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Alt.CES 2010 – MAKE’s take on gadget mania

Computers & Mobile Craft & Design

Make Pt1582

Let’s be perfectly clear. We love gadgets here at MAKE. We like technology that works. Technology that expands ones reach and abilities. Technology that’s fun, challenging, and rewarding to fiddle with, improve. And technology that’s just darn cool. But there are gadget freaks like us, and then there’s the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the annual orgy of gadget exhibitionism that’s equal parts personal technology uber-convention, PT Barnum-worthy 3-ring circus of silliness, and traveling snake-oil theater (not to mention the black-out Bacchanal that happens after-hours). Fittingly, it happens in Vegas.

Now all that might sound like fun, and it can be, at least the first time or two, and the first few miles worn off the shoe leather. But then the surreality of it all starts to kick in, everybody starts sounding like polyester hucksters (even your blog buddies), and the phoniness of Vegas starts to overwhelm the whole enterprise. It’s definitely not necessarily a friendly place for those who prefer their technology… slower, more perennial, more about function than hype, more thoughtfully designed and presented; tech that would satisfy the Maker’s Bill of Rights. Technology that doesn’t suck, basically. There’s a lot of technology there that just plain sucks; gilded techno-turds that consumer electronics companies hope they can put over on you with enough razzle-dazzle and endless swag stuffed into your gimme bags by barely-dressed “booth babes.”

Last year, here on MAKE, we started the tradition of covering CES from a safe distance, and a skewed angle. The idea is to train the lens of MAKE onto what’s coming out of CES and ask: Would this interest makers? What can makers do with this? Is it hackable? Is it open source? Can it be combined with other technology to create something truly interesting and useful? And CES gives us an opportunity to think about technologies that we really wish were being shown there, technologies that don’t exist yet. And, to keep all of our technolust in check, we want to take a giggly little look at technologies of the past that promised us the world, but delivered something that smelled more like, well something far less than the world… and a lot stinkier!

So, over the next week, we’re going to be looking at CES through the funhouse mirror-world we call alt.CES. This also kicks off our monthly theme for January: Gadget Hacking. For the entire month, we’ll hold our own little gadget gathering, taking a look at the gadgets we love, how we can keep them running, improve them, morph them into other useful gadgets, or short of that, make them into a decorative planter.

If you see anything in the CES coverage that strikes your fancy, or incites your ire, tell us about it in comments. And tell us some of your “jetpack future” wishes, things you’d like to see on the CES showroom floor.

Alt.CES wrap-up, 2009

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn
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