Rupert Goodwins' IDF Diary

Monday 6/3/2006Two things happen on Monday — registration and a journalist briefing. Registration takes a couple of minutes; go to the front desk at the show, hand over a business card and pick up a bag and badge.

Monday 6/3/2006

Two things happen on Monday — registration and a journalist briefing. Registration takes a couple of minutes; go to the front desk at the show, hand over a business card and pick up a bag and badge.

This time, there's something a little extra in the badge — an RFID chip connected to a rectilinear dipole looking like something the Mayans would have carved in the desert to attract passing aliens. Back at the hotel, some research reveals it's a Symbol device carrying 256 bits of information and capable of being written or read up to ten feet away. That's with the standard readers — directional aerials would do better.

This turn of events prompts some discussion in the bar. We quickly discover that you can break the chip between the nails of finger and thumb, much as you would kill a flea. Alternatives include wrapping it in tinfoil or swapping it for someone else's (with their agreement or through sleight of hand). There's no sign — and we have no reason to suspect — that Intel is using the RFIDs in any other way than it used to swipe the barcodes on the front of the badges when we go into sessions. The readers are bolted to girders hanging from the ceilings by the venue entrances like solar panels strapped to a space station truss, But still, there is much murmuring about the PRs following us on radar when we go to the loo.

And so into the four-and-a-half hour briefing, where we're told about parallelism — "There'll be hundreds of cores, if we can work out how to program them. Progress has been painfully slow, but we're making headway" — and new ways of locking memory. There's a new metric for processors called 'satisfaction per watt', but they didn't really say how to benchmark it or whether it could also apply to electric blankets. There is talk of capital expenditure, of international radio standards, of "getting a visceral sense of the counter-intuitiveness of MIMO".

All this was taking place in a low-ceilinged ballroom — OK, basement — of the San Francisco Marriott, and by the time the Homeplug mains networking chap had won the buzzword bingo we were beginning to feel like the slaves locked in with King Tut's mummy.

There was some light relief as at one point an Intelite produced a video cable designed for the new Unified Display Interface standard. The room rose as one. Hundreds of jetlagged geeks, starved of any form of gadgetry by hours of talking heads, grabbed their cameras and formed an ugly scrum around the gobsmacked guru. This went on for a good five minutes. Then the next chap stood up. "I wish I had a cable to show you", he said, "but I'm here to talk about wireless..."

Later, we're shipped off to the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill for a "Mobility Showcase". This is a posh apartment filled with laptops doing laptoppy things. Perhaps I'm old and cynical but none of them was doing anything new: especially the one running Vista. There were two noteworthy observations: first, that one of the rooms in the apartment was where Sean Connery had his hair cut in The Rock, and second that there was no Apple.

Not for the first time, I wonder how badly Intel's old pals had felt their noses were put out of joint by the new best friend from Cupertino.

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