I really should schedule more briefings in the late afternoon. They often happen in hotel bars, you see, and when you meet at 5 instead of 1, it’s practically rude to decline a cocktail. (Particularly in the Liberty Hotel near Beacon Hill, which has a rather fantastic drinks menu).Here’s the drill: a rep is in town for a day or two. Either they’re here to see me specifically or (more likely) they’re off on a weeklong jaunt across the country. Cities containing multiple Persons Of Interest get priority. It’s generally fairly casual; we chat for an hour, I get to see (usually) an early engineering sample, and bounce ideas off of each other. I’m generally trying to figure out how excited I ought to be about this thing. The rep (he or she can be at any level of the company) is trying to figure out how interested I am…sometimes, it’s early enough in the development of the product that they want to know what I like and I don’t like about it. Some stuff is under NDA. Some stuff is completely open, as was this particular item from my briefing with ASUS: this is an entire computer housed inside a conventionally-sized keyboard, with its own dedicated little screen right on the device. Yes, it’s just an engineering sample. But it was a functional one and I must say that I was impressed. I’ve been waiting for a true, proper “living room computer” to come along…a design that truly makes sense for sofatop computing. Media Center PCs? Naw, I don’t want to have a whole PC stacked next to my TV, though I like the power and ambition of the designs. Plug in a laptop, and tie into it with a wireless mouse and keyboard? Same problem as I have with the Apple TV. We’re dealing with user interfaces that were designed for desktop use. Plus, some of the most convenient operations are clunky. I’m watching a movie and I’m into it, but I’ve got 18 seconds of downtime while Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise dispense with some important plot points and I just want to check up on Twitter. Do I tab out of my media app and open a browser window? Keep a Twitter client going at all times? The idea of this keyboard PC is that you simply keep it plugged in via HDMI (or VGA, or a wireless video sender that costs extra). You now have a Windows XP PC with two screens. No need to obscure the Boxee window on your HDTV…just check for new Tweets on the little screen. When your attention is on the main screen, you can use the little display as a trackpad. Let me make it clear that this isn’t a keyboard: it’s a PC. Turn it around and you’ll find every port you’d likely find on a netbook, including Ethernet and three USB ports. (No SD card reader, though…I found that to be an odd omission). And it’s a solidly-built thing with big, comfortable keys. An actual review will come in a month or two when I get one in the office. It’ll ship in October or November for $549. If nothing else, I’m pleased to see a company that’s brave enough to try something brand-new (or new-ish) in the field of desktop PCs. I’ve long been frustrated by the “Monitor, Tower, Keyboard” or “Screen And Keyboard Separated By A Hinge” duocracy of computer design. Even the iMac is barely a step forward. A computer that lives inside a keyboard? With a little screen for your “indidental” display needs? Interesting. Very, very interesting. Meanwhile, here I am at a pizza place on Beacon Hill. My one port wine cocktail was two hours ago and since then, I’ve had two slices of pizza. By the time I get to my car, it’ll be three hours. (And at my size, I probably had little to worry about to begin with, impairment-wise. But is one ever confident in answering “Yes” when the nice police officer says “And have you had any alcohol tonight, sir?”) Again, I think I should arrange for more late-afternoon briefings. Not because of the potential for a cocktail, of course. It’s just that when a meeting ends at 2, I’m eager to rush home and begin what I refer to as “the second session” of work. When I’m out at 6? It’s time for a nice stroll through the Public Garden as the sun is beginning to set. And it’s dinnertime. And people are taking their dogs out for some air and to gather compliments from passers-by. At the moment, it’s a lovely little planet, you know.