Fear and loathing at Comdex Las Vegas
A savage journey to the heart of the Reseller's DreamARN's editor Philip "Hunter" Sim and PC section editor Tom "Attorney" Allen report from Comdex where they expose the truth behind the biggest trade show in the US.
We were somewhere above the middle of the Pacific Ocean when the insanity began to take hold. I remember saying something like "Gee, I think the insanity has begun to take hold."
My PC editor was oblivious, as is typical, to my ravings. He was already too far gone. He'd only just got his hands on one of the first HP Jornada Windows CE machines to be shipped into Australia and he was now locked in some mad hypnotic trance. His fingers beat at the tiny keyboard like it was a piano and he was David Helfgott on speed. At one point he stood up and screamed into the Jornada's built-in microphone : "What are these goddamn machines!" Then he played it back at full volume. People stared. The poor bastard. Those Windows CE gadgets mess you up pretty bad.
We still had many hours and thousands of kilometres left to fly. They would be tough times. And not just because Armageddon was about to screen. While my PC editor's mind was being screwed around by the HP/Microsoft minimalist monster, I was struggling with my own demons. Thank you Tech Pacific for staging the Starlight Foundation ball on the night before I was to spend 14 hours cramped in an aeroplane. The constant drone of the plane's engines beat at my brain, while the relentless air conditioning sucked every last drop of fluid out of my badly dehydrated body. A migraine, nausea and sleep deprivation fought to see which could most successfully torture my wretched soul. But I would ride it out. I drank more beer.
Press registrations for Comdex Las Vegas were already under way. We were covering the event for Australian Reseller News, which is Australia's most famous and fabulously popular channel publication. I know this to be true because I am the editor - and an editor should know such things.
After forking out for an economy air fare and accommodation there was about $3 left in the budget. Had we not been journalists that would have been something of a concern. After all, we would need to drink copious amounts of alcohol if we were to survive a show of such manic proportions. But we were professionals, and if there's one thing a professional IT journalist knows, it's how to sponge free alcohol off vendors.
My PC editor was first to spot the six-year-old boy who had stopped in the aisle and was staring at the Jornada like he'd never seen such a thing.
Bright eyed and bushy tailed
"Hot damn! I've never see such a thing," he said to me, all bright eyed and bushy tailed. "Would you like to use one?" I asked him.
"Would I ever, Mister!"
"Then get yourself $2000 and when you get back home visit your local friendly reseller and buy one," I said. Never let it be said that Australian Reseller News fails to generate leads for the channel.
Suddenly, my PC editor shoved me back into my seat, leant across my lap and grabbed hold of the boy's wrists.
"We're your friends," he said. "We're not like the others."
Oh no, I thought, he's gone round the bend. He began raving.
"This machine is so cool! It's got a 190MHz RISC StrongArm processor, 21cm VGA CSTN screen, fast IrDA and USB ports . . ."
The kid recoiled in horror as the madman began to speak in some strange tongue. I recognised his ravings as specifications, but then, I was one of his kind.
How long can we maintain this facade, I wondered? How long before we're recognised as the nuts that we are, and thrown from the plane? I attempted to break the vice-like grip on the kid's wrists by challenging my PC editor to crash his machine. Thankfully, he jumped at the challenge, letting go and resuming the Helfgott impersonation. However, the kid was freaked. He stared at me, not blinking. Was he gritting his teeth?
"Can you hear me?" I yelled.
"That's good," I said. "Because I want you to know that we're on our way to Las Vegas to find the Reseller's Dream." I smiled. "Can you grasp that?"
The kid screamed, like he was a Compaq reseller trying to find out when the order he placed three months ago was due to arrive. He bolted down the aisle, crying for his mother. Wimp.
I decided to opt out of consciousness at that point. Only one thing to do. I put on my headset and began to watch Armageddon. I was asleep in no time at all.
Lost luggage . . . irritable aliens . . . bad breath and smelly armpitsParochialism overdone is about as pretty as my PC editor was after our 14-hour flight. We're standing in the "aliens" queue at LA Customs in a line about a mile long. Meanwhile, the US residents queue isn't even long enough to justify being called a queue. So they decide to open up another counter - just for residents. Yeah, thanks.
So I'm kinda irritable at this time. Got bugger-all sleep again on the plane and my head somehow filled up with snot. I try to get a cheeseburger at the LA airport McDonald's, but they refused to give me one, claiming it was breakfast time.
"Not in Australia it's not!"
With everything going so flaming well, I figure it was a good bet that I'd lose my luggage, too. That would have been the only bet I won all week.
"I'm sure it'll be on a later flight," said the 300-year-old woman in baggage handling. My bag eventually shows up but some fool has unzipped the front pocket and a whole heap of stuff including my business cards, toothbrush and deodorant was missing.
Not enough drugs . . . Gates of Hell . . . loser LarryThe drugs began to wear off half-way through the Bill Gates keynote.
I'd hit the hard stuff. Codrals, Sudafeds, aspirins. Anything to try and clear my mucus-mutated melon. I washed them down with a couple of Buds and suddenly I was starting to feel good again. Real good.
"We must see Gates," I cried out, banging my fists against the door of my PC editor's room. "Gates will know where we can find the Reseller's Dream! Gates knows everything. Gates is God!"
Being privileged press people, we got special treatment, of course. That meant we had to wait in line for two hours in the middle of 1000 people, instead of three hours in the middle of 100,000 people. But I didn't care, because I was still real happy. I tried to instigate a chorus of Row, Row, Row Your Boat, but I was finding it difficult to rally the press corp. They didn't seem nearly as happy as I was.
Bill was great. He joked, we laughed. He sent himself up, we laughed again. I laughed particularly raucously. I was still very happy.
I started to ask myself why on earth must the DOJ continue to persecute this poor man? Then I started asking people around me. They obviously didn't know why either, because they just ignored me and pulled faces like they were disgusted with the DOJ.
Then mid-way through the keynote, I realised I was in trouble. Gates joked and I only smiled. A few minutes later one of his sidekicks cracked a funny and I didn't laugh at all. The drugs were wearing off quickly. Way too quickly. I started to panic. Some guy in a kilt came on stage and started talking about fonts. Then they played with Jay Leno doing vox pops on the street, asking people if they knew who Bill Gates was.
"Isn't he a mayor?" one said. "He's rich. But not as rich as Oprah," said another. Arrrghhh. I needed drugs badly. My head was congesting again, but the keynote was far more worrying at that stage.
Another video came on with Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates doing a Lord of the Dance parody. Can you even imagine how agonising that was?
To think I thought I was going to find the answer to the Reseller's Dream here. Over the next couple of days, all I found out was that I wasn't going to find out anything at any of the keynotes. Compaq's Eckhard Pfeiffer, for example, told all the resellers in the audience that Compaq "used to be" focused on the channel, muffed a couple of jokes and then tried to bribe everyone with a packed lunch. I didn't even bother with Ellison. Nor did anyone else it seemed.
While there was a line a mile long for Gates which formed two hours before his keynote, there wasn't a single person waiting at the entrance we walked past 15 minutes before Ellison's speech.
I knew I wasn't going to get any answers from someone who didn't have enough sense not to have his keynote clash with all the opening night parties . . .
Stands . . . more stands . . . and even more flaming stands"Can't you understand? I'm here to find the Reseller's Dream!" I screamed.
The dragon clearly didn't understand. "You have no proof that you're media," she said. "There's no way I'm giving you a pass."
I'd lost my pass to get into the exhibition and just wanted a replacement. Easy task, you would think.
"I told you I lost my business cards. I've already proved all that on Sunday. I'm registered. Just call up my name on the computer. Here's my driver's licence. This cannot be that difficult!!!"
"We can't access that kind of information," the dragon said, seemingly proud of the fact that Ziff Davis/Softbank - one of the world's largest technology companies - could not maintain a simple database of registered guests.
I'd had enough. I pulled out a sword, cut the dragon's head off, slashed open her chest and ripped out her heart. Or at least I would have, if I'd had a sword handy. What I actually did was walk all the way back to my hotel, grabbed a copy of ARN, walked all the way back and finally got registered.
I really shouldn't have bothered.
Comdex is totally out of hand. Row after row after row after row of endless stands. Stand after stand after stand after stand. Forget LSD - if you want to start hallucinating, walk round a trade show's floors for four or five hours.
The stands begin to dance and wobble and fly.
Every single one of them claimed to be the Reseller's Dream. They were lying, though. I could see it in their eyes.
Rock lobsters . . . capitalist prostitutes . . . The AnswerRock Lobster . . . down, down, down.
The B52s were going off. I was going off. My PC editor was going off. Vendor bitch was going off too - but not in a good way.
We were simply dancing exuberantly. Apparently too exuberantly for vendor bitch who threatened to have us thrown out if we didn't "settle down".
"Settle down, down, down," I yelled.
That didn't seem to help the situation. She said to my PC editor that she was the organising vendor and that she really could get us all thrown out.
My PC editor looked at her. Then he showed her his media pass.
"Go ahead, make my day," was all he said.
Vendor bitch decided to dance somewhere else.
Now, I'm the first to admit that it was a pretty slim chance that we were going to find the Reseller's Dream at the Beach Nightclub. Probably not much hope of finding it at the Gamesworks video parlour either. Or at the Ziggy Marley concert or the Micrografx Chilli Cookoff VIP party.
But where there's a hope there's a chance and, besides, when someone else is paying for the beer, little else matters. We didn't find the Reseller's Dream at any of the parties, or at any of the casinos or at the bottom of any of the innumerable bottles of beer we drank. It seemed certain we had failed.
So we headed back to the hotel for the last time.
"You boys looking for a good time?" said the remarkably attractive blonde with the remarkably small hotpants on.
"We're actually looking for the Reseller's Dream," I said. "Can you help us?"
"I can help you with your dreams," she said.
I explained that due to the lousy rotten dealer who had dealt me a nine when what I really wanted was a seven, I was in no financial situation to have any dreams of my own.
But still, we got to talking. A lovely girl, actually. Said she was in college studying business and was saving to start a business. It wouldn't be long either, because she was making a lot of money selling her "services".
"So there's good money in services?" I asked. And then it hit me.
"It's the only way to go, baby. Now you boys sure I can't help you?"
"You already have," I assured her.
And that was how we found the Reseller's Dream.