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Rupert Goodwins' IDF Diary

Thursday 25/08/2005Last day, and the one I most enjoy. Justin Rattner, who's in charge of R&D, sets the tone at the keynote by announcing that when he first heard of Radio Free Intel — Gelsinger's futuristic idea of having every chip with built-in radio networking — he thought "Boy, we've got our fannies hung out a bit too far.

Thursday 25/08/2005

Last day, and the one I most enjoy. Justin Rattner, who's in charge of R&D, sets the tone at the keynote by announcing that when he first heard of Radio Free Intel — Gelsinger's futuristic idea of having every chip with built-in radio networking — he thought "Boy, we've got our fannies hung out a bit too far." Perhaps he'd been earwigging at last night's dinner.

There's always a special treat on Thursdays, even without amusing disparities between British and American slang; we think fondly of Gelsinger arriving on a Segway in a jacket hung heavy with gadgets, or William Shatner proclaiming loudly that "None of this shit works!" This time, Rattner rattles quickly through tales of science fiction computer disasters — HAL9000's homicidal fondness of depressurisation, Skynet's disapproval of humans — to an icon which is Asimovian in its determination to protect its fleshy masters. And in rolled Robby the Robot, who delivered some amusing schtick before Rattner got back to the technology of today. In the background, a dark-suited minion nipped out of the shadows and turned Robby off — just in case he got some bad ideas, perhaps. This turned out to be not so far from the truth: after the keynote, Robbie was reactivated and Rattner bounded to his side for a photo opportunity and some light banter. After the usual stuff about feeble human technology, Robbie got the blag on. "I don't suppose you can get me a laptop, Commander?" he asked, hopefully. He was turned off shortly afterwards.

Back at the keynote, a demonstration of smart photo organisation was underway. Rahul Sukthankar from Intel's Pittsburgh lab had got a neat bit of software that could look at thousands of digital snaps and search by content. "Ah, but you're confusing me," he said. "Last time we did this, you had a standard Intel blue shirt on — not the pink one". Indeed, Rattner was leading another trend at IDF, the move away from the blue shirt and the khaki slacks. Dark trousers and lighter shirts were in, and one particularly daring design engineer even sported a tight leather jacket. Could it be that the digital home was signalling a move to more casual wear? Were we far from the first presentation entirely staffed by people in Speedos — with or without their fannies hanging out?

Such thoughts distracted me from the stage, where the photo demonstration was wrapping up with a picture of Rattner successfully pulled from the database, alongside one of a sunlit temple. Even after much thought, I'm a bit confused by that.

Then came Lenitra Durham, who demonstrated automatic computer management by putting a boiling kettle inside a server — that age-old problem scenario. Again, the precise symbolism escaped me — it was something to do with heat and humidity being detected and servers being switched to cope — but I wasn't alone. Surrounded by the fruit of millions of dollars of R&D, watched by some of the keenest eyes in the silicon industry and at the centre of a major push by Intel and its partners, the pot did what pots always do: it refused to boil. Moore's Law may be strong, but Murphy's Law is stronger. Moral: don't put a kettle in your server. That's important.

There was further flummery involving a large jar of mealworms, more business with Rattner theatrically pulling components off a motherboard and throwing them in a bin, and psychological problems getting monolithic magnetic material into the fab plants. And that was the final keynote.

I promise faithfully to tell you why all of this matters just as soon as I manage to rid myself of the image of Otellini in Speedos, a picture which has stuck despite a variety of post-IDF events including two passes through San Francisco Airport's security with a troublesome Byzantine icon of St George kebabbing a dragon, a wild and unexpected night on Columbia Avenue when I should have been flying home, the subsequent embarrassing loss of a passport and the realisation that I have just as many notes to convert to articles as I've managed to process so far. And I never mentioned the boat trip with the piratical food, the unexpected appearance of Mad Mike Magee of the Inquirer with his charming — nay, angelic — son in tow, or the frank attempts to bribe innocent journalists by desperate Intel staffers in search of a good nosh.

At least the fog went away.