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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”.


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.


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?


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.


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 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 its’ 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 …


Does it come in black?

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 AT&T. 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 irritating “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.

3D … The “Not Ready for Prime Time” set

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.

Contest to be odd

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 …

Calm before the storm


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 AT&T’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.