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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Blame the Machines

 It's what you don't expect that can make an ordinary occasion turn into something quite interesting.

Take this Friday. You'll recall that's the day after the stunningly exciting Thursday evening when Manchester's good and great met up to learn about heat death - when the lights go out.

Friday morning saw me and my mate bowl up at "The London International Technology Show" . To be honest I wasn't expecting very much. How exciting can a computer chip or a video screen be? It was held at Excel, a conference centre stuck somewhere in the Thames estuary; but now fairly gettable to by public transport.

To describe Excel as a conference centre does it a disservice. Excel is the size of a Saturn V assembly hanger turned on its side. It is huge. To get anywhere you appear to have to walk the length of dozen football pitches. As you enter the building all you can see is a vanishing horizon.  If you've read Greg Bear's "Eon" you'll know what I mean.

We walked and walked and walked past miles of closed restaurants, bars, fast food outlets, a shuttered exhibition halls off to the left and right.  Occasionally one of cafes would be open, attracting a few punters shuffling uncomfortably as their chairs scrapped the floor sending ear piercing shrieks reverberating down the corridor.

Eventually we arrived at the exhibition hall. It was full of geeks, young ones, old ones, and the occasional geekess: but mainly it was young men who clearly hadn't left their bedrooms since a week last Thursday.

I've never gotten on with "shoot 'em up" video games - principally because it was I that got shot up a jiffy into the game. Here, there were ranks of computers with platoons of young men simultaneously invading Iraq, coming down hard on Mexican drug gangs, or saving the planet from gruesome aliens.

Not content with one screen, computers had to have three, all in 3D. I have to admit the graphics were quite amazing. All that achieved with a piece of silicon, some soldering and a few lines of computer language. Isn't science wonderful!

It was a boy's toys jamboree. Besides the extremely powerful and unbelievably expensive PCs (£6000 !), there were radio controlled mini helicopters no bigger than a small bird, every sort of accessory to enhance your iPhone, iPod or Pad and stuff you wondered why anyone bothered to dream up.

On one stand an exceptionally enthusiastic salesman went into spasms of ecstasy showing us the latest in integrated computer desks. £10,000 bought you a massive gaming computer with a cooling system that wouldn't shame a nuclear plant and three screen all encased in a fluffy console that looked like a reject of a 1970's Dr Who set. The peak of naffness was the computer screens which disappeared into the body of the beast - a la Thunderbirds. The designer had clearly been watching too much Bravo TV.

On the same stand was a set up replicating any Formula 1 car and race track. In 3D, spread across 3 screens again, you could play at being Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton sitting in a seat which replicated all the bumps and Gs of the real thing. All you needed was the smell of burning tyres and hot engines to trick yourself you were really there. It was magic.

These software and silicon experiences were interrupted by an encounter with two muscle bound beefy young men in fake tan and swimming trunks, handing out carrier bags. We quickly retreated after asking what software they were running on and how their hardware was holding up, and found ourselves talking to a diminutive Asian business woman.

She had invented a "granny finder". Her mother suffered from Alzheimer's and kept wandering off. So she came up with a device that used GPS and a mobile phone. With this she knew exactly where her mum was, at any time.

I suggested that she was missing out on an extremely lucrative market - adultery. Simply stitch the device into your partner's pants or knickers and you'd know the moment they engage in extracurricular activities. A simple download would connect you immediately to a divorce lawyer. 

What drove us out of the exhibition was the noise, generated in the boots of three swanky all white cars, with blacked out windows. Each had a sound system made to shatter every shop window it went by and to test the cars' suspension to destruction.

It's a sad reflection on people's taste today that the movie showing on one of the cars' inboard cinemas was "Transformer 2: Revenge of the Fallen" - I recognised it immediately. It was this soundtrack blasting from the boot of all three cars that finally drove us away.

Saturday was a day of rest: a time to recover from the excitement earlier in the week. A trip to the opticians to get my new George Smiley glasses, a walk to the allotment, and a minor work out digging and planting out my Italian onions.

I can't help being a 21st century Renaissance man.


Tenon_Saw said...

And I thought Excel was a spreadsheet.

Steve said...

Happiness is a plump Italian onion. Take it from me.