A Few Hours at CeBIT

March 17, 2014 — Leave a comment

I got to speed by more of Germany last week on a beautifully quiet DB inter-city train in a northwestern direction because of some supplied tickets to Hannover’s CeBIT, but the gods did not smile upon me and the Mr. enough to bump us up to the “breathe the same air as Steve Wozniak” tier. Being chiefly a trade show, CeBIT doesn’t have the anarchic unwashed masses feel of Berlin’s consumer-level electronics expo IFA (cruel irony: at IFA the hall with the washing machine displays was seriously off the hook).

In the first hall we entered at CeBIT there were a lot of brochures and nebulous slogans that promised grand and exciting things and almost seemed to hint at what the companies were actually doing, which gave me that 1998 dot-com mission statement feeling (noticeably absent: “mindshare,” which had been proven in that period of irrational exuberance to pay neither the rent nor Herman Miller); but now that we’ve figured out what we’re doing with this “Internet” thing the necessity of actually having a product to sell has been accepted and seems to be working.

This year’s dominant product model seems to be data management and networking, with some big data for the buzzword inclined. All of this grand technology on display will of course ultimately be used for the secure high speed enterprise-level encryption and transmission of cat videos. One booth was demonstrating “automated border security,” but I didn’t ask if the stock American model came with rotating gun turrets and speculum attachments.

There was a vendor’s hall which only registered buyers could enter so the Mr. and I couldn’t enjoy any new hardware smell at the Das Keyboard booth. We wandered down to the code-N hall which was obviously the exhibitors’ cheap seats at CeBIT, full of bored-looking Berlin startup employees seated behind folding tables. After a brief and surprisingly non-embarrassing homage to the Blue Man Group at the main stage we saw a talk on cryptocurrency, but afterwards the Mr. and I had no more of an understanding of what exactly cryptocurrency is supposed to do or be than before. The talk was in German, so on hearing the translated summary my understanding apparently should have been that cryptocurrency is needed even though its worth is still valued relative to the conventional markets it is supposed to exist apart from and render obsolete because it, um, transfers real fast.

For a self-aware audience captive lunch is always an adventure, but the prices weren’t as bad as they could have been. After several menu comparisons we settled on a place offering a variety of dishes billing itself as “the culinary spirit of Hannover.” After getting crabbed at by the maitre d’ for attempting to sit at a booth designated for more people (as two other ladies were doing) we waited, were ignored, watched several waitstaff come out of the kitchen to survey the dining area before disappearing back down the stairs Punxsutawney Phil-like; and then piled out of there for the Bavarian place we had passed on the way in. The culinary spirit of Hannover as far as hall fifteen was concerned probably required a two-piece suit minimum but signs were not posted.

The servers at the Bavarian place were kind, attentive and got us some mean plates of food relatively quickly considering how incredibly packed the outdoor area was. As much as I’d like to hate on Bavaria as a whole for not having the sufficient good taste to hide some sad examples of xenophobia the Löwenbräu embassy has fed me at every tech conference I’ve been to in Germany so far and done so with a smile. I think for the next one the Mr. and I have agreed to save time and headaches by going straight for the spätzle, live polka, and half-liter Pepsis.

The research hall was an oddly mixed bag. The most notable example of robotics on display was a robot developed at a Swiss institute with a comedically oversized fiberglass fronted head and a skeletal 3D-printed body with the proportions of a ventriloquist’s dummy. Case-lit fetus-thing didn’t appear to have any real specialties in motor skills or conversation, but he was personable enough and loved to have his picture taken. The Mr.’s old employer gave a talk on the benefits of 3D imaging on ID cards, so if I understood a lick of German I might know what innovations I can look forward to in foreigner control. The old-timey computer publisher IDG had a mega-space that they seemed to be subletting to just about every company that couldn’t provide a Berlin address, thus rendering them ineligible for code-N. Hugo Boss had a booth with an absurd number of IT positions taped to the inside of the windows; and of course they were the best dressed bored-looking people there.

The teardown began about two hours before the conference was scheduled to end, and there were a surprising number of opportunities to buy futuristic-looking shelving at currently on fire prices. Since I didn’t see anyone glowing or walking on water I’ll assume I entirely missed seeing the Woz, but Segway polo seems like an extremely safe sport so next year might be a possibility.

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