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'Star Trek' inspired modern techies

January 8, 2006 12:00 am


LAS VEGAS--Just across the street from the Las Vegas Convention Center, the primary site for the International Consumer Electronics Show, is the "Hilton's Star Trek: The Experience."

More than a few of the 200,000 attendees here - both tech people and journalists - have been spending time there, they say, because they can trace their own interests in technology and science to inspiration fired by the original "Star Trek" series.

They say that "Star Trek" infused them with the belief that if you can imagine it, you can do it.

"Star Trek: The Experience" features original props including Captain Kirk's "communicator," which, way back in the 1960s, accurately foreshadowed what would become today's flip-style cell phone. A plaque notes that the "standard Star Fleet communicator of the 2280s" was designed with esthetics and a "simple control interface" in mind. Those same principles are themes being stressed at the 2006 CES.

The exhibit notes that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry ditched the idea for a "Dick Tracy"-type wrist radio-type "communicator" and instead chose the "handheld flip-up."

Ironically, there was much talk at CES about the fact that devices like the new Palm Treo 700 smart phone are intimidating to consumers, who want Roddenberry's sense of simple elegance. An executive showing off the new Treo said customers are complaining that there are 42 buttons in the face of the device "and that's too complicated." But 26 of those buttons are the alphabet for sending e-mail.

Also on display is the small personal computer often shown in Kirk's quarters. That prop was used on the series at a time when the idea of small home computers was not something most Americans even imagined.

Clint MacKay of ThinkTank PC in Portland said he got "sucked into" the original "Star Trek" series when he was 8 years old. MacKay, now 47, was standing in line for the "Borg" ride.

Other tech types from CES were in line wearing wireless cell phone head sets that resemble the cyborg "Borg" technology of later "Star Trek" series.

"At least 95 percent of tech geeks grew up on 'Star Trek,' " said 36-year-old Mike Abell of Kingston Technology. Abell said he was too young to see the original series before it was canceled, but watched reruns over and over and then followed subsequent series.

As they stood in line, MacKay, Abell and 45-year-old Mark Sullivan, who also works for Kingston, all said they idolized Mr. Scott, the Starship Enterprise engineer played by James Doohan.

"Roddenberry had real vision," Abell said, in anticipating technical advances.

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