“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” So begins one of my favorite books, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas by the late Hunter S. Thompson. We too drive from Los Angeles to Vegas every year for the NAB show, but the only drugs involved were various forms of back, body, and head aspirin in anticipation of the sensory onslaught, endless walking, and bags laden with brochures that define the NAB experience. And huge quantities of vitamins, attempting to stave off this year’s strain of the NAB Flu.
In an earlier blog post, we mentioned some of the more intriguing products we saw at NAB; in this one, I want to share some of the “flavor” of what the show was like. As a warning – before the amnesia sets in – to make sure no one repeats our mistakes.
It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome. If so, then most gamblers are insane. So are we, for staying at New York New York again. To be fair, it has a few redeeming features (such as a fine Irish pub and a sane Italian restaurant with attentive service), but it is surrounded by a roller coaster. With screaming patrons. While you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep before tomorrow morning’s presentation. Two years ago we were on a corner, so we got them coming and going. This year, we asked to be placed as high as possible. We got a room right by the first incline and drop. At least the kind folks at Post|Production World didn’t have any of our sessions start before 10 AM. (Hot tip: Given a choice, stay at Paris Las Vegas. More charming, great buffet, and crepes even a manly man can fall in love with.)
Trish is Irish by birth, and I am by adoption (as in, adopted by Trish’s country after our marriage; indeed, we’re both dual citizens now). If she has one requirement in this world, it is to have a good cup of tea. Alas, most Americans don’t know how to serve tea. The cafe at New York New York uses these abominations called “tea coddles” that look like ultramodern beakers which are incapable of keeping water hot. Why do they use them? Because patrons stole the tea pots that actually worked. Trish promises a blog on the inability to get a good cup of tea as an analogy for bad product development cycles. At the end of our stay, even I had sworn off coffee. Unless it has Kahlua or Irish Whiskey in it, of course.
Whenever we are asked to propose talks for Post|Production World, they always say throw in a couple of extras so they can have a choice. This is akin to Lucy promising Charlie Brown she really won’t yank away the football this time; they always take the extras as well. This year, we were slated for seven talks, including a double session on audio. No problem; we loaded them all onto our handy new 17″ high-resolution 7200-rpm maxed-out-RAM MacBook Pro (the last few years, we brought a full workstation). We plugged in the projector…and it didn’t come up. All the normal tricks didn’t work. Finally, we put it to sleep…and it wouldn’t wake up. Tapped the power button, and woke up in a kernel panic (the Mac equivalent of the Windows Blue Screen of Death). After a reboot, no Adobe applications would run. (We’ve blogged about that particular problem – and its recovery – earlier.) Guess what: We were demonstrating mostly Adobe applications.
Jeff Foster (he of After Effects and Photoshop fame, and now acquisitions editor at Lynda.com) dropped by before our first talk to say hi, and noticed we were in a more intense mood than usual. A timely loan of a 8 Gb USB memory dongle by him allowed us to get all of our presentations off of our PowerBook. We noted the in-room computer we were transferring our files to didn’t have Illustrator (which Trish needed for our first presentation), so the helpful tech support from PPW proceeded to install the entire Adobe CS3 Production Premium Suite, thinking it would just skip applications already installed – nope. Meanwhile, Trish made small talk with the audience. (By the way, the audience at PPW was great; we also noted in informal polls that there were far more advanced users there this year than the previous two. The slow economy seems to have raised the importance of training…) Fortunately, most of our other talks went off without a hitch (with the exception of the blown speaker in the room where I was demonstrating subtle audio details for 3 hours…you know, the large echoey box with the loud party going on next door…).
It is important, when at a trade show, to find a gregarious individual with a company expense account that has a particularly fine-tuned love of eating, drinking, or partying. The improbably-named but much-loved Amacker Bullwinkle used to be the archetype of that very person when she was the third-party plug-in evangelist at Adobe. Many of the nights she spent “supporting the community” are legend – assuming we could remember them. (For those who don’t know, Amacker was in a horrific motorcycle accident in June 2007. The story of her long, painful, successful recovery is detailed here – start at the bottom and work up.) This role is now being taken over by the fine folks at Lynda.com, many of which have become foodies, and some of which are also serious wine aficionados – including the aforementioned Jeff Foster. Jeff kindly helped us drown our sorrows over our dead Mac Saturday night.
Next: The Parties…
Sunday’s talks went without incident, spiced by the services of two free masseuses (masseusi?) reserved for the PPW presenters. We fully intended to go to the PPW part at Pure Sunday night, but I got the memo that dress clothes would be required after we already left Los Angeles. Trish can always be counted on to look marvelous (one word: Chico’s). However, after a serious double-breasted suit and then smoker’s vest stages several years ago, I can be found most days in jeans and a distant, post-modern relative of a Hawaiian shirt; alas, that wouldn’t pass at Pure. Instead we had Sunday Dinner at the aforementioned fine Irish pub.
Monday was the last of our talks – carefully planned, as we had a full schedule of parties planned Monday and Tuesday nights. After lunch with Paul Temme our acquisitions editor at Focal Press, we finally made it onto the show floor about 3 PM Monday – just missing Peder Norrby’s demonstration of Trapcode Horizon (damn!). After the show was the essential Media Motion Ball to catch up with old friends and learn the hottest rumors from the show, and then Peder’s Trapcode user party at the Crib Suite at The Palms. Peder’s party last year (which we missed; had to present the next morning) was one of the talks of the show last year, and The Palms is one of the “It” places in Las Vegas, so no way we were going to miss it this year. VIP Vibe? You had to get past three layers of security just to get to the room. In addition to the living area complete with staffed bar and pool table, the suite had an amazing bed set (we’re staging our house; we notice such things), and a bizarre shower…with a stripper’s pole…and a window…which opened out behind the aforementioned bar. No one got drunk enough to perform; just as well, given the high nerd quotient in attendance. We did hear, however, that Peder went nightclubbing afterward; now we know why he didn’t have a demo scheduled for Tuesday!
Tuesday we got to catch more of the show (hot tip: the Green lot behind the South Hall was free this year), managed the impossible task of gathering together nearly the entire PVC staff for lunch, and had three more events lined up that evening: The Focal Press author’s reception (nice spread), the Lynda.com author’s dinner (at Alize at The Palms – where the foodies went into cataclysmic fits over the wine menu, we went gaga over the cool tiles in the bathroom, and Trish finally got a real cup of tea), and finally at an English pub for the Adobe beer blast.
When we parked our car at the pub, we noticed a cute little for-rent scooter next to our parking space. When we left at 2 AM (at least we got back to the room after the rollercoaster was done for the night), none other than Brendan Bolles of Fnordware and The Orphanage was hopping onto it. Now, a pair of individuals in our industry are blessed with the look of eternal youth, partially because of their diminutive size (more than offset by they very large hearts and brains): the cherubic Dan “Filter Boy” Wilk of Adobe (who still looks young, regardless of the length of his hair), and the more devilish-looking Brendan Bolles. I only say that to point out, you could not have cast a better person to ride that scooter.
The next morning, Trish could not find her purse. She was convinced she had removed it from its hiding place in the back of our car, and must of dropped it on the way to our room. Being the chivalrous hero that I am, I slapped on some clothes, retraced our steps, and found her purse – still in its hiding place in our car.
Let me tell you: Even in today’s supposedly progressive society, and even in a thoroughly decadent city such as Las Vegas a mere day’s drive from one of our country’s decadent coasts, when you’re a man with a purse, you are suddenly very, very alone. No one wants see you; no one wants to admit you’re actually in the same room with them. People in elevators try to pretend you’re not there, despite attempts to engage them in friendly conversation; normally chirpy hotel maids look straight through you rather than wish you their customary “good morning.” I felt very small.
Gas was about 40-80 cents/gallon cheaper in Las Vegas than Los Angeles, so I topped off during the show. As we got in the car to return to Los Angeles (actually, to first slip over to Paris for a righteous buffet and tea before the long drive home), I noticed the needle was suddenly about a third of a tank lower than it was the night before. Somewhere between 2 AM and 8 AM, someone had siphoned 5 gallons out of our PT Cruiser. (While Trish’s purse was still inside.) Just another reason to Loathe, if not Fear, Las Vegas. But somehow, I know we’ll do it again next year…
(Postscript: Of course, I caught the traditional NAB flu anyway. No surprise, given a gathering of 100,000 show-goers who have all crippled their immune systems by cramming for a week to get ready for the show, then getting blind drunk during it. So far, I haven’t given it to Trish – but that’s why this “report” is a bit late. My apologies.)
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