Here's a taste of what was seen and heard by DemoFall 2006 attendees, even those who lost half their hearing on the flight to San Diego.
Void Communications caused a few murmurs at Network World's biannual innovation festival with its messaging service called VaporStream, which will let any two parties -- even bad guys -- communicate electronically without leaving an identifiable record of their interaction on any computer or server. Messages cannot be forwarded, edited, printed or saved. After they're read, they're gone, the company says.
Key to the service is that the body of the message and the header information never appear together, thus leaving no record of the exchange, Void said. "If you need a record, use e-mail. If you don't, use VaporStream," said CEO Joseph Collins, who can expect attention from law enforcement and security types concerned about how his product might be misused.
A start-up called PrefPass is looking to do for the annoying task of Web site registration what Amazon has done for shopping: one click and you've got what you want. And by "you," it means both the site visitor and operator. Sites that might be interested are those that require registration information solely to provide personalization and customization -- as opposed to an Amazon or bank, which need more information.
Getting started with PrefPass requires two pieces of information: an e-mail address and the URL of the first Web site or feed in which the user is interested. Users add URLs to their preferred lists over time. When PrefPass users encounter a participating site, all they need do is click on a button to register. In exchange, users agree to let PrefPass sites access their preferred lists -- just the preferences, no personal information -- thus allowing the sites to customize and target advertising.
Moixa Energy wants to change the world with its USBCell technology, which lets people recharge special AA batteries -- and all kinds of power-sapping gadgets -- using any available USB port on any available PC. One thing they generated at DemoFall was a lot of appreciative chatter. However, as CEO Simon Daniel spoke to me at a cocktail party about Moixa's technology saving the planet, all I could think about was saving a bundle on recharging kid toys. Does that make me a bad human being?
Presto Services and the HP Printing Mailbox have solved perhaps the most daunting problem facing my family: what to get dad for Christmas. A third of American adults -- including my dad -- are not online. Presto and HP have teamed to overcome this obstacle and bring these people into the digital age. In essence, the service lets those with e-mail send messages and photos to those who have neither access to e-mail nor a computer. The printer costs US$150, and the service costs $10 a month. Sold.
Coincidentally, Presto also demonstrated to me exactly how fast news travels at a trade show where everyone seems to be blogging. Having left the Tuesday morning session where Presto made its presentation, I walked to the exhibitor pavilion to visit a few of the companies I had seen onstage. First stop was Presto, about which I had blogged only moments before. Presto CEO Raymond Stern already knew this when I arrived, and quoted what I had written.
"It's amazing that you come to a show like this and get that instant feedback about what's going out there to the world," Stern told me. Yes, it is amazing. And good thing I hadn't dumped on his company, or that might have been one awkward conversation.
Back at the show: Dash Navigation has a GPS device that the company said pushes such technology to new frontiers . . . but I'm not using my old GPS device that I got as a gift. Dash said its service costs about the same as a satellite radio subscription. Did I mention I'm not using the one I have?
Tribeca Labs said its Photobot will let me take "amazing digital pictures without lifting a finger." More interesting is the accompanying Swiss Picture Bank that, for about $5 a month, stores your digital pictures "for generations to come" in the same secure environment -- in Switzerland -- where criminals have been keeping their illicit loot safe for generations. Just think: your wedding pictures side by side with Tony Soprano's rainy-day fund.
Finally, one executive onstage told a joke that was so bad -- so embarrassingly awful -- that I just can't bring myself to name him or his company.
Here's the joke: So one fellow is telling another about his new wiki-related company.
"What's a wiki?" asks the second.
"It's a blog that anyone can edit."
"What's a blog?"
The silence was so deafening that the poor guy had to add, "That was the joke."