The other side of Computex


— 7:43 PM on June 14, 2012

It's close to 2AM on a Friday night, er, Saturday morning. Die Antwoord thumps over my headphones to keep me awake. I'm sitting in the airport, hunched over my laptop, waiting for my flight to begin boarding. Zone 5. Ugh. Ahead lies 12 hours crammed into coach, Vancouver to Taipei. Computex awaits.

At least it's a direct flight.

I tend to sleep pretty well on airplanes, especially with an empty seat beside me. I'm in and out for more than 10 of the 12 hours, arriving at just after 5AM Sunday morning. Technically, I'm in the future—and one day away from the week-long stretch of press conferences, meetings, and other engagements that make up one of the biggest trade shows of the year.

The Consumer Electronics Show may cover more football fields, but in the land of the PC, Computex is king. Taiwan is native soil for the likes of Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI. PC hardware is designed here. Some of it's even built here. Vegas, this ain't. There's no car audio section, and you can walk the show floor without being swamped by big-screen televisions.

This is my third Computex and my fifth time to Taipei, so I'm prepared for the week of madness that's about to ensue. We go non-stop from morning til night. Adam, our biz guy, is my only sidekick for the week. This isn't like CES, where we have a small army of editors (OK, three of us). From an editorial standpoint, Computex is a one-man show circus.

I've done this before, I tell myself. I've packed accordingly and prepared for everything. Well, everything but the heat and humidity. There's no avoiding the fact that it's over 30°C (86°F) with approximately 110% humidity. Within minutes of exiting the airport, my shirt is already sticking to my chest, and I can see the glint of a slight sheen of sweat on every exposed patch of skin.

There isn't much one can do to avoid the heat, especially when dressed in khakis and a dress shirt. My only adjustment for this year: Under Armor boxer briefs, recommended to me by another veteran of the show. At $25 a pair, they cost many times what I've ever spent on an undergarment, even in a bulk pack. I don't think I sweat any less while wearing them. However, the sweat doesn't soak into the fabric like it does with my usual cotton underoos. Comfort is much improved, and chafing averted. A hand-washed pair dries easily overnight, too, even in a muggy hotel room.

Good socks are another essential component to a comfortable Computex experience. The show is quite a shock for me, since I spend most of the day seated. At trade shows, one is constantly standing or walking. Cushy shoes help, and so do cushy socks. Over the years, I've built up a good collection of running socks that wick sweat and keep my feet relatively happy over the long days. No one brand stands above the rest, but I stick to the low-cut, thicker variety. Ventilation is essential, even at the ankle.

Other Computex essentials? A good bag. My Timbuk2 Snoop is perfect for trade shows, with enough room for my laptop and DSLR, plus an easily accessible pocket for my notepad. Yep, much of the note-taking that goes on at trade shows is old-school. Laptops work great at press conferences and during long, seated meeting, but they're lousy on the show floor and when browsing multiple products in hotel suites. I'm curious if a device like the Galaxy Note would suffice, but I get the impression it wouldn't be able to keep up with my frantic scribbling. As far as I can tell, nothing beats a no-bleed Sharpie pen and a notepad with a stiff cardboard back.

Like any trade show, Computex is littered with booth babes. They seemed to be hoochier than usual this year, and the surrounding vibe was a little, well, creepy. I get that sex sells, especially in an environment dominated by men of a certain social awkwardness. Admittedly, my own gaze drifted many times to a beautiful face, an exposed midriff, or a pair of tight booty shorts. (Give me a break; I was away from my girlfriend for over a week.) But those were just quick glances—not the leering and panting I saw from all too many attendees, gathered in herds, desperately taking pictures while asking for poses.

Often, these groups spilled out onto the congested walkways between larger booths. Even worse, photographers sometimes stood across the 'road' from their subjects to get wider shots and then looked annoyed when traffic got in the way.

I get it, though. Traffic talks. The folks we know say booth-babe galleries are the most popular part of their Computex coverage.

Our coverage was written almost entirely late at night on a 2.5-year-old Acer 1810TZ ultraportable. It's surprisingly competent when paired with a Bluetooth mouse, but the screen's TN panel is a pain for photo editing. Android tablets really need better external display software for Windows.

Based on what I've heard and seen about Haswell, I'll probably hold off on a new notebook until next year. My Acer only needs to survive a few more big outings before then, and the system still feels spry for its age thanks to the Indilinx-based SSD I put in there years ago. I want to see how long the romance will last, even if it's starting to wane a little. And, honestly, I'd get a lot more use out of a new tablet right now.

After our schedule of meetings ended on Friday, I spent a couple more days in Taipei before the red-eye home. The show is still going on Saturday, albeit at a much slower pace, leaving time to catch up on writing while the details are still fresh. After banging out each bout of news posts in the hotel room, I ventured out into the city in search of nourishment.

 

More often than not, I ended up at Din Tai Fung, an admittedly touristy restaurant that makes exquisite xialongbao, bite-sized dumplings filled with pork and soup. They're the best I've had by a wide margin, and I've become obsessed with the spicy, lightly pickled cucumbers, as well.

In addition to food, Taipei is known for its shopping. Night markets abound, but I didn't have much leftover energy this year. I did, however, go on one mission to the Gung Hua Digital Plaza, a sort of mall filled with countless tiny shops selling computer hardware and other electronics devices. The Benchmarking Sweatshop now has a high-speed camera reserved for a special project I can't wait to get started on. Soon, my precious. Soon.

In the end, Computex was a good way to spend a week. We were one of only a handful of North American sites covering the show, and we got to see a lot of very cool hardware due out later this year. Here's a little hint: there will be lots of Windows 8 tablets and hybrid notebooks. I look forward to seeing them in the hands of real people rather than tarted up models.

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