Thursday

Thursday 12/09/2002Mere words can't do justice to Thursday. The show's winding down, and it feels like it.

Thursday 12/09/2002
Mere words can't do justice to Thursday. The show's winding down, and it feels like it. The keynote is considerably enlivened by William Shatner popping up and bantering with Pat Gelsinger, chief executive of Intel, who arrives on a Segway -- just because he can. The occasion of this is Kirk's new book all about technology and inventors, so that gets a good airing. Not the sort of plugfest for which Intel is most famous, but fun nonetheless. When he's speaking in public, Gelsinger comes across as a mix between Michael J Fox and Woody Allen, and the contrast between him and the 100 percent age-cured ham of Shatner is remarkable. After the keynote, Gelsinger and Shatner do a pally Q & A session with the assembled journalists. It soon gets hysterical, with Star Trek digs mixed in with Shatner's stream of consciousness take on technology ("I know nothing about anything. I wonder how it works, I really do, but I'm coming from a position of complete ignorance. Is this leather? It's plastic. Was it invented for chairs, or for something else?") and had some great anecdotes of how his home automation failed completely. Good enough for one day? Hell, no. On the way out of the keynote, I'm handed a keyring containing a small scrap of nanotechnology -- an extreme-ultraviolet reflective mirror made from eighty layers of metal ten or fifteen atoms thick. While I'm digesting this (and it was very tasty, for a mirror) I come across a small gaggle of engineers in the corridor outside. It's the Segway, being demonstrated by a sharp-suited and horribly competent handler. There are times in the affairs of men when one just knows what to do. "Anyone want a go?" "ME!" I bellowed, and presented myself with extreme prejudice at the front of the crowd. I'm not a forceful chap by nature, but I can sometimes radiate a get-out-of-my-way-punk field that deflects small asteroids. And there I was, perched on top of an electric trolley with nothing between me and bottom-bruising indignity but massive computing power connected to two large wheels. For some reason, the Rolling Stones were going through my head: Have you seen your mother, baby, standing on the Segway? The machine trembled beneath me -- I don't blame it -- and the demonstrator looked nervous for a nanosecond. Then his training took over. "Look at me" he commanded. "Think forward." It was showmanship of a high order, and by jiminy it worked. The Segway started to glide towards him. "Stop!" he said. "Think back". It took a moment or two of gentle lurching, but soon your correspondent was gliding around the floor with no mental effort at all. You don't learn to ride it, you just learn not to: it feels like telepathy. The sensation is very close to dreams of flying, and utterly compulsive. A city filled with these things would be a wonderful place: a city filled with a mix of these things and large automobiles is frightening to contemplate. But perhaps that's just a hangover from the day I drove a C5 through West London during the Friday rush hour. Could the day get better? Well, no. But I made the compulsory pilgrimage to Fry's, the electronics megastore where Woz and Jobs bought the bits for the prototype Apples, and made a few small purchases. The trip is complete. To see a picture of Rupert on the Segway, and his selection of mobile gadgets from the show, click here.