Las Vegas turns into the epicenter of the technology world for one week each year, and every year the main topic of conversation is the incredible difficulty in connecting to the outside world.
Cell phone calls routinely fade out in midconversation. Electrical outlets and phone lines for connecting laptops are exceedingly rare commodities inside booths and press rooms. Having a hotel room doesn't help much either. Often, the internal phones systems get so overburdened you can't log on even at 5:30 a.m.
Traffic in the real world is no better. A dearth of cabs leads to taxi lines that can last 40 minutes. Traffic moves at a crawl. Walking could partly alleviate it, but that's not a practical option in a town where "next door" means your destination could still be a mile away.
Some of the high points:
The best party was thrown by Electronic Data Systems. The normally square consulting firm hired Macy Gray and Barenaked Ladies to play at a Tuesday night bash at a lavishly decorated hangar at McCarron Airport. Between songs, Macy Gray said she was going to introduce "one of the most influential, creative people of our time." The crowd shuddered, thinking EDS was going to make her trot out Ross Perot.
Barenaked Ladies, meanwhile, proudly claimed the title of CEO "Dick Brown's posse."
Intel competitor Transmeta probably wins the award for the second-best party. Monday, the company rented out Tsunami, a Japanese restaurant. Analysts warmly greeted Transmeta executives then mumbled about how the company's future was up in the air.
Worst party: Hewlett-Packard's chili cook-off. Even the HP people left to go to EDS.
As predicted, Comdex has become more of an international showcase rather than a pep rally for U.S. industries. The vast majority of major technology displays in the main hall are from Asian or European companies.
Toshiba, Hitachi, Canon, Sanyo, Olympus, Pioneer, Lernout & Hauspie, Sony and Taiwan's CMC dominate the primary real estate in the main hall. Microsoft, Handspring and Iomega are the only big U.S. displays in the front of the hall. HP and Gateway sit in the rear and side of the convention floor.
Best sign: "In the registration tent, appearing today, The Coasters," at the Ricoh booth. Is the 1950s doo-wop group singing or checking badges?
Special honors for the best creation of a self-generating market go to the makers of plasma displays, those huge flat-panel monitors that have become ubiquitous at Comdex. The biggest customer for these? Companies renting trade show booths, said a representative of one of the manufacturers.
Elvis has left the building, and so should you. As Palm began its 5:30 p.m. PST press conference Monday, a loud announcement went over the public address system: "The first day of Comdex is over. Thank you for attending."
The most novel product has to be the E-Bunny from Eupa. It's a PC, but the CD lid on the E-Bunny splits in two when it opens, forming a pair of ears.
Most interesting Pentium 4 news: It's a sizzler. The chip consumes an average of 50 watts of power, so the computers incorporating it are sizable.
Does Michael Dell watch "Ice Station Zebra" and grow his fingernails? Dell Computer rented the former home of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes and decked it out as the "connected home." ("Jerry Lewis lives just down the street," said a limo driver.)
Dell also was going to hire K.C. and The Sunshine Band to play at their party Wednesday night, but the bidding got too expensive when the disco king started demanding first-class airline tickets.
Cab drivers as usual loudly proclaimed their hatred of the show. One driver said Comdex attendees are the cheapest of all convention goers. He then complained about his $2 tip on a $6 ride.
Many, however, were up on the industry. Humberto, who hustled a CNET News.com reporter to an interview with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, proclaimed: "Steve Ballmer. He's a billionaire. He should get a hairpiece or something. He can afford it."