CES logoCES 2003

by Fred Thorlin

Bill GatesWould you buy a refrigerator magnet from this man?

A few months ago I heard that Microsoft's president had made a ridiculous assertion that the .Net software environment would be running on refrigerator magnets. It's true! Bill Gates showed some of these display-only devices in his CES keynote, the traditional opening event.

These SPOT, Smart Personal Objects Technology, devices include wristwatch, refrigerator magnet and keychain form factors controlled by a computer the size of a quarter. They wirelessly connect to their data sources.

Each is specialized to receive such things as weather reports, sports scores, the ever popular stock market reports or, perhaps, winning lottery numbers.

RobotCan you wait for these?

The 2003 International Consumer Electronics Show is world's largest consumer technology tradeshow. This year there were over 110,000 attendees, from 128 countries, meeting with 2,283 exhibitors.

This year's CES theme appeared to be “Off the Wall.”

Consider Deer Alert. This device sounds sonic and ultrasonic tones to warn deer and other animals of your approaching vehicle. And it has no on/off switch! Jabber showed Freespace. This very light earpiece connects to the cell phone on your belt using wireless Bluetooth technology.

This for only $179! Even geeks can be slaves to fashion. For the digital domestic, TMIO.com offers an Internet-controlled refrigerated oven for about $2000. Invaluable when you decide to go out for dinner at the last moment and want to chill, rather than cook, the dinner you left in the refrigerated oven when you live alone. I guess?

Abacus Watches showed a wrist-mounted PDA running the Palm OS. A one-inch long stylus slips out of the band. The display is the same resolution as most Palm devices, however it is about one-fourth the size.

The battery is sufficient to keep it running for two hours with the backlight off. For geeks only!

This was the greatest CES ever.

The foregoing weirdness just shouts that the market may slow down but the inventors never do. There were great things in all categories. Here is just a sampling:

After you fly to Japan to buy your SH251IS, you are left with your old cell phone. What do you do with it? Go to Recellular.net and look into their Donate A Phone page. I hate to see good technology thrown away.

PalmAlso from the Palm world, Garmin.com showed a GPS in a Palm format. It looks similar to a Sony Clie but the entire inset area can be used to display a map. The screen is 320 x 480 bright color pixels. It runs Palm OS5 in 32 MB of RAM and supports a speaker from which driving instructions and MP3 tunes may emanate. A microphone is available for recording messages. In GPS mode an antenna is folded out. In normal mode it looks and acts like a basic Palm with a terrific display. Magellan, the other major GPS manufacturer, also showed a unit with a color display. There were several new GPS vendors at CES indicating the growth in popularity of this technology. Nextel is now shipping a GPS augmented telephone. For $7 a month, TeleNav.net will send directions on how to get where you want over your phone. No map, just directions in large text; e.g., bent arrow, street name and distance. It looks very effective. Rayming.com offers a GPS recorder and reporter. Their TripTracer II systems can record and/or report the location of their vehicle-mounted devices thru the pager network.

Some great software appeared at the show. 3D-Album.com produces dramatic slide shows from your digital photos and your music. Instead of wipes and fades between images, 3D-Album drapes them between marble columns and lets them flutter in the wind or mounts them on a rotating balloon, etc. My favorite display is having all of the pictures on the sides of a rotating box and you are in the box; you can see five pictures/sides of the box at once; the side behind you is where more images enter and leave the show. When 3D-Album creates a show, it does it in a way that copying the files and directories onto a CD produces an auto-run performance. This is perfect for our less technical friends.

I found a tool for making labels for small format CDs, round or business card format. The LabelWhiz.com CD Card Label Kit includes software, labels and a clam shell label positioner. The positioner includes guides for positioning all label and disks for business card format media. The software supports large and small format CD labels as well as many other label types. It also provides standard templates; you can just fill in the fields, or drag and drop to your hearts content.

Pinnacle Studio 8 looks unbeatable in the video CD/DVD creation area. Dragging and dropping clips and transitions along a timeline makes the process easy to understand and accomplish. A new feature is the inclusion of background sound editing. Using rubber bands you can adjust the sound level during scenes. You don't have a usable soundtrack? Studio 8 includes an algorithmic tune generator which will produce music of the style and duration you choose!

RAM-on-a-Stick has been around for a year or two but now it is starting to look mainstream. These devices connect to a USB port, contain up to a gigabyte of memory and look like a disk to your computer. It looks like it can be the replacement for the floppy disk on sneaker net, and a few other things. These devices are typically about the size of a package of chewing gum sticks. USBDrive.com showed a waterproof line of these with password protection in one-half and one gigabyte formats. Rigid, rugged, small and secure makes these the handiest way to carry around data. If you are willing to give up the waterproof feature, Trek offers an alternate security feature. When you insert their ThumbDrive.com, it checks your thumbprint to see if you are authorized to access the contained data. It's much smarter than your average stick of gum.

Memory has become available in so many formats that it almost is as hard to move it around as video files. CompactFlash-I, CompactFlash-II, SmartMedia, SD, MultiMediaCard and Memory Stick are some of the more popular formats which may not be shared by your digital appliances. SanDisk.com profits from this by making most of these formats and now almost confesses to their similarity by offering a 6 in 1 Reader/Writer to move data between all of the formats I just listed. At the same time SanDisk announced Ultra CompactFlash, conspicuous for its non-support by the 6 in 1!

There was one relatively low-tech product that caught my attention. In 1965, after much shopping, I bought an underwater 35mm camera without a flash to use while diving. They started at $350 then; that is in 1965 dollars. At the show I came across the Suprema SuperSport that has a flash and does everything I wanted to do for way under $100; that is in 2003 dollars. You can find them at Wal-Mart.

A couple of interesting things are happening on the Internet. There is a new chat site starting up. It is different, but not original, in that it uses 3-D avatars and provides a large exotic world to explore. What sets it apart is that I think the technology is now in place to support it. You use your avatar to chat, shop, explore and participate in activities such as hover board racing. They are just in beta testing now, but can learn about it, and join in, at you ThereInc.com. PcPinpoint.com is the "first web-based maintenance and repair site guaranteed to solve or identify your PC software and hardware problems." They have been in the repair business for quite a while. Their prices seem quite reasonable.

They seem to know what they are doing. They are going after the end-user market. I encourage you to look into their service to help you maintain and repair your computer hardware and software.

In one area at least there seemed to be too much information, writeable DVD standards. Writeable DVDs are replacing tape in many video applications; Panasonic integrates them with their newest camcorders. CDs are no longer sufficient to even backup RAM in many home computers. I attended presentations on both DVD+ and DVD- standards and I still don't understand their relative merits. The competing camps are so misleading and confused that it reminds me of the Windows versus OS/2 debates of yore. I now hope that it all becomes moot when AOD, Advanced Optical Disk, supercedes DVD altogether. AOD promises a 40GB dual-layer writable disk.

Bluetooth is heating up. Since July 2002, all PC manufacturers have been shipping systems with USB2. This has greatly increased the range of devices with which it makes sense to connect to your PC through this new universal connector. The biggest problem with this CES was that there was so much great new stuff!

Fred Thorlin is a contract software developer with experience in compiler development now working with Visual Basic and Palm computer environments. He also writes columns on Visual Basic programming and computing on the road. He can be contacted at fredt@hal-pc.org.

E-mail me at mfoster@hal-pc.org with any comments you have and tell me what you want to see here.

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Last modified: 2003:03:03