Techworld

CES 2013: Diary of a CES noob, Part 1

  • (Network World)
  • 08 January, 2013 23:00

CES is one of the few big techie events that I was at least moderately familiar with before I started working here at Network World, less than a year ago. I always thought of it as the nerd playground to end all nerd playgrounds, with years-from-release technology available to the eager gadgeteer.

And I was right -- sort of.

For one thing, on Monday the main exhibition in the Las Vegas Convention Center still wasn't really up and running yet -- the big company announcements and press conferences were all over at the Mandalay Bay hotel. Touring the yawningly vast exhibition halls reveals a whole lot of almost-built booths and kiosks, but few technological goodies spread out for me to play with.

I do have a new appreciation for the work that goes into these setups, however. I'd always assumed they were just kind of rickety pre-fab slabs of plastic that companies could put up and take down again as easily as a carnival ride with unconvincing safety permits. However, the ones at CES are being sawed and hammered into shape by harried-looking carpenters with at least as much care as theatrical stage designers.

There are still stacks of wooden crates everywhere on the exhibition floor -- I saw vast piles of them behind the convention center as I rode in on a shuttle bus this morning, and they looked a lot like the last scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

And when I say the exhibition halls are "yawningly vast," I'm not kidding around -- I got legitimately, Apple-maps lost during the course of my earlier reconnaissance, eventually using a gigantic "SHARP" logo as a reference point to find my way back into the seas of people wandering in the halls outside the main event. The fact that my stomach had been badgering me to find it some lunch for hours added to the sensation of being trapped in a plywood and plastic jungle populated by bored booth personnel.

Fleeing the jungle, I stumbled hungrily into something called ACES Restaurant, which turned out to be one of those cafeterias with a bunch of differently themed counters, allowing you to opt for desperately unhealthy Mexican, Chinese, Italian or "grilled" food, with a frightened-looking salad bar huddled in the center of the room. (My chicken fingers were perfectly acceptable, for the record.)

So part of the reason that CES isn't yet the nerd garden of Eden is that it's still pulling itself together and much of what was going on today happened at the Mandalay Bay. However, to hear a lot of veteran CES-watchers tell it, the vast conference has been heading downhill in recent years.

Lacking a frame of reference, I couldn't tell you whether that's true or not. However, as the show rounds into gear on Tuesday, I'll be watching with interest to see what develops.

Here's a more detailed timeline of the first two-thirds of my first day at CES:

7 a.m. - wake-up call. Have one of those awkward "thank you" moments where you're not actually sure if you just talked to a machine or not.

7:05 a.m. - call room service for light continental breakfast. OK, fine, sausage and eggs.

7:15 a.m. - emerge from shower, made more exciting by highly variable water temperature.

7:20 a.m. - accept breakfast from genial hotel employee who apparently is a former Marine. Feel vaguely guilty that he's bringing callow young journalists food for a living, much less vaguely under-accomplished in comparison.

7:45 a.m. - work in hotel room while watching episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" out of corner of eye on Netflix.

8:30 a.m. - romp downstairs, dressed to kill, well ahead of schedule for shuttle to Las Vegas Convention Center and 10 a.m. session.

8:31 a.m. - realize CES credentials -- which arrived in mail with multiple exhortations to "please remember to bring these to the event!" are sitting on nightstand in Cambridge, Mass.

8:32 a.m. - general panic and disarray.

8:35 a.m., on shuttle bus -- Resolve to throw self on mercy of CES staff before sending "help, I'm an idiot" email to long-suffering editors.

9:00 a.m., Las Vegas Convention Center - Throw self on mercy of cordial CES staffer in registration tent, follow his directions to press center. Two further cordial staffers issue necessary credentials without batting an eye.

9:10 a.m. - rejoice.

9:15 a.m. - celebratory Starbucks. Relaxing walk around outside of Convention Center, made more relaxing by realization that scheduled panel discussion isn't due to begin until noon.

9:50 a.m. - relaxation diminished by further glance at CES 2013 scheduling app, which indicates that session does indeed start at 10 a.m.

9:55 a.m. - not-quite jog to conference room, which is located at far end of facility, because of course it is.

10:01 a.m. - sweatily plop into seat in crowded conference room, to undoubted delight of people on either side. Realize with relief that event hasn't started yet.

10:05 a.m. - absorb insightful commentary on mobile ecosystem, while hoping like crazy that awful sound system's buzzing and crackling doesn't make recording of proceedings unusable.

10:30 a.m. - sound system calms down. Commentary perfectly audible, with partial exception of panelist with very soft speaking voice.

10:35 a.m. - sound system goes out completely with parting volley of buzzes and cracks. Soft-spoken panelist, naturally, begins speaking more frequently.

11:10 a.m., press center - discover that recording is perfectly audible, though requires volume cranked to 11. Transcribe normal-sounding voices accompanied by sound system noises elevated to 1812 Overture levels.

11:25 a.m. - google "ear damage decibel levels."

Noon - realize that focus of panel story is all wrong.

1:30 p.m - finally finish story and file to editors. Decide it's time to check out the show floor.

1:40 p.m. - find like two operational booths in giant exhibition hall. Venture deeper in.

1:45 p.m. - get overwhelmed by sheer scale of exhibition hall. Almost certainly lost.

1:55 p.m. - seriously lost. Beginning to get hungry.

2:10 p.m. - wonder whether half-completed booth materials are edible. Vaguely recall some fact about organic glues in plywood.

2:20 p.m. - consider new life as native ruler of random area of deepest exhibition hall. Search for suitable materials for warpaint denoting high office.

2:25 p.m. - find way out. Thank lucky stars no warpaint materials found.

2:30 p.m. - eat chicken fingers. Can only assume were superior to plywood, but full comparison impossible.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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