What I did on my spring vacation

Posted: 03.18.14

I started my spring vacation by going to Boston, where it was –37 degrees, and anything that had ever been moist or wet was now a solid block of permafrost. OK, maybe it wasn’t Helsinki temperatures, but it was damn cold for my weather-weeny California butt.

So I stayed inside and took advantage of the flood of information HP was sharing at their annual analyst’s conference. I learned that HP is big, likes big systems with big data and even bigger service and support contracts. I learned that HP is trying to become IBM. (I think there’s anagram in there somewhere: H to I, P to B …). HP is one of the coolest, smartest bunch of folks there is. From tiny memistors that will switch everything faster than fast and remember what they did, to 20-inch tablets (code-named AIO), to giant (and I mean Gi-ant) server farms that never stop, and never seem to run out of capacity. You want a cloud, call 1-800 HP.

Typical SXSW scene: Charles Rangel and his amazing guitar.


From frozen Boston I slipped down the jet stream to rainy Austin for South by Southwest (SXSW) and wallowed in music, Mexican food, and outrageously smart young’uns who know every web API there is, and how to do amazing things with them. Austin was (and almost always is) fun, but I did take note of the difference in dress codes. In the northeast, and Southern California, you can tell someone’s age by whether they need a shave and leave their shirt out (that’s sub-34 and older guys trying to pretend they’re still sub-34), or if they have thinning or less hair and a ponytail, and wear all black clothes (that’s the post-50 crowd). In Austin there was no dress code and every costume imaginable could be seen—and nobody, no one, looked out of place or seemed to call attention to themselves.

I reluctantly left Austin and ventured west to Scottsdale and participated in the International Device Packaging conference (which is called IMAPS for some reason). It was hot in Scottsdale in the daytime, and cool at night. At IMAPS I learned about die stacking and the power/bandwidth trade-offs, and that AMD and Intel are shipping such devices now. The IMAPS crowd is older, more serious, and scary smart—these guys and gals not only can see atoms with their naked eyes, they can predict how the atoms will behave. That’s critically important when you’re trying to figure out how to squeeze 120 mm2 of Si into a 118 mm2 package and keep things from melting.

HP is the cloud (JPR photo de-skewed by Cyberlink YouSnap).


Next stop was congested and smoggy Santa Clara for Intel’s analyst’s conference. For those of you who forget what a blivet is, it’s 10 pounds of stuff in a 5-pound bag. Intel was an information blivet—10 pounds of information in my 5-pound head—and they insisted on jamming it in there. But it was worth it, and we got to see the new Intel from the inside—wow. Intel has two bosses now, Brian Krzanich, who’s out to make some changes and crank up the machines, and Renée J. James, who knows how to make everything go.

The session were spontaneously intimate, candid like we’ve never seen Intel before, and impressive with the changes that have been made, the ones that are being made, and the incredible depth of knowledge and resource behind them. I truly think Intel can do anything it sets its mind to, and guess what? They want the mobile business—I wouldn’t bet against them.

We then met with the big dog in the mobile biz, those bad boys from San Diego. Everything in the universe, with the possible exception of the muleheadedness of Congress, has an asymptote, a limit. Qualcomm has one, it’s 3 watts. It’s the speed limit they can’t cross, and won’t cross. They don’t play the core-count game (well, not very often anyway); they play the architectural game with a single goal: <3 watts. That’s the playing ground they will meet anyone on.

So now I’m finishing up my slides for GDC, and prepping for GTC, and wondering if it’s possible to get any smarter than I am now. I’ve learned so much stuff, and met such extraordinary people, in the last two weeks it’s hard to imagine it getting any better. But I’m reminded of a magician we hired for a party once, who would do amazing tricks and then say, “And it just gets better.” That’s how I spent my spring vacation … getting better.