Modern technology offers - and I partake of its - every advantage. Have to do it; I'm in the hi-tech column-writing business, you see.

Powerful databases, advanced software, high-speed Internet access, Web servers, fast, modern computers running leading-edge operating systems - I got 'em all (and the hole in my bank account to prove it).

My wife would complain, but figures she's better off with a husband whose eyeballs are usually glued to a computer monitor than with one obsessed with more complicating, less mechanical phenomena - for instance, blondes.

Ensconced behind my clicking keyboards, glowing monitors and the flashing lights of Internet routers, I am master of my fortnightly columnar universe. I can gather information by the terabyte, forge ideas by the cerebral ton and crank out processed words by the thousand, on hardware running hundreds of millions of instructions per second.

By rights, this column ought to write itself. And, with all this horsepower, columns should be done as soon as I think of them, weeks ahead of deadlines. And they would be - if I didn't always wait to the last minute, that is.

My formidable armada of hardware, software and state-of-the-art networking mainly allows me to wait to the absolute last millisecond before starting in on the task ahead. The technology is state-of-the art but the human is conspicuously state-of-the-slack.

Gulker's law, no relation to Moore's, states that as technology doubles in power and halves the time required to perform a task, humankind will wait twice as long to start doing it.

I've never yet allowed anyone a glimpse into the closely guarded and carefully honed procedures, the technology and art, that go into my every column, but, what the hell. Readers deserve the best I can give them. So, here we go.

First step: put "Bach for Dummies" in the computer's CD player and crank up the volume on the sub-woofer and hi-fi tweeters. The Brandenberg Concerto No 3 will do - good, stirring stuff, performed by the Bath Festival Orchestra, according to the CD's multimedia footnotes.

Second, set call-screening to allow calls only from Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Ditto on the e-mail filters. Circles I travel in, that will absolutely guarantee an uninterrupted evening.

Third, launch Java-enabled Web browser, relational ideas database and sophisticated new word processor with built-in video-conferencing, just in case I have to interview far-flung experts. It helps to see the look on their face as they describe teraflops.

Next, verify that the Internet connection is up and running at full bandwidth. All systems check, Houston. We're a go for lift-off. Now, decide what to write about.

Hmmm ... Uhhhh ... Yeesh. Houston, I think we have a problem here.

And I was moving along at such a good clip, for a while. Mind you, deciding what to write is by far the biggest problem a columnist faces, hi-tech or otherwise.

Most columnists spend their formative years working as reporters who never have to worry about what to write, since they have editors. Editors are more than happy to tell writers, and just about everyone else they come across, what to do. As a result, columnists, though deep in semantic accomplishments, generally have zero experience in deciding what to write about.

In the old days, a columnist could stare at her typewriter keys or look out the window, waiting for inspiration. Nowadays she can steer her Web browser to a page that reveals, graphically, whether some guy's refrigerator door is open or not.

She can also marvel that one search engine finds 6,560 Web pages with a reference to the word "slinky", while another discovers a paltry 4,287.

She can check the weather on Mars, in near real-time. If she'd checked at the same time I did, she'd know the temperature is -13 degrees Centigrade, 8 degrees Fahrenheit, with light winds from the west.

She can goof around with the fonts on her computer, or try out an endless array of screen-saver options (I like the one with a game-show theme - a little on-screen creature gets smashed by a big hammer every time there's a wrong answer to a trivial question).

She can tidy up her hard drive, making lots of folders and sub-folders. Gotta get organised if you're gonna write something meaningful, right?

But she'll be darned if she can think of what to write about. And no more darned than I. Network computers? Did it last time. Technology leading us to a global boom? Wired wrote it last month. The Microsoft and Apple deal? What could I possibly add that hasn't already been written twice, at this point?

Let's have another look at the weather on Mars ... I'll get back to you on the column, say two weeks from now?.

News Page: