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CES 2015: Day 3 Report

January 8, 2015 Comments off

It. Is. Finished. I survived CES 2015 and walked the vast majority of the expo show floors. If you haven’t read my other posts about this year’s Consumer Electronics Expo, check them out…

Since on the last 2 days I meandered through Tech East at the Las Vegas Convention Center, today was Tech West at the Sands Expo Center and the Venetian. Major themes at Tech West include health and fitness tech, education/kids, 3D printing, and wearable’s. Lots of brands I recognized where there, as well as some really cool startups. Here are some of the products and companies that caught my attention.

DSCN0718 First off is the Girl Scouts of America – specifically their cookies, and not the browser tracking kind either. No free samples, but they were showing off their new online ordering system. Most importantly I registered to win a year’s supply of cookies … though I’m not sure 52 boxes of Thin Mints would quite be enough. 😉 I didn’t order any cookies yet, since I don’t know my local troop number to credit the purchase to (or get the delivery from), but I’m sure I’ll be placing an order REAL soon.

Next up was a startup called Switftpoint, and their modern take on theDSCN0720 computer mouse called the Swiftpoint GT. Retailing for $129, this sweet little device naturally fits in your fingers and prompts a hand posture that’s similar to holding a pen, with your hand more vertical than the traditional mouse orientation where your palm is flatter to the surface of the desk. I was skeptical before picking it up, but was pleasantly surprised at how nice the device felt. Now you’re not  paying that much for a mouse just because it’s small, you’re paying because it allows you to apply touch DSCN0721gestures to any computer, regardless of whether you have a touchscreen or not. Simply tilt the device slightly on it’s right edge and you invoke gesture mode, allowing you to scroll the screen and trigger swipe-in/up features in your OS and apps. The device runs on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, and the rechargeable battery (charges from the USB dongle/dock) lets you run for about a month. Check out their website for a video of how it works. They were offering a purchase onsite discount of $30, but I couldn’t quite talk myself into puling the trigger. That’s the Swiftpoint GT in my hand in the picture on the right. It’s right-handed only right now, though someone else did ask about a lefty model while I was standing there. Sounds like they’re wanting to get off the ground a bit more before they invest in “designing” a left-handed version (what’s to design? just flip/mirror the design in your app!).

DSCN0723 Next up to catch my eye was a set of toys to help teach kids about shapes, counting, and words. Tiggly combines 3 interactive apps plus shape kits that interact with those apps. For example, if the Chef asks for 4 strawberries your child can put down the “3” shape (the app senses it via your iPad or Android tablet’s touchscreen) and then the “1” shape. The shapes themselves simply conduct your bioelectric current to the screen – no batteries required. Think of the shapes as really fancy passive tablet pens. I could see our 3 year old at home really having fun with this, so I’m sure we’ll be getting these at home soon. The counting and shapes toys are available now, with the vowel toys coming this Spring. All the apps are free, so you’re just buying the toys. Counting toys work with 3 different apps: Tiggly Chef uses the counting toys to help make the Chef’s recipies, Tiggly Addventure teaches basic math like matching and counting. The shape toys work with Tiggly Safari, Tiggly Stamp, and Tiggly Draw.

There were a few vendors going after the kid market from a different angle, specifically through their parents who want to track where the heck their kids are. DSCN0742 HereO is a cool-looking watch designed for kids 3+ to wear. It has GPS and a GSM (cellular) radio to ping back to the service the location of your child. HereO’s service runs $5/month per device and includes a smartphone app so you can receive alerts when you child gets home from school or leaves the neighborhood (you can set up both safe zones where the watch stops pinging location (say at home or at school) as well as boundaries it shouldn’t leave. You can of course also see where they are on a map via their app. They’re also working on the ability to send voice messages to (and from?) the watch. Devices and services anyone? 🙂 The watches come in several different colors and are downscaled to not be too bulky on your little one.

Paxie ditches the watch face but grows substantially in size and features, letting you track not only your rug rat’s location out in the hood, but can also tell you how cold it is out side so you know to make sure they put their jacket back on and keeps track of their heartrate and step/activity metrics. The band comes with multiple wraps so you can change the look of the device to match their outfit, which is critical for the discerning 4 year old.

DSCN0760 There was even a baby tracker for paranoid parents who get scared during nap time. No GPS on this device though, so if baby crawls away from your neighborhood you’re screwed. 😉

DSCN0727 If you want to turn the tables, you can have technology become your mother for you by using the Mother system. Effectively this is a combination of special tag devices that are sensed by the central control unity (i.e. Mother), who relays the data gathered to a series of apps. You can use this to remind yourself to take your pills (and where you left them), get a notice when your kids get home from school (just leave a tag in their backpack), know how warm each room in the house is, and how well you brush your teeth. I don’t get it, but the booth was packed and this won lots of awards at CES last year. Now where did I put my pills…?
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If you want to teach your kids coding basics with markers you can do that too with the Ozobot. This booth had a lot of interest – and it was a great little toy. Just draw a path with a marker on a clean sheet of paper and the little robot follows it. Use different colors to make the device do different things, from changing colors on the LED light to turning directions, spinning around, etc. At intersections it randomly decides which way to go. The company has instruction sheets online, as well as premade sheets you can print out and use. Even adults can use it to drive a drinking game. 😉 The robot will also work on tablets (they’ve got an app to make it easy, but any drawing app should do). Might have to add this one to family game night.
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DSCN0726 I saw a few different variations on this theme as well – an audio headset that doesn’t actually sit in your ears. Instead these products sit right in front of your ears, but still produce vibrations that your ears can sense and translate into your favorite tunes. This is actually a great idea and I could see this being helpful for people who want to listen to music while out running or biking but still be able to hear what’s going on in their environment.
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DSCN0732 If you want to freak out the cat, or perhaps replace your cat with something that doesn’t vomit hairballs all over the house, might I suggest WowWee’s Roboraptor. This little guy reacts to it’s surroundings, including your voice commands or an app on your smartphone. You can play fetch, scare it and have it shake in fear, have it chase you around the house, or go after the cat. Looks like fun … but not for the cat.

Speaking of fun, the Panono Ball Camera looks really cool, even if the DSCN0739name does make me giggle like a 12 year old. It’s a softball-sized sphere with 36 cameras embedded inside that automatically takes a snapshot of every angle at the apex of your throw above the action. What’s captured my attention was their app that lets you view the resulting 108 megapixel image on a tablet leveraging the tablet’s accelerometers to pivot around the image from the point of view of the ball. Want to look to the right, turn yourself to the right. It was really addicting to play with in their iPad at the booth. There’s also a web viewer. Their goal is to let you view a low-res version of a pic from your tablet to make sure it’s a good shot, then upload the full versions via USB later, rather then waiting for the full image to download over Bluetooth. Storage is 400 pics. I joked about not catching the ball … the engineer suggested that it would really be best if it was caught. 😉 Shipping this coming Spring, and there’s an optional tripod mount if throwing a $550 device up in the air sounds like a bad idea. They’ve got some samples up on their website.

I was impressed by the smart credit card solutions displayed by Dynamics. DSCN0737Essentially they have a programmable credit card format that can be custom-tailored to your needs. One model I got to play with is a pin-secured card that won’t work unless you put the right code in, and only then does it show the whole cc number and unlock the magnetic swipe *and* the contact chip *and* NFC tap-to-pay capability. There’s another option to have a dynamic CVC2 code generated for each online transaction. Pretty spiffy. Good demo video on their website.

DSCN0758 One of the little booths I stopped by had a prototype of a USB3-based network switch that allows TCP/IP Ethernet connectivity over USB3. $200 let’s you connect 2 machines at 5Gbps – not too shabby! Check out www.devellab.com if you’re interested. They won a CES Innovation Award and are looking to launch via a Kickstarter round in the next month or two. Nice guys too – they talked me up about how awesome and easy the Windows platform was to work with to develop their solution on, and their demo was with a Surface Pro 3!

For my mom I took a quick spin around Brother’s booth to see some really cool-looking fabric/sewing devices for cutting intricate patterns and embroidery. My mom has a long-arm quilting machine permanently sitting in my folks’ formal dining room, so it’s a good thing she wasn’t here with me – she’d still be talking the Brother reps ears off. 😉 And I just thought they made little label printers…
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DSCN0801Next up was another gadget that will likely make it home to my house at some point in the near future – the Grillbot. It’s effectively a Roomba for your grill. Just sent it for the desired run time (10, 20, 30 minutes), close the lid, and go play with the kids – or do whatever’s next on your chore list. 

Another really cool tech that drew me in was Quell. This is a medical device that, in CNet’s words, “hacks your brain to relieve chronic pain.” I had a partial left knee replacement 2 years ago, and while it’s way better than any point in the last 2 decades, I still get a lot of aches and pains in the joint – especially as I get more active now that my knee actually works well. The Quell pain relief system is based on TENS therapy that uses small electric currents to trigger a blocking response to pain wherever it originates from in your body. It’s going to be available this Spring, is FDA approved, and should retail for about $250. Color me VERY interested.
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One of the biggest trends at Tech West was 3D printing and scanning. I’ve head of MakerBot before, but that was about it. This is definitely a big trend for everything from home decor to DIY toys to industrial design/prototyping/production. There were even solutions to allow printing circuit paths in your creation, as demonstrated by a 3D printed drone. Effectively all of these 3D printers do the same thing – take plastic filament of various colors and textures (think of big weed whacker string spools) and then melt/extrude the substance into a pre-defined design. Some of the creations were simply amazing, including a full band (drums, guitar, and bass), a recliner, and lots more. There’s even edible medium that can be used to create deserts, cakes, etc. YUM! Here’s some of what I saw…
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Other cool pics from the show floor:
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No celebrity sightings today, but there was this guy who could hold his breath for along time. Didn’t stay to see how long, but saw him meditating to slow down his heart rate, etc. Tech tie-in was that they stuck a oxygen and heart rate monitor on his finger. 😉DSCN0817

I’ll leave you tonight with a cool display wall for the OoVoo booth (they do IM, voice, video conferencing – evidently that’s a thing again. 😉 Not sure what this display had to do with the product, but the tech itself was mesmerizing to watch.

 

Daily miles walked: 6.1

Cumulative CES miles walked: 28.1 (more coming later tonight for dinner and the Beatles LOVE show over at the Mirage)

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CES 2015: Day 2 Report

January 7, 2015 1 comment

If you’re just joining us, this is the 4th post in my CES 2015 series. You can see the others here…

    Today my goal was to complete my walkthrough of CES 2015’s Tech East at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Westgate. Yesterday I got through the South and Central Halls at LVCC, so today my goal was to hit the North Hall and the booths at Westgate … after I hit the BMW experience in the South parking lot.

The show floors opened an hour earlier today at 9a, but since I’ve decided that I’m swearing off alarm clocks for this trip I headed down to the LV Monorail station at my hotel about 9:15. The line this morning was WAY longer than yesterday morning, but I was on my way after about 20 minutes. Not too shabby, and way faster than the queues for the bus shuttles or taxies.

DSCN0682 Unlike yesterday, I knew exactly where I was going when I got to the convention center and made a B-line straight for the gigantic BMW tent next to the monorail station. And unlike the monorail, there really wasn’t a huge line. They had i8 concepts to show off and some pretty spiffy tech to help you manage your car and plan your day. Ze Germans were friendly and efficient in their demos and their queue management.

In no time I had signed up for a test drive and was escorted out to the lot where I got a briefing on BMW’s new i3 all-electric hatchback. I even got a demo of autonomous driving integration where you could summon your car to you with a smartwatch. This thing is like a mini Bat Mobile!

20150107_181928140_iOS The vehicle I was escorted to was a copper/brown i3 (not shown – obviously – I trust you to find a picture online if you’re really interested). I’m a big guy; it’s a small car. I was prepared for the worst. I remembered to at least slide the driver’s seat all the way back before trying to sit down, but once I did get it in I was shocked to discover I had plenty of room. I even scooted the seat up just a tad. The seat was comfortable and supportive in the right ways, and didn’t pinch my sides like some car brands like to do (I’m looking at you, Subaru). I wouldn’t want to sit in the i3 for several hours on a road trip, but then again that’s not the target for this car.

The vehicle is 100% electric – no gas engine for recharging or hybrid mode. You plug this puppy in and it provides ~80 miles of range on a full charge. You can charge it from a regular wall outlet or from a high-powered charging station. I’ve got a ~25 mile one-way commute so in theory I would do fine on my regular daily commutes. Days when I need to make multiple trips for kids’ activities or multiple services at church would be a stretch and would require making sure I had an outlet handy mid-day to top off. An annoyance, but hey – I’m more than happy to have Microsoft pay to charge my car while it’s in the parking deck. 😉 Note, according to BMW’s website there is an extended range model that gives you 150 miles. If I was buying one I’d spring for that one ($46K base versus $41K base MSRP).

20150107_175442604_iOS Unlike the original Prius, which confused me so much when I first got one as a rental down at LAX that I had to search the Hertz lot for an attendant to tell me how to start the damn car, the i3’s interface is very intuitive. A simple start/stop button and gear selector sits on the right-stalk area of the wheel column. The wheel itself is nice and open so visibility and accessibility to these critical controls is not a problem. The navigation interface is beautiful, as is the center display. The rest of the dash is minimalistic but smartly designed, made of composite and recycled materials.

20150107_180133652_iOS The whole care is actually made of composites and recycled stuff. The car feels properly firm and stiff when driven, but even with the batteries it weighs just 2700 pounds according to Jeff, my helpful BMW minder. The drive train also makes heavy use of regenerative braking to return as much kinetic energy into stored go-juice as it possibly can. I used to drive Ford’s Fusion Hybrid, which also used regenerative braking – but only when you actually pressed the brake pedal. With the i3 braking happens as soon as you take your foot off the gas. It’s noticeable and requires you to slightly modify your driving style to get used to it (i.e. keep your foot on the “gas” just a little bit if you want to coast). The cool thing is, though, that when you do lift off the go pedal the brake lights go on, so it’s not like you’re surprising the car behind you. In the stop-and-go traffic in the loop they let me drive around the LVCC complex on city streets I found myself rarely needing to actually step on the brake pedal.

I also found myself leaving significant distance between myself and the car ahead so I could drop the hammer on the i3’s powerhouse and see what happens. What happens is an instant response that throws you back in your seat. I didn’t have enough open road to go too fast, and to be sure we’re not talking about M-series acceleration, but it was FUN! As I told my wife, she’d love it – but probably nuke the battery after just a few miles. She loves putting her vehicle to the paces. I enjoyed being let loose with the car on my own and not having be chatted up by anyone. I guess BMW figures there’s not much risk of anyone getting too far with limited range. 🙂

If you want some more info on the i3 here’s a great CNET article from here CES 2015 entitled “I tried and failed to crash a BMW i3 at CES”.

DSCN0680 After the drive I checked out BMW’s demo tent of their new Laserlight headlight system. Using friggin’ laser beams and OLED lights on a M4 concept vehicle, plus a fancy 3-sided projection space and a spinning platform for the car, BMW demonstrated how the Laserlight system automatically enables a high-beam mode once the vehicle reaches 45 mph (and it’s dark out, of course) that extends visibility out to nearly 2000 feet (600 meters for ze Germans in the audience). My first reaction was “I can’t wait to get blinded by that”, but then they demonstrated how the vehicle senses cars ahead and oncoming and dynamically reshapes the headlight beams to NOT blast your fellow drives off the road. COOL! It can also sense animals or pedestrians on the side of the road and “highlight” them so you know they’re there, and they know you can see them. There are a few other really nifty forward-looking features up front, and they spent some time to show off fancy OLED brake and turn signal units in the rear, making them dance and animate. Eh – that one seemed more gimmicky to me, but whatever. I’m sure some will love it, assuming the DOT approves it. For more info on the light demo read this.

Disclaimer – I got a free gift after the i3 test drive; an i8 concept wireless mouse. I would have written all this without it, but I want to be open about the “kick back” – even if the design isn’t quite ergonomic. 😉

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Okay – BMW was cool, but there’s lots more to see, so let’s go…

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I have to call out the awesome traffic managers at LVCC. They put up with lots of stupid and angry drivers, and crazy amounts of pedestrians trying to get to the show from the monorail station. The line of the day goes to one of that crew after one driver decided to not proceed when directed and instead drop someone off in the middle of a driving lane. She decided to let pedestrians go instead and yelled at the driver, “No you have to wait … FOREVER.” The crowd cheered.

The North Hall was just as awesome as the Central hall. I wish I’d done North/Central on the first day rather than running through all of the South Hall. While the North Hall did have a ton if cases and connectors and battery chargers, etc. the booths were WAY nicer and the exhibitors much more interested in talking to people, etc. This was the CES experience I had in my mind (in combination with the big names from the Central Hall).

A few products really caught my eye. Among them was the WeeGo JS6 – a portable backup battery/charger that’s about the size of your smartphone, and doesn’t weigh too much more either. But that small package packs a bug punch. Not only does this 6000 mAh battery pack let you charge your phone or tablet a few times, but it can also JUMP START YOUR CAR. Woah. They’re available already – check out Amazon for this one and it’s big brothers.

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I got suckered into the Woosh! screen cleaner booth as well – who can pass up a free cleaning of your phone? A quick spritz and wipe and not only was my phone’s screen clean and disinfected (cool!), but it also had a thin coating of anti-static and anti-fingerprint goodness on it that made the screen not just easier to read throughout the day, but honestly my finger slid on my iPhone’s glass way easier. I’m seriously considering getting a kit from Amazon. Good on phones, tablets, laptops, TVs, glasses, whatever; and it’s non-toxic and ammonia-free so you can feel good about hugging a tree too.

The North Hall also was home to several auto manufacturers and automobile component suppliers looking to sell to both the aftermarket customizers and the big boys themselves. Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Ford, VW, Hyundai, and Chevrolet were among the big names, and of course all the speaker companies were luring people to their booths with modified cars and motorcycles.

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Yes, that’s a classic mid-60’s Cadillac with a modern V engine dropped in. 🙂

I spent some quality time with Ford checking out their new offerings and giving feedback (PLEASE bring the globally-offered diesel engine option to the North American market Edge SUV!). Ford was pushing their new Sync 3 platform hard, which is great – I like in-car tech. Unfortunately Ford decided to move away from the Microsoft platform even though, in my personal opinion, the Sync 2’s issues were largely due to Ford’s decision to outsource the UI layer to a 3rd party (*cough* Sony *cough*). The new platform has WAY better hardware powering it and seems really snappy and intuitive. It allows you to pinch-zoom and swipe on maps and control apps on your smartphone, something Ford has been promising for quite some time. I talked to someone from the app sync team and he was lauding how they’ve open sourced their API and components to hopefully create a standard platform that developers can leverage across multiple auto platforms. I don’t see this being successful in the light of Apple’s new Car Play and similar tech coming on the Android platform too, so hopefully Ford will quickly work to support those technologies.

I left Ford with a good parting shot when the app sync guy was trying to say that the Microsoft OS was the core problem because it was too “full featured” and not optimized. I interjected a quip that Sony’s shitty UI layer certainly didn’t help either. He couldn’t refute that. I felt better.

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I headed over to Westgate but discovered it was really just international vendors selling to international markets. If you thought the edges of the South Hall were the same thing over and over with uninterested booth attendants, the Westgate sections took that to the next level. I did a quick scan but decided to bail after about 10 minutes.

 

Cool pic of the day … I need one of these for the office.

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Celebrity sighting of the day: Nick Cannon. Evidently he’s this years Entertainment Ambassador to CES, whatever that means. Nice suit. I had no idea who he was, and many others were in the same boat. I sent a pic to someone who told me. I inquired why he’s so special, the response was priceless: “He’s like the black Ryan Seacrest.” Got it.

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Mission accomplished for the day I decided to head out a bit early and take a bit of an afternoon break on the High Roller, the world’s tallest observation wheel. It brings you to a respectable 550 feet above the strip. I did the London Eye when I was in the UK 7 years ago, and I’ve done the wheel in Seattle too – might as well keep the tradition alive. 🙂

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Hey, there’s my hotel…
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Hey, there’s the convention center…
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Hey, there’s me…
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Daily miles walked: 8.8

Total CES 2015 miles so far: 22

Categories: travel Tags: , , , ,

CES 2015: Day 1 Report

January 6, 2015 2 comments

Today’s plan was to sleep in a bit and hit the Las Vegas Convention Center shortly after the doors opened at 10a. Well, I got a bit of a late start and didn’t make it out of my room at Harrah’s until about 10:30. The nice thing about staying here is that the Monorail has a stop right next door – a trip down the elevator and a short walk away. I don’t even have to go to street level. There was a short queue for the train and, 3-day pass acquired, I set off for LVCC.

When I got off the Monorail I was faced with my first big dilemma: South Hall or North Hall. I could have done some extensive planning via the CES website and/or their mobile app to plan out my attack, but since my goal is to effectively carpet bomb the whole show floor while I’m here I didn’t bother. I started heading North … then noticed the BMW driving experience where they’re showing off their new BMW i3 with test drives, etc. in the South-side parking lot and headed that way.

Oddly the security folks at the entrance for BMW were shooing some people away when I got there, even though the whole experience didn’t seem like it was VIP or Press only, nor very full (in fact I was excited that there didn’t seem to be much of a line). Whatever the reason, I skipped BMW and headed inside. I’ll try to hit BMW tomorrow morning first thing.

Getting in the South Hall was a bit of a feat in itself, and required dodging countless people in suits who were stopping in front of the entrance to take pictures of each other. I eventually got inside and quickly formulated a plan. The South Hall has 4 areas: 1-4 on two floors. I figured I’d walk everything in 1 then 2 on the first floor, then head upstairs to tackle 3 and 4.

I’ve been to a couple TechEd conferences before (30,000 people crammed into the Orlando Convention Center) and am used to throngs of people, regardless of how much I hate big crowds, so I was planning for the worst. What met me though, wasn’t so much of a crush of humanity as much as a daunting and never-ending array of vendor booths. There really wasn’t an opportunity to take a picture that showed the extent of everything, but trust me – there was a lot of stuff.

20150106_192013112_iOSThe South Hall has a lot of medium-sized firms with big display areas set up. What did surprise me is how many small Chinese manufacturing firms had booths on the fringes of the floor. On one row I walked down the company name on nearly every booth – probably 50 displays – had “Shenzhen” in the title (a major industrial city in China), and most were all displaying various versions of the same things: cell phone cases, USB and HDMI connector cables, portable chargers, and USB hubs. Oh and headphones. It used to be a contest to see who could make the smallest in-ear audio devices … no everyone’s going large. Some have taken things a bit too far. 😉

Speakers were everywhere in the South Hall too. Some sounded amazing, some were crap, some were bigger than me. The ones on the right below were about 8 feet tall – perfect for my living room at home!

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Drones were huge too. Some figurative (the ones in the blue pic were maybe 2 inches across), and some literally.

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They dance too…

One of the few things that I honestly would consider buying personally is the new X7A Modular Computer from Xi3. These awesome little computers are a cube just a few inches in each side, but the pack a massive punch. If I was going to build a new home theater PC this would be the platform. Plus that have lots of colors to match any couch. 😉

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At long last the South Hall was complete … after walking 4+ miles! I headed for the cross-over to what I thought was the North Hall but discovered there was an area called the Central Hall. This one looked to have all the big names: Intel, Nikon, Sony, LG, Samsung, Qualcom, etc. And it kept going and going and going. I liked the new 4K TVs and curved displays, but not enough to make me want to replace our TV at home (that’s a year or so old). I definitely wanted some free samples from Nikon though! They even had a 360 portrait rig where you could jump and have a “bullet time” portrait. Pretty spiffy.

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Don’t forget about more mundane tech…

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And then there’s the celebrity sightings, like Shaq O’Neil…

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…and Stevie Wonder (who snuck up behind me)…

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…and Marshawn Lynch. BEAST MODE! Go Hawks. (not really there, but I appreciated the Seahawks connection since I forgot to bring my jersey).

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I even got a caricature made, courtesy of RCA, plus a meta picture of a picture being take of a picture being printed. #meta

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Daily miles walked: 8.2

CES miles walked: 13.2

Daily reward for thrashing my titanium left knee: Blue Moon on draft in a mason jar

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Categories: travel Tags: , , , , ,

CES 2015: Day 0 Report

January 5, 2015 2 comments

Today (Monday 1/5/2015) started off a tad bit later than expected, most likely thanks to that second glass of wine from the last night’s dinner. Nonetheless, by 9:30 I was off and running from SLC on the final leg of my drive from Seattle to Las Vegas for CES. I’ve driven from SLC through to Moab before, and I can confirm that southwest Utah is just as amazing. Here’s a sample…

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While this is intended to be a series about CES itself, I have to share how completely AWE INSPIRING the drive on I-15 was as it pass through the Virgin River Gorge in northwest Arizona. To be honest, I didn’t really pay close attention to the map when planning the route and I didn’t even realize I’d be jutting into AZ at all, so the “Welcome to Arizona” sign caused me a slight bit of consternation at first. Shortly thereafter the scenery turned AMAZING as the highway transitions from the ~6000’ high basin of Utah down to the ~2000’ Mojave Desert. You must make this drive some time in your lifetime. There was some construction in the area, and I’ve never been so thankful for a rolling slowdown. This is just a small sample of why:

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A couple hours later this was my view at Harrah’s Las Vegas.

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And then I got what I’ve been after for years – my CES credentials!

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After getting settled I had a several hours before attending one of the opening keynote speeches. The Samsung presentation was alluring, but I didn’t think I’d have enough time to eat and get in line, so I opted for the Mercedes-Benz shindig over at the Cosmopolitan, grabbing dinner over there.

I had great seats right in the middle of the stage but in a raised section just beyond the tech desk and TV cameras. I’m pretty sure the guy to my left was running one of the MB Twitter accounts live-tweeting the event. M-B used the event to lay out a vision for autonomous cars and future technology. They also rolled out a brand new concept vehicle to the world right before our eyes. The geek inside me was overjoyed at being at a breaking tech news event; it was a great show too. You can watch it via this link.

Mercedes CEO Dr. Dieter Zetsche is every bit the German businessman stereotype you’d want him to be. He even perfectly landed a joke in the opening video “Are you a robot?” he was asked? “No, I’m German.” There were a few other good zingers in the presentation as well, including a nice discussion of tech features already shipping on existing C, E, and S class models (we see what you did there). The future Mercedes proposed didn’t come off as much groundbreaking as “OMG this technology is real and could hit the road within the next decade, if not sooner.” The concept car’s design was HOT, but I was just as impressed with the massive display screen that served as the backdrop for the stage. Here are a few pics if you don’t want to watch the video.

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After a long day I enjoyed a nice stroll back to my hotel, including a couple shows of the Bellagio’s fountains.

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Total walking distance: 5 miles (most of it from Harrah’s to Cosmopolitan and back for the MB Keynote)

CES 2015: Travel Days 1-2

January 4, 2015 2 comments

This is my very first Consumer Electronics Show (CES) experience. I’ve wanted to come to this show for a very long time, and it’s the third year I’ve actually registered (my previous attempts were thwarted by either a new human joining our family or a new role at Microsoft on the near horizon). Unfortunately, and unlike my previous attempts, this year I don’t have any close contacts from Microsoft or elsewhere attending … that I know of … so I’m effectively going stag and figuring things out on my own.

I drove from Seattle, which is typically a two-day affair if it’s just me driving (18 hours), but with a big storm moving in to the Northwest I didn’t want to get stuck with the mountain passes closed or slow traveling through snow and ice so I left a day early broke the trip up into 3 days. I stayed the night in Ontario, OR and then Salt Lake City. Ontario didn’t really have much notable about it, other than being on the OR/ID border on I-84.

Salt Lake City, however, was really nice. I’ve driven through a couple times before and made a connection in the airport, but this was my first actual stop in the city itself. It’s very modern and new, quite clean, and seems well planned with wide boulevards and lots of trees, etc. It reminded me a LOT of Charlotte, NC actually – where my wife and I went to high school. Similar to Charlotte (at least back in the 90’s), SLC seems to close up in the evenings and on the weekend. It was dead – hardly any traffic, even on Monday morning when I left.

I took a nice walk from The Gateway area where my hotel was up a few long city blocks past the basketball arena (I wish Seattle still had a team) and up to Temple Square, effectively Mecca for the LDS Church. I’m not Mormon, but I can at least appreciate what they’re trying to do. There were a lot of people like me milling about. Although there are a few visitors centers I didn’t enter, preferring to walk around the gardens and take in the sculpture and architecture. The Tabernacle is open to the public, which surprised me. Assembly Hall and the big cathedral were not, however – but that’s okay. The Tabernacle is what you see on TV when you see a choir concert. The organ, orchestra stage, and choir lofts are huge, but what shocked me was how small the rest of the building felt. I would have pegged the seating capacity at around 2000 or 2500, but Wikipedia says it’s actually about 7K – and we all know the Internet is never wrong. 😉

Here are a few pics from Temple Square.

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After my self-guided tour I strolled back down towards my hotel and had a fabulous dinner for 1 at Fleming’s Steakhouse. Highly recommended and it induced the necessary food coma I was after for a good night’s sleep. Off to Vegas in the morning!

Categories: travel Tags: ,

An open letter to United Airlines

September 8, 2010 1 comment

I’m so glad this happened today, and not tomorrow (my birthday). Now where did I put that bottle of scotch…

From: Nathan Novak
Sent: Wednesday, September 08, 2010 8:52 PM
To: xxxxxxxx@united.com
Subject: Huge thanks to Louis for saving a horrible United experience

I called into the main United phone line this morning hoping to get our reservation (XXXXX) changed since we’ve booked an extra couple days at Disney World.  I was told by the rep I spoke to that there were no seats available on Dec 14th for awards travel, and that the next available date to change the return flights to was Dec 20.  The agent then asked if I was willing to upgrade to Economy Plus “for $132”.  I pointedly asked 3 times if doing that upgrade meant I could fly on Dec 14, and I was told yes each time.  So I gave a credit card number and the transaction was completed.  I was told the flight numbers were the same with the upgrade – which reinforced the idea that the date had also changed.

I waited a few minutes after getting off the call for United.com to reflect the changes, and when they showed up the return flights were upgraded but were still booked for Dec 12.  The outgoing flights on Dec 3 remained in Economy.  I immediately called back and explained what had happened, and was again told that there were no seats available on Dec 14.  I was told to check back periodically to see if anything freed up.  I asked a few times if there were any regular seats available (not on miles) but I kept getting the same answer.  I also said that I wanted the upgrade backed out since I was misled into purchasing it.  I asked to be transferred to a supervisor but the agent got defensive and assured me he could help; I kept getting the same answers though – they wouldn’t let me even buy 3 seats at regular price. I gave up for the moment and said I’d call back after conferring with my wife.

We decided that we really wanted to fly on Dec 14 since there were some special activities we’d booked (and paid for) at Disney on those extra days, so I called back.  I got the same run-around where I couldn’t get a straight answer.  I asked to be transferred to a supervisor because the agent again was not answering my questions, and after some considerable back-and-forth the agent relented and transferred me … to a dead-end in the system that hung up on me after 25 minutes.

An hour or so later I called yet again.  By that time we had decided to give up on United for the return flight and I had already booked return travel for my family on Alaska Air (non-stop for roughly the same cost as the $150 change fee United would charge us anyway).  I wanted to get my return trip cancelled and the upgrade refunded.  The agent again pushed the “call back again another day” line and I again asked to be transferred to a supervisor, and predictably they didn’t want to do that.  So the agent cancelled the return flights on Dec 12 (I saw them disappear on the website) and then transferred the call to the refunds department.  I explained the situation after I was connected and the rep didn’t know what to do.  She put me on hold for a few minutes, then came on line and said she was going to transfer me to a supervisor.  I was on hold for about 45 minutes … and then the same rep came back on.  She said she couldn’t figure out the phone system or had some technical issue, and then she tried to help again, and then tried to transfer to a supervisor again.  I was on hold for another 15 minutes and someone finally came on, heard what had happened, and said she had credited me $279.

I went to lunch, and when I got back I checked the reservation again and the return flights on Dec 12 were back, and now not only the 12/12 but the 12/3 flights were also upgraded to Economy Plus.  I checked the e-receipt online and found I had been charged twice – once for $279 and then again for $264.  Keep in mind that I was told the upgrade was $132, and of course that the upgrade would also get me on flights for Dec 14.  At that point I was fried, and I had real work to actually get done.

I called again tonight and was eventually connected with Louis.  He was the first person I talked to who could fully speak and comprehend English, and he quickly realized the pickle I was in and vowed to do what he could to help out.  He also let me know the ins and outs of the Mileage Plus travel program (1-way and round-trip flights are the same cost in miles) and that to get a 1-way ticket would be a change fee of $150 (I’m assuming per seat).  Louis worked with his manager to properly note the account with the erroneous upgrade charges and got our tickets put back in Economy and got seats assigned.  He also worked with me to get the security questions answered for the itinerary and let me know how to contact the refunds group via email.

Needless to say this has been a completely horrible experience with United Airlines, and this trip is likely the last I’ll be taking with United.  All that being said, I want to commend Louis for being exceptionally understanding, level-headed, comforting, and helpful.  Louis was remarkably professional and let me know that he’d do whatever he could to ensure things were set straight.  As I’d say to one of the guys on my team, Louis had a “gold star” moment.  Please thank Louis again for me, and share his commendable devotion to customer service with your management chain.

Thanks.

Nathan

Categories: travel Tags: ,

Going to my happy place

July 25, 2008 Comments off

It’s been a long day.  2 days.  3 days … week.  We’re doing A LOT of work this week and, unfortunately, we’ve got some dependencies on new circuits being delivered for new/enhanced services to our Baltimore office.  Nothing seems to go well on this trip, and we’ve been running into issues at every turn.

But a few minutes ago I was able to go to my “happy place” because of an email I got … announcing I could check in for my flight home tomorrow evening.

From here on out, no matter what happens, I’ve got my ticket outta here – literally.  😀

Categories: job, travel