The Seattle Times' Brier Dudley predicts in his column from the last day of 2007 (here's a link to his blog) the topics that Bill Gates will make in his annual opening-night keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in (viva!) Las Vegas. More on CES here... I've been to my fair share over the years -- since the days of Comdex -- and thankfully will be at work in Redmond next week.

My hat is off to the many folks we will have at CES this year. 

I was asked today for a couple of restaurant recommendations, so here are a few tips for those heading off to Vegas this weekend for the event:

Flight and Hotel: If you don't already have either of these, good luck.  You'll have a better chance of winning big on nickel slots than finding either at this late date.  Stay home and read the daily CES blogs.

But if you must go, try booking online, going stand-by, or fly and drive from another major city.  As for hotels, call a well-connected travel agent or try to find a room in town (downtown Las Vegas)... otherwise, find a friend staying at the Embassy Suites across from the LVCC and snag the pull-out couch, offering to go Dutch for dinner at Aureole (where you'll be buying the wine, of course ;).

Pack light.  Keep in mind that it is cold in Vegas this time of year: the weather will be near freezing at night ("but it's a dry cold") and up in the mid 50's during the day (or about 10 degrees for my friends outside the States).  Check the weather report for Vegas here.  If you are doing demo duty, chances are the standard dress includes khaki or dark pants and company provided shirts: ask for two shirts and have one laundered daily if you are on booth duty each day. (Shame on the companies that only give out one shirt to booth staff, and double for those companies that don't spring for padding under the carpet at the booth.)  See also a few travel recommendations from Colin Cowie on packing.

For after the day's event, you'll need bring a jacket that you can wear as you brave the winds from the Arctic tundra as you make your way from the LVCC to your hotel.  But wear a stylish shirt underneath just in case for the late-night antics around town... or better, bring a nice shirt allowing for a quick change prior to dinner and doesn't require a trip back to the hotel.  I mean, c'mon: this is Vegas... (Please note that this part of the post is shallowly geared towards the boys: ladies heading off to Glitter Gulch should pack accordingly, but still bring comfortable shoes for the show floor.  They may not be pretty, but you'll be happier come dinner time.)

Wear great, comfortable shoes.  And don't bring the stylish shoes, go for comfort as you will be standing and walking.  A lot.  If you've been to CES in Vegas previously, you'll recall that many smart execs are often seen roaming the floors in walking shoes or sneakers.  My pick: anything from Ecco, Rockport or New Balance, which all have nice shoes in black to go with your winter wool suit or trousers.   

Bring your favourite snack food.  See below on booking restaurants early (call before you fly) and be sure to bring your favourite portable snack foods (such as trail mix, snack bars) as the food selection on the show floor leaves something to be desired.  (Note that the cafeteria at the main entrance does serve a reasonable selection of breakfast items.)  Personally, I find that Odwalla bars travel well, particularly the C Monster and Berries GoMega.  You'll be the envy of all waiting in line for the hot dogs that have been slowly rotating on the burners since 2007.

Getting from the airport to anywhere: Remember, if you need to get a taxi cab at McCarran airport, look to the departures area where people are exiting the taxi.  (Just a suggestion, not an endorsement.)  If you arrive into Vegas with other folks on the same flight, consider renting a limo or get together an impromptu set of people going to roughly the same hotel on the strip: that way you'll pay one limo fee.  Last, unless you plan on traveling off the main strip, don't rent a car (take a cab) unless you enjoy paying daily hotel parking rates akin to what you would pay for a flat in SoHo. 

Travel from the strip to the LVCC.  On the strip, well, you're on your own.  I suggest comfortable walking shoes.  Most CES-affiliated hotels have shuttle busses to the LVCC but get there early as many are filled to capacity.  When leaving the LVCC and faced with a bus line longer than the The Road Ahead, check out the busses with shorter lines destined for other hotels that may be within walking distance of your destination (use the shuttle bus link for more details).

And the Las Vegas Monorail is a deal when you consider the costs (in cash and time): $5 per ride or a three-day pass for $40 (you'll spend that much in a single cab ride in the wrong line of traffic).  It runs between various hotels (MGM Grand, Bally's/Paris) and the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) and Las Vegas Hilton.

Say hello your new best friend: the hotel concierge.  Introduce yourself and hand them a business card.  That one move may come in hand later more than you know.  See 'dinner' and 'getting to the airport' for starters.  If you plan on doing a lot of schmoozing at CES, call them and introduce yourself now to let them know you will be staying at the hotel.  As Cowie notes, "ask your concierge to make some reservations for you now at top restaurants so you don't find that you can't get in when you arrive there in peak season. Tip the concierge the moment you arrive..."  See, you can learn helpful travel hints from a man that you thought only had great party design sense. ;)

There's nothing like dinner in Lost Wages: I like standing in lines waiting for a table about as much as enduring some of the things you probably won't ever see on the evening news.  Unless you already have a reservation at one of the better places on the strip, and if you lack an invite to a team or company event (or even if you have one and they chose the buffet at Circus Circus - private joke), there are lots of great places to consider for dinner (many of them off the strip, if you don't mind a drive).  For starters, check out Vegas ratings on Gayot.com's list of top Vegas restaurants as well as Frommers.com list of top Vegas eateries.

  • On the strip... price-is-no-object favourites include Aureole (awesome), The Rosewood Grill (with huge, photogenic lobsters), Piero's Italian, The Palm Steakhouse, Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico Steakhouse, Nobu for sushi at the Hard Rock and Seablue at the MGM.  If you are dining with a small set of people (two or three people) then consider eating at the bar at one of the better places: you'll bypass the wait and often get the same food as in the main restaurant. 
  • Off the strip... favourite restaurants include the India Palace, Thai Spice, Roy's... and my personal favourite, Rosemary's Restaurant, which reminds of the great food of New Orleans, courtesy of Michael and Wendy Jordan. 
  • To keep within your per diem... I like the always wonderful Lotus of Siam for Thai (just off the strip), Market City Caffe at the at the Monte Carlo Hotel, the Burger Bar at the Mandalay Bay, Capriotti's Deli and the Bougainvillea Cafe at Terrible's Hotel (great breakfasts).  Add to that in addition to the buffets at many of the top hotels (a great list is on gayot.com noting top buffets).  One way top top out the per diem in a single sitting (but so worth it) is at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand Hotel is an awesome value for the money, with an incredible French tasting menu.
  • For breakfast or dinner, go for the amazing French cuisine at Bouchon at the Venetian, from Thomas Keller of the famed French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley.  A great place to splurge. As noted above, yogurt and basics are available at the LVCC entrance.  Avoid anyone on the street offering you a flyer "to a great place for breakfast" that looks like anything but a great place for breakfast.  If you've been to Vegas previously, you know what I mean.

A note on booking tables... Consider booking your table through your hotel concierge as noted above: if you haven't called them in advance, ask for their help in booking a table (tip, please) and get their business card with their phone number after you check in... and give them a tip if they offer a direct dial number.  A good concierge may be able to score a reservation to a hard-to-book place: I have found that your best bet is a well-connected hotel concierge if a direct call to the restaurant doesn't pan out.  Also, look to your credit card company (many offer a concierge service) or try your hand (or mouse) booking a table at OpenTable.com. Many of the restaurants still show availability on OpenTable.com as of today, so book early.

Know what's going on off-show hours.  "No, really... we were entertaining clients at 'O' last night..."  Before you depart, visit the New York Times' guides to Las Vegas and go to the Time Out Las Vegas Site for a list of sights and attractions around this gambling capital.  Vegas is not just about casinos and floor shows: there are fine art museums like the Venetian Guggenheim, the roller coaster at New York New York (which is usually quite crowded), and with a nod to my own geekyness (and many others in Windows, not naming names) there's Star Trek: The Experience at the Hilton just next door to the LVCC: thanks to my old friend, Ian, for originally introducing me to Quark's Bar and Grill long ago (in a galaxy...) which actually has some reasonable lunch fare.

The Times has a great 36 Hours in Las Vegas guide that should not be missed (Bookmark or print an XPS file of their Las Vegas restaurant listings and main attractions). 

See the Review Journal's Best of Las Vegas site prior to heading to Vegas. The Journal has the rankings from everything from the best restaurants to the Best Elvis Impersonator (it's Trent Carlini, winner of the 'Next Best Thing').  Great shows include Blue Man Group, Cirque du Soleil and even Monty Python's Spamalot. 

All in all, try to have fun... just don't try to expense it.  And if you must, tell folks that the night out at Penn and Teller really was for a business meeting, that you had to go and it wasn't very good.  (But careful, as it truly is a great show.)

Getting to the airport.  Finding a cab on the last day of CES is like looking for your 25-character product ID code for software you first installed a year ago.  Trust me on this one.  Arrange a car in advance through your concierge for more than one traveler.  Or that concierge you tipped earlier just may have arranged a shuttle for a small group that has an opening. 

If you don't have a ride from the LVCC... I have found that when leaving the LVCC directly for the airport, go to the head of the line and ask if anyone else is destined for the TSA security screener at McCarran... and if there's room, offer to pay for their ride. Best if you have carry-on luggage and not the 12-spaces high demo rack destined for cargo check in.  (Please note that I have used this tactic once or twice and found it to be tremendously helpful, but do not endorse the practice... particularly when the line is long and tempers are high. In these cases, be discreet ;)  This strategy also works in hotel lines, just don't do it within earshot of a taxi driver. (You saw "Taxi Driver," right?)

If you're press (blogs are press, right?) there is a shuttle service to McCarran every 30 minutes on January 9 and Thursday from 10 am to 7 pm from the LVCC and Sands front entrances for $5 per person one-way, cash only. (Thanks to Tara, Jaime and Sarah for the info on their site, and see Sarah's tips here on surviving CES with links to the items that "other CES veterans have brought to past shows here.")

More tips: For some additional tips, see Betsy Aoki's Tips for surviving CES, and other survival tips courtesy Live Search.  Also see the suggestions and links in Scoble's "how to-survive CES without getting off the couch. [And added 010308...]  I certainly agree that regular visits to Engadget and Gizmodo is a good start start, particularly as Robert notes that "Engadget has more than 10 people walking the floor for you. Why? So you don’t have to!"

Now, back to Brier Dudley's column:  Brier speculated that Bill Gates will announce a few new things, not the least of which is his prediction for a new Xbox 360 system SKU, in addition to an announcement of licensing the Xbox 360 platform to consumer electronic companies.

"In particular, Microsoft could work with Toshiba to develop a digital video recorder with a hard-drive, high-definition HD-DVD drive and Xbox gaming capabilities. They're already allied against Sony and other backers of the Blu-ray DVD format, and Toshiba could help Xbox finally penetrate the Japanese market.

"Microsoft could also make a splash by announcing plans to give the Xbox 360 an internal HD-DVD drive, putting it on par with Sony's PlayStation 3 that has a built-in Blu-ray drive."

Here's hoping for the new SKU. I've noted on my blog that I don't want another peripheral for the Xbox 360... I would like to see an HD DVD drive built in to the main unit. That would be worth the premium cost. (I asked earlier this year, "when will we see an Xbox 360 Elite HD bundle announced?")

And digital video recording a la Media Center, Replay TV and Tivo? Yes, please.  Again, I'll repeat myself that having an on-board digital video recorder would be a good combination with the Xbox Live Marketplace for movies and TV delivered to the Media Center PC. 

But just as we have an external HD-DVD drive for the Xbox 360, there should be an add-on (USB 2.0 peripheral) to provide DVR.  Just don't make it an expensive add-on as we see today with the high-priced Xbox 360 wireless adapter.

And whilst we're on the subject, two words: wireless networking.  Two more words why it should be built in: Nintendo Wii.  Better, a whole sentence: My kids love the Wii, and their father loves that it has a built-in WiFi capabilities.

Wherever you end up during the keynote, enjoy it.  And if you are in Vegas, get there early if you want a seat... arriving and standing line, say, sometime early Sunday morning.

Tags: Microsoft, Xbox 360, CES 2008, CES 2010, CES, travel tips.  http://tinyurl.com/8927vn

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