Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 04/84 item 02 - scanned

LET'S ORGANISE THE GRAPEVINE

If the press can have its Press Club and working men have theirs, why can't we have one for our industry? I've got no idea how the Press Club started but I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't a case of the lads getting together on a Friday night down at the Wig and Pen and swapping stories. I can imagine that as more and more people caught onto the idea they had to find ever-larger rooms until they ended up with their very own premises.

I'm not suggesting that we should rush out and buy a club, but I do think it would be a good idea if we got together socially from time to time. It is so easy to get locked into your own business, to mix only with the rest of the industry in the false environment of the computer shows. The trouble is that the more we lock ourselves away, the less we tend to be aware of the need to step back and get a broader view.

I recently visited a couple of friends in the business whom I hadn't seen for a very long time. In fact there was a period when we were less busy and we made a point of talking to each other every couple of weeks, but other demands on our time lessened this important contact. One of the things that came up in the first conversation was the semi-famine of certain types of disk. Oddly enough, the second conversation produced a secret stock of these very items. Much wheel-oiling of this nature takes place whenever you put two or more computer people together. I could have spent days on the phone in a fruitless search for disks, yet the problem was solved in just a few minutes.

Imagine if you could walk into a room and discuss, 'off the record' of course, what you think IBM is playing at. Is it really planning to put a 370 on everyone's desk? Why are people leaving Apple? Is it really because some see the Macintosh as a consumer item whereas others want to push it into the large corporations? Has Sinclair finished with the software or whatever it was that was holding up the release of QL? How do you get WH Smith to take on your products? Is there any truth in the rumours that VisiCorp is having a tough time or is VisiOn the best thing since sliced bread?

Everyone has their views, some informed and some ill-informed, but if nothing else, such a gathering lets you try out your own ideas on other people. For clarifying your own thoughts on issues there's nothing like exposing them to the gaze of a bunch of industry insiders. For example, last week I was discussing lap-held computers with one chap and he convinced me that gas plasma displays were much better than LCD in poor light. His argument seemed pretty good to me, so the next time I saw someone with an LCD machine I said, "Surely gas plasma is better in the dark?" To which he replied, "Maybe so, but you can't see the keyboard". Although I felt a bit of a wally, I was glad for the opportunity to try out the idea on someone.

People in the industry travel around. They go to shows, visit manufacturers, and pick up little snippets of information which don't make sense on their own. Get together with others and the missing bits of the picture are often produced. Issues can be debated. One big one that's coming up is this data privacy thing. It was covered in MicroScope quite recently. From all accounts we are going to have a problem on our plates which makes VAT returns seem like child's play. The only time we have to do anything is now, while the proposals are still in the committee stage. How can we do anything if we don't know much about it? Again this is a topic which could get a sensible airing at such get-togethers. I don't mean to do the CRA out of business. It has an important formal function in the industry. This is fun with the ulterior motive of oiling the wheels, exchanging information, getting to know your fellow players and generally for everyone to benefit from the encounters.

How about it? I don't think it should be at all formal. There was a time in Silicon Valley when you could go to a particular pub on a Friday evening and know that you'd run into at least half a dozen industry notables. What we need to do is find a location equivalent to Silicon Valley's Wagon Wheel or Fleet Street's Wig and Pen and make it ours on Fridays or whatever. This exercise can be repeated in centres of computer activity all over the country. We could inform people of what's happening through the pages of MicroScope, and develop that community spirit that seems to spring up at show times and then disappears.

I'm sure Guy Kewney would be happy to mention such goings on in his diary column, especially if there's a free beer and some gossip to pick up in the process. His phone number is on the back page of MicroScope.

See you at the first London get together.