The Trade Show and Demo Hall of Shame

Tim Moynihan, PC World
PC World
Thursday, March 27, 2008; 1:19 AM

Anyone who has used any form of technology for a significant length of time knows that things go wrong from time to time. Plugs get kicked. Operating systems crash. Files don't get backed up. It's all part of the fun.

During trade shows and demos, however, things are supposed to operate in a vacuum--a vacuum bordered with lollypops and happy unicorns and glowing with sunshine, where everything operates perfectly and the technology du jour is   showcased to the full extent of its utopian potential.

That's the theory. But as the following   ten trade show and demo embarrassments reveal, things don't always go according to plan...even when no complicating technology is involved. And of course no vacuum is impermeable to human error. Here are some embarrassing examples of what happens when Murphy's Law meets Moore's Law.

Gizmodo's Big CES Prank

Can a failed mind-control demo be embarrassing? After all, we're talking about some seriously complicated technology here. During this year's Game Developers' Conference, Emotiv Systemsdemonstrated its Emotiv EPOC neuroheadset, which reads brain impulses and translates what the wearer is thinking about into on-screen game movements. That's what the press release said, anyway.

The demo started off smoothly enough, as the headset wearer made a giant animated head on the screen mimic his real-life facial expressions. But things went awry when the wearer was asked to make an on-screen object disappear, and again when the handlers from Emotiv tried to put EPOC through its paces in an actual game. The device didn't do much of anything.

What's more, Emotiv's wireless game controller, bundled with the headset,   couldn't control the in-game action. Emotiv game developer Zachary Drake described the scene as "demo hell," and Emotiv CEO Nam Do later explained that the 2.4-GHz wireless A/V system at the show interfered with the headset. (According to GDC showgoers,including PC World's Darren Gladstone, the mind-control headset performed nicely at Emotiv's booth.)

Regrettably, no video footage of the doomed demo has appeared anywhere on the Web. Maybe that's just a   stroke of luck for Emotiv Systems--or   maybe the whole company donned EPOC headsets and willed all evidence of the disastrous demo to disappear.

At this year's CES, organizers issued separate credentials for "Bloggers" and for "Press,"infuriating bloggers in the process.

Armed withTV-B-Gone remotes, which do one thing and one thing only--turn off TVs--some Gizmodo staffers on the show floor turned off two displays during a demo by Motorola, a wall of TVs in Panasonic's booth, another wall of TVs in Dish Network's booth, and gaming demos across the show floor. Funny? Sure. Juvenile and unprofessional? Sure.

Traditional news outlets aren't likely to copy Gizmodo's stunt, especially since   a remote-wielding Gizmodo writer was banned from CES for life. Gizmodo editor Brian Lamresponded with this post  about journalistic integrity, Big Brother, the ills of tech journalism, and how the prank somehow paid homage to independent reporting.

There's no better place for hackers to kick back, talk shop, and not have to worry about who's jotting down their fishing tales thanDefcon. And   one thing about hackers--they're pretty good at figuring out things that they're not supposed to, which made Dateline NBC' s plan to send an undercover reporter to the annual hacker conference all the more risky.


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