9:35 am

I emerge from the depths of the BART station onto Market Street - and into a storm as bad as any I saw in the eleven years I lived here. Sheets of rain - and icy winds that fight me for posession of my umbrella. I'm happy simply to reach the warm, dry interior of the Moscone Center!

I check with the information desk and am directed to the North Hall to get my badge. I stroll through the underground pedestrian mall... up the escalator... and soon I'm badged and ready. Even though the bulk of the show is back on the other side, I decide to stay here for the first half hour (most of my day will be spent in the User Conferences anyway).

9:59 am

Hard to believe I've never before made it to what yesterday's Chronicle called a "conference, trade show and lovefest" for the Mac faithful. Now that I'm finally here, the idea of a Macintosh "community" never seemed more tangible. Hundreds of eager attendees mill about in front of the hall entrance, waiting for the clock to strike ten. The only thing keeping us all from the tantalizing show floor beyond is a row of rather elderly security guards. (They must figure the odds of a mob riot with this crowd are pretty slim. Unless Steve Jobs announces a merger with Microsoft... )

Finally the moment strikes, and the crowd streams into an Emerald City of glitzy booths and slick displays. I'm not five steps in before a presenter (from FileMaker) presses a raffle ticket into my hand, urging me to view their presentation - I could win a prize!

Maybe it's less like the Emerald City, and more like the PNE...

10:15 am

Demos and freebies and booths, oh my! Everywhere you look, energetic folks equipped with a headset mike and the enthusiasm of an evangelist are giving software demos. I drift around and gape for a while, but soon I have to go - it's time for the first User Conference to begin!

After a long walk to the other side and a hint from the info desk, I'm headed for the hall where the User Conferences are being held. Since my employer has generously opted to "upgrade" my registration to allow me to attend these talks, I want to make sure not to miss a minute. But just as I approach the doors, I notice something... the badges. Everyone's says "USER CONFERENCE" on it in bold letters on a yellow background. I check mine. It screams out, on a red background: "EXHIBITS ONLY"! Ack!!!

They've given me the wrong badge!

With the show starting in just five minutes, I briefly consider my options. I could run back to the badge counter and get the right one. Or I could try talking my way into the conference. Then I picture Peter Lorre in "Casablanca" being dragged away by the Nazis for not having his letters of transit. I decide to run.

Making like an Olympic sprinter, I dart around people like they were standing still (which, relative to me, they are). Down the steps, across the underground mall. Breathing hard, I reach the escalators in the North Hall, I'm almost there -

WHAP! I slip on the shiny floor and hit the tiles with an audible thud. It's all uncannily like when Lucy yanked away the football from Charlie Brown.

My arm hurts a bit, but there's no time to lose. Besides, my sense of pride keeps me from lingering a moment longer than necessary. I dust myself off, reassure someone that yes, I'm OK, and keep going - just a bit slower.

Soon I'm back, seated in the conference room, the coveted yellow badge around my neck. (Actually it was just the badge holder that was wrong, the badge itself was correct - not that I took the time to puzzle that out). But my arm's kinda sore. I hike up my sleeve to check, and sure enough, a bloody bruise has blossomed on my forearm. There was a first-aid station nearby - maybe I should get this thing properly bandaged up. I head back out.

The nurse's station is appointed just like a full-blown doctor's office, from the paper-covered bench right down to the bottled iodine and tongue depressors. A kindly nurse does an impressive wrapping job on my wound - why, you'd think I'd fractured something! I determine to tell anyone who asks that I was wounded defending a little old lady from a mugger.

10:45 - 11:45

Finally I can relax and enjoy the presentation - actually, two of them. Each segment of the day contains at least two seminars I'd equally love to attend, and short of cloning, I have to make some tough decisions. I start with a panel discussion by a group of Macworld editors and writers. There they are in person - David Pogue, Andy Inhatko, and others whose names are familiar to me from all those years of reading Macworld.

The discussion is a freewheeling, stream-of-consciousness affair, and while it's quite funny and entertaining, it's a little light on useful information. So I finally jump ship and slip into the "Music On The Mac" session happening next door. I stay for a few pointers on digital music recording before the session ends.

No time to rest though - gotta head out to Max's Diner and meet my friends Brian and Linda for lunch. We hook up with no trouble, and spend a boisterous hour catching up on everything. Then it's time to brave the still-miserable weather and get back to the show!

1:00 pm

My choice for Conference Session 2 is a talk called, "Broadband: The Wave of the Future?". What follows, though interesting, is more a showoff of the speaker's interactive website than any broad (no pun intended) overview of bandwidth issues.

Another between-session gap, and this time I explore the main show floor for the first time.

Wow.

If I felt like a kid in a candy store in the North Hall, the main show in the South Hall is like a tour of Willy Wonka's factory. Dazzling displays are everywhere I look. Apple's area is, of course, huge - several expansive showcase areas, with counters futuristically lit from below. A monumental circular banner hovers above it all.

I may have missed Steve Jobs' keynote address, but the new titanium G4 powerbooks he announced are there, ready to be played with.

Nearby, the Palm booth is easily the most impressive of the other vendors' offerings. It's two stories high, and manned by not one but two energetic hosts - Mary on the left balcony, Tim on the other. Their presentation is so full of energy, they seem to be having so much fun, that you'd never know they've been running through the same 15-minute spiel for hours.

But again I must tear myself away, for the last of the User Conferences is about to begin. My choice is "QuickTime VR Basics", and it's a good one - easily the most informative and rewarding of the day. By the end, I feel I've really learned some valuable principles and tips to help me make QTVR movies - something I plan to put in to practice as soon as possible.

4:00 pm

The last two hours are pure, random enjoyment of the main show floor - pinballing around from booth to booth, collecting goodies in my ever-more-weighty bag, sitting in on demos, and entering - and failing to win - the draws at the end of each.

Here, where every other person seems to be chatting into their cel phone or scribbling at their PalmPilot, simply eavesdropping can be a rewarding experience. At every turn, software engineers and computer trade-show organizers are talking shop. I'm reminded how close I am to Silicon Valley. It's a heady experience.

I meet up with my friends Brian and Linda again.. then lose them for an hour... then they turn up suddenly, at the Iomega booth, just as the presentation is about to begin. This one is daringly different! The host-with-a-headset, while present, takes a backseat to... a troupe of dancers! That's right, six guys and gals in black Iomega outfits do a series of funky, suitable-for-MTV dance routines to a counterpoint of slogans and almost Zen-minimalist soundbites of info, all under a heavy dance beat.

Brian and I have a front-row seat, and a minute into the gyrating spectacle, I'm transfixed by the lovely Dancer #2, a fetching brunette. Soon I've pretty much forgotten what booth I'm in... what day it is... my name. When the show ends, I've received a fun Iomega puzzle. Not bad, but I was hoping for Dancer #2's phone number...

Finally the lights dim and it's time to go. One day down, one to go!