Day 2: South Hall Take 2, The Sands, Race for Larry Page

2006-01-08

I decided that I had missed too many things in the South Hall on the first day and decided to go back for another round. It was worth the trip. I got a bit more swag and got to see some more reputable companies.

I took it slow, eyed every booth for interesting stuff, and came away with a Yo-Yo from the NEC booth. They didn't even ask me if I wanted to know about their products! At the HP booth, I took a closer look at their Media Center boxes as I've decided that I need to get one. HP will have the best offerings on the market once the HD-DVD models come out. They had a prototype of that model running and I've decided that that's what I'll be getting. I just hope it's not so ugly when it's finally released. Here's my advice to HP: Take a clue from Apple, make a good product and put it in a shiny box and they will fly off the shelves. I also decided to look at displays while I was there. Figure there's no point on blowing money on a nice media center if you don't have a good way to look at it. Again, HP came out on top. I searched all over the convention center and could not come up with a display that looked as good as their rear-projection DLP display. The only downside is that the MSRP is $5,000. I think it's about time I start making some money again.

Next I took a look at ATI's booth. Despite having incredibly good looking graphics, it's really hard to compare video cards without playing with one for a week or two first. There are so many factors that can differentiate a demo from real-life conditions.

Finally, I found the Google booth. Incredibly strange looking with a crane lifting what looked like cube shaped bean bag chairs out of a bin and dropping them back in. They had cards with multiple-choice questions about Google's services in a scratch-to-win fashion. I managed to get enough of the questions right to get a Google branded USB Travel Mouse. Not bad for fifteen minutes of waiting in line. I really do want to work for that company some day...

At this point, I figured I had seen everything I wanted to see in the South Hall and got on a bus to get over to the Sands. I stumbled around there until I found the CES show. The exhibition floor wasn't as easy to find as the porn show. Sadly, I didn't have a badge for the porn show. The lobby was ahem, entertaining.

I wandered around and enjoyed the spectacle that the "innovative" products afforded me. One exhibitor managed to get a guy on a bike connected to a thing that spun him in around in a vertical centrifuge fashion. The announcer commented, "It's amazing what people will do for a T-Shirt." He certainly wasn't kidding.

Then, a monumental thing happened. I somehow had wandered away from the beaten path and into the Robotics TechZone. Needless to say, I loved everything I saw. I didn't get to spend a lot of time there because I had to go to the Larry Page keynote but I'll definitely be going back tomorrow.

Of note was Lego's Mindstorms NXT kit that will be released in August, along with the SpongeBob Lego sets as I pointed out to the exhibitor. The kit is 100% Technic with the new NXT brick that replaces the RCX. The NXT brick features a 32-bit processor and Bluetooth for control and programming. Seven I/O ports for sensors, buttons, and cameras gives plenty of flexibility. There's also a USB port for those of us that don't have Bluetooth available to us. The NXT brick does NOT have a rechargable battery but the exhibitor mentioned that they will probably add that feature as they've had a lot of people asking for it. The new brick also comes with a new piece of software that's based on National Semiconductor's LabView software, allowing the user to do very simple as well as advanced tasks. The set will retail for $250 making this a nice kit to learn about robotics. It's targeted at advanced middle school and early high school students. That's not going to stop me from buying one to play with.

The last exhibit I caught in the robotics TechZone was a company making a knock-off of the Sony QRio without all the pretty casing and the movement wasn't as fluid. Nonetheless, the thing is on the market for anybody that wants one. The robots have an Atmel processor so they should be relatively easy to program and have some fun with. Unfortunately the kits start at $1,000 USD though educational discounts are available. The exhibitor did not know how much the discounts were or he wasn't willing to tell me. Either way, he wasn't very helpful.

It was at this point that I realized that I didn't have my ticket to the Larry Page keynote with me and that I would need to go back to the hotel for it. I had two hours to take a bus from the Sands to the Convention Center then another to the New York, New York because the Excalibur bus wasn't running for some reason. I walked through the New York, New York and over to the Excalibur. I dropped my bags, picked up my ticket, and left. At the bottom of the elevator I asked the guard what the fastest way to get to the Hilton was because at this point I only had twenty minutes before the presentation was to begin. As I had expected, he told me to take a cab. I blew $20 on the cab ride. I figure it was worth it because I had ten minutes to spare by the time I got to the keynote. They had just opened the doors and had started allowing ticket holders to file in.

I sat down in my seat and found a swag bag, courteousy of Google. Inside it was a Google Video T-Shirt and there was a little tavern game thingy in my chair's cupholder. Until the presentation started, the screen showed a five minute loop of queries headed for Google's search engine. Things like "thongs" and "large print bible" appeared next to each other, sparking ideas like incredibly perverted pastors.

The presentation began with a video generated by Google Earth that zoomed in and out around the planet, spotting different landscapes and pictures like seals on and african beach and the Grand Canyon. The stunning visual tour ended with the camera zooming down the strip and flying through the theatre right into the screen it was playing on. An impressive demo indeed.

Larry Page entered the stage standing on the bumper of Stanley, the first vehicle to win the DARPA Grand Challenge, wearing jeans and a lab coat. After explaining that he had considered Stanley to be a milestone in robotics technology, he introduced the team leader that worked on the project and congratulated him. The team leader then drove Stanley off the stage and the presentation continued.

Page began the presentation by talking about how he thinks all of these consumer electronics should be able to work with each other better. He outlined a few guidelines for hardware designers to make this goal more achieveable:

  • One connection does as much as possible. If a digital camera has a USB port, you should be able to connect that to anything else with a USB port and do any common task with it. The example he gave was if two guys in the audience just wanted to trade photos in a "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" fashion, this shouldn't require the intervention of a computer.
  • Use open standards. The most successful inventions like the internet were designed by academics that enforced open standards whereas things like instant messaging that were designed by large companies, tend to fail or make everybody's life difficult.
At that point, Page began talking about how Google Talk is a perfect model of efficiency in that department as it uses open standards and doesn't lock anybody into any specific software or platform.

He brought a developer out on the stage to demonstrate a new product: Google Pack, an application designed to make updating and keeping track of installed programs much easier than it currently is. He installed pack with an extremely small download and then it just took off doing all the work. It silently downloaded and installed Firefox, Adobe Reader, and a slew of other essential programs with nice loading bars to indicate progress. Installing all of the applications (about twelve of them) took a matter of seconds. Page also noted that Pack will limit it's bandwidth usage so that you can still get other work done while it's downloading stuff.

For entertainment purposes, Robin Williams was called to the stage to introduce the Google Implant. Page gave Williams queries like the ones he would type into Google. Absolutely hilarious. I'll post a link to the video if I can find it.

The other announcement he made was a significant improvement to Google Video. You can now buy, sell, and download content through Google Video. CBS, Hollywood Records, and the NBA are the biggest content providers that they've got lined up. I'm hoping that the other companies will follow CBS's lead and sell content on both iTunes and Google Video, giving the consumer options. Personally, I think Google Video will be much more successful because of it's flexibility with formats and the ability to use it's unencumbered DRM. Time will tell.

Page started a Q&A session and brought Robin Williams back out on the stage. Williams began to grill every person that came up to the mic, particularly a guy that said he was from the Screen Actors Guild Magazine. Again, absolutely hilarious.

That concluded the presentation. I strongly recommend trying to find a video of the keynote if you weren't fortunate enough to see it already. I'll post a link to it when I get a chance to go looking for it.

Next post - CES Day 0: Flying, Registration, Bill Gates Keynote