Category Archives: Travel

Meta Analysis: Final Thoughts on CES/Grand Canyon 2006

Overall thoughts about CES 2006: I didn’t see too many revolutionary products at CES that are going to change our lives over the next year. This seems to jive with what the major publications were saying. Instead there is a steady and predictable march onward as manufacturers continue to improve their products by adding features and reducing size and cost. One of the trends I noticed is that car audio companies have finally become responsive to the digital media revolution and many are now offering stereos with USB plugs on the front that allow you to play your digital audio files directly from a standard USB thumb drive. Several stereos also offer the ability to plug in your iPod and control it through the stereo itself. This is one of the most disconcerting trends which is locking consumers into one specific technology (the iPod) by creating a proprietary interface. Another trend is the coming of age for Bluetooth. This was supposed to be hot technology several years ago but has been slow to be adopted. Manufacturers are finally understanding the benefits of this technology and it’s starting to show up in a lot more mobile devices. Car stereos have Bluetooth hands free hooks into your cell phone so when you accept a call the radio is muted and you can use the phone in a hands free mode. One of the more interesting applications was a standard cordless phone from Uniden which allows you to pair your cell phone with the base station and essentially use the phone as a second line from any of the cordless handsets. This means you only need to carry one phone around the house to receive all your calls. As an added bonus the cordless handsets also have Bluetooth technology allowing you to use a cordless headset with them. Unfortunately Uniden has no plans at this time to make this a feature in any of the less expensive phones.

Overall thoughts on the Grand Canyon: It was a little colder at the canyon than I might normally have chosen but the small crowds were tough to beat. In planning another trip I would probably shoot for Fall or Spring instead of Winter or Summer. The canyon itself is an immense natural wonder and I would love to have more time to explore it. I was a little disappointed by how easy the hike I selected was. I think I would really enjoying going back to the canyon and taking several days to hike several of the trails. Each trail has a unique personality and history which is fascinating to me and I would love to explore each of them. As a whole I did feel a bit underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon. It’s quite a different experience than a mountain and I didn’t feel that it was any more beautiful than many of the other natural wonders I’ve had a chance to see up close. For me it was much more interesting as a historical place than as a natural wonder. For that I much prefer the Grand Teton Mountains and Yellowstone. Still, I would welcome another trip to the area where I would further explore local history and enjoy some fantastic hiking.

Overall thought on the trip: What a great trip! Matt and I had a great time and I know that I enjoyed being able to put some of the skills I’ve learned on all our family road trips to good use. There’s something to be said for taking some time to explore the country and the interaction you get with the land on a car or train trip compared with jetting in and out seeing mostly an airport. Matt and I got along quite well, as he said we have no problem choosing restaurants on the road because we both like the same types of places. As for not Matt says he’s ready to spend some time at home before another vacation but I’m always ready for another adventure, who knows where I’ll end up next!

Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon and East

Monday January 9, 2006 – We slept in just a little bit this morning before meeting checking out of the hotel and meeting Vinny at the Omelet House for breakfast. One of the off-strip ‘locals’ breakfast joints this restaurant definitely specialized in omelets with around thirty to choose from in addition to the requisite design your own. Following breakfast we headed out of town towards Boulder City. Boulder City is a medium sized town that sits in between Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam. Built during dam construction to house workers the city remains the gateway to the Lake Mead National Recreation area and our next stop, the Hoover Dam. Having seen several documentaries about the building of the Hoover Dam I knew about what to expect out of the dam itself but I was somewhat surprised by just how far it was from Boulder City to the dam. By the time you leave Boulder City the divided highway has turned into a two lane US Route which winds its way down to the dam. There is some construction going on in the area and it looks like they are attempting to improve the road to a divided highway but I don’t know what they’ll do at the dam itself which only has room for two lanes. We crossed the dam an parked on the Arizona side before walking back across. We did run into some security checkpoints on both sides of the dam where they just waved us through but were a little more inquisitive of people with trailers, RVs and trucks. They do offer tours where you can actually go down into the dam itself which would have been fun but we needed to keep moving to get to the Grand Canyon around dusk. After a few photos at the dam and a walk across it we continued on our way. The route along I-40 in western Arizona is nearly identical to the historic US Route 66 and along the way we found several reminders of this including a state highway 66 and several gas stations with references to the famous US Route. Just before dusk we turned north from the interstate and began our trek to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Before you actually reach the canyon you go through some additional national forest land and by the time we reached the Grand Canyon park boundary it had gotten quite dark. I guess because of (relatively) low car volumes in the winter they did not charge a vehicle admission fee or even have the entrance gates staffed. Once we got to the rim we made our way to the El Tovar hotel which is the oldest existing hotel at the canyon. Here we checked into our room located next door in Kachina lodge which was built in the 1960s or 70s and has no front desk. For dinner we walked down the road a bit and ate at the Bright Angel Lodge Restaurant even going so far as to live it up a bit and get some of the delicious chocolate cake. Even through the darkness I was able to see the massive depth of the canyon and decided it would not be a good idea to take a sleepwalk because of the “big hole in the ground” about 40 feet from our room.

Tuesday January 10, 2006 – With morning came a beautiful view of the canyon from our window and the plan for the day was to do a bit of hiking and exploring in the park. Knowing that a good hike starts out with some energy our first stop was at the white linen El Tovar Restaurant where I had the triple pancakes (wheat, buttermilk and blue cornmeal) which were fantastic and Matt had the waffle which he raved about for the rest of the trip. I’m also told that the special Fred Harvey coffee served at the El Tovar is the best around. After breakfast we drove out to the South Kaibib trailhead at Yaki Point. During the summer car travel and parking is severely restricted in the park due to high volumes of traffic. I believe the eventual goal is to completely eliminate car traffic in favor of mass transit but for the time being one of the advantages of going in the off season is being able to drive to all the viewpoints and trailheads. I was split between hiking down the traditional Bright Angel trail or the (supposedly) more panoramic and steeper South Kaibob trail. Knowing this was to be a day hike only I had no illusions of reaching the canyon bottom and returning to the top, in fact signs all around warn of attempting such a feat. The South Kaibib trail has an interesting history surrounding it (as do many of the trails in the canyon) but I’ll leave you to research that yourself. The short of it is that the trail is generally considered more strenuous than Bright Angel but offers better views of the canyon. Thinking we were up for it I proposed a hike down to Cedar Ridge which is about 1.5 miles and 900 feet of elevation change. We took our time on the way down taking in the views and a few photos. Once we reached Cedar Ridge I had some water and crackers and while Matt took a little break I took some photos. Expecting it to take up to three hours to ascend (you’re supposed to plan for twice as long to ascend) I suggested we start so we’d still have some time to explore the rest of the park before dusk. In the end it took us less time to ascend (about and hour) and I was a bit disappointed at how easy it was even for the casual hiker such as myself. I found the day hike I did in the Canadian Rockies this summer to be much more strenuous. When I return to the canyon I’ll certainly plan a longer and more challenging hike because that’s just part of the fun and excitement. On the way back towards Grand Canyon Village we stopped at Yaki Point to take in some of the scenery. Most of the visitors to the canyon never walk more than fifty yards from a parking area which means viewing only from the rim at points such as this. While the views are spectacular they are nothing compared to making an actual descent into the canyon. Continuing west through the village we took a driving tour of the rim out to Hermits Rest. Along the way we stopped and checked out a few of the viewpoints including one with a descriptions of some of the mining that went on in the canyon including Plutonium mining at Orphan Mine that continued will into the 1960s. All of these viewpoints and trails have some amazing history behind them and I would have loved to spend more time looking into that than I did. We also got to see some of our first fauna in the park which was evident by the small traffic jam caused on the road. Once we got to Hermits Rest and poked around a bit we returned to the village and looked around the village train depot which is one of the last three remaining log train depots in the United States. Matt decided he was going to take a rest until dinner while I returned to Hopi Point which is supposed to be one of the better places to see the sunset. I photographed the sunset with about a dozen other people. One thing you notice in the desert is that from sundown to sunup the temperature is quite a bit cooler than it is during the day, something I noticed again the next morning. We hoped to have dinner in the Bright Angel Arizona Room which I’m told is a better spot for dinner than El Tovar but a downside of coming in the off-season is that there are some services that are scaled back. Because of this and the fact that we had dinner in the Bright Angel Restaurant the evening before we walked back over to the El Tovar Restaurant where we each had a New York Strip Steak and a delicious cherry brownie for dessert, feeling we had earned such an indulgence with our hike into the canyon. Before retiring for the evening I copied photos from my Canon Rebel XT camera to my laptop, sorted the photos I had taken so far and did some updating of this travel journal. I turned in a bit earlier than I had been so that I would be able to get up and see the sunrise which is also supposed to be a fantastic view.

Wednesday January 11, 2006 – Waking about an hour and a half before sunrise I headed out to the east on the Desert View Drive. Another benefit of coming in the winter is that sunrise is much later than during the summer when I would have had to get up far too early for my liking. Along the way to Desert View I saw a lot of fauna near the road which seems much more active near dawn and dusk. I arrived at Desert View just before sunrise and was the only person there, with the exception of one National Parks worker, until after the sunrise was mostly complete. While not especially colorful this day the sunrise was beautiful as it rose along the canyon rim. Because the canyon cools down so much during the night I was quite frigid even in my winter coat, hat and gloves from Minnesota so I didn’t stick around very long after sunrise. On the way back to the hotel I stopped to check a few of the viewpoints east of the village. One of the most interesting was Grandview point which was home of the first hotel on the rim and an early mining operation. Once I got back to the room I woke Matt up, did some more computer work and took my things down to the car so we could get checked out. On the way out of town we stopped for breakfast at the Yavapai Lodge cafeteria but had just missed breakfast so we had a small lunch instead. Leaving the park we drove out of the east entrance instead of the south entrance where we entered. The land quickly dropped off as we continued towards the intersection of the Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Mew Mexico borders at Four Corners. Along the way we got to see some of the most beautifully red rock contrasted with some of the poorest living conditions and towns in the United States. We stopped at the four corners monument and took some pictures along with GPS coordinates. The actual junction is on an Indian reservation and the locals charge per person to access the monument so we wanted to make sure we were actually at the junction. After leaving we continued northeast into Colorado. Stuck in between the US interstates I knew we had a hard drive ahead as we drove North towards Grand Junction, Colorado. I drove as far as Durango, CO, where we had dinner, leaving Matt the real challenge of driving through the mountains on a two lane US route. Let me say there’s a stark contrast between crossing the mountains on the wide and graded interstate with its system of efficient routes and tunnels and the old US route system we were on. With many sections and sharp turns limited to 15 miles an hour it takes a long time just to go a short distance. Thank goodness we had good weather conditions and a full moon or it would have taken even longer. While Matt drove I was able to take in some of the scenery which is much nicer than what you find along the interstate. Here the road feels like a part of the mountain as it winds up and down through passes instead of a man made object just passing through. Late in the evening we arrived in Grand Junction and were even able to find a hotel with free internet access so I was able to post some pictures and travel log entries to my website where people could enjoy them before the trip was even over.

Thursday January 12, 2006 – When we left Grand Junction this morning there was just a little bit of frost on the car but once we got up into the mountains we found some real snow. I did encounter some snow when driving through the mountains on the way out but nothing like the snow we saw today. As I drove up I-70 towards the continental divide visibility got increasingly worse and at some points it was even difficult to make out the tail lights of the car in front of us. Needless to say I was thankful to not have encountered snow like this on the US highways last night. Once we got East of the Eisenhower tunnel things improved markedly, it seems the snow has stayed mostly west of there. Once again we found ourselves in the brown land of Denver. As we continued East the only weather phenomena we encountered were high winds in the flat plains of eastern Colorado and Nebraska. We stopped in North Platte, NE for dinner and ate at the regional Italian buffet chain Valentino’s. If you have ever been to the west central part of the country I would be surprised if you hadn’t stopped or at least seen one of these omnipresent restaurants. In any event after a filling dinner Matt took the helm and drove us just past Omaha, NE to Council Bluffs, IA. Pulling in just before midnight we found a room at the Motel 6 which was definitely the poorest accommodations on the trip but the price and location were right.

Friday January 13, 2006 – Today I had an easy drive from Council Bluffs, IA back to Minneapolis where we arrived just after 5:00pm right during the height of rush hour. I took Matt back to his apartment in St. Paul and slowly made my way home through the traffic. All told our twelve day trip took us over 3800 miles through eight states. Our longest day of driving was our first where we drove over 850 miles from Minneapolis, MN to Fort Morgan, CO that was quite a haul! Matt thinks I must have a secret life as an over the road trucker.

Wrapping up in Vegas

Friday January 6, 2006 – Matt got pretty hungry at the convention yesterday so before we left the Plaza we made a quick stop at McDonalds for some breakfast. We parked at the Sahara valet parking today and although they did hassle us a bit we made much better time getting to the show today. Our primary area of concentration today was the South Hall. Most of the computer stuff is found on the second floor of the South Hall. Big booths here included nVidia, Creative, AMD, Palm, HP and others. The lower floor of the South Hall is primarily home automation and audio equipment. We did take a run through there as well but stayed mostly focused on the second floor. In the afternoon we split up for a while and I continued looking through booths in the Central Hall and made a stop at the DL.TV booth where I bumped into Vinny again. After watching the tail end of the DL.TV recording for the day Vinny and I continued through the Central Hall. Around four-thirty we started getting tired and met Matt at the Hilton. Vinny took part in “Star Trek the Experience” to recoup some of his parking money while Matt and I called another friend to find some good places to eat. Ed suggested we try the Rio if we were interested in a buffet. After last year’s less than stellar buffet experience at the Mirage I was a bit hesitant but Matt and I decided to give it a go. The biggest challenge was to locate the buffet once we got inside the Rio. Signage in Las Vegas casinos is notoriously lacking. Eventually we located the buffet and although it wasn’t a deal it was a much better experience than last year. I’d probably visit it again although I have heard the buffet at Steve Wynn’s new Wynn Casino is quite good as well. After eating ’till our heart’s content we returned to the Plaza. I did some catching up on the WiFi connection from down the street while Matt went out on Freemont Street.

Saturday January 7, 2006 – When I got up this morning Matt told me he was going to sleep in and get one of those famous cheap Las Vegas breakfasts so I headed down to the show by myself. I parked in the Stardust lot today and hiked over to the convention center. On the way over I noticed $5 parking in the LVCC lot so I think we’ll try parking there tomorrow. I spent the first part of my day in the Central Hall. Soon after I arrived (around 9:45) the power went out in the Microsoft booth for everything that was powered from the ceiling grid (mostly lighting). It’s the first time I’ve seen a power outage at CES so it was memorable. A bit later I found out that DL.TV was doing a taping in the early afternoon so I spent a little time looking at the international marketplace at the Hilton before heading over there. In the past year I’ve learned to be more interested in what is going on internationally with consumer electronics as a lot of what you see on retail store shelves is rebranded, imported electronics. You can find manufacturers of anything from alarm clocks to Ethernet switches to displays who are ready and willing to cut a deal for custom branding right at the Hilton. This is one of the ways I see what’s coming down the pipe a year ahead of schedule, it’s also one of the most under visited and under reported parts of the show. One of the other things you notice is that the weekend crowd can be quite different from the weekday crowd at the show. Many of the executives head home on Friday night or Saturday morning and you see more of the average public on the weekend, especially in the car audio area. After spending a bit of time looking over the international products at the Hilton I walked back to the DL.TV taping. I took a series of behind the scenes photos of the taping which will hopefully be picked up by the folks at DL.TV. After the taping concluded I hooked up with Matt and we cruised the South and Central Halls some more looking over the products coming out from the major players. Around 4:30 I headed off to church at the Las Vegas Cathedral and Matt drove back to the hotel to try and catch up on email. Matt picked me back up later and we drove out to the Orleans for dinner. This was another restaurant suggested by Ed but it wasn’t as big a hit as the Rio buffet, partly due to poor service and partly due to bland food but it was much less expensive. After dinner we drove down to the America Café in New York, New York where we had a slice of the New York Cheesecake (they have extra large slices here) for dessert. Once we got back to the hotel we packed up our second laptop and headed down to Freemont Street in search of a better internet connection. Matt did a little work while I watched the Freemont Street show and we topped it all off with a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

Sunday January 8, 2006 – Today is the last day of the show. We stopped at McDonalds on the way out of the hotel again to pick up a quick breakfast. I decided to go for the $5 parking across from the LVCC today which worked out quite nicely. We spent most of the day (which ends at 4:00) today playing games and attending product demonstrations in search of the elusive swag. I did end up winning a Creative Zen Micro/Photo digital media player along with a number of T-Shirts and hats although the total amount of swag given away continued to decline this year. One interesting product I did see today was a Bluetooth cordless phone from Uniden. The unique thing about this phone was that it would allow you to not only use a Bluetooth headset, but you could connect in your cell phone via Bluetooth and use it as a second line from any of the handsets. I think this product would be of interest to a lot of people with unlimited nights and weekends on their cell phones if Uniden could find a way to get the price down some more. After leaving the show Matt and I drove out to Metro Pizza which is supposed to be the local pizza joint in Las Vegas. The prices were great and our pizza had a wonderful crust if only a mediocre sauce. I would recommend trying Metro Pizza as an alternative to the many chains and casino restaurants found in Vegas. After finishing dinner we drove back to the hotel and headed down to Freemont Street to see if we could get an internet connection and some “deep fried Oreos” that Matt had been eyeing all week. The Oreos were interesting and novel if not especially tasty. Along the way we encountered some rather poignant Christian protesters in the middle of Freemont Street. I wonder how much this negative attitude actually works, especially with the street crowd in Las Vegas who didn’t take too kindly to the message of doom and gloom.

Photos from the road

Thanks to a free hotel WiFi connection I’ve been able to post many of the pictures from the CES/Grand Canyon trip already. You can view them here in my photo gallery.

Start the madness

Wednesday January 4, 2006 – After a brief and uneventful drive into Las Vegas we made a stop at Fry’s Electronics. This perennial favorite is probably the most interesting and best stocked brick and mortar electronics retailer in the United States. Known for their deals, Matt was able to pick up a five port Ethernet switch for $5 while I looked over the current prices and stock. Following our visit to Fry’s we drove back up the strip to the Sahara where we had lunch at the Nascar Café. I’ve eaten here before but I was distinctly unimpressed with the food this time and would probably not go back again. After lunch we walked over to the Hilton to pick up our show badge holders. The line was quite short and we had no trouble getting this done. By this time I thought our hotel room might be ready so we drove to downtown Las Vegas and checked into the Plaza hotel at the intersection of Main and Freemont. We ended up with a Freemont facing room on the 14th (really the 13th) floor providing a great view of all the action downtown. After finding an open access point and a brief email check we drove back to the Sahara where we parked and walked to the Hilton for Bill Gates’ pre-show keynote. Because we did not have tickets we ended up sitting upstairs in a ballroom watching via monitor but this is where I have always ended up watching it so that wasn’t a big disappointment. After a demonstration of what Microsoft’s view of a future day might look like we got to see the most extensive demonstration of Windows Vista to date. When Bill wrapped up we were pretty hungry so we drove down to New York, New York and had a late dinner at the America Restaurant. When we got back to the Plaza I went down to Freemont Street and watched two of the shows on the giant screen covering the street before returning to the hotel and getting some sleep to prepare for the first day of the show.

Thursday January 5, 2006 – The plan this morning was to park at Sahara around 9:15 and hike to the convention center but for the first time Sahara was monitoring their parking and wanted people to park in a $20 a day dirt lot across the street. Instead of doing that we drove to New York, New York which is an official show hotel and attempted to take the provided shuttle bus to the show. Unfortunately, we read the sign incorrectly and waited for almost an hour before finding the correct door and a bus came by. We finally made it to the show around 10:45. Last year I had a good time looking through the future technologies in the “Innovations Plus” area so after finding the DL.TV booth and my local friend Vinny we went off in search of that. Instead of the usual home in the parking lot tents Innovations has grown large enough to warrant an additional venue, the Sands convention center. This brings the total number of CES venues to four, the Hilton, LVCC, Sands and Alexis Park. We waited in a short line for shuttle to the Sands and spent the rest of the day canvassing the exhibits there. After returning to LVCC Vinny drove us down to Caesar’s and we had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory before Vinny drove us back to our car at NY, NY. Once we got back to the Plaza Matt went down to Freemont Street to watch the show and I caught up on some email and information from the first day of the show before heading to bed.

A winter road trip?

Monday January 2, 2006 – Longtime readers will know that for the past several years I’ve been attending the Consumer Electronics Show held every January in Las Vegas. This year is no exception. A few changes are in store. For the first time I’ve been able to talk someone else into coming along with me so Matt, a friend and owner of the St. Paul based Fast Computer Service Company, will be accompanying me on the journey. Observant readers will also note that instead of the usual quick fly in, fly out we’ve decided to make a road trip out of it. I’ve also tacked on a few days at the Grand Canyon on the way home which should be a fantastic experience. Of course I’ve had the room in Las Vegas booked since September and the room at the Grand Canyon booked since October, other than that we’ll be playing it by ear. When I got up this morning at 7:00 I saw that we had freezing rain in the Twin Cities which is not a great way to start a January road trip. Not to be deterred I headed over to St. Paul to pick up Matt and get some breakfast before leaving town. Thanks in part to it being a legal holiday traffic was very manageable even on the slippery roads. By about 9:15 we finished breakfast and headed south on Interstate 35. Once we got out of the metro area the roads actually got much better and Matt drifted off to sleep as I entered Iowa. With little fanfare we passed through Des Moines and turned West on Interstate 80. As both Matt and myself are licensed amateur radio operators we tried to find locals to talk to or someone who could direct us to an Echolink repeater from which we could connect back to a system in St. Paul and talk to people there. Unfortunately we were unable to find anyone in Iowa but were able to make contact with a local and connect back to St. Paul from Lincoln, NE. I continued driving until we got to Fort Kearny, NE where we stopped for dinner. I had a great Nebraska ribeye steak at the Whisky Creek Steak Restaurant. After dinner Matt took over the driving and being well rested from his mid-morning nap we continued farther west than I had originally planned all the way to Fort Morgan, CO. We soon found a hotel room at the Days Inn that included both a continental breakfast and an internet connection. The breakfast turned out to be a bit disappointing but the internet worked just fine and allowed me to tie up a few things that I hadn’t been able to before leaving town. Final mileage for the day was 851 miles, not a bad drive at all.

Tuesday January 3, 2006 – Matt seemed to have a little trouble getting the time change right this morning and ended up setting his alarm for two hours earlier than he needed to which I found a bit amusing. After a small breakfast at the hotel I drove us west along Interstate 76 and into Denver, CO where we continued along Interstate 70. While in Denver we were able to contact a fantastic local amateur radio operator who directed us towards an Echolink repeater and allowed us to connect back to St. Paul and talk with another friend back there. As far as Denver it had been very dry and our local contact explained to us that they had even been told to water their lawns and trees to prevent them from drying out and dying before spring. We were told to take a look at the snow in the mountains though where they had received 200% of normal snowfall. Matt enjoyed going through the tunnels and aside from some mildly slippery roads and low visibility we had no real problems. Once we got through the Colorado Rockies things dried up as we descended towards the Utah border. With the decrease in snow cover and the increase in sun the beautiful copper colored mountains began to show and I did stop at two scenic view turnoffs in eastern Utah to snap a few photos. Continuing through Utah I rediscovered just how far apart things are out here as I got a bit lower on gas than I’m comfortable with when traveling in remote areas. Eventually we stopped for dinner in Richfield, UT and Matt again did the evening shift bringing us even closer to Las Vegas than I had planned. Right now we’re settling in to the Coronada Suites in St. George, UT where we again got a decent room at a good rate with a continental breakfast and internet access included. Tomorrow we should be just a few hours from Las Vegas which will conclude the road trip section of the trip until Monday when we continue on to the Grand Canyon. The plan right now is to pickup our badge holders once we hit Vegas then check into the hotel and scope out the crowds until Bill Gates’ keynote at 6:30pm. Stay tuned for photos as internet connections allow.

CES 2005 Trip Log

As promised here’s my trip log from CES 2005. I still plan to do a wrap up thoughts entry but this should give you something to chew on for a while.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005 – Those that have read about my CES 2004 trip will be excited to know that I was able to get up much later this year and didn’t have to run to catch any planes! I only have to get up at 6:00am this morning to catch my 8:00am Sun Country direct flight to Las Vegas. This was my first flight with Sun Country and I was quite impressed. First, the check in and flow through the Minneapolis Humphry Terminal was quick and painless. I met Eddy Hoyer from LightNTrax at the gate as he also planned to attend CES this year. On the flight out they gave us hot breakfast egg sandwiches which was an immediate feel-good for me. I can’t remember the last time I got hot food on a domestic flight. It wasn’t a bad sandwich either. After the time change we landed in Las Vegas at 9:15am. Eddy and I first picked up our CES badge holders at the airport. There was a bit of a line, but nothing compared to waiting at the show for them. By the time we had them we were able to pick up our luggage and then Ed’s rental car. Because of the time change we were hungry for lunch so our next stop was at the “America” restaurant in New York, New York. We had a bit of time before I could check into my hotel so we made a stop at Fry’s electronics. Ed had never been there before needless to say he was quite impressed by the selection. I really wish they would build one a bit closer to home. Our next stop was a quick visit to the Martin Professional Vegas office. Ed’s company LightNTrax is a Martin dealer so he tries to visit the office when he’s in town. By this time I could check into my hotel so Ed dropped me off at the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino at 1 Fremont Street. This is Las Vegas’ oldest hotel (99 years, the city is only one year older) and a delightful place. The rooms are certainly smaller than in the mega-resorts, even smaller than a normal hotel room but it was just me and I enjoyed supporting a locally independently owned establishment with great service and that traditional feel. From my experience last year I knew there would be a big line to see Bill Gates’ keynote so I called Vincent and we made plans to meet at the Sahara. I walked down Fremont Street to Las Vegas Blvd. and bought my first daypass for the bus. When I got to the Sahara Vincent and I drove out to pick up Minnie and then drove back to the Sahara to park and took the new monorail to the Hilton, more on the monorail later. Even though we arrived more than an hour and a half before the keynote was to start the line was extremely long and we ended up in overflow seating watching the speech via TV. Bill wrapped up his keynote around 8:15pm, but not before he managed to bungle three of his demos including blue-screening an Xbox demo. We took the monorail back to the Sahara and had a late dinner at the Nascar Cafe. After we had eaten and talked for quite a while we drove down to New York, New York where we had an after dinner drink and chatted for a while more. By the time all was said and done I got back to my hotel around midnight and to sleep around 1am, 21 hours since I had woken up, talk about a long day!

Thursday, January 06, 2005 – Because of my long day I decided to “sleep in” until 9:30am this morning. By the time I caught a bus down to the Riviera and walked to the convention center the show was in full swing. I had about 45 minutes to walk around before I went to a noon Lunch@Piero’s media event where Chris Pirillo was doing a live internet broadcast. I stopped in and talked about the bit of the show I had seen with him and his listeners before continuing to look at the Piero’s exhibitors. During lunch I had a nice chat with a writer from HAL Magazine of Texas who was extremely interested in case cooling technology. After lunch I met up with Vinny and Minnie and we continued to browse the floor until the show closed. We walked back to the Sahara and took Vinny’s car to Caesar’s where we put in our name at the Cheesecake Factory at 8:00pm. By 8:40 we were able to get seated and had a great dinner (I had the mile high meatloaf sandwhich which was quite good). At the show I had picked up an invitation to an after party at the Bellagio so we drove down there and stood in line to get in for a while. Eventually things looked like we wouldn’t get in and we had struck up a conversation with a few people in front of us so we all bailed and went over to Paris for drinks and chatted for quite a while. Eventually Vinny took me back to my hotel and I got to bed around 2:00am.

Friday, January 07, 2005 – I slept until 10:00am so I could get 8 hours of sleep. I took a bus down to the Riviera and walked to the convention center where I saw a few more things before heading to the second day of Lunch@Piero’s. On the way over I was “spotted” by Microsoft people because I had on my blinky light button and won one of the MSN watches that were introduced last year. I’m still skeptical about them myself but I can try one out now. I met Vinny and Minnie at Piero’s where we had lunch and looked at a few more of the exhibitors before returning to CES. We stayed at CES until 5:00pm collecting a variety of T-Shirts and other swag along the way. I had to pick up my watch in the far corner of south hall so we took the LVCC loop bus back to the Hilton and then took the Monorail to Harrahs, walked across the street to the Mirage and had dinner at the buffet there. I had never eaten at one of the Las Vegas buffets before. I was impressed with both the selection and quality of food but for what they charge you could probably get an equivalent meal at a normal restaurant so I don’t know that I’ll make it a regular practice when I’m in town. After dinner we walked back across the strip to Harrah’s and took the Monorail up to Sahara. I had previously RSVPed for the AVS Forum party taking place there. Even though the party was supposed to go until at least 9:30pm by the time we got there at about 7:30 things were pretty dead. I took a look around at some of the nice digital processors and projectors brought there for demo and then we cleared out. Vinny dropped me back at the hotel by 9:30pm quite a bit earlier than the previous two nights. This meant I had some time to explore downtown. I caught the 10:00pm Fremont Street Experience and then walked over to the Golden Spike where a friend from UW-Stout was staying during the show. I was unable to hook up with him but I did leave a note in his door letting him know where I was staying. I took some photos in the downtown area and then saw the 11:00pm Fremont Street show before returning to my room and getting to sleep about midnight.

Saturday, January 08, 2005 – I got up at 8:30 this morning so I could get to the convention a bit earlier. By 9:30 I was on a bus to the Riviera and caught a shuttle to the convention center. Right away I was spotted again and won a second MSN watch. I also stood in line for a while to get some free internet access and see how my email was holding up after a few days of no access. When I checked my mailbox I had over 200 non-spam messages! I was able to check on a few critical things before handing over the terminal to the next person in line. After I had been at the show for a while I won an external LG DVD superdrive at the DVD-RAM pavilion, the only downside to this was carrying it around all day. Later in the afternoon I met up with Vinny and Minnie and we continued to check out the show. At 4:30 I took a shuttle over to the Frontier so I could go to church at 5:15 (or so I thought) I ended up walking the wrong direction and then having to walk back up the strip, by this time my feet were killing me but eventually I made it to the Las Vegas Cathedral where I ended up being only 6 minutes late for a 5:30pm mass. A bit before 7:00 Vinny and Minnie had left the show and picked me up so we could get some dinner. We went out to a local burger place called Kilroy’s where we had a great waitress and some good food. After dinner we drove out to the other (East) side of town and I got to meet Vinny’s parents who are delightful and fun people. I also got to see a “locals” casino called Sam’s Town complete with a multiplex theater. Instead of shopping malls they go to Casinos for all their entertainment needs. By midnight I was back at the Golden Gate and able to see the midnight Fremont Street Experience. I fell asleep just before one.

Sunday, January 09, 2005 – I got up again this morning at 8:30, stopped on Fremont Street to get a Krispy Kreme for breakfast and got on the 9:36am bus to the Riviera and walked to the convention center. The last day of the convention is always fun, a lot of the attendees have already left town or are at the airport so the show floor is much quieter. In addition companies are anxious to get rid of all their swag so they don’t have to take it back to the office. We collected a lot more t-shirts today and I also got a USB memory card reader from SanDisk. As we were walking out the door some Microsoft partners came up behind me and asked what time it was. After telling them they said that it was actually time for me to win a PocketPC, I had been wearing a few of the stickers all show but didn’t expect to win because they were giving away far fewer of these than the watch group was giving out watches (something like 2000/day). Needless to say I was quite thrilled! I’ve never owned a handheld and am curious to see how it works for me. Our last stop before the show closed at 4:00 was the international pavilion at the Hilton where almost everyone was desperately selling their demo products to avoid shipping them home. After leaving we drove over to the Mirage where we had dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. After dinner we stopped at Minnie’s house so I could go through my email a bit more thoroughly and check a few other websites and news from the Twin Cities. By 8:00pm Vinny had me back at the hotel. I played a few slot machines (mostly penny machines, five lines, one per line) and lost all of my $6. I called Ed to see what he was up to and find out if he could give me a ride to the airport on Monday, he also said he would give me a call if he found anything interesting going on. After about fifteen minutes he called back with an invite to the exclusive club (the name eludes me) at Paris so I hopped a bus down there only to find out my sneakers weren’t good enough so Ed drove me back and I switched them out for some dress shoes. It was interesting to see one of these exclusive clubs though not much was going on there so after an hour or so Ed took me back to the hotel where I got to sleep around 1:00.

Monday, January 10, 2005 – After several days of getting up I took the opportunity to sleep a bit and didn’t get up until 10:30. It took a little bit of doing but I finally managed to get all my swag into a suitcase. I went down and checked out of my room then decided to get some lunch at the “Bay City Diner” in the hotel. Talk about a classic diner. These guys have the big wooden countertop, the pies on the counter and all. The food was good and inexpensive to boot. By the time I had finished and Ed swung by to pick me up it was 12:30. I still had a bit of time to kill before I needed to be at the airport so we took a drive around the greater Las Vegas area and stopped to check rates at a few hotels. Eventually we ended up at the MGM Grand. When the MGM opened in its present location Ed did the original installation of the video wall behind the check-in desk and he still had a contact at the hotel. He had arranged for the current video engineer to come and talk with us for a while so we got to go behind the scenes for a while and see what makes it all tick. Surprisingly while the video display cubes have been upgraded the processors and control system are still the same (and still running Windows 3.x)! I have to say it was pretty cool so if anyone else knows anyone in the technical side of the casino business and would set up a tour/chat with some engineers I’d be thrilled. In any event we wrapped things up at the MGM and Ed dropped me off at the airport around 3:30. Unlike last year the lines were relatively under control and I was able to get to the gate even faster than I had anticipated. Thanks to the free wifi access at McCarran I was able to get caught up on some news and get my email all sorted so I didn’t have to deal with that when I got home. After a little snack I was able to board my 6:10 flight and was on my way back home. Again, Sun Country impressed me by serving a hot turkey and gravy sandwich on the flight. In addition I was not charged for having a bag weighing over 50 pounds (all that swag!) and the flight was not very full so I had my own row to stretch out in for the flight. We landed just ahead of schedule and I was off the plane by 11:00pm Central time. I was able to get my bag without hassle and picked up the car my parents had planted in the parking garage earlier in the day.

LDI 2004 Trip Report

Thursday, October 21, 2004 – After a full day of classes I got a ride from Nick out to the interstate where I caught the shuttle to the Minneapolis airport. I arrived at the airport around 7:40pm for a 9:08pm nonstop flight to Las Vegas on AmericaWest. Thanks to small crowds at the airport I was quickly able to get checked in and through security. Arriving at the gate with some time to spare I purchased a Cinnabon and some milk for dinner as I hadn’t eaten anything since before my 10:00am class. I also took a few minutes to call my parents who were on a trip to Washington D.C. with the rest of the family so my brother could look at the Naval Academy. While I was doing some reading they made an announcement that the flight would be delayed an hour as the plane couldn’t land and was circling the airport due to a VIP visit (John Kerry) the plane ended up landing around 9:10, about when we should have been taking off. After a quick turnaround we were able to board the plane and left the gate around 10:10pm about an hour behind schedule. Once we got out on the taxiway they discovered a hydraulic problem and we sat on the taxiway for another hour while the pilots radioed with mechanics in Phoenix. Eventually things got straightened out and we finally took off about 11:10pm, two hours late. We were supposed to land around 10:30pm Pacific Time and ended up landing at 12:38am Pacific. Of course to me this was like 2:40 in the morning, adding in the time to get through the airport it was 3:00am for me before I was breathing the air of Las Vegas. But no, the saga does not end there! I had sent a message to Grant and Ed who were going to pick me up at the airport that I was delayed and would call when I landed, which I did and they headed over to the airport. Well, once I got my bags I got another call from them saying they couldn’t get near the pickup area because the police weren’t letting anyone though and were saying the airport was shutdown. Obviously that was not the case as I had just passed a smoking lounge full of TSA officers who didn’t seem to be very concerned about anything. I haven’t heard anything more but whatever the disturbance was it must have been outside. In any event I was able to sneak around the police by going down a level, crossing there and going back up into the parking ramp. Ed and Josh picked me up and took me back to Extended Stay America so I could catch some sleep before hitting the show floor in the morning. Grant was already sleeping. I think by the time I hit the couch it was nearly 4:00am for me and 2:00am Pacific.

Friday, October 22, 2004 – We woke up this morning about 8:30am in time to get to the Sands Expo before 10:00am when the show opened so I could get my badge holder and Grant and Josh could get the booth up and running. We had a bit of a time finding an oversized parking spot for the Light N Trax van but eventually got it parked and into the show. I spent most of the morning working systematically across the show floor starting in one corner and got about halfway through the show by a 1:00pm lunch break. I walked back over to the Venetian food court for lunch. The short of it is for one of the more expensive strip hotels the Venetian food court is really not very good. Anyway after lunch I headed back to the show floor and checked in with everyone at the booth then started making rounds from where I left off with a brief detour to see some of the five outdoor stages setup for the evening demo shows. By about 5:30 I was satisfied that I had seen most of what I was interested in on the show floor. I was mainly looking at computer integration products such as DMX/Ethernet devices, digital live sound boards and new lighting consoles. I also looked at related products such as entertainment grade CAT5e cable, etc. In any event I called Vincent and Minnie (some friends from Vegas) and had them come pick me up so we could go out to dinner. We had dinner at a nice off-strip Mexican restaurant called Macayo. After dinner we tried to hit Fry’s Electronics, but found it already had closed. I also want to check to see if any of the live demo stages were still playing. Finding that they were not I called Grant to find out where he was and we headed over to the Stratosphere for a bit to see the end of a karaoke contest and say hi to Erik and his wife whose name I’m not even going to attempt to spell. After we left Vincent, Minnie and I decided to play tourist on the strip and took photos of all the bright flashy signs we could get near. After a run down and up the strip we headed over to Minnie’s house to play some pool. We were quite bad at keeping score so I can’t say who won, but I think it was pretty even, none of us were all that great. At 1:30am I called it quits and Vinny gave me a ride back to the hotel where I got to sleep somewhere around 2:00am

Saturday, October 23, 2004 – We got up this morning around 8:15 and got to the Sands Expo about 9:40, about 20 minutes before the show opened. After helping get the booth ready for the show I took off and made my way to the Grand Lux Café in the casino level of the Venetian. Walking through the casino to get there was the only time I spent in a casino this trip. Remembering my poor lunch experience the day before I decided to have breakfast before the show and not stop for lunch. I had a quite good and not all that expensive omelet for breakfast at the Grand Lux and hit the show floor about 11:00am after it had been open for an hour. As I had already seen most of the show the day before I spent most of the day taking a second look at some of the more interesting things such as the antique followspot display and a few of the product vendors. I also broke out the digital camera and took some photos of various booths so I could explain to people what all I saw at the show. One nice thing about going to a show put on by the entertainment industry is that they know how to entertain (who would have thought?). This means almost all the major vendors had open bars and lots of people had free snacks such as ice cream cones. In addition on Saturday Walt Disney Entertainment gave everyone free ice cream bars in a Mickey Mouse shape. I also spent some time on Saturday walking around with Josh and later with Grant to see what interesting and exciting things they had seen which I might have missed. I also took a better look at the outdoor demo stages and listened to some of the speaker arrays out there. By the time 4:30 rolled around I called Vinny and Minnie to pick me up so we could go out to dinner with Darci (another friend from Vegas) and her daughter. Once they picked me up we called Darci to find out where and when we were meeting and decided to go to the Peppermill which is basically across the strip from the Stratosphere. Traffic was bad and by the time we got there it was nearly six, the time we had agreed to meet. I must say, despite what Vinny and Minnie say, it was a pleasure to finally meet Darci’s daughter. While the food wasn’t bad it wasn’t memorable either and not as good as Macayo and probably not on my list of places to re-visit. At dinner Darci gave me a copy of the Freedom Downtime DVD which I’ll probably bring back in January for CES so Kevin can autograph it for me. Of course I had forgotten the DVD I had promised to Darci but I gave it to Vinny later and he promised to deliver. After we ate and chatted for a bit Vinny, Minnie and I zipped down to Fry’s so I could poke around a bit before they closed. I don’t want to bore you with the details as I’m pretty sure the 2004 CES reports cover Fry’s. Anyway, it’s an absolutely fantastic electronics store which everyone must visit if they are headed to the west coast. Fry’s had a deal on Cat6 patch panels so I picked one up while I was there. After we left Fry’s we headed back up the strip to the outdoor demo shows so I could get a few photos of the stages in action. They were just about to finish up and I ended up picking up some of the LightWands we had loaned out to board operators as demos. Because I had to get up early the next morning to catch my flight Vinny and Minnie dropped me off at the hotel and I was sleeping by 11:00pm.

Sunday, October 24, 2004 – I got up at 7:15 this morning and Ed took me to the airport at 8:00 for my 9:50 flight. Even though the airport was moderately busy I was able to get checked in and to the gate with some time to spare. I was able to get some free wireless internet access at the Las Vegas airport so I checked my email for the first time since Thursday afternoon and sorted through the 1500 odd messages that had accumulated. As it turned out the flight to Phoenix was oversold and they offered $300 in travel vouchers to take another flight and even mentioned a direct to Minneapolis flight. I decided if they could get me back Sunday night I would take it, but the flight wasn’t due into Minneapolis until 6:00am Monday morning so I skipped it and took the scheduled flight to Phoenix. I arrived on time and had about 45 minutes until my Minneapolis flight left Phoenix so I took the opportunity to get some lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen in the airport. Again the flight to Minneapolis was oversold and they offered $400 in vouchers plus overnight hotel to take a flight the next day, but I had class in the morning and needed to get back so I stayed on and arrived back home about 5:00pm Central time, that was a long day of traveling.

Overall I was impressed by the show and had a great time. Product-wise some of the most interesting things I saw were the DiGiCo Live digital sound boards, the Jands Vista lighting console and the SandNet family of Ethernet/DMX interfaces. In addition I enjoyed seeing more average sized Vegas conference (as opposed to the huge CES) and some of the entertainment industry organizations such as ESTA.

CES Photos Availible

Check out My photos from CES 2004. There are still a few that I haven’t developed yet, they will appear once I finish the roll.

wait, then run!

Sunday, January 11, 2004 – I got up today at 6:45, checked out of the EconoLodge and moved down the strip. Amazingly the MGM already had a room ready for me at 8:00 so as soon as I got there I was able to check in and drop off my suitcase and laptop bag. After quickly dropping off my things I caught the 301 (bus) back up the strip to the Las Vegas Cathedral for church at 9:30. I have to say that built in the late 60s the cathedral is not much to look at from the outside but actually has quite a nice interior. After church was over I took the 301 another few blocks to the Rivera and then caught the CES shuttle to the convention center. The plan was to meet Darci, Kevin, Vinny and Minnie just before Leo went on the air at noon outside his booth, since I got the LVCC early I was able to cruise the floors one last time and found that the number of attendees had dropped drastically and everyone with a booth was trying to give away t-shirts and everything else they didn’t want to take back with them. After picking up a few souvenirs and a little more literature from some of the booths as well as two polo style shirts with the CES logo on them from the CES store I headed back to the broadcast tower to catch the beginning of Leo’s show. I got to speak briefly with Leo before he went on the air and we both commented on how much the show had cleared out overnight. I also got a phone call from my little sister and walked her through copying some TV shows she had recorded for me to hard drive and clearing off the DVDs. For some reason my phone service in Vegas is a little bit flaky and I missed a call from Darci somewhere in there saying she had gotten more sick and wouldn’t be able to meet up with us. Shortly after Leo got on the air I met up with Vinny and Minnie for a final run through the convention center. We had a great time trying to get all the free stuff we could, each ending up with several new t-shirts, decks of cards, headphones and Vinny even got the folks at the SD pavilion to hand over a SmartDigital card! After a little over an hour we headed back to the KFI booth where we got to listen to a little more of Leo’s show and take some pictures of him in the booth. Leaving Leo we hit up a few more booths for some free stuff before the show closed and then headed over to Quark’s restaurant which is part of the “Start Trek Experience” at the Las Vegas Hilton where Minnie went above and beyond the call, buying dinner for both Vinny and myself (Thank you!) After dinner we made a quick stop at Fry’s to pick up some batteries and a charger for Minnie and headed out to her house to shoot the breeze a little more before I left town. Vinny gave me a ride back to the MGM before continuing home himself. I wanted to take a few more pictures of the strip at night before heading home and get some dessert at the Luxor. By the time I had dessert and gotten the pictures I wanted (Tropicana, Flamingo, Mirage and Treasure Island) and taken the bus back down the strip to the MGM it was nearly 2:45am. The one thing I hadn’t done in Vegas was to gamble so on my way back to my room I used all my spare change in my pocket (all 80 cents of it) to play a few slot machines. Of course I didn’t win anything but at least I did my part to help support the gaming industry in Vegas. I got to my room set my alarm for 8:30 because we had heard about four hour waits at the airport (though I don’t expect it to be that bad tomorrow) which should give me plenty of time to catch a noon plane.

Monday, January 12, 2004 – I got up this morning at 8:30 quickly took a shower and repacked all my bags so my CES goodies would fit (just barely!) I checked out of the MGM and caught a 9:30am shuttle to the airport. On the way the driver showed us a newspaper with a picture of the four hour waits on Sunday, I really do need a copy of that article! I got to the airport about 9:45 and was able to get a ticket in only 45 minutes compared to over two hours yesterday, so I thought I was doing pretty well since I still had an hour and a half to catch the plane. Once I saw the line for the security checkpoint at the “D Gates” I knew it would probably end up being pretty close but I should still be ok and much better than the people yesterday. About an hour a ten minutes later I was through security and on the tram to the gates. Getting off the tram I still thought I should have plenty of time to catch the plane so I walked quickly but did not run as many people exiting the tram were doing. Once I got to the escalator though I heard them call all sections now should be boarded on my flight so I sprinted as I haven’t done in a long time to the very last gate in the concourse (go figure.) At one point I dropped my cell phone and didn’t even notice but thankfully a helpful traveler pointed it out and I was able to quickly pick it back up before continuing on. I got to the gate and no one was still boarding and the door was still open (but barely) handed over my boarding pass and got on the plane. After taking my seat I found out that they were intentionally delaying the flight about half an hour because of the long security lines in hopes than more people would make the plane. While this is a nice thought it does have me a little concerned about catching the connection in Denver, they’re making up some of the time but it could still be a dash to the gate! As it turns out I didn’t have to run to catch the flight in Denver but I was walking pretty quickly and it was directly off of my Las Vegas flight and final boarding call for the Minneapolis flight when I got to the gate. I should be arriving home at about 6:15 central time and hopefully I’ll be able to eat shortly after getting home as I’ve had nothing at all today and I’m getting pretty hungary. All in all I would say that my trip to CES 2004 was a great experience I got to meet industry luminaries such as John C. Dvorak, Bill Machrone and of course the TechTV folks, Vinny, Minnie, Darci and Kevin. Although I don’t think I’ll be able to make this a yearly trek I would love to do it again and look forward to having that opportunity. As I continue to make my Eastward journey I realize that I have never been on a “sunset flight” such as the one I’m on now. Although I have certainly seen more beautiful sunsets over the many lakes in Minnesota none have been quite as cool as this “surround sunset” looking back to the West I can see bands of color ranging from fire red to burning orange to soft yellow and finally sky blue. As I turn my head from West to East the colors fade into a progressively darker blue and finally the black of night closing in towards the East. Flying above the cloud cover and much of the airborne particulate that creates beautiful sunsets on the ground makes this one look less grandiose but nonetheless beautiful in its own right.