Laptop takes over confab
The theatre was so quiet the audience could have been asleep. In fact, several of us were, it being 9 a.m., a time known to professional journalists as "the middle of the night."
An academic conference was about to begin. Hundreds of professors had taken their seats and were watching the stage expectantly as the first speaker approached the podium, opened her mouth and…
She stared at a dialogue box in the middle of the big slide show screen.
"You must restart your computer for recent updates to take effect."
The naughty ones among us sniggered. Tee hee! It was kinda funny to see this tiny black laptop wresting control of the event from the organisers. The would-be speechmaker used the cursor to click the word "Restart later."
The box disappeared. Phew.
Fifteen minutes later, the cheeky computer interrupted again with the same request. Indeed, it popped up every 15 minutes for the next two hours.
No cancel option was offered at any time.
Just in front of where I was sitting, organisers had frantic conversations about what to do. The thing was spoiling the rhythm of the conference and making naughty members of the audience snigger.
"Can we ditch this computer and plug in a new one?"
"No. All the presentations were pre-loaded onto this one, and some of the files are huge."
We audience members realised that the battle between the brainiacs and this small, uppity laptop was actually more interesting than the conference proceedings. Speechmakers soldiered on, pressing "Restart later" every 15 minutes.
But then the computer changed the game! With the next interruption, it tried a new tack: "The system will be restarted in five minutes…. 4:59……4.58…..4.57….4.56…"
It was like watching the countdown on a time-bomb in a James Bond movie.
To add to the drama, the speaker was one of the clip-mike wearers who was wandering around the stage in his own world -- and he hadn't noticed the seconds ticking away on the screen behind him.
We were all wide awake now, watching this gripping, edge-of-the-seat stuff!
Would the countdown get to zero and crash his presentation before he noticed? Would the other speakers in the audience shout out to warn him? Or would they keep silent?
When the countdown got to five seconds, he noticed what was happening and raced to the podium -- but failed to reach in time. The laptop shut itself off. The big screen went black.
This tiny little Thinkpad X60 notebook computer had succeeded in halting a conference run by the world's smartest human beings. There was a spontaneous round of applause.
I think Microsoft, the company that made the software, should have programmed the computer to jump up and take a bow.
These days, laptops rule. Your columnist has several times found himself with his head bowed in supplication to his malfunctioning computer, mumbling: "Please have mercy on thy humble servant and WAKE UP."
In India, people give pooja (blessings) to their laptops as part of the Devali celebrations. In the financial district of London, laptops are blessed as part of the harvest festival at churches. It all makes sense to me now.