Thursday, April 17, 2008


Today is our last real day in Vegas. Since we've completed our NAB tour, we decided to do some more touring of Vegas.
After breakfast we purchased day tickets for the monorail and boarded the train to the MGM Grand hotel to see what the Game Works is all about. Marco read about it in his Lonely Planet guide of Vegas.
At the one to last station the monorail had a technical problem (what we don't know), so we waited for like 15 min before deciding to go walking the last kilometer. We had to walk through the Paris hotel. You guessed it, themed like Paris :-). The interior of all the European themed hotels look rather the same. Small facades of house, a blue sky with some clouds overhead and plants and other ornaments to give you the feel you're walking outside in the early evening. So there were shops, with French names, restaurants, with French names and even the slot machines were under those green cast iron free standing roof things (for lack of a better word). Again lots of noise (drives you crazy after a while) and the cliche carpets in the casino area. The same everywhere!
We finally escaped the hotel and got something to drink on the Strip. By now all the hustle and bustle of Vegas became mind numbing. But we still had the Game Works to check out. Unfortunately it was nothing more than a big arcade hall. Plenty of nice machines, but nothing special. So we didn't stay long.
After that we crossed the street and checked out the New York hotel. Again basically the same hotel as all the others. Same casino style (60's), same shops, same grandeur, same long long hallways. But we weren't scared off so easily so we crossed the street again and looked at the Excalibur hotel. The castle on the outside looks more like something made from those kiddy wooden play blocks. Inside we discovered they ran three 4D films! Sponge Bob, The deep plunge (or something) and a Dino movie. Ofcourse we had nog option but to test these. After waiting about a quarter of an hour, there were some technical difficulties, we went in. Oh boy, was this stuff from yesterday. No real theming, just a scruffy waiting line (no people) and a theater with castle themed (painted) walls. There were about six rows of chairs that were placed on movable platforms. Big lap bars hold you to your seat.
For the Sponge Bob movie, our first, we were alone and just our row of chairs moved. It's a bit like those large simulators (eg. STE) but then the simple version. Add wind effects, water effects (squirts) and moving wires (against your legs) and you've the 4th dimension. The movies used standard 3D polarized glasses.
During the movies it's a lot of bumping and shaking. Not all perfectly synchronized to the movie, but reasonably so. The Sponge Bob theme didn't suit the 3 and 4D effect very well IMHO. Next was the log plung movie. There you sit on (or actually are) a log that moves through a roller coaster ride in a computer generated world (looks a bit like the Myst worlds for those who've seen the adventure game). Here it lacked a lot of synch and they could have added some extra bumps at numerous moments in the movie, but alas.
The last one, Dino Encounter, was the best. Flying in a helicopter and riding in a car works best. You know the real thing (instead of being a log or biking with Sponge Bob) and the sound effects and voices helped to enhance the experience.
All in all not bad (for $12.95) but no way near attractions like STE.
You can imagine we had our fill by then (2.30pm or so) and we walked back to the monorail station in the MGM Grand hotel (the biggest of the world!). Now that hotel took us by surprise. Although the casino part was comparable to the other hotels (the carpet was a little more stylish although still floral) the rest of the hotel was way better. Modern, quiet(er) and very well designed. Some of the restaurants we saw looked really awesome, especially when compared to the rest of Vegas. This is a hotel one imagines when thinking of Las Vegas. Class with a casino.
Oh, they had something extra (apart from a Rainforest Cafe), a lion area in which real lions lived. All glassed off in the front with a walk through tunnel (like in aquaria). At any time there are three lionesses in the display area. The rotate throughout the day so that any lion is only visible for the public for limited amount of hours a day. They've got a total of 38 lions, although it wasn't clear where they live. The most impressive thing about this is the fact that the lions looked very relaxed and content. They walked around, played with balls, gnawed big bones, etc. Normally in a zoo lions either lay still and do nothing or pace around of boredom. These lions actually enjoyed themselves! Really special.
After that is was on the monorail and back to the hotel (around 3.30pm) to give our overloaded minds and feet a little rest.
Oh, Marco decided to through away a couple of bucks a the slot machines. You can't say you've been to Vegas without any gambling, right? He decided to play save and used the classic slot machine with bets of $0.25 (I know, wild). Well, he spent about $10-$11 and won $23!! Yes, really. Came away with a profit. :-)))

We had our last dinner at our favorite Thai around the corner. After that Marco jumped on the monorail one last time to get a peek of the Strip by night. Not as flashy as you always see in movies. Guess that's primarily caused by all the building activities on the Strip that leaves a lot of dark holes. The rest? Mostly video billboards. Only a few places with running old fashioned lights. Nope, Vegas isn't what they want us to think it is.

Well that's it. This is the last blog entry of our Vegas trip. Tomorrow it's up at 7am, cab at 8am and plane at 11:35am.

I hope you've enjoyed reading it! CU all.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

To boldly go...

The morning started with the, by now, usual routine. 9am breakfast in the hotel. They actually change the items from day to day a little! And we noticed that the breakfast isn't very popular. It's a big room, but I think about a quarter of the tables were used.
Anyway. After breakfast back to the NAB show of course. Today we wanted to check out the sound theme in the north hall. We were hoping to see some special speakers and advanced equipment to project sound. Alas, nothing like that. Again primarily sound recording and processing for broadcasting, just like with the video companies in the south hall. The only speaker company was JBL and they only had normal speakers. There were of course some others, like a small company that offers 22.2 (yep, no typo) sound. And me thinking 7.1 is already somewhat over the top!
We two other booths that caught our interest. The first was one with a miniature helicopter (about 1,5m long) that holds a camera and is remotely controlled. Just think about it: put a 306* camera in, project it on a HMD and let the user control the helicopter! Guaranteed to send you crashing into the floor :-).
The other company had a very nice 3D screen. It uses polarized images (so you have to wear special glasses), but the resolution, clarity and angle of view were amazing. Standing nearly at a nearly 180* angle, still gave the 3D effect and you could actually move from left to right in front of the screen and see the object move over each other!

After a quick scan of the rest of the north and central halls we decided that we'd seen all there is to see for CAMeRA. So we hiked back to the hotel to drop of some stuff and let Johan check his e-mail.
Then it was to the Star Trek Experience at the Hilton hotel, just one block from our hotel.
Now this is awesome. Whether you like attractions, Star Trek or high tech stuff, it's really cool. The STE area is smoothly integrated into the hotel's casino, which has a Sci-Fi look to it, in contrast with most other casino's. Downstairs is the shop and Quarks bar and restaurant. Upstairs is the entrance to the Experience. With your ticket you can ride both the Borg Invasion 4D and the Klingon Encounter. The queueing area is actually the ST museum with lots of original props and costumes on display.
We started with the Borg Invasion 4D. It starts out peacefully at a science station, but of course things take a wrong turn quickly. A Borg vessel is attacking the station and we are supposed to be evacuated. During this bit the floor vibrates as the Borg weapons wreak havoc on the station. The group walks through Star Trek themed corridors including life actors (one of which is a Borg). It really sets the mood, before the group enters a large (really large) theatre that represents the escape shuttle. Then a 4D movie (3D movie with polarized glasses plus additional effects of motion, prodding from the chair and wind) starts in which the Borg try to assimilate you. Voyager comes to the rescue and the show is over.
The movie is rather nice and well done for a 3D movie. The added effect are good and take you by surprise now and then.

After the first show we strolled through the shop were they have some nice ST memorabilia, at least if you're a trekkie :-).

Then we entered the STE again and did the Klingon Encounter. This was the original show, the Borg show was added later and replaced an identical second area of the Klingon Encounter. While standing in line for the show to start it was fun to hear Trekkies talk about the props on display.

The Klingon Encounter starts with the group being lined up before four doors, leading you to think you're going on a simulator type ride. Then the lights pop out and a lot of noise and wind buffet you. When the light come back on again you're on a transporter platform on board the USS Enterprise (Next Gen series) in the future. You then walk onto a real (almost) life size bridge of the Enterprise D. With the arched horse shoe security station, captain's chair, ops and con and viewscreen. After some video shots and life actor action you enter a turbo lift that experiences a malfunction (it drops - not really though).
Then comes the actual ride as you board a simulator that is the shuttle craft with which you escape the Enterprise and bring you back to the 21st century. It's a typical wild space battle simulator ride using a large half sphere as movie screen. The ride is pretty bumpy, but the edge of the screen is visible now and then, destroying a part of the illusion. It's good enough though to start some motion sickness in me! Non too bad though.

After the rides we did a bit of shopping and decided to go on the backstage tour. The whole attraction is something that fits within CAMeRA's mission, so we wanted to see how they pulled it al off.
First we had something to drink and eat in Quark's bar. Johan quickly scribbled some notes for his book after seeing the STE attractions and hearing some of the Trekkies talk. :-)

Oh, we did the Klingon Encounter a second time before we started on the backstage tour.
The tour was fun and very interesting. Our guide (Christopher) took us through the corridors and explained a lot about the building of it, the effects used, the little funny details (like the sentences on the little stickers on the wall panels). We went backstage and saw the simulators in actions from the floor beneath them (really cool), saw the waiting room -> transporter pad effect with the lights on (the ceiling and walls are actually pulled up 40ft within 2,5 seconds and a new ceiling moves into place in 2,5 seconds. Impressive.) We spent some time one the bridge set and were allowed to sit in the chairs! "Engage!" :-).
All in all it was something we wouldn't have wanted to miss! If you're ever in Las Vegas do that if that's the only thing you do. Really.

At 7pm we went out for dinner. First we checked out a giant souvenir shop near the hotel. Your standard tourist stuff, but always fun to see.
Although we've really fallen in love with our Thai restaurant, we had already decided to try something different tonight (but not tomorrow!). So we choose an Indian place close by. The atmosphere was definitely a lot less than the Thai. Service was too formal for our taste and it was a lot busier (=noisier). The food was okay (Marco had a curry sampler and Johan a goat curry), but not really good. Oh well, after all that traveling into the future any kind of food would be a bit bland :-).

Tomorrow is our last full day. CU all then.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


This morning we followed the same routine. At 9am we had the buffet breakfast in the hotel. Then we walked to the Convention Center for our second NAB day. We decided we wanted to finish the South Hall first, because that seems to be the most relative section of the show.
Again we noticed that most of the stands were focused on the post-production of video and audio material. Very little of the shown hard- and software were really innovative. Most are proven technology that they simply want to sell.
Autodesk had some people showing some of their software, like Maya. Very impressive, but hardly anything really new.
We did run into a small stand that showed a program called the Animation Master. A very easy to use program to create 3D animation. Although the demo was of course geared to make it look easier than it really is, it still looked very impressive. Not as high tech as 3D Studio or Maya, but a real option for perhaps proto-typing. Since they offered it for only $50 (! - normal $299), we bought a copy.
We also saw a very nice touch display from Wacom. Not particularly for CAMeRA, but Johan was very interested.
Around 1pm we had a slice of pizza and talked a bit more about my Ph.D. After that we finish the South Hall and decided to to a bit of sight seeing down town.
We took the monorail to the Flamingo Hotel, where Las Vegas and gambling all started in 1946. We looked around in the Flamingo Hotel, Caesar's Palace and the Venetian. Words cannot begin to describe what those hotels (if you can call them hotels) look like. Think American, think superlatives, think tacky, think... anything.
Especially the Caesar's Palace hotel was incredible. It's bigger than huge (and that's an understatement). Outside and inside are opulently decorated with Greco-Roman objects. Everything is big. There's a shopping mall inside the hotel that is so big that it took us better part of an hour to see but a part of it. With fake Mediterranean facades, enormous fountains (a la Trevi fountain) and huge statues (including a life size replica of the David (and us thinking Caesar was a Roman! ;-)). And designer shops all around. Mind boggling.
The Venetian is a little less over the top, but only a bit. Again everything is big and tacky. Including the canal with the gondolas and the almost life size piazza.
After so much visual violence, we couldn't take anymore and we left for the Sahara hotel at around 6pm.
For dinner we decided to revisit our Thai friends around the corner and had an other excellent dinner in a quiet and friendly atmosphere, were we discussed everything from kids to the state of the educational system in the Netherlands.

Treasure Island Hotel

The Venetian Hotel

Inside the Caesar's Palace Hotel

Classical Roman statue undergoing maintenance - High tech meets ancient history

Shopping in the Caesar's Hotel

Flamingo Hotel

NAB show

Monday, April 14, 2008

The first NAB day

Today we did our first NAB Show day.
We started at 9am with breakfast in the hotel. A decent buffet with standard stuff. Eggs, bacon, pancakes, waffles, pastries and even fresh fruit and a salad bar.
At 10am we walked to the Convention Center, a 10 minute walk from the hotel.
Johan had to get his badge first, for some reason his never arrived at the VU.
While strolling through the North and Central halls we noticed that there are a lot of technology stands. Video and audio processing systems, radio antenna's, etc. The south hall is more for the visually inclined visitors. We found a stand of Brainstorm, a 3D rendering system that enables you to overlay computer graphics with (live) video. Very impressive and possibly interesting. They're interested in cooperating with universities and we can get a free version to play with for a while. Definitely something to think about.
An other company, Immersive Media, have developed a 360* all around camera for that is streamed over the internet to a Flash application and enables the user to freely look around while the video is playing. Look very impressive (also through a HMD) and runs very smoothly. They're also very interested in working with a university.
Finally we also saw some amazing projectors (Christie). The quality of the projected images is unbelievable. Better than any LCD or plasma screen. It's even possible to connect four projectors and with the aid of a small camera create a perfectly aligned mosaic image. Impressive.
Finding a place to sit down and eat wasn't so simple. Plenty of places to get a bite to eat, but little sitting space. In the eat we got some simple sandwiches and joined many others sitting on the floor.  You'd have thought they'd put some more chairs and tables up, plenty of room.
The other thing that was hard to find was the wireless network. We did in the end, so Johan could check his e-mail.
At about 4pm we walked back to the hotel to give our tired feet some rest.

After a quiet rest of the afternoon, Johan decided to call it a day and go to sleep early. Marco picked up a Chef's salad, dessert and some coffee in the hotel's coffee shop.
Tomorrow we'll take some pictures at the show so you all can see what it is all about.

Weather forecast for tomorrow: lots of wind, gusts up to 50mph!

Oh BTW. I forgot something about yesterday. In one of the stores I was able to see and hold a Macbook Air for the first time. I must say it's a very beautiful notebook. Brushed aluminum outside give it a solid feel. It's thin! And looks smaller than it actually is (with it's 13" wide screen). Definitely a must have :-).

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Anything goes

Today was our extra day. No NAB show open on Sunday, so we had the day to ourselves.
At 9am and after a reasonable night's sleep we went hunting for breakfast. Strangely enough that's not as easy as it sounds. At the north end of the famous Strip, things are a bit low. It looks that most of the action is more to the south nowadays. So we first strolled along Paradise Dr. to the Convention Center. And easy walk from the hotel. What we noticed is that the NAB show doesn't really announce itself. Only on the Convention buildings there are a handful of dignified and quiet posters.
While we were walking back towards the hotel we stumbled across a Denny's. Not the most high class place, but we had a decent breakfast with a mediocre services. You know the works, eggs, toast, bacon, etc. After that we walked back to the hotel.
I wanted to see some of the surrounding area of Vegas, Johan decided to stay in the hotel and write.
I rented a car (PT Cruiser) at the Dollar desk in the hotel. Convenient. Before I took off, I changed my room because of the lack of a shower in the suite. No suite this time, which was to be expected, but a perfectly nice room on the 5th floor. Without any real view alas.
Getting out of Vegas from the Sahara hotel is rather easy (okay, I missed one exit and had to double back :-). So after about 30mins I entered the Red Rock Canyon reserve. The weather was great (sunny, around 85 (27C) in the city and upper 70's (25C) in the hills) so I stopped at the first parking and had a lovely little stroll over a boardwalk with information boards about the wild life and the geology of the area. The colors and angles of the layers are really breathtaking (IMHO that it). Even saw some petroglyphs. That picnic area had the standard US BBQ's and the burgers and steaks for lunch were being grilled (love that smell).
After this stop I drove over to the visitor center. At the moment I arrived at the gate ($5 fee per car) they told me the area was closed for the next hour because of a search & rescue operation. It turned out a climber had fallen. No idea what happened.
So I decided to drive back a bit to the outskirts of the city where I saw a shopping area. Although no mall or general shopping center, there was a very nice bookstore which I couldn't resist. The concept of books & coffee is something they definitely have to copy in the Netherlands. So after some browsing, a latte with carrot cake, it was time to drive back.
After a quick look at the visitor center where I picked up a map of the 13m scenic drive, I slowly drove through the heartland of the reserve. I must have stopped several hundred times to walk a little and take lots of photo's. At about the middle I took one of the short walking loops and climb between boulders, shrubs and cacti. It was supposed to be an easy trail, but there was a fair bit of climbing involved and plenty of shaky stones to step on. Still very nice and easy to do. Beautiful formations, some nice pictographs (paintings instead of carvings) and a rock shelter (abri). Archaeology is everywhere ;-). Although the 'hand' pictographs clearly looked like a road sign in that location. So perhaps a nice interdisciplinary subject? Archaeology and Communication science?
After that hike I drove back to Down Town. I decided I wanted to drive north over the Strip. Getting there was easy, driving over the Strip however was something else. Since half of Down Town is a building area and traffic lights seems to have seeded themselves, I quickly took an alternative road back to the hotel where I arrived at about 6pm.
Johan had had a quiet and successful day writing by the time I got back.
At about 7pm we went out to get something to eat. Right around the corner of the Sahara hotel we found a little Thai restaurant. On the outside it didn't look anything fancy, but the food was excellent. We'll probably give this place an encore.
We wanted to close the day with a drink in the hotel, but that turned out to be nearly impossible! One of the bars had just closed (it was 9pm!) and the others all had gambling machines embedded in the counter! Finally we found a bar with some normal tables.
Tomorrow the NAB show. Let the games begin...

Friday, February 29, 2008

CAMeRA goes Vegas

Well we're at the hotel, at last.
Actually it was a smooth ride, but a long one.
At Schiphol we didn't have to wait for check-in or customs, so we had plenty of time to buy some magazines and have a drink.
The plane even departed on time and the flight was as smooth as they get. 11 Hours for the first leg to Houston. After what seems like miles we had to wait about half an hour for immigration and pick-up / drop-off our bags. Then through security to our connecting flight. That went pretty smoothly as well, no wait!
We had some dinner at Ruby's (burger and salad) where the staff was a bit too eager to get us moving again (no it wasn't busy).
The connecting flight to Las Vegas departed on time too. It did take another 3 hours to get to Vegas, so by the end we were pretty tired.
After a small wait to pick up the bags we had to wait in an enormous queue for a cab. Disney World isn't worse, really. To be fair, it moved fast and we had to wait about 10 minutes before we had a cab.
At the Sahara Hotel we got suites instead of the normal rooms. Nice. Although the average American taste for interior decoration isn't mine. Large room, drop-down bed. Two couches, a small kitchenette. Very nice and on the 27th floor, all the way to the top. So very nice views over night time Vegas. My room doesn't look over the famous Strip, perhaps Johan's does (then I want his room! :-).
Now try to sleep and we'll see what we'll do tomorrow. Some sight seeing.

Take care all.