozo Customers". This is because very few have customers. Perhaps Anita Roddick gets dumb people asking her if it's ok to use lipstick on their pet rabbit, given that it's not been properly tested on animals. If so, get her on Room 101 so I can bounce up and down on my sofa shouting, "Me too!" You may assume from the above that someone has upset me this month, and you'd be right. But because it doesn't make great business sense to slag-off ones customers, no matter how inept or rude, all I'll say is 'you know who you are' and in 20 years from now I will loom out of the shadows and garrotte you with a printer cable.

Instead here's something to try at home. I'm trying to sell my dads old PC at the moment (486Dx2-50, 12Mb ram/540Mb HDD, 14"SVGA, £Offers!) which means temporarily I live in a two PC household. And to me 'one house, two PC's', means only one thing; DEATHMATCH-A-RAMA! A serial cable wasn't hard to come by and in no time at all I was hunting my old mucker Gavin around a Doom2 (ah, remember?) level of my own devising. A few years back, linked or network play was hailed as the Next Big Thing, but on-line gaming seems to have surpassed it. Perhaps I'm a little twisted but I much prefer to verbally abuse and goad an adversary in the same room and not pay a 'phone bill for the privilege. All the fun is in their reaction as I strafe their lifeless corpse sliding towards me on its belly… I digress. (A word only ever used by cardigan wearers.) Now early P1's have become as worthless as my dads 486, the future of thousands of dual computer households grows ever closer. Although I'm not quite sure where this may ultimately take us, there's got to be a moneymaking angle. I'm not suggesting you dust off your copies of Doom or stock up on x-over cables, but someone with a sharp idea will do something with this burgeoning market sector.

A wonderful idea currently going to waste, in my eyes at least, is e-mail. Here we have a flexible and powerful business tool and yet every morning when I check our mail all I get is three Spam's, a mixed quality selection of funnies and some porn [thanks Chris :o) ]. I'm begging you now, somebody, anybody, please 'mail me for a price list! Lets all work together to make this communications revolution (or be the first to use the word 'communolution') a rewarding experience rather than just another distraction. Because if there's one thing I really hate it's having my time wasted. Pointed look.

Dale, this hurt like buggery to cut to 513 words. It started at nearly 800 so please be kind to it. Paul.

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February 2000

It was Bozo Customers who came under attack from me last month. In the interest of journalistic balance, this month, Bozo Account Managers. I'll put my hand up. Occasionally I cock up. You may get USB instead of parallel port or two metres instead of three. I don't do it often and when I do I sort it out. Fairs fair. Sometimes it's even to my customers' benefit, like the time I quoted my cost price by accident and made £2 on the carriage of what should have been a £200 margin deal. Bah! Still, I shrug my shoulders and remind myself that some you win, some you lose.

However, that's little league compared to an old colleague we shall refer to as Mr. B*. Some years ago when he was young and reckless, through the medium of miss-typing, he pulled-off a remarkable deal. They had to book a 7½ ton truck to deliver the 73 monitors he'd sold. Dispatch had got as far as loading the lorry when a sharp-eyed someone said, "These monitors, should they really be £3 each?" To which the answer is 'no'. Three monitors at £73 a-piece were later sent out, while Mr. B was taken around the back of the building and playfully birched.

I ashamed to say I've had five minute pally conversations with someone I couldn't remember which ended with: "…and can I have that stuff for tomorrow?" "Ah, yes, sure…. One little question?…" It's embarrassing but it has to be done. The only other option is to take an educated guess at which customer you're talking to and hope for the best. I don't favour this route because I've seen too many past colleagues fluck up massively and send orders to the wrong account, thus compounding their mistake and ultimate discomfiture. That way not only does one customer have to wait for their goodies, another innocent bystander is drawn into the stew with a box of unwanted stuff that will have to be collected and redirected at our expense. Verdict: Not good.

The reasons for mistakes are as varied as the bozo account managers who make them. Pressure has to be my main one. I only get fluffy when urgency is the word and I'm running around like a headless chicken. Other peoples may include:
A) Alcopops, i.e. "It got cocked-up because I'm pished."
B) Idleness, i.e. "It got cocked-up because I just couldn't be arsed."
C) Traditional incompetence, i.e. "It got cocked-up because I'm stupid"
All of these are bad but someone I once worked with (I guess he's stacking shelves at Tesco now) would send out random shipments at the end of the month to hit target, a routine which won him few friends.

This months plea. Forgive we sales people our mistakes, for we are only human. However, if it happens a lot it might be because we're drunk, lazy, dumb or scamming. Telling the difference isn't always easy but it is important to try.

*Although his real name is Chris Bottomley.

504 words Dale, I hope it's ok.

Paul.

P.S. Chris ok'd me to use his name in connection with his true story.

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February 2000 (Version 1, unused!)

I love clubbing. I think it's the way the seal cubs look up as you advance towards them, as if to say, "Great! Can I pitch?" However, on this occasion, the 19th of January, I was going to HOME, the super-club in Leicester Square. On the train down to London with Andy, my boss, I practised my best clubbing banter. "Innit, sorted, respect due", I intoned. "No need", I tried in my best Mark & Lard voice. I was indeed 'Mad for it'. We'd been privileged enough to be invited to the Bleeding Edge Publishing (owners of CTW and your very own Indie Magazine) Millennium Party by top-editing-dude Dale Bradford. It was to be my first full-on trade bash and my first proper club experience too. I'd been to clubs before, you understand. It's just 'The White Stiletto', my local meat market, with its one asthmatic smoke machine and single glitter-ball, is to clubs what the Reliant Kitten is to Formula 1.

The place was filling up nicely by 7.20, when we arrived. The base thumped, the lights flashed and I'm happy to report the dress code ('sexy', the invitations had requested) was being observed. I can't say I was bumping into familiar faces all night long, with the exception of Lee Schofield from CTW/Indie, as BEP do a lot of music and video trade mags too. So, never shy, I decided to make some new friends, like the very lovely Shelley and the equally delightful Poula pictured below. They collared me and accused me of photographic voyeurism as I snapped bad behaviour with a disposable camera. I explained I was taking shots for the Indie Magazine, so they said shouldn't I have a camera with a great big lens, and I said I found a small one was just as good… and so on. You get the picture.

As the night wore on the dancing got madder, the drinking less selective, and the snogging more public. I won't mention the gropeidge. That's other people's bopping, boozing and tongue wrestling, not mine. I have the natural grace and rhythm of a Rhino in a spin dryer on the dance-floor so I declined to groove. I'm t-total so didn't make much of a dent at the free bar either, but had enough coke to keep me going all night. Coca-Cola! Coca-Cola! Let's scotch those rumours right now! And as for mouth-pressing, Judith, my other half, had given me clear instructions and a picture of a severed ear as a warning-cum-reminder.

I'd like to say I'm making the next bit up, but it is, sadly, all too true. Except the bit about the stick. By one o'clock I was Larry Lightweight so we left, ears still ringing. The tube had stopped running so we walked up Tottenham Court Road to Euston. Which was also closed. We'd missed the last train back to my car, parked at Berkhamsted station. So, at 2 a.m. and five below zero, we're caught in London with no trains for four hours and nothing to do except watch a loudly arguing couple publicly air their sex lives. Which was nice. A Taxi seemed our only option and we found a helpful soul in a B reg. Mercedes. In broken English he explained he had no idea a world beyond the North Circular existed, but we negotiated a price of £40 anyway. Within moments our possibly Armenian minicab driver, who merely muttered as a Gatso camera flashed him, was speeding us at 70mph through central London. I checked my seatbelt one more time, just to be sure. With Andy directing him we found the M1 and headed out of town, the car steadily developing a worrying ticking noise. Before we reached the relative safety of Watford, something functionally vital to the engine went horribly Pete Tong and we ground to a halt on the hard shoulder. It was about now I started looking around for hidden cameras. We were left standing behind the crash barriers, freezing our buns off, as our remarkably calm driver tried to repair a seized straight-six by checked the oil and saying 'gearbox' over and over again. Then he reverted to a technique that worked with his previous form of transport, back home in Armenia. He started hitting the car with a stout stick and shouting at it. When that didn't work he 'phoned his brother on his mobile and using the international language of sign we convinced him that this was the northbound carriageway of the M1. Frankly it could have been the Newbury by-pass for all he knew. He promised help would soon be with us, to take us the rest of the way. Our doubts developed as we waited, so after giving him half the money for half a job, we struck out on foot up the M1 to warm up. Keeping well up the embankment and behind the barriers we were in no real danger but as the hours passed I began to wander which god I had upset. About three miles, two frozen feet and a cut across country later we came to a petrol station on the outskirts of Watford and called Emma, Andy's girlfriend, to rescue us. The Orange Message Service wasn't able to help but an understanding lorry driver turned up, and after listening to our sad story, took us out of his way to Berko. As a crowning turd to our journey home, the railway station car-parks barriers were all down…

The moral of this story is that the Muller Rice commercials are right. We'd had a great time and had to pay the price, and in future NCP and not the public transport system shall be receiving my patronage.

954 words Dale, pictures to follow ASAP.

Paul.

P.S. If it's too long, lose the bit about the stick!

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March 2000

My customers make me laugh. Usually it's with, but occasionally it's at, but at least I get a chuckle once in a while. For example, the other day I was chatting on the phone to a customer about his two loveable scamps, or as he put it, children…

"Well, Paul wasn't looking too happy in the pictures", said Ed.
I gave my cheesy grin. "That's so cute! You named him after me?"
"Actually I named them both after you."
"Really? What's the other one called?"
"Twat."*

I think the true measure of how good or bad your relationship with a customer or supplier is isn't if you play golf together or not. It's how rude and abusive you can be (in a playful way, naturally) without overstepping the mark. Although, sadly, it's not always easy to judge where that illusive mark lies. I remember years ago I dealt with a big account who would always call up and ask for 'the wanker', and say "Hello Paul, you bastard". I assumed at the time it was his comedy way and joined in, but it turned out that he just hated my guts. Some you win…

Giving me less smiles has been the legal profession, as this month I've been in trouble over this very column. In the December issue of the Indie magazine I foolishly used the word 'biro' to refer to ballpoint pens generally. What I should have written is 'Biro™' or alternatively 'ballpoint pen', as Pettman Smith Solicitors were kind enough to point out to me. Consequently, through this column, I'd like to offer my most sincere and humble apologies to the upstanding firm that is Biro Bic Limited for any reduction in the perceived value of their Mark. I won't do it again.

Trademark infringement is a funny old area though, isn't it? If I mention I use a Dyson™ (one of the finest vacs in the land. Please don't sue my ass, as he has no money of his own) to do the hoovering, will Solicitors for Hoover™ send me a snotty letter to demand I should have written I use a Dyson™ to do my vacuum cleaning? Now this has been printed, we'll all just have to wait and see! I'll keep you updated on any developments. But more seriously, folks, I'm sure you've got trademarked names all over your price-lists, brochures, shop signs and/or press advertising. Let my recent experience guide you. I quietly suggest you put at the bottom of the page something like 'All trademarks are the property of their respective owners and are acknowledged'. That's if you don't want to help a Solicitor justify his or her sad 'n' sorry parasitic existence.

Paul's Thought for the month: Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines.

(Weasels™ is a registered mark of the Huge-Bastard Corporation of America ® and is so acknowledged it hurts.)

*I can't make stuff this good up! By the way, why am I lopsidedly squinting in every picture of me in existence?

I appear to have entered my sweary period! 506 words. I hope this is ok Dale, and it won't get us in trouble, will it? Ultimately who would be pursued through the courts for damages? Me for writing it or you, as editor, for including it? :o)

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April 2000

Question 1) The World Wide Web.

An invaluable business tool, reflecting the communolution* which is reaching into all our lives at the beginning of the third Millennium. Or just a great way to see Porn?

Discuss.

Much is being made of the internet-based global market place these days. I accept it's splendid to have an on-line 'shop window', which lets people from undiscovered South American tribes deep in the rainforests of Equador swoon at your range of PC options. But will they really be typing in their Amex Gold Card numbers next to your shopping trolley icon? Most of the Indies readers, like that unique retailing couple in Royston Vasey, have a local shop, for local people. One big advantage you have over the 'net is that in your shop, visitors can handle the precious things. As Jeramy Clarkson once commented about the WWW, who would buy a car without driving it first?

Hence the Internet is great for certain types of trade, for example, anyone who's selling a commodity item as cheaply as possible with the tiniest of overheads. Or a unique, totally niche product, like Furby Hookers (www.fishdot.org/furby). In the big e-book of winners and losers, I assume mail order firms are going to be the real sufferers when every home and business is hooked to the 'net. The cost of production and distribution of a big fat catalogue puts them at a big fat disadvantage to the fast adapting net species. What can they offer that e-tailers can't? Not much. How can they survive? By evolving faster than their peers. What can you offer the discerning shopper that on-line boutiques can't? A friendly face, advice, technical backup, personal service and a cup of tea, for a start. How can you survive? By doing what you've always done, just better. I might buy a CD or Game by phone or phone-line, but I've big reservations about buying a complex PC system that way. It's not all doom and gloom for the console boys and girls either. Shopping in a hobby for millions. They call it Retail Therapy. The immediacy of a spontaneous purchase is something no web-site can offer. In a shop you see a thing, you like the thing, you buy the thing, you take the thing home, rip off the cellophane and use it. On-line, you see a grainy picture of a thing, you wonder if its exactly as described, you take a chance and buy the thing, you wait two to three days to receive the thing… I don't know about you, but to suffer all that uncertainty, the thing would have to be a whole lot cheaper than I could find it locally.

If, after all my reassuring, you're still worried about the effect of the Internet on your business, try charging shoppers in your store a-penny-a-minute while they browse and see how much they warm to you.

*From Communications revolution. Some day the OED people are going to accept one of my new words, and when that happens, you saw that word here first folks.

I appear to have left my sweary period! 512 words. I hope this is ok Dale and that you don't mind me pinching all your ideas from the 'welcome to the February issue of Indie' box. Ta.

Paul

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May 2000

The stories I hear about how people got into this crazy industry often amaze me. I have a customer who became interested in computer retailing after stealing the wrong boxes from a Dix*ns warehouse. Had things gone to plan, by now he could have been the guv' of a string of TV, video and hi-fi shops instead. At this years CTS I met a Scot who had recently retired from a hard life on the oilrigs, out in the cruel North Sea, to become an Indie. I asked him if he missed the isolation, the constant threat of danger and the long unforgiving hours. "Miss it?" he replied, "I'm just getting used to it." As Basil Brush would say, "Aha-aha-aha… Boom-boom."

My own story is one of sexual politics. I was happy as a motorcycle courier but my girlfriend at that time (Ah! The raven-haired Catherine. Where art thy now?) thought I was capable of much more. Or perhaps she had become bored with my oily, leather-clad look and wanted to see me in a smart business suit? Anyway, I was bullied and generally 'blackmailed' into applying for a job as the grand sounding 'Business Machines Sales Consultant' for a local stationer (now closed.) The day after I accepted the position, she dumped me. Oh the irony of it. In an unsuccessful effort to win her back, I vowed to become the best BMSC the world had ever seen. To this day I can still recall the features and benefits of all the calculators.

Although I had fun selling PCs and occasionally, when they worked, 'Mac's too, sadly the job involved hard work so I resigned to work for ZCL as the assistant Manager of a branch of their retail chain, Calculus (now closed.) Here I learnt to tow the High Street Multiple line, to abandon my individuality and sacrifice my soul to the corporate gods. When they went bust, I worked for five months selling mobile phones. I left shortly before the branch was closed to be the Manager for a local Indie PC store…

Predictably, within six months that shop had also closed, and I was once more destitute at Christmas. It was about now that I began my downward spiral into alcohol, drugs, prostitution and finally, most tragically of all, PC cable distribution. It's not something I'm proud of. I was young and needed the money. Call me foolish, but I couldn't resist the draw of black rubber Power-leads… Mmmm!

That company lasted almost two years as my employer before it too became infected with whatever dark financial beast of the Id I carry within me, and closed down. Are you beginning to see a pattern emerge? The next Distie I became a symbiotic parasite of, seemed (for now at least), to break my trail of destruction. Feeling as if I'd lost my mystical powers of chaos, I resigned.

Which brings me to the great firm I now work for. It's nice to be surrounded by so many happy, guileless, smiling faces…

505 words. I can write these faster than you can bring out Indies! I can see a backlog forming, piles of unused 'Paul Smith Writes…' turning into an EEC bollocks mountain! The good new is that we're making a healthy profit at the moment and is still growing at 40% p.a…. so fingers crossed there then!

Paul

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June 2000

SCoRE. What is there to say about this great show which hasn't already been said? Nothing. So instead I'll tell you the future lies in being BIG.

Barclays Bank know it, Gangland Misters know it, Sumo Wrestlers know it and now you know it. Grow or stagnate. Expand or die(t). Evolve or Dissolve. "But how?" you're probably shouting. To save you from the acute embarrassment of yelling a rhetorical question at a magazine in public, I'm going to tell you.

You'll love this!… The secret is to sell more stuff.

You're not impressed? Ok, here's a bit more information.

There is any number of ways to increase your turnover. Some will kill your margin, but today I'd like to concentrate on broadening your range of products and services and remarkably, for once, I'm not just suggesting branching out into something we distribute.

I wanted to write myself a cool website. (You'll find the results at: http://paulmadbobsmith.tripod.com) Before I could prod the workings of HTML in an anxious way I needed a book. I visited every computer shop in my town but drew a -----. Ultimately I was forced to visit, of all things, a bookshop. I resisted the urge of every fibre of my being to look at the Black Lace erotic fiction section as I searched for a suitable tome. I found what I was looking for in the chunky orange shape of The Idiots Guide to Writing WebPages. It's great and, had it been in a computer shop and not a bookstore, I may have picked up a copy of FrontPage or some clipart at the same time. You follow my reasoning. So:

o If you don't already, why not sell computer books?
o Then display software nearby which relates to the titles you sell.
o Learn HTML (believe me, it isn't very hard) and offer to write peoples sites for them.

Big idea two. We've recently started distributing second user hardware. The response has been very surprising. It seems a lot of you get asked for this type of stuff all the time and haven't yet dabbled because you are wary of getting stitched up on some crappy old stock like a Kipper in casualty. The good news is if you use a supplier you can trust, as we do, the rewards can be very pleasant. We can supply dealers a Compaq P133, 12" TFT laptop for as little as £280, to happily retail at £499 inc. VAT. That's almost 35% margin on a system, and if that doesn't engage your interest, you're obviously making far too much money already.

Last and least, if you're a reader of Top Gear Magazine, you'll spot on pages 147 and 204 of the June edition e-mails from one Paul Smith. Ah! Fame at last! Chuffed that they chose to print my first ever letters to them, out of the literally hundreds that they receive each month? Lets just say my head is quite... What's the word?

497 words, Dale. Hope it's ok. I'll fax over the info from the DICE final this week too. Paul.

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July 2000

Lovely Charlies.

Gay Search may have the funniest name of any gardening television personality, just beating Charlie Dimock, (who wouldn't pay good money to see that?) but it hasn't stopped her becoming the darling of the people who flock to garden centres every Sunday. Similarly, if you like cars, there is no escaping from Jeramy Clarkson. You get Patrick Moore for the heavens, Fred Dibnah for industrial heritage and Dave Attenborough for anything furry with teeth. So far so good, but where is the popular media's face of computers and consoles? No, you can't count Dominic Diamond, for all of the obvious reasons. Philippa Forrester may battle it out with Carol Vauderman to be our technical totty, but would I trust them to give me their view on the Playstation2's DVD decoding abilities? Nope. It's not because they're women, far from it. It's just because they don't carry the believable authority on the subject that, say, Jez Paxman does on politics. I.T. has become such a large mainstream issue, as shown by the prominence of stories in the press and on the telly about virus attacks, that an individual is now required to be the accepted source of wisdom. The big question is where do you apply?

Oh no, my double entendre is showing.

A customer of mine who must remain nameless (you like these ones, don't you?) recently split with his wife over a woman he met whilst surfing the 'net. I'm not 100% sure he ever actually [word removed on legal advise] the woman because I'm not privy to the full details, but the whole concept of on-line romance, leading to single-handed typing is a fascinating subject and not just because I'm a pervert. Is cyber-sex a form of adultery? I think we can agree it's some sort of a betrayal of trust, but without penetration (unwise due to the danger of electrocution) is it infidelity? How long is it going to be (no pun intended) before sex toy manufacturers make something you can plug into your serial port (ditto) to be even ruder on-line? People have been saying for years that IT has reached into every part of our lives, but is this one part too far? They even have a name for this technology; Dildonics. No. Really. I fear it may spell the end of the human race, for the following badly thought out reason: Sex without the risk of disease, unwanted pregnancy, or in my case, apologetic embarrassment, has its attractions. Which leads me smoothly onto:

It's the end of the world, as we know I.T.

Does anyone but me see a world, a thousand years from now, where the machines have taken over and Mankind is a fading memory in some database? When computers with true AI are finally created, and I don't believe we're going to have to wait 30 years, they will be set to work designing more computers with better AI… Humanity could fast become as obsolete at a VIC20. Congratulations. You work in the industry that may eventually make the human biological organism a larval stage to a civilization based on machine intelligence. I hope you're happy with yourself.

527 angry words. I hope this isn't too deep and/or too sexual for your discerning readership. Paul.

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Just to prove you really should believe it when magazines say 'All correspondence is assumed to be for publication...!'

My editor, Dale, puts the boot in!

August 2000. Version One...rejected on the grounds of self-obsession. Which was fair enough!

Easy-peasy. A walk in the park. Falling off a lo-aaaagh!

This isn't as easy at it looks you know. To the uneducated eye it may appear that my column is hastily thrown together at the last minute each month. It's simply not the case, or at least, it isn't usually. Normally I have weeks to beg, borrow or steal inspiration, carefully research my subject, hone my word-play skills and generally pull something vaguely coherent together. (All that effort wasted! Ed.) However…

This month my deadline has snuck up on me out of the blue, due to my busy jetset lifestyle as an international playboy and raconteur. Which brings me to this looking-at-the-screen moment. I have written for Indie since distant 1997 when, as Tammy (my weekend name) I began putting finger to keyboard. And this is the first time that an idea, of whatever dubious quality, has failed to arrive upon demand. My Muse, it seems, has taken that two week Cuban holiday. My creative spark has been bound, gagged and bundled into the boot of a fast car. Like I say, it's not all beer and skittles.

Editor Dale tells me a fellow columnist is about to bow out of the spot-light of fame which the Indie magazine affords us. The stress, it would appear, has burnt him out too. The brighter side of this news is that now there's a gap in the journalist market for someone else to fill. Who is going to step up to the microphone? My advice, for all it's worth, is that to write for a magazine one must have a good-sized ego. Every month I have to believe (often without the aid of drugs) that what I am about to commit will be of interest to thousands of people. It's quite a responsibility. This half-a-page would be worth what, five hundred quid in advertising revenue?..

Lying, as I explained to the Pope just the other day, is a vital skill too. Flattery has helped smooth my path and having an opinion on everything has been a helpful aid. These are the tools one needs to burgle the fortress men call Indie. If you are so equipped, why not drop nice Mr. Bradford a line? No, that's not another drug reference. But I give you fair warning; this life can be a cruel mistress. For example, before starting on this journey, I had a full head of luxury hair. Conversely, the rewards can be huge too; only yesterday I was approached by Shaven Ravers(tm) magazine to be their I.T. correspondent. I think I'll pass-up the offer because I'm holding out to be a staff writer for Top Gear magazine.

Hey! An idea! Wow! Harry Potter, the books that have taken the whole world by storm it would seem, must be the perfect licence at the moment. A Hollywood film is in pre-production and just imagine the PC/Console possibilities! Quidditch Manager 2000! Virtual Hogwarts! Hippogriff flight sims! And if none of that means anything to you, you must be a Muggle. Damn, I'm just warming to my subject and I've run out of ti-

Hi Dale! 510 words. Ooops! I hope this isn't too self-indulgent. If it is I do have a couple of better ideas about the use of the word 'clit' in popular journalism. Your call, Mr Bradford, your call.

Paul

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August 2000 Version Two, as used

Sony rarely get it wrong. You can't argue the Walkman revolutionised music-on-the-move, in a kind of 'best thing since the whole concept of bread, let alone slicing' way. Playstation showed games consoles weren't just for agoraphobic kids who couldn't get to the local arcade. If there was a hiccup, it was Betamax 20 years back. And you know I'm the kind of guy to point out that Betamax was the technically superior format, don't you? Higher definition, for starters… Which is Image quality, which in-turn is something Sony have never got wrong. The quality of their corporate image (i.e. they're the Mercedes of consumer electronics) has never been better. The gamble that produced the PSX has proven to be one of the best moves the business ever made, with sales now generating a third of Sony's income…

So why do I think they may be about to get it horridly wrong, from your point of view?

Playstation 2 is destined to be the biggest product launch since the solar system condensed, in just the same way that 'Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom menace' had all the ingredients to be the biggest movie of all time. And we all know what happened there, don't we? I'm not suggesting all your pre-orders are going to get cancelled (unless Curxions get all the stock. It may be worth praying to the god of your choice about allocation for the weeks running up to the launch) but in the current atmosphere of 'Rip-off Britain' punters are going to be looking for the better deal, the lower price. And many will be prepared to wait for that deal to show. None of which looks good for indies. And it gets worse. Lots of the others, I assume, are going to visit the on-line Sony store, as they did for the Japanese launch, and see what's looking good there.

The traditional distribution tree (manufacturing being the trunk, distribution being the branches, retail being the twigs and the end users being the leafs) is under serious threat, and the PS2 launch could be our clearest view of this yet. That tree exists because Sony have a million units to shift and a million lounges have a space a PS2 would fit just right in. Under normal conditions Sony would need retailers to promote their products and distributors to supply those shops, while they look after the simple task of supplying a few disties. However a product that needs no salesman to read aloud from the card which lists features and benefits, coupled to the wide open doors of the internet, means you don't get a tree, you get something which looks suspiciously like Cress. And why not? Manufacturers can cut out two lots of middlemen for the price of some huge servers and a call centre.

Much as I hate being a harbinger of doom, I believe Sony are in business to make money and their plans may not involve you forever. I know. I hope I'm wrong too.

Dale, 503 words on evil Japanese Capitalists. Chairman Mao would have been proud of me! I'm hoping this cuts the mustard. And now, to sleep… zzzzzzzzzzz

Paul

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September 2000

Paul Smith writes… Of re-branding and e-Love.

The ECTS has the wrong name. Let's break it down. Ok, sure, it's always held in England, which is technically a European country. That's in the same way that the Isle of Man in technically in the UK, if you know what I mean. What I am saying is it's not very central, is it? And there are Computers there, mostly running the light shows and lasers. You may know I have long had a problem with the Trade part of the name, given that I sometimes can't see the tottie for prepubescent Shop Managers and toddling Systems Analysts. Leaving us 'Show', which is the 25% of 'ECTS' that I don't have an intrinsic problem with. Hence I propose, Prince-like, that it's simply renamed 'The Show'. Or, if that is just a bit too vague, I quite like: The Top-Left-hand-bit of Europe Software, Console and Peripheral Extravaganza. Or TLESCPE for short. If we are really to have a change of venue to somewhere a bit cooler than the tropical hothouse at Kew gardens, then should we not have a full re-branding exercise? TeLESCoPE, where the industry looks ahead. Hey, that's not bad…. "Miller Freeman? Hi, my name's Paul Smith and I've had this gre- Hello? Hello?"

I have to admit I met my new girlfriend via the Internet. I know it sounds as tacky as the blue stuff you put posters up with, but I promise it wasn't due to some sordid chat-room cyber encounter. She responded to a piece of fiction (Oh yes. Didn't you know? I 'write') I'd had posted up on a site and the modern wonder of e-mail took it from there. This has made me think about how society has been changed, in a very real way, by the communolution I have previously mentioned in these sacred pages. I know more about a Scottish girl called Jill who's bored and in Zimbabwe than I do about my next-door neighbors, I've kind of gone off television and I can't remember what the inside of my bank looks like. It is becoming, in the words of Vladimir Lenin, a Funny Old World. Or a Brave New One. Your call. On a lighter note I have discovered a Yorkshireman invented the Internet. Just look at the evidence: E-mail. E-commerce. E-tailing. Ee, lad, come down off t' roof, ya daft ha'path. See? And don't forget what all flat cap wearers drink, "Ey, Tea"

Quick half-hearted rant time! 15" monitor, 14" viewable screen. 14" monitor, 13" viewable screen. Now that's not so hard is it? I'm tutting as I type this.

And finally, in this season of anticipation, let us spend a moment looking back on the world as it once was. It was 20 years ago that the Sinclair ZX80 was launched. While you may be feeling side-lined in an increasingly 'big-boys' cooperate world, just be thankful you aren't encumbered by a whole 1k of Ram and a keyboard that feels as responsive as the lid of a Tupperware bowl.

502 words and some iffy spelling, Dale. I hope this is both thought provoking and entertaining. Ok… if that's too much to hope for, then I'll just hope it's not utter crap. I missed my Homer Simpson confession in this month's addition. Does this mean I have escaped the indignity? By the way I loved your new column. I smiled knowingly as I read it! But what the hell were you doing in PC Word in the fist place? Turncoat, lol!

That's all my waffle for now. Stay Welsh,

Paul Smith (28)

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October 2000

Paul Smith writes… of disappointment and bad behavior

I wanted to write about the ECTS, but having tried several different approaches I've decided that whatever I chose to say about it would be as irrelevant as the show itself. So there.

Just about the only worthwhile thing I learnt was that Playstation2 is not a Holy Grail in slinky black plastic. I was expecting a quantum leap in performance of SNES/N64 proportions. What I saw was no paradigm shift. It was a Playstation1.5 at best. Far more impressive was the Nintendo Game Boy Advance, which my carefully honed gaming skills tell me is going to sell like thoroughly heated cakes. Even the Dreamcast looked good on the Gem stand, where a bundled deal with a DVD deck was catching folk's attention. Don't write this system off just yet, boys and girls, because if you've all out of Playstation2's by November the 30th this could easily be your bread and butter for Christmas. Just stick the demo of Half Life on in the window and see those noses pressed to the cold fern frosted glass on Christmas Eve!

Quick half-hearted rant time! 15" monitor, 14" viewable screen. 14" monitor, 13" viewable screen. Now that's not so hard is it? I'm tutting as I type this….

Mad, bad and dangerous to know?

You may recall last month I told the world that I'd met my new girlfriend via the Internet in a totally non-sordid way. Many said a relationship based on such 'flimsy' as a joint interest in the television work of David Renwick was doomed to fail. They were right. Ho hum. However I have been talking to another girl via the 'net (I am at my most attractive when typing) for a while and the other day I chatted to her on the 'phone too. Yes, you're right, this is going to get sordid! Thinking I had nothing to loose I suggested we meet up sometime for coffee, as you do, and to my surprise she accepted. The next day I drove to meet her in my best shirt. When I got out of my car at her local McDonalds (classy) I realised with a sinking heart, that I had no idea of what this girl looked like, as the only picture I'd seen of her was of her arse! So short of wandering around asking people to stand up, how the hell was I going to recognize her? Fortunately I'd not been so shy about showing my face in the picture I'd sent her, and she spotted me as I looked around the car park with a worried expression. A stunningly attractive blonde in her 20's waved me over to an outside table... We walked her dog (not a euphemism) and had a pub lunch. My observation? That the Internet isn't a just about porn, e-commerce and Dot-Com millionaires, it's also about beautiful bored women with an interest in S&M.;

483 words Dale. Not sure about this one…the ebb and flow of it doesn't seem quite right to me. Does Feng Shui (my spell checker has, Elvis-like, left the building) work on written documents? Do I have this problem because my bed now faces the door? Am I North/South when I should be East/West? Let me know if I need to do a re-write.

Paul Smith

P.S. A small invoice will be wandering your way again soon. Sorry.

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November 2000

Paul Smith writes… About personal development and faking it.

I will never take an F1 car around Stowe corner and I'll never fly a Boeing 737 into JFK in thick fog. I don't expect I'll ever race the Mille Miglia against Stirling Moss or go 3 rounds with Prince Naseem. These things bother me. Was it De Carté who said, "I am my experiences, and without knowing what it's like to do all these things, I am half a man"?* Thank you simulations I say, because they let me faux-experience these situations. But just how accurate are they? Would my Soul know the difference?

Last month I was in the relatively unique position to compare a simulation with the real thing. No, BA had not taken leave of their senses and handed me a snazzy peaked hat and the controls of a large passenger aircraft. Nor had Naz thrown me a pair of gloves and promised to go easy for the first few rounds. I am talking of driving a Ferrari 355. As something of a wheel nut, and a devout follower of Clarkson (may the Lord have mercy upon his hair), I have long held the 355 in high esteem. It's been my idea of motoring nirvana. On the 19th of October I drove one around Thruxton Racetrack, and the day after I bought a copy of Ferrari 355 for my Dreamcast. The comparison? Well, given that a 355 costs about £100k, and even a few laps in one costs £50, you'd expect it to be more fun than the software, and you'd be right. However, to its advantage the 0's and 1's version is happy without a climate controlled garage. One area the game falls down badly on is smell. The leather interior. The slight whiff of burning rubber when you overcook the tyres. The hint of urine when you find yourself unexpectedly in the kitty litter, going sideways at 110mph. I guess this could be addressed with a scratch-and-sniff page in the handbook? I imagine a sachet of something which sets your nerves on edge and makes your stomach flip could be included in future versions, but there is no simple way to pull lateral G (Ali's not-so-hip brother) in your lounge so it can be forgiven that failing. You need to sit close to the screen to fool your peripheral vision, and putting a pair of surround-sound speakers behind you is a must too. Get a mate sitting next to you to say, in a too-calm voice, "You braked a bit too late there, didn't you? And you're still turning in too sharply" and you're nearly there.

To sum up, the Ferrari 355 is a fine automobile, but not raw enough for me to think of it as a sports car (I like to feel that the car is in a conspiracy with my right foot to kill me) and the game is ok, if a little formulaic.

One last thought; Am I the only person wishing Microsoft could simulate a decent operating system?

*No it wasn't.
[NOTE FOR DALE: Can you print this upside-down like the answer to a quiz question?]

502 words Dale… if it's crap it may be too late for me to do something else, but let me know.

Paul

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December 2000

Paul Smith writes… About Christmas treats

As a person under the age of 30 with testicles, it's quite natural for me to be a gadget freak. Women are, on the whole, too damn sensible to care that DVD has superior image definition to VHS, and I don't know anyone in their 40's you could call an Early Adopter. As this is the time of year for such things, tiny pieces of consumer electronics have been inexorably drawing my attention.

I've procured a new digital camera to replace my ancient Minolta 0.3 Megapixel job. I sprung £269 for a Canon [NB. Ooops, it's a Casio!] which, while it boasts 'only' 1.3Mp output, comes fully loaded with 8x optical zoom plus 4x digital zoom and a whole host of other groovy features like time-laps, avi movie output and a manual I've been using as a coffee table. If I were looking to start a business in this crazy industry right now, I'd plump for selling digital cameras. They've a nice balance of coolness, pocket-money-to-silly-money price tags and the big boys aren't making impossible to make a profit on them yet. Add to this their very smallness, making working out of a shopette possible. Consider; 40 cameras equate to a single 17" monitor by volume. Rapid development means a strong second hand market (I got £100 back for my Dimâge V) and a constant demand for more memory cards, battery packs, readers, tripods… Damn it, I'd even sell printers along side them, plus ink cartridges and paper of course! No harm in being a 'one-stop-shop for all your creative digital photography needs'. Nice ring to that…

I'd get into this market now, because in 10 years only pros are going to be paying for film and developing, everyone else having sussed getting four or five nice pictures from a roll of 24 just isn't cost effective. Oh, and when was the last time you saw a camera shop go bust?

The other fab thing I've stumbled across is the MP3 file format. Yep, it seems I'm behind the times, but since I began Napstering last month I've been gathering obscure 'n' funky stuff. Morally I would feel iffy downloading commercially available tracks, but I don't think anyone was ever going to make money out of the Nena (remember her?) spoof '99 Dead Baboons'. Now, predictably enough, I'm looking for a MP3 player to take jogging. (Canned laughter). I'd be handy to have one that uses Compact Flash cards so I could share them with my camera. I could have been smart and bought a combined camera/MP3 player, like the Fuji 40i, but I wasn't, so there. I've let it be known within the family that a Creative D.A.P Jukebox would be well received on Christmas morning. For just £350 retail, I'd be getting a portable unit with 6Gb of storage. That's over four days of playback. Let me just add 'Battery Factory' to my list for Santa. The cruel reality is it'll be another Terry's Chocolate Orange, but a boy can dream, can't he?

Paul Smith, of Aylesbury, is currently seeking gainful employment.

Exactly 500 seasonal words, Dale, old mate, old pal, old chum. I hope you like.

Paul

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January 2001

Paul Smith writes... About Fatal Hard Driving

Sometimes my sitcom life gets a reality check. You see, it’s not been a great month for me. I had a death in the family and I was robbed too. Don’t panic, it’s not quite as grim a picture as I paint. The death was my hard drive. I’ve been robbed of my data.

It’s a simple cautionary tale from someone who always said “It’ll never happen to me” right up to the moment I booted my machine, only to have the drive sound like someone playing the spoons. It’s hard to describe the feeling that comes over you. Imagine a bucket full of iced water being poured down your spine. My MP3 collection, R.I.P. My digital camera pictures, including the eclipse and a lot of other good memories; Goodbye. I bid my scanner drivers a fond farewell. My high-scores and saved-games, Ciao. Adieu to my erotic French lithograph collection. And a big hello to hours of reinstalling Windows and other assorted ‘ware. Hi to trawling the ‘net for drivers for a SCSI card even the manufactures refuse to admit exists. You get the picture. More seriously my soundcard, an obscure Yamaha chipset onboard jobbie (I use the word jobbie in its scatological sense) has always been a bit funny about conflicts and is still resisting working a week later. I can’t even find the code for my Office 97 disk, so I’m typing this in Notepad! If that’s not proof that there is a God, and he hates me, I don’t know what is.

Just before the terminal event I should have heard the giggles of the Irony Pixies as I said to myself, “I really should back up some of this stuff onto CD some time”. I’d been toying with the idea of getting a bigger drive anyway because the accursed 5.7Gb I had was looking fullish. In their defence, Maxtor sent me an advance replacement in just 2 days. Their speed hadn’t been an issue because I’d already rushed out and bought a 30Gb drive form my local Indie, only to discover my bios would only see the first 8.4Gb of it. Feck. Luckily when my Maxtor drive arrived its paperwork described some software which avoided this limitation and I went to the Samsung website for their equivalent, which works perfectly. Speaking of websites, hallelujah for mine! 25Mb of files held ‘offsite’ does mean I’ve not lost absolutely everything. My Indie-waffle.doc’s were there, as was a good selection of pictures, albeit low-res ones. I’ve also been able to claw back some pictures I e-mailed to friends. It’s a fairly sorry collection compared to the Gig-or-so that I’ve lost. Cut up? I feel like a pair of Punks trousers.

Summing up time. Irreplaceable stuff, lost. The night time shots of Dungeness power station lit up like a tree on Christmas morning, for example, would require another 2am start and a 360 mile round trip to reproduce. I’m going to have to wait 87 years for another eclipse of the sun in the UK. There’s some ex- girlfriends smiles I’ll not be seeing again. I know a lot of you don’t back-up as often as you should, and for you it’s more than your photo albums and music collections at stake, it’s your business. I beg you, get a second drive and a removable bay for your server and back up whenever you can. As Del Boy would say, you know it makes sense. And for once he’d be right.

I hope this is Ok Dale. You’re going to have to run a good spell checker over it (I don’t have an app. with one at the moment) and if its a bit long/short, let me know (No word-count either). Thanks very much for the cheque and I’ll have that Digital Camera piece done (again!) soon. Take care and if I don’t talk to you between now and then, have a great Christmas and a very pleasant New Year!

Paul

February 2001

Paul Smith writes... Of urine and smiles.

When a man you've known for a scant few minutes starts taking the piss out of you it's hard to know how to react. When that man is conducting a job interview, it's even harder. That's right, I've been doing the Job Interview thing. I could only bum around in a heterosexual way for so long, and now I'm back on the job-hunt treadmill. The urine extraction happened when my motivations for a sales job were called into question. He felt that a firm having to buy my enthusiasm with cold hard cash was tantamount to my prostituting myself. I felt like asking him why he was offering £17k basic and £27k O.T.E. if that was that case, but one has to bite ones tongue, doesn't one? (My posh interview voice...it's good, innit?)

The questions that get asked never ceases to amaze me; “Where do you see yourself in ten years time” still seems to be in vogue. Perhaps I'm alone in planning for my future up to the weekend, and hoping to play it by ear beyond that. Some might say this where I've gone wrong with my life. I would reply that by having no goals other than to be happy, I'm not regularly facing disappointment. In my experience it's pointless to try to explain this. Instead I project the nub of my gist by saying that when I was 19 (I'm now 29) I hoped by 2001 to be an Astronaut approaching Jupiter. That usually shuts them up.

I had more fun at Ingram Micros where I was very effectively evaluated with nine other wannabe sales people, some of whom it's not my pleasure to report couldn't sell a donut to Homer Simpson. Still, we can't all be born prostitutes...sorry, sales people. They held a Getting-to-know-you session where the corporate grins were solidly in place. Perhaps it's something the management put in the coffee? All concerned need to be congratulated for not once having a dialysis moment with any of the candidates, despite being taunted with frequent opportunities. Oh, and here I discovered Role-play doesn't necessarily involve anyone dressing in a latex nurses uniform. Believe me, my face must have been a picture of disappointment.

Apart from doing the rounds, as it were, I've been thinking about moving to Cuba. You can see the Manic Street Preachers live there shortly for 29 cents. You think I'm kidding, don't you? I'm serious. With the contents of my savings account I could set myself up for life in a big house overlooking an unspoilt bay...sigh. My research so far tells me Havana is a nice town (my research has involved playing Driver 2) populated with wheeled 50s Americana. Sounds good to me. So there you go. A bit like Paul Daniels threatening to leave the UK if New Labour got in about 4 years ago, if I don't get a job soon I’ll be off to lie in the sun on a coconut strewn beach. One last thought: I’ll make a point of not taking the piss out of any locals, for fear that they'll exact a terrible revenge by writing about me in a trade magazine.

5xx words Dale. The usual 'I hope it's not crap' comments apply. Talk soon.

Paul Smith

March 2001

Paul Smith writes.... of a cool way to sell yourself.

Bright ideas come along once in a while. That Mr. Heinz suddenly thought of adding tomato sauce and Einstein realised that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared prove this. My own recent well lit thought was about a sensible use for the Internet. It’s not just a place for seeing naked ladies (a recurring theme in my columns) or an arena for dotcom companies to go bust in, you know. In the course of my job hunting (which had a happy ending, more of which at the bottom of this waffle) I sent out a thick wad of CVs to I.T. firms within a drivable radius of my home. The cost of stamps, envelopes and rather nice conqueror laid paper all added up. Factor-in the time and effort of writing the envelopes and adjusting the covering letter to each potential employer, and the whole operation begins to look like a lot of hard work, or at least not as much fun as watching Richard and Judy. I’m a big believer in working smarter and I came up with what I think is a rather neat idea.

I put a version of my CV on the web by simply cutting and pasting my paper one into a HTML editor. Of course, in the name of common sense and because the web is crawling with weirdoes, I was a little vague about my address and other very personal information. I added a couple of pictures and some links to my regular site and it was ready to go! Phase two of my grand plan was to use the directory pages of various trade publications to make a list of e-mail addresses. The next step was to write a generic covering e-mail complete, and this is the smart bit, with hyperlinks to my CV page. For less than the time it takes to find and copy down the address of a few disties, I had a fairly hefty database to do a broadcast e-mailing to. And unlike a paper C.V. which appears unbidden on someone's desk, it’s easy to show flair, technological awareness and resourcefulness with an online one. Another advantage is an e-mail is far less bother to reply to, requiring minimal effort to hit the reply button and type a few well chosen words there and then. I even went to the trouble of adding a feedback section at the end of the web page, asking a few very quick questions about the surfers reaction to it.

Here’s the rub. If I can sell myself on the ‘net with an e-mail blitz on local businesses, connected via a hyperlink to a very specific page outlining my features and benefits, what’s to stop you doing the same for your business? Did it work for me? I don’t know. I was offered a job before I could hit the send button. I like to think it would’ve been a great success, and even if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have cost me a bean.

Paul Smith ‘does something’ for Ingram Micro. (Role TBC)

5xx words Dale.

Paul

April 2001

Paul Smith writes.... of mixed (up) news for the future.

It was my fellow Buckinghamshire-Boy, Disraeli (1804-81) who once said, "There are lies, damn lies and statistics". Remarkably for a British Prime Minister, he obviously had a point. So this month I'm going to stick to broad sweeping statements to avoid getting bogged down in irksome facts and figures.

The growth in the UK PC market is slowing. It had to happen sometime, and that time is now. The industry is well into its teens and like any spotty adolescent who's discovered sex can involve other people, it's begun to mature. Ignoring the fairly static business market for a moment, there are about 20 million homes in the UK (oops, a figure, sorry) and most of them already have an ivory midi-tower. Thus just about everyone who wants a PC has got one. It makes sense that the focus is switching to replacing older computers rather than selling to first time buyers. Again, logically, the opportunity to do well with part-ex machines is starring you in the face. It works well for the automotive market, doesn't it? Add in that the reasons to buy a PC are getting fewer and further between (blame the Sony PlayStation and set-top-boxes for e-mail and the Internet) and you'll understand why the number being bought, month-on-month, is seeing a plateau.

"Damn", you're thinking. "Just what we need, a slowing of PC sales, leading to bankruptcy and me being forced to eat my family pets just to survive". Well, like the title says, I have good news as well as bad. Firstly, sales of other IT goodies are going through the roof. Laptops are suddenly in demand by people not wearing suits and digital camera sales are also mushrooming like a bad day in Hiroshima. If there's a band(width)wagon to jump on at the moment, it's anything cool and portable enough to show off to your mates down the pub.

Secondly, the UK has the 2nd largest installed user-base of PCs in Europe (we're only beaten by the Germans [Feel free to think of your own racist stereotype joke or comment about 1966 to go here]) and so at the very least you'll have lots of people who's PCs will need upgrading. Incidentally, Germany and France both have bigger populations than the UK, and yet Frances IT market is smaller than ours at the moment. The French, however, are catching us up, which means market growth. Suddenly using that French O level and opening a PC shop in Cannes doesn't seem like such a daft idea after all.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was right, we are a nation of Shopkeepers. The United States of America may be the Land of the Free, but Great Britain will always be the Land of the Buy One, Get One Free.

Paul Smith likes to be known as an Industry Guru, and works for Ingram Micro.

Don't read it, download it!

May 2001

Paul Smith writes... It's been emotional...

I'm typing this whilst still pink, wrinkled and steaming. There really is nothing in this world like a long hot bath with bubbles and Bridget Jones (the motion picture soundtrack anyway) after being on your aching feet all day at a trade show.

I'm talking SCoRE, clearly. And what another fabulous year for this event, which seems to go from strength to strength! I'd really like to thank the very lovely Beth Attwood for all her efforts in organising the Ingram Micro stand, which I had the pleasure of manning on Sunday the 22nd of April. Her hard work (do you think 500 carrier bags stuff themselves? Actually, a note to anyone who wants to be a millionaire: Design a portable bag stuffing device which could be hired to firms for a day or two to fill bags with whatever promotional material you stick in it's hopper*) was repaid by a very successful day for the team. Special thanks must also go to Kodak and Palm, without whom- Sorry, this is turning into an Oscar speech, isn't it? I'll shorten it to 'Great show, thanks all' and move on.

My personal thoughts about the show are somewhat marred by another stands, um, overly bold display. Call me a prude, but if I want to be bombarded with pornographic images for a few hours, I'll have a quiet word with Karl at my local video store. I may not be the sharpest knife in the draw (although I do know what the ending of 2001 - A Space Odyssey is all about) but even I realised that many visiting retailers would want to bring their kids along. Showing what can only be described as 'full-on' overtly adult scenes from an 18 rated game was not really PC enough for a computer show with a small/family business bias. Did I look? Yes I did. I said call me a prude. Free to call me a hypocrite too.

I'm not proud to say I pulled my usual trick on a passing promo-girl. As she strutted by the stand I waved my camera hopefully at her. With a cheeky smile she asked if I'd like a picture. With a cheesy grin in return I said, "Would you mind?" passed her the camera, took two steps back and struck a pose. She saw the funny side to it...once I'd explained the joke to her a couple of times.

A quick advert. Home multi-region DVD players are a rapidly growing market. We even do one that plays MP3 CDs too. Perhaps something to consider this spring as a test line?

And finally, a story about- well, me. Again. I've been chosen from literally many to be the new 'Voice of Ingram Micro'. That's right, in future when you call us I'll be the voice-over telling you what's hot and what's hotter still, deal-wise. So, if you want to hear my smoothest and best 'doctor' voice, that number again....

*No one say 'Temp', ok?

Although Paul Smith works for Ingram Micro, the views expressed in this column are very much his personal ones.

Exactly 500 wellish chosen words on my world, Dale.

Paul

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June 2001

Paul Smith writes... On getting old and smelly

I'm in retrospective mood this month, and oddly, also looking in the opposite direction, thus (what is the opposite of retrospective? Anti-retrospective? Ah, of course, Spective) I've been feeling Spective too.

My thoughts were triggered by the realisation that at the age of 29½, I look more like the Pope than I look like Brad Pitt, no matter how nice a shirt I put on. What happened to my boyish good looks (if any) and where have all the years gone?

I joined this crazy business we call IT (with the occasional addition of a 'SH') at the tender age of 21 after receiving a systems-crash course from my old school mate Philip, who worked for Dixons at the time. Since then I've been employed by seven firms selling PC's or bits of PC's, and by one, briefly (they closed the branch) selling Mobile Phones. Ironically I had a PC to help me do this job, which I hated. The job, not the PC.

By 1994 I was selling 486* SX25's with 4Mb of RAM and 240Mb hard drives to the unsuspecting people of Aylesbury. A few short months later it was DX2-66 / 8 / 540's that were all the rage. And now, some 7 years later it's all P4 1.7Ghz CPUs, 256Mb DIMMs and 60Gb drives. That's a 7000% figure increase in 84 months. It makes you think, doesn't it? I'm not quite sure what it makes you think, but I'm positive that's what it does.

So, using the original mid-90's mystic ratio of RAM capacity to CPU speed to Hard Drive capacity (approx. 1:7:60) we see that over the years drive capacities have grown four-fold in relation to CPU performance and memory requirements. Projecting these figures, logically by 2008 we should all be selling P9 120Ghz systems, with 16Gb of Ram and 15 Terabytes of storage onboard. Scary, but also scarily plausible. Unless something unspeakable happens to me before then, I'll be 36½ and just 1300 days away from being 40, and receiving a comedy 'Over the Hill' coffee mug.

What can we learn from this? Only that the only way to avoid getting older is dying, that an industry which stands still is an industry which vanishes (look at Fletching) and you can't turn the clock back, no matter how attractive the shirt you put on is. And while my life has been a roller coaster ride resulting in premature ageing and an air of 'just being pleased to be here', Philip still has the same job with Dixons.

Something possibly more productive than nostalgia to try this summer are Digital Camcorders. An ideal line to try alongside video capture cards and editing software. We stock various models, including one Canon for about £850 ex. VAT which retails in your favourite High Street stores for £1099.99 (Prices correct as of 17/05/01).

*For any children of the 90's reading this, 486's were a sort of pre-Pentium(tm). They can still be found holding doors open in remote rural areas.

Although Paul Smith works for Ingram Micro, the views expressed in this column are very much his personal ones.

501 randomly chosen words from my head, Dale. Invoice to follow!

Paul

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July 2001

Paul Smith... Isn't here to console you. Sorry.

Has the Playstation 2 fallen flat on its- um- flat bottom? The feeling I get is that it has. I didn't buy one, and I'm someone who's invested folding in every half-arsed/kick-arse console from the Dreamcast and Saturn back to the 3DO and the SNES. This is hint number one that all in not well with Sony's black magic box, or at least its current line-up of titles, no matter how alluring the DVD style packaging may be.

Another hint is the feedback I've had from friends, and no, I don't mean high-pitched shrieking. They rushed out like the lemmings they are (close friends, you see!) and bought one, and now it sits under the telly with a thin coat of dead human skin cells, used for DVD movies and occasional bouts of classic original PS game playing. In fact, to some it's been such a disappointment that they've got selling plans. Take a look at QXL or Ebay and you'll see that £200 in well-used notes is worth more to some folks than an under-used PS2, which doesn't bode well for any Sony inscribed boxes sitting on your shops shelves. Unless, that is, you like your hardware used and your software pre-owned, in which case it could be party time. Cloud/Silver-lining.

Sniff the price drop. Does it have the tangy-musky reek of fear? Have Sony watched with growing horror as a European sales graph in some glass edifice in Tokyo didn't follow a projected curve of in-home-entertainment-joy but instead peaked and dipped? You can bet Sony hasn't dropped the price out of the goodness of their little Japanese hearts. They've not reacted to a rival consoles launch or price drop. Nor have they decided to pass on savings they've made in the manufacturing process to make you and your customers happy. The only reason to make the pricing decision that they've made is because they want to sell some more machines, and that's because the thin red line on the graph says they've not sold enough.

The early adopters have already combed the Internet and adopted, while cautious people looking at house price to income ratios and tutting, like me, have decided to keep their dough rising in a nice warm bank account for now. Better safe than Sony, as you might pun mercilessly.

The Playstation 2 may yet get back on its feet for Christmas but only if it gets some must-have exclusive titles. If it doesn't, Microsoft's X-Box is going to come along, steal its Nike trainers and flush its head down a toilet.

In contrast, my final thought is about Nintendo. If they're the Super Mario Brothers, their family name must be Mario, right? While this isn't so bad for Luigi Mario, it can't be great for Mario Mario, can it?

Although Paul Smith works for Ingram Micro, the views expressed in this column are very much his personal ones.

465 eclectic words, Dale. Please let me know if you need some more.

Paul

Don't read it, download it!

August 2001 (maybe)

Paul Smith... On the dangers of watching television.

Changing Rooms is to blame for the pool of urine I was just sitting in. I'd better explain.

Because I live in a rented house, I have a lot of magnolia to look at. It's like being inside an empty chicken's egg sometimes. Anyway, instead of painting, I take a more creative route to making rooms different. I use coloured light bulbs. The entrance hall is bathed in blue. The landing is glorious in green, and my bedroom is (small cough) raunchy in red. I take things further, by having helium balloons filling that totally wasted space above my stairs. You know; the huge triangular volume of air just begging to be used for foil balloon storage. It's a style statement. You wouldn't understand. Now the thing about helium balloons is that over time they loose their gas and buoyancy. After a while they begin to drop and meander the air currents of the house.

Now picture the scene. It's late. I'm at my computer in a darkened room trying to think of something to type for Indie. Apart from me, the house is empty. The doors are locked and I have no pets to disturb me. I have the peace and quiet I need to do an exposé on the inhuman factory-farming conditions disties keep their staff in. I click my knuckles and lean towards my keyboard....

Something lightly taps me on the back of the head. No more of an impact than the gentle bump of a slow moving balloon, yet it's so unexpected, I scream like a Dr Who assistant and shoot, gibbering, vertically from my seat. Arms flailing, I try to beat off my unseen assailant. In the turbulent airflow of my frantically windmilling, the balloon is swept up and pauses near ceiling level.

At last I have enough guts to open my eyes and look around to see... no one. If only I'd looked up, but I didn't. Spooked, it took me a minute to settle down to typing again. Perhaps I could do a piece on the paranormal? Headless Horsemen seen in Bolton PC World, kinda thing? Hey, I could even work in a bit about 'the ghost in the machine'. I was warming to the subject as the balloon, which had been slowly falling for three minutes, at last made contact with the top of my head.

I've changed my pants and mopped up now. However, all ideas for a column have been erased from my mind by terror. All, that is, except this one. I apologise that it's not about independent retail or the worlds of IT or electronic gaming. Soz.

To sum up; don't listen to the mad ramblings of a longhaired fop on television. And praise leather for being so easy to sponge clean.

Oh ok then. Um- Sell extended warrantees? Like I say, I'm sorry. My nerves are so shot they'd look like a Swiss cheese caught in the crossfire of the St Valentine's Day Massacre. With woodworm.

499 industry irrelevant words Dale. I'm also working on a piece about the differences working for an American company rather than a German one, if, as I expect, you reject this one!

Paul

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August 2001 (100% sure)

Paul Smith... On working for the Yankee Dollar

You've noticed how different professions generate their own languages. Where would the Police be without IC2 Males to chase? What would QC's do without Silk to take? Just who is the Whip who helps Politicians stay On-Message? And how would filmmakers cope without Best Boys doing whatever it is that Best Boys do? I've written before about the joys of IT terminology, but I don't just work in the computer industry; I also work in Sales.

Despite my best efforts, I've been drawn into the lingo vortex too. For example, this morning I was ok'd a crunchy price on some real sweet-spot product that was starting to get smelly. It was a total no-brainer and there was even a spiff on it, so I got on the blower at once to touch-base* with some names. One tried to screw me down but I knew what the market would wear, so I was concrete on it. I closed him, did a sales spread and market penetration report then went home 'happy'.

It gets worse. I work for an American owned business. This means I've been exposed to even further fetched language, which has been seeping into my day-to-day life. Yesterday morning, half-asleep, I found myself proactively looking for socks. I'd set myself an achievable goal, and by looking in the airing cupboard, I moved forward with my aims. I maintained focus to grow my vision of fluffy socks, and by getting them from a warm airing cupboard, they exceeded my expectations by being both fluffy and warm too. I ran with the socks whilst in the loop, eventuating leaping from the window of opportunity.

I shouldn't take the Mickey (Mouse) out of the Americans though. Working for them beats working for a German company, which I've done several times in the past. Because the Germans view the UK market as something to have a bit of fun with, they send the MD's idiot son to go and develop it. While #1 son stays at home to be groomed for power by Pa, #2 son, the business hobbyist, is packed off to intimidate the UK office. Compared to that, a smiling Yank who gives you a firm handshake and then calls your Morris Minor "quaint" is a positive breath of fresh air.

It was a German who invented the car and the Diesel engine, but then there is the gas-guzzling V8 to consider. Evil Americans make-up 5% of the worlds population, yet produce 50% of the worlds greenhouse gasses. And they did detonate a couple of nuclear devices in the harmless Japanese equivalents of Cardiff and Stockport. You can't even dis Laderhosen [Note for Dale. My spell checker and I have no idea how to spell this] when compared to the crime which is plaid trousers, or Knockwurst against Grits. But all these things pale into insignificance when you remember we've never had a war with the Yanks- Oh, except that one about independence, which rather spoils my argument. And we actually lost that one. Darn it all to heck.

*You can make this sound filthy if you try.

502 slightly risky words Dale. I suspect the PTB won't be too taken with this one! Perhaps we should foot it with:

Paul Smith works in distribution, but doesn't let it stop him having fun

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September 2001.

Paul Smith... Moralises whilst getting too fond of his hardware.

For some it's the slither of nylon on nylon and the click of a stiletto heel. For others it's the smell and tactile properties of leather. Some get gratification from Erotic Vomiting (I've seen it on the Internet so it must be true!) while others enjoy the simple pleasures afforded by a latex clad nurse and a salt-water enema.
My kink is, in a way, kinkier. It's time for me to come out as a techno-fetishist.

I thought I was just a Technophile, a propeller-headed gadget gimp. But several recent purchases have made me admit to myself that my fondness of hardware goes much deeper than that. Like some of you I imagine, it's why I got into I.T. in the first place, so I can play with such cool stuff all day long! Actually that's no longer true. I just get chained the phone for hours talking about cool stuff, which is the next best thing. I think it's because I'm extolling the virtues of gear I'd love to own myself that makes me an enthusiastic salesman. And it's easy to get enthusiastic about some of the goodies Ingram Micro sells.

Take Digital Cameras as a cute example. I bought an aluminium-bodied Fuji for my dad last month and it was the curviest darn thing I've ever seen, including Anna Nicole Smith in a tight PVC cat suit. This is an enthusiasts market with such potential I've considered starting my own business to flog them. I even came up with a catchy name: Snaps & Bytes. I'd deal in new and used equipment too, because what every chap wants is a newer, bigger camera and someone to take his (this gadget-freakisum seems to be a male thing) old one off his hands for a half-decent price. I'd do consumables and add-ons. I'd have a website. And best of all, I'd have saucy little boxes of delight all around me! Whimper.

My fetish got whipped into a frenzy the other day when I noticed I've been here for six months, and thus eligible for the 0% APR staff deferred payment scheme. This happened to coincide with some cut-price notebooks appearing on our system, so now I'm the proud owner of a matt black stealth IBM with a 15" TFT screen and a DVD drive. I'm in lust! This thing's sleeker than an oiled panther driving a Ferrari. I've honestly thought about using its PCMCIA port in a way IBM never intended it to be used! Now I've realised it's gone too far.

While some men get 'a bit funny' about their car, my perversion can thankfully be indulged behind closed doors, out of public sight. As vices go it's cheaper than most habits, carries no health risks and won't land me in gaol. I was going to seek help for my addiction, but as I don't drink, smoke, use drugs, gamble or beat up old people for kicks, I might as well enjoy it.
What else would I do for fun?

501 industry relevant words of confession Dale.

Have a good weekend and talk to you soon!

Don't read it, download it!

October 2001. (Written very early in September 2001, pre-attack-on-America.)

Paul Smith... On the ECTSssszzzzzzzzz…

We fear it.
Confucius, he tell us it is the only thing we can be certain of.
And my local shop won't give it for the 'phone box.
I'm talking about change, clearly.

This year, the first of the third Millennium*, saw a shift of venue for the ECTS to the ExCeL building in London's Docklands. I approached on a driverless DLR train with some trepidation, remembering my last trip there. 18 hours after my visit, the IRA decided that the area needed to be showered in broken glass to a depth of several feet. I hoped no such excitement awaited me again and I was not disappointed.

As I walked the covered ramp from the station to the hall I was reminded of the plastic roof of Stansted Airport. The excitingly Victorian arched ceiling of Olympia was missed as I passed through ExCeLs pyramid entrance and into the low, dark, regimented space of ECTS's utilitarian (in a Terminal way) new home.

I've been to perhaps six ECTS's and this one was a disappointment, not least because of a total lack of promotional t-shirts and novelty inflatable hats. For a show that touts itself as the portal through which we can stare, unblinking, at the chromed guts of Nintendo's or Microsoft's vision of future entertainment, there was bugger-all there. If I wanted to source grimly packaged third-party PlayStation peripherals, or look for a new job in I.T. there were plenty of stands vying for my patronage. But I medically needed a good look at EA's Christmas line-up and a sniff of an X-Box, and I was going to rattle home with all my hopes and dreams unrealised.
Even on the Sunday the number of excited children milling about, fingering their trade passes, seemed well down on previous years. In the past I've had to head-butt innocent bystanders and claim to be a leper in order to clear a path, just to get a look at GT2 or some such gem. This time I didn't even have a Sony cave to elbow people in the throat in. I did find distraction in the shape of a tabletop football game with robots, but I would have been happier admiring Game-Cubes in eighteen implausible colours. Or else swooning at something so good on the PS2 I was going to have to be a cannibalistic lion, i.e. swallow my pride, and buy one.

One welcome change was the addition of air-conditioning. Pity no one appeared to have turned it on. Apart from keeping the air-con off, I have another idea where the organisers were trying to recoup the money that the big boys absence must have lost them. £1.50 for 500ml of coke. Scandalous. Like a week-old bottle of overpriced pop, for me the ECTS fizz has gone. On the subject of money, I have a morbid phobia about two and five pence pieces.

I really do fear change.

*Argue this if you must, but the Gregorian calendar and I are firm on it.

Exactly 500 not too self-indulgent, witty, relevant, enlightening and correctly spelt words for you Dale, fingers crossed. I hope they're good words. I liked getting 'Gregorian' into a column after all these years of trying to find the right spot for it. I trust you're well, and that I have time for a rewrite if needs be.

Paul

[Note: It's ironic, but after Dale edited this piece 'post-September the 11th', he not only lost the reference to terrorist attacks on tall buildings, but also he removed the bit about the Gregorian calendar. And that hurt.]

Don't read it, download it!

November 2001.

Paul Smith... On giving the customer exactly what you want.

Henry Ford had it right when he said, "Any colour you like, so long as it's black".
It may not sound like one of histories all time great advertising strap-lines, but the success of the Model T suggests it wasn't too shabby. Even my Bond Bug was sold under the slogan 'Any colour you like as long as it's Tangerine!'

I'm saying choice isn't always a good thing. It can confuse and confuddle. Intel or AMD? PS2 or X-Box? HP or Epson? Choice forces one to make a decision, when sometimes all we want is to be told what we want. This flaw in human nature is put to work by governments worldwide. Take this column for example. I came to it thinking I'd do a piece on Buying Groups or on how to get the most from your Account Manager. As you can see, in the end I couldn't decide on either, so decided on neither. If Editor Dale had said, "Paul, for the love of God, just do something insightful on telephone hold systems", I'd have been happy. It seems I'm a sheep at heart. And so are the great unwashed.

Where's the harm in offering only one model of PC? Sure, if people ask for a bigger hard drive, more RAM or a faster CPU then they're options, but as standard, it's available in 'any colour you like so long as it's beige'. Imagine it: As the Billy walks in, they see a single PC under a sign which reads 'THIS IS THE ONLY ONE WE DO. IT'S THE BEST ALL-ROUND DEAL WE CAN OFFER'. You can be sure they'd not feel intimidated or overwhelmed. There's nothing as nasty as an extensive range of complex options, with myriad permutations, for putting you off a purchase. Take mobile phones. I don't own one because I have no idea where to start, but if there was one network, one model of phone, one tariff and one price, I could just tick a box marked: [YES]

Before you pooh-pooh my idiotic ideas as the fevered fantasies of a mad man, think about the i-Mac, which unarguably saved Apple. Here the purchaser is faced with a single choice: What damn colour to buy it in.

One last point. If, like a local computer store of mine, your idea of in-store advertising is a selection of fluorescent stars from Fellows with the word SALE written on them badly in Biro, then you, like them, have a lot to learn about the art of modern product promotion. Also, don't ask three times in the space of five minutes if I need any help, don't stare at me as if you expected me to slip a copy of XP into my pants at any moment (I wasn't shoplifting, promise) and don't call, "Thanks", after me in a sarcastic tone of voice when I leave without making a purchase. If that sort of shit happens to me, I simply exercise my choice, and shop elsewhere.

500 words hand-rolled by dusky Cuban maidens, Dale.

Peace, we out.

Paul

Don't read it, download it!

December 2001.

Paul Smith... On those little things that say so much.

Smoking is great. Certainly the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks so. It makes you look cool and keeps you thin. Very thin, potentially. However, I'd not recommend retailers let their staff do it on the sales floor. I'm not alone in believing it doesn't set the right tone, unless your shop doubles as a Jazz Club.

A local computer store of mine doesn't allow its employees to smoke on the premises. Instead they seem to be encouraged to stand at the threshold, virtually blocking access to the building, puffing away and eyeing passing women hawkishly. They cup their fags in the warmth of the doorway, making the prospect of visiting the shop about as attractive as visiting Chernobyl, and who wants to get that close to a man in an ill-fitting suit and a cloud of noxious gas?

Instead you browse the window for a while, taking in the garishly coloured boxes arranged in a graceless curve. They surround a lonely ISA network card. The artists skill is in making us question what we see, and I for one wondered, "forfuxake, why?"

You hold your breath and enter, but once inside it doesn't get any better. Most items are unpriced. Perhaps it's to save money on little sticky labels. It seems ridiculous not to mark them when they're so dusty you could write the price in that instead. And what is priced is over-priced. The lighting is poor. The walls are white and bare. There are bars at the window and a smell of cooking vegetables in the air. If it wasn't for three tower cases half built in front of me I'd swear I was in prison. Even the dreary carpet tiles look like they're here as guests of Her Majesty. Any second now, I think to myself, the man who's been looking on the verge of asking if I need any help for the last five minutes is going to enquire if I have any snout. I count eight manufacturers in their display (if that's the right word for hanging them on the wall) of cables. I note there's software on the shelves I couldn't sell five years ago. Dark Forces for £19.99 anyone? You just know the owner points at PC World as the source of all his woes, and in a way he's right, because they're really good. Comparatively.

I paint a very nasty picture, but if there's even one element here that reminds you of your own business, then in the name of all that's sane, change it! And if it's all too familiar, you may well own a shop in Aylesbury.

It's not your prices, or informed and attentive staff that lure people into your shop. It's an unobstructed doorway, a bright, friendly interior and a well-organised attractive window display. If you disagree, the only thing drawing crowds into your shop this Christmas could be a sudden downpour of rain. And then only if they can squeeze past the nicotine addict in the doorway.

500 fun-filled words Dale. A rushed job, full of bile and scathing wit. A moral. A hero and a villain. A classic tale of good against evil. Should be right up your alley!

Paul

Don't read it, download it!

January 2002.

Paul Smith... On the subtle Art of Management.
Alternative title: 'Barely Managing'.

It's a chilling fact that half of all people are below average intelligence. Worse, one in twenty is in the bottom 5%. Most chilling of all, it seems many of them end up as management.

At this point I'm at pains to stress I'm not including my current superiors in this sweeping statement. They're all well-balanced individuals with I.Q.s well into triple figures. However, in the past I've faced remarks like, "We need you to be giving 110%". I felt like asking, "How?" By the very nature of the thing the maximum I can give is 100%. That's all it's possible to give. Perhaps they meant they wanted us to work through our lunch-hours? Again, I half wanted to say, "I tell you what, I'll give you 200% and put myself in an early grave, how'd that be?" But my self-preservation gene stopped me. I've learnt tongue biting is an invaluable office-politics tool when someone whose solitary skill is speaking in the loudest voice is saying something dumb to you. Previously witnessed examples of how-not-to-manage have included:

"Where do you think you're going?"
"I need some Post-its(tm)"
"Sit yourself down. Get them in your own time, you're here to work."

I've even been asked, "You're not still going on about that stupid report, are you?" while chasing for a vital list of potential customers to call. To my way of thinking that's sloppy management at best, and at worse, something involving lots of rude words and name-calling. I don't think anyone finds that sort of attitude helps motivation or improves their ability to do their job. Take the e-mail I received, asking if I felt I was receiving too many irrelevant e-mails. Ironically, up-until that point, I didn't think I was. Once I was interrupted on the phone to be told I shouldn't allow myself to be distracted whilst on the phone, and I've been criticised for taking on additional responsibilities, even though I used my personal time (damn, I did end up working through my lunch-hour after-all) to do them. None of this gives one the rosy glow of appreciation. Never forget that to some people the feeling of being valued by a firm is as much an incentive to stay there as the money.

If you manage people, bare in mind that it's not always necessary to beat them with a stick until they squeak to get the best out of them. A happy employee is a productive employee, and if helpful suggestions, support and a little care make them happy, then try that. Perhaps you don't need to stare them out, use 'the long silence technique' in meetings or otherwise intimidate them to get the performance results you're both looking for. That style of management is bullying by another name. The only difference is the threat's not that you'll pinch their dinner money, it's that you'll sack them. You don't need to be a genius to know Respect and the Desire to Succeed are far better to install in your subordinates than Fear.

507 dummy spitting words Dale, but lots of them are quite short. Thank God I'm no longer being treated like this, eh? Ha ha aha…

Paul

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February 2002.

Paul Smith
A rose by any other name…

I like shop names. Hairdressers seem to have the best ones, with titles like 'A Cut Above', 'Curl Up And Dye' and 'The Cutting Room'. I wish our industry embraced puns so warmly. 'The Chip Shop' is a good one I suppose, but there are far too many combinations of 'The Computer/PC/Micro Shop/Centre/Store' for my liking. If your retail business has any of these names, then please don't think I'm accusing you of a lack of imagination. These are all good names. They tell the potential shopper what to expect. It's the 'It does exactly what it says on the tin' effect, and it's very reassuring for the casual punter. However, since your businesses name is often the first thing that registers with other people, I reckon a little more creativity should be applied to it.

Naming a shop is like naming a child. You want to create an impression with the tag. Hardly anyone names his or her offspring Cyril or Gertrude anymore because times and tastes have changed. Only the daughter of a rock star could get away with being called Moon-unit, and Jocasta Smith isn't going to fool anyone that she's a member of the landed gentry. This is why people usually play it safe, and there are so many Claires and Johns in the world. (Again, no disrespect to any Claires or Johns reading this. They're both great names with much to recommend them.) So, where can you gather memorable shop name ideas?

You could take a look at how Plumbers and Builders get to the front of the Yellow Pages, and rename your shop 'Aardvark PCs' or 'A1 Systems'. You could go for irony, with a title like 'Ye Olde Computer Shoppe' or 'Bodge I.T.' In an industry based on acronyms, it seems appropriate to use any old string of letters to name your business. It didn't hurt IBM to lose the 'nternational usiness achines' bit of their name. Sadly, the same cannot be said of my mate Colin Underwood and his abortive business venture, which was called Network Technology. He made headlines in our local paper with his shop front, even though they needed to blank out much of the picture…

As noted above, the risk of getting the name wrong is a serious one. Imagine poor Fifi Trixabell trying to get a job at a top London law firm in a few years time. And calling your PC building business 'Hair by Alan' would be financial suicide. It probably wouldn't be much better if it was actually a hairdressers, but there you go.

To summarise: Any businesses name is more than the first line of an address; it's an advert in itself. Picking something memorable is vital, but there are clear risks in trying to be too clever because not everyone has a detectable sense of humour.

As a footnote, my hat comes off to the shop I heard of in Lincolnshire that goes by the exquisite moniker of 'PC WOLD'. Pure genius.

Paul Oberon Smith is an ex retailer and now works in distribution.

500 carefully selected words Dale.
I hope you're well and that this is funny, relevant(ish) and suitable. If it's not, let me know and I'll do something funnier and/or more relevant.

Paul

Don't read it, download it!

March 2002.

Paul Smith
Plug in, turn on, DV out.

There's a whole new reason to own a PC! How exciting is that! People used to put up with them to write letters of complaint to the BBC on (why else did the original MS Word come with a 'why-oh-why-oh-why' template?) and then Doom came out and people bought a 486 to play games on. After a while someone noticed the Internet and folk began wanting a thousand pound Pentium PC to save money on stamps and shoe leather. Now you can use one to remake Citizen Kane, The Shawshank Redemption or Dude, Where's My Car? That last sentence reads as a question, but actually it's a statement. To do this amazing feat, just add one digital camcorder.

A few seemingly short years ago you would have a VHS-C camera and edit onto a VHS video with it. A slow and nasty business that, after audio dubbing, produced a second-generation copy of something that wasn't crystal-clear to start with. Analogue video (i.e. [S-]VHS[-C], 8mm and Hi8) is rapidly on it's way out. Like music and mobile phones before it, video has gone all one-and-noughty. This is because you can now buy a good 500-line resolution digicam for under £400, and even the cheapest, nastiest 240-line analogue unit is £200 plus. You can still pay over a grand for a DV camera, but for that you get a gizmo so neat it comes with added 'lifestyle'. Great.

I'm not suggesting you stock a broad range of camcorders, tripods and fancy vests with eighty pockets. I'm sure specialist shops don't make big money from these up against the likes of- I need name no High Street names. I am saying you need to push Firewire(tm) (a.k.a. IEEE-1394 or i-link) cards and DV editing software, such as MGIs excellent VideoWave. This is a very lucrative enthusiasts market and as people migrate from older formats, or buy their first camcorder, they're looking to be able to edit their art. They could buy a dedicated DV editing box, but when a PC with all the gear (big, fast hard drive, CDRW or DVD-Burner maybe, plus the obligatory Firewire(tm) port) is a quarter of the price and capable of so much more, how many takers for the professional solution will there be? A woman in a wimple mate, that's how many.

This market is only going to grow as Internet bandwidths widen. Video streaming isn't going to be limited to fuzzy little boxes for much longer. Proper 24-frame-per-second full-screen presentations will become the norm. 18 minutes of DVD quality video equates to a CD-ROMs worth of data. At the moment that's one hell of a download, but in 3 years time, who knows?

That spotty bespectacled lad loitering in your shop could be the next Ridley Scott. That balding, bearded reclusive eccentric (and I know you have one) could be about to follow in Stanley Kubricks' enigmatic footsteps. Give them the tools. The P4 shouldn't be the centre of their digital world. It should be you, damn it.

Paul Smith is an ex retailer and now works (for want of a better word) in distribution.

502 more words Dale.
Guess who's just bought a camcorder? Please feel free to use this one if the Names column was a bit too like your own feature.

Bori-Dah (with apologies)

Paul

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April 2002. Unused.

Paul Smith
Words are a cage we make for ourselves.

It always unnerves me when I discover people actually read my column. At a show once a stranger strode up to me saying, "You write for Indie, don't you?" Suddenly I was wondering if this person was a stalker. What else did they know about me? Had they been going through my bins? For a moment I had the feeling the ghost of John Lennon and something ancient in my glands were both telling me to kick this man in the goolies and run like buggery.
"Er, yes", I replied uncertainly. "How did you know?"
He pointed at the attractive picture of me (as above) in the copy he held, and then at the Indie t-shirt I was wearing. I grinned like the moron I so clearly was, made my excuses and left.

I was in a local retailers place recently when he waved me over. "You know that rant you had in the mag a few months ago?" he said.
Naturally I wondered which rant he meant.
"The one about a crap local retailer", he continued as I nodded with fake recollection. He fixed me with a look. "It wasn't about me, was it?" He asked.
Well, as it happens, it wasn't. I've always thought of his busy shop as a cool little outlet full of activity and atmosphere. Then he pointed-out a badly written price on a neon-pink star and I remembered the rant he meant.
"I've also been known to call 'thanks' sarcastically when someone leaves without buying something", he confided.
Again, this was something that has happened to me elsewhere in the past. I shook my head and assured him the piece wasn't about him. I added that I hoped he'd stop doing it in the light of my damning article about such things. His reaction was a tad vague, but I like to think he's taken my thoughts onboard.

Yes, my articles (records tell me this is my 48th, since first appearing as 'Tammy' in the November '97 edition- Aaagh) are supposed to make you smile, and even giggle if they catch you in a light-hearted mood. But they also carry a serious message. Well, most of them anyway. Some of them. 'To amuse and inform' has always been my intention; a hit and miss affair, I admit. My hidden agenda has also been to make you, the reader, question what it is that you do. I hope I've been successful once in a while.

And now the industry bit: Hard-drives have always been controlled by three factors; performance, capacity and price. Needless to say when the price-point for two different models gets too close, the lesser-spec'd one vanishes. We're seeing 20Gb drives go now 40Gb ones are only a bob or two dearer, and soon the same will be happening with performance. 7,200rpm drives are nearly the same price as their slower brethren, so expect lower-capacity 5,400rpm drives to evaporate soon. This information is freely given. What you do with it is up to you.

Paul Smith is to PC component distribution what Lenin was to furry hats.

501 words-o-wisdom Dale.

Paul

P.S. A statement I overheard the other day: "Windows XP isn't' all that user-friendly. It's like a cartoon travesty of everything we know and love". Which sounded kinda cool to me.

Don't read it, download it!

April 2002.

Paul Smith
The low-down on what's up.

With the recent roller-coaster ride that's been RAM pricing, it's worth thinking outside of the square to get more for your Pound. Pushing the oomph envelope. Giving the performance package a shove. Remember this was written a few weeks before publication, but currently DDR RAM is cheaper than good ol' standard SD-RAM. Which is odd because DDR is the better stuff. Marry it with a nice P4 board, such as Intel's Billings model, and you have a cost effective, high-performance solution for those not wishing to go the whole hog and buy an 800MHz RD-RAM set-up. The motherboard may cost you a little more than an SD-RAM one, but 266MHz memory is always going to be a lot quicker than 133MHz, as well as being more pocket-friendly at the moment.

More so than RAM, arguably the hard drive is the most mission-critical (I love jargon, me) element of a system. Processors and PSUs may come and go, but when a HDD pops, especially if it's not been backed up, you're, in the words of Bernard Matthews, "stuffed". As well as being a mechanical device that WILL wear out and break, they're also a slow bit of PC architecture. UltraATA-133 drives have a theoretical maximum read or write of 133Mb per second and, working from cache memory, can momentarily peak near this. However, no drive can sustain these very high-speed data transfers. But there are ways around this bottleneck if you want to go looking for them. A nice fast drive is a good starting point, and 7,200rpm spinners are getting more popular all the time. Before Christmas I sold perhaps six slower (5,400rpm) ones for every quick one. This is now more like a 3:1 ratio, which is getting smaller as the price differentials between the two standards closes. Worth thinking about if you're not unhealthily obsessed with building cheap systems, which I hardly need to add is a world apart from building systems cheaply.

Another way to squirt BBQ fluid onto your hard drive performance without burning money is to add a second drive and an ATA RAID controller. Set the card to RAID-0 (striping without parity checking) and as it writes it'll put data as quickly as it can onto both drives. Similarly, when it reads, it reads two disks simultaneously, straight into the PCI bus. Wallop, instant red-hot performance enhancement! The downside is that there's no fault redundancy (as there's no parity checking with RAID-0) plus the cost of the card. On the upside, you still get the full capacity of both drives with this set-up because there's no loss of storage space with this sort of RAID. I'm sure it's not the right approach for most applications, but for a kick-botty demo machine, or for the customer with a love of high-performance consumer electronics and a chequebook up to the task, it's worth a look. Plus, two 60Gb drives are cheaper than one 120Gb one, and the RAID controller shouldn't be any more than, oh, £60-ish.

Paul Smith is 'big in the parts department' and works in component distribution.

500 technical words for April, Dale. Feel free to move them about a bit.

Paul

Don't read it, download it!

May 2002.

Paul Smith
It's a mad mad mad mad mad mad W-W-World

We British are an obsessive bunch. A trip to my local newsagent proved this beyond any reasonable doubt. Whilst looking for my regular copy of Ferret Breeders Gazette I found all of the following genuine publications on prominent display: Steam Railway, Today's Railways, The Railway Magazine, Rail, Steam World, Trains, Locomotives Illustrated, Modern Railways, Rail Express Magazine, Heritage Railway, Steam Days, British Railways Illustrated, Railway Bylines and the ever controversial Narrow Gauge World. And it isn't a specialist anorak-wearers newsagent. It's a W.H.Smith. It's curious then that a recent study shows that our use of the Web is actually now falling. Fewer people are spending less time online looking for cheap DVDs/flights/train-tickets/shags. Given that we're a nation with more than our fair share of loonies, why is our obsession with the Internet on the wane?

I think people have noticed Web pages are essentially dull. There are words in a selection of:

fonts,

colours and

sizes, sure, and some of them are

underlined.

You even get the occasional picture if you're lucky. But for the MTV generation it's all a bit static. Even the multimedia feast that is Flash struggles to deliver material quick enough to keep someone with a 56k connection and a 5.6 second attention span interested.

Even for the more content-driven user the surfing novelty is wearing off. You may visit a site once out of curiosity but what will draw you back? Only the prospect of something new and interesting to see or do there. And the reality is that 99% of the Internet still seems to have 'Copyright 1999' at the bottom of it. So if you have a Web site, give it a spring spruce. You don't need to go crazy. Just add a splash of colour and some extra interaction, even if it's only a handy java PC-build-quote-generator.

Then there's the constant risk of not getting what you think you're getting on the Web. I'm not only thinking about Internet dating. Who could resist a Birmingham to New York return flight for $150? Not a midlands lady I'll call 'Kate'. It wasn't until her card had been charged and the tickets dispatched that she discovered the Birmingham she was flying from was the one incontinently in Alabama rather than next to the M6. The US site's defence was that the Birmingham International Airport in question was clearly shown to have the code BHM rather than the UK's BHX. Even Watchdog didn't want to get involved, and when it comes to the complexities of international consumer law, who can blame them?

It could be a reaction to our increasingly insular society. Often all I want from a site is the 'phone number of the company in question, and in turn the reassurance of a human voice. Perhaps our sudden disinterest is the Why Don't You? effect. People have 'just turned off their PC's and gone out and done something less boring instead'. Like standing in the rain listing the numbers of passing trains in a small book.

Paul Smith is known as The King of PC component distribution.

503 words about this Internet thing everyone seems so interested in, Dale. I hope you approve.

Paul

Don't read it, download it!

I'm lucky enough to receive semi-regular money for my bits for
Indie, but once in a while I push a little too hard for payment.
I understand now that the horse's head was a step too far...
Roll your cursor over the cheque below to discover (after
a moment or two's downloading) what I mean.

Cheque Front: No problems here. But Cheque Back: Dale takes his terrible revenge. I can never hold my head high in Abbey National again! Click here to see it in a fresh window, if that's what you really want.

Dale, if you couldn't tell, is the funniest man on the face of this Earth.

Click here to return to this pages index bit.

June 2002

Paul Smith
X-Bo(llo)x?

There are basically two ways you can make someone do something. You can blackmail them or you can bribe them. This Stick-or-Carrot approach has been visible in Microsoft's recent console related activities. They tempted people to buy the X-Box with Halo; by all reports a truly exceptional game that's going to remain exclusive to the platform. Thus Halo is a Carrot. Then they reduced the RRP by a third in a bold (if short-sighted/term) attempt to energise sales. This is a deformed Carrot which would've warranted a brief appearance on That's Life. When a marketing campaign says, "Our product is better than There's", there is every justification in asking for more money for it. Then, weeks later, to turn around and say, "Actually, we promise ours is better, but we're going to drop the price to match our competitions inferior product", is a kick to the two-veg of anyone who'd already bought one. It antagonises your customers, devalues the item and is tantamount to treating a bloodied nose with a tourniquet around the neck.

I reckon if MS are really in the console market for the full GP and not just the warm-up lap, they should be hitting people with a Stick for not buying an X-Box. They need to bring out a range of exclusive titles of such gob-smacking quality people will feel punished by the so-so-ftware available for rival machines. Heaven-knows my N64 game buying habits took a back seat when Gran Turismo and Driver came out. Like the Minis escaping from Turin in The Italian Job, I hope for their sake MS have something amazing in the pipeline. Sadly, I fear they may have lost it in a cloud of gravel at the first corner.

This month, all's fairly quiet on the Western (Digital) front when it comes to PC build matters. 40Gb drives are still threatening to become cheaper than 20Gb ones and 7,200rpm spinners are solidly growing in popularity. Intel's introduction of 533MHz FSB chips and 'boards promises to breathe new life into the Pentium-4 desktop market, while the new 1.7GHz Celerons offer remarkable performance for their cost. DVD-recorders are also approaching pocket-money prices (providing you have vacant pocket-space for a good £250+ wad) and sales of these are rapidly swelling. I predict they'll be the must-have PC product of the coming year. After a digital camera of course!

On a personal note, I recently took part in my local radio stations version of Big Brother. I was locked-up with nine strangers (and some of them were very strange indeed) in an empty unit in my local shopping centre without so much as GameCube to keep us occupied. Passers-by could gawp at us while we playfully interacted with each other. I spent my time feeling like an unfashionably dressed manikin. For the purposes of neat journalism I'd like to be able say the disused shop used to sell computers. I can't. It sold school uniforms. However, an abandoned computer shop was just three doors down.

In PC component distribution Paul Smith is known as The Guv'.

500 mixed-metaphors Dale. I hope they're ok for you.
Can I ask you to take Ingram Micro's name off of this and future columns? After my piece last year on poor Management practices there was a shit/fan interface scenario. Part of my defence was that I hadn't been associated with IM in the magazine for months. And who knows, I may need to use this defence again some time.
Cheers

Paul

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July 2002

Paul Smith
On his plans for a digital empire

I lied. I am a liar. But hey, you knew this. I'm a Salesman, right? But seriously folks, for this column I'm sometimes obliged to write about things that have yet to happen and this I did last month. I made bold claims about taking part in my local radio station's 'Little Brother' competition, but in reality (as if on the Pope's instructions) I pulled out at the last minute, after Indie had gone to print. That's the problem with unforeseen circumstances. They're- well, unforeseen. So sorry about that. I didn't mean to mislead you all.

As one reaction to this disappointment, I've decided to carve myself a new niche. You may recall* I talked in the June 2000 issue of your bigger bolder Indie about my efforts in web design. I'd bought a book and was learning HTML. Well, the wheel has turned full circle and I'm now writing a book about Internet-specific marketing material, like the way to pick the right graphic file format for a job, and how to get the most from your web site. I'm working on the Knowledge=Power/Power=Money principle here. And now that I'm house hunting in the South East I really need the money!

In conjunction with this book project I've launched my new business site, www.snapsandbytes.co.uk, as a digital photographic (the snaps) and groovy web design (the bytes) business. My two year long self-taught exploration into writing pages for the Internet has taken me right through HTML and into the far more exotic and exciting world of Macromedia Flash 5. I think these skills are now polished enough for me to exploit them for cash and I have my first professional job lined up. If you could make use of anything from a Flash banner for your pages to a whole domain registration plus hosting plus site creation deal, pay me a visit and drop me a line. Special discounted prices for readers of Indie of course! Same deal for you, editor Dale, to say thanks for the free advertising above. Speaking of advertising, I've subtly stuck my web address on my copy of a Lotus 7. It seemed daft not to when I had a promotional vehicle all ready to go. Is this something more people can do to promote their business? With their own private cars I mean. Not mine.

Web design is something many Independent retailers can offer too of course, simply because it's something a lot of your business customers will be looking for and the High Street multiples don't offer as a service. I can recommend the bright orange Complete Idiots Guide to Creating a Web Page by Paul McFedries (ISBN 0-7897-2256-9) and Complete Idiots Guide to Macromedia Flash 5, by David Karlins (ISBN 0-7897-2442-1) as good places to start. It takes a while to get the technical and artistic sides to work together, but if I can do it, anyone who's amazingly talented and naturally gifted can. (Wink at imaginary camera.)

*But only if there's something seriously wrong with you.

In the world of PC component distribution Paul Smith is known as Paul Smith.

504 blatantly egocentric words Dale. I hope you think they're nice ones.

Cheers

Paul

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August 2002

Paul Smith
On the (un)Wired Generation.

In 1904 (incidentally, the same year as the invention of the answerphone) John Ambrose Fleming adapted Edison's light bulb to create the thermionic valve, or Diode. This handy wee device could detect and amplify radio waves, resulting in the ability to utilise frequency and amplitude changing pitch and volume signals (i.e. speech) rather than just Morse code. Now you know whom to thank the next time your mobile rings just prior to orgasm.

Everything seems to be wireless these days. TV remote controls used to have a handy lead for tripping up elderly relatives and doing well on the inheritance, but sadly no more. I've a friend who lives in a flat so small she can touch all four walls at the same time, and even she has a cordless 'phone. Why? The only place one with a 2m lead wouldn't reach is out onto the balcony, which she hasn't got. I've even got a Hoover without a cord. I'm hoping this trend doesn't extend to feminine hygiene products because the one thing the world can do without is a tampon with no strings attached. And computer networks, as you can read about elsewhere in this issue, have joined the lead-free parade.

I'd not even heard of wireless networking before I noticed a little switch on the side of my laptop with a picture of a radio mast next to it. Now, a scant few months later I know I've only got 802.11b (11Mbit per second) connectivity, rather than the more desirable 802.11a (54Mbit/p/s) standard. I could rush out and buy a faster Intel, Cisco, 3Com or Agere PCMCIA card for about £70, but I'd still need an Access Point (£300ish) and a PCI card for my trusty dusty desktop (£80) to let me roam the house at will whilst file and application sharing or 'net surfing. If someone says 'Orinoco' to me, I no longer start singing "Underground, over-ground…" to them and I can convincingly fake talking knowledgably about the perceived -but scientifically very vague- health risks of the technology. I even know the rapidly falling costs of these gadgets means they're starting to appear in less swanky offices and even technophiles homes. And you just thought I was a pretty face, didn't you?

Speaking of the health risks, we were a bit wary of mobiles a couple of years ago, due to the suggestion that they could turn our brains inside out and serve them up steaming with a side order of fries. Wireless networks use very similar digital broadcasting technology (high frequency / short radio wavelength radiation) to mobile 'phones. So if I were you I'd site the Access Point well away from my goolies, just to be on the safe side.

Now that it's almost 100 years after Fleming's discovery and we're back to transmitting 0's and 1's rather than the dots and dashes he spent years of his life seeking to supplant. It makes you wonder why he bothered really.

Please e-mail your offers of exciting jobs to Paul Smith to Info@snapsandbytes.co.uk.

495 broadly wireless words Dale. I hope you think they're good ones, or at least good enough to print. Anyway, there is a bit of education in there.

Cheers

Paul

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