NextFest and the misadventure thereafter…

The beauty of protected posts is I can write whatever title I want and no one will have a clue what I am talking about. At the end of today, I had walked from 11th St all the way up to 55th Street in Manhattan, bought a used book from Book-Off, attended NextFest, and tried out the new Coca-Cola BLaK.

The day began after two days of planning to go to NextFest at the Javits Center. There I met up with Jehangir on time at the convention center except for one problem: Willmon was coming with his brother and he missed his bus, which meant we had to wait 45 minutes for them to show up because he had our tickets. By the time they show up, It was almost 3 hours before the convention was closed for the day. What was even funnier was that Will only bought tickets for me, Jehangir and Tom which meant he had to wait in the long line to get his ticket. He told us to go ahead without him and we did.

Major highlights at the convention center for me were, the Virgin Galactic exhibit, the GM Exhibit, the Kickass Kung-Fu exhibit and the robotics exhibit.

I would have to say the Virgin Galactic exhibit was quite interesting since it had the historic SpaceShipOne on display, a detailed business preposition by Richard Branson on how Virgin Galactic was going to work and a computer generated dramatisation of the experience SpaceShipTwo was going to give to Galactic customers. To get the chance to experience spaceflight, a customer has to pay $100K to get a seat on SpaceShipTwo, which can only seat 6 people and allows passengers to experience weightlessness out of their seats for about 5 minutes. It doesn’t sound like a good deal but bear in mind that space travel is expensive and only a few people actually experience being able to see earth from space and zero-gravity. The appeal of personal spaceflight was mesmerising in that exhibit, but they first must reduce the likelihood of space-related fatalities, reduce the cost of making these trips and getting approval from the US government. It would be ideal for Richard Branson to work closely with NASA to improve their existing capabilities and to reduce any costs from this venture.

The GM exhibit had the company showing off their Hy-Wire, Sequel, E85-friendly cars and hybrids. I was finally able to see the Hy-Wire that was first featured on Top Gear. An intuitive concept car that ran on first-generation hydrogen fuel cells with the ability to quickly reconfigure itself for right or left-hand drive. In addition the Hy-Wire’s braking and acceleration is controlled entirely by simply squeezing or realising the steering wheel’s handles. The concept car is worth about $10 million and looked far more futuristic and impressive than the Sequel, which is based on second generated fuel cell technology. The E85 cars were not that impressive while the hybrids were simply crap compared to those made by Toyota and Honda.

Kickass Kung-fu was an interactive fighting game that allowed people to fight Bruce Lee, Ho Chi Minh, George W Bush and Tony Blair in a series of rounds until their life bar ran out. Some trained martial artists fought with these villains in a blue screen while little kids flailed their arms around to produce maximum damage while random people weaponised their convention brochures and jackets to do just as much damage. It’s an interesting idea and I wonder where this technology will go in the future.

The robotics exhibit was quite interesting displaying robots such as the Actroid Der Kokoro, a the robotic hand, paro the robotic seal pup, and Alex Hubo.  Kokoro is a robot produced by the Sanrio corporation that resembles a young bilingual Japanese woman who almost looks like someone I knew. For the demonstration, Kokoro was dressed in a Kimono and spoke in generic English and Japanese in addition to making some random movements. The corporate video promoting Kokoro had her dressed up in a power suit, kimono, nurse’s outfit, maid outfit, flight attendant outfight and outfits that are normally worn by idols/models. I thought that the realism of Kokoro’s skin and facial expressions as well as “her” mannerisms were extremely creepy. “Thou shalt not make machines in the image of man,” what ever happened to that saying?

The robotic hand they had was able to make a quite convincing handshake while the Seal Pup robot Paro was so cute! Most of the girls near that exhibit were going crazy over how cuddly and adorable Paro (http://paro.jp) was.   When I played with the Paro, the fur felt fuzzy and realistic, it started spasming out when I tickled it and made cute sounds when I started petting it.  The exhibit also had a promotional video showing seniors citizens enjoying it and Koizumi saying it was a great idea when he was shown a model.  According to the company, Paro would cost $3500 USD when it comes to America.

Not wanting to be outdone by the various Japanese robotics exhibits, the South Koreans came up with Alex Hubo, a ASIMO lookalike with a robotic Albert Einstein head.  Some highlights are the robot making facial expressions of various emotions, doing basic Tai Chi moves with its hands and dancing with its hands.  What ticked me off about this exhibit was the scientists claiming that Tai Chi was an ancient Korean martial art because it is not a “Korean” martial art.  It was one thing to create a robotic knock-off of ASIMO and then adding a robotic Einstein head to make it different, but claiming Tai Chi as Korea was going a step too far.

NextFest also gave away free Coca-Cola BLaK and free Wired magazines.  The Coke BLaK tasted like a cross between Coke and some coffee extracts and this month’s Wired has some interesting stories.

After the convention closed, we walked uptown to visit a Japanese bookstore called Book-Off that Tom wanted to visit.  This bookstore sold used books/CDs/Movies on the first floor, Japanese books in the basement and manga in the second floor.   Tom had informed me that this is one of the favourite spots for the Rutgers JCA when they make excursions into New York, which suddenly made Book-Off extremely uncool.  However, all their used books were only a dollar and I purchased a book detailing the rise and fall of Napster.  This book appealed to me because I was at one time a strong Napster user, before they started IP-banning certain users and before it was killed off by Metallica.  Once everyone got what they wanted at Book-Off, we started looking for a place to eat and Will started hyping this Park Ave Cafe that had an expensive three-meal course for just $25 after 8:30 PM.

However, he did not really know where it was located until he called 411 for directions, which were supposedly around 53rd St.  Once we walked to 53rd St, we did not find any Park Ave Cafe and learned that it was actually on 63rd St after Jehangir asked his sister to do a search at home.  So, we settled on the nearby TGI Fridays where we had a great meal.

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