Archive for November, 1995

COMDEX Impressions And Other Diatribes

Monday, November 20th, 1995

(This column first appeared in the November 20, 1995 issue of PC Graphics Report)

Burn-out?
This was my 9th sequential COMDEX/Fall, and it’s been about 3 years since I was able to walk the whole show and take it all in. This year was also the second year that I just did  not survive the party circuit – mind you, I tried hard – 5 events Sunday, 5 parties Monday night, 3.5 on Tuesday night, 1 Wednesday night, and none Thursday night. In any  case, four or five hours of sleep a night just doesn’t cut it any more for the show. On a bright note, this was also the second year running that I haven’t come back from COMDEX  with some serious illness contracted by shaking countless hands that have shaken countless other hands themselves. I’m not sure what all this means, but I thought I’d share in  the hopes that one of you could give me some insight as to whether or not there’s a pattern here. Perhaps a clue to all this was that when I stood in line for my press  registration, I was unfortunate enough to end up in the only line (out of four) where the registration processor had both forgotten his required reading glasses at home, and was  a dyslexic to boot. And I couldn’t move out of line because the lines were sorted alphabetically. Fortunately, once I got registered, everything else started coming together.

COMDEX Trends
If someone were to ask me what trends I noticed at the show, I would probably come up with the following list:

  1. 3-D hardware. At last count, something like 14 different 3-D chips were being shown, as well as a couple of 3-D chip simulators – one an SGI Reality Engine, and the other something proprietary.
  2. 3-D games and other software. I found dozens of different 3-D games, and dozens of 3-D utilities and applications at the show, but unfortunately, not many of them supported 3-D APIs and thereby 3-D hardware.
  3. Digital cameras and parallel port video capture plug-ins. Another dozen companies here.
  4. Software to edit the images captured with the devices in the previous item. Again, about a dozen people.
  5. Same magnitude of crowds for 3-D games this year as for Adult software last year. That’s either because the Adult software companies weren’t at COMDEX this year – they had their own show (see other news item in this section), or maybe because 3-D games now have a bigger following than Adult titles. Tough call.
  6. Digital video playback devices (mostly MPEG). Nothing really new here other than price. Dozens of them.
  7. Really large TFTs. I only saw the one in Fujitsu’s booth, but understand Mitsubishi and Sony had similarily gorgeous “wall TVs”.

The Most Asked Jake COMDEX Question

Except for social pleasantries, the single most asked question I was at the receiving end of was: “So, what’s the best 3-D chip out there?” This is a silly question. With as many new 3-D chips that were announced at the show, or shown there publicly for the first time, there’s no way to generate a real , valid, informed opinion. By the end of the show, I was sorely tempted to answer this question with “Oh, I think that the best 3-D chip by far that I’ve seen is the PixelMasher 3-D, offered by Meta3D Corp. They have SGI-like capabilities on a chip that costs only $20 in volume, and IBM is a big investor. You haven’t heard of them? I think they’re in the Sands in someone else’s booth. It’s downstairs, on the left.” And then, walk off, letting them panic with that new found, albeit misleading information.

Seriously though, for all of you who asked me that question… I don’t know the answer. 3Dfx Interactive and Real3D had the best quality demos, but then again, they also weren’t running on PC-based silicon yet. I thought from a marketing perspective, NVidia’s deal with Sega was an excellent promotional vehicle, but also liked id Software’s enthusiastic endorsement of Rendition’s Verite with the Quake beta I saw in a back room.

Brooktree’s video texturing demo was very cool, and while 3Dlabs, Samsung, S3, and ATI had interesting parts, the demos they had didn’t show me enough to give me a real idea of what their new chips could do. I’m sure I also missed a couple of demos along the way.

In any event, I’m more than willing to try and answer the question I was asked so many times, but in order to do that, I need your help. If any of you are interested in an  opinion (mine, to be exact) about what the best 3-D hardware is, I invite you to send me a commercial (no prototypes or Betas, please) implementation of your 3-D hardware with as many pieces of software that support it as possible, and I’ll check it out. My address is in the byline at the end of my column. By the way, I only have a PCI system, in case that’s an issue for any of you thinking about sending me hardware.

3-D Names
While on the topic of 3-D, I’ve noticed that with the on-going support of 3-D sound, and the emerging 3-D graphics market, good 3-D product names are getting scarcer. After all, there are two markets going after similar names. My favorites so far are 3D Magic (the Jazz NVidia board) and Righteous 3D (Orchid’s 3Dfx board). For sound, I seem to recall 3D Reality.

A DirectX Logo
As I was talking to various software companies last week, I kept asking them the same question, over and over again: “Do you use any of the Windows 95 DirectX APIs, and if so, which ones?” It struck me that it would be real nice if Microsoft produced a free logo that could be put on brochures and boxes to indicate with DirectX API(s) a given application or entertainment product makes use of. That would be a great boon to those of you who support DirectX in hardware, as you could put a similar logo on your product box., and it would allow users to select titles which take advantage of your hardware. The same logo concept applies to RenderWare and BRender enabled software. Hopefully someone from Microsoft, Criterion, and Argonaut is reading this.

My “Best Of COMDEX”

  • Best Food at an evening event: Cirrus Logic’s press reception – the Peking Duck was fantastic
  • Best Party: Tie between PC Week’s Spencer Katt Party and the 7th Level party
  • Best Button: “Why yes! I am a rocket scientist” – From Rocket Science
  • Best New Table Game in Las Vegas: Let It Ride – a 5 card stud poker variant
  • Best New Graphics Chip Name: Voodoo Graphics from 3Dfx Interactive
  • Best Childhood Memory put on CD-ROM: Curious George by Houghton Mifflin Interactive

My “Strangest of COMDEX”
The hands down winner is… “The Great Kat’s Digital Beethoven on Cyberspeed”. The brochure evokes an image of an ill fed vampire strumming on a violin, and the verbage is rather frightening as well:

“Behind creaky wooden doors, over space-age landscapes, and through the psychedelic Brain Forest, take an interactive voyage into classical music in the 21st century. Join The Great Kat, recording artist and Juilliard-trained speed guitarist, as she takes you through the minds and music of the greatest composers of all time. Listen to five never-before-released Kat soundtracks as you wind your way through interactive games such as the Lifestyles of the Psychotic and Neurotic, Musical Geniuses Test, or The Great Kat IQ Test. Play the piano, pick up a sax, and learn about the harpsichord as you follow Kat into an entirely twisted world ofmusic and mayhem.”

If after this captivating description you want to order this multimedia title, call 201.808.2700, or go to http://www.bep.com. For those who may know Karen Thomas of Thomas PR, The Great Kat is her sister.

In Conclusion
It’s a good thing COMDEX/Fall happens only once a year.

Safe Starts

Wednesday, November 1st, 1995

(First published in the CAD++ Newsletter in late 1995)

Last month I covered some of the reasons for wanting to go forth and start your own business. This month I’ll look at ways to do this safely, without taking huge risks. I should  point out that my assumption here is that you have some idea of what you want to be doing. If you don’t, then hold off, reread last month’s column, and do some research.

Making Sacrifices
Before you commit to starting your own business, be prepared to make a major sacrifice of your free time, assuming you have some. If you currently don’t have any free time, it’ll be tough to safely start a business.

Safety First
Most entrepreneurs don’t just sally forth, drop everything they’re doing and just start a business. Most just can’t afford this financially. As such, there are two reasonably safe  ways to start your own business while still keeping some semblance of financial security until your own business is successful enough to cover your financial needs.

The first is what’s commonly referred to as “moonlighting”, working a second (or third) job in addition to your regular profession. This is perhaps the safest route to take in  terms of stability. I’ve used this approach to start a small consulting business.

The second approach is to find a firm, long term consulting contract which can bring in enough money for you to start your business on the side or after the contract is completed. This is the approach I used to start my last company.

Moonlighting
While moonlighting provides good security, the biggest potential pitfall is your current employer. Many employers, especially if you’re salaried, frown upon moonlighting,  since they see it to be a dilution of the attention you’re paying their business. Moonlighting, if it comes to the attention of your management, may very well result in a  termination of your regular employment. So much for financial security. However, there’s an article in the October 10, 1995 issue of The Wall Street Journal (see page B1 if you can locate a copy at your library) implying that some employers might actually support moonlighting. I personally see this as a rare occurrence, based on the people I’ve worked for, as well as my own attitude while I was an employer.

Moonlighting, if you work a regular 9 to 5 sort of job, also limits your new business options somewhat. In particular, you end up having to work your business efforts during  early mornings, evenings, nights, and weekends – all times when many potential customers may be difficult to reach. Even so, there are ways to work around this in this day and age of advanced electronic communications. Pagers, cellular phones, FAX machines and modems, and electronic mail are all great ways to stay in touch.

However (and this is a big one), absolutely never use your employer’s resources (long distance, FAX, photo copiers, etc.) to conduct your own business. This should even extend to performing personal for-profit work on your employer’s time and equipment. In addition to being unethical, it’s also a great way to get yourself fired for theft of resources, never mind the potential of giving your employer a legal claim of partial ownership to whatever work you’ve produced using their resources. Spend a little of your own money, and get your own personal cellular phone to make calls on, get a FAX machine for home, and keep it all completely separate. For example, some people may take their lunch in their car, and use their cell phone to conduct business during the day, following up with FAXes and e-mail at night or in the early morning.

Also, you should review all employment agreements you may have with your employer. Such agreements may require all your best efforts (i.e. all the time you have),  non-competition (more on this in a later column), and more. Make sure whatever you plan on doing does not violate your employment agreements.

Contracting
Going the contracting route is both easier and more difficult than normal moonlighting. It’s easier in the sense that you can usually keep a fixed schedule – a set number of  hours during specific parts of the day, and it also probably will pay better than a regular job. As a result, the company has no claim on your time beyond that which they  specifically pay you for. The difficulties in contracting lie mainly in the lack of long term security, as well as finding good contracts to work on. It’s much like trying to find a new  job several times a year. It should be considered, however, that contracting can effectively be the start of your new business, and that the company you’re contracting for could be your first client.

In terms of things not to do, all of the items I listed above under moonlighting still apply. Don’t use your client’s resources for personal gain.

Next Month
In my next column I’ll cover several types of common businesses people start on the side and the pros and cons of each.