9:30 AM. A taxi turns up at Goodwins' Heights to take me away. Rockwell Semiconductor Systems has decided to tell the world how clever it is, and to this end is shipping my portly self across to California. Hurrah! Bad news is that this involves sardine-class British Airways for eleven hours there, and ten back... for one day in a tent with a clump of engineers. Worse news, according to the in-flight news, is that El Nino is currently lashing the Left Coast with furious winds and inches of rain, and the normally sun-soaked Californians are having to learn to swim.
Get window seat (good). Slip into meditative haze in which everything below the waist - legs, digestive system, etc - is put into stasis. It's a trick I learned at Glastonbury, allowing me to stay motionless in a field in front of a stage for days on end without needing to use the loos. At first, I needed a combination of mud, cous cous burgers and loud music to get there, but by now I can assume the state with just two stiff whiskies and a glance at the in-flight magazine.
Spend time reading. Digital Nomads - a sixth-form essay someone's mistakenly issued as a book; Release 2.0 by Esther Dyson - low key and either common sense or vapid truisms, and I'm not quite sure which yet; and something on shared consciousness across cyberspace by a French philosopher whose name I forget - if he has such a bourgeois affectation. Typical sentence "We are all immigrants in subjectivity". Hm. Call flight attendant and request the liquid cosh.
Is it Tuesday? Have memories of being stuck at the airport due to the promised shuttle not turning up. However, Rockwell sent a stretch limo by way of recompense. We - three electronic trade journos and myself - played at being gangsters all the way to the hotel. Perhaps a little dangerous on the LA freeway system...
However, today starts at 6:45am. Ugh. Get ferried (by small coach this time) to the tent and fed bagels. Then the day proper begins.
Rockwell, it turns out, is very clever indeed. It makes bits for everything - cellphones, modems, digital cameras, networks, PCs - and more than just bits, it helps its customers put things together too! "We're often asked if we're the Intel of the communications world", said a big cheese, "but we prefer to think of Intel as the Rockwell of the processor market". Ho ho.
There's a fun round-up of the 56k modem market, where the company says that the year-long fistfight over the standard lost them some money but lost US Robotics a lot more. There are some charming presentation slides of a stealth bomber with K56flex written on it, blowing up a 3Com tank. Hm.
Consider asking the CEO whether he thinks we are all immigrants in subjectivity, but settle for asking whether ADSL is going to end up in the same sort of mess as the modem market. He looks sad, and says "Probably. Everyone's being polite to each other at the moment, but it won't take much..."
Other highlights include a trip around their 0.25-micron semiconductor fabrication plant - I glance nervously at the ceiling, where large pipes labelled CHLOROFLURATE and SULFURIC ACID gurgle away; then at the wall where pods of emergency breathing apparatus are clustered every 50 yards or so. Also play with tiny, tiny Japanese cellular phones, new digital imaging toys, music synthesisers, etc, etc. Meet lots of interesting people, talk lots of higgeldy-piggeldy tech, collect business cards. A very successful day.
Ages before the flight back, so me and the rest of the UK contingent schlep down to the beach via the mall. El Nino is having the day off and the sun has got his hat on. Orange County, however, is the land that taste forgot - one shop window has a large, grimacing bronze fantasy warrior and the rubric "Does the art in your home and office reflect the intensity of who you are?". (My 'office art' consists of a small teddy bear clutching a model Concorde, a selection of chips and a perspex-embedded electron gun. Boy, am I intense). End up on a rickety island called Balboa, which is splendidly eccentric: the bars have a range of characters that Hemingway would've been proud of. Get mistaken, repeatedly, for an Australian.
Back to the hotel, back to the airport, get a row of four seats to myself (good!) and spend the next ten hours horizontal. The only way to fly - and there's no Mr Bean on the video! Hurrah!
Get back to Goodwins Heights in fine jetlagged muddle. It takes me a couple of minutes to realise that the front room window is open and that the hi-fi, video, synthesiser and every other bit of easily negotiable equipment has gone. They left the 60MHz Pentium desktop on the very reasonable grounds that it wasn't worth lugging, but took the laptop without the power supply.
The local plod turns up, sucks his pencil, "How do you spell synthesiser, sir? Oh well, never mind. We've got spellcheckers on our computers at the station", and disappears without offering any hope that my possessions will ever return. Which leaves me with that Pentium, a government surplus oscilloscope and a large pile of books and CDs. Er, that's it. Wonder briefly about the house, car, wife, kids, washing machine, tasteful art etc that I was supposed to acquire by now, then remember I've had all those but they seem to have got lost somewhere along the way. This is either carelessness or Zen.
Leave flat and spend evening with friends - the only really necessary accoutrement to life. Oh, and a really fast modem, of course...
Intel finally produces its Intel740 3D graphics chip. I feel for the other companies in the market: it must feel a bit like going in for an apple-picking competition carrying a ladder and a penknife and finding out that your competitor's turned up in a scythe-equipped Harrier. Still, it should help bring some semblance of standardisation to a market that's most noted for its mutant growth forward in all directions.
Wonder what next week will bring...