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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!

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

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 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, 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!”

Monday, January 13, 2014

My Annual CES Summary 2014

On this, my 35th consecutive Consumer Electronics Show trip, I thought back to my first visit, and couldn’t help but notice that there is almost no recognizable connection to that show in the late 70’s.  Not only was the show about 1/20th the size, as far as the number of exhibitors and the size and scope of the booths, but also the very nature of the products has changed almost completely. Then it was all hardware-based appliances that once you purchased them, you owned the right to use them outright. And they would most likely perform for you for many, many years to come. Today, most consumer electronics items are tied intrinsically to its’ software. Software that will, they admit to you upfront, “only be supported” for about a year or two. –Meaning: “it will no longer function”. ! –Yes, when you buy most products today, you must expect, and plan, to throw them in the garbage in a very few years. !?  - ‘That’s not bad enough; many products are tied to a ‘subscription model’ of service to make the item useable at all! So, after you shell out a few hundred bucks to buy it, you need to pay tens of dollars per month to use it, and, expect it to become obsolete in a ‘couple a years.!?  - ‘Times have certainly changed. Now,…. having said that, there are some pretty cool products out today, compared to when I first attended CES…

The prettiest things at the show (besides some of the hired help in the booths) were the 4K TV sets, showing the specially shot Ultra-High-Definition videos of beautiful beaches, cityscapes, etc. The first, production, affordable 4K TV’s will begin to ship later this year. These sets will up-convert and display our current Blu-ray discs a little better than standard 1080p sets, however, true 4K content may be quite a ways off, as only Netflix streaming is even announcing any plan to provide any true 4K shows on these potentially gorgeous TV sets.

The silliest thing in TV’s at CES 2014 was “curved screen TV’s”. Yes, the screen curves in toward you at the outside edges, the way old cinema screens used to in order to help the projector stay in focus by maintaining an even distance from the lens. Except, …there’s no projector. No lens. And no need! And it makes it hard to see if you’re off to one side. ? So there’s absolutely no reason to do it!? But I guess ‘having absolutely no advantage or benefit’ has never stopped features from appearing on products before. So don’t expect that to change anytime soon. But just don’t buy one of these silly TVs (unless you can think of a reason to.)

The coolest thing in TV’s was the first (very few) wide-screen (2.3:1) LCD sets (that were as large as 105” diagonal!) This, I have been waiting for, and expecting for many years. You see, our current “wide-screen, flat-panel” TV’s are no longer wide-screen. They were, compared to old, 4:3 aspect ratio TV, of ten years ago. But now all TV shows are 16:9, and that is now the narrow-screen standard. So when we watch a big-budget, wide-screen (2.3:1) feature film on our TV’s, there are black bars top and bottom, and the picture is actually smaller and less immersive than when we watch a regular, lower budget movie! -In my opinion, it should be the other way around. (and is, in my home theater) The black bars should be on the sides when watching regular movies and TV shows! Right?

So,… there’s that. TV’s. (‘always have to get the TV’s out of the way first, in any CES summary. It’s mandatory) 

Another wonderful breakthrough, and way, way over-due, - also in my opinion, - you know,… this whole write-up is just my opinion, so I’m gonna stop saying that from here on in,…ok? Anyway, the main problem with watching TV is commercials, right? Well,...that, and the problem of having to watch “when-it’s-on”, which might not fit with your schedule. So in the 80’s and 90’s we solved both of those problems simply, affordably, and eloquently, with a little thing we called a VCR. Then, they went and screwed that up by making TV digital, gloriously high-def in 1080i, and completely in-compatible with our VCRs. And they didn’t even bother to develop an HD VCR!? ‘Rude. So, in came the DVR. But no stand-alone unit, that wasn’t tied to a cable, satellite, or TIVO monthly subscription model. ‘Very rude! – Well, the (ten year) wait is over. Finally, here is a universal DVR you can buy, with free program guide, for a few hundred dollars (depending on how much recording space you want), that will let you cut the cable or sat habit, and save about $1,200/yr. !!  -See! I just saved you $1,200/yr.! ‘Don’t say it’s not worth the time to read Fred’s CES Summary!

Muse was the most high-tech, future-is-here item that I saw. I waited in line for almost an hour to try this thing out, and I was very impressed. It monitors your brainwaves with a simple looking headband, and sends the results by Bluetooth to your ‘smart device’ (phone or tablet. ios or android) and you use your favorite headphones to hear the feedback in the form of wind sounds that increase as you get agitated, and decrease as you relax. And it really works! The theory is that it helps you learn how to relax, and by using it briefly when you get home from work or whatever, you can reduce stress and thereby live long and prosper (Vulcans use them, that’s why their ears evolved, to help hold the headband in place).

MHL (“Mobile High-definition Link”) is about a thing you may already own, but don’t realize it, and may already want to use! If you have an Android phone, and want to show your pictures/videos/documents/anything onto a big TV or monitor (in 1080p!) with an HDMI input, all you need is a little adapter! (it’s even “4k ready”!) Click here to see if your phone has this ability.

Once again, Microsoft did not exhibit, and again, I think that’s strange, when they’re trying desperately to hold onto their position as the world’s most popular operating system for personal computing.? They have another, new version of their system out, again, and they say that this time it is good and won’t crash all the time. ‘Haven’t we heard this before? You’d think after 30 years of this we’d learn to give up and look elsewhere, but,… well,…O.K., ….’just one more time…’let’s see this “new” version of Windows. ‘Hmm,…same start button,…hmmm,…same massive processor and ram needed to run it,…same 20gb of OS, using up our (now expensive, because it’s solid state flash) hard drive storage space. But hey, it does touch screen! ‘Mac and Linux don’t do that! So, O.K., we’ll buy some more $1,000 machines with this stuff on it and see if it works this time. (don’t forget your anti-virus software!).  Microsoft doesn’t really need a booth because their devoted friend Intel was there, as always, showing one of every single Windows’ desktop, laptop, palmtop, tablet, netbook, ultrabook, tablet/laptop, laptop/tablet, etc., etc., etc. My favorite is the Asus Transformer Book T100, not just because it is lighter, has the longest battery life (12hrs!), and has the best reviews of any of the ‘detachable screen’ laptops, but also because it’s only $400! And it seems like that’s the most we should have to spend for something that, like I said before, has a pre-determined life span of only a few years.

The watches are coming! The watches are coming! 
We keep hearing this call-to-action cry. Well, they may, in fact, be coming, but  s l o w l y, and without much innovation as of yet. It’s no wonder Apple is waiting on theirs (as they usually do), hopefully they’ll get it right when they finally build one (as they usually do). About a half dozen different ones were shown, including Sony, Samsung, Qualcomm, Pebble, Pine, but they are all still large enough to make whichever arm you have it on tired from lifting, and they’re all still really expensive (>$200). Now,…having said that, I think they are really, really cool! And useful! – But I’m a gadget gear-head and think the giant 6”smartphones are worth carrying around all day, so, take it with a grain of salt… (what the heck does that saying refer to, anyhow?) –Just think, every time you get a text notification, instead of digging around for your phone, pulling it out, turning it on, unlocking the screen, navigating to messages, and then finally reading the message, turning off the phone, putting it away, just to read another “last night was amazing, LU!” from someone, you can just glance at your watch instead! And, you can even use ‘speech-to-text’ right on the watch to reply to the text: “Yeah, that documentary on Lowel University was great!” and you can easily correspond about a great TV show viewing with your spouse (what did you think the text was about?). They really do about half of everything we need to do on our phones daily, and that’s great, but I’m gonna wait a bit until they get a little slimmer, and a little cheaper (cus, they’ll be obsoleted in a few years anyway, as the software becomes un-supported).

I drove the BMW i3 electric car at their huge drive event, featuring over 150 cars! It drove really nice. It felt more like a $45k BMW pure electric, than our $30k Nissan electric does. (which, I guess makes sense)  /> Doc Brown (aka Christopher Lloyd) stopped by in his Delorean Time Machine, and came into the Gibson Guitar booth tent and did a promo on their stage. But then he had to get back. To the future! /> iphones are still very popular. Especially in North America. People love their simple-to-use software, and although many are looking forward to Apple’s rumored larger-screen model, most iphone users say they really like the small size, how it fits easily in their pocket and hand. However, most all of them agree that it would be nice if the battery lasted longer, and there was more storage space. And so, Mophie was born. A slightly larger case that has a battery and more flash memory in it to solve both problems! 

/>  Jamstick is a great way to learn guitar. /> There were sportscams EVERYWHERE.  I liked the Sony ones the best.  /> Here’s a terrific little scooter with high-torque, 3 brakes, stand-or-sit, 300lb. capacity, cargo room, that folds up quickly to a fairly small, portable, power-house of a “last mile” people-mover.  /> A better solution to buying one of those expensive keypad entry doorlocks for your front door, is this device that leaves your current deadbolt’s outside-key-half, and just replaces the inside-knob-half with a receiver and motor to lock/unlock. This webpage shows it just working with the supplied transmitter (or original key), but at the show, and coming soon, is a way that you can just touch the outer lock (like, even with the back of your hands when your arms are full) and the lock will open because it recognizes your smartphone by NFC.  /> I tried on one of those virtual reality headwear screens in the Sony booth. And it played a video of driving fast through a town, but when I turned my head, I could see out the side windows of the car, and when I tilted my head up or down I could see up and down, onto the dash!
 />  AIMe by Jigabot keeps your camcorder trained on whatever you’ve attached it’s infrared emitting ‘beacon’ to. /> And Comply foam pads fit onto your earbuds and keep out more noise and stay comfortable for a long time! These work great. I’ve used them for years. (get 20% off thru 1/31/14 by using code: “CES2014”)  /> 3D printing, driverless cars, and wearable technology were also huge topics at this years’ show, but, it looked to me that they were all a little ways’ off.  So I’ll save those for next year’s summary.  /> The one other major topic and category of products that everyone was buzzing about this year was “The Internet of Things”. This is actually happening right now. From connected toothbrushes to make sure your kids are brushing often and long enough, to infant clothing with heart rate monitors to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, we are connecting more and more things to more and more other things so that they can talk to each other and just send us a text if anything starts going wrong. And this frees up more of our time to go buy more stuff and connect it all together! (and then buy the new version of it in a few years, when these are obsoleted!)   

(please comment if even just something cryptic like "cool!", so I'll now if anyone reads this. Also, you can read all my old previous CES summaries and find out if any of my opinions/predictions came true!)