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The Most Significant Ignored Item at the 2019 CES … perhaps even in the shows’ history.

While CES has had its “firsts,” an item overlooked by ALL the mainstream tech sites will be a game-changer or more precisely a quantum life-shift in the near future. This is singularly the most important thing shown in the history of CES or (depending on your age) your lifetime. You may possibly have heard the term “Blockchain” (originally called “Block Chain”) but like the first time you heard about email or even the internet, you didn’t understand its full implications. Well, this is one that will affect your life in the very near future (one to five years) and you more than likely don’t have a clue what it is. It’s truly an almost invisible revolution. This is your wake-up call from the future.


To start, it’s already begun … and its eventual full-scale use to affect our lives has irreversibly begun. In the modern history of man (say, the last 500+ years or so) there have been exactly four events that have fundamentally changed society everywhere. Those are: 1) the printing press in the 1500’s freed knowledge; 2) the engine eliminated the need for back-breaking manual labor and slavery; 3) the automobile allowed quick distant travel for the masses; and 4) and the computer/internet made the world a much smaller place. Each of these addressed a problem that couldn’t be resolved previously.

Blockchain is the answer for the next problem … trust and security. Should you own property, have money or have medical records (as we all do), the last thing you want is for them being easy to change or falsify. Blockchain puts a very permanent end to that.


Among the businesses expected to be literally wiped-out or damaged by Blockchain are banks, credit reporting companies and title companies (it is a really long list, so this is just an example of a few of the most significant) as it effectively does away with 95% their need. (Bank of America has 50+ Blockchain patents currently and JP Morgan-Chase Bank is currently moving to Blockchain.)

What is needed is an immutable solution to storing information securely and that’s what it provides. Not even a quantum computer can permanently hack it. Once a baseline is established, from that point going forward, fraud is essentially impossible. (unless you’re willing to spend $256,000.00 an hour for the leased computing power to TRY to crack it.)


For example, a title search can take days to weeks and cost thousands of dollars. With Blockchain it’s measured in microseconds and pennies. A currency transfer can take a week (did the Nigerian lottery commission get my prize redemption fee?) Less than a second can tell you if you actually have the money in your account … foreign currency transfers are especially vulnerable to fraud and fluctuation.


Well what is it??? This system uses distributed computing to spread the data across the web with each and every file having a special “key” that is linked to every other file linked to the special “key” created before and after it was created. Should one key or more be hacked, upon its attempt to be opened, it knows it’s wrong and goes searching worldwide for the innumerable matching keys and erases/replaces the false one.

This is a very, very simplistic explanation, but effectively makes the data absolutely trustworthy. No more middlemen to verify the info is accurate. This will be how you pay your taxes in a just a few years … direct transfer to the government, bypassing the banking system. Eventually, ALL transactions other than cash in-hand will be done via the Blockchain system. No more bounced checks, credit fraud or middleman costs. Credit card fraud will be substantially eliminated, and, it will expand to even mundane things such as school grades, automobile records, photos and software to things of extreme value like the stock exchange. Companies like Western Union for money transfers will simply be unnecessary and redundant.
As every seminal man-made event that has changed our lives has gotten more complicated, Blockchain is the most complex, but in some ways, one of the most simple. You will be depending on it in the future to determine the accuracy of almost everything of any value to you — from buying a home to how many “stars” you have at Starbucks …


At the 2019 CES lines were being drawn for who will dominate the Blockchain universe. Several companies were lining up to be the next big thing and despite being only being around a few hundred square feet of display space out of the almost three million available, it was the truest harbinger of “things to come.” ALL major companies will use it in less than a handful of years and it will be the standard of trust in our lives. The next tech billionaires will probably be Blockchain company starters … the money rush in investments has already started. The “gold rush” for Blockchain in the tech investment field is a virtual stampede. Almost half of the world has no access to a bank, but through Blockchain, will have access to the rest of the world’s economy.

Give that a thought for a moment … the world’s getting smaller every day.

The 2019 CES winner

LG’s amazing roll-up OLED TV … world’s best picture, bar none, combined with crazy abilities like hiding in a long narrow box. Just when the other OLED makers thought they had caught up … this happens.

If you’d like to see the video of it in action … here’s the link: LG Signature Series

If you want to see the video of their incredible folded OLED 4K screen entry to their area, click here. I’d recommend turning the volume down.

Show pictures … in no particular order

Only one display made me hungry … enter the “Breadbot!”

Ever wonder what the drone looked like that you see flying in formation for a night light show? This is the drone that set the record for most drones in simultaneously synced flight … 2018 of these!


They wouldn’t let me take off my shoe to use as a reference …


Perfect for those beach outings when the kids playing in the water won’t stop screaming.

No, it won’t play “Call of Duty” or “Halo” … I tried …

Six Rotors, No Waiting for Uber

This isn’t like the cobbled-up prototypes at the previous CES shows … this is built by Bell … as in Bell helicopters. And yes, it flies. And no, they wouldn’t tell me what it costs.

Should we open voting?

Should we have a poll for the most effective human Cuisinart?

I think the last one is my choice … give it to the one Dubai cop who refuses to do the donuts run ….

Wrong again …

As usual, the establishment tech-reporting media got it wrong … and they missed it by a mile this time. They’ve called this show as the “Year of 5G”. But in reality, there was almost nothing at the show to back it up, not the least of which is the fact that 5G isn’t available except in minuscule areas of the US.

If a single item defined the show, it was partial/full self-driving auto technology along with its accompanying infotainment systems. Literally, there were almost an entire hall’s worth of car makers, LIDAR companies and other car navigation related tech … this would have been great had this been the Detroit Auto Show. But it isn’t, and it’s not. Everything they showed wouldn’t work in “real life”. This is the reason why there have been so many deaths in Teslas while in the self-driving mode. The sensors hanging off the cars to make them function better than Tesla system are actually dangerous to pedestrians or look so absurd as to be a central character in a Japanese animated cartoon.  In complete seriousness, it reminded me of a “Transformer” movie car with huge spinning sensors on the roof and projections sticking out of the car sides. It would have been comical if it were supposed to be a joke.

This kind of display doesn’t inspire confidence in the tech … they’d be better off if they had stayed away and didn’t show everyone just how far they had to go.

Thinking back and dreaming forward

Yep, that time of the year again to gaze backwards at the tech of yesteryear as we look forward to the 2019 CES in Las Vegas. This ten-year retro view will give you a peek into tech considered ancient by today’s standards.

Microsoft was betting on new “home server” software and equipment … did you buy one? … didn’t think so. Don’t feel bad as no one else did either. Server tech is so far beyond the average user even if “dumbed down” that I can’t even begin to explain. And if “dumbed down”, the neophyte user can mistakenly open a bag of worms that they really didn’t want.

Skype finally appears on Android devices.

TV manufacturers were wondering why people weren’t using their smart TV’s for things like ordering pizza and such. I can only guess those guys were still using flip-phones as the rest of the world was moving to smart phones/tablets/laptops for such things. Oddly, even as late as the 2018 CES, they were asking the same question. I’m expecting the same question at the 2019 CES.

Digital “photo frames” were hot for the sellers, but not so much for buyers. Who knows how many of the things are still stuck on retailers’ shelves or backrooms?

McIntosh was celebrating its 60th birthday and released it’s first tabletop stereo system … and yes, you can’t even afford it even in used condition now.

Circuit City was circling the drain, if not already past the financial P-trap in reality.

Things in the back of the “Central Hall” at CES were junk then … nothing has changed. How many 59 cent headphones does anyone need?

“Personal” GPS trackers were becoming mainstream … perfect for stalkers or just your average paparazzi.

Mitsubishi unveiled the first laser projection TV … available in 65”. One of the two major sizes of an average flat LCD TV. Only many, many times thicker and heavier … yeah, I don’t understand their thought process on it either.

Sony released a $1500 1080p camcorder (HDR-XR520V) using a hard disk for data retention … what could possibly go wrong with a portable video camera using a mechanical hard drive, other than just about everything?

Smartphone makers blame the U.S. celluar carriers for the “slow” adoption of the new phones … by gouging customers. They charge for almost everything that make the new phones worth having/using. By late 2009, smartphone still only accounted for about 25% of new phone sales.

The first Google phone (G1) is released … to be kind, we’ll call it a “work-in-progress” … didn’t even have a headphone jack. It had only 49!!! apps available at the time from the “Android Market”.      Having only a 3.2-megapixel camera and NO video or flash, reviewers at the time politely called it “unfinished”.

Laptops in 2009, even the most expensive ones (like the dual-core Sony VAIO VGN-TT198UBX – $4344), to put it politely, are incredibly weak by today’s standards. Here in late 2018, the CPU manufacturers are in full scale nuclear war with each other again as chip design has taken almost unbelievable jumps in just the last year. Ninety-six core desktops are available now for the price of a new Kia. We may see 48-core laptops with far faster clock speeds in the near future (Alienware probably, and being the Ferrari of laptops, beyond frighteningly expensive … but mainstream only a few years later.)

Regardless, looking back only ten years seems the “good old days”, where we were on the cusp of the explosion of tech that isn’t even given a second thought by users today. When Google didn’t know our underwear size or where we had dinner last night. When you couldn’t buy lumber on Amazon.

But as a friend once asked me, “if our tech is so advanced, where is my teleporter?” It will not be in my lifetime, but who can realistically forecast tech 100 years in the future, when we look back only ten years and see how quaint technology was “back then”.

Going down the never ending rabbit hole of tech upgrades

GoPro released the Hero “7” Black just a couple of months after I took delivery of a Hero “6” Black (reviewed earlier) … so, I had to have it if for no other reason than to see what has changed. Immediately, you notice on the side of the camera in bold print “7” so as not to be confused with the “old” model … God forbid people think you’re using the old, worn out tech of April 2018! I’m not joking that some tech sites complained there was no huge nomenclature to identify it as the newest/priciest model.

Basically, the cameras are similar in appearance, use the same accessories and are still as heavy as though it was made out of lead. But there are some very real improvements … most notably the incredible smoothness/lack of shake the new camera exhibits. The Hero 6 Black was outstanding, but after seeing the improvement, the “6” is headed to eBay. My distaste for gimbals continues unabated and this new model just hardens my opinion. A heavy, complex, expensive and cumbersome gimbal to smooth a few bumps is simply unnecessary at this point unless you’re shooting the new “Indiana Jones” movie.

GoPro does make a “Silver & White” version of this camera … but trust me on this, forget it.            They are for the posers who want to flash the GoPro “image,” but don’t want to spend the bucks.        In complete candor, I’m at a loss why they even make these. If poorer video quality is your goal, just buy a $35 Chinese camera. Why spend $300 for a lesser GoPro, when effectively, it’s dumbed down to the video quality of the aforementioned Chinese clone.

The new menu threw me for a loop the first few times I used it and even now, I still prefer the older menu of the “6”.

It now includes “SuperPhoto” … it applies three different technologies to produce the best still image ever from a GoPro.  You really, really don’t want me to explain this in pure geek talk.                        Just note, it works …

It will now shoot in the vertical mode for posting on certain vanity (eg. Instagram Stories) websites.

The new “TimeWarp” will capture super-stabilized time-lapse videos while you move around.            It’ll increase the speed up to 30x to turn longer shots into anything you may want to share and yet, not bore your friends. (eg. original video is 10 minutes, but is sped up to be viewed in only 20 seconds for those with millennium-short attention spans.)

The sound quality is slightly improved … due to a different waterproofing membrane primarily.

Should you want to live-stream, it’s available now, but restricted to the personal data grabbing “Facebook” & “YouTube” and a few others.

I have noticed better low-level light sensitivity, better definition and color saturation.                          While complained about on some websites, I’ve always thought it was better than it should be for the lenses it has.

But ultimately, it’s the impressive smoothness that leaves you amazed that you’re that good of a videographer.

I now await breathlessly for the “8”.

Picture (96%) Perfect

After so many camcorders that I’ve lost count, ranging from amazingly good-for-the-bucks, cheapy Chinese action cams to professional Canons, I think I may have found a perfect compromise. It won’t accept external lenses and isn’t exactly what most would call cheap ($380+), but for my purposes it clicks essentially all of the “most needed” boxes. The new GoPro Hero6 Black is a winner. It fits in my pocket provided I don’t need accessories … and OMG, are there accessories! It shoots 4K video in 60 fps (for top quality, that’s mandatory) and high-res 12MP stills. It won’t boot quite as fast a modern digital camera, but the end results are what matters. No wonder this is the standard of the industry … literally everyone else is screaming…me too, me too!!! But ultimately, to quote Highlander, there can be only one. Jaw-dropping video quality, truly tiny size and extreme flexibility are only a few of its merits. I wore it on a chest mount for the toboggan sled down the Great Wall in China with stunning documentary-quality results.

The body of the camera does not require a case for water-proofing down to about 33 feet and you can live stream to a tablet or phone as a monitor (and control it) depending on the level of resolution you’re shooting at. At 4K and 60fps, the processing is just too extreme to allow that … but you can set it to watch before you hit “record”. The lens has two settings … wide and narrow. It comes with stabilization, impressive night performance, time lapse, stereo audio, rear touch screen, lossless professional RAW format, HDR, optional long-distance remote, true slo-mo …  when you hold it in your hand for the first time you notice the weight, this ain’t no cheesy “me too” toy.

This is one serious piece of kit.

 

(Shown with my highly-recommended silicone case)

 

(and, IMHO, the not-so-optional remote)

Additionally, there are simply so many accessories for this thing that it defies description … just check out eBay and look for GoPro stuff … it’s mind bending how much is there. There is an abundance of cheap non-official add-ons … I have probably over 50 … and my total investment is less than 30 bucks. Virtually all generic cameras use the GoPro mount. As a result there are thousands of add-ons.

Not to put a damper on the party, buuuut, there are two issues. Firstly, while in the factory-supplied bracket, there is NO access to the charging input. And anything this powerful loves juice … so you can’t use an extra battery pack with the bracket. I’m thinking of using a Dremel to resolve this issue. The next issue is an issue ONLY if you haven’t taken the time to read the fine print, so to speak, in the instruction manual. You must, as in ABSOLUTELY MUST, use the memory cards they “recommend”. Even high quality, fast cards can’t keep up with the data flow. Failure to do so will result in hair loss when you’re in the middle-of-nowhere and it won’t run. You’ve been warned …

I have additional batteries and a specialized charger for them. By the way, I’ve found I get around 40 minutes in time lapse without an external battery.

The old saying ” a picture is worth a thousand words”, may have to be changed to ten thousand when it’s from a GoPro 6 … yes, it’s that good.

Imperfect Vision

Shaky hands are not only bad for surgeons. If you have binoculars, and actually use them quite a bit or under demanding circumstances, most people find they can’t hold them still for very long. Usually a brace of some kind or even a tripod is in order. (I use one with my uber-heavy “astronomicals”).      The solution is a stabilized pair. They’ve been around for a few years, but the prices have been prohibitive for the bulk of users. The military depends on the M25 manufactured by the Fraser-Volpe Corporation … and as with anything the government does, it ain’t exactly cheap. I’ve seen pairs for over $6500. A more consumer-friendly version by other companies is actually affordable. One such standout model is the Canon 8×25 IS. It’s usually available online for $250-$300 shipped to your door.

The very first seconds you use it, you understand why ALL other binoculars are rendered obsolete by this tech. It won’t matter if you have a wider field of view or greater magnification if the subject is blurred. When the button on the top is held down, the image suddenly snaps still … very startling for a seasoned binocular fan. This has been around for years in camcorders and is time-proven, so it won’t matter what type of optical stabilization is used (active or passive), the point is … it works.

My around-the-world, 30+ year old travel Nikons aren’t missed. Don’t believe the reviews about the less expensive models … while the binocular reviewers may be more discriminating/demanding, many don’t understand binocular use in the “real world.” A $1000 pair simply isn’t necessary for the bulk of users. The entry level Canons will perform far beyond most people’s expectations. If you need more than a pair like this, you have specialized needs.

 

The Canon comes with a nylon case, strap and eyepiece covers, but oddly doesn’t include primary lens covers. So I designed my own and 3D printed them.

My 3D .stl file, should you want to print your own, is available for download here.  I used just a few feet of PLA filament and a connector I found laying around to keep them together.

Like the old axiom says … seeing is believing.

The Winner of the 2018 CES and it ain’t a Robotic Dog

As I’ve frequently said … CES is the only place on the planet where you can see tomorrow. This show had an item that I think is earthshaking. Star Trek had its universal translator and the “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” had its’ “Bablefish” … now it’s becoming real.

A startup called “Mars” had what looked like a couple of Bluetooth earbuds. The owner of the “buds” puts one in his ear, and the other goes to a person speaking a different language. In almost real time, the phone app translates the conversation into the wearers’ native languages.

Does it actually work? … The robotic voice in your ear aside, it works so well that it may be life-changing for some people.  I used it to talk to someone whose native language is Korean and was stunned. It was effortless to carry on a conversation. I simply can’t count the ways it changes everything for anyone who deals with people from multiple language backgrounds. From business to a more personal nature, this can actually convey your meaning as accurately as though you could really speak Mandarin Chinese. It’s going to be available in several languages and there’s no reason why it couldn’t eventually work on ALL languages. A data link to the web is required … for the moment.    The projected price is about $250 or so.

This is one of those “ah-ha” moments that demands you take a minute and think about what this could mean …

So when you meet someone and they brag about being fluent in six foreign tongues, you reach for your MARS and tell them … “only six?”

Notable Odds and Ends of the 2018 CES

With over 20K+ of new items every year, I try to distill the show down to a few items that were worth taking a second look at. This as you may guess, not an easy task … but here we go.

What is old is new again … a good idea won’t die. Despite the proliferation of the digital camera, the old-school Polaroid still is pertinent.

 

A notable “sci-fi” show is introduced for the second year in a row. This one is “Altered Carbon” from Netflix … If you’re a fan of the sci-fi genre, I won’t tell you that this is the last word in science fiction, but does make you think about what is coming and the consequences of not being prepared. Obviously a very expensive show, and a showcase of how to do a super-premium futuristic … I’ll tell you up front, it’s not what you are expecting. When it’s over, you can see it’s roots firmly in Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler novels. Should nudity and a dizzying plot be a problem for you … this ain’t your kind of show … and don’t even think about watching “Black Mirror” on Netflix that has a similar future tech warning. It’s Altered Carbon on steroids and very well may the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen on the idiot tube.

 

Under the heading of “don’t ask what it costs” is this beast … all carbon fiber and packed with tech, this is a drone that makes you wonder if insurance is available in the event of a “fly-away” or serious crash.

 

Omron showed its automated ping-pong player. While an interesting exercise in AI, it’s a glimpse of what forms the basis of robotic warriors.  Here’s my short video of it in action that will open in a different window.

 

One of my favs at the show was this “pocket drone” from AEE. Essentially it’s about the same size as a “battery-case” and contains a fold-out drone run by your phone … brilliant, simply brilliant. Pull it free from the back of your phone, fold out the motors, link it to the drone app and you’re ready for almost ten minutes of flight. Less than 200 bucks and everything most people would want for a vacation … for some people it will become a EDC.

 

Washing to a Brighter Future

It seems everyday I read the news, there’s a shortage of fresh water.  In areas where salt-water desalination is used, fresh water is truly expensive. In particularly drought stricken states like California and Nevada, they impose strict limits as to how you can use water, even though the “Hollywood elite” doesn’t follow these rules, and simply pay the fines or pay for water tanker trucks to get around rules implemented for us common serfs who can’t wash their cars in the driveway, have a grass lawn or let their kids play in the sprinklers. The “comedian” Amy Poehler in 2016 used a staggering 170,00+ gallons at only one of her residences in 60 days. The ultra-liberal entertainment mogul David Geffen was claimed to have been charged more than $30,000 for consuming 1.6 million gallons!!! In areas like Houston, a tremendous amount of the flooding occurred due to pumping out too much fresh under-ground water and the land actually sinking. So you’d assume anything that would provide a noticeable drop water consumption would be fairly high on the short list of civic improvement items.

While touring the show I ran into a company from Australia and UK that may be able to do just that … Xeros.

A standard washing machine can use more than 40 gallons for a single load … how about a machine that only uses a gallon or so and far less detergent to achieve better results?  Additionally, imagine how much water is used for the laundry in hotels/hospitals? Think of Vegas hotels with hundreds of thousands of sheets and towels being washed everyday.

Their tech involves a seemingly simple solution, but in reality, is a technical marvel. It involves using a white polymer bead slightly larger than a BB. These beads do far more than just remove stains … you can operate with temperatures far cooler (less electricity/gas) and it’s far less damaging. So much so that firehouses using it report their Nomex fire suits don’t wear out as fast … about doubling it’s life. Last time I checked a fire-proof suit isn’t cheap and the cost of those suits come out of the public coffers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beads you see in the above picture last indefinably. Even if you had to replace them through normal usage, I’m told it’s about fifteen bucks.

And oh yeah, … it filters the waste water so your that the city has less cleaning chemicals to remove from the waste water. If you live in a rural area that means less chemicals that will eventually filter down into your well water.

Fantastic idea, and such a common sense improvement on a basic necessity of modern life … so of course the big washing machine companies like LG/Samsung/Whirlpool would jump on it in a heartbeat? However in face-to-face discussions with those folks, they claimed they’d never heard of it. Initially I assumed they didn’t want any part of such a superior system they didn’t invent, but I quickly realized they had no idea what I was talking about. The folks at Samsung basically stuck their nose in the air and told me if it really worked, they would have been using it.

Amazing that at the largest tech show the world has ever known, some of the largest companies on the planet could be so blind to game changing technology that literally was within walking distance. Everything about the Xeros technology was win-win-win-win-win … less water, less chemicals, less energy, better cleaning and cleaner waste water. I’m hoping after that my discussion with them about Xeros they sent a few spies to see what CES is about … the only place in the world where you can see the future. I’m hoping they brought their glasses …

Not the winner of the 2018 CES

One prominent tech site chose the Sony’s Aibo as the top item of the entire 2018 CES show. Clearly they’ve been visiting the local cannabis outlets as a Sony mechanical dog isn’t new, or news. Their mechanical pets have been around since Bill Clinton was in office. Nothing the “pup” did was anything other than what you’d expect. The ladies at the booth were clearly bored with Sony’s $1500 creation as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another amazing disappointment was the Samsung booth, which was unquestionably the worst I’ve ever seen in almost two decades from a major company. The entirety of the giant booth was cut into tiny glass-enclosed areas that literally showcased … nothing. That is unless you’re really, really into refrigerators. There were none of the famous phones, cameras or literally anything else except refrigerators, washing machines, dryers and some poor guys trying to get the “Alexa/Google” clone “Bixby” to do ANYTHING. I actually don’t know what they were trying to say by such a display … They should have taken five minutes to go the LG area and its jaw-dropping curving OLED canyon.

Another completely uninspiring booth was Panasonic … but that’s pretty much the case every year.    It’s just that this year, they must have hired the same conceptual adviser as Samsung as it was even more of a totally boring mess. After fighting for ten minutes to get through it, I stopped and tried (& failed) to think of anything worth even discussing.

 

Out of ideas

The speaker industry, as I’ve stated earlier, is out of ideas to make a better sounding speaker. The only things they’re promoting is a very 70’ish earsplitting volume level, beyond absurd pricing and trying to make it look like anything but a speaker. This Chinese company felt it better to have it look like … well, you can draw your own ideas. My guess is near the bottom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A chair?

Not quite a fingernail tatoo

Tech at CES is moving in so many directions that it’s getting hard to think of anything not being impacted (for better or worse) by the march of chips, sensors and cameras.  Beauty products aren’t anything I’ve had any interest in, but I can appreciate how even this field is changing. In one booth in particular I couldn’t help but notice the tech used was straight out of inkjet printers. Called “O2nails” it used a multi-layer process to actually print anything you can think of on a fingernail. Of course, on such a small palette, any image must be chosen carefully.

This process isn’t as cheap as the printers begin at about $500. So more than likely, it’s intended for nail salons.

I chose one of our terriers in her holiday garb for a nail of mine, and due to the printer’s excellent image quality, she looks as unhappy as the full size image.

Pain and Pleasure of DJI drones

After having had a half a dozen or more “training drones” as I like to call them, I splurged and bought a top-of-the-line DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone. While it may not have all the tech of the new “4”, it’s definitely the hot-rod of the DJI drones with almost 2.5 pounds of lifting power.

The sheer power allows it to fly in winds that would sweep almost any other drone in existence to the next county tout-suite! My faster 60+ mph racing drones, in high wind or at higher altitudes, just don’t have the muscle like this thing. The gimbaled 4K camera is phenomenal in it’s stability in high winds, and truly remarkable image quality.  The stability, power, drone community support, available hardware hacks, camera quality and simplicity of flying easily make this the “#1” drone to own. So, no wonder it’s the world’s best selling drone brand.

The only real problem is the company itself. They impose so many mandatory updates and restrictions on where it can be flown that it’s mind-blowing. And heaven help you should you be mandated to do a firmware update … you could just as easily “brick it.” That’s the tech slang expression for turning a perfectly running piece of electronics into a doorstop with an update because the manufacturer has informed you of “safety issues or potential software bug squashing.” Imagine buying a new car that automatically slows down in traffic to a crawl because it thinks that’s what the infallible government wants. Well, that pretty much is what they do with all their drones in “restricted airspace.” Which by the way, is basically every city/town in the country with over a few thousand people. They limit the height it can fly. Literally, you are bombarded with quizzes, warnings, repeated popup messages and mandatory phone-texted “code” unlocking that will make the entire experience more than a little unpleasant. They’re so fearful of the feds they cripple the features that are so important to the owners. You get around 25 minutes of flying time, and it can take more time than that just to unlock it so you can fly. In all sincerity, if I did this for a living, I’d never use a DJI product as you can’t tell when it simply decides that it’s not your decision as to when/where you can fly. (Literally, they could mandate a firmware update that would disable every DJI drone in the country within a few days if the government wanted … perfect for dictatorships! … and oh by the way, as cars become more drone-like and are “connected”, they can all be shut off too). And after Obama imposed patently absurd rules on a couple of pounds of flying plastic that the courts later ruled illegal … and then Trump deciding to reinstate it, makes the water muddier about what exactly is going on with mandatory registration and flight restrictions. Because it’s clearly not safety, if you actually understand drones. People who don’t have the faintest clue about a piece of tech shouldn’t be allowed to make rules about its usage. You can’t “Make America Great Again” by crippling technology that is changing the information age. It’s a form of censorship hiding behind absurd and outdated government rules.

Driving While Blind

One of my chief complaints about car manufacturers (with the exception of really expensive cars) is lousy lights. The plastic headlight lens fogging problem you see everywhere aside, the deficient of candlepower is really the biggest culprit. I’ve always replaced the bulbs with far more powerful ones … you’re less likely to hit something if you can see it. With new tech comes more options and that has come to headlights. The older halogen bulbs are going away as high-powered LED’s replace them. That means the “yellowness” of said bulbs are going away as well. The newer bulbs are more like natural daylight, which means better definition and thus, improved safety. My daily driver is an older car having headlights with so little output, that a couple tea candles in front would be an improvement. Driving at night with zero street lights had become a really iffy proposition. The first thing I did is replace the headlights themselves with an eBay purchase that was so cheap, it was shocking. I then put in the most powerful bulbs that they would accommodate without melting them. And it helped … but just a bit. I’d seen HID replacements for years but they’re expensive, run super hot and can require cutting the headlight cables and other rather unpleasant mods … so that was out. As a huge German car fan, I noticed that LED headlights are becoming the norm with the newer models. Like HID headlights when they first came out, were about a $1500 option. I did a little research & found eBay had aftermarket LED lights. So cheap, it defied logic … so a test was in order.    I ordered a couple of sets after specifying daylight temperatures (how color of lights are measured) around 65ooK. The first set was a cheap Chinese pair for less than 15 bucks. Literally it took five minutes to install … more on this later. At night, I hit the headlight switch and lo and behold … let there be light!!! For the first time I could actually see an improvement. Any brighter and they’d have to be illegal off-road lights. So, we have a super cheap fix for “driving while blind.”                              (with apologies to ZZ Top … if you know the song, this absolutely isn’t what they were talking about)

(Should want to try this, I needn’t warn you about careful aiming or you’ll fry the eyeballs of oncoming traffic.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now the flip side to this, is the pair I tried to put into a newer German car. Those cars very frequently have what is known as a CANBUS system that monitors everything in the car. So if you try to put in a pair of newer LED bulbs, either the computer will freak out or simply not allow the lights to work.     So … you’ve got to have a CANBUS adapter. German cars, being engineered to the nth degree, don’t make replacing bulbs a five minute fix. One of ours actually required taking off a wheel and pulling out the inner fender-well lining. Fortunately, I checked the bulbs before going to that extreme and found the CANBUS adapter didn’t work. Consider this story a caveat. When it works, it’s fantastic, and worth every penny and minute of your time to install. So paraphrasing President Reagan, trust, but verify before installing.

 

Sounds Familiar

The annual trek to Vegas arrives in early January of 2018. I expect a show full of optimism … not necessarily breakthroughs, but more of incremental improvements. Oddly, this exactly describes the 2008 CES show as well. The earthquake known as the iPhone, introduced at the same time as the 2007 CES, was finally making its mark in history. So everyone was playing “catch-up” and throwing out as many cases and accessories as possible for the new phone. Everybody who produced phones at that time were, to put it mildly, shell-shocked, confused and lost. The future path for much of the technology that would become commonplace, was firmly established. Admittedly, the phone was a terrible, limited device … but demonstrated what was possible, by what it lacked. And that’s what was truly important.

At that show there were a few notable ideas and products worth mentioning. One I really liked was liquid-crystal window. It’s basically a LCD film over normal glass windows that go opaque with a touch of a button. Amazingly, this has not really taken off … I believe the price and being forced to use a few standard window sizes were the main issues, as the tech (at least by today’s standard) is nothing special. The tech to do this ten years ago was utterly absurd, requiring seven layers of plastics, adhesive and glass. Today, only a single sheet of glass or polycarbonate with a single sheet of LCD film is required. Adding color would be simple as well. If an OLED skin (and the appropriate electronics) was used instead of a cheaper LCD version, you’d have a 4K television too. And with the introduction of the ability to produce fully functional bizarre LCD shapes (example: new digital dashboards), no standard sizes are required of windows. So a retrofit should be possible. Think of car windows, all of which have laminated glass, having this LCD film. When you lock your doors, all the windows going opaque to prevent anyone seeing inside, reducing heat and reducing UV interior damage. Residents in towers no longer having to have drapes or blinds for privacy, just a beautiful view only when it’s wanted.

 

MBL gets the award for the weirdest speaker at the show with what is basically an inside-out speaker. Taking an entire month to produce the four handmade towers and almost costing as much as the GDP of a small country, they sounded ….. ok ….. yep, just ok ….. For a speaker system with that many zeros in the price tag, I expected more. But, they would look perfectly at home in a rapper’s crib.

 

 

Really small laptops were out in force and even by today’s mobile phone standards, pretty weak. Gaming laptops only had a video card with a half a gig of RAM and two gig or less of main RAM. In comparison, my new Note 8 has six gig of main RAM. And in comparison to what we call the “Beast”, my new Alienware gaming rig, it’s laughable.

The major tech of the foreseeable future was coming … mobile devices. The show was odd in that many still didn’t fully understand that. Those who didn’t, aren’t at the show any longer …

Spreading some light

A few days before Harvey hit the Gulf coast, it became obvious that there was going to be damage to the electrical grid where I live. Since a warm breeze with a few cups of water falling from the sky usually results in either a total loss of electricity or the lights flicking on and off, I decided to perform maintenance on my flashlight collection. This was going to take a few hours due the size of it and decided to hit a local store for batteries. After all, who knew how long we’d be without lights. While there I discovered one of the most amazing flashlights. This particular light wouldn’t be possible without modern LEDs. There really isn’t anything else on the market like it. An ordinary flashlight projects a focused beam, or if it has an adjustable lens, it may be a bit broader at the substantial sacrifice of light output. This light by “Dorcy” (Model #: 41-4346) has the focused beam (with four smaller LED’s) and on each side of the main powerful LED are 16 smaller SMT LEDs sending out a wash of remarkably bright light spread out to 220 degrees. It even has a “dimmer” mode if necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(you can see the beam spread in this photo)

 

 

 

With the absurd ratings that all manufacturers use to rate brightness (this one is Dorcy-rated at 850 lumens), I’ll skip that discussion for the moment and just say it’s exceptionally bright. Enough to shame any Maglight in existence. If you need more light than this, you’re going to need a spotlight. It’s been said it’s perfect for the security business due to almost no dark areas in front of you … I have to agree. Most people need a small flashlight and a more serious one every now and then. Well, this is the flashlight for that “every now and then.” I’d go so far to say this is the “King of Flashlights” and is the one flashlight everyone should own. Yeah, it’s a bit heavy due the quality aluminum body and it’s not cheap at almost 60 bucks directly from Dorcy. (Mine was about $35 at Fry’s at the time) But once you use it, you can legitimately say, “I’ve seen the light!”

 

Seventy years in “dog years” is an eternity in tech

Fifty years ago the first CES had to move to NYC due to a fire at the Chicago McCormick Center due ironically to a coffee pot. The hottest products were color TV, transistor radios and cassette players. The 110 exhibitors and 17,500 attendees were jammed into only 100,000 sq.ft. … today’s Vegas show is approaching 50 acres, about 3,000 exhibitors and a seemingly uncountable number of attendees.

But if we look back only ten years ago (or seventy in dog years!), it gives a good perspective to see just how far away 50 years really is.

  • First 50” plasma under $2500 introduced from Hitachi. Comparable LCD from Sharp is $5300. World’s largest LCD TV prototype shown at 108”.
  • HD DVD tech was circling the drain despite better technology and half the price of a Sony unit. The Sony PlayStation 3 with built-in Blu-ray made the difference for dominance. An industry mistake with Sony that still plagues us to this day. I have a 2007 Toshiba HD DVD player and yes, it still looks better than any 2016 Blu-ray player.
  • Sony was #1 in sales of television, home audio, camcorders, DVD players and headphones. I’m not aware of any category that they are tops in sales any longer with the possible exception of projection TV’s.
  • The original iPhone was introduced at MacWorld January 9th by Steve Jobs at the same time as the show was going on. Most everyone there discussed it, but didn’t see its importance. Many products at the 2007 CES would be rendered obsolete in only a year or two as a result.
  • Predictions by most highly-placed industry insiders that dedicated portable music players such as the iPod will continue to be popular indefinitely is proven wrong. (see 4th bullet point)
  • The cheapest portable GPS debuts from Audiovox (NVX227) for “only” $399.
  • The Pharos phone with GPS, audio player and PDA debuts … the expression “a day late and a dollar short” may apply here. (see 4th bullet point again)
  • GoPro introduced its newest action camera the Hero 3 for $140. The basic design is still the same today, although the specs are hugely improved on this industry leading cam.
  • Most digital cameras in 2007 were around five mega-pixels (MP), with the high-end stuff at ten MP. A normal Samsung phone is 12MP today.
  • Nokia released a wireless tablet (N800) that had “apps” and could access the internet. I still have one and amazingly … it works.
  • Downloading industry-legal movies are growing slowly as it takes approximately 15 hours to download a movie from Disney or major studios.
  • The cheapest HD camcorder I could find was $699 and only 720p. Versions capable of 1080 were almost unknown.

 

2007 truly was a seminal year for tech even if most people didn’t realize it. We saw the beginnings of legal streaming music and a “Swiss army-knife” phone that would change almost the entire landscape of the tech industry. Digital cameras were becoming the de facto standard for photography. Large flat screens are simply “what-you-buy” when it comes to a new TV. This may be the single most important year in the history of tech and it slipped by us. This is the year that tech started to put its foot to the floor, so to speak. “What’s past is prologue” applies as never before. And this was only ten years ago. Only the introduction of transistors and chips is more monumental. Streaming content, the absolute victory of digital imaging and HD video becoming common … they rule modern tech today, and for the foreseeable future. Yep, 2007 was a year to remember.

When sucking isn’t a bad thing …

I’ve been a fan of robotic vacuum cleaners since their introduction several years ago.

Despite careful cleaning/maintenance, I’ve managed to wear two iRobots completely out. I’ve totally rebuilt them so many times, I’ve lost count. After the fifth or so time of doing that, the fun wanes.     But, hesitant to buy another solely based on the substantially higher prices than originally paid, I just did without. But technology waits for no one, and iRobot has more competitors than ever. Some even well-known brand names have finally entered the market as well. However, I found a unit (iLife V5) that had tech that would put my older iRobot to shame for only $106 shipped to my door with zero tax. The comparable iRobot was four/five times more expensive. So the question you’re probably asking, is the iRobot worth the extra cash?

The only feature lacking on my bargain cleaner was the infrared wall to keep the vacuum in just one room … so I just pile a few items in the open doorway to block it from escaping. As far the cleaning capability, it’s shockingly efficient. Even after deliberately and thoroughly cleaning an area with a Dyson clone, the new robot cleaner found an incredible amount of dirt/hair. I expected that based on experiences with previous iRobots. So my bargain dirt sucker worked easily as well as a far pricier iRobot. I even got extra HEPA filters (only supposed to get one extra, but received two!) and extra spinning brushes. The package also included the remote control and its base station for automatic recharging. It’s fully programmable as well. Cleaning was as simple as it gets … empty bin in trash and I use a can of compressed air to blow the HEPA filter clean (always outside!) to extend its life. Literally one or two minutes and it’s ready to devour dog hair again. Companies mistakenly say these time savers’ batteries will run for two hours. But I have always gotten at least 45-90 minutes on hard surfaces. Carpets will shorten run times for obvious reasons.

ilife-vacuum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some big pluses of the iLife V5 was a HUGE drop in noise levels and the amazing sensitivity of the sensors detecting furniture/walls. Even when it did hit stuff it wasn’t a huge “BANG!!!” as with the iRobot. You can run it in the same room as you’re having a conversation in without effort.

As with all robotic cleaners don’t trust them with stairs regardless of what the manufacturers tell you … these things are persistent as crazed terriers and will find a way to jump to their destruction.

Also bear in mind, these are not substitutes for a full size, plug-in vacuum on carpet, but rather to greatly extend the time between hauling out the corded version. On hard surfaces, it essentially does away with a full-size vacuum … with the exception of mopping. That is unless you opt for a robotic unit that can do that as well!

So when guests say my iLife V5 sucks, I say “Thanks!” ….

When is Crowdfunding only a form of theft?

As a once enthusiastic supporter of “crowdfunding” through sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, I can now say that the experience has left me with a sour taste. There are legit “programs” that have sincerely tried to fulfill their goals, some who were either incompetent or even lacking morals and waaaay more than just a few others, that I have personally participated in, that were just scams. The “Zano” drone scam being the most recent and by far the largest crowdfunding scam to date. I was a victim of this almost 3.5 million dollar fraud as well as thousands of others. They claim “difficulties” caused their demise, but I know otherwise from firsthand knowledge and investigative journalism by a third party that fraud was deliberate and pervasive within the company. Some programs like the “Growlerwerks” lack integrity and morals by shipping products that actually belong to their supporters instead to retailers … effectively using some else’s money to build a product that ultimately may never be delivered to many, if not most of the people who contributed to the project. So, they get the bucks from the retailers for the product and can stiff the supporters. They make twice the amount of money. Immoral or criminal?

I participated in a “smart ring” project with a company called “MOTA” for almost two years. I’ve had face to face contact with them at the last two CES shows, but at the last meeting they told me something that made my jaw drop. They actually told me to my face that the project wasn’t “hot” anymore and they were shifting to building drones. Problematically, drones that they had on display, like the ring mockup, didn’t work either. The Attorney General of California may have to decide as I’ve filed a complaint of fraud with them. I also notified Indiegogo of another ongoing scam and their (paraphrased) response was “Fraud on guys!!! No recourse!!!”. In my view, this is the actions of criminals. But who here are the crooks? Indiegogo for knowing it was a scam, refusing to acknowledge it and allowing it continue? Or the crooks who knew that Indiegogo, once they got their bucks, would claim ignorance and let them run away with the bucks?

Pix and picks from the show for coolness

Just a few pixs from the show that I thought worthy of a look.

This is the LG booth:

LG at 2016 CES

 

Printing with a 3D sugar printer. They just get more amazing ever year.

It’s worth noting that the spoons themselves are 3D printed ceramic.

Sugar 3D Printer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full color 3D printing … Honestly, I thought this was years aways, but here it is … cheap? Ahhh, nope.

Full color 3D printer

 

This is at the Toyota booth with the Kikai concept car:Kakai #1

Kakai #2 Kakai #3

2016 CES Winners Revealed!!!

The craziness known as CES has passed into history for this year. So, we must select a few winners from the show that actually mean “something”. It needn’t be a specific product, but can even be a category that is finding its feet, so to speak.

FYI, it’s notable that almost exactly ten years to the day of the introduction of the Blu-ray player, the first Blu-ray 4K players are shown.

And for those curious about the creepy “zipper guy” … he was a no show this year.

Clearly, and without any reservations, I do hereby proclaim “VR” da’ winner. It was simply everywhere. From the major players like Samsung, down to the guys who deal in cardboard goggles that hold a smartphone. It was being integrated into everything from the 360° degree camera crowd , to the drone market and everywhere in between. Only the refrigerator/washer & dryer/oven manufacturers haven’t figured a use  … yet.  And the clear winner, in terms of the VR usage, is Samsung with probably 95% of the VR headsets at the show. Should you have a current Galaxy smartphone, all you need is a $99 plastic headset, the free software and you’re ready to rock. If you’re a cheap SOB, you can always do the cardboard thing if you don’t mind paper cuts. VR Goggles at 2016 CESAdmittedly the resolution is not exactly 4K quality, but the experience of using it can’t leave you with anything but the distinct feeling “this is the future”. This “thing” extends waaaay beyond the gaming crowd. It’d take more than a few beers at the local pub to fully explain it to your bored, bleeding ears. But I’ll give you a tiny idea … imagine instead of sitting stone-still in front of your 105” 4K OLED, you just have your VR goggles and a 360° experience that may eventually wind up giving you neck problems as you whip your head around to see what you heard behind you. Imagine the new Star Wars movie in a fully immersive experience. And you thought the folks who stood in line for a week for tickets in costumes were imbalanced … wait till they see this. Talk about a schism in their grasp of reality. Institutionalization will probably be required.

 

The runner-up had to be drones. And I thought last year was a huge year for them. This was the year that the idea of drone ownership truly went mainstream. The sheer amount of them available for purchase was dizzying to say the least. Prices range from $20 to well over $20,000 … that should give you a small idea. Interestingly, not a single person I spoke with was willing to pay the Obama drone tax and refused to “register” it as though it were a firearm. King of Drones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was even was a drone that would carry a person a la’ “flying car”.

The video of it flying around in Dubai was exciting, but not as much as the thought of them firing the thing up in the show, and the Chinese software discovering a glitch and deciding the show wasn’t where it thought it was supposed to be with eight four-foot Cuisinart blades powered by huge electric motors. When someone got into the thing and I saw the power umbilical would allow it to reach into the crowd, I headed for anywhere-but-here.

 

GoPro 360 RigMy honorable mention has to be 360° cameras. When I saw a guy with (no kiddin’) with at least 16 GoPro Hero4 cameras on a special aluminum 360° mount w/1.19 panoramic fish eye lens walking around CES (around $11,000),     I thought there has to be a better way … and there is. Among my favs was Ricoh Theta again with dual 1080 cameras for about $300. Couldn’t be much easier to use and a brilliant design.

Have a bad day? Think about the last vacation you filmed with it and 1080p 360° VR. Reach for the rum and coke, pop on the VR goggles and chill … it’s so … very 21st century.

Is the search over???

For more than 30 years I’ve been on what turned out to be an expensive quest for the absolute pinnacle of television perfection and it’s been quite a trip (that’s a story unto itself) … leading to where I really think we’re extremely close to the end of “the search.” (Unless 32K tele-holography becomes available in my lifetime.) I’ll share why I have that opinion in a few moments. I’m not going to show pictures as it would be meaningless … I’ll provide the appropriate links.

For over three months I’ve been watching what essentially all tech reviewers agree are the two best sets money can buy. The top-of-the-line Samsung LED SUHD and LG OLED TVs. Both are frightfully expensive if you pay extra to get the correct version and avoid the very real and onerous panel lottery. Especially the LG. Since the prices are as stable as the weather, I’ll just say you can buy a nice used car for less bucks.

The testing is taking place in my media room, therefore, I don’t have the issues you’d have in someplace like your local electronics mega-store. These are not some “amped-up” loaners from the manufacturers …. I bought them and had them shipped in from across the country. So this is a real world test. And don’t worry, I’m not going to launch into some kind of technical diatribe about LG’s OLED vs. Samsung’s SUHD screen.  To totally cover these two sets versus each other and all other sets, would literally take pages and pages of boring tech stats and endless explanations what each meant. Suffice it to say that OLED technology is similar to LED TVs and hugely different at the same time. Shockingly, it took almost 65 years after the discovery of OLEDs to bring it to the consumer. Simple it ain’t.

First the Samsung. If I didn’t have the LG as a reference, I’d be inclined to say it’s about the best picture I’ve ever seen that can actually be purchased. Fantastic color, best ever remote, smart menus and a literal plethora of options just make it that much better. Not to mention a direct interface with DirecTV for 4K. (and its wildly ridiculous charges to view even 40+ old movies even after the nightmarish DirecTV install) Everything just exudes quality. Here comes the “but” … The longer I watch it the more it becomes obvious that the black levels, regardless of how the set is back-lit, are lacking. If you have a normal 1080p set, it’s a world of difference better … but in this company, with what’s being paid, it should be better. The single biggest issue however is the moiré patterning. And it has a very real issue with it … when dimly lit scenes appear; the dark areas display the typical LCD issue of grayish-black square/rectangles appearing. If you’ve never had anyone point this out to you before while you’re watching your TV, don’t let them, as you’ll never watch it again without noticing it.       For any set that is in the thousands of cubic dollars, that’s a fatal flaw. FYI, “Game of Thrones” is shot with ARRI ALEXA 4K and RED Dragon 6K cameras … using a single candle for ALL lighting in some scenes. You can see why that moiré patterning can be especially annoying. Huge floating chunks of grey and black blocks don’t make for a great viewing experience.

Now for the baddest TV of all time … the LG OLED. Firstly, its black levels aren’t something that can’t be really explained … you have to experience it in person. Simply put, when something is black … it’s dark hole black. That makes the contrast difference between black and other colors shockingly different. The fact that the LG is a 10bit set gives it a broader range of colors than 99.99999% of all other TVs. And it’s already HDR ready … that’s the next major step in TVs. (more than even 8K!) HDR deals with increasing contrast (difference between black and white) … No normal set can do this … period. As of this writing, excluding the LG, there are only about five sets actually for sale that are ready for this and all of them have the Samsung’s issues. With an almost non-existent frame, in a dark room it appears to floating in mid-air. Other than a minor tweak of the menus and better wall mounting options, the only significant complaint is a wee bit of judder in extremely fast scenes. I can deal with that seldomly seen issue to have the amazing picture. Is it worth the extra couple grand over the Samsung? The answer is an unequivocal yes. I’d be staring at the Samsung, noting every flaw and it’d drive me crazy. I know that the HDR is rare except if you have Amazon Prime. I know that 4K shows are far and few between. I’m trying to somewhat future-proof my media room. A few more bucks now will equal savings in the future as these become common place. Should you think that’s many years away, note that 4K sets are selling like crazy and remember that the amazing 1080HD set you’re watching now only took a few years transition from the old cathode ray low-def sets. Virtually all  TV shows and movies are now being shot in either 4K, 6K, 6.5K or in some cases, 8K. And have been for a few years now. The future is much closer than you think.

To look forward, check the rear view mirror first

I just received a notice that the 2016 CES show is two months away and it asked … am I prepared?       I must admit, yes. I’ve had the CES adrenalin rush since well before August. I even had a mentally “must take” list before then. If you’ve read a particular earlier blog here, you’d note that it’s a “big deal” for me and an extensive list is a “geek must.”

But as usual, I need to keep things in perspective and absolutely nothing will do that like looking back to the previous show of 10 years ago. Briefly, here is the scoop on what was hot waaaay back then.

Samsung was introducing their first Bluray player for $1000. It’s notable that the superior HD DVD player from Toshiba was half that cost. AND, it allowed ripping to any type of player you owned. That of course, was the kiss of death as all consumers are thieves in the eyes of Sony. The momentum moved Sony’s way as “under the table” deals spelled the end for the better format. Notably, I still own a HD DVD, and yes it still looks and sounds better than any Bluray player I’ve ever run across.

Digital cameras were peaking at about 8 megapixels and InfoTrends (a marketing research group) claimed that digital camera sales had peaked. And as usual, these types of groups were wrong. That didn’t happen until well after 2010 … and that was only primarily due to the dominance of the smart phone with the built-in camera.

The biggest thing by far at the show was the change to 1080 over the half-as-sharp 720 sets. TV’s with the higher resolution were everywhere. They averaged about a grand more than the 720 sets. Recently I bought a Sams’s Club 26” Hitachi 1080 set for my kitchen for $149. In a very simplistic comparison, the top of the line Sony projector in 2006 was $30K. And an absolute top-of-the-line 57’ Sharp LCD was $16K.

Sony was showing its new 1080 sets like everyone else, and true to form, thumbed their noses at the U.S and had already released a 4K set in Japan, memorably called the X series KDL-40X1000.

The iPad accessory market was hot also, but no one had any idea how vast the accessory market would be until June of 2007 with the original iPhone release. But, that’s a story for the 10 year reflection for the 2017 CES.

Ain’t no sticky fingers here

It’s rare to have a truly game changing piece of tech that’s stupid cheap ($20-25). But I’ve found exactly that in a product that has finally floated down to the consumer from the industrial sector.

It’s called “Bondic”.

Bondic

While virtually every person of the planet owns a tube of “superglue”, this may replace it in almost all uses. First, it’s not a glue. It actually welds plastics. Or even dissimilar synthetic materials.

I’m going to list just a few of the differences … you’ll be convinced too.

Your skin will NOT bond together after touching it … so it may not be the best choice for office pranks. It only bonds after a UV light source is introduced.

It will even bond underwater… no kiddin’ folks.

It will fill cracks and fissures, can be layered, sanded, milled, polished, varnished and painted. And since it will fill an opening and be layered, it can behave like a tiny 3D printer to fill gaps in the broken item.

It’s insulating and can even be colored. And we all are aware that when you open a tube of superglue, you do it with the full knowledge that you’ll probably only get one use out of it before it either dries up or seals the top so firmly that only a band saw can remove it. Bondic will last well over a year … and I’ve read that even two years is not out of the question. Maybe even three if still sealed.

This info is directly from the FAQ section of the Bondic website … they have a great description that I don’t think can be improved on:

How is Bondic® Different than other glues or UV cured adhesives?
Glue in principle is an adhesive that allows two fractured parts that fit together perfectly to stick together and become one. However, glue doesn’t replace missing pieces, nor does it provide 3D properties. Glue also cures when exposed to air or in the case you mentioned, UV light and generally requires pressure between two parts to work. Bondic® has adhesive properties but it is essentially plastic in a liquid format, you don’t need perfectly fitting parts for it to work and you can actually fabricate a missing part out of thin air so to speak so it is truly a different category.

This is only a taste of what it’s capable of. To paraphrase Yoda … “space age stuff, this is”.

Using it is simple … put on a few drops and turn on the included UV light for four seconds. Be prepared to be amazed.

I’ve repaired cables headed for the trash with only a couple of drops. The more I use it, the more convinced I am that superglue was designed as some sort of perverse torture device … bonding my fingers together and seemingly everything I glued still wound up breaking.

Beats the heck out of boiling down the talking horse Mr. Ed …….

UPDATE: Seems this tech is getting attention as telemarketers are hawking a copy of Bondic for about half price. Is it exactly the same or will it work as well? Who knows, but realistically there can’t be a huge difference as the principle and use, is exactly alike.

Another UPDATE: I just tried “Lazer Bond” and found it to be almost the exactly the same. I’ve found the liquid a bit more sticky though. A few pluses: Half the bucks of “Bondic” … dries significantly clearer … far better designed UV activating light … much brighter UV light too. Shame it doesn’t have a case of some type to put it into.

 

Cooling is cool, or, a cool way to cool

Ever the intrepid geek, my curiosity got the best of me when I saw “Mistbox” on a crowdsourcing website. This is one of those “why didn’t I think of this before?” items. But, actually I have. I had a fan fail on the outside compressor unit of the A/C on an extremely hot Texas summer weekend. Trying to get an A/C guy there on a Saturday would cost dearly. I knew that some commercial A/C’s use (water) evaporative cooling. So I crafted an old plywood sheet I had laying around with one of those cheap fans on top of the A/C unit and set a sprinkler on low to spray the condenser coils … and it worked surprisingly well until the repair “guy” came on Monday.  Effectively, the Mistbox is an extremely refined version of my water cooling scheme. Cleverly, they computerized the evaporative cooling and adapted it for a typical home system. Essentially it’s comprised of the solar-powered computer, water filter, plastic tubing and a few plastic spray bars. I literally had it installed in 10 minutes after I had the computer programmed with my wireless network password. It’s that easy … I could do it again in less five minutes now. When the A/C turns on, the computer knows (via vibration, magnetic field, sound, temperature and ambient light) and begins spraying a very, very fine mist into the condenser coils … if you put your hand over the blowing fan you can’t even detect even the smallest amount of moisture. The water usage is negligible. So no fear of flooding the yard or wasting water. I couldn’t measure the amount it uses daily under the volcanic Texas summer heat, but it’s probably less than I give my tomato plants each day. They claim about 7.2 gallons per hour … but after using it, I don’t see how it could be that much.

Mistbox

Here’s why it is important.

Using two different thermal guns, I measured the exhaust heat of the condenser fan and A/C vents inside the house. There was a consistent five-degree difference between the pre and post Mistbox install. That means the A/C isn’t running as much because it’s more efficient … that means the house cools sooner and saves bucks on electricity. If you have an intelligent thermostat like a NEST, the savings can really add up. And literally there’s almost zero service, save the annual filter change.

Before you ask, yes … there’s an app … only iOS phone … for the moment. Android app is on its way.

Simply put, it’s one of the most useful, common-sense inventions to come along in years. It appeals to treehuggers, geeks, tightwads and anyone with a desire to stay cool. Due to the bizarre governmental tax laws, the solar cell on the computer qualifies for a tax credit … it’s a win-win scenario for anyone who has ten minutes to spare.

Such a cool idea …………….

The Polar Express to Hell

This is a story about dipping a toe into the new technology. Unfortunately, it resulted in just sore toes.

While exploring 3D printers at the 2015 CES, I came across Polar3D. Made in the U.S. (they claim) and having a very novel method of moving the platform on the X&Z axis instead of the head jerking to and fro. The extruder still worked on the Y axis (up and down). It has a full metal body, which is really rare at the price point of $800 ($600 for students).

However, turn it over and the magic disappears. The entire precision mechanism for the X&Z axis is out of plastic. You don’t have to be an engineering genius to figure out what will happen after a bit of use.

Now the fun begins … Paid for in full, no product for over a month with absolutely no contact about when I could expect it. (this was a harbinger of things to come I realize now). Only after countless calls/emails and apologies did it finally show. Setup wasn’t really all that hard and I had a test guitar pick in just a few minutes. What differentiates this unit from the mainstream units is the ability to control it via the Polar3D website. That decision was disastrous. The web site is so riddled with problems that I’d have to devote an entire page to it’s woes. More calls to Polar, problems persist … soon it begins leaking molten plastic around the extruder. They say tighten it. But more than a fraction of an inch breaks the wires to the heating elements. They apologize & say a “few” units got out without being tightened. The screaming of the moving metal pieces is really irritating me now.      I grab white lithium grease. They say a “few” units got out without being lubed. Now, the leaking is out of control … a call to Polar & I’m told they’ll get a new unit to me ASAP. Two weeks later, I call and find they forgot to send it as it was sitting “behind a door”. More apologies. New unit arrives … screaming metal moving pieces again. I lube the wear prone plastic gears too. The drive screw for the Y axis (and this is not a joke) was connected by a plastic tube reministic of a “Home Depot” plumbing part to the stepper motor. Every day the printer had some issue. While this is still a relatively new technology, I was dumbfounded at the basic mistakes made at almost every turn by Polar3D. I’d call them and explain what new problem I found and they would claim it must be “user error” as no one else was having these issues.  I can only assume they don’t read their own support comments. Literally every issue I was having seemed to plague others. Eventually after another firmware update, the printer decided that it would only print from the extreme edge of the platform.

Wouldn’t be a problem except the head is now ramming into the platform and refuses to print in the center, no matter what is done. A call to Polar and they say a “few” of the units have this issue. At this point I’ve had as much “fun” with the Polar3D experience as I could and ask for a refund. They agree … if I pay for the return. A poster child for lousy customer service. I burn rubber for the UPS store.      I have no clue why I thought they would be different when it came to the refund. Sure enough, over two weeks later and no refund … another phone call. Polar3D is the gift that just keeps giving.

Legalized Theft

I’m going to climb back upon my soapbox for a moment now. Basically everyone, including the “Obamaphone” sect, has a smartphone. While it can do things that would be considered sci-fi a couple of decades ago, it’s also turned into a privacy stealing savant. ANYTHING  you have on your phone is subject to being viewed and stored for all perpetuity by any programs you have downloaded on your phone. We’re not talking hackers, but businesses you use everyday.

Take a look at what one of the most popular “free” GPS programs (Scout) wants access to on my phone:

Info sealing app

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why exactly do they need access to my camera, photos, what else I have purchased, who or what I have texted or my contact list? This is extremely common … don’t believe me?

SB2

Starbucks wants access to your photos too. Why exactly does a coffee shop need unlimited access to my photos? Is it really too hard to believe that their requests aren’t as benign as they would have us believe? Bear in mind this is Android … should you have an Apple device, it’s even less obvious what they are stealing from you. Personally,  I don’t see any use for this data except for what most consumers would consider nefarious use.

Maybe it’s time we asked them why.

Making a silk purse out of a pig’s ear? Part two …

Obama’s commitment (depending on which way the wind is blowing) to “net neutrality” may force what are possibly the #1 most hated companies in existence, to stop throttling internet bandwidth or from striking deals for preferential treatment for the companies they blackmail into cash kickbacks … like the Comcast-Netflix deal. The “protection racket” that the internet providers run, on any level, should be considered a crime and punishable as such.

Imagine that you go online to book a flight with United or try to bank with Chase Bank, and since they don’t have an agreement with Comcast, you actually can’t access them, or the connection speed is so slow it makes you quit. That is a very real possibility as this kind of madness starts to expand.

The results of this over time begins to throttle the economy also … Should this be allowed to continue, the entire use of the internet, now a fundamental of a modern society, will be completely unrecognizable in a few years. Effectively it would be the approximate equivalence of Sony’s dream of having a coin operated slot to access anything through the web. Want to check movie times at your local theater? Please insert five bucks.

This isn’t going to happen overnight … think about Mark Twain’s story of how you boil a frog … to paraphrase: you put him in comfortable water and slowly increase the heat until it’s too late. The cable companies, drunk on mountains of cash, combined with unprecedented levels of corporate insanity brings to mind the Dilbert cartoon where the morally corrupt and inept CEO of their company had his private helicopter deliver Louis Vuitton trunks of custom Rolexes to his super yacht, despite a mediocre product.  The CEO of ATT, a publicly held company, is paid annually (before expense accounts, health clubs, private jets and other assorted perks) over 23 million and the CEO of Comcast steals 29 million from his stockholders. Judging the quality of cable, cell phone and internet service, does anyone think they’ve earned it? At what point do we realize we are being overcharged in what is effectively a monopoly? Want to change your broadband supplier? …. Good Luck.  In most cases you really only have a single choice. Or take a gigantic hit in speeds or even more insane costs. Thinking about changing from cable to satellite internet providers? Be prepared for a truly shocking drop in speeds and gigantic cost increase. Going DSL? Great technology … in 1996. So the cable companies can wave the middle finger at you with complete abandon. “What’cha going do?  Leave us? …  now ya’ shut up and pay”.

Democrats aren’t alone in blind greed and stupidity … the GOP has its share of morons supporting DRM and DMCA.  An all-invasive way to stifle competing technology. Waaaay to complex to fully explain here, but let’s just say, it’s really, really bad law that costs you money almost everyday of your life. (the DMCA laws were one of the excuses that cell phones weren’t being unlocked)

Historically speaking, even Bill Clinton’s perpetually scandal ridden presidency had one silver lining – the accuracy unlocking of the GPS satellites. That one executive order in 1996, permanently changed how America moves around. Think about that the next time you use your smartphone for directions or the GPS in your car. The previous rules, at best, wouldn’t allow accuracy within several hundred feet. Amazing that such a stained presidency wouldn’t bring us to our knees.

Making a silk purse out of a pig’s ear? Part one …

This two part story is going to be a bit breathy, but hear me out … While this may come as close to common sense heresy as one can come, Obama in two cases may have inadvertently actually benefited Americans. Here’s the first example:

Cellular carriers refused to unlock the cell phones that were paid for in full at the end of the contract agreement. Effectively, that locks you into that carrier, or you have to go buy a new phone with some other carrier … and that can cost hundreds of dollars.  Hey, no one has ever said the cell companies weren’t predators. Is it any wonder why they are among the most hated businesses worldwide? Well, since the cell companies failed to shower Obama and his cabinet with enough buckets of cell phone users blood money, you can now request an “unlock”, and change to another carrier which operates in the same frequencies as your existing phones. For some, a truly huge savings.

The cell companies won’t do this for you automatically, you have to ask for it. Additionally, it may require a re-installation of the operating system (a reset for some) for it to take effect. So if you’re not jonesing for the latest, greatest phone, you can really save.

As a practice, you should contact your cell carrier every six months to see if there’s a cheaper plan that’s become available. You don’t have to re-up just to get this discount as you are still under contract for a two year term.

Check out Obama’s next unexpected positive stance in my upcoming post. It should be very enlightening as to what could possibly be in store for all Americans.

 

Party like it’s 2005!

Ten years ago. In “dog years” that’s around 70 … In “tech years”, occasionally it’ll seem longer. Change can come and sneak up on you. After a while you look back and go “whoa!” … it really was like that back then. In human terms, ten years just doesn’t seem that long until you take a look at cutting edge tech of the day.

Samsung just released the HPR8072, a 80″ plasma for the bargain price of … $39,999.
And they released (according to CEDIA) a “monster” 57-inch LCD for $19,999. It’s a wonder anyone
bought any. But thank heavens, someone did, and now these giant flat screens are everywhere
and affordable for anyone with a decent credit limit on their card. And to watch on those giant screens, “Catwoman”, voted the worst movie of the year.

Toshiba was just releasing their new HD-DVD player for $999. Unfortunately, we all know how that worked out.

This was a truly big year for the satellite biz and they dove into the HD pool without their floaties on for the first time. HD DVR’s were easily available, although the technology to stream it in HD to other TV’s in the house wasn’t.

Lots of accessories for the now quaint, if not antique by tech standards, original iPod. Some things never change.

A portable GPS with maps of the whole US stored on a small hard drive (as Cobra pointed out, just like the Apple iPod) for the still shocking price of $1299. Today a demonstrably better unit can be had for around $30.

Panasonic showing it’s newest mp3 player, that could possibly play as many as five of today’s .FLAC high resolution audio files, for $139. But in all fairness, if you’re not too discriminating, 256MB could hold many more low-res songs. Around fifty. Such a deal! Free streaming music was a very, very distant dream. And YouTube didn’t start until February the 15th of that year.

And at the show, Monster Cable had the best official CES party. This year was a private event with Rod Stewart … and no, I wasn’t invited. Just an oversight, I guess.

Exactly, how black is black?

How black is black?

Well, evidently far more than you’d imagine. How about not being able to see something held in your hands directly? Only the edges around it can be indirectly seen, as it absorbs all forms of visible (and probably invisible to the human eye) light radiation. Only .035% of light is reflected. So basically, it’s the closest thing to a man-made black hole. Point a flashlight at it, and you’ll be checking to see if the batteries are dead. Now I know you’re asking the next big question … what’s it good for?

A couple of ideas come to mind immediately … like lining the inside of telescopes to eliminate unwanted reflective light and of course, a coating for military aircraft and such. However, a more sinister use may be imagined. How about on Halloween night, wearing a full suit of this nano-fiber material you come walking down the street with only your disembodied head floating above the street. Years of nightmares for the kiddies you encounter.

This bizarre stuff has been named “Vantablack”. NASA’s homegrown version of this stuff called “super-black” isn’t even as “invisible” as this.

It’s actually grown on a sheet of aluminum foil by stacking carbon nanotubes. (About 10,000 times thinner than a human hair) You’d think it’d be furry, but apparently that’s not the case.

Stylists say that the color black is slimming … So beware, that girl you just met in a dark club with a great personality, may be hiding a big secret.

What is “Crowdfunding”????

In the past when someone had idea for an amazing product and wanted to start a company with zero or limited capital, you had to either give away a substantial chunk of the idea to vulture capitalists or hock the family jewels. Although the “Crowdfunding” idea dates back to the 17th century, it took the web to give it a life of its own.

Basically, it’s a means to have a large group of people give a few bucks each, for some measure of reward, whether it be tangible or visceral, to fund a startup. There are now more than a dozen such sites. These sites do take a percentage of the take in compensation. I won’t bother with any names as any search engine will find them for you. This is about the risks associated with this. I’ve had companies disappear after “investing”, which I was very lucky to get back. Bear in mind we are talking tech, and tech ain’t cheap sometimes. You can easily put in thousands into these attempts with zero guarantee they will actually produce a product. So it’s a wee bit like tossing the die in Vegas.

Of about the dozen or so companies I’ve “funded”, exactly one in the last three years has actually shipped me a working product. Remarkably, I still have faith in the concept. The biggest issue is the lack of a whip that sites should provide to force the startup entrepreneurs to get busy and actually make a product in a reasonable time. I actually have one well-established company, not a startup, dragging its feet for almost three years!

The fact that most of this stuff is cutting edge, and as such, gives you substantial geek cred … but really, three years for a streaming audio device?

The sites also fund just about anything you can think of. From indie bands and artists to heart-wrenching pleas from the desperately ill seeking financial help. Just skimming the sites will tell you about modern society and just how much it’s changed (or not) more than just about anything you will ever read. It’s an unfiltered example of the march of human nature and technology. Invest or not, it’s worth a look.

Slinging, and we’re not talking monkey poo

Several years ago as I wandered through a late CompUSA store I found a new toy. Called Slingbox, it claimed to make video streaming of your personal devices such as cable TV, DVD, satellite, security camera, etc., easy to view through your computer. You could watch it from anywhere in the world that had an internet connection. Later they added smartphones to that mix although the app cost a crazy thirty bucks. (the complete absurdity of the pricing forced them to lower it to $14.95 per device) Not the first way to do this, but by far the easiest. Now they’ve released the newest version for HD viewing. Not surprisingly it’s notably a far better picture. The utter simplicity is gone, but can be done by a determined novice.

The older unit actually had an image of the device’s remote that functioned exactly as if you were sitting there holding it in your hand. The newer HD units lack that amazingly adept display that gave Slingbox some of it’s usefulness. Now the functions are delegated to standard menus that oddly don’t highlight the power button. So after the install you would keep getting the “no video found” warning ….. until you dig around in the menus and find the switch. The poor menu layout is the biggest problem with the whole unit. This need to be fixed!

The 500 model, as opposed to the cheaper 300, has built-in wifi, so a wired connection isn’t mandatory.  And frankly, it looks cooler … isn’t that worth a couple of bucks more? Oh and by the way, if you’re brave enough to use your 4G/LTE connection, this thing eats bandwidth … so be prepared to pay the price. Ten gig of data a month can be obliterated almost as fast as Takeru Kobayashi devours hot dogs.

If you have a protected content issue as with movie channels on satellite/cable, the new 500 series has a work-around … RBG cables to bypass the HDMI mess. You see the content companies are convinced you might steal their “stuff” with your fancy tablet or smartphone, so this allows you to watch the content you paid for on your tablet or smartphone. There may be a loss of resolution, but on a small screen you’d need better eyes than mine to see the difference.

You can access photos, videos and movies as well if you attach a USB hard drive to it.

They still charge for the app and EVERY device must have it own paid account. So if you have an iPhone and iPad, they force you to purchase it twice. However, despite the truly lousy menu layout, this is really the only game in town when it comes to quality images and (relatively) easy installation. If your have Dish Network, some of their receivers have this function built in and the app is free. You can always watch it for free on a regular computer as well.

Regardless of the issues with Slingbox, it’s an impressive piece … something that every geek should own. I’d go so far to say it’s one of the top ten devices any true geek must own to claim that moniker.

Green is good, in a different way

Not one of my favs in Vegas, but you gotta give The Cosmopolitan Hotel kudos when deserved.

In their parking garage, above each and every parking space is a sensor that activates a green light when it’s empty and red when it’s not. This is an idea whose time has come. They can tell you on a “parking availability board” exactly how spaces are available on each of the several floors as you enter. It however, remains up to you to actually find your car in the ocean of concrete once you’ve had a few drinks.

Garage

Lost in Translation

Well the 2014 CES is here and as usual, I’m totally overwhelmed by the enormity of the show.

While this is supposed to be the largest in its history, I have to admit that I’ve become more than just a bit jaded. This paragon of geek nerdidity has lost a sense of community that I experienced in earlier shows. I can’t chalk it up to any single cause, but the show has taken a more “hard-core” business attitude. This is still the only place on the planet where you can actually see the future, but that loss has taken its toll on enjoying the show. I can’t help but wonder if it’s just me.

When I take a noob to the show, I get to see it through their eyes … and there’s simply no way to express how that affects them. Their tech life is sort of like stumbling around in the dark with a dim incandescent flashlight and suddenly having a thousand watts of of 6400K LED lights come on … a blinding experience. In my experience, no one has a full grasp at their first visit to fully understand what they are looking at and how it will affect them in the future. It’s up to me to share why it “matters” … and I’ve found unexpected introspection, and as to how much enjoyment that brings me. Admittedly, there’s a certain amount of information “lost in translation” as any proper geek will understand.

So tech marches on ……

I keep reminding them that nowhere on the planet demonstrates more my favorite saying of “what’s behind you, doesn’t matter”.

The Rolling Stones were right, time waits for no one

Anyone with a modern phone can’t have but noticed the full fledged war between Samsung and Apple. Having had more than just a few of the late Mr. Jobs creations, I was more than slightly hesitant to jump onto the Android ship. However since texts are such a huge part of my job, I was amazed at watching someone with an Samsung S4 use the “Swype” function. I had always wondered how people were able to text so fast back to me that I had trouble following the conversation. They literally could send me three or four perfect short texts faster than I could send a single error-filled one.

They never raised their fingers off the “keyboard”, but just swished to back and forth over the keys and the phone selected the correct word. Simply amazing. It really made my iPhone feel primitive. So jump I did, selecting a couple of the Note 3s with the unique detachable pen. The pen allowed me to do things I couldn’t even begin to think of with a iPhone. The larger “Full HD Super AMOLED” image was simply in another league. You can actually use it surf the web and see it without squinting. Throw in a 64gig micro SD card and you’ve got capacity too. The unique “widgets” capability was something that took a little getting used to, but what it offers is just another example of how Apple has fallen behind. My Note 3 is far more organized than any of my iPhones due to its split app functions (most used and everything else, in two different places).

One huge advantage was being able to give iTunes the finger and just use Windows file manager for managing audio, video and pictures … wow, what an improvement!!!

All is not all beer and skittles in the Android world as I have an anti-virus scanner that was never needed with the locked down Apple product. And not to be over-looked is the learning curve, and for some it may be actually too steep to flee the Apple compound, as it requires you think in a different and perhaps seemingly strange way, but it’s more logical. And once learned, I can’t imagine going back … it’s really that much of an improvement. It can’t help but leave me with the impression that this is what Steve Jobs really wanted for the iPhone.

The Rolling Stones were right, time waits for no one ………..

Most Holy Day of the Year

As we approach the most solemn day of the year, we must remember that it is a day of celebration too. Of course I’m talking about Geek Pride Day. This is the day that all self respecting geeks must gather at the local Fry’s and walk the floor looking for the newest tech. Should there not be a Fry’s close to you, then browsing for a few hours on the Newegg or Amazon websites will have to do.          Highly caffeinated beverages are of course, sacrosanct.

For those without pocket protectors, May 25th was the release date of the first “Star Wars” film “Episode IV: A New Hope” in 1977.

We have a winner!

There were was absolutely nada in most categories that would merit this distinction this year. No TV, speaker or anything electronic at the world’s largest electronics gathering could earn my special achievement badge. Who would have guessed? While there were incremental improvements in all areas, this special award goes only to those who have clearly set a new high-water mark (no pun-intended … you’ll see soon)  for their vision of the future.

The clear winner this year at the 2013 CES is the plasma treatment of mobile devices. In English, this means a treated phone/tablet could be dropped into a pool and could be pulled out with no damage. Or use your imagination as to what liquids could do to a running smartphone/pad, and then stop worrying. This would put a permanent end to fear of rain or bathrooms shorting out your valuable electronic life. To imagine that the manufacturers would endorse this is unlikely. But have hope as the cell carriers usually have to eat some of the cost of replacing your water-soaked device. The pressure they put on Apple and Samsung may be the proverbial grease for the squeaky wheel. This invisible nano-coating, induced in a vacuum with hot plasma proprietary gases, provides the water resistance. To say it’s impressive, is an understatement. One company simply tossed a $800 iPhone 5 into a fish tank and pulled it out and continued to use it. Again and again. For days … with no ill effect. You can NOT tell it has been treated either. I saw a nano-treated Kleenex that was completely and absolutely waterproof. Not too much help for your nose during an allergy attack, but it give you an idea of it’s effectiveness.

Coming soon to a mall (they claim) is a franchised company that will be to do this to each and every hand-held device you want protected against water induced damage. If all electronics were coated (TV, DVR’s, phones, computers, etc.) and your house flooded, your electronic device loss would be exactly … zero. Think of how much better a car would resist being destroyed by flooding if even the carpets refused to get wet, much less the electronics. Of course the engine may not fare as well, but that’s another story. But if it’s an all electric car … almost indestructible to the elements. It’s feasible that a company could make a totally waterproof car. The hard cost from what I’ve been told is minimal for a $50,000 car … far less than replacing it. A $2.00 gas canister can coat 25 to 50 iPhones at one time. As the technology matures, it can only get cheaper. But will building a device that is getting continually more impervious to damage something companies will want? Add a really good protective case to your phone and it could last easily a decade or more (unless you are a die-hard Apple fanboy … then a year is just too long to wait for the next BIG thing).  Of course, you may need a new battery at some point. Regardless, this is a technology that is long overdue and the value of it can’t be overstated in the new mobile society.

Each time I went to a booth with this technology there was a crowd. I’ve never seen this in almost 15 years at the CES shows. And I actually lost count of the number of companies who were promoting their own proprietary nano technology. That should give you an idea of how ground-breaking this is, especially to the techno crowd who understands the reach this nano coating has into the future. While there are different chemicals or size of the plasma chamber with each company I visited, the basic concept is the same. As smartphones and tablets continue to worm their way into every little nook of our lives, this nano coating probably will be so mainstream in a few years, that you won’t even think about it … and that says it all.

 

A Picture Is Worth …..

At CES there is certain crowd that say that it’s a primarily male-dominated experience and that there no job opportunities for the opposite sex.

I disagree and here’s the proof:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please no hate mail …. Believe it or not, this is for a company called Hyper. For anyone who cares, they make batteries for charging iPhones and such.  And yes, no seemed to notice what they were selling at the show either ….

It took the better part of a day to recover from blindness from all the electronic flashes.

Who knew there were so many photographers at the show?

Stick It In Your Mouth

When you’ve been going to CES for as many years as I have, and with well over 20,000 new products being introduced at each show, you’re bound to find a dud or three. Well this year was no exception, and even had a new entrant that clearly belongs among the top three of the most useless and poorly conceived items I’ve ever seen. (drum roll please) …….. An electronic fork! A $100 fork no less.         And its great accomplishment?  It counts the number of times you did or didn’t wait for fifteen seconds between each bite. Perhaps they DO know their target audience … because anyone who would drop a C-note on an electronic fork is an individual who clearly can’t perform simple mental tasks … like counting to fifteen. Oh, and it tells you how long it took to eat … because if you can’t count, you don’t know how to read a watch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The inventor said this “innovation” came about when his wife complained he was eating too fast. Apparently, he couldn’t control himself enough to slow down without sticking an electronic device in his mouth. And here’s the saddest part … he spent seven years working on it.

But for those who read this and still want one, it has an app as well. For that buyer it’s probably a source of endless delight. I can hear the inventor laughing at everyone gullible enough to waste their hard earned cash on this shotgun marriage of electronics and lack of common sense.                        To him I say, “Fork You!”

CBS and Freedom of Speech

At each CES there is a winner chosen by CNET.com that is (in their opinion) the best of show.

This year was a first … CNET was literally forced into changing their selection by their owners.

CNET chose the new satellite receiver “The Hopper” as its “best in show.” As it turns out, CNET is owned by CBS,  who is suing the satellite TV company “Dish Network” that builds that unit. The suit is based on the convenience that allows its users to jump past annoying commercials. Believe it or not, CBS says that is a criminal act. As you may have read in my previous blogs, I talk about how the providers of content are doing everything they can to stifle innovation. This common-sense technology was invented by “Replay TV” well over a decade ago. And it’s as warmly received now as it was then.  So, according to CBS if you manually jump past commercials on a DVR on which you have recorded material, it’s OK, … but if the machine does it for you, it’s stealing … go figure.

And this is from a company who constantly touts its “Dan Ratherish” liberal beliefs, justifies it with the constant use of the phrases “freedom of the press” and “freedom of speech” to say anything it wants, even it’s patently wrong or blatantly biased.

I can only guess those “good liberal” beliefs don’t extend to its employees or customers.

Early results are in ….

Each year I pick a winner and loser of the 20,000+ new items at CES. This year is a little odd in that I may found both on the first day. That’s never happened before. Time will tell …

One of the products is so necessary for the entire smart phone/tablet community that it should be mandatory for all manufacturers.

The other one, well … how did they talk investors into this?  I want their CFO to negotiate my next home loan. Maybe he can get the bank to pay me to live there …

What’s in a name?

It’s just been announced by the Consumer Electronics Association that the official name for the next generation high def TV’s will be “Ultra HD”. Not 4K or 4X. Glad they cleared that up as I’m certain everyone knows what that means. Yep, clear as mud!

The pressing question now is what the next version after it will be called … Super-Dooper TV? Or as in the car business, “Super Ultra Turbo 8192P HD?” Regardless, there’s still nothing to watch even on the Ultra HD sets. I can’t wait to see how they explain the benefits without the appropriate media. Oh, and by the way, your new Blu-ray is not compatible. I’ll be certain to ask them uncomfortable questions in person in Vegas.

Right after I visit the zipper booth.

 

(update as of 2018)   We’re back to 4K again … I really liked Super Ultra Turbo 4K better …

Ten Years After … (not the band)

With the approaching 2013 CES show I decided to dig out my show guides and take a peek at what we thought was cool waaaay back then. And bear in mind, that most of the items listed below were not even for sale yet to the public.

Samsung unveiled a crude 19 inch LCD monitor for only $750. Today, I’ve seen some fairly decent ones for less than $79.

A well known tech writer was lamenting the lack of a high-def tuner for VCRs. Even then I wondered what he was smoking.

Two to three megapixel cameras dominate digital photo sales. Of course there are 24 megapixel cameras today. Heck, even cell phones have 8 megapixel sensors now.

Sharp was releasing a new “cheap” 42 inch, standard definition plasma TV for only $3500 … no longer even produced.

Panasonic showed a 20-inch LCD TV for $2000, and Samsung introduced us to the world’s largest LCD TV. It was HD (720, not 1080) and a full 46 inches! Just $11,000. And “a day late and a dollar short” Sony introduced a 30 inch LCD TV for $6000. I just saw a more advanced 32″ model today for $179.

In perspective, if gasoline was following the same pricing fall as electronics, it’d be about a dime a gallon in today’s dollar.

Seems that this was the year that home networking was starting to take off ….. But most of the stuff was so badly designed that it usually required a couple of IT professionals equipped with  “Harry Potter magic wands and rabbit’s feet to get it to work.

Phillips showed a TV with “Alert Guard” that would light up one of four LED lights on the front to warn you of what disaster just occurred. Talk about a “feel good” product … “Good evening American family, as you sit down to dinner, this red flashing light indicates you have 30 minutes ’till the end of the world”. Have a nice day!

4K … on it’s way?

Seems makers of the new flat panel TV’s and the entertainment business can’t get their acts together. Despite 3D sets having been around now for a few years, there is still essentially no media to watch. And as I discussed in an earlier blog, “nothing to watch=no sales”.

Ok … so in an effort to punch up sales (and greater profits), the move has begun to 4K. While having the advantage of four times better resolution than today’s best sets, there is no content. Sound familiar? Some lessons are lost on those who don’t appreciate the value of history.

 

A Twist on Temps

Recently I dropped by Lowes and picked up a NEST thermostat … Ok, not the coolest tech item out there, but bear with me.

Designed by former Apple engineers, it exudes of that kind of sleek design and operation. In fact, the CEO ran the teams that created 18 variations of the iPod and the first three generations of iPhones.

The box, when opened, reminds you exactly of opening an iPod or iPhone a few years ago, before Apple got stingy with packaging and extras.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The idea behind this gadget is modernizing the thermostat and giving it a bit of AI to reduce your electricity costs. Simple enough?

But it’s far more than that. In addition to learning your temperature habits and adjusting itself accordingly … it gives you a picture of exactly how you’re using energy and it thinks how to adjust itself to maximize efficiency.

Looking beyond the politically correct little green “energy efficient” leaf inside the blue dial you see in the first picture, is actual energy/cash savings. The NEST can shut off the A/C compressor and just run the fan. It knows that cooling coils may have as much as ten minutes of cooling left in them after the compressor cycle has ended. So by shutting off the compressor prematurely, you don’t have to spend the bucks to power the energy thirsty compressor. It can also be told to figure out if you’re really home or not, and go into an “away mode” after two hours. Additionally the NEST monitors indoor humidity … something virtually unheard of for thermostats.

Install was simple, except for one wire attached to my old thermostat that there was nothing about in the instruction manual, or on the web. A quick phone call to an U.S.-based NEST help desk had the new thermostat installed and working in well under ten minutes. It even included a very slick looking screwdriver for the install. The programming for the wireless security code, date and time took more time than you would expect as there is no keyboard. You have to rotate the dial to access each letter/number. A USB input allowing direct programming via your laptop is how it should have been done. Maybe on future NEST models? This is the only negative associated with it, and it’s not a deal breaker … just out of character for the design, operation and quality that the NEST folks have obviously lavished on their first production model.

And as anything designed by former Apple folks, it must have an app. And since it’s connected to the web via your wireless router, up to ten NESTs can be controlled remotely … should you have two NESTs in the same house, they communicate with each other. And the app can access the energy usage info.

This leads me to ask if it’s worth the $250, and I have to say yes. From looking at the electricity bills for the last two months it appears at this point that it has cut our costs by $50 to $100 per month.   But this isn’t the single item that would lead me to recommend it. It’s the fact that after about two weeks, we seldom touch it. The thing just works. The whole house is more temperature stable and clearly more comfortable. Saving bucks is just the icing on this cool “must-have”.

 

(UPDATE 9/9/12 – I had to have another one … I was enamored with the first one so much)

CES 2012 Winner

My selection for the winner is not based on hype or sheer “flash” as many of the magazines seem to focus on. I actually believe that any CES winner has be something that’s a cut above anything else in it’s field. In the pure electronics field, there wasn’t any TV, camera, computer or almost anything else that was a giant improvement or tech break though. Considering that this is where probably 98% of all new tech products are unveiled, that’s really odd. But despite the challenge, I did find a deserving winner.

Here’s how the winner was found … almost by accident.

I wandered into the “Totem” suite, and the gentleman doing the presentation of the new “Ember” from their “Element” line, reminded of a really tall “Doc Brown” from “Back to the Future”, with a huge grey afro and more than a bit of a “New Yorker attitude”. The rather pedestrian looking speakers on display didn’t look any different than any other $100 book shelf speakers at Best Buy. I started to head for the door as it looked like hundreds (if not thousands) of small speakers I’ve seen in the last 40 years. Then the music started … It literally stopped me in my tracks. No exaggeration, this eighteen inch tall loudspeaker sounded bigger and better than almost every seven foot+ speaker I’ve ever heard. I found myself looking for the cheat to make it sound like this (a hidden subwoofer or stupidly powerful amps over-driving the elements via a signal processor to the point where their lives are measured only in minutes, a’ la the old Bose stuff). Yes, they were using somewhat expensive electronics, but certainly not even remotely close in cubic dollars to what other companies were using. I don’t believe he was even using a SACD disc as a music source. Just a normal CD. Trying to describe a sound with words can be a futile attempt, so I’ll just say … it’s jaw-dropping. I can only compare it to you turning on your clock radio, and the next thing you hear is a sound like sitting front row in a night club, complete with all the power. It’s very disorienting. It’s also not cheap. Around $4200 a pair. And bizarrely, it doesn’t come with grills (extra cost).  But considering I heard it absolutely trounce a pair of $263,000 speakers (using several hundred thousands of dollars of electronics to boot … the speaker cables alone cost more than the entire Totem system), it seems like the bargain of the century for an audiophile with limited room.

 

The “Year of the no-glasses 3D set” …. uh, nope

At this show there were over 20,000 new products revealed. And as in every year, it’s declared the “Year of 3D, tablets, flat screens, smart phones, etc.” And just as always, the electo-pundits were wrong. It was very obviously the “Year of iPhone/iPad”. Entire sections of the show had accessories and apps for just these two devices. It was stunning how many products biggest selling feature was its compatibility with the Apple duo. No major manufacturer (even their biggest competitors) did not have at least a handful of products specifically designed for them. According to the sales charts, Android phones out sell the iPhone. But you could have put all the accessories/apps for that format in a small home … maybe a large den. It was more obvious than any other point that I can remember that there is one phone to rule them all. If there was money in Android add-ons, everyone would make them. The majority of users of Android products plainly aren’t as tech literate or as fanatical as Apple users. The professional and technical apps for the iPhone are mind boggling. I saw an iPad taking the place of an entire stages worth of guitar effect pedals, These would easily cost thousands of dollars (not including the cables, batteries, etc.) … the inexpensive app has effect galore for only two bucks a piece! There was a complete multi-channel recording studio that ran on the iPhone. In fact, a major band just recorded it’s entire album on just an iPad! Heart monitoring, remote aircraft control, comprehensive security control, blood analyzing … the list just goes on and on. In the “high end” area, Apple’s iTunes is de rigueur for demonstrating the deep six figure audio systems there. and yes, they all talk about how great the iPhone/iPad/iTouch sounds on their gear.

Of course, Apple was not actually at the show … they didn’t have to be. Everyone else touts their products for them. Here’s an interesting question: For next year Microsoft has said it will not attend … will anyone notice?

UPDATE – 01/18/12 – When the space for the 2013 CES became available, As predicted, the space that had been Microsoft for years, was taken in 45 minutes by the Dish Network. And yes, nobody will notice Microsoft is gone.

Show Map Pictures

Just an interesting picture of the maps of the show …. according to the CEA, this is the largest ever. Buuut, I don’t think any of the shows I’ve ever been to would be called small. Bear in mind that the each map in the pictures is about five feet across.

Just a few pics from the show …

Here’s a small gallery of some of the biggest “booths” … the sheer size can’t be shown justice on a small web page. If we’re talking distances, I’d have to imagine, on a few of them of the length of a football field. As you look at them, please bear in mind that each of the photos, are actually four to six photos stitched together.

 

 

No Glasses for 3D? Not there yet …

This video I shot is one of the latest “No Glasses” 3D sets … watch as I slowly move across the front of the set, simulating walking by or turning your head. Those lines you see are not added … it is the #1 issue with these types of sets (other than lousy resolution).  Bear in mind, this is one of the best ones I saw. I got so dizzy just trying to watch it, I had to put out my hand, reaching for a counter to stabilize me.

FYI – for those who may be a little tech literate, I found a very  well written article about the 3D sets at the 2012 CES: Extreme Tech

 

 

Green Power of the Future … here today!!!!

At the show an energy company displays the world’s first completely “green” energy source approved by the Obama administration!!! A treadmill electricity generator. And yes!  It comes in his and hers versions (pink for the ladies). That way you can power a microwave after only four hours of running!!

Ok … maybe not. But he really looked like a rat on a treadmill. In reality, each minute in the NRG torture device generated bucks for charity … I just couldn’t help myself.

The newest fad sweeping Vegas at CES

Admittedly Nevada has no shoreline for surfing. But what Vegas has in spades is limos and due to CES, laptops. Combine the two and you have limo web surfing … Vegas style.

 

Strumming my six-string ….

For all of those who wonder “does a $2000+ guitar sound better than a $34.95 practice guitar?”, I can faithfully report that the answer is … yes. And it makes you a better player. But it still doesn’t make you sound like David Gilmour.

I can see for miles and miles and miles ….

If ever the movie “Blade Runner” and Rube Goldberg had a tech love child, it would be the Sony HD 3D camera binocular. I found the thing as bizarrely fascinating as watching a train wreck … a $2000 train wreck to be exact. I predict here and now, Sony will sell a minimum of six … all to peeping toms.

Using them, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be a captain of a steampunk destroyer on the look out for U-boats or Luke Skywalker.

Tesla, Tesla on the road, who’s the least eco friendly of all?

Obama’s miracle electric car, the Telsa, made an appearance at the show. Huge crowd, surly Tesla folks … You’d think they’d be pleased with taxpayers who paid for it (around a half a billion bucks, just to start), wanting to see it.  I can see why they want to keep everyone at bay. The entire car … and I mean the entire car is plastic. I can only assume the frame is metal. Very literally I couldn’t find a single piece of metal on the entire car, short of the wheels. I’m not even certain the body panels, with the horribly swirl-scratched paint job, were metal. The dash is basically a vinyl wood-toned adhesive applique over yet more plastic … Excess glue is everywhere and the “carpet” looks more like high grade astroturf.  Reminded me  of an electric “BIC” lighter on four wheels … disposable. All yours for less than $100,000.00. Going green never looked more black. When the sheer amount of plastic and the byproducts of manufacturing the batteries are taken into account, this may well be the worst possible car on the planet, in every respect, that man can devise. Could you imagine the chemicals you’re breathing when you get into it during the summer heat?

You may have heard about the attempt to contact extraterrestrials though various methods … due to the extreme “petrochemically plasticky” nature of this “eco-friendly” car, one can only assume that when this things’ batteries catches fire after an accident, that it’ll be visible at least as far as Mars.

This is assuming of course, that it doesn’t melt into a giant Tesla plastic puddle when summer comes a callin’.

They also claim the car seats seven. You could squeeze in the driver and four adults you like and two children you don’t. If the kids aren’t fried alive under the huge glass rear hatch, then much worse things will happen if even hit lightly in the rear.

The “Broken Leg” award goes to …

As if riding as unicycle wasn’t difficult enough, let’s add a motor. And take away the seat.

What’s old is new again.

If there’s an old name that you may have thought had disappeared like Philco and Packard Bell in the tech field, it’s got to be Polaroid. Remember the heady smell of the pink chemical stabilizer stick of the early models? Even better than a piece of freshly mimeographed paper! Ahhhh, brings back childhood memories.  Well despite the best efforts of the digital revolution to kill off Edwin Land’s instant picture camera, it still exists, albeit in a rather odd form. It combines a 14mp camera and a printer, all in the same device. Yes, it’s a little heavy. And I was scared to ask how much the special paper cost.  (Polaroid pictures were never cheap, you paid the big bucks for instant gratification)

I can already hear squeals of delight from the tech illiterate insurance claims adjusters.

When size matters ….

Here in Vegas a “whose is bigger” contest has evolved throughout the years between Sony and the new king of tech, Samsung. From what I hear, when the booths are being booked for the next year and the rep from the CEA calls Samsung for how many sq. ft. they need, the response is always the same. “How many does Sony have?  We’ll take more”. This year appears to be no different.

Bear in mind … this is only a small part of their official area. Perhaps around 40%, if I were to give an educated guess.

Their booth probably had more than two hundred TV’s. And I didn’t find even a single set set that wasn’t a 3D or smart set. This was supposed to be the year of the “3D smart TV” … And I haven’t seen a new set yet that isn’t connected to the internet. But it’s really more like the year of the “3D” sets, in the TV field, that is. While everyone is pushing apps for TV’s, it’s really not all that new. After all, Samsung and LG sells “connected” refrigerators. (But really, do you need Pandora playing when you go for a Coke?)  Gosh, that’s a scary thought. A frig that knows what’s inside and starts playing commercials every time the door is opened. How about a screaming “Elsie the Cow” every time the icebox realized that it was low on milk?

But I digress … the 3D sets are getting better, buuuut, as before, there is NO content. (Hello Hollywood!!!)  When the big news in 3D broadcasts is that ESPN will have a talking head sports show in 3D … that’s a pretty blatant clue.

The glasses-free versions, as predicted, to put it bluntly … are simply awful. I started to get a wee bit nauseated watching one. (I will try to do a post showing the problems) And yes, the cheap passive glasses (polarized lensed), are not as good as the active glasses. The polarizing glasses, invented by Edwin Land of Polaroid fame, have been around since 1936. Why would a manufacturer, selling a $2000+ set, think that a buyer would be willing to sacrifice picture quality to save fifty bucks for a pair of cheaper glasses?

Movin’ on up Vegas style

In Vegas for the big show. For the first time we’re splurging for a truly nice place to stay. Usually it doesn’t matter, as I pretty much live at CES. But after a special industry rate, the Vdara is actually affordable. This is of course assuming we don’t eat, drink, use the minibar or the spa. Since a tiny bottle of wine in the minibar is $38, we decided to pass … after all, as a friend once told me, wine can’t be considered good, … without a duck on the label. But in all fairness, this hotel is the most like home of any place we’ve ever been. That means it could be a show case for tech. Even the drapes are computer controlled. And the door bell changes colors to tell the cleaning crew not to bother us or we need a rush job. But this is Vegas and a few things don’t change …. like they’ll put a 1/8 stereo mini jack cable in the room to interface my Apple toys with the extensive entertainment center, but not a coffee maker. We have a stainless steel microwave, granite counter tops, designer faucets and sinks, a Gaggenau stove, dual Bosch refrigerators, and what looks like All-Clad pots/pans … but not a ten dollar coffee maker.  A geek without caffeine …. gad, that’s terrible.

Before Vegas, We Look Back A Bit

As the annual preparations continue for the newest CES, I reflect on the  changes in the electronic world in the last twelve months. If only my wagers in Sin City were as accurate as my predictions.

Firstly and most probably the most important, is the now annual blitzkrieg of the iPhone. Blackberry seems to be barely holding on (bets are in that this is the last year for the RIM as we know it) and everything else (other than Android) is basically dead. While there are about six Android users who actually like it, in truth, the remainder wish they had an iPhone. The clunky interface is remarkably intact and the almost singular reason why the iPhone is superior to any Android, regardless of specs is the “App” store …. You’d think they’d have learned by now.

I just saw an ad from Fry’s for a 70″ LCD TV for $1999 …. if you haven’t upgraded your idiot box yet, you’re really missing out. It’s simply shocking how such an excellent, super-sized LCD/plasma set can be had, for minimal bucks.  Seventy inches of Korean video goodness …. this would have been over a hundred grand just a couple of years ago.

Tablets (I still don’t see much use for them, but my wife disagrees) are simply “pwd”” (owned” in geek speak), for better or worse, by the iPad … ’nuff said. Utterly absolute Apple domination.

BluRay players have dropped in price (as I predicted) to less than $50. Simply no reason not to have one if you have a HDTV.

CPU’s have gotten predictably more powerful (Moore’s Law) … but it’s reached a point that it really doesn’t matter. Computers, especially desktops, have gotten so powerful in the last twelve months that the old axiom of “faster is better” seems hollow. Other than researching theoretical nuclear blasts or DNA study, even the most base desktop’s power is far beyond what 99% of what any normal user could possibly need. At this point it’s only the gamers and performance enthusiasts actually taxing the newest chips. The frame rate for a few of the newest chips (with a decent video card) on common games can actually hit 200 FPS or more … (anything past 60 is unnoticeable).

Has anyone seen a VCR in stores recently?

Still, there’s virtually no 3D content … don’t hold your breath for 2012.

If you doubt if there’s any money in the video game biz, chew on this …. The newest version of “Gears of War” grossed over a billion dollars in the first sixteen days or so. However, to keep things in perspective, Pac-Man has taken in over 10 billion quarters.

Apple Blesses Me With A New Phone

On this day the busiest men on the planet are the men in brown …. UPS delivery men.

My box arrived with not one, but two iPhone 4S’s.

First impressions – Apple seems to cheapen the experience every time I get the latest and greatest with fewer accessories and still no instruction manual. Four hundred bucks and they can’t included a few sheets of bound paper?

The shape just isn’t as easy to hold as the 3GS …

I have no shortage of cases, due to the 2011 CES where I was given so many 4S cases that I really can’t keep count.

Faster?  Yes …. But the really big change for me was the camera … such a huge improvement.

Now comes the hard part … setting it up. Seems that iTunes isn’t as user-friendly as you would like. This is going to take hours …..

Movie Flop

When (at the time) the revolutionary Netflix began, I was one of it’s first and biggest fans. Here was all the DVD’s I could eat for about fifteen bucks. No more than two days on the free shipping and a huge selection. It got even better with unlimited streaming (never mind the limited number of titles), Bluray and an intuitive system of movie recommendation that was amazingly accurate. It appeared that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had found exactly what everyone who enjoyed movies wanted. But flash forward a few years and Mr. Hastings is looking more like the CEO of RIM, than Apple. Huge unwarranted price increase, declining base, technology that is clearly not cutting edge any longer and competitors who aggressively poach customers away with substantially lower cost.

Redbox, the vending machine video store, can provide the current movies that people want to watch for only a buck. And Blockbuster does the same. While a movie that may be much older or obscure, such as anything by one of my favs, Akira Kurosawa, may be easier to find on Netflix …. The point remains that I can still find it without Netflix.

A Netflix fan will tout streaming, but in reality, that has truly gone sour. The number of movies available is extremely limited to say the least, HD performance is just awful and complete failure to stream occurs frequently. Additionally, the major ISP’s say that Netflix is hogging bandwidth and causing speed and latency problems for everyone else. Netflix is in major denial and has no answer for any of these issues. You can bet the farm on the fact the the ISP’s see Netflix as a threat to their customers (and income) and will at some point move en mass against Netflix.

Now, given the litany of problems that Netflix is currently ignoring, you’d assume that they would do something additionally absurd. And you’d be correct …. they just raised their prices … substantially. In some cases by about one hundred percent. So I did what apparently quite a few of their customers are doing … I canceled my account. Previous price hikes and increasingly sloppy service had taken their toll on my loyalty, and accordingly I felt this was the “last straw”. That almost $300.00 a year I was spending with Netflix, now buys me all the movies I want to see for less than twenty bucks a year.

So sayonara Netflix, hello Redbox!

A Geek on Wheels

Being a geek can definitely have advantages.          Last Sunday, I was one of a privileged few that were allowed (at GM’s expense) on the new Motorsports track to “evaluate” the new Cadillac CTS-V under the guidance of the Skip Barber Racing School. Normally this falls under the heading of car geek, but this car was chock full o’ electro-geek goodness.  Loaded with stability programs, algorithmic engine/transmission programs and a magnetically operated suspension, this was essentially a rolling computer. While it’s easy to dismiss Cadillac (or any Government Motors car) as being outdated, poorly built and ugly, this one makes a sincere attempt to break the mold (excepting the appearance, as it’s still ugly). What the guys at Cadillac have done is to take a Vette chassis, a slightly detuned version of the $110,000 Corvette ZR-1 engine and put it underneath a Cadillac CTS body. Admittedly this is more of a Chev-a-lac, than Cadillac, but as far as performance is concerned, who cares??? They outfitted this 4200 pound beast with six piston Brembos, the optional Recaro seats and stupidly expensive Michelin SP2 tires. The end result is a 556HP fearsome street beast. Although, on the track it runs as though it didn’t know it was a street car.

There is a racing version as well, that on this very “evaluating” day, won the 24 Hour of Lemans. And it was even further detuned than the cars I drove.

But one of the most amazing things was the suspension …. You expect thrills from 556HP and Brembos/Michelin SP2’s, but not from the suspension. They were using the highly (to put it mildly) modified MSRC, which is the Magnetic Selective Ride Control that the Vette uses. Not surprisingly, since it is a Cadillac, it allowed a decent ride, but when on the track, it functioned astoundingly well. To say that racing cars are rough is an understatement …. If your car rode like a racer, you’d be at your dealership complaining in a heartbeat. The 32-bit processor constantly allowed the car to corner flat like a racer, and still not pound your teeth out.

It’s a remarkable achievement to build a car like this, complete with a full warranty, for just over 63K. In comparison, the new almost 600HP BMW M5, while being a true engineering masterpiece, is closer to a 100K with a few options. For the 37K difference, you could buy a CTS-V and a low mileage, two year old M3 (that may well be the greatest driving car for the money on the planet).

A full day on a race track with a 556HP car, all at GMs expense ….this geek’s “evaluation” experience proves the old axiom … the best things in life are free!