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various braindroppings. infrequent. some incoherent. Please COMMENT, critique, complain, and send me a link to your blog or photos page. You can also click "follow" and get an email upon addl. posts. thnx!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Annual CES Summary 2018

 So, they’ve had this big steel arch thingy at CES for as long as I can remember, 
and the structure was 3 dimensional and three-sided. In the early days it was open, uncovered, and sort of ‘framework’ or ‘ industrial’ looking, and it had neon lights in it on some of the struts. Then, about a decade ago, I guess the lights broke, so they started covering it with thin black fabric, gave it a new look, and still said “CES” on it, and it spanned the walkway just inside the main entrance in the Central Hall. And what was really cool about it is that it was fatter on the ends, and thinner in the middle. A little harder to build, but very ‘artsey’. You can see it here in my 2014 CES Summary. Well, I don’t know what happened, but this year it was replaced with a new one that is just as long, still 3 sided, in the same place at the show, but it is linear in it’s thickness, the same triangular dimension all the way across, and it looks like crap compared to the old one. No styling to it at all, just a boring half-circle arch, like a child would draw or something. (see pic at right) Now, I’m glad that if the old one got accidentally destroyed or something, that they bothered to make a new one to retain the tradition, but why couldn’t they make it stylish like the first one? Have we lost the skill or technology or artistry or desire to produce it properly as it was many decades ago? I don’t think so. It’s fairly obvious that they just wanted to save a few bucks and just 'do the minimum’. And it really pisses me off. Not just this arch sign, but almost everything you see done nowadays is subjected to this ‘oh, it’s good enough’ mentality. And my theory is that it rubs off on everyone, subconsciously, and makes everyone else feel like just doing the minimum as well. Anyway, sorry, I didn’t mean to start off on such a whiny note. But it just torques my manifold, like a short fuse on a cheese curd. If you know what I mean. I hope so. Although I might be mixing metaphors there.


 Now, the rest of the show was pretty damned good. ‘Bout 180,000 people all pumped up, to see over 1500 booths showing all kinds a new stuff, some of it downright spooky and magical how it can do some crazy shit. There was some rain the first day. 1.3 inches in one day, which is over a quarter of that city’s total annual rainfall. Streets flooded, traffic apocalypse. Then the power went out partially for over two hours, leaving some of the booths dark. It’s kinda hard to have an electronics show without electrons. ’Never ’seen the power even glitch in all my 38 years of attendance there. So that was new. Let’s see, what else,…. This year’s show was all about how cars are gonna drive themselves…they even had a motorcycle that drove itself?!?!?!?!? Now what’s the point of that? And also this years’ show was really big on being able to talk to your house or car or speaker or whatever, and have it tell you what the weather is like, or if there’s a traffic jam ahead, or stuff like that. Which, I don’t know about you, but I can look out the window and see the weather, or look out the windshield and see the traffic!? But anyway, that was the biggest gadget in every booth. Somethin’ to talk to,… and have it talk back to you. Big business. I mean, really. It’s like we’re running outta things to invent or something? 

 There was a JetPack there. Remember how they told us in the 60’s that we’d all be flying’ jetpacks by the 80’s? - 90’s tops.? By the time they perfect it, they’ll be self-driving jetpacks, and we won’t ever get to go! I saw a chess game board that was playing itself. ‘Saves you a lot of time, I guess. I saw a robot vacuuming the floor - a full size robot,…using a full size vacuum! That’ll sure free up some time! Sony had their new improved robot dog Aibo back again. This time he’s hundred’s of times smarter and learns things about you the more you play with him. $1,700, one time. That’s a lot cheaper than a real dog. And you don’t have to take him for a walk to do his business. That’ll save time. I just wonder what we’re saving all this time for? I guess we can watch more TV. They have TV’s that look so real it’s like you’re looking out a window. A clean window! Oh, they have window-cleaning robots now too. A few years ago they showed OLED TV’s in every booth. A little tiny LED for each pixel. No LCD (liquid crystal display). No backlighting. Just individual LED’s that turn off completely for black, which makes for infinite contrast. But then, they decided it would cost too much and so all of the TV brands except LG never came out with them. And the LG OLED TV’s were like, five times more expensive than the same size regular LCD/LED backlit sets, so sales were very slow. But they stuck with them, and found enough customers that wanted that much contrast to pay that much money. And eventually,...three years later (as in, now), they all found a way to bring the manufacturing costs down a bit, and LG had shown that there was a big enough chunk of TV buyers that wouldn’t mind spending maybe three times as much for a TV again, if it meant they could have “inky blacks” and phenomenal picture quality. And so, the LED TV’s are back! And in every booth. And shipping immediately! 


 So, there’s that. TV’s suddenly got a lot better looking. They’re also doing a lot with built-in fast computers that process every frame of video as it’s displayed, which makes them look even better. And, of course, slowly but surely, there’s more 4K content to view, which really makes these new machines shine! 4K BluRay is growing as well. Speaking of 4K, computer monitors with 4K resolutions (3840x2160) are finally below $300 and are popping up on people’s work stations with greater frequency. If you’re on your computer much each day, they’re a joy to look at, and can help reduce eye fatigue. Some are 21:9 ultra widescreen ratio and allow for three documents to be displayed simultaneously. And THIS is where a curved screen actually makes sense, unlike in a TV room, because you’re in a single, fixed position, and it maintains your focal distance.


Sony is still capitalizing on it’s high performance low light sensor that is in all of their cameras. Kodak is really pushing their 360 degree dual fish eye lens camera for posting video online and allowing people to move their curser around and see literally ALL around where your filming. Ping Pong fans can now play against a robot and really improve their game. Ritetech makes those cool outlets that disappear into furniture, in case you’re building a new desk or task area. An automatic cat liter box that really works (save $50 with code CES2018 thru 1/21/18). Electric scooters were everywhere for that ‘last mile’ type personal transportation. But Ford showed some that were too big, too expensive, didn’t fold up, and were too heavy. I don’t think they understand (still) what people want in that 20mph legal-on-any-street/sidewalk/path category. I still think EcoReco has the best machine for the money.


 Cosmo is a brake light for any scooter/bike/motorcycle, and uses an accelerometer to indicate that you’re slowing. This is the best folding e-bike I know of. A cool little projector for Nintendo Switch game console owners. USB-C is growing and getting faster, and Hyperdrive has the best hubs. Monitor-io will track the performance of your internet service and tell you all kinds of things you didn’t know you wanted to know. Source is an amazing system that mounts on the roof of your home like a solar panel, actually there is a solar panel in it too so it doesn’t need any power at all, and it extracts perfectly pure water out of the air for you to drink. Makes a few liters a day for life and costs $2,500 one time. Here’s a sensor that helps prevent accidentally leaving a child or pet sleeping in a hot car. And this is a whole new way to input text on your phone. Takes a week or so to learn and then it’s lightening fast! 


I didn’t have anyone along this year, but next year I’ve heard that several will be joining me for my 40th CES. Wanna come along? I did see my friend Sean Connors there who was working the show. He finally had time on the last part of the last day to see some booths before he had to start to do tear-down all night. So I took him to see the highlights which included the LG booth’s “OLED Canyon”. A 20’ high, 100’ long, winding narrow set of angular walls full of individually uniquely curved 65” OLED displays showing fantastically high-def footage of various nature landscapes and accompanying sound. Probably the best art installation I have ever seen. And then to the Sony booth which was the best overall booth that made you feel welcome, entertained, educated, and excited all at the same time. One of my favorite things this year was their new TV’s which use the surface of the screen as the speakers for terrific sounding, invisible speakers that locate the sound right onto the screen for best possible imaging and soundstage.


 I got a delicious free waffle from Logitech. Well, it wasn't totally free. It turns out that they want you to post about it on social media. I said "sure", since I love all the stuff Logitech makes anyway. So they gave me the waffle and said "O.K. just post a pic of you on Twitter and/or Instagram" I said I didn't have either of those, and they looked at me like I was an alien or something. Then they said "How 'bout Facebook?" and I said "Oh, sure, I have the Facebook (I threw the 'the' because Betty White had made that "the twitter" joke a few years ago and gotten a big laugh). But I didn't get a laugh,... they just stared at me again like I was starting to morph into a green blob, and then they said "Oh, O.K., yeah, well, can you post that on The Facebook and just add these two hashtags (pointing to their sign)?" So I said "Hash...? You mean post these words,...and do you want me to put that little tic-tac-toe thingy in front of them like that?" (just to screw with them) - And sure enough, once again, they were speechless for a moment while they stared hard, turning their heads a little like dogs do. I just wanted to give them something to talk about after working a long hard trade show.


So progress marches on. No matter the state of the economy or the political climate, inventors’, now called ‘visionaries’, will continue to think up cool stuff and work hard to bring it to the world. Not just for the possibility of making bank, but to say to the world “isn’t that neat? it’s my gift to society!”

- Next year,….my 40th consecutive CES attendance! See you there!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Annual CES Summary 2017



Annual CES Summary 2017 

My son Ethan joined me again this year, as well as two of his friends, and we all had a great time. The first day it was just Ethan
and I and we push-scootered it over to the show, about a mile and a half, in about 15 minutes! Then the remaining three days, with four of us, we hiked about 1/4 mile to the MGM and rode their shuttle bus to the show - about 45 minutes! I wish I had four scooters! In addition to seeing most of the 2.5 million square feet of CES booths, we rode in a self driving car, drove the BMW i3 pure electric, rocked the after-show party in the Gibson booth, saw the Blue Man Group one nite, and went ‘downtown’ one nite for more reasonably priced food and gaming. I taught the young guys how to play craps the way Wally Nathan taught me, and they all walked away up considerably! Of course, the next nite they gave most of it back, but, that’s Vegas! 

yes, they're back!
The show broke turnstile records at over 176,000 attendees! This year was the 50th anniversary of the show, and so they did ‘years you’ve attended’ ribbons on our badges, and since it’s my 38th year, my “35+ Years” ribbon caused a lot of people to ask me what it was like way back when. My answer was “nothing at all like today”. I would say, about 95% of everything on the show floor today has some sort of smart chip in it, as a minimum. And several items, like smartphones and self-driving cars, have computers that are thousands of times more powerful than the Cray Supercomputer of the late 70’s when I first attended. But here’s the thing about CES. If you had heard people on that show floor, in 1978, predicting 30 years ahead, they’d have said “yeah, we’re gonna have supercomputers that fit in our pocket!” Because that’s what CES is all about, pushing the envelope, and being optimistic enough to expect the most from technology and how it can be applied to better humanity. You feel it all over the show, no matter what year it is. I still like going, just for the dose of optimism, let alone seeing the gadgets. And believe me, I need a dose of optimism this year more than any other. ‘Speaking of gadgets:

ROBOTS!
There were way more robots this year! I really think we’re all gonna have a little robot in our home soon. And not just a vacuum, but a robot to help fix dinner and do the dishes! Along with robots, smart home automation is finally becoming plug and play. Alexa is Amazon’s smart house technology that works in devices like Echo and Lenovo’s Smart Assistant Speaker, as well as Ford cars and hundreds of accessories. Google Home is pretty much the same thing, only different. These mini blind motors fit inside your 2” blinds and become automated with timers and lots of other features for just $100. 

NOT REALLY REALITY:
VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) were this year’s top 'buzz-tech’. VR is basically the big fat eye-covering headsets you see people wearing as they move their heads all around to reveal a 360 degree alternate universe of computer generated visuals. These graphics and sometimes actual video footage allow you to visit, and even interact with, environments from the deep sea to outer space and everywhere in between. Of course, gaming is the first, killer app for this, but many predict huge expansion to even include regular movie viewing. AR typically uses see-thru glasses that let you see normally, but add extra information and images about your specific surroundings. Industries’ already utilizing AR include advertising, construction, healthcare, training, and the military.

3D PRINTING>:)

I haven't understood the hype about 3d printing all these years, until this year. I saw big leaps of improvement in materials like metalized plastics and carbon fiber-like super strong stuff that they're making bicycles and even whole cars out of! Even the little models and figurines were so much more impressive. One booth had an 10", full color figurine of a guy, sitting next to a few photos of him, and the likeness and detail was just amazing. So I said "but then you had to pay an artist to do all that detailed painting, right?" And he said "no paint, it comes right out of the printer like that"! Check out the photo of the full size concept car that was 3D printed.  

HEADPHONES -
These are the best headphones I’ve ever seen, or heard. They have every feature you’ve ever seen, or heard, in a headphone. They are wired or wireless, lightweight, closed air, talk-thru, 30hr batt, active noise canceling, muti-band EQ, touch panel, phone mic, collapsible, fantastic sound quality, and are made by the industries’ leading headphone maker.
These earbuds are custom molded to your ear and they say they stay in, and block out noise. They’re about $200

5G!?
5G - There’s some hype about 5G coming for our mobile devices, but they admit it’s years’ away so why even talk about it yet. Especially when 4G isn’t fully fleshed out yet. It’s supposed to be 100 megabytes/second, and it’s way more like 30 in reality still. Go to speedtest.net on you phone’s browser (or get the app) and run the test periodically to see what you’re really getting. Then tell your provider “ forget ‘5G’ until you can get your 4G up to speed”.



EVEN better SURROUND SOUND??
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are new encode/decode surround sound formats that add height to the experience. You need to add speakers to your ceiling or ones that point up at, and bounce sound off of your ceiling. You also need a newer A/V receiver that has these decoders, and it is only on blu-ray discs and some streaming content, because it is too much data to fit on a regular DVD or broadcast television. But, wow, the dimension of height sure does add to the surround experience. Here’s a more detailed description if you’re interested.  

THE BEST TV’s…
All of the tv manufacturers debuted OLED tv’s a few years ago. And they looked so good, that we felt we had reached plateau, or even a ceiling in improving picture quality. No backlighting, just an led for every pixel, making contrast numbers infinite! However, only LG went into full production of them since they were so expensive to make, there wasn’t a big market for them. So, for the last few years, the price and quality of regular, 4k LCD with LED backlighting sets have dropped to where you can get a big tv that looks pretty terrific for under $1,000! But the LG OLED TV’s were 5 and 6 thousand dollars for their 55” and 65” sets, respectively. But they still sold a bunch to people wanting the (very noticeably) best picture quality available. Well, now, production costs are coming down, and you can buy the LG OLED sets for 3 and $4,000, and other’s are coming out with OLED tv’s as well. Sony showed a 65” and 77” set in their booth (no pricing details yet) that they say will ship this year. Interesting note: Sony made the tv’s screen be the speaker on these sets, something which has been bandied about for years in the business, but they’re the first to go full production with it (not that anyone would want to use a tv’s internal speakers). A small Chinese maker showed OLED tv’s as well. And LG doubled down with more models of OLED including a 77” and a 65” that has a 1/8” thick screen weighing 18 lbs. that you can hang on your wall with stick-on magnets! It has a ribbon cable that goes down to a remote tuner/power supply box. Oh,…it’s also flexible!! We recently bought one of the 65” LG OLED sets for $2,700 on Amazon (“used-like new”) and we are blown away daily at the contrast and vivid color. So,… the future of displays we’ve all dreamed about for years has arrived! Get ready to see even more ultra-hi-res displays in retail environments on every spare surface they have - even curves!  

StarTrek TRICORDER!  - No shit, this is big. A smartphone that can scan and identify different molecular compositions! 

The LAST MILE......
"Look, Ma, no hands!...in fact,...no driver!"
One of my favorite categories of consumer electronics is electric scooters and bikes. These "last mile" transportation vehicles are growing in importance as more and more people have moved to cities. Plus, the technology of electric motors with lithium batteries on lightweight alloy frames continue to reveal more viable personal transport solutions for neighborhood errands and fun recreation! Here’s my favorite e-scooter (I know I listed it in last year’s ces summary, but it’s still the best this year, and is right now, at a 50% off ces promo price!). We bought electric bikes this past year and really enjoy them greatly. There were many showings of e-bikes and e-scooters at this year’s CES (over 50 that I saw), which tells me that this way of gettin’ around is definitely gonna be in our future. You could probably hear people in the booth saying: "yeah, in 30 years we'll have real hoverboards".

- There. ...I succeeded in getting all the way through my CES summary without using the word drones. D'oh! 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

CES Annual 2016 Summary

CES was fascinating, as always. There’s always hundreds of “wow, why didn’t someone think of that before?” products to see, even if they’re only in a prototype form, and may never get produced, for various reasons. But this year’s show didn’t seem to have any “this is clearly going to change things in this category” items. I mean, there were thinner, prettier TV’s, as there always are, and a great deal of focus on autonomous driving cars (which really will change things when they actually start appearing on our streets, - in as little as a few years!), but no particular breakthroughs were really the talk of the show. Which is fine. Because when technology advances too fast, it can actually be hard to implement it smoothly. Take tablets, for example. When tablets like the iPad came out a few years back, there were hundreds of different models on the show floor. The buzz that everyone must want one, because they’re so hi-tech, and the ease of making them cheaper and faster made manufacturers put all their efforts into the category, and you literally couldn’t walk 50 feet at the show without bumping into another one. And now, a few years later at this years’ show, I could count on one hand all of the tablets I saw presented in the entire show! Manufacturers lost a lot of money making all those different models of a thing no one really even thinks about too much anymore. I actually kinda thought that at the time (and mentioned it in the blog). I think this year’s example of that is drones. There musta' been a hundred different drones on the show floor this year!!? I know everyone wants one, because they’re so hi-tech (I know I do), but, for what? (and how many do we really need)(and how many of these manufacturers are going to lose their ass?) Another trend I sorta predicted was fat phones. I was an early adopter and proponent of the first large phone - the samsung Note. And touted the benefits of all that screen real estate right in your pocket for relaxed reading/browsing/mapping etc. And sure enough, almost all phones are huge today. But I’ll go out on a limb now and predict that they may shrink a little again. The 6” screens are just too big for most people (guys, anyway, without purses) to carry around all day. I know I, for one, am thinking of jumping the Note bandwagon after four happy years, and going for maybe a 5.2” screen phone again. I just can’t get my fat phone out of my increasingly tight jeans very easily any more! (I guess that’s not the fault of the phone!).

An interesting event at this year’s show, that I’ve never seen or heard about before in my previous 36 yrs of attendance, was a patent dispute resulting in U.S. Marshals confiscating product and leading booth operators out of the show! 

CES is not primarily for the big guys to strut their stuff, but for all the thousands of tiny startups to be able to show their little product idea, that they have poured their hearts into (and maybe their 2nd mortgages), in hopes of finding enough buyers to make a few bucks, or at least break even. And mostly to find acceptance and recognition for their ingenuity and hutzpah. I had a small booth there for 5 years in the late 90’s, selling my line of small car subwoofers, and so I can relate to these little booths (that I enjoy more than the big ones), and see them as not just shining examples of entrepreneurship and the free enterprise system at work, but as an artistic/creative achievement of sorts, a kin to a production in the formal arts (book/movie/play, etc.).

But you wanna know ‘what was cool at the show?’ So let’s get to it!

It’s weird but the last few years at CES have had an increasing number of automakers with gigantic booths. This year there were about 10 of them! There weren’t hardly any before a few years ago. Why, you ask? I don’t know! I realize there is more electronic/entertainment/connectivity type stuff in them, but who are they trying to sell to, other than the consumer aspect of the attendees? The main point of a trade show is to show and sell things to retailers and distributors. I was glad to see BMW there again giving test drives of their amazing electric car, the i3. They even let us test drive the $150k i8 hybrid this year! 

O.K., so there were thousands and thousands of cool products there, but this one wins my ‘best of show’ prize, for being ingenious, well implemented, affordable, and very useful! It’s “Fake TV!” Not new at the show I guess, cus they say they’ve sold 200k of them on tv. But it was new to me, of course, since I haven’t watched a commercial in 3 decades.  >Another truly useful thing was scottevest, clothing that understands that we’re turning into androids and we need good pocketry.  >Possibly tops on the topic of ‘really useful’ is this wonderful news that the micro usb plug (called “usb-b”) is going away soon! And will be rapidly replaced, on all new phones and gadgets by “micro usb-c”. A much, much, better designed plug that won’t wear out in a year or two causing bad connections, and it features ambidextrous (‘reversable’) plugability, the way the new apple lightening plug does! AND, (this is where it gets real interesting) using a universal standard, will transmit video and all other types of data both ways, super fast, and charge up to 40 watts!! The new Google Nexus phones and MacBooks have it already and the rumor is apple may even switch their iPhones over to it as well. In other words, in a few years, we may hardly remember these old plugs that were all different and ‘dumb’ (not “smart”), and every device everywhere will plug together with everything and share data rapidly, and charge rapidly, and be easy to plug in,…even in the dark. ‘Can’t wait! Plugging devices together and having them play nice for super fast file transfers. Then the dream of plugging your phone in during a layover at the airport, and having a nice size monitor/full size keyboard/mouse workstation will become a reality!

Remember Sony’s Aibo robot dog from about a decade ago? Well this one’s cuter, smarter, and $700 cheaper!  >GoPro has a new smaller model of their action cams out that is only $200 and still shoots 1080p at 60 frames/sec.  >SilentBeacon is a little pendant/keyfob panic button thing that can be activated in an assault situation when fumbling for your phone wouldn’t work, and can send out (from your phone,- you have to be within bluetooth range of your phone) a pre formatted call or two or three to 911/family members etc. It seems very well thought out (their website,.. not so much). 
 >Lots of ‘fitness tracker’ sports bracelets, but not as much movement on fully fleshed out smartwatches. I guess they can’t make full smartwatches small enough or cheap enough yet for people to want them, so they’re trying to sell a bunch of these “almost watches”. I gotta tell you, I bought an LG smartwatch last spring (the one I had said I liked the most at the show last year), and I just really love it! It has definitely become one of these “I don’t know how I lived without it” types of gadgets. It truly does keep me from having to dig my phone out of my pocket about 10 or 20 times a day. And it’s really great for ignoring (‘not answering’ by swiping the watch) when I don’t recognize the caller id. You can also answer quick texts or emails by just speaking into it, and a ton of other things. But the best part for me is that it really helps me not miss calls due to my arm vibrating. As the saying goes: I feel naked without it! I don’t know why LG stopped making it but it’s Android Wear OS, so it will be supported for a long time. They sold for $300 new, which I thought was a lot, but they’re over $400 new now! Fortunately, you can find them used for $200.

There were a lot of new, higher quality motorized scooters of all kinds. I guess electric personal transportation will definitely be in our future. I liked this one the best, as it’s 20mph and superb build quality really make it a serious transportation vehicle.  >This one is kinda cool too, cuz you can sit,… but it only goes 15mph, and it’s $1,700, instead of $1,000 for the standing scooter one! Really, standing is not a big deal for a few miles here and there.  >If you’re maintaining your big iron thing (as Carlin used to call them) this new form of owners manual sure makes it easier to find stuff they’re describing in the manual!  >And if you’re still looking for a good phone mount, don’t forget ProClip.  >’Remember the term “audiophile”? How ‘bout “high fidelity”? Or “high-end sound gear”? We haven’t heard those terms for awhile now. Nor have we heard any good sound, for that matter. We’re too busy making music listening ‘convenient’, with compressed files and cheap earbuds, that we’ve forgotten about the search for the holy grail of ‘perfect sound reproduction’. Well, the folks over at Sennheiser, you know, the old german microphone/headphone company, are still on that quest, to follow that star, no matter how hopeless,… Anyway, they have developed a new surround format they’re calling 3D sound that uses 9 channels and places the mics high and low, and I gotta tell ya, the demo was phenomenal. Here’s the article on it. It may be coming to a theater or living room near you soon!

How ‘bout a really, really good sounding, very well thought out bluetooth speaker?  >Or some beautiful real wood veneer covers for your devices?  >Or a transparent TV?  >Maybe an alarm clock that wakes you with smells?  >Or the World’s First Wearable Translator, to kiss strangers?  …O.K., now we’re just getting silly. I think I’ll wrap it up.

It was a fun show. Just Bryan and I this year, as Ethan and his east coast gang decided every other year is going to have to suffice. This is us with our scooters. Not chopped hogs, but Razer kick scooters. You see, there’s zero parking at the show. We stayed cheap, off the strip, a little over a mile away from show, and avoided all the long taxi, monorail, and shuttle bus lines,…and got some exercise! (and we know how much, due to our smart bracelets!)

See you next year! (year 38!) (for me, anyway.) (It’ll be the 49th CES)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Why bicycling isn’t all that much fun:

ADDED JAN 28th----I just had to modify this blog post about biking because I went to the Electric Bike Expo last week and it really opened my eyes about the ebike revolution like never before! I’ve always been aware that ebikes were a great concept and that someday they could really take off and be way more popular if only they were built better, and cost less. I just didn’t notice that it had happened suddenly this year! The technology advanced in a sudden jump and now ebikes are powerful, smooth, quiet, go really far, and don’t cost nearly as much! At the Expo there were over a hundred different models, starting at $1,000… and they let anyone ride any and all of them as long as you wanted! I rode as many as I could in the 7 hours that I was there, and I must tell you, there wasn’t one that I didn’t want to take home and ride every single day! From big cargo bikes to high performance mountain bikes, and everything in-between, the motor assist made the difference between “O.K., cool, that’s a nice bike.” to, “Wow, that is seriously fun,… can I ride it again?” They now put the motor in the bottom bracket where the crank arms are, so that it can take advantage of the gearing just as we humans do! So now the motor, and the battery, can be much smaller and lighter than before. They also have torque sensors and smart electronics that very smoothly give you extra power when you’re pedaling, and you don’t hardly notice,… you just feel like you’re really in shape, and kinda like you’re always going with the wind or down hill! You’re still biking and pedaling, and you’re still getting some exercise, you’re just going much faster and not sweating and breathing hard. It changes everything about biking. You can bike to work without arriving a sweaty mess. And then on your bike home, you may want to set the assist level to low or off, and get a work out if you like. But should a head wind come up, or you just feel tired that day, just turn the assist level way up, and cruise home fast without much pedal pushing at all! There are riders of ALL levels finding the joys of ebiking. From die hard cyclists that add an ebike to their collection for pure enjoyment, to virtually first time riders, who maybe rode as a kid but never thought they’d like biking again since they’re out of shape. Some are buying to ride with a spouse or friend that rides a regular bike, and now they can ride together. And some get racks and baskets or panniers and literally replace the car ride to the grocery store! It only costs a nickel to charge an ebike, and then it goes over 30 miles! It truly is an exploding revolution in transportation. Take a friend and go test ride one at your local bike shop, or look up when the Ebike Expo is coming to your town. It just may change everything about biking for you!------

For those of us that aren’t avid bikers, aren’t fit and active, frequent riders that actually enjoy the rigorous workout of a challenging fast ride, working up a sweat, and getting winded, - bicycling is just not on our radar. Either we’re older, outta shape, occasional weak knee,…whatever, we just don’t think about biking much. However, most of us still remember enjoying the freedom and exhilaration of it in our youth, and secretly plan to get around to trying it again,…sometime! ‘Problem is, it not only takes a bicycle, (though there’s plenty around, and even if we need to buy a new one, they’re pretty cheap, and it’s a fun purchase!) but it also takes a great weather day, a bit of gumption, and an event or destination with maybe a friend that may or may not be in the same state or level of interest in the idea. But let’s say all the stars align, we buy a shiny new ride, the event day arrives, the weather is perfect, your helmut fits well,… ‘you’re ’STYLIN’!  The ride seems a little longer than you thought it’d be, but it’s fine. You lock your bike, attend the event, eat the lunch or whatever, and then it’s time to ride home. Your friend(s) are either way ahead, or way behind (either one is annoying), there’s suddenly slight inclines that you don’t remember riding down on the way there, a headwind has picked up, and now you're breathing hard, pumping those legs, and traveling at a speed that’s only a little faster than walking! - ’Not that much fun!? You start wondering what the return policy might be on the bike.? -What happened? 

Well,... several things. You may have selected too long of a ‘first’ ride. You probably shouldn’t have eaten that big of a lunch. You may have bought the bike you wanted, instead of needed (a heavy cruiser instead of a lightweight commuter), and then there are quite a number of other things that need some understanding and planning to make bike riding truly fun, even for an older, outta shape ‘inner child’ that’s still in all of us. Here’s a quick list of the most common foibles that usually keep people from enjoying casual bike riding. For starters, don’t think of it as exercise. It is, but don’t call it that, or you’ll never get around to it. The goal is to make the rides as easy as possible so that you’ll enjoy each one and want to do more, getting a little exercise in the process. If you want to get a long, cardio workout, go to cycle class at the gym. But bicycling should, and can be a pleasant experience.

Step one: Get a good bike. $400 buys you a brand new, wonderfully high tech, lightweight bike today that is a joy to ride. It won’t look like that cruiser of your childhood, but it’ll outperform it a hundred ways. Do not buy a heavy bike thinking it will give you more exercise. 

Step two: Learn how the gearing works. Gearing is a huge thing that will totally reduce your need for pedaling by about half, by utilizing leverage. Being in the right gear is everything, and today’s bikes shift extremely smoothly. Basically, if your feet are going around too slow (~75rpm is ideal, a $25 bike computer with “cadence” feature will keep you in the know), down-shift to a lower gear, and if they’re going too fast, up-shift. This is very important, and not hard to learn! 

Step three: Adjust your seat high enough so that your legs extend almost all the way, but with a slight knee bend. It reduces leg cramps and increases leg power about two-fold! This is so important, and yet you’ll see hundreds of people riding with their seat too low. Do not worry about being unable to reach the ground when stopped. If you need to stop you can hop off the seat or put one foot on the curb, but you must not ride with the seat too low! 

Step four: Pump your tires tight! When you buy your bike, buy a pump. The ‘garage' kind that stand about two feet tall, not the ‘emergency’ kind that goes in your backpack (though you’ll need one of those and a patch kit as well) and use it every time you ride (bike tires loose pressure in just a few weeks). Those big pumps are easy to use, fast, and don’t even cost much (~$20) like they used to. Riding with low tire pressure increases your rolling resistance by A LOT, and can feel like your riding into a headwind all the time! 

Step five: Avoid headwinds! How do I predict the weather you ask? Well, if you’re going on a ride for fun, and not to a specific destination, ride toward the wind when you start, that way, when you’re more tired on the way home you’ll have a tail wind! (same idea for hills).

Use a backpack. Don’t ever have anything swinging from your handlebars. Put it in your backpack along with your bike lock and cable that is long enough to go thru both wheels, the frame, around the pole, and up to the seat frame (~7’ coated cable is best. - it won’t feel that heavy in your backpack). The front 'ball' of your foot should be centered over the pedal, not the center of your foot. You'll notice most people biking by, with their seat too low, tires half flat, feet too far forward on pedals, in too high of a gear, sweating, straining, and not having much fun. If you buy the right stuff, adjust it right, and shift gears a lot, you’ll completely enjoy riding and discover why they’ve found that bicycling is the number one most efficient form of transportation of all. It’s true,... it uses less energy per mile than trains, planes, busses, cars, motor scooters, rollerskating,…even walking!

Actually, they’ve recently revised that study result. They found a new type of transport that uses less energy than even the bicycle. It's the electric bicycle! When calculating the energy in the electricity, compared to the amount of energy required to grow the food and the calories used to propel the regular bike, the electric bicycle is more efficient, whether or not you help it along by some pedaling. Electric bikes are exploding on the scene globally and are destined to out number the automobile. They go 20 mph for 40 miles and charge back up in a couple hours. The new ones have their “mid-drive” motor in where you pedal so they use the gearing for more efficiency like you do. That way they can have a smaller and lighter motor and battery which weigh less, further improving the performance. They have smart computers and torque sensors that know how hard you’re pedaling and supply a corresponding motor-thrust so smoothly you hardly know you’re on an electric! It just feels like an incredibly lightweight bike and you feel like you’re Lance Armstrong! You can adjust how much assist it provides, for example, setting it on “level 1” for the first part of your ride, and then if you get tired, or encounter hills or headwinds, switch to level 3 or 4 and put a big grin on your face! They still get you out and active and exercising, and they still provide all the exhilarating, wind-in-your-hair fun of biking, but without the hard pedaling, breathing, and sweating! Try one out at a specialty bike shop. They’re a little pricey, but then there’s a lot of technology there. And if they’ll get us out biking a lot more often, which they certainly will, then maybe they’re worth the investment!

This is the best mid-drive ebike for the price (street-price at ~$2799) that I know of as of this post date of 9/13/15    or, now (as of 1/28/16), if you're interested in a city bike like I am, this one (street priced at $2,300)

The Electric Bike, Your Next Family Vehicle



Sunday, January 11, 2015

2015 Annual CES Sumary

2015 CES was extra fun for me, as I had five young guys accompany me, one of which was my son. This allowed me to periodically see the show ‘through their eyes’ noticing what interested them most, and the questions they asked, etc. They all work in technical fields such as computers and videography, which influenced the degree of their technical interests, but more than anything I noticed how different they were from me on a much more fundamental and societal level. Young people today are so extremely comfortable with the new, and quite complicated, ‘connected world’ and it’s impact on lifestyle, that it automatically allows them to see different aspects and ramifications of new products. Aspects that I, not only don’t think of, but don’t always fully understand, even after having it explained to me!  I don’t Tweet. Or Instagram. Or Snapchat. I’m not Linkedin. No Google Plus. I don’t ‘IM’ on ‘FB’. I rarely even text. I call. I don’t stream my movies, I watch them the old fashioned way, by getting a ‘disc’ in the ‘mailbox’, and reading it with a “Laser”. ‘Talk about feeling old! A week with these guys, seeing the latest consumer electronics, and occasionally relating my remembrances of ‘Days of CES Past’ made me feel like I was ready for the scrap heap myself! But it made for one of the most interesting of my 36 consecutive annual CES excursions.

So, what was cool (IMHO)? Well, there was a boatload of movement in automotive tech. And in aftermarket audio, there are new headunits that work seamlessly with your phone to bring all of its 4G connectivity, and all of its device-resident content to an easy to use 7” screen in your dash. This Parrot one looks like it will be the best, as it displays vehicle engine parameters, acts as a DVR for several cameras, and plays nice with both android and iphones, although I’m sure it will be pricey. />There were a few of the new, ‘mid drive’ electric bikes there that will revolutionize bicycling like this Felt one that uses the Bosch drive system. This ebike thing is really heating up. Having the motor in the bottom bracket/crank allows it to take advantage of the gearing. And the huge advancment in torque sensors and fast processors makes the motor respond so smoothly to your pedaling, you just feel like you're Lance Armstrong. />A lot of 3D printing, but no ‘killer app’ yet to explode the category. />There were hundreds of drones due to the killer app of aerial videography. This one is ready to fly, and shoot 1080p 60fps right out of the box for $1,300. />This tracker tracks your stuff for just $29! />For people with iphones or anyphone without an SD card slot, this is a little hard drive you can easily access or move files to and from your phone, up to 128GB! />Here’s a great version of a wall charger for all devices. />Smartphones have only been out for, what, five years now? And already there are price-competitive, full feature phones coming out from makers like Blu, Alcatel, and ZTE, at around $200 instead of the $600 we’ve grown accustomed to! />How ‘bout electronic pain relief? />This is the best bluetooth speaker I’ve ever seen. It's small, durable, waterproof, terrific sounding, and if you get a second one you can stack them and they automatically both play, or set them to each play left and right channels and have stereo!
4K TV’s were ALL that anyone showed at CES. That’s right,... HDTV’s are “out of style”! This is strange since there is virtually NO 4K CONTENT AVAILABLE! ? But, that doesn’t stop the TV makers from showing off their great work at creating gorgeous display panels that only look their best in stores playing special 4K footage out of computers. Panasonic did show a prototype 4K Blu-ray Player that may be available next year, and may have some movies available sometime, somewhere. Perhaps for sale, but no plans of anyone like Netflix renting them. Dish satelite tv service said it will have a 4K service soon, but again, no mention of what might be available to see on it. So, why get a 4K TV set, you ask? Well, if you’re in need of a new set, and if you have say, $1,000 more to spend than the $1,000 that you can buy a 70” HDTV for, then you should spring for the 4K one. Because: A; There might be stuff to watch in a year or two. B; The up converters in these sets do help our current 1080p content look a little better on them. And, C; The wonderful thing about a 4K TV is that you can view your photos (which, if you have a 5+ megapixel camera, are all higher resolution than 1080p) on it and they look way better! The best looking 4K sets so far are the O(organic)LED ones, like those from LG. However, there are no firm dates or even price ranges given as of yet. Curved TV’s were again shown all over the place, and, again, I will predict that these will go the way of 3d tv (which I accurately predicted would not be a big thing, back some 5 yrs. or so ago). The problem is that TV watching is usually done with more than one person, and with a curved screen, only one person can sit in the middle. Duh! Samsung and LG did show prototypes ($100,000+) of flexible/bendable/motorized tv’s though -- so if you’re ever watching alone you can curve it! As with my 2014 summary, I’ll say the best TV product is the Channel Master DVR that does not need a monthly subscription service. It is what we’ve all wanted for decades now, and can all benefit from, unlike a silly curved tv. 

However, desktop computer monitors are ideal for curved screens, and I think we’re all going to want one of these curved, extra-wide (21x9 aspect ratio) (same as 2.3:1 ‘anamorphic’ movies) giant monitors, (once they come down in price) because you can put 3 documents or ‘windows’ up at a time and really increase productivity. The curve is more than just cool-looking at that point, as it keeps you from having to re-focus your eyes as you scan the huge display space. Another thing you can do is watch 2.3:1 movies (if you don’t mind sitting at your desk) without seeing black bars top and bottom. (rant alert-) What I didn’t see, and even when I asked in every booth, doesn’t exist, is any 2.3:1 (‘21x9’) ultra wide screen TVs! I still don’t understand this. About half the movies made today are 2.3:1 and half are 16:9. AND, the better movies (more expensively made, anyway) are the 2.3:1 ultra wide screen ones! SO, when we watch the better movies on our 16:9 TVs, they are smaller (a third smaller!), and when we watch the mediocre movies (and tv shows), they are a third bigger--? Isn’t that sorta the opposite of logical? Anyway, I just thought somebody would make a 21x9 aspect ratio TV panel. For the people that care about that. Seems like there’d be a large enough market for at least a few of those. But no. (-okay, rant over.) 

Alright,... it’s time for… ‘The coolest thing I saw at CES this year’: I finally saw a smart watch that is worth buying (after 3 yrs and dozens of models). The LG G Watch R is the first smartwatch so far, that has enough stuff in it, isn’t too big, and looks good, IMHO. Unfortunately it’s still $300 because it just came out, but I’m sure it will be down towards $200 within the year, and then cheaper on the next version as they get popular and they build in quantity. To me, a smartwatch is not worth having if you can’t answer a simple text or quick email without having to pull out your phone. And this one does that by just talking into it. It also has a heart rate monitor built right in, and a lot of other smooth, well designed touches. I hope the iwatch will have voice input for responding to texts as well. This is where watches become truly usable, don’t you think? I think this watch will truly keep you from having to pull your phone out about 35% of the time. I’m ready to buy this one. Uh,... can I borrow $300?



see also: 2014 CES Summary http://fredbellows.blogspot.com/2014_01_01_archive.html

Friday, December 26, 2014

The nite B4 xmas (updated version)

i wrote and read this for my family's amusement this xmas:

It was the night before Christmas, and all thru the house,
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
the kids were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugary snacks danced in their heads.
my wife in her snuggie, and I in my cap
had just settled our brains for a short, but deserved nap.
We’d been up late, wrapping and arguing over the presents, I guess I was kind of a jerk,
but the bike and other toys I assembled really turned out to be a lot of work!
But we kissed and made up, and drifted off to sleep, thinking about how excited the kids would be,....
it was so...peaceful, ….so nice...so... quiet,...
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what the hell was the matter!?
Away to the window, I flew, like Flash, threw up on the shutters, but had opened the sash.
I didn’t see anything at first, but the light from the moon,...on the the new-fallen snow,
gave a lustre of mid-day to the objects below. -It was really... quite pretty.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little ole’ driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be -St. Nick! You know...Santa!
Now, I don’t believe in the supernatural, like angels and demons, but I thought,...you know,-maybe, Santa!?
I figured I was dreaming, but I pinched myself and it hurt! And it all seemed so real,... I felt very alert!
So I was watching the guy, as they circled the yard,
...and I noticed he was kinda mean,... as he cracked his whip and yelled at his team,
“Now! Dasher!, Now Dancer!, Now Prancer! and Vixen!, ‘come on Comet!, n Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen!
We’ve got a lot more to do tonight!, so...let’s crush it!”
I suddenly realized I really had to pee, but thru the small bathroom window, I just couldn’t see,...  
I heard them land on the roof, yes, the prancing and pawing of each little hoof,
so I finished up quick, and turned with a jerk.
I headed downstairs but I stopped on the landing space, just in time to see Santa drop into the fireplace!
Fortunately the fire was out, but he tracked in a lot of ash, and soon the carpets were really quite trashed.
I instantly knew, you know, like the down of a thistle, that later I’d have to break out the Bissel.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he look'd like a peddler just opening his pack:
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
seemed kinda creepy, like something to dread.
But his droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, well, it stunk up the place, quite a reak.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And with the way I’d been eating around the holidays, it reminded me of myself;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his tasks,
And filled all the stockings; then listened while I asked:,
Santa, if you’re really real, then why can’t you help bring world peace?
He said most people didn’t believe in him, or in even the possibility of world peace.
Then laying a finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney, he rose!
But I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight, “Keep working on it, all, and to all a good night!”

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