AT LARGE: Trumped by Bill again

AT LARGE: Trumped by Bill again

Don't you hate it when Microsoft comes up with ideas right before you do? I suppose it happens with other companies too, but it's somehow particularly irksome when it's Microsoft. Basically, I think I'm a reasonably bright person, and I occasionally come up with an idea that might make for a pretty nifty bit of technology. It would be nice if I could somehow become, you know, rich off it. Bill Gates doesn't need the money like I do.

I thought of digital whiteboards before they existed, but I'm not too fussed because no-one's got all that wealthy off the idea.

My particular bugbear here is the smart alarm clock that Bill Mitchell of Microsoft's Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) group showed off during Gates's keynote at Comdex last week. (Just as Apple seems to hire a disproportionate number of Steves, Microsoft has an abundance of Bills.)Over the weekend before Comdex, I was on a driving trip with my wife and sister-in-law on the NSW South Coast. We were talking about how annoying it is that people don't keep their computer clocks set correctly, so when they send you an e-mail it shows up in the bottom of your inbox, or it stays lodged at the top because the date is years in the future, or, even worse, it appears somewhere in the middle because if you're like me you have hundreds of unread e-mails sitting there at a time.

I keep my computer clock set pretty accurately by synchronising with the atomic clock at the National Measurement Laboratory (it has a publicly accessible time server at This led to a discussion about how not many people know you can do that, and the information should be more widespread (this is me doing my bit).

Logically, then, the conversation leapt over to how there ought to be ordinary household clocks that could access the ntp server at NML so that everyone's clock was always correct - you wouldn't even have to go around fixing all the clocks in the house at daylight saving time.

It was a great idea. We had numerous concepts in mind for how to market it, and what other capabilities the devices ought to have - live weather updates and TV schedules among them. As soon as I got back from the trip, I was going to write them all down, and go apply for patents. Really I was, I swear.

Then I saw Gates's keynote. Too late. Yet again, he gets to get rich and I get to write about it.

Come on, Bill, share a little.

Matthew JC. Powell also invented the Internet and canned whipped cream. Scoff in disbelief to

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