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June 8, 2003

Home again, home again

Posted by Mike on June 8, 2003 12:22 AM

Back from the show.

Sometime around Day Two I realized the backs of my eyelids had been colonized by snapshots of ad copy slapped up all over the show floor.

Tech companies are served by ad agencies that understand the futility of even trying to convey the virtues of a product it takes a team to operate, or that's made of so many interlocking bits and pieces even its architects think of parts of it as remote from their experience as a remote field in Manitoba. So they've resorted to trying to lure the passerby with bright colors and pictures of impossibly attractive gel-haird variants on the geek archetype. You might not think it was possible to emotionalize a 32-way server or a cluster, and you'd be mostly right: the ad people have instead decided to emotionalize whatever that bold red and black blur in your peripheral vision was. You don't know what it is, but you know it's sort of cool looking, and maybe sexy -- or sexualized.

The net result is going back to your hotel room at the end of the day and seeing Oracle red or IBM blue every time you close your eyes, thinking in punchy one-word structures that end in "-ble", like "unbreakable," "indestructible," "scalable," "expandable." A day spent padding around on unnaturally thick show floor carpet means the second you're off your feet, they're twitching as if searching for some sort of balance on a treacherous plush surface.

Outside the show hotel, Silicon Valley is what it is: office buildings, strip malls, strip business mall plazas, and bad restaurants. It's the land of the jumbo prawn and the fatty, greasy $27 prime rib dinner served under an aspargus tee-pee, padded out by hardened mashed potatos and washed down with a Cantaloupe Mongorita.

The hotel offers a turndown service, but only if you ask for it, raising several questions. The terrycloth bathrobe has a cardboard price tag affixed to its hanger, as if it's more offensive to be told not to steal it than to be offered the scratchy, stiff, bleach-reeking thing for $99. Room service? 19% "tax," $3 "service charge," which turns your $6 hamburger into a $10.50 feast. Down in the lobby, there's not a concierge . . . there's a video concierge who speaks to guests from a 50" plasma monitor with a two way video feed and dispatches bits of data and directions from a fax machine perched on the counter. It's nine o'clock . . . is she done for the night? "No," explains the clerk, "she's offline."

Plus side? Broadband in the room for an extra $11 and random wireless access wherever a geek happens to have hooked his room drop to a WAP. And air conditioning that allows goose down comforters to make sense even on the west side of a California hotel.

Net? It's good to be home. I can almost close my eyes and not see a gelled "nerd" in tinted glasses trying to sell me a cluster.