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The "I Survived Comdex" winners

Fall Comdex '96 is history, but the thrills--or the agony, depending on who you talk to--is still fresh in the minds of many readers. Two weeks ago, we asked you to share your Comdex experience with other NEWS.COM readers, and tons of you responded. As promised, our "judges" have picked the five best survival stories. Winners will be sent prizes (supercool CNET T-shirts) as soon as we get their mailing addresses.

Fall Comdex '96 is history, but the thrills--or the agony, depending on who you talk to--is still fresh in the minds of many readers. Two weeks ago, we asked you to share your Comdex experience with other NEWS.COM readers, and tons of you responded. As promised, our "judges" have picked the five best survival stories. Winners will be sent prizes (supercool CNET T-shirts) as soon as we get their mailing addresses.

The awards are as follows:

The most ingenious

What's the biggest nightmare of Comdex? I'd argue it's the transportation. My two biggest hints:

1. Utilize your hotel's limo service. If they think you're a high roller (you might even deposit some cash, take out the chips, hold them for the week, and return them), they'll take you around. Faced with an hour-long wait at the airport Sunday night, I called the hotel and ten minutes later, the stretch was there.

2. Maybe only a New Yorker would do this, but I go to the front of the cab line and start asking people if they're going to the same destination I'm going to. Usually within the first 30, you'll find someone who's going your way. Offer to pay for the cab and usually you're in! It doesn't piss the people in line behind you (not that a real New Yorker would mind), because you're not taking an extra cab; you're just hitching along with one that was already going your way. (Of course, you can always adopt the macrobiotic Californian approach and just walk.)

--Jonathan Yarmis

Courage for putting up with a roach motel

Would you believe...shower caps on your feet? We had been put up at undoubtedly the WORST hotel in Las Vegas [name withheld] thanks to the infamous room shortage. The rooms were disgusting: sour with rancid smells we wouldn't even dare guess the origins of, sagging beds with cigarette burn holes in the sheets, and carpets that were so foul, NONE of us would step on them bare-footed, literally.

The entire intrepid Home Office Computing sales team came up with some unique and clever ways to get to the beds without touching the floor. These included the following:

Jumping from the doorway into the kitchenette/bathroom area, and diving from the counter onto the bed.
Dragging all the chairs and suitcases over to create stepping stones.
Lining up the towels to make runways.
The winner: using the shower caps as slippers.

We awarded the winner with an appropriate prize at the show: a rubber raincoat to use as pajamas.

--Mike Crosson

For putting up with zippers unzipping

OK, so I have not been to Comdex for six or eight years. I had the crazy idea that I was going to see the latest technology for the new "computer" division of our company, set up some supplier deals and--get this--actually stand next to and talk to some knowledgeable people from Microsoft. I even spent the big bucks to bring the new, just-out-of-college manager of the division.

Our rooms were an experience. Usually around $50, we got to pay over $200 to live in a construction zone [name withheld], awakening to jackhammers and all sorts of heavy machinery. And as for the hotel being a family place, let me tell you about the next-door neighbors. The walls were so thin that you could hear a zipper unzipping. AdultDex could not have offered any more graphic sound tracks. It was also obvious that the gentlemen were not Republicans.

Cabs, cab lines, and the doormen...Why is it a rule that when you have over a hundred people and twenty or more cabs waiting in line to go to a dozen or so places, the doorman cannot coordinate similar destinations and load more than one cab at a time?

It was Iomega that sent me over the line. Since we have a interest in having computers change personality by swapping their hard disks, I wanted to discuss Jaz, instead we got a Rock Opera. Overall, it was nearly impossible to see (and hear) a technical demonstration in the main buildings.

It is simply a fact that the time or dollar value is no longer there at Comdex Las Vegas, a great place to party but not on my company's expense accounts.

--Al Dixon

I came, I saw, I left scratching my head

As a "semitechie," I wanted to experience the mother of all computer shows, fall Comdex. I knew that it would be beneficial to see how a convention center deals with a show of such magnitude. (Just how much magnitude I was to find out quickly.)

You see, I am a convention center director on a much smaller scale than the Vegas CC, but still a facility cirector. I run a small technology expo and I just knew there were things to learn at Comdex to make my show better. Yeah, right!

My mission, which I decided to accept, was to go to Comdex and:

See the use of temporary expo structures that I am going to use next year for several shows.
Talk with Microsoft techies about my own online registration for my conferences and learn how to port the HTML form data from Microsoft FrontPage on my NT 4.0 server to the Microsoft Access Database product.
Learn how the Internet service provider for Comdex set up and charged vendors.

I knew I was in for an adventure when the airline called and woke me up at two on the morning of my departure to tell me that my flights had changed. Oh well, I would still make Vegas in time to pick up my badge during Sunday registration hours, I hoped.

As I took my seat on the aircraft next to a 350 lb. "truck part distributor" from Barstow, California, I wondered how long the flight would be as he told me about his company's conference in Atlanta and how much fun he had the night before. He then preceded to go comatose and snore for the four-hour flight.

Finally, the flight made it in. I waited at the baggage claim for all the bags but one to go around the carousel. My bag didn't make it from the connecting flight. I had a premonition of this and had packed a carry-on with shaving kit, sweats, sweatshirt, sneakers, fresh BVDs, and socks. Over the years, I had been exceedingly lucky and never lost a bag. Odds were with me that this trip would be a series of firsts.

As the cabbie asked me if I was there for Comdex, I said, "Uh, no. I'm an LPGA groupie here for the tour championship at the Desert Inn." His response was, "Oh, yeah? Then were are your bags, and why do yah have one of those funny little computer briefcases?" Didn't fool him. By the time I was checked in to my hotel, Comdex Sunday registration had closed.

I called the airline. My bag was due in within the hour and they would have it sent to my hotel as soon as it arrived. Yeah, right. After finally getting an 800 line out (five tries, five dollars).

Morning brought another call to the airlines, "Sir, it was given to a courier last night at 9 o'clock; it's out of our hands now." For modest payola, I found a bellman that knew the courier service and could get a line on my bag. I finally had it at noon.

After having set up Web registration for two conferences myself, I just knew that Comdex's online registration was the way to go. In the registration tent, the nice person smiled and controlled his laughter as I gave him my business card and then told him I had registered online. He just looked at me, as my look of bewilderment betrayed my frustration, and said, "Don't worry, you'll get a badge. The database from the online registration was dumped. But you can fill out this paper registration and go to the back of the tent for a badge. Oh, and here is your conference handbook to read while you stand in line."

At the back of the tent was a queue the size of the one for Space Mountain at Disney World on the fourth of July. It was 1 p.m. when I started at the back of the line, and it was 5:30 p.m. when I arrived at the front. First day at Comdex spent in line! Then the lady manning the PC said, "Sorry, your email address is too long for the field." I gave her my daughter's CompuServe address. (She won't mind, I'm sure.)

With badge in hand, sore feet from standing, and all of the exhibits closed, I looked for the taxi stand. Back at the hotel and to dinner. As I pondered the day over a piece of prime rib I had ordered medium-rare that was still squirming on my plate, I thought about gambling, My luck couldn't get any worse, right? Well, I was right. After playing $19 of a $20 bill in a dollar slot, I hit it. $240 started clanging out until the machine locked. I waited on an attendant to get me the winnings and hear about how all the Comdex attendees are cheapos. I said "Yeah. I'm an LPGA groupie here for the tour championship."

I was ready to hit the exhibits early the next day. I took in a high carb-and-cholesterol breakfast buffet and then trekked to the convention center. My first stop, of course, was Microsoft. One of my scribbled notes to myself was to find out if the new 97 versions of Microsoft's Office Suite and FrontPage were going to provide me an easier way to port my online registration from my Web server to my database. I went to the Microsoft Tech Questions kiosk and boldly presented my need for a solution. The little guy in the baseball hat looked at me bewildered and said, "You need to go and ask the guys at the FrontPage booth." I said, "OK, where is it?" He pointed a direction and promptly disappeared. I found the FrontPage whiz kids and they told me, "Gee, that's a solution the Access guys can help you with."

Off I was to their domain. The Access folks then told me, "Nope, we are end product (so to speak). You need to talk to the NT 4.0 people." My fears of traveling full circle were confirmed when I reached the NT 4.0 gurus and they told me, to try the Microsoft tech questions kiosk. I decided to give up at that point. Where did I want to go today? Hmmm...How about the Planet Hollywood Pro-Am for the LPGA Tour Championships?

On to the next part of my mission: find out how Comdex handles the obviously massive demand for Internet access. Now where can I find out who is the ISP at Comdex? I went off to find the answer at the information kiosks in the lobby. The gentleman said he knew what I was looking for and gave me directions to the South Expo hall, then along the wall until it goes down one level, and through the doors that say "basement." I found myself in the bowels of the center talking to the maintenance guys and asking how they dealt with Comdex.

Two strikes so far. I thought as I decided to search for the company responsible for the temporary structures. Out in the front, I knew where to find an authority on these: look for a guy with a toolbelt on and he would lead me in a positive direction. I found just such a guy! I couldn't believe how nice and accommodating these folks were. They not only found the supervisor for the company, but also they offered to give me a radio to use in case I got lost getting to him. Anyway, I found the supervisor, and he gave me a guided tour and put me in touch with the salespeople. We had lunch.

So I had one final day at Comdex before I made it back home. I decided to limit my losses and just do the Comdex thing: look at exhibits and enjoy seeing the new technology. I covered as much as I could that day, filled up my little paper box with more information than I'd ever read and left with only one thought: "What are they going to do with all those tropical fish in the Toshiba exhibit?"

--Hugh Austin

Flattery will always get you a T-shirt

With the sun beating down and the weight of my laptop bearing upon my shoulder, I waited. I waited in the line that seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. It was high noon in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center, and I needed to get back to the Sands.

It was only day Tuesday, but the excruciating pain in the soles of my feet would continue to throb as if I had been there all week. I was wearing my shades with my head tilted toward the sun with the hopes of a small suntan to take back to New York. I was growing weary (everyone was) as the line seemed to stand still.

Then it happened, I saw it! At first I thought my eyes were deceiving me. They looked so happy, so carefree, so...in love! Richard Hart and Gina St. John...They were arm in arm, looking like two high school kids on a date.

I did a double take because I swore that they looked to be more than just cohosts. They looked like they didn't have a care in the world as they strutted by with their dark shades and ear to ear smiles. As I dragged my bag forward four inches catch up with the subtle line movement, I turned my head to see where they went. They were gone. Gone as if they had never been there.

I scratched my head and thought that maybe it had been a mirage in the heat of the desert. When you are stranded in the desert without water, you'd envision a lake. When you are stuck in a Comdex cab line, you envision CNET.

--Scot Rubin

Go to the Real Comdex