If you missed Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, here's the Main Story on facial recognition. It's extremely interesting -- fascinating about the development of the technology and concerning about the lack of controls for the most part. And he and his crack staff are able to make if funny, as well.
Even if you don't like auto racing, this is brilliant -- and bizarre. A full 35 major NASCAR drivers are starting a "virtual" iRacing series, broadcast on Fox Sports 1 with their regular announcers calling the iRace. Keep in mind that most drivers began with video games. And many likely already had iRace set-ups in their home, complete with a wheel and drivers seat to "drive" the virtual car and monitor.
The first race is on now as I type this (2:45 pm EDT), and it actually looks semi-real, including sound-effects, stats, in-race interviews with the drivers (skyping in videos from home), replays, and visual effects, like smoke from the cars and the weather changing. A funny moment came when one of the drivers tweeted that he had to go to the bathroom, and so to hold down the fort he attached a photo of his dogs in his chair and at the wheel..
And when I said that these were major NASCAR drivers taking part, I meant it. Among the drivers participating are the defending Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin, defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, the 2018 champion Joey Logano, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski, seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson, and 2016 rookie of the year Chase Elliott. What's more, even legendary Dale Earnhardt Jr. came out of "retirement" to join in.
The thought was that if this got a good response, they'd make a full series out of it. Given that this is apparently trending #2 on Twitter, it certainly appears to have gotten the reaction they were hoping for.
At last it's here -- my ethereally long article about the Consumer Electronics Show. Some of it has been posted on this site during my daily reports, but there's much more and it's actually in some sort of structured order to hopefully help make sense of the show, rather than just random products as with the daily postings.
As always, since this is written for my "The Writers Workbench" column on the Writers Guild of America website, I'm posting a link to the article there, rather then do so here. Not because of priority interest, but because there's a LOT of coding required, and it's all done on the WGA website, which means I don't have to do it here.
So, it you do want to see the full article, you can check it out here.
About six years ago, CES introduced what they called Eureka Park. This was a small area set off for start-ups and entrepreneurs, some with products that maybe would one day hit the market though most wouldn’t get much farther than Eureka Park. It was laid out across three small rooms. Today, it’s a huge part of the exhibition at the Sands Expo, the facility that complements the main Las Vegas Convention Center, taking over much of the lower level. It feels a bit like a flea market, with narrow aisles, crowds trying to jam their way through, and vendors hawking their wares trying to get your attention. It’s also a lot of fun. It’s also grown to include contingents from countries around the world. While most of the companies still won’t see the light of day, many of the foreign contingents feature vendors who have a footprint back at home and are trying to expand, and I’ve come across some of the others in the marketplace. (Every once in a while, a few will show up on the TV show Shark Tahnk, and even get a deal.)
I decided to spend a a bit more time at Eureka Park this year than in the past. I didn’t make it all the way through on my first trip there, dividing time between it and the largest “main room” upstairs — which is massive and dwarfs Eureka Park. (By the way, not only is this main room massive — though very congenial with especially-wide aisles and fewer people — but it’s got the most convoluted layout in which I regularly get lost and struggle to find my way back to the exit doors. Really. It’s sometimes taken me 15-20 minutes to orient myself and find my way out. But this year I had a brilliant idea. And I swear this is true. I brought my compass from my days as it regular wilderness hiker and working for the California Park Service! This let me set my bearings on arrival and made it a breeze to find my way out. Honest. Was it necessary? Of course not. Did it make things easier and more fun. Absolutely.)
As always, in no special order, here are some of the products that caught my interest at Eureka Park.
Heat box is from Holland, and at heart it’s a lunch box. But it’s a self-heating lunch box which allows you to warm up your food and have a hot lunch! It’s wireless, and you add water to the lower area, which you then cover with a metal plate. The water is heater, and essentially you’re steaming the food. So, the only kind of food they don’t recommend it for are things that would normally be crispy. They expect to be in production in Mark.
Younglingz is basically carry-on luggage on wheels, meant for families with small children. The luggage is sort of L-shaped, which creates a sitting area you little kid can sit on, as you wheel it along. Sort of a combination stroller-suitcase. They expect to have them for sale in April-May, and will sell them for $150.
CodeIllusion is a remarkable, very mature product to teach children computer coding (or adults who want to learn). But this isn’t intended to pique a child’s interest, but for those who really seem to love this sort of thing already, because it’s very expensive, around $1,900. But it’s tremendous. The Japanese company has partnered with Disney, and it uses the library of Disney animated films to guide the user through 125 half-hour lessons. Movies like Frozen, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pinocchio and many, many more. It’s elegantly designed and it walks the student through with clips, provides the code for that sequence and then and then explains what it wants you to change. Seriously impressive, seriously expensive.
PeriPage is a tiny portable, inkless printer. About the size of two packs of cigarettes. It uses small rolls of thermal paper and lets you print out photos, documents and labels, The results aren’t laser printer-clear, but fine for its purposes. And being thermal paper, this isn’t meant for things intended as keepsakes, since the results will only last about 10 years, but that’s likely more than long enough for most purposes, which is that you’re away from home and want something printed out right away.
Beyond Eureka Park, I also made it to Showstoppers, which is the other of my two favorite evening events. Lots of vendors there, filling up the ballroom. A couple of companies particularly struck my interest --
The product from Tanvas isn't intended for consumer sale, but is intended for manufacturers. They make "tactile" software (using what's know as haptics) that companies can use in their own products. What I found most interesting is an application they're developing for cars. With most new cars moving away from buttons and dials and onto touchscreen dashboards, that makes it difficult for drivers to know exactly what they're accessing without looking over, which is not always a great thing when driving. However, by giving the dashboard icons a "tactile" feel, a driver will be able to sense what icons they're accessing without checking it out.
I can't tell you if ResQ works as they claim. That's out of my expertise, and the product was only released this week. But if it does work as they insist, it's wonderful. The intent is to allow a user to immediately regain use of their computer after getting hit by a damaging virus or when your system has been blocked by ransonware. The way that ResQ owners described their product, you hit the "Protect" button on their device (connected to your computer), it downloads an image of your computer hard drive while knowing to avoid any virus/ransomware there), and you can them boot your system from this now-external drive. And you can then upload this clean version back onto your computer hard drive. If it works as promised, it's a great thing.
Still more to come from Eureka Park, the Sands and did the Las Vegas Convention Center, but that requires more rambling and note taking, so...onward....
Because of my sense of a "themeless" show this year without any breakthrough technologies, I thought I'd take in CES a bit different this year and look at products more from the innovative perspective, rather than what to expect in the coming years. Some of the innovation is very impressive and some...well, let's say it's not fully thought through. But it all gives an idea of what technology can do and perhaps where it may go.
With no order intended, here are some totally random observations of products that I came across wandering around during the first, full day.
In fact, not only did I have an eye out for innovation, these are some of the honorees for the CES Innovation Awards that the show gives out. And what I found notable is how many of them are in the health and wellness field, an area I generally haven't written about much in the past.
Tactile Pro is the first PC that is made specifically for the blind. It's a laptop which is able to translate information into Braille.
Lexilens is an absolutely fascinating product, assuming it works as described. It's eyewear that is engineered to be a reading aid for dyslexics. The description made it seem like it's able to manipulate the letters that are perceived and then correct them.
On the other end of the spectrum, Mateo is a smart bath mat, and it seems like it's not quite as cool as the inventors believe. It monitors weight, body composition and "posture evolution", sending the information to an app on a smart phone. I guess it's for people who don't like a scale in their bathroom and who want to know more about their posture evolution.
Similarly, there was the Smart Belt which has great intentions, but I don't quite grasp why it would be effective. The intent is to help elderly people who haven an issue with falling. It analyzes the situations that could lead to a fall, and then warns of conditions for future falls. But I'm not sure if most people will react in a way to prevent those future falls, especially when it's simply too late, like losing their balance.
But then, there was another product meant for the elderly that I thought was terrific -- the Pria from Black & Decker. It's an automated medication manager and home health care assistant. Basically, you put all your medication in the device in separate compartments and then program it so that it will dispense the proper dosages each day. And there's also a built-in camera and monitor so that you can have 2-way video communication with a family member or (I assume) your doctor.
One product I'm written about for a few years that I like but really isn't available in the U.S. readily is the induction stove top. (These are cool to the touch, but heat up metal.) It requires a complete rewiring of kitchens and a standard that isn't totally compatible to what utilities provide. (At least that's somewhat how it was described to me.) But Samsung had a portable induction stovetop, intended for small apartments. So, I have to assume that, being portable, it might at least have a better chance of being usable in the U.S.
There were other interesting or odd products, of course, that I came across which were not Innovation winners. Among them are --
The Janax flexible battery is not for consumer sale, but intended for manufacturers. And yes, the lithium battery is flexible. That allows batteries to be built into wearable products where a normal battery would be bulky or uncomfortable.
I've come across Toto toilets in the past, and they do love their toilets. Very innovative, probably more so than most people require, but it's certainly fascinating to see. The latest uses water very efficiently, provides a soft light for those who use the facilities at night where turning on a bright light would be glaring, a quiet flush and the "Washlet" touch pad -- allowing for a, ahem, back cleaning, front cleaning, privacy music and a wand clean.
And lots of Smart locks, which aren't as Smart as I want in a lock. They run on batteries, and I've seen them for several years now (a lot more this year), and I've never been bowled over by how they handle the issue of battery power. One, for example, was the TappLock. It's a very good-looking product that uses fingerprints to open, and you can store fingerprints of 100 people in one model, and up to 500 in another. There are warning lights on the lock and power stats on the app, but if for whatever reason you're not as attentive as you should be, it will need a power boost from a charger to be able to work. When I asked what happens if one doesn't have a portable charger handy, the reply I got back was, "Oh, everybody has a portable charger." Sorry, much as readers here know I absolutely love portable chargers, "Everybody" doesn't carry one. Hey, I don't always. And so I explained to the rep. "Well, okay, but most people do," she replied. I'm not even sure if that's true, but the point was -- what happens to those people who don't?" The answer is they're out of luck. I asked if one could set the app to send a reminder to you when the power drops to any self-set figure -- perhaps 20% battery left -- but she said no, the app won't do that. I'd like creating an app that did do that might be a really good idea, far better than thinking "everybody" has a portable charger.
And that's it for now. More tomorrow. We march on...
In the weeks leading up to CES, my Email Inbox always gets inundated with companies trying to interest reporters in their greatest, first-of-a-kind, easiest, best product ever. And culling through them, I generally am able to get a sense of themes that will permeate the event - the types of products that the tech world is developing and have made finally it to the forefront to push the market ahead. And this year, my observation is that the answer is - none. There doesn't seem to be a theme. Mostly, it was a lot of "stuff." (Which is the technical term…) To be clear, it's all impressively advanced "stuff," but it's still "stuff."
If any types of products did stick out, it was those in the area of health and wellness, Smart homes, wearables, 5G (still "on the verge," and not mainstream yet), and streaming services. We'll see, over the next few days. Mind you, all of these are perfectly valid consumer fields, just not what most people think of when anticipating the Cool Things in Tech.
Further, even without themes, there are always a range of some wonderful and fascinating devices, technologies and advances that catch your eye. Indeed, one of the major points of CES is discovering what companies are improving and coming up with, to see the direction it's all headed.
To be clear, this is nothing new. I've long had a theory about Big Themes. I've found that they usually run for 3-4 years, and then technology gets so advanced and mature that tech world has to take a year off to breathe, so it can regenerate itself and catch up. I think we're just in one of those years.
The show officially opened today, but as I mentioned, last night I made my way over to the Mirage for Pepcom's Digital Experience, one of the two, similar evening events I love to go to.. They each take over a ballroom, fill it with vendor booths from 100 companies or so, and invite members of the press. Plus they provide a buffet. There is no truth to the rumor that the buffet is the only reason I go. I did enjoy the event, as always, though found it a bit underwhelming. Like I expect much of the show to be, there was a lot of "stuff." We'll-crafted tech stuff, but still stuff.
Without any order, but randomly, here a few things that stood out, for a variety of reasons.
Mevo Start is a camera that makes livestreaming incredibly easy. You connect the Mevo camera to your mobile phone by Bluetooth, and then using their app you can set up which of your social media accounts you want to livestream to. Whatever you film will then be instantly and automatically uploaded to those social media sites and begin to livestream.
Drinkworks comes from Keurig, and it's a similar product as their highly-popular coffee machines. This though is for cocktails. They have about a two dozen "pods" each with a different type of mixed drink. Everything is inside, including the alcohol, all you add is water. And yes, they have a child-proof lock to keep out the kiddies.
Another beverage product is Juno, which can chill a can of soft drink in about two minutes, and will chill a bottle of wine in five minutes.
Lots of health-related products, all really good tech, not all great products.
There were more Smart eToothbrushes, one from Oral B and another from Colgate. The latter, though -- as I mentioned to one of the product's consulting doctors -- happily was the first one I've seen that wasn't stupid. In fact, it seemed even useful, the Plaqless Pro It has sensors that can detect fluorescent that's in plaque and lights up blue, telling you that you've missed it with your brushing. Only after you've got it fully cleaned does the light change to white. (They don't market it as well as the doctor described it, but at least the product itself was good which was the main thing.)
On the ridiculous end is Charmin Airia. This is a robot that wheels around with a roll of toilet paper that you can bring to you if your roll runs out when you need one. A rep of the company kept telling me how valuable this is, that you don't have to get up and go get a roll when needed. As I explained, I think a lot of people keep an extra roll in a bathroom cabinet, and it's not a problem reaching over for it. And further, if the issue is that "you don't have to get up," most people keep their bathroom door closed, so when the robot arrives, you're going to have to get up and let it is, since they haven't added the all-important "open the door" feature. I added that much more important that developing this product is having a good toilet paper, which they do, and he agreed...
The Whistle Go pet tracker seems to be an excellent, if somewhat odd device for pets. It uses GPS and cellular to let you create a "safe zone" for your pet which will beep if the pet goes outside it. And you can track where it is easily. But it also has a fitness tracker that keeps a line on your pet's health -- how many calories it gets, when it runs around for exercise and where, when it's just resting, and even when it's scratching and licking itself (really), information you can get to your vet.
AirThings lets you control the air quality in your home. They also make a big point explaining how you can control this when you're not at home. That sounds good, and maybe it is, bit it seems that home air quality is far more important when you're actually ay home.
There was a lot more -- most of more interest to other people there than me, but a lot more to come...
Well, I made it to CES yesterday afternoon. And far more than in the past, I was very excited about making the drive -- something I normally don't expect since it's a bit under four hours. (How much "a bit under" depends on how much you want to go over 90 MPH through the open desert, as opposed to tooling along with the normal flow of traffic around 80 MPH.)
The reason for my anticipation was because for the past 15-20 years I've taken the 10 Freeway all the way to the 15 Freeway which takes you north into Las Vegas. The thing is, there’s an interchange just past downtown L.A. that always freaks me out because I have to cut over three lanes very quickly while traffic from another freeway is merging. And the last time I did this, I almost didn’t make it, and I was shaking for the next mile. It finally dawned on me after 15-20 years – clearly I’m a slow learner – that there’s another way I could go that’s maybe a mile out of the way, but still all on freeways, just two different ones, that seems sooo much easier which then connect up with the 10 again. (For those who know the L.A. freeway system, here's the gobbledygook explanation, it means branching off the 10 when it curves north and instead continuing straight when it becomes the 60 and taking that to the 710 which goes north and connects back to the 10. This will be on the test...) There's no merging convoluted interchanges, no shifting lanes, just branching off to other freeways and then back to the 10. So, I tried it for the first time, after 15-20 years of not realizing this might be a better way, and – it worked! And it was wonderful. O, joy!! Yes, there were more turns and freeway changes compared to just taking the 10, but I was calm the whole way with no gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles. And it only took me 15-20 years to figure this out.
The traveling wasn't great for everyone. I got to the area past Baker which is where the highway is completely open through the desert and people zoom through. (I was going 75-80 and cars were zipping by me.) It's where I generally pick up a lot of time. But suddenly the traffic came to a near-complete halt. Annoying aside, that struck me as Not Good -- not because traffic slowed, but why it slowed. Although it could have meant construction ahead, usually there are advance warning signposts for that. I suspected an accident. And after about 20 minutes of bumper-to-bumper in the middle of the desert -- it was indeed a very bad accident. Paraphernalia all strewn around, and at least one car upside-down. Hopefully just injuries and no worse than that. I'm not a gawker, so I couldn't see if there was more than one car there. There was what appeared to be an ambulance, though it wasn't speeding off, so perhaps it was just a regular emergency vehicle.
But all's well on this end.
By the way, perhaps more than years in the past, CES got somewhat more attention before the doors opened this year. The show is of course about technology, and politics rarely has crept its ways through the ozone here. But this year it’s a little hard to avoid since (as you may have read by now) the tech and business whiz Ivanka Trump was announced as a Keynote Speaker.
The general reaction among tech professionals was basically along the lines of “Good god, what on earth are they thinking??” And “How tone deaf do they have to be???” It’s the closest I’ve come to saying after 20 or so years of attending CES, screw it, and not coming in this year. But then I figured it was more insanely stupid than offensive. The only thing that really surprised me is that the topic of her talks isn’t “One Easy Way to Get Patents for Doing Business in China.”
Instead, the topic of her talks is, “The Path to the Future of Work.” Which, when you think of it, the content ultimately isn't all that different. I suspect her speech will be very short – “Have a very rich father who becomes president of the United States. And hope he and you stay out of prison without destroying the world. Thank you.”
Making it all worse is out outraged many tech folks are over the Trump tariffs which have especially hurt the tech industry. I was speaking to people at an event last night and they were aghast at the choice on a whole bunch of levels.
So, for those still wondering, no, I don't plan to go to the Keynote speech, so you’re on your own to track down what pearls of tech wisdom were delivered.
Anyway, I'm all checked in, and last night went to one of the two evening events I love. More on that later, because the doors are now open, and I have to rush off.
A few weeks back, what was once known as Mobile World Congress and is now MWC, much like when Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC, I suppose, held its exhibition in Los Angeles. I didn't go to the full show but did head to the Showstoppers event that featured a roomful of companies showing of their latest products. I wrote this month's "The Writers Workbench" column for the Writers Guild of America about a few items that caught my eye, and you can read about it all here. I've also embedded a couple of videos that demonstrate things nicely, as well.
The event was much smaller than the one they hold each year at the Consumer Electronics Show, but then so is MWC.
Mr., Speaker, a point of personal privilege!. I have a small, admittedly-POINTLESS but personal bugaboo. Thank you for the time:
I regularly see the media talking about people waiting for hours to get a "selfie" with Elizabeth Warren, and people on social media posting pictures of their "selfies" with her. I love that she's willing t stay that long to interact with everyone, and admire their patience, as well. But -- to be clear -- almost NONE of these are "selfies." A "selfie" is very specifically when you yourself take a photo with yourself in it. When someone else takes a photo of you (most-especially when posing with another person), it's simply...a "photograph."
And referring to me as a member of the Grammar Police doesn't change that.
(I'm actually fine when people knowingly play around with language, or even screw up with words by mistake, as I and everyone does. But not only is accuracy generally considered a positive thing, but there are some words that have a cultural meaning -- in this case, making oneself the active participant in the action, thanks largely to a change in technology ("I took this photo of me!") -- and I think it's good not to lose such valuable things. And that's pointed as much at the media calling them "selfies" as anyone. By the way, to be fair, as well, I'm sure this likely began when early on people actually did take real selfies with Sen. Warren. And after it adapted to a more formalized practice, the word stuck, when it shouldn't have. Because...well, it's taking credit for what someone else did.)
Earlier this week, Apple had their latest product launch. I thought you might like to see an inside look at what went on and what the company has in store. A special thanks to the good folks at Bad Lip Reading who got a jump on the competition and released this (okay, a year ago.).
This is slightly different from all their others, which rely solely on the bad lip reading and nothing added. This , however, (being a product launch) has had to make up graphics of the new "products" that their bad lip reading efforts have come up with it.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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