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What Happened In Vegas

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Photo Courtesy of Doug Gordon

It may seem strange to shoot a segment for a show called Smaller in Las Vegas, a city where a "small" hotel still has over three thousand rooms, where showgirls' headdresses can weigh over 40 pounds, and where the smiling visages of Donnie and Marie tower ten stories over the Strip

The Making Stuff team was in Vegas, however, for something very small. We were there to crack open the inner workings of every gadget, camera, computer, and TV on the market today.

If you want to see the world's biggest collection of gadgets, then there's only one place to be: the annual Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Now, there's nothing small about CES itself.  It's the biggest convention Las Vegas sees each year, with over 120,000 people walking over 1.8 million square feet of exhibition space.  The only thing bigger in Vegas may be the portions at an all-you-can eat buffet. 

But everything at CES is powered by some very small stuff.  Nanotechnology is at the heart of everything the average tech user, well, uses.  Thanks to advancements in nano-sized transistors, today's smartphones have more computing power than the entire Apollo space program.  The Library of Congress has nothing on a well-stocked Kindle and an iPod.  Even the newest and thinnest flat-screen TVs are here thanks to nanotechnology, which allows them to be very thin indeed.  (Some of them are so thin you'd be inclined to roll them up in a poster tube.)

With host David Pogue leading the charge, the Stuff team's goal at CES was to find out if any of the over 2,500 exhibitors space could explain how nanotechnology makes their products work.  Plenty of people could tell us what their products do--a digital camera takes pictures, an MP3 player plays music--but very few people could explain how they do those things they do.

 "Far smarter minds than mine are at work on that question," said one humble product manager.  "You'll have to ask our engineer, but he's not here," said one slightly embarrassed PR rep.  My favorite response was from someone who simply could not explain how a Dick Tracy-like watch accessed the Internet.   Her giddy explanation?  "It's magic!"

David being David, we decided there was really only one good way to see how stuff works.  I won't give anything away, but let's just say it involved a buzz saw, a digital camera, and the incredible patience of one large electronics company's product managers.  (You'll have to tune into Stuff this fall for the rest.)

I had never been to the Consumer Electronics Show before and quickly found that there's no better guide than David Pogue.  While it's probably not the same as walking the red carpet with George Clooney (sorry, David), he did garner a fair amount of attention from PR reps and a few double takes from tech fans.  To David's credit, however, he does his best to lay low and experience everything through the eyes of the everyday consumer.   You know, the types of people who will actually be using this stuff when it hits your local Best Buy.

But having David at your side at while walking through the LVCC is hugely valuable for another reason. 

Much like at the casinos an iPhone's throw from the convention center, the Las Vegas Convention Center is a cavernous facility with no windows, and--strangely, for a show that's all about digital displays--no clocks.  Flashing lights and a cacophonous symphony of beeps and pings greet you at every turn.  Walking around CES can inspire déjà vu, disorientation, and sensory overload. 

Thankfully, we had the latest in navigation technology at our disposal, the Pogue 3000.  As we trekked from booth to booth--and booth is an understatement at CES, where one company's booth can easily exceed the size of a small department store--David knew exactly what short cut to take.  Had I not been part of Pogue's posse, I might have been condemned to roam the Las Vegas Convention Center forever, like some trade show equivalent of the Phantom of the Opera.

Speaking of treks...

While shooting a segment with one electronics giant on the technology behind flat screen TVs, who should stop by but Brent Spiner and LeVar Burton, Star Trek: The Next Generation's Data and Geordi, who, it turns out are avid David Pogue readers.   (I neglected to ask Spiner if he knew how nanotechnology enabled Data to exhibit human-like behavior.  Next time.)  When they asked if they could meet David there was nothing I could do but make it so.

If there's one big thing I noticed while shooting this segment for Stuff, it's that CES has a lot in common with Las Vegas' bread and butter industry, gambling.  Only at CES no one is betting on black or red.  They're betting it all on the Next Big Thing.  Will it be 3D TV?  Two-way video cell phones?  Motion activated remote controls?  Cars with Internet-enabled dashboards?  (We even saw one car that had a hookup for a video gaming system.  Just what we need: people playing Grand Theft Auto in their SUVs while driving through our nation's cities.)

Only time--and next year's CES--will tell.

Publicist Note: The four-part series hosted by David Pogue premieres winter 2011
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Doug Gordon

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