It's Intel Developer Forum time again! This year, the Spring IDF is in San Francisco, always a romantic city. I'm not feeling very romantic as I had to fly on Valentine's Day, but the city is en fete due to the recent decision to allow gay marriages. My taxi takes me past City Hall, where huge queues of very happy people are waiting to tie the knot. I remember one Comdex in Vegas where Microsoft offered to pay for anyone who wanted to get hitched by an Elvis impersonator -- I'm not quite sure Intel will rise to the same heights.
Intel Developer Forums mean many things to me -- chatting to engineers, unpicking substance from spin, catching up on a whole load of technologies, that sort of thing. But right now, two days before it kicks off, IDF means just one thing: new shirts. There are lots of shops that do couture for the portly over here, and thanks to Uncle Sam's enlightened policy of revaluing the dollar at tuppence ha'penny I can refresh my wardrobe with minimal pain.
I pop into a Big And Tall shop near to the hotel. My clothing advisor for today is Jim, a remarkably tall chap with a goatee and only the slightest hint of the Fast Show in his careful mannerisms. We pass over the Spring Collection at some speed -- fluorescent tangerine might be just the thing for the West Coast, but it would stand out a bit on the Holloway Road -- and settle in for a long browse in the more staid meadows of muted blues and dark greens.
"What brings you here?" he asks, at length. "Intel," I say.
"Oh," he says, while searching for a long-sleeved version of a rather nice charcoal grey number. "So, their broadband wireless strategy for the home -- do you think it makes sense?"
This sort of thing never happens in M&S.
Another shop near the hotel is Comp USA -- the nearest British equivalent is PC World -- and purely in the interests of research, you understand, I find myself there performing multiple dollar-to-pound conversions in my head while looking at a huge array of high-tech consumer goodies. I use the new fast algorithm for this, divide by two and add a smidgeon, and the results are gratifying. Clearly, my fellow Europeans at IDF are a similarly conscientious and mathematically gifted lot, as the place is heaving with familiar faces also furrowed in concentration. Many are also keen weightlifters, from the evidence of the massively laden carrier bags they selflessly heft from the place. It's good to see such dedication.
At first, I think that retail electronics is just as different from its UK counterpart as is clothing: I chat to some of the assistants, and they're keen, knowledgeable and efficient. But then I start to have my doubts. I too have given in to the urge to help out the US' trade deficit and have set my sights on an iPod. I can't see any around -- although there are masses of accessories -- so I ask a passing, gonk-haired assistant on the camera desk.
"Yes, certainly", he says. He stands there. "Err…", I say after a while. "Yes," he says. "John over there has the keys to the iPod room." Ten minutes later, John is still over there, locked in a fierce debate with a punter over the AppleCare insurance package. In those ten minutes, my assistant has also repeatedly tried to sell me the same thing. I listen politely, and deploy my best, Dixons-honed "no, thank you."
Later, I'm standing in the queue -- sorry, in line -- at the checkout, clutching my prize, which John finally extracted from the Fort Knox-certified iPod storage zone. From nowhere, my sales assistant materialises. "Can I ask you one last time to reconsider the AppleCare package?" "No!" I say. "Look, do the maths! It makes no sense!"
He sighs. "Fair enough," he says. He glances around, and lowers his voice. "I wouldn't buy it myself. They make us do these things. That's why I stopped selling Apple stuff. I can't stand it. I really can't. But you asked me for the iPod, so I had to try."
Awww. Nasty Apple. Nice assistant. I nearly caved in and bought it on the spot.