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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!

2011 CES Winners

If there was a product that truly surprised me, it was the new Sony “NEX” cameras. If you have read my earlier blogs, you can tell I’m no fan of the evil empire that is Sony. So this is a huge surprise to me as well. But it was deserved. The panoramic capabilities are nothing less than astounding. Shooting at 7FPS (frames per second) you simply sweep the camera from one side to the other (it doesn’t matter which direction) and it will seamlessly tie all the frames together. No external computer required any longer. The results speak for themselves … this may well be the best all purpose camera for sale today. On top of that amazing ability, it’s the first “point and shoot” camera with interchangeable lens … and what wonderful lens they are. They aren’t cheap, but they feel and perform at levels far beyond their price. This is SLR quality folks … just like the pros. It will even shoot in the pro format of “RAW” (which is sometimes called a digital negative … like the old film cameras). But should you decide to use “RAW” you’d better have the special software on your computer to process it and lots of SD memory cards … and I mean lots! A “RAW” format picture on a ten megapixel camera (which is around three meg using the .jpg format) may be around twenty-five meg! So a two gig memory card that may have held 400+ images may only hold around eighty.

Unlike most of its primarily plastic “point and shoot” brethren, the body is made of a magnesium alloy. The build quality reminds you of the Sony of twenty-five years ago.

And just like your TV gadget huckster … “Wait!  There’s more!”

It shoots 3D stills and even will even record 1080i HD movies.

Sony had National Geographic’s premier photog go to Chile with it, and the shots he returned with (completely unedited in any fashion) were magazine quality … and this from a point and shoot pocket camera.


The next big winner is: Motorola

If there was ever a company that only produced “dead on delivery” products and was gasping its last, it’s Motorola. Just a few years ago their Razr phones set the standard. But the electronics biz loves a stationary target. And while they twiddled their thumbs, Apple put an arrow through the heart of Motorola. Razr sales plummeted and the iPhone became the new standard. While Moto won’t have the Apple fan boys dumping their precious status symbol, the rest of the world may see the new Android phone halt Motorola’s slide into obscurity.

In a stroke of pure genius, the kind that would have Steve Jobs gasping for air as he screams at his development team “why didn’t we think of that?”, Moto is releasing a phone that is essentially a dual core micro-computer. Its capabilities far outstrip the iPhone and iPad, but that isn’t the only thing that really sets it apart.  The new Android has ports on one side that allow it to be placed into a dock that a standard monitor/mouse are attached to, effectively turning it into a desktop computer. Additionally Moto is producing what amounts to a dumb laptop terminal that the phone drops into. Start up is virtually instantaneous and resumes exactly where you left off when you “plug-in”. And voila!, … you have a basic laptop computer with 4G capabilities that allow mobile computing without paying for another mobile data account.  That fact alone is worth about fifty bucks a month in savings for people that need on-the-go access to the web. The terminal even has a battery that runs the screen and charges the phone. The design can only be described as elegant. This is one of those items that needs to be seen, to be fully appreciated.

For many people this is the only computer they really need. Almost as powerful as a netbook, but less expensive and more flexible than a laptop. If you don’t need specialized software for your business, are a gamer or do video editing, this is very probably all the computer you really need. Retail for the laptop terminal is expected to be under $200.00. The phone’s release date is sometime this quarter.

Year of the Tablet … Wrong

All the hype surrounding CES this year was the amazing amount of new iPad competitors that were going to be unveiled.

It was said to be the “CES of the Tablet” by national television companies and newpapers. Seemingly there’s always a theme each year.

But it took me almost three days to find more than a tablet or two. Finally I found in the furthest recesses of the last great hall, a few of these devices.

I wasn’t impressed. Even Samsung’s was a fairly lame device compared to the Apple … That they were predicting the hoards who rush to buy the latest gizmo from Apple, would instead choose an essentially app-less clunky generic copy, seems absurd.

But instead it was clearly the “Show of the 3D sets” … again.  Basically when you entered the booth of a company that sells 3D sets, that’s about all they really hype up.

It didn’t matter if it was Panasonic, Sony, LG, Samsung or Toshiba … probably a full 90% of the displays were about 3D technology. The basic 2D televisions were all but forgotten, with the one exception being the crazy expensive OLED ultra thin sets. (less than a quarter of an inch thick)

At this show there were 3D sets that didn’t require the shutter glasses … And believe it or not, the picture was actually worse. I can’t imagine what their marketing people were thinking … to bring a decidedly unwatchable “thing” to the world’s largest electronics show. Perhaps trying to prove that they were working on it too? I can’t see how this would help any company’s image.

In any case, all the 3D televisions that did require glasses, didn’t look even slightly better than last year.

All of the manufacturers of 3D sets are quietly disappointed in the sales, but are sticking to their guns. They truly want 3D to take off … but here’s the simple truth that they ignore … THERE IS NO CONTENT! No satellite broadcasts excepting the rare, odd show on ESPN … and only on DirectTV. Nada on cable. Virtually all the 3D DVD’s are cartoons … and this is with an entire year to get more content out.  Why buy a 3D set, when there’s nothing to watch in 3D?

When someone eventually points this out to the execs at the giant TV companies, then perhaps there will be a change. After all, some of the 3D manufacturers are in fact, the owners of some of the studios. (Hello Sony!! You awake??)

Gaga hot or Gaga not?

Seems I always encounter a “celebrity” or two at CES and this last one was no exception.

On this occasion I ran into Gene Simmons of Kiss (or a really good imitation) and a supposedly famous “nasty” woman (not my description … but from the one person who actually watches it) from “Big Brother”.

Then there was this … Who ever said Halloween is in October?

iPhone has uses beyond apps

This is one of the those cases, (no pun intended) in which a picture is worth a thousand words.

But, I have a question … If you use the new iPhone addition heavily, should you really be using the originally designed function of the phone?

Not Music to My Ears

One of the must see areas at CES each year is the “high end” area at the Venetian. This is where the audio purists and audiophiles converge to pay homage to the most extravagant offerings from the most sophisticated and accomplished vendors.

As you stroll down the football field length halls of suites on five floors, you can enter each to listen/touch what they have brought to impress. Understanding that people will fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars based on what one speaker will sound like compared to another, would lead you to believe that the choice of music for that all important first impression is immeasurably important.

I have actually seen manufacturers get a direct digital copy from the original tapes of Peggy Lee, the Doors and even the Beatles. Since a tape degrades and deteriorates with each and every playing, you can see just how important really good samples of music are for making a sale. Each of these tapes (such as with the Beatles) could literally be valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. So extreme importance is placed on the “right sound”.

With this in mind, one of the first demo rooms we encountered was a Chinese company selling speakers whose value was only slightly less than a small vacation home. (With Chinese speakers companies there are only two actual types of speakers produced … the very, very high end and the very,very generic.) After finding a seat, the rep fired up the monster Class “A” amplifier (tubes, not transistors). I was admiring the the probably $500 a foot speaker cables when he inserted the all important first SACD (eg. super audio compact disc).

What happened next probably will cost me about $1000.00 to repair.

Instead of an ear-popping delight, I was besieged with the “voice” of what had to be the grand prize winner of a Yoko Ono karaoke contest.

It was so bad that I didn’t even ask the name if the singer. I didn’t want to pollute my mind with that thought. So as avoid being looked as rude, (since the inventor was standing directly behind me) I had to sit there in agony for an excruciating two minutes. The gnashing of my teeth surely wore away some of the finest work my dentist has ever done.


The 30th of September was a good day.

The birds were singing in the sub 100 degree heat for the first time in several months, and my official 2011 CES badge arrived. I already had hotel, air and car reserved, but it’s the “golden ticket” makes it all happen. This event always begins an unstoppable chain of events. Now for most non-geeks their thoughts turn to sunscreen, what to wear and maps …. perhaps lots of maps. But for the transistor loving crowd, our “take along list” is somewhat, well, …. different. Clothes? Well, what ever I forget, I can buy at the outlet mall …. but try finding a micro 400X 32Gb SDHC like the one sitting on the kitchen table at home, in Vegas when you really need it.

Among my biggest concerns were chargers and cables …. and heavens knows, there are about a gazillion variants, thanks to each and every manufacturer using proprietary connectors. In an effort to squeeze every penny from the consumer (attention Apple!) they use plugs/slots/pins that aren’t used any where else in this galaxy. This requires I carry so many cables that they almost have their own suitcase ….  Knowing the trouble I’m going to have trying to clear TSA at the airport, I try to calm down by telling myself in case of a fire in one of those tall Las Vegas hotels, I can always tie them together for a way down. Now that I think about it, I suppose that the cables attract less airport security than if I was to carry one of those “executive parachutes” onto an airplane. (Excuse me mam’, could I slide your bag over to one side in the overhead so I can make room for my parachute?)

If you want a laugh (provided you’re not in a rush) get behind me when my “carry-on” goes through the X-ray and watch the eyes bulge out of the operator. It’s so packed with computers, cameras, flash drives, phones, iPods and too many other electronics to mention, that it blows the fuse of the ex-McDonald’s, twenty year old TSA security genius. (Sir! Please follow these men over there …. don’t worry about your case …. they’ll get it for you)

This pre-CES planning brings up one of my pet peeves with all hotels. Not enough electrical outlets. One open plug was probably fine during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge, but it’s not even remotely enough today. So I wind up having to bring multi-outlet plugs and extension cords.

But, look on the bright side, if you’re traveling with me, those extra cords might save your life.


Changing of the Seasons

I know that winter is coming.

In some areas of the country, people can tell by the leaves changing color or perhaps a lessening of temperature. The reason I know winter is coming is due to something totally different. You see, I’m a geek, and it’s always daylight and 65 degrees in the server room. So I wouldn’t really notice the change as readily. What jars me to that winter reality is the same thing that I now depend on every year to act as my personal cold weather seasonal reminder …. the beginning of the Chinese zipper company CES email flood.

I’m wondering if I’m still persona non grata, after my remote controlled zipper gaff last year. But don’t worry …. I’ll still get the latest info from them. You see, I’m packing a fake mustache …. and this being CES, it has a camera.


No couch for me tonight

After recently reviewing and panning all 3D TV’s and having spent the past several years touring CES for the perfect new TV, I haven’t seen even a single set that I would consider for my home (excepting of course, the fantastic Pioneer Kuro … but the price was a deal killer). So what to do? My Pioneer commercial grade monitor was getting along in years and was “only” a 720p set. I was “jonesing” for a new TV in the worst way … I loved plasmas, but the fear of burn-in has always been first in my mind of drawbacks of this design … I’ve seen so many burned plasmas over the years that it has put the “wrath of God” in me about being fastidious concerning this issue. After investing over 7K in a TV,       I didn’t want to have it ruined … and that was key in deciding on a LED LCD unit. I needed a set that was more in keeping with my current needs, rather than being strictly a home theater. Admittedly, LCD’s aren’t quite as a good as a plasmas, but in my case, a LCD held advantages that I couldn’t ignore any longer. Among them was weight (I had to do the install myself), heat (sweet Jesus, did my plasma get hot and the room with it), and resistance to burn-in (allowing long term usage of cable news channel news tickers or crawlers, and my wife’s Wii). So with that in mind, I reverted to my knowledge acquired at CES and found only one company that fulfilled what I was looking for.

I knew upfront that Sony certainly didn’t make the cut from the very beginning for many reasons I’ve discussed in a previous blog. Phillips, Vizio, Sharp and others weren’t for me for one of several reasons (eg. questionable build quality, lack of support, poor picture, gimmicks, etc.)
That only left LG, Toshiba and Samsung as the only real contenders.

A big problem for LG was unknown durability and service, and a few things I saw at CES worried me, although it did have a good picture. Toshiba had good image quality and a reputation for reliability, … however, the one thing that may not have been so important for others, but was critical for me, was the size of the case that held the picture screen. Why manufacturers choose to have such large cases (Panasonic, Toshiba and Vizio), when it’s so limiting for installation purposes, is a odd choice. When you’re dealing with huge screen sizes anyway, why make it even larger and heavier with such a big case? This is one of those times where bigger isn’t better.

With this in mind, I started shopping for my new Samsung TV. As usual, no store in town could even come remotely close to the price on the internet. I found my set in Michigan at an appliance store …. this could never have happened just a few years back as the best sets were only sold like high-end audio … at specialists.

Now the fun begins. How to buy a very expensive TV, when the old one still works and still stay married? There was no way I was going to convince my other half that this was a necessary purchase until projection holographic, surround sound, smell-a-vision TV was common on cell phones … in other words, never.

The only way I could see that she wouldn’t oppose (immediately) was the stealth mode … buy it, sneak it in and install it without her knowledge … and let the set do the talking for me. Risky, but as any dedicated technophile would agree, necessary. (Ok, maybe my logic was flawed, but that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it) And for my grand scheme to work, it had to be one heck of a TV.

Delivery day! – How exactly does one hide a giant TV from one’s spouse??? Fortunately, the garage is so stuffed with cars, tools and motorcycles that she won’t venture very far into it.

Next problem – too big … that means I have to cut up the custom cabinet and some how make it look like I didn’t … Success! Who would have guessed I had this skill?

Now for the really tough part … keeping my cool and waiting. It had to be exactly the right time and instance for my plan to keep me off the couch. After almost three days she finally decided to watch one of our favorite shows. Talk about an adrenaline rush! The high stakes crap tables in Vegas couldn’t be this exciting …

She walks into the media room and as expected, didn’t notice that the new set was a different color, size and on a chrome stand. I flipped to the desired HD channel and quietly sat back. She was oblivious to the tension in the room … thank goodness.

After about five gut-wrenching minutes, she turns to me and says “What have they done to the show?  I can’t believe how good it looks.” … At this point (trying to stay calm and act natural), I blithely asked “what do you mean?” … She went on to say the picture was simply amazing. … Now was the time to spring the big surprise … So I asked “you really like it?” … it was at this point I could see a light bulb above her head go on, and I knew she had figured it out. She couldn’t believe the difference and the fact that it was already perfectly installed. She was so impressed that it took her almost a minute to ask me what it cost … well, that one point didn’t go over as well as I’d hoped … I reminded her that she knew I was a geek when she married me … so this is partially her fault too … I don’t need to be reminded not to use that excuse again in the future.

However, the fantastic picture and the fact she could use her Wii and Guitar Hero on it were the saving grace for me.

This brief story illustrates a true high-wire act … I don’t recommend it to anyone else. I don’t foresee too many other wives who would tolerate their spouse’s addiction to cutting edge electronics.

But it does very succinctly show how much better the newest sets, really are. Although my Samsung is one of the newest and thinnest 3D devices, that had little to no bearing in the decision. The standard images are virtually 3D in appearance without the need for the absurd glasses. When you first starting watching it, it’s a little disconcerting as the image is so different from anything you’ve seen before. Still, after over a month, we haven’t adjusted to it completely. We both find ourselves saying “wow, amazing!”

This is one of those “must see” things to fully appreciate the change.

I bought the TV and got the matching 3D DVD player and glasses for free … and yes, the 3D picture with the glasses is awful. But the standard picture, in all formats (eg. DVD’s, streaming, HD satellite) is without peer in the LCD world. A plasma technically would have a slightly better picture, but given the previous facts, I now can confidently say that this was the best all-round choice. And even better, my wife agrees.

4G … To be or not to be

A thought that brought a huge grin to my face was the prospect of kicking Comcast to the proverbial curb. I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth for years after being force fed their business practices with no alternatives in sight, due to my town’s mafia-like control of internet access. So after a long discussion with the 4G “Clear” reps, I decided to to give it a shot with both the home and laptop 4G adapters. For those of you unfamiliar with the term 4G (also known as WiMax), it refers to the fourth generation of cellular wireless standards. The Clear folks cheerfully told me that speeds were as good, if not better than Comcast and … there were no download caps. Not that I use more than what Comcast currently allows, but I can see the the future and 250GB ain’t gonna cut it. Take into account my home with its streaming Netflix, security cameras, internet HD TV, Slingboxes, internet radio, monitored burglar alarm system, Dish Network satellite internet interface, gaming, six VOIP phone lines and regular, normal internet usage … despite how Comcast tries to convince you how big 250GB “really is” … it really isn’t all that much.

It’s an eighth of the capacity of a single, modern big hard drive. If 250GB was really all that huge, who would possibly need a two terabyte hard drive? Yet the HD manufacturers are selling them by the hundreds of thousands … So who’s lying? The truth is Comcast won’t spend the money required (you can do that with a captive audience) to bring the U.S. to the speeds that every other civilized country on the planet has at an affordable price … hence, the caps.

I decided to keep the cable internet while I tested the new 4G Clear system. I then selected six major points around the globe to use as reference points for download/upload speeds and latency. Testing was done several times at different times of the day. Additionally, all the devices mentioned earlier were used as a practical test bed. After over two weeks of testing and many phone calls to technical support at Clear, the new 4G system never won a single victory in any of the three important categories. In fact, most of the time, the hated Comcast slaughtered Clear by multiples of two to four. And occasionally, as much as fifteen times faster! Upload speeds with Clear were pathetic at best … and that’s being kind. Many times the upload speeds were so slow, as when emailing family photos taken with a ten megapixel camera, that it crippled the entire home network access to the web.

The mobile Clear option was passable for basic laptop usage … but then again, so is 3G. But definitely not the fire breathing system they advertise. Clear says that you can have speeds that normally are only available at home and businesses, on the road … my testing once again shows that is patently false.

So I’m stuck back where I began … with Comcast.

To the credit of Clear, they took back all the equipment at their own cost and didn’t charge me a dime. Every single person I spoke with at Clear seemed genuinely sincere about wanting me to be happy and I feel they did almost everything they could to keep me, short of giving me the service for free. In the end, it simply came down to speed … Clear didn’t have any. It might have been impressive in 1997, but by today’s standards (for home/business use) it’s unusable for anything but basic surfing.

I still have one distant hope … Google is selecting one town to be the recipient of their new gigabyte speed rewiring and connection to the internet. My town is vying for that prize even now. But unless my hometown hits the “Google lottery”, we are stuck with a company that dislikes us as much as we dislike it.


Ahem, … Upon my soapbox

You’d think that the electronics industry would jump on any horse that was a clearly superior technology and ride it ’till it dropped. This is a brief synopsis (by geek standards) of why that didn’t happen to one the best gadgets ever, and why that was such a truly significant and far reaching harbinger of things to come.

Replay Networks won the CES 1999 `Best of Show` award with an item that seemed a clear hit, and it was, with everyone who bought one. It was the original DVR. This goodie could automatically cut out commercials (with 85% accuracy) of recorded shows, jump forward thirty seconds or back seven seconds, had a simple interface, could record forty hours (with mods, 500 hours!) without tape and had the most desirable feature of all … and that’s exactly what caused it to stop production … the ability to share recorded shows via the internet (Replay to Replay only). With special free software, you could even pull shows off of it and save them on a DVD. It’s not that the ReplayTV (RTV) was a pirating device, it allowed you to connect together RTV’s in a home and watch the one in the den from your bedroom unit … only for the third time since the invention of television (after the VCR and remote control), a genuinely helpful video accessory had arrived. It also allowed the RTV of a friend to send a show to your RTV … so if you missed the “big game” your buddy recorded, a simple entry told his Replay what to do. But the networks considered the public to be thieves for watching the very shows that they aired at a different time or day. They had exactly the same argument when the VCR came out, and everyone is aware of how that argument worked out in the courts. You’d assume that it’d be a lost cause trying to stop the Replay, but the media giants were successful with the same old, stale argument. And not a single other company came to their aid. The result is the neutered TiVo … still clearly inferior in operation, despite years of playing “catch-up”. So here we are with giant, flat HD sets on the verge of 3D and we are still using technology that was outdated ten years ago. And there is no change anywhere is sight … because the networks consider the viewing public to be little more than criminals, no electronics company will pick up where Replay production stopped for fear of being sued or having to fund a legal case to force the issue to the Supreme Court.

Technology affords us to crudely duplicate the RTV, but the elegant design and ease of use is gone. If you’re not sufficiently geeky to handle internal computer mods, transcode video formats, manipulate video editing software and choose the correct method of exchange on the internet … you’re out of luck. The 5000 series RTVs are so treasured amongst video geeks, that an almost ten year old unit will actually bring more than the original cost on Ebay!

You might ask why this happened and why this matters. The sole reason is greed. If the media giants can stop you from sharing “CSI Las Vegas”, their bean counters say they might make an additional fifty bucks on DVD sales. And this “Gordon Gekko-like” greed has had some mighty odd repercussions for the consumer. Some companies who were true innovators, like Sony, have lost all ability to invent after the death of their founder. So by acquiring movie studios and such, they can stifle their competitor’s advances also. Sony clearly no longer has the best TVs, best MP3 player, best video camera or best of anything, in any sector of electronics. Its reliability was legend, and that too is long gone. So like any failing company, it will do anything it can to stay afloat … but in the bizarre case of Sony, it will do so by damaging the very industry it was once the leader of. The new and very hungry 800lb gorilla in the market abandoned by Sony … is Samsung. (Although LG and Toshiba are now seriously nipping at their rear of Samsung) A walk through Samsung’s mega booth at the 2010 CES really makes the point how far Sony has fallen.

As I look down the road I can see only two paths ahead for the electronics industry. In one, companies like Sony will install a virtual coin slot in the side of every piece of electronics you use, so to speak, forcing payment from you for all but the most basic viewing. Think I may be exaggerating? Look at the monthly subscription fees for TiVo, for HD on cable and satellite, for even the most basic cable which has only the free local channels, extra cable boxes because media suppliers won’t adapt a standard encryption method and even things like the increased cost of DVD players due to the requirement of additional hardware to performing decoding and region locking. Supporting the death of analog TV that now requires the purchase of a special decoder, while knowing full well that the new digital signal will not reach the majority of over-the-air viewers, mandating a cable/satellite subscription… even the internet site “Hulu”, is going to be subscription based … the list goes on and on. The vast majority of these items that you are charged for, actually have no cost (or so small as not to matter) for the media suppliers. But, they can only be profitable by stifling innovation and forcing a stagnation of technology. That’s an odd situation isn’t it? They have to cripple/kill future technology, by using obsolete technology to make a buck. I can safely assume they’d take away the mute button on TV remotes if they thought it would force us to listen to the commercials.

On the flip side, you have either laws or a court case that breaks the technology logjam. There is no other way for an immediate change. The free market is being controlled and perverted by a handful of media types, lobbyists and politicians … so it becomes a daunting task. If the impossible were to happen and the public were to revolt en mass, then yes, there would be change. But the fact of the matter is this: most people are technology illiterates and therefore, easy prey.

Here’s what could happen should things take a step forward. For instance, imagine an “Apple TV” connected to a fancy HD set using an operational standard (no more cable boxes) and with full connectivity on the internet. Miss a show? … go to a central server and stream it for immediate viewing, or download it directly to your portable device (iPod, Zune, cellular phone, etc.) in the correct format automatically. The revenue loss to the networks is zero … in fact it increases their viewing public and therefore their ad revenue. And unlike normal TV, it’s measurable and extremely accurate as to how many new viewers they have garnered. (Then again, it’s a little hard for the networks to lie about the number of viewers to advertisers, when it can be so precisely measured.) How about cars, with the now cheap LCD screens, receiving live TV via a standard car antenna for its backseat passengers … along with the premium channels (like HBO) that you may be already subscribing to at your home. That is already possible using current technology. In fact I saw something somewhat similar at CES this year … and guess what … it had a fee for even the free over-the-air channels.

There may be one, very tiny additional possibility … that some innovator will come up with a way to satisfy the antique copyright laws and still give us what we really want … even if the bulk of the consumers don’t know what that is yet. But that wouldn’t be a genuine fix, would it?

Change is coming at some point … even with all the issues I stated previously, technology simply can’t be held back indefinitely … when the resources begin to dry up from bilking the consumer, the dam will break and the resulting flood will change permanently how we interact with technology.


First, you have to sign this release …

When you think of all the cars have that have come and gone since the first three wheeled Benz (“snuck” out of the garage and driven by his wife and son) hit the road in 1885, it inevitably will bring to mind of building a list of the greatest, most valuable, most beautiful, etc. But the one car that’s on several of those lists, is the creation of Carroll Shelby, the Cobra. I won’t attempt to detail it’s storied history, that’s been “done” … rather this blog is more on the experience of owning one.

To begin with, it simply doesn’t drive like any other car … please don’t interpret this necessarily as a good thing. Cobra’s have a habit of confusing of the front of the car with the rear. Step on the gas at your own peril … be certain to have the car pointed in the general direction you want to go. Not that the car will actually go that way, but much like a ballerina or ice skater, it just gives you a point of reference when it starts to spin. It’s the only car I know of that is steered with the throttle and brakes … the steering wheel is actually used very little if you’re in a rush. This can be very disconcerting, when at 100mph, the wheels lose traction and start spinning furiously when the lash is applied.        Often, I get the question “how fast will it go?” Not having a death wish, I don’t really know. I’ve read the story of one particularly intrepid soul who was clocked in excess of 190mph on a public road in England … supposedly this item was debated in the House of Lords and resulted in speed limits on England’s then autobahn-like highways. Cobras certainly have the horsepower for over 200mph speeds, but the brick-like aerodynamics make this probably impossible without going airborne.

You can tell who are your true friends, when after confining them in the passenger’s seats with a five point racing harness so tight it restricts breathing, they still actually want to ride in the thing. Everyone always asks “why” when I hand them earplugs upon sitting down … those that decline, sincerely wish they hadn’t when I turn the key. When the oversized engine literally roars to life, it’s startling. OK, … slowly we pull out of the garage and head for the feeder road of the freeway as we’re going to need A LOT of space. Now, on the floor! With acceleration akin to jumping down an elevator shaft (you may actually get severe tunnel vision) attached to the worlds’ biggest paint shaker, and God-awful noise similar to having your head in a metal garbage can being struck with hammers during a category 5 hurricane, the Cobra devours road at such a ferocious pace that it simply can’t be understood, only experienced. I stopped consuming Corvettes at stop lights … with less horsepower and almost 1,500 pounds heavier than a Cobra, it’s pointless … all it does is waste expensive tires and inhale gas. And with a Cobra, that last item is always in short supply. At times, it dips below two miles per gallon … well, OK, most of the time. So all trips are taken with a mindful eye on where the gas stations are. When we get back, no one steps out over the scorchingly hot side exhausts, without being at least a little “shaken-up”, so to speak. They tell me that although it scared the absolute **** out of them, they knew they’d be “just fine” because I’d been driving it for so many years. That’s when I tell them about the old axiom about Cobras: “There are no drivers in Cobras, only passengers”. And about 50% of the time, I add how pleased I am that this time we wound up going the in correct direction too!

Carroll said that the name “Cobra” came to him in a dream … but, for the other racing car companies, it was more like the beginning of a nightmare. The racing success of Cobras amongst those “in the know” is formidable. In 1965, due to the extreme cantankerous nature of the Cobra at high speeds (over 150mph), Shelby decided to put on a roof. The result was the “Cobra Daytona Coupe”, the only American car to this very day, ever to win the FIA World’s Manufacturer’s Championship for GT cars, beating Europe’s best; Porsche, Ferrari, Jaguar, and Aston Martin.

So a ride in a Cobra, is seeing, hearing and feeling a World Champion … a pedigreed race car that just happens to be (barely) street legal. It’s also probably about the least street-friendly car in the country … no radio, A/C, windows, door handles, glove box, headrest, sound-deadening … no anything really … except a couple of seats, a huge engine and the biggest grin in town from whoever is lucky enough to sit in the driver’s seat. Cobra owners call it “Being bitten by the Snake”.


Awaking Epiphany

Epiphany … yes, that’s what is it was … an epiphany upon waking. I have to guess I’ve spent the last forty years as a certified geek … (and this is before the word “geek” was applied in the oddly admirable fashion that it is today) … and yet the thought that had never occurred to me before was: “how do you know if you are a geek”? Not a wannabe Best Buy shopper-style geek, … but a genuine, 190 proof, card-carrying, technoholic geek? I very reasonably concluded that everyone would like to claim to have a trace of geek in them; but “geekiness” can not be measured like an “old school” rotary volume knob, but more like binary code … either you are “1”, or you are not “0”. So there has to be a litmus test to wear the transistor-studded “Crown of Geek”. And as such, there must be a check list. Geekdom requires a “ten out of ten”.

#10) You run across a particularly interesting piece of technology, and your first thought is: Do I have the correct tools to take it apart?

#9) You find an interesting item that you have absolutely no use for, but buy it anyway to figure out a use for it.

#8) When you find out that your interesting item can’t be used effectively, you still won’t sell it or throw it out … especially after all the time you have invested in it.

#7) You finally realize that no computer monitor is big enough.

#6) You find that you save time and money by simply buying batteries by the case.

#5) You won’t share your favorite “underground” resource for cheap (and sometimes borderline illegal) techno items … like your 10th newest hand held laser almost powerful enough to bring down satellites.

#4) You worry your soldering iron doesn’t have the correct tips for your new project, … even if you don’t know what that new project is yet.

#3) You just don’t have time to read the instruction manuals.

#2) You actually know what a VOM is, and how to use it. And find it interesting!

#1) You wake up out of a sound sleep due to a nightmare of dropping your new iPhone and cracking the screen … then after awakening, suddenly realizing it has to be taken apart to be fixed, you feel better …


We’ve all had the “fun” of getting a new phone that mandates a wireless carrier change. Whether it was the first Motorola “flip phone” or the newest Blackberry, all the wireless companies since the very beginning have made the process as time consuming and expensive as possible. Since we’ve all had our own bad experiences and probably have disparaging opinions of each of these companies, I thought I’d point out the best experience I’d ever had … at an Apple store, no less.

Due to issues with her existing carrier, my spouse wanted an iPhone in the worst way. I have never been an Apple fanboy, but when the new 3Gs arrived in June, I was there when the door opened with all the characters typical of what most people think Apple owners are like. But, I noticed that several of the people there were obviously not the run of the mill Apple folk, but more like me. After a little discussion, I found that most wouldn’t own an Apple computer, and for these people the iPhone doesn’t seem to be identified as an Apple product, which obviously it is, but more of just a cool phone. My check out process on the first day of it’s release was tedious due to the crushing crowds and ironically, computer problems. In contrast, last night was utterly painless. Stepping into the store close to closing, she selected her iPhone, chose her wireless plan, transferred her existing phone number and walked out with a working phone … total time from my front door and back, was less than thirty-nine minutes! Opening the box for the first time, light emitted like a halo around the phone and trumpets were heard in the distance … OK, maybe not, but it should have. Once a diehard Blackberry user, that has very probably come to a permanent end after only a day with her shiny new iPhone. After seeing what it could do in a much, much more simplified way, she was hooked. I have to admit that the Blackberry is looking more like an electronic anachronism, than ever before. Much like someone who insists on using a typewriter, time has passed RIM by. While at their booth at CES, you could tell how far they were behind the times simply by the apps they were hawking. The Blackberry mother company “RIM”, was touting the apps as the “newest things”, and they probably were for Blackberry users … but stale news for iPhone users as they’ve been available for quite a time at the iTunes store. A year is forever in the tech world.

The number one complaint among the iPhone aficionados is distaste for ATT. Everyone loves the phones, but not the phone company … just like James Coburns’ character “Dr. Sidney Schaefer” in the “President’s Analyst” who pointed out that everyone hates the phone company. Even its stockholders! But in fairness, at least they waived the famously irratating “activation fee”.

In the very best tradition that all geeks can identify with, at 6:33am, the morning after she got her new iPhone, news broke of the next new iPhone. Possibly coming with dual cores, better camera, 4G capability, video chat, OLED screen and a removable battery ….. it promises that Steve Jobs can afford more black turtle neck shirts.


Last call

Last day of the show. The one tip you try to remember each year, is that the crowds are far thinner on the last day … so plan to visit the booths where the lines and crowds were simply too much to deal with on opening day. Despite the show being around a full 25% smaller than two years ago, it is still overwhelming to the newbie. And it’s very easy to get lost. There are actually four foldout maps, large enough to almost cover a king size bed and that’s just for the primary floors.


There were over 20,000 new times introduced at this show … mathematically, that’s trying to evaluate 5,000 new items a day. Needless to say, I may have missed a few. But I’m hoping I saw most of the ones who may influence our lives, and survive despite the economy, until next year.



I found my favorite affordable Chinese speaker company again. Far better sounding than you would imagine for the money, and simply amazing prices … provided your minimum order is a boxcar full. I’m always amazed what 250 bucks can buy, should you get lucky enough at the end of the show to get the samples. An equivalent at Best Buy would easily be $2000.00 or more.

In my rush to try to see the whole show, (which has never happened after trying for a decade) you occasionally miss the products that are probably not going to be seen again after the show. One that pops into mind right now is the iSmell … It’s your basic bedside clock/radio with a twist … when the alarm sounds, the clock begins emitting the smell of coffee. I wanted to ask more questions, but the person in the booth had the same look in his eyes as the zipper guy, so with blistered feet I escaped on sheer willpower alone.

In the extreme rear of one of the halls was an unexpected treat in one of the smallest booths at CES … a display that very literally appeared in the air in front of you. It was like something out of “Blade Runner”. Imagine watching a movie on your television … now take away the TV and you have the image “floating” off the ground. That’s exactly what it looked like. It was small and obviously a prototype … but this thing made the uber-expensive 3D TVs look ridiculous. No glasses or huge cabinets … It’s like the TV that “Area 51” would produce with alien technology. Should this thing ever get to mass production, it would instantly spell the end of the TV industry as we know it. I suspect the inventors will be bought out by some mega electronics company and the company closed, if not outright burned down with the inventors inside.


Sir, your credit card appears to be over your limit.

Today was fantasy day. With each new room at the more exclusive “high-end” show, an audiophile geeks dream was fulfilled. This is a place where some of the most extreme electronics available to “select” consumers are demonstrated. To give one shining example, we went into an amplifier manufacturers sound demo room. In front of us were two monaural tube block amps that obviously were verrrry pricy, judging from their appearance. It wasn’t until I had a look at the dealer price sheet, to learn just what the word “expensive” actually meant. Their signature “reference” amps were $350,000 … each.

To put this in perspective, most advanced Audio/Video systems are 7.1 capable … That means seven channels and a subwoofer. And of course, for the absolute best audio reproduction, the front speakers should bi/tri amped. (two to three amps per speaker) Here’s the math for the already too shell-shocked: (tri-amped version) 13 x $350,000.00 = $4,550,000.00 … without tax! This is with no preamp, no SACD/DVD player, no turntable or cartridge, no turntable tube preamp, no tuner, no digital music server, no digital time correction device, no speakers or subwoofer and no video projector, lens or screen. And for amps of this nature you would have to have an electrician install special wiring, because no house is capable of that much amperage draw. Not to mention some type of line conditioning to filter out noise and give some type of voltage over/under protection. The special wires (such as shielded oxygen-free, silver super fine multistrand, multibraid with “gold over silver” connectors) literally cost as much as a new BMW … with a lot of options! Speakers that go with this caliber of equipment easily run into the six figures per pair. An acceptable turntable and cartridge well over $30,000.00, and so on. The video projector and its anamorphic lens, far more than $100,000.00. And bear this in mind as well, we are talking about sound and video, for just one room.

And next year, it’s all obsolete.

In terms of sheer electronic high-end weirdness, this was a tame CES compared to some of the past “breakthrough” items. One of my favs was a speaker that required tanks of nitrogen to control a hot-as-the-sun carbon-arc to provide a pulsating, gaseous envelope to produce sound. I never got to hear it actually run and I’ve never personally known anyone who has either. But you can always find someone at the show that remembers it. Which is just as well … I figure if you weren’t blinded by the carbon-arc, you would be suffocated by the nitrogen. I don’t even think the extreme car audio crazies would be brave enough to use this thing at a volume contest. But I’d be glad to watch the results on YouTube! And I believe others would as well … Hollywood has always known that any good movie has lots of explosions.

Another “break-through” design I saw a couple of years ago, was an amplifier that ran so hot that it couldn’t be exposed to air … yes, you read that right … the core of the design had to be completely submerged in a high temperature, non-conductive synthetic oil solution. Sitting and watching the seething, churning red-hot solution in its pyrex-like container, trying to cool this ferocious amp from five feet away is still burned into my memory. You know how a blacktop country road during the Texas summer has that “wavy” look? Well, seeing that effect in a small room, in such quantity from that thing, demands respect. Should the container have fractured, releasing the oil and the main power tube been exposed to air, I suspect a Chernobyl-like effect wouldn’t be too far behind.

Incentivizing pain

I’m reading a non-fiction book that has me fascinated: Freakonomics. Basically, by using economics in an odd way, it details the way life changes in sometimes hugely unexpected ways, from seemingly unrelated events. One of the truisms in said book, is how people are unpredictable when incentives to do (or not to do) something are applied. It states that people, by nature, are motivated universally by incentives. It may not be of any concern as to whether or not others may consider that “incentive” trivial, so long as the “beneficiary” deems it worth the effort for the reward.

I saw that theory put to the acid test today. For a baseball cap with the company logo on its brow, the participant willingly allowed himself (only males applied) to be “tasered”. Now you’d think that after the first person permitted himself to be “electrically stimulated into rigidity”, in front of a live audience, that the pool of volunteers would pretty much instantly dry up. But in reality, there was a constant stream of folks who deemed that hat more important than possibly soiling their pants in front of a large crowd. And trust me on this, from the guttural noises emitted once a person is hit with an undulating dose of amperage that this thing can produce, smart money says this must be as much fun as a filling a cavity without anesthesia. For a Taser is nothing like a stun gun. A stun gun only produces localized pain. The Taser uses a “patented neuromuscular incapacitation (NMI) technology” that varies the waveform of the pulses to prevent you from becoming too cozy with mild electrocution. …… And all of this, for a hat and a keychain.

Being the level-headed geek that I am, I decided than rather than to be on the business end of this compliance enhancer, I wanted to actually fire it. So I went into the specially constructed Lexan booth on the second floor of the display for that very purpose. It was then I realized that my accompanying friend, possibly concerned that I may without permission, decide to involve him in this learning exercise, had deferred to another booth posthaste. He needn’t haven’t worried as cocktail time was still hours away. The rep explained how it worked and fired, which took less than a minute. I also discovered how excitable some reps become after being locked in a small enclosed space, with a complete stranger waving about a fully charged, loaded and “un-safetied” Taser with seeming casual abandon. I can only guess my sense of humor was lost on him.

A light touch of the electric firing button, BANG!!, and two stainless steel barbed probes (manufactured by the Eagle Claw fishhook company , no less) shot out at over a hundred miles an hour propelled by compressed nitrogen to the fifteen foot range limit of the civilian model, into the chest of my paper assailant. Unfortunately, so did the replaceable cartridge that contained the wires that connected the Taser to its electrical probes. So, if this was a life or death situation and your Taser just misfired, I’d have to imagine your attacker now has absolutely no sense of irony. I also bet that since no special license/training is required for a Taser, the money you saved by not going to concealed handgun carry classes isn’t quite the bargain it once was.

To be completely serious here … as serious a two geeks discussing who was the best captain of the Enterprise. (it was Shatner, of course) I can absolutely appreciate the notion of a non-lethal deterrent, but only if it’s 99.9999% dependable and effective. (Many high quality pistols have the ability to fire thousands of rounds without a single misfire.) And in many police actions you have other officers to “back you up” with firepower should this method fail at the last second. If this was a (no pun intended) one-shot affair, you would finish in second place … which in a violent attack, second place is the same as last place.

Virtual whipping boy

Gaming has become such a huge market that CES has established a separate area for it. I don’t know if the segregation was for the benefit of the gaming industry or for CES itself. As I’m betting CES didn’t know what kind of crowd it might attract, and saw the parking lot as a safe out-of-the-way place to stash it and see what transpired. Regardless, it appears gaming and the billion dollar industry it feeds is here to stay.

While at the Creative booth I met the world’s premier gamer, Johnathan Wendel, who goes by the screen name of “Fatal1ty“.  He’s won about a half a million dollars in prize money and millions more from business partnerships with Universal Abit, Creative Labs, OC Labs and XFX who produce motherboards, video cards, mice, headphones and other computer devices, and even has a clothing line … all under his gaming handle. He’s the only person to have won world championships in five different games. So you’d think that either he’d be the stereotyped gaming freak (over-weight, introverted and pale) or have such an over-the-top ego as to be an insufferable bore. If those would be your first guesses, you couldn’t be more wrong. I found him to be outgoing, extremely polite and patient. The NBA, NFL and MLB should use him as an example of how a top athlete should behave. I use the term “athlete” as he believes you must be be physically fit to compete at the highest levels and succeed. Who would have guessed? After watching how he dealt with all types of fans, both in groups and in between his skill demonstrations, he was a representative any company would love.  A proverbial gaming “Tiger Woods” in his prime, without all the personal baggage and typical pro athlete attitude.

For his personal appearances, Creative set up a stage with matching computers and huge screens for anyone to test their skills against him. Before attempt that feat, you spun a wheel to determine how he would play you (full tilt – no handicap, using a cardboard sheet with only a two inch square cut out in the center covering the monitor, or a bizarre contraption that looked like a board with a keyboard and mouse pad nailed to it, a-la-guitar style).

Since I play well enough to speak of myself in the third person, using my gaming moniker … enough to really disturb my wife … I raised my hand. I spun the wheel and got lucky … he had to put the cardboard in front of his monitor and could only look through a two inch square hole. If I were to “kill” him just once (I didn’t have to win, just a single “kill”) there were very substantial prizes.  The game was an old fav of mine … Quake. I felt that there was a real possibility of me going home with the prize of an expensive new video card … despite the fact he was the current world champ. The bell rings and it takes him almost two minutes to get me twice … I came sooooo close at one point, and it was at that point I felt as though a different person had just gotten into his seat. He got down to business … I couldn’t stay alive for more than three seconds (sometimes much, much less). He had been toying with me the whole time … I was shocked at just how good he really was. If this had occurred while playing online, I’d just “know” that the guy was cheating. There could have been five of me playing and it wouldn’t have made the tiniest difference. As I walked off stage after being crushed, I was handed a “Fatality” dog tag … I didn’t even read what it said as I assumed it probably stated in print that I was a “noob” (a terrible insult in the gaming world).

Over the next three days probably hundreds of people, including some gaming pros, went up onto that stage and left as empty handed as I did. Imagine sparring with Ali, pitching to the “Babe” or chalking it up with “Fats” … I played the best gamer on the planet and found that some people are just gifted beyond what anyone could comprehend until experienced.

Yes, I still talk about myself in the third person around wife, after slapping down all my opponents in “Halo”, who after losing, accuse me of cheating. But it’s tongue-in-cheek now.

Only if they had any idea of what a truly exceptional player could do … they’d probably stop playing all together.

A few years ago I had the unique and somewhat terrifying experience of a full blown cattle stampede at my parents’ farm. I learned quickly that I actually could balance my six-foot plus frame on the top strand of a barbed wire fence to avoid become a footnote in the “Darwin Awards”. The first day rush to enter CES at opening time can be just as pleasurable. Definitely not for the faint or squeamish. My nephew tells me about “crowd surfing” at concerts, and therefore, I must conclude this qualifies as “crowd undertow”.

Wandering into the huge Panasonic booth I find the world’s largest (and certainly the most energy hungry) TV on the planet. Using a “to be released at some point in the future” technology, and offering more than double the resolution of even the very best plasma set, the now defunct Pioneer Kuro Elite. This Godzilla of TV’s offered an image that reminded me of something straight out of the movie “V”. All it needed was a close-up of a screaming, spitting John Hurt to frighten the bejeebers out of you.

Truly a huge picture, absolutely flawless image quality and weight something north of a Volvo station wagon. I walked (pushed through) away from the huge, very much unyielding crowd and wondered if radiation badges were in order.

On to the first of the much hyped 3D sets for an extended viewing session. The glasses you must wear aren’t anything like the cardboard red/blue lensed versions you probably remember. These new shutter glasses cost over a hundred bucks, and have batteries that must be recharged or replaced to power them as they are actually using the same basic technology as a LCD TV. Each of your eyes are independently blacked out for a fraction of a second by a syncing signal sent by the TV. This trick of nature fakes the 3D effect to various degrees of success. Watching a video of the Grand Canyon, the image ranged from impressive to distracting. At times it too closely mimicked a 1950’s Vincent Price 3D horror flick with the image moving from the background, to seemingly into my lap, in about a millisecond. Other times the image looked flat. Other times fantastic … a little balance would have been appreciated.

I can see the possible advantages of these cutting edge sets, but in my opinion, they’re more like bleeding edge sets. The technology clearly isn’t ready for prime time. After using the shutter glasses for more than a few minutes, my eyes began to be in distress. This effect is more or less pronounced on everyone who uses them, but there nonetheless. I’d give Panasonic an “A-“ for effort and a “D” for execution. Glasses just to watch TV? I hate having to wear my prescription glasses, why would I put on a heavy/hot pair for fun? My spouse complains now about the double-digit number of remote controls in the family media room. And now we have to keep up with one more item to be lost. What were they thinking? Had the engineers asked their wives about this viewing penalty and demonstrated it to them, we wouldn’t even be looking at prototypes of this inferior system … back to the drawing board.

Ok, now after changing hotels, I believe I’ve found the hotel that Borat would have loved. Only in America could you find a hotel with a sandwich vending machine on each floor. Never let it be said that Vegas doesn’t have classy hotels … why go out to Emeril’s, when a tuna fish sandwich is only quarters away.

You’d think that the zipper booth was the oddest thing I’ve seen today … and you’d be wrong. From guys with 5 o’clock shadows in a dress and high heels, to probably the most bizzare thing I may have ever have seen at CES, Vegas never fails to impress. Imagine a baseball cap with a bill four times longer than you have ever seen on the MTV video awards, with a sheet of black cloth four inches long hanging from the entire perimeter of the bill. Then add a clip at the end of that bill, for a iPhone. And in between you eyes and the Apple moneymaker is a fresnel lens, for that “big screen” effect. I had to keep looking around for a camera to see if this was a joke. All your for only $19.95! Only these folks were dead serious about this “revolutionary device”. Never let it be said that entrepreneurship is dead in the USA.

Zipper Hell, part 2

Once at the Chinese zipper booth there was a great deal of very loud and animated conversation in their native tongue amongst the guys and quite a bit of gesturing. The lone woman there didn’t look particularly happy about something.

Having traveled in the far east, I understand native formalities that may accompany visitors to our shores. So, as that veteran of Asian travel I knew that I might be given a gift of an experimental zipper and would have to present a gift of equal or better value to the folks at the zipper booth. So with a well prepared bow I presented my host with the brochures and the phone condom I had just received from the blonde Swedish bikini-clad girl splashing around in the hot tub directly across the aisle from the zipper booth. They were well as well received as I’d hoped.

Well, I couldn’t identify my guy (insert joke here at your own peril) from last year at the Chinese zipper booth. I’m fairly certain his closest associates killed him in mid-sentence about the benefits of solid brass teeth versus plastic in cold weather, high-stress repeat usage. But the remote controlled zipper has made its debut. You should have seen the look on the faces of booth folks when I asked what radio frequency the remote operated on. Why, they asked … Then I explained I was a remote control hacker. Suddenly, I wasn’t welcome. I bet they have to go back to the drawing board and build in digital encryption to safeguard the worlds’ trousers.

As a geek, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t imagine a use for the zipper that had built-in headphones … and no, this isn’t a joke. I stood there for a while trying to imagine the reason for this invention. And even after a few drinks to loosen my thoughts this evening … I still can’t.      But you can’t stop progress.

Zipper Hell

Fully tagged and id’d by the folks at CES, I wear the much coveted geek badge of honor … a CES show pass that hangs around my neck like a lucky talisman. So do about another 200,000 people, but mine is special … it’s mine. It’s mine to swipe through the new handheld machines at almost every booth, guaranteeing me a year of full inbox garbage.

Last year I was inundated by a Chinese zipper company. It’s not that I have any great penchant for zippers; it’s rather that I made the mistake of eye contact with one their folks in their booth. Rushing to greet me and place an armful of brochures in my already overstuffed backpack, he was just too polite and gracious to say “no” to.

At first, my conversation with the rep was very normal. Then the reality hit that this guy is obsessed with zippers. Now, you want a doctor to be absorbed into his work. You want your plumber to be fully versed in pipes and valves. But this was creepy … He’s not going onto my Christmas party list.              I looked directly at him and thought “what does his wife say to him to get him to shut up?”. It was at that moment that another reality hit me. I do exactly the same thing, blabbing on about electronics and cars at home to my wife. In an act of love, she listens to my rambling. She may not have a clue about what I’m talking about, but she listens. I doubt the wife of the guy from China finds zippers nearly as much fun to discuss.

Tomorrow when I see the zipper booth, I’m actually going to stop and see what breakthrough (no pun intended) has occurred in the world of zippers. This is CES after all …



Gordon Biersch’s finest brings in the 2010 CES a day before the big show. I’m going typically geeky, with a live broadcast for the show using nothing more than an iPhone and ATT’s creaky 3G system. I expect the viewing crowd to be dutifully bored at the prospect of me droning on about some gizmo that absolutely no one has any idea of what it does, beyond myself and the inventor. That of course doesn’t mean it won’t be significant somewhere down the road.

3D is supposed to be the next big thing … that is of course, if wearing giant shutter glasses has any appeal to the masses. I just can’t see having to wear a another pair of glasses over my existing glasses just to gawk at the news. Oh yeah, I can can see the prospect such as it is with sports and movies … but it also brings to mind cooking dinner and the latest blurb on the news about the “dog lost on the ice flow” and rushing to put on your shutter glasses. There is a divide there that will never be overcome unless the glasses don’t become part of the equation. But in fairness, I will ignore the same old groans you hear that are typical with any radically new tech item: “too expensive, too bulky, not enough to watch, etc.”  and try to have an open mind tomorrow.  I heard the same thing when DVD made its’ first introduction seemingly a century ago. Going into the VHS rental store           I would point out to my very patient, but bored wife, that this was all changing. Well, change is upon us again, albeit a different form.

The first 3D sets I saw a few years ago ranged from spectacular (even from today’s perspective) to simply nothing more than a headache producing mess. I can only hope that someone at Sony (and other manufacturers) understand this as well. Tomorrow, in conversations that will certainly occur, we’ll find out.

CES has always been nothing less than a road map for the future of everyone. I’m always amazed that beyond the geeky crowd, no one seems to pay too much attention. But a year or three down the road, your fellow cubicle prisoner will tell you about a new must-have tech item that surprises you … but we saw it first, here in Vegas … at CES. A lot has changed since the first CES in June of 67′.

But one thing remains constant, this is the only place on the planet where you can see tomorrow.