Saturday, January 9, 2010

Las Vegas: CES 2010

Yes, I am aware that I was just in Las Vegas. And I am aware that as a person who doesn't like smoking, drinking, or gambling, there's not much reason for me to go back to Vegas 11 days after returning from Vegas. Except that there was a reason. For the first time in almost 20 years, I attended CES, better known as the Consumer Electronics Show. Better known as Nerd Mecca.

After a lot of changes to the plan, it turned out I would drive out to Vegas on January 8 with my friend Michael and fly back just two nights later. In and out, nobody gets hurt.

One of the great things about somebody else driving is that you can safely take pics from the car. In truth, I have taken more pics while driving than I should have and in the back of my mind am slowly preparing a collection known as, "Irresponsible Photography." The problem is that Irresponsible Photography will reveal to my mother and wife when I have been irresponsible, and this strikes me as a bad idea.

The road to poverty, to vice, and to excess. The road to Vegas.

One thing about being out in the desert is the kickass sky.

In Victorville we gassed up ourselves at Del Taco and then gassed up the car at Chevron.

Mandalay Bay. Did you know that the real Mandalay is a city in Burma? A land-locked city? Lord knows how they took a resort with a beach-ish theme and named it after Burma's beachless royal capital.

Michael & I checked in and met up with my friend Aaron. The three of us grabbed dinner in the hotel cafe and discussed how to approach the madness that is CES.

The next morning we hit the shuttle to the convention center too early, but at least it got us there without any waiting.

Las Vegas Convention Center. For four days, this sucker is 3,200,000 square feet of electronics. Nerd Mecca is no exaggeration.

These people are waiting. Waiting to get onto the convention center floor. As luck would have it, the powers that be gave me an Exhibitor badge. It must have had something to do with my registering with the software development company that my friend and I started to create iPhone apps. The "Exhibitor" badge holder meant that I could have walked into CES an hour and a half earlier than my pathetic little friends. Yet I came to make the pilgrimage with them, not alone, and so I waited with the peasants.

Bags for swag.

Happy people. This one might have been better in black & white. Massage chair tech has not moved forward in a decade plus. I have a concept for a superior muscle relief system. Who want to invest?

I pixelated this pic to honor those 3D Glasses. Yes, 3D Glasses. Before, During & After CES all they hype was about 3D TV. Guess what? My friends and I were not impressed. A 3D movie on a theater screen that fills up your whole view is impressive. A TV on the wall with some 3D effects? Not so amazing. Add in the annoyance of wearing glasses, and CES 2010 left me thinking I will never want a 3D TV. And in case you're wondering, we saw 3D TV's as large as 82-inches and it still didn't elicit a, "Wow." Add to this that 3D without glasses is allegedly coming in 5-10 years, and spending money on a 3D TV sounds like one of the more stupid decisions one can make.

And on the conspiracy theory front... 1) 3D TV is kinda weak. 2) Press outlets are raving about it. 3) Press outlets are owned by media companies. 4) Media companies are owned by conglomerates that include electronics manufacturing, shipping, etc. 5) Conglomerates stand to profit from the sale of 3D TV's. Difficult to connect them dots?

Cruising up the escalator, it seemed like a good time for a pic. That represents 1/3 of one show floor. There are four main show floors at the LVCC.

There was a crowd around these three. They were promoting some sort of Ed Hardy thing. Honestly, they seemed confused being surrounded by men who were not handing them cash.

I think this is an improvement to a previously boring pic.

So, 3D TV didn't excite me. What did? Consider this. That box is a hydrogen fuel cell large enough to power a single family home. Add water and methane and this sucker produces electricity without generating pollutants. None. Think about that. Every home generating its own clean energy, off the grid. I believe The Squidbillies would call that, "Excitinger than hell." Take that, TV that requires me to wear uncomfortable glasses.

Okay, there is nothing exciting about this pic, but there is a funny story here. It is very, very hard to be nice toward a Microsoft employee. Why? Microsoft is the biggest, richest company on Earth, right? If what they show you is less impressive than what Google and Apple already offer, there is a part of your brain that physically hurts until you make a snide comment. Terrible, I know.

Story. We walk into 16,000 sq.ft. Microsoft booth and my friend has a specific question about Microsoft Office Live Workspace. Not to be confused with Windows Live or Office Live, Office Live Workspace is a cloud computing solution being thrown at the public to keep them from moving to Google Docs and thus never buying another copy of Microsoft Office. (I cannot resist mentioning that the free is better anyway.) Office Live Workspace is actually cool. It allows you, for free, to open and save Office documents to a Microsoft server in the cloud. It works almost perfectly, but my friend upgraded from Office 2003 to Office 2007, and suddenly he could not attach a Workspace document to an email.

Attaching a document to an email seems, well, kind of basic. I happen to be able to do it from Google Docs. (Although not from Gmail, which is mildly annoying.) He finds one Microsoft guy, and then another guy, and asks about this issue. Guy Two, who seemed like the kind of Engineer Dude you'd enjoying drinking beer with and talking about tech, listened to the question and started suggesting different solutions. These solutions were totally inadequate, and came from the, "Don't do what you want to do, do what we think you should do," school of engineering. It was comical, with Dude telling my friend to copy and paste links to docs instead of attached docs. But when it really got funny was this moment: Dude turned to my friend and whipped out his I hate you for pointing out our flaws line, which was, "I don't know of anyone who wants to do what you want to do." I swear, he continued with something like, "There are thousands of people around here and none of them want to do what you're asking this to do." Really? Attaching a document to an email is unreasonable? Methinks the unreasonable shoe is on the other foot.

This was the first guy, not the Dude engineer. This guy told us to talk to Dude. I didn't take a picture of Dude, because, well, he was frustrated and mildly emotional and it isn't his fault their cloud computing suite is flawed. See, I totally showed empathy there. Today, of course, I regret not being able to show him to you and regret not being more of a jerk. The hilarious footnote is that Dude bitterly added that Office Live Workspace is being discontinued soon, rolled into "Skydrive" which is going to lack a lot of the connectivity which made my friend and I think that Workspace was the perfect solution for the person with multiple work locations.

Enough of that. It might require way too much Nerd to be amused.

What? What! Do not judge me. This is not my fault. I'm not the bad guy here. The responsible party is whomever allowed a company to have a name only letter away from being a poophole.

This is Panasonic's Fuel Cell area. Yes, the oil companies and utility companies are going to fight this. But they are going to lose. It might be 10, 20, 30 years, but clean electricity generated in the home is going to happen. Heck, in California we can go with solar roofs and fuel cell backup. To all the negative Nancy's out there, the polar bears just might survive.

Perhaps you have noticed that there are not many picture of TV's. This is not because we didn't look at them. We did. We saw Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Sony, Samsung, RCA... even some Korean & Chinese companies we'd never heard of. But I'm only bothering with one TV pic.

LG appeared to be a few steps ahead of everyone. The others were showing off 240Hz TV's against 120Hz, LG was showing 480Hz against 240Hz. (At 480Hz, you can watch words pan by and they look perfectly clear. The others flicker.) The other TV manufacturers were showing off relatively thin LED TV's, while LG was showing super-thin TV's like the one pictured above. That is a 55" TV, which features a better image than the TV you own, and it is 0.8" thick. Unlike their competition, LG realized that they put all the electronics, inputs, and such in the base, instead of the back of the TV. They even have a version where there's a wireless 1080p connection between the base and the TV. What you get is a remarkably thin, light, large-scale TV screen that you can put Anywhere. Bravo.

I swear to you, the calibre of booth babes was surprisingly weak. I rarely bothered taking pics of them. This pic is meant to show the general disinterest in babeness among the crowd.

This little guy is wicked cute. He has a webcam in his nose, and moves in a very realistic fashion. There were robots aplenty, none of which were all that impressive. But this guy had that special something that made you want to take him home. (Google "keepon" and you'll see he was developed to help autistic children.)

After covering all the millions of square feet at the convention center, and after sitting adjacent to a business meeting between Brazilians and Koreans for lunch (think about that meeting's importance for an extra second or two), we headed to the Venetian Hotel where two floors of hotel rooms were converted into high end audio listening rooms.

High end audio is always fun to check out, though in the end one $150,000 stereo is not all that different from another. Speaker wire the thickness of a garden hose, tube amplifiers the size of a mini fridge, and turntables that appear to float in the air. That's what your inner audiophile needs.

It was too dark in these rooms for good pics. This was my favorite system, which featured Acapella speakers. Acapella makes funky speakers that use an actual horn shaped speaker. To my ears they made it sound like the musicians were in the room playing live, which is the goal of any audiophile system. Oddly, I do not lust after this stuff like I did as a young man. Hard to explain.

That was that. We headed back to the hotel, ate dinner, and then Michael took me to the airport. You see, his wife flew in and I flew out. He was the center of the universe for a few minutes.

Airport shot. I was very pleased to be headed home. When I went to CES in the early 1990's, I was amazed at the future tech which did not appear at the stores for 5 to 10 years. In 2010 it seemed like everyone was showing what is going to come out this year. I suppose it is because the internet makes secrets impossible. Maybe that's why I liked the fuel cells so much. The fuel cell was the only futuristic game-changer there.