Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Island Dog Prefers To Avoid Technology News


Hey what's up, I'm Island Dog. It's been a pretty crazy week in the technology industry. At least, that's what I'm hearing from my contacts who don't live in a gorgeous beach paradise like I do, and have to slog their way through day after day of trudging to and from work to try and eke out a living.

I heard that Yahoo got a new CEO -- Marissa Mayer, the longtime Google executive. Also that VMware's CEO Paul Maritz is moving over to EMC in some kind of vaguely defined strategic role, with Pat Gelsinger, COO of EMC's storage products and a guy who spent 30 years at Intel (!) taking over as CEO of VMware.

Granted, it's surprising stuff. And you know what? I just don't give a shit.

No offense to anyone, but what's going on in Silicon Valley tech companies affects me about as much as a sandstorm on Mars. I live on a tropical island, and in case you haven't noticed, this water is insanely clear and inviting, and the sands silky and smooth under my paws.

My island beach is definitely nicer than anywhere on the California coast, or whatever skanky New Jersey beach you might think is all that. Newsflash: My beach could kick your beach's ass, if beaches could fight.

You want to know what my life is like? Every morning I walk up and down the 2 mile long stretch of sand, stopping along the way at resorts to get fed and lavished with attention by tourists. All I have to do is look cute and act friendly. It's easy work if you can get it.

In the afternoon, I take a nice long siesta and stay out of the sun as much as possible. Then when evening rolls around, I go out again and beg for scraps from tourists eating dinner.

It's a simple life. Which is why I resent the intrusion of Silicon Valley tech news. I couldn't care less what challenges Pat Gelsinger will face in transitioning VMware's business to the cloud, or whether Marissa Mayer will be able to right Yahoo's sinking ship. I'm too focused on enjoying every damn minute of this laid back island lifestyle to even devote a single brain cycle to thinking about things like this.

Now if you'll excuse me, I am going for swim. A couple hundred feet from shore is a coral reef, and there are like 800 different types of fish there, and sea urchins, and all kinds of crazy plants. I saw freaking Nemo the other day.

Island Dog = OUT

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Seriously, Get Out Of My Way


"Oh look, a hermit crab!"

That is probably the worst sentence that I can imagine being spoken, in any language. Because every time I hear it, I get picked up by a grubby handed kid, or some insensitive moron adult, and then passed around like some kind of freaking toy while everyone is like "How cute!" or "That's so cool!" or my personal favorite, "I wish I could carry MY home around!"

Actually, you don't wish that. That's just a dumb thing you thought up to sound all witty and ironic. Just stop.

Truth be told, I carry my home on my back because it's the only way I can avoid being eaten. This shell is really heavy, and in case you haven't noticed, I am very small, so yeah, it's not fun lugging this thing around all the time. Think of it this way: Imagine you're carrying around a piano and someone comes up and starts tickling you. That's what it is like when you see me on the beach and pick me up.

However, I am glad you think I'm "cool". You know what I think is cool? Jellyfish. As in, annoying tourists accidentally walking on them and getting their toes stung. That always makes me laugh. I think of it as karmic payback.

Now if you'll kindly get out of my way, I've got some business to attend to. Oh, and one more thing: You are lucky my claws are not large enough to pinch, because if they were, you would be howling with pain right now.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Jetlagged Middle Aged Curmudgeon's Impressions Of Shanghai


After arriving at my hotel in Shanghai around midnight, the first thing I notice is that an alien spacecraft has landed smack dab in the middle of the city's Lujiazui district. Stuff like this always gets my attention. You know how nightmares about seeing ghosts are scary? Well, I've had ones about seeing UFOs, and being stalked by slimy, aggressive alien creatures, which to me are way more terrifying. Seeing an alien would shake up my worldview way more than seeing a damn ghost would, I can tell you that much.

This spaceship is shaped like a rocket, but it's massive, probably 1,500 feet high. Its base looks like a tripod, and a couple hundred feet above the ground there's a giant, bulbous pod, shaped like a ball, that I figure might serve as the cockpit. Above the ball, probably 500 or 600 feet higher, is another, smaller ball. After that, there's a long, thin antenna like thing, pointing skyward. The whole spaceship is covered with flashing dots, and they're constantly changing color. I would not be surprised at all to see E.T. come shuffling out of this freaking thing.

I assume I'm just hallucinating. It was a tough 14 hour flight from San Francisco, and the little kid sitting behind me was kicking the back of my seat the whole way. That is, when he wasn't screeching, or demanding candy from his pathetically overindulgent parents. I slept very little as a result, probably less than 30 minutes total, and it was the fitful, twitching kind of sleep that actually makes you more tired and cranky instead of refreshed.

Jin Mao Tower
But soon I realize I'm not seeing things: This garishly lit monstrosity is right there in front of me, and now the top is obscured by fog. It occurs to me that it might actually be a permanent fixture of the neighborhood. Seeking answers, I look up Lujiazui on my phone and learn that the "spaceship" is really the Oriental Pearl Tower, built between 1990 and 1994 by the Shanghai Modern Architectural Design Co. Ltd. Until 2007, it was China's tallest structure.

And you know what? I don't care, I really just want a beer at this point. Lujiazui is filled with modern looking skyscrapers and the whole place is bathed in neon glow, with cranes and construction sites everywhere, suggesting imminent expansion. But for all that, Lujiazui might be one of the boring places on the planet. There are no bars, not even closed ones, so what looks like an area that should be full of life and energy is actually a dead zone with few visible signs of life. Well, that is, unless you count the creepy pimps, who slink out from the shadows every couple of minutes asking "You want lady?"

This would happen to me a lot during my week in Shanghai, and after I while I started wondering if I had some sort of sign on my forehead, invisble to me, which said "Yeah, I'm that guy".

Old Shanghai, right across the Huangpu River, more than makes up for the soullessness of Lujiazui. Here you can see how real people live, with streetside vendors selling corn on the cob to schoolkids, tiny shops selling impossibly niche items, like fuses and birdcages, and old folks sitting streetside, reminiscing about the good old days before the scourge of modernization started changing the city's complexion. You'll often see kites floating high above this section of the city, diving and darting on the breezes blowing in from the East China Sea.

I first came to Shanghai in 2000, but like many places in China, this city has changed a lot in the past 12 years. It used to be difficult to get a cup of coffee -- a good cup, I mean. But in Shanghai, there are now coffee shops all over the place now. To me this makes sense: Shanghai is a galloping city where everyone is running around eager to taste the next new and exciting thing, and so it makes sense for them to get all caffeinated first. That way, there will be no regrets later on that anything was missed.

Shanghai World Financial Center
In one Shanghai neighborhood, there is a museum where hundreds of Chinese Communist party propaganda posters are exhibited. Calling it a 'Museum' actually is a stretch: It is basically some guy's basement apartment, albeit a spacious one by Shanghai standards. The posters on display date to the beginning of the People's Republic in 1949 all the way up to the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. There are plenty of images depicting Chairman Mao with Stalin, Lenin, and Fidel Castro.

The most common theme centered on smashing U.S. imperialist aggression. China's leaders really have always hated that about us, though they don't blame individual Americans: One of the most interesting posters voices support for the U.S. antiwar protestors who demonstrated against the Vietnam War in the Sixties.

But if you only have time to see one museum in this city, make it the Shanghai Museum. It is magnificent, with a range of exhibits that will take you way more than a day to truly do justice to. There are 4,000 year old wine containers, which I found fascinating because it's fun to wonder what people got up to back then when they were hammered. There is a whole wing dedicated to Chinese calligraphy, and walking through one realizes the power of the written word in this culture. Jade pieces that are thousands of years old, coins several hundred years old, including some from the Silk Road era that are basically just mashed up pieces of metal with some bearded guy's face on them, are also among the museum's finest attractions.

Getting around Shanghai is easy: There is an excellent subway that goes all over this sprawling metropolis. Be ready for crushing crowds though. I made the mistake of taking the train to the Shanghai Pudong airport on Monday morning rush hour. The amount of people in the subway was actually frightening. But, I was calmed by the soothing sound of Angry Birds being played by my fellow passengers. By the way, iPhones are very popular here -- one marketing poster I saw on a mobile device shop said "If you don't have one, you're a loser". Well, the 4GS is pretty nice I guess.

Before leaving, I headed back over to Lujiazui to take photos of the skyscrapers, which were lit up brilliantly at night. As I was taking a shot of the Shanghai World Financial Center, which at 1614 feet is currently the tallest building in China, the bright lights illuminating the building's exterior switched off. It was fascinating to watch, though it happened in the blink of an eye.

And I thought to myself, someday I'll be telling my grandkids, 'Your gramps is so old, he once saw a skyscraper get shut off'.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

An Ode To Mr. Smith, My Seventh Grade Grammar Teacher

Class has just ended, and I am waiting in line with my classmates to hand in my homework to Mr. Smith, my seventh grade grammar teacher. He has taken up his customary position beside the classroom door and is collecting each student's assignment as they leave, giving it a quick glance to ensure that correct procedures have been followed. This is troubling to me, because once again, I have not done my homework.

Now, this is not unusual: It is probably the 18th time this year that I have found myself in this very position. You might say I've got some experience in this field.

On previous occasions, I've managed to slip past Mr. Smith unnoticed without handing over my homework. But lately, he's taken to watching me like a hawk -- a stern looking, British hawk with bushy white hair, thick-rimmed glasses and an intimidating air of authority. Nope, there is no way I'm getting by this time, because Mr. Smith is blocking the doorway, and he's wearing the game face of an NHL goalie.

The line is moving quickly and there are now only five kids ahead of me. My heart rate kicks up a notch. Running out of options, I grab a piece of blank notebook paper, scribble my name on it, and hand it over to Mr. Smith, avoiding eye contact as I walk out. Fortunately, just at that moment, some howling eighth graders came running by in the hallway, distracting Mr. Smith momentarily from his homework collecting.

"Boys! Stop this roughhousing at once!" he booms at the eighth graders, as I skulk down the hallway in the opposite direction. For a moment, I think I'm in the clear. But approximately 25 seconds later, after Mr. Smith has had a chance to scan my "work", the jig is up.

"Mr. McLaughlin, come back here at once!"

And just like that, Mr. Smith has busted me, again. Not that this is any great surprise. If you looked up “problem student” in the encyclopedia in those days, you’d have seen a photo of me. I was a legend at Newtown Friends School, but not for good reasons. In sixth grade, I set a school record by getting sent to the principal's office 37 times in a single school year. As far as I know, that record still stands.

Great teachers bring out the best in their charges, pushing them to greater heights of achievement, imploring them to look beyond the surface for deeper levels of meaning, and helping them discover abilities they hadn't previously known they possessed. Mr. Smith, the assistant headmaster at Newtown Friends School, was all of these things. Later in life, I came to realize that he was the best teacher I ever had.

However, as a mayhem-minded seventh grader in Mr. Smith’s homeroom class in 1982, I didn’t have this perspective. He was just a big old adversary to me; a formidable one, who despite having a funny accent seemed to always be one step ahead of me, waiting to foil my devious plans.

It was Mr. Smith's job to teach us the ins and outs of the English grammar -- proper usage, diction, irregularities, and so on -- and he viewed himself as a defender against lazy habits he saw creeping into the American version of the language. As someone instilled at an early age with the virtues of the Queen's English, Mr. Smith approached his grammar teaching with the seriousness of an air traffic controller.

Mr. Smith could be very strict and authoritarian when the occasion called for it. In my case, that was all the time. His aforementioned booming voice had a fierceness to it that filled me with dread. It was the voice of the tyrannical teacher in Pink Floyd's The Wall, the one who shrieks "How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?" Actually, if Pink Floyd had not found that guy, Mr. Smith would have been a perfect second choice.

Now, I don't want to paint Mr. Smith as some sort of harsh disciplinarian, but he was by no means averse to corporal punishment. He was quite skilled with the yardstick, as I personally found out on numerous occasions. You would never see it coming with Mr. Smith: You'd just be running around, or laughing and screaming, when suddenly, "THWACK", you'd feel the sharp sting of the yardstick on your butt. It didn't hurt as much as it was embarrassing, and that "THWACK" definitely got your attention.

The most memorable yardstick episode came during class one spring day. We had broken out into groups for an assignment, and a few of us -- I think it was Ben, Dave, Mike and myself -- were leaning out the classroom window staring intently at something that had captivated our attention. It might have been a shiny car, a pretty girl, or two squirrels mating, I don't quite recall.

Suddenly, we felt the "THWACK" of Mr. Smith's ruler, hitting across all our butts with a single stroke. We returned sheepishly to our seats as the other students roared with laughter. Later, we figured out that Mr. Smith must have used something longer than a yardstick, because we measured our butts with a yardstick and the width was way more than 36 inches.

Another memorable seventh grade episode came during the month or so when I became very skilled in the production of spitballs. I experimented by chewing many different paper types, including notebook paper, brown bags, and glossy magazine pages, and eventually developed an arsenal of short-, medium- and long-range spitball projectiles. I didn't use a straw, and instead would lob my soggy projectiles at the classroom walls, and more often than not, they would stick, with an audible "splat".

Naturally, since I wasn't paying attention to Mr. Smith's grammar lessons, I had plenty of time to devote to spitball research and development, though I did have to be careful not to get caught chewing (Mr. Smith did actually see me chewing paper once, but mistakenly thought it was gum).

As luck would have it, there was a large, five foot tall relief map of Africa on the classroom wall near my desk, and I figured out that I could easily hit just about any country on it. A majority of the spitballs ended up landing on northern Libya and Egypt, which soon became decorated with more than a dozen little dots. After a while, I recruited my classmates to join the fun, and other countries on the map became similarly adorned.

The best part about all of this was that Mr. Smith seemed completely oblivious. He wore thick eyeglasses, and I suspected that they were not of sufficient strength to allow him to see what was happening to the map. But eventually, Mr. Smith did catch on. He always caught on, no matter what subversive activity I was engaging in.

In classic Mr. Smith fashion, he approached the situation like a move in a chess game. He asked me to stay after class one day, and then began questioning me.

"Mr. McLaughlin, can you tell me, does Libya have mountains?"

"Um, yes, it has some, I think."

"Where are the mountains located? Show me on the map."

With a familiar feeling of impending punishment washing over me, I walked over to the map and pointed to the mountains in the central part of the country.

"Are there any mountains in northern Libya and Egypt?"

"Uh, no, it's pretty flat, I think."

At this point, his voice rose, becoming edged with irritation. “Dear child, then why are there mountains on THIS map?"

Needless to say, I spent the next couple of recess periods removing the crusted -- and surprisingly adhesive -- spitballs from the map of Africa.

Mr. Smith was a tough, no-nonsense teacher alright, but when your work met with his high bar of approval, you could rightly feel proud. This was especially true of his grammar class, in which he required students to memorize a series of poems over the course of the school year, including Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"and "The Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee" by Mildred Plew Meigs.

It is important to note that we didn't just have to memorize the poems; we were also required to recite them aloud to Mr. Smith at his desk. If you didn't demonstrate an acceptable mastery of the poem that day, or hesitated between verses, Mr. Smith would send you away to study some more. You really had to nail it perfectly to receive his stamp of approval.

Some poems were short and easy, others long and difficult, but at the end of the school year, when you came to the last one -- the task of memorization made more difficult by spring breezes wafting through the window -- you felt an indescribable surge of accomplishment.

The most important thing to remember about Mr. Smith is that he was much more than just a teacher. He played piano in the weekly school assembly; he ran the weekly soft pretzel sale; he dressed up for school Halloween costume parties; he whacked our butts with a ruler when we got out of line; and it was his voice you heard on the school public address system at the end of the day, announcing the arrival of your bus. He was, quite simply, everywhere in our lives as students.

More than any other teacher, it was Mr. Smith’s caring spirit that made Newtown Friends School feel like a family. Which is why many of us were moved to tears on graduation day, when we realized that he would no longer be part of our everyday lives. No longer would we be able to snicker among ourselves about his plaid pants, or see the twinkle in his eyes when we pleased him with our hard work. That was a tough realization, for all of us.

When you were on his good side, Mr. Smith’s demeanor was more kindly uncle than imperious disciplinarian. He really was a good man.

Though I was a perennial thorn in Mr. Smith's side, I always felt that he and I had a certain kinship, like that which exists between a warden and inmate. After all, it was his job to maintain order in the classroom, and I saw it as my duty to disrupt it. His main problem with me was that I was lazy and could be a much better student if only I would apply myself. Every teacher has students like this, but Mr. Smith cared enough not to let any of his fall by the wayside.

In 1988, while home from college on break, I went back to Newtown Friends School, dropping by unannounced to see if Mr. Smith was still there. I wanted to let him know that I was doing better; that I had stopped slacking and was on the right path. Also that I still remembered him and appreciated what he'd done for me. I hoped that he would remember me, too -- and not as the borderline sociopath who had once taken up so much of his energies and attention.

Mr. Smith was there, and he did remember me. We chatted for a half hour, and his face lit up when I told him I was majoring in English. Despite the irony of one of his all-time worst grammar students having chosen such a path, Mr. Smith seemed genuinely happy that I had come back to see him and deliver this news. And perhaps a bit proud as well.

Before leaving, for old times' sake, I gave Mr. Smith a recital of "The Road Not Taken", which I somehow still remembered, word for word. Nailed it on the first try.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Entering HP's World: My Meeting With Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman crop

Monday morning 6:45 a.m., and its pouring rain and still very dark as I'm pulling into the parking lot at HP's corporate headquarters. Suddenly I hear the sound of a baby wailing. It's the radio -- the San Francisco 49ers lost the NFC Championship Game last night in overtime, and a local sports talk show is playing a loop of baby tantrum sound clips to match the mood of the depressed fan base. I switch off the radio -- I'm bummed about the game, too, but there's no crying in the National Football League, there's no crying at HP, and there's definitely no crying when you're about to meet Meg Whitman.

I'm here to interview Whitman, who joined HP last September as its CEO. She's best known to people outside the tech world for her unsuccessful run for California governor in 2010, during which she reportedly spent $144 million of her own personal fortune. Whitman was also CEO of eBay for a decade, transforming it from a startup with 19 employees into an ecommerce powerhouse that had $8 billion in revenue when she left in 2008. And during her time as an executive at Hasbro, Whitman also managed the Mr. Potato Head brand.

After meeting up with my HP hosts, I'm led to a front desk and given a badge with my name on it. I'm wearing a suit, though, so it's impossible to clip on the badge in a way that doesn't make me look like a moron. After a few attempts, I'm able to fasten it to my lapel so that it dangles out sideways. I'm hoping Meg won't notice.

My hosts lead me up a stairway to a second floor hallway, and the first thing I notice are the high ceilings. The walls are sparsely decorated. It's quiet, and no one is around at this early hour. It feels kind of like walking in a museum, and in some ways it is. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, HP's legendary co-founders, would have been up in years when this building was built, I think to myself, but they probably walked these hallways. Likewise Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and other executives whose ideas form the bedrock of Silicon Valley innovation.

I'm led into a small conference room with very comfy chairs, but comfort is the last thing I'm looking for right now. I'm about to meet a big time shaper of the future of the largest IT company, in terms of employees, on the planet, and in my head I'm nervously sorting through the collection of questions I've come up with.

After a few minute, Meg and her assistant walk into the room. We shake hands, and the first thing I notice is that she's tall -- around 6 feet -- with a strong grip. She is pressed for time, and I get the sense that she's not into trivialities, so I dive right in with questions.

It soon becomes apparent that Whitman is a great interview. She is actually answering the questions I’m asking, and she is acknowledging that her company has been through a rough patch and needs to get better. You don't often get that from tech company CEOs, and it's refreshing. The most surprising thing she tells me is that HP used to have a barbed wire fence that separated the executive parking lot from those other employees. Silently, I'm floored by this.

Whitman has a sense of humor, too, and by the end of the 30 minutes I'm already looking forward to going through my notes and pulling out the best quotes, of which I'm certain there will be many.

Later, Whitman gathers her team of five executives, who each run gigantic businesses with tens of billions in annual revenue, for a group photo. They seem to like each other, and they're joking the whole time. The photographer keeps them in pose for 20 minutes or so, and after a while, one of the execs says hurry up, because another one of the execs rents his suit by the hour. That sends the whole group into peals of extended laughter. The photo shoot is over.

As I'm walking back to my car, I try to imagine the old parking lot barbed wire fence, and I picture a low level employee gazing wistfully into the executive parking lot, with its row upon row of gleaming Lexuses, Jaguars and BMWs.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Descent Into Madness: My Three Days At CES 2012


Monday 9:07 a.m.

Got in last night. I have to admit, I'm really pumped about CES! Yeah, the event is always pretty crowded but it's just so awesome to be here this year. I can't wait to see all the latest and greatest products that are being unveiled. It’s my sixth straight year at the show, but I still feel like a little kid on Christmas morning, just brimming with anticipation.

The CES opening press event was last night and I was blown away by the innovative products the sponsors were showing off. And there's a great energy in general in Vegas right now, a very upbeat vibe. Even the Vegas Strip's unrepentant soullessness seems to have dissolved, replaced by a glowing friendliness that’s evident in the smiles of passersby. There is also a pervasive sense of camaraderie from my international media brethren.

The weather is excellent too -- clear desert skies and surprisingly warm for January.

Monday 10:33 p.m.

Went to Samsung and Microsoft press conferences this afternoon. Samsung launched about 20 products -- TVs, monitors, notebooks, a tablet and a smartphone. All kinds of stuff. People were eating it up.

Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer keynote was fun. He brought out Ryan Seacrest and they sat together and talked about all the cool stuff Microsoft is doing, in an informal chat type of presentation. I enjoyed it.

Heading to bed now. Hope I'll be able to fall asleep after all the excitement of the day. Can’t wait to walk the show floor, which opens tomorrow.

Tuesday 9:45 a.m.

I’m standing outside South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, in a crowd of around 5,000 people all waiting for the doors to open at 10. It’s pretty chaotic. For some reason, people seem to think that shoving and jostling their way up to the entrance means they’ll get in faster. Pretty irritating if you ask me.

There are a LOT more people in Vegas than yesterday. Huge monorail line at the Venetian stop where I’m staying. Yep, CES is definitely under way. I had forgotten what a mad crush of humanity the show can be. Now I’m heading onto the show floor.

OK, I’m walking around in North Hall and it’s a little less crowded here. Problem is, I haven’t seen anything interesting yet. What I am seeing is row after row after row of booths displaying iPhone and iPad cases. Some are ridiculously outlandish, like the ones encrusted with Swarovski crystals. Are you kidding me? Hey, I guess there’s no accounting for taste. These cases look like something you’d see in a Jersey Shore episode.

Tuesday 1:14 p.m.

I’ve made my way over to Central Hall, where all the television vendors are showing off their latest models. It’s loud in here. And by loud, I mean, deafening. Good thing there are a massive amount of people here, packed into the exhibit areas like a bunch of helpless sardines, powerless against their desire to see more HDTVs.

The HDTVs on display are truly amazing examples of humankind’s ability to harness technology. But though it’s easy to fantasize about owning one, I realize that I’d never read another book, or have another meaningful conversation, if I did. This is scary technology, and after craning my neck at a few companies’ booths I move on.


Tuesday 11:49 a.m.

Chaos in the LG exhibit area. An impenetrable thicket of humanity. I snap a quick photo and hightail it outta there.

Tuesday 2:37 p.m.

Everywhere I turn, there is bad mobile etiquette on display and frankly it’s starting to piss me off. Literally 95 percent of the people I see walking around have their eyes glued to their devices and are paying ZERO attention to where they’re going. So of course, they’re constantly cutting people off, while remaining completely oblivious. I actually saw a guy texting while walking backwards down one of the bustling hallways.

The irony is that these idiots with their smartphones are rushing around so they can look at other, newer smartphones on display at CES.

Tuesday 5:12 p.m.

I’ve walked probably about three or four miles at this point, although it could be a lot more. Still haven’t seen anything all that interesting, except for a couple booths here and there surrounded by useless garbage. Oh goodie, ultrabooks. Oh wow, more tablets. E-writers? What, regular paper doesn’t work anymore?

There comes a point at CES when you’re on the show floor, and you’ve been walking for hours, and you just hit the wall. The noise of the hucksters in the exhibit areas braying for attention is getting inside my head, and it's not going away. I’ve seen enough and am heading back to the room.

Tuesday 9:37 p.m.

Exhausted, but still intact (physically, if not entirely mentally) after Day One on the CES show floor. I’ve heard the first couple of days climbing Mount Kilimanjaro are pretty easy, but then the difficulty ramps up dramatically. If that’s true, I can’t even imagine what tomorrow might have in store for me. A deep sense of foreboding washes over me, and I have trouble falling asleep.

Wednesday 9:19 a.m.

Back on the show floor. Still pretty wiped out. I’d rather be having my wisdom teeth out right now than on the CES show floor, if you want to know the truth. Thankfully it’s my last day here. Hopefully I can make it through the day without snapping. That is by no means a given, though, as the show floor has already attracted its customary hordes of attendees.

I’m walking around South Hall and again, there’s not much going here. Unless you count the hazy, eye-stinging cloud of international, mostly male colognes that's hanging over the proceedings. It occurs to me that this is a regular CES feature, the sampling of liberally applied fragrances. Fortunately I am distracted by the noise, which is also reaching a painful level.

I walk for a while and realize I’m surrounded by booths selling iPod docks shaped like pigs, whales and Charlie Brown characters. Many of them are smiling. That’s great, I’m happy you’re in a good mood. But I can’t get around the fact that these things are made of hard, heavy plastic, the kind that’s destined to sit around in a landfill for millennia. I keep walking, trying to forget what I’ve seen.

Wednesday 10:52 a.m.

The burning fatigue in my legs has started up again. I don’t even know what hall I’m in at this point, but there’s a bunch of home automation products on display, with pitch people loudly proclaiming their benefits. I pass by one booth and they’re talking about how their product lets you adjust the temperature of your home using a tablet. ‘Great,’ I think to myself, ‘because people in our sedentary culture need more reasons not to get off their couches.’

Walking further I come to a booth showing off little video cameras that you can hide places, and presumably, capture footage of people doing stupid and/or illegal things. Around another corner, I come across yet another booth selling iPhone cases, but these ones have hair. I try to scream, but the sound catches in my throat and is muffled. No one hears, and so after collecting my thoughts, I keep walking.

Wednesday 1:07 p.m.

Still no idea where I am. Was seeing darkness at the edges of my vision, so I stopped to get something to eat. Waited in a long line, then got to the counter and all they had was a hot dog wrapped in a soft pretzel. It looked disgusting, but I ate it anyway. I needed the sustenance.

I feel slightly less dizzy, but am still finding it difficult to process what’s going on around me, all these products of dubious practical value, being loudly hawked. I keep walking, hoping that I will come to the edge of the convention center soon, or that a forklift will fall on me and I won’t have to see this any more.


Wednesday 2:58 p.m.

I think I’m hallucinating. I close my eyes and see rows and rows of iPhone accessories. For some reason, Hello Kitty -- a human sized version -- is peeking at me from around corners as I approach. Soon I realize that it’s following me around, like the penguin in Billy Madison.

A couple more days here and I will have to be institutionalized. Actually, maybe just a couple of hours. I just have to make it until 5 p.m though. Almost there.

Wednesday 5:02 p.m.

I make it to 5 p.m., and stagger outside into the sunlight. I look around -- no Hello Kitty -- and my heart rate starts to drop into the normal zone. I breathe in the crisp desert air, and cough, because someone is smoking a cigar nearby. I've wandered into the smoking area. But it's so much better than the show floor.

I survived CES, again. But it left a toll on me this year, just like it always does. You know what’s really pathetic? I’ll probably be back again next year. Because I love the pain and the chaos.