From: Gever Tulley
Sent: Tuesday, April 11, 2000 2:23 AM
To: + QPD
Subject: NAB – First Ascent
9-Apr-00 21:50 — First Flight
I’ve spent the day hacking and pulling weeds out of my flowerbeds. As I settle in for the flight from SFO to LV, I revel in the memory of the startled earthworms and scurrying beetles. It is the last real thing I will see until I leave Las Vegas.
Tonight I will stay in the poor side of town. There are no rooms on the strip, save those reserved for the whales. Tonight I sleep with the fishes on the edge of the ecosystem.
9-Apr-00 23:07 — Into the Breach
My appreciation of the Fitzgerald Hotel and Casino is tainted by the broken elevator system (just a momentary problem, they assure me) and the broken glass in the hallway. Someone has smashed open the case containing the fire axe. Someone in this hotel is walking around with an axe.
Maybe their mini-bar is locked shut like mine.
I make my way back downstairs (the elevator is indeed working again) to get a light snack before turning in. Some juice and a piece of fruit, I hope. Molly’s buffet is open 24 hours (like everything else here) and a gray haired lady named Sienna O’Mally lets me order the continental breakfast with a bagel instead of a croissant. Five minutes later she comes back to say that the fridge with the fruit is locked. I guess that’s why they needed the fire axe.
10-Apr-00 07:28 — Another trip to the Buffet
Fitzgerald’s has an Irish theme. My last name would have been O’Shea if Ozzie and Harriet hadn’t adopted my father when he was six. I should like it here, right?
I head back to Molly’s buffet for breakfast hoping that they have the fruit fridge open. The real breakfast menu is chock full of treats from the Emerald Isle; French toast, canned pears, and Canadian bacon. There is a subtle charm here that I am beginning to enjoy. I ask Yolanda O’Mally if there are any Irish breakfast items. She reads my mind, replying, “We don’t serve oatmeal, if that’s what you’re asking.”
10-Apr-00 09:04 — Waiting to Inhale
NAB is spread over three giant show floors in two separate areas. The hard-core broadcasting technology is here in the Las Vegas Convention Center (which the cabbies call ell-vee-see-see) and the new-fangled internet stuff is three miles away in the Sands convention center. This arrangement is designed to extract the maximum cab fare from the conventioneers. I am waiting in line for my badge.
10-Apr-00 09:53 — Seeing the Louvre on a Motorcycle
It turns out that my meeting with the Bulldog folks has to be postponed until eleven. Since I am not entirely sure what will transpire at the meeting, I resolve to see as much of this part of the show as I can. Just a preview so that I can spend more time at the good stuff after the meeting. I divide the room by the major isles and begin walking. In twenty minutes I reject more than two hundred pounds of collateral. This is a brutal exercise in saying “No Thanks” as quickly as you can while trying to see just what it is you don’t want any more information on, and no you can’t swipe my card. The Quokka name is attracting every media streaming company, every web cam company, and quite a few of the e-commerce (what are they doing here?) folks. In some ways it is gratifying to see that the name is pretty well known, but it’s cutting into my booths-per-minute count. I check my watch, 10:30+ and I’m only one third of the way through this room. I step up the pace, good thing I’m wearing my Mephisto’s.
10-Apr-00 11:06 — Howdy, Howdy
I meet Randy and Shannon in the Bulldog booth. They are both trying to get out of conversations when I arrive. I check my map while they wrap up. I’ve seen almost 80% of this room. There are roughly 22 aisles each containing about 16 booths, so that works out to 4.7 booths per minute, but I have a pretty good idea of where to focus my time later.
Shannon finally pulls Randy out of his conversation and we talk a little about the show, the Las Vegas scene, and LA before getting around to the projects we are really here to discuss. Randy immediately warns me, that he is a type-A personality and that he often rubs people the wrong way. Contrary to this warning, he is funny and insightful. Shannon tries to keep us on topic, and Randy and I dutifully discuss the possible issues of integration with the Context Management system, XML in general, and some details of how the current phase of the project is going. Randy and Shannon are both feeling good about this next delivery. Then it is Shannon’s turn to derail us, and we spend some time talking about Paragliding. Then it’s back to details, and oops, it’s time for lunch meetings, and see you next week.
10-Apr-00 12:12 — Once More Into the Fray
By my count I have about thirty things to take a closer look at. A quick lunch (don’t ask), and then it’s time to get busy.
Canal+ Technologies is doing some interactive TV stuff with their network. It’s got data overlays and some forms of video on demand, but there are some synchronization issues that keep me from getting excited.
WebLinx has something that I thought was a stream management tool, but wasn’t. Then I decided that it was an asset management system, but that turned out wrong too. Now I see that the sheet I grabbed calls it “the only backwards-compatible, forward-looking, server powered networking platform.” Well gosh, why didn’t it seem that clear when I saw it in person?
Artesia Technologies has an asset management system. I’m just looking at it so that I can challenge Randy later if he starts boasting in a meeting – “But does it do workflow analysis and optimization?”, I’ll ask. Actually it’s interesting to contrast this system with Bulldog after just having talked with them.
Compaq is here and I wander the booth until I am spotted. I’m lucky this time since the person who spotted me is actually a genuine Quokka fan from Compaq who just started there a few days ago.
OpenTV has a “new vision for television”. It looks uncannily like the Canal+ offering. So far nobody is synching overlay content with video streams. Is it really that hard? The “check scores” option won’t even tell you the current score of the game you are watching. “Those scores are ten to fifteen minutes behind real-time”, they tell me.
TV-Anytime looks to be a loose consortium of the usual broadcast/internet/convergence/hardware suspects. They are developing open standards “to enable audio-visual and other services based on mass-market high-volume digital local storage in consumer platforms.” Either this is actually a plot instigated by the airline industries to guarantee lots of off-season tickets, or they are planning to dump giant loads of content into set-top boxes while we sleep. I like the Tivo/RePlayTV idea of downloading content to local storage for viewing on demand, if this is a logical extension of that idea, I’m all for it. Check out http://www.tv-anytime.org for more details.
Britain has Open, “the world’s leading interactive TV service”. This is a jointly owned venture from BT, BSkyB, HSBC and Matsushita (makers of the worlds largest tractors as well) and developed in conjunction with OpenTV and Oracle. As near as I can tell, they may have some better synchronization support. The demo I saw showed e-commerce links tied to music videos with the buy button showing up exactly when the video started. The person I talked to had a nice accent, but no real details.
The Intel e-home is filled with internet appliances that look like art-deco toys. The Quokka ad plays prominently in the webOutfitters reel that runs continuously above the main stage.
CyberSport/ORAD have some pretty cool demos of their field-of-play graphics systems. I ask about doing Madden-drawings on the field, and they agree that it would be cool. A technical problem prevents the demos from going completely smoothly and the team logos keep sliding around on the monitors when the camera pans. The virtual down line is a little better behaved, but it draws on top of the announcer.
Zcam (www.3dvsystems.com) has a camera attachment that records z-buffer depth for every pixel in the view. Their demos are a little hokey, but the effect is cool. They mostly use it for depth based video keying. It has great depth resolution (up to about twenty feet) and I wonder if there are outdoor applications that they haven’t explored. Unfortunately the device itself is pretty bulky.
Phillips is showing MyPersonalTV. This is Tivo and a satellite decoder in the same box. They are supporting MPEG-5 and DVB-MHP/Java, so it sounds like they are going to be able to do the kinds of synchronization that the others are not. Of course there isn’t much MPEG-4 support out there let alone MPEG-5, so we may have to wait a while.
PlayTV (www.playtv.com) is just another streaming video on the web service from the folks at http://www.play.com. “Watch it, be part of it, love it”, demands Kiki Stockhammer. Is this really just a ploy to sell the Play systems to folks who want to webcast their own shows?
NAB is chock full of interesting experiences. I’m watching, no, staring at a really high resolution flat panel HDTV monitor the size of a cow when I hear someone behind me exclaim “Wow! Check it out dude; real-time 1080i/720p down-conversion!” I turn around to see two guys pointing at a box that has two LED’s and a single switch labeled “Mode A”.
10-Apr-00 20:10 — The Best Buffet in Las Vegas
Two cab drivers have told me that the Monte Carlo has absolutely the best buffet in all of Las Vegas. One even goes so far to say that in the thirty years that she has lived here (arriving when she was twenty, on the tail of a sudden divorce from that lousy shit), there has never been a better buffet. Having tasted the worst, I decide to try the best. It’s actually much better than the Fitzgerald, and I discover that pork chow mein goes great with mashed potatoes. The vegetable selection in the salad bar is kind of sad.
It is my belief that if you lead a generally good life, but eat some quantity of meat along the way, you will be re-born as an avocado. If you were especially good, you get eaten at the peak of ripeness by two young lovers in a frenzy of culinary passion. But, if you were a bad person, you come back as an unripe tomato and languish, forlorn and forsaken in the purgatory of a Las Vegas salad bar buffet.
10-Apr-00 23:20 — No Place Like Home
I’ve spent the last three hours walking around on the strip. The fountains at Bellagio are cool, but the music from Grease seems inappropriate. The white tigers at the Mirage are not in their play area, but they have left some really big white-tiger-poop for us to look at. I accidentally enter the parking garage in one of the big casinos (I can’t remember which) and suffer a bad out-of-box experience as I step in a pool of oil.
In the cab ride back to Fitzgeralds the driver informs me that he gets a commission if he takes me to strip club. Do I have to go in? I ask. He gives me a card with my receipt when he drops me off at my hotel. That card, he says, and $150 plus tip will get me a beautiful woman in my room. No thanks, I say.
“Well how about a guy?” he says as he offers another card.
“Do you have someone who can make oatmeal?” I reply as I shut the car door.