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A startup’s guide to CES – TechCrunch

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The Consumer Electronics Show, like Burning Man, is a massive event in the middle of the desert. Also like Burning Man it is populated by some of the greatest minds in technology. But, unlike Burning Man, these people are all dressed and only a few of them are on hard psychotropic drugs. Also CES is mostly inside.

Here are some tips and tricks I’ve collected over a long career spent staying in awful hotels and wandering around massive conference halls full of things that won’t be released for another year. Hopefully they can be of some use.

Why should you go?

CES is not about innovation. It is about networking with potential buyers. The show is massive and it is popular primarily because it is in Las Vegas, a city so nice they made the movie Casino about it. But the days of you and your brother being dragged out into the corn and beaten to death are gone and what’s left is an adult playground of 24-hour craps and bad drinks.

You are not going to CES to drink and gamble, however. As a startup you are going there to find customers or get press. If you have the hustle and the will you can easily meet hundreds of potential buyers for your technology, including some big names who usually buy massive booths to show off their “innovative” systems. When you go, bypass the armed booth guards who stand at the front directing traffic and go talk to the most bored person at the booth. This is usually some middle manager who was wrangled into telling people about his company’s most boring innovation. Talk to him or her like a human being, offer to take them out for a coffee, do whatever it takes to get a warm lead inside that massive company. Repeat this hundreds of times.

CES costs $300 and the tickets to LV and the hotel will cost far more. Be sure you’re not cash-poor before you go. This isn’t a Hail Mary for your startup, it’s a step along the way.

If you don’t think you can pull off this sort of social engineering I describe, please don’t go to CES, or instead send the most personable member of the team. It’s too big and there are already enough nervous nerds walking around.

You haven’t planned yet?

So you’ve decided to go. Do you have tickets? A hotel? At least an Airbnb? It’s pretty much too late right now to get any of those things in time for January 8th, but you can try.

Further, if you have a friend who lives there, go stay with them. The hotels gouge you during this week. Check out the Excalibur, arguably one of the worst on the strip. Right now, you can stay at this illustrious medieval-themed hotel for $25:

Need a smoke-smelling room abutting a flying buttress topped with an animatronic Merlin around January 9? Fear not, my liege!

The best time to book for CES is a year before CES. The second best time is never.

Maybe you’re going to buy a booth. I wouldn’t, but go ahead and give it a try. I like what my friend Tommy here did. Instead of going through one of the countless staffing agencies in Las Vegas he put out a general call for help and he got plenty of responses. Lots of people would be willing to go to Las Vegas to help out for not much cash.

Do everything in your power to stay as close to the Convention Center or Sands (the hall with all the startups) as possible. It is a living hell trying to get around Las Vegas and you’ll thank me later for every hour in a cab line you save for yourself.

Go to where the action is

If you are trying to get press for your product launch then you came to the wrong place. First, if you’re going to CES to launch then you MUST LAUNCH AT CES. I’ve seen too many idiotic startups who flew in, paid for everything and then told the world they’d launch in like two months or whenever Sven back at the main office in Oslo was done putting the finishing touches on the device driver. If you’re not ready to ship don’t go.

Do not spam journos about your product unless you know them. Your emails will fall into a black hole.

Further, instead of getting a booth at the show I recommend getting a booth at Showstoppers or Digital Experience. The events cost about $8,000 for a booth and are approximately the same. They are held before the main event and they’re where all the journalists go to get free prime rib and ignore you. It’s also where all of the small market journalists and the weird freelancers who wear fishing vests and live in Scranton wander around, so be ready to do a little target acquisition.

Want my advice? Put one person at your booth who can tell your story in two minutes exactly. That person must tell that story as many times as possible and give the odd journalist who will stand there asking dumb questions for an hour the stiff arm whenever someone else comes up. Maximize your message dispersal. Also, if you have product, then have about 20 pieces there ready to give away to Engadget, Gizmodo, The New York Times, The Verge and the like. Don’t give anything to me if I see you. I don’t want that crap in my suitcase.

Now for the ingenious part. Find the most popular food item at the buffets and stand next to it. When a hungry journo comes up to grab a spaghetti taco or whatever, scope out their badge and offer to walk them over to your booth. They’ll harrumph a little but unless they are one of the countless millennial reporters who believe they have to live-blog these events they have nothing else to do that night except get drunk on gin and tonics. Drag them over to your booth and give them the two-minute pitch. They’ll be so busy eating they won’t be able to ask questions. Write down their email address — don’t ask them for a card — and give them yours. Then email the heck out of them for the next few days to remind them about your launch.

Further, never rent a suite and invite journos to come to you. They have enough trouble getting out of bed, let alone getting a cab to your dumb room. If a journo wants to meet, you MUST go to them. Don’t make them come to you.

Manage expectations

Like Burning Man, CES is the worst show on the planet held in one of the most unforgiving habitats known to man. As long as you accept these two points you will be fine. You will not “win” CES. At best, CES will give you a kick in the pants in regard to your competition and actual value to the world. Want to know if you have customer fit? Go to CES and meet your customers. Want to see if journalists care about your idea? Pitch them when they are fat and sassy at CES and feeling powerful. That experience will humble even the biggest ego.

Remember: The world is a cold, uncaring place and this is doubly true at CES.

Be careful with PR people

See that animated GIF above? That’s how I manage my CES email. I scroll through the subject lines, look for people I know, then select all unread and delete them. One of the worst things about CES is that the letters “CES” show up in multiple words and, barring writing a regular expression, it is very difficult to filter them out; 99 percent of your CES emails will go unread.

So should you hire a PR person? Yes and no. If you hire them to just send emails then you might as well burn your money. However, if that PR person can lead you around the show and introduce you to folks who can help you get your story out then it might be worth it. Sadly, there is no way to tell how incompetent a PR person is until you get on the ground with them. I know a few I can recommend. Email me. Otherwise be very careful.

Don’t go

Look, CES sucks. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s too big, everyone there is distracted by potential blackjack winnings, and trying to get noticed or launch at CES is akin to holding a poetry reading in the middle of a rock concert: nobody is paying attention and you actually may annoy more people than you reach. It’s your call whether or not you want to give it a try, but be ready to hustle. Besides, there’s always next year.

Bonus Tip: Buy a humidifier

I learned this trick from Brian Lam, formerly of Gizmodo: when you land go to Walgreens and buy a very cheap humidifier. Put it in your room and leave it on all day. Las Vegas air is very dry and you’re almost guaranteed to get chapped lips and a cough if you don’t have at least one spot where it doesn’t feel like you’re on the surface of Mars.

This was us at CES 2008 or so. We were such sweet summer children.

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Popular software development tool Docker gets Apple M1 support

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Enlarge / Docker running on a Mac.

Docker, a popular multi-platform application used by software developers, has released a version that runs natively on Apple Silicon hardware, including Macs released with Apple’s custom-designed M1 chip.

The M1 chip uses the ARM instruction set and cannot natively run software that was designed to run on the x86 architecture that the Intel processors in previously released Macs used. Though the previous version of Docker did work via Apple’s Rosetta solution, the introduction of an M1-native version of Docker contributes to a closing gap for developers concerned about running their entire suite of tools in an optimal way.

It follows the release of M1 versions of Homebrew, Visual Studio Code, and other developer tools and applications. But some gaps remain—for example, Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2019 IDE (which is distinct from the comparatively lightweight Visual Studio Code) has not been updated.

Docker achieved popularity among developers because it enabled relatively easy use of containers, wherein multiple applications could be developed and tested on a single machine, sharing the operating system’s kernel without interfering with one another.

The public release of the Apple Silicon version of Docker Desktop for Mac was installed 45,000 times in a technical preview, and Docker’s press release says that developers participating in that preview said the application ran “faster and quieter” than it did before the M1 update. The press release included the following statement from Docker Captain Ajeet Singh Raina:

To the many developers eager to know if they can use the latest Macs as a dev machine with Docker, the wait is over… Docker Desktop for Mac [Apple Silicon] will let you do everything you’ve been able to do on a Mac already, and you’ll be able to do it faster and with less noise.

A blog post on the Docker website says that M1 support “quickly became by far our most upvoted roadmap item ever” after it was first requested.

That said, Apple has only released a few Macs that include the M1, and all of them are lower-end machines with limitations like low maximum RAM configurations, support for only one external monitor at a time, and fewer Thunderbolt ports than high-end machines that still have Intel chips—meaning most of the Apple Silicon Macs that would be most suitable for developers have yet to be released.

When they are, they might not have the M1 but may instead feature related chips with performance or feature improvements over the M1. There’s no reason to expect that the changes made to Docker and other M1-native software won’t work just as well on that new chip, should it arrive.

The full release notes for Docker Desktop 3.3.1 with Apple Silicon support can be found at the Docker Docs website.

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Google Earth is now a 3D time machine

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Google has pushed out what it says is Google Earth’s “biggest update since 2017” with a new 3D time-lapse feature. Entering the new “Timelapse” mode of Google Earth will let you fly around the virtual globe with a time slider, showing you satellite imagery from the past 37 years. Google Earth Timelapse has been around for years as part of Google Earth Engine (which is a totally separate interface from Google Earth; it’s a weird Google branding thing), but it was previously only available in 2D. Now, Google has mapped all this data across the 3D Google Earth globe, where you can watch cities being built, forests being cut down, and glaciers receding.

Google Earth Timelapse isn’t just a huge amount of data; properly mapping it across the globe means correcting the images for artifacts and problems. The company had to get clouds out of the way, correct images for perspective, and ensure seamless transitioning through zoom levels. Luckily, Google happens to have some really big computers to handle the load.

The company explains what it took to make Timelapse happen:

Making a planet-sized timelapse video required a significant amount of what we call “pixel crunching” in Earth Engine, Google’s cloud platform for geospatial analysis. To add animated Timelapse imagery to Google Earth, we gathered more than 24 million satellite images from 1984 to 2020, representing quadrillions of pixels. It took more than two million processing hours across thousands of machines in Google Cloud to compile 20 petabytes of satellite imagery into a single 4.4 terapixel-sized video mosaic—that’s the equivalent of 530,000 videos in 4K resolution!

To access the timeline, open up Google Earth on the web, click on the navigation ship’s wheel icon, and press the big “Timelapse in Google Earth” button—or just go to g.co/timelapse. With Timelapse open, you’ll get a big panel on the right side with a timeline from 1984 to today, and a few shortcuts to places Google says are particularly interesting. Google Earth Timelapse doesn’t work well across the entire world just yet. Some places, like New York City, appear hopelessly blurry, even when you set the timer to 2020. Google’s highlighted locations, like Dubai, look a lot better and play out like a game of SimCity.

Besides offering a fun, new feature in Google Earth, Google is pitching Timelapse as a teaching tool for climate change. If you want this information in a more portable format than Google Earth, Google has created a big batch of Earth timelapse videos highlighting “urban expansion, mining impacts, river meandering, the growth of megacities, deforestation, and agricultural expansion.” The videos are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0, so you’re free to use them for whatever you want as long as you credit Google.

Like with New York City, there are a few holes in Google’s data right now. Objects like 3D buildings don’t show up in Timelapse mode, and it doesn’t look like the Earth geometry changes, either. This 3D time-lapse feature is a platform for the future, though, and Google says it will “update Google Earth annually with new Timelapse imagery throughout the next decade.”

Listing image by Google

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Intel, Nvidia, TSMC execs agree: Chip shortage could last into 2023

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Intel

How many years will the ongoing chip shortage affect technology firms across the world? This week, multiple tech executives offered their own dismal estimates as part of their usual public financial disclosures, with the worst one coming in at “a couple of years.”

That nasty estimate comes from Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, who offered that vague timeframe to The Washington Post in an interview on Tuesday. He clarified that as an estimate for how long it would take the company to “build capacity” to potentially address supply shortages. The conversation came as Intel offered to step up for two supply chains particularly pinched by the silicon drought: medical supplies and in-car computer systems.

In previous statements, Gelsinger pointed to Intel’s current $20 billion plan to build a pair of factories in Arizona, and this week’s interview added praise for President Joe Biden’s proposed $50 billion chip-production infrastructure plan—though Gelsinger indicated that Biden should be ready to spend more than that.

Born in Arizona…

TSMC CEO C.C. Wei offered a similarly dire estimate to investors on Thursday, saying that the Taiwan-based company hoped to “offer more capacity” for meeting retail and manufacturing demand “in 2023.” TSMC, coincidentally, is moving forward with a manufacturing plant of its own in Arizona, which Bloomberg claims could cost “up to $12 billion,” despite the company clarifying that it intends to prioritize research, development, and production in its home nation.

Graphics card and SoC producer Nvidia joined the grim estimate club this week, though Nvidia has a more optimistic belief that it will emerge with “sufficient supply to support sequential growth beyond [fiscal] Q1 [2022],” according to CFO Colette Kress. Until then, “we expect demand to continue to exceed supply for much of this year,” she added. (Having seen the comment sections of recent GPU reviews at Ars Technica, we sure believe that.)

But as tech companies scramble to navigate natural disasters, exponential consumer demand, and the building of brand-new facilities, some questions remain unanswered. How will so much scaling up of new factories turn out? Will they meet their construction deadlines, and will they be anywhere near as efficient as promised or hoped once their lines open up? Automakers and gamers alike will be watching with keen interest.

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