March 2012 issue

Date:1 March 2012 Tags:, , , , , ,

Loud whoops? Tousle-haired teens? Welcome to gadget heaven

It had to be President Obama, I decided. I couldn’t imagine who else would justify such a large contingent of serious-looking security people and self-important assistants, or attracted such a crowd of breathless admirers, all craning their necks for a better view. I’d never seen the man in the flesh, so I decided to hang around.

Some 10 minutes later, the VIP finally made his appearance, prompting screams of ecstasy and whoops of excitement. (How do they do that? Whenever I try to whoop, I end up having a coughing fit.) As it turned out, the celebrity gracing the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Centre wasn’t the leader of the Free World; it was a tousle-haired teenager wearing a slightly worried expression ““ perfectly understandable in the circumstances.

Teen star Justin Bieber was arguably the biggest of many celebrities who pitched up to provide some glamour at the 2012 International CES, the world’s biggest tech expo and a synonym for “heaven” in the lexicon of the gadget-hound. Some, like Bieber and former American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, were high-profile figures from the entertainment world, whereas others ““ such as martial arts practitioner Alistair Overeem, a large and friendly man with muscles on his muscles ““ were deliciously different.

In the final analysis, however, they constituted little more than fluff on the rich tapestry of consumer technology that makes CES such an amazing event. As we reveal in our show report-back starting on page 20, mobile has become the largest technology platform in history ““ and evidence of this is everywhere. The ubiquitous cellphone is the starting place, but other hardware is falling into place as fast as you can blink. If you thought you were already living in a connected world, just wait and see.

Moving on to this month’s cover story, “Game over?”, we hasten to assure our audience that we are not adherents of any doomsday cults; neither do we lie awake at night and brood about Mayan prophecies. Instead, we proffer a scientific look at ways in which the world could come to a sticky end. Interestingly, one of the dozen scenarios raises the spectre of a major solar storm that would replicate an event recorded in 1859, when the rain of particles was so intense that it induced huge currents at ground level. They were reportedly so intense that telegraph lines burst into flames.

Here’s the creepy bit: about a week before we went to press with this issue, we were just brushed by a coronal mass ejection, or solar flare. Then, just before we signed off, a major UK newspaper reported that 2013 was likely to be the year in which our Sun behaved badly, explaining that its 11-year cycle had started a little late.

Okay, now let’s all try to relax.

– Alan Duggan

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