Front page

Are you afraid of the dark?

(Click to invert colors, weenie.) (Requires JavaScript.)

All email will be assumed to be for publication unless otherwise requested.

What's in the banner?

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Freebies at an Exhibition

I'm not sure anyone at all will find this interesting.

On Friday afternoon, Niles and I took a trip into THE FUTURE! Which is to say, we went down to the World Space Conference, held in Houston over the past two weeks. It was Riff-Raff Day, which meant the general public could go and look at the exhibits (ONLY) for free.

The primary reason for going, of course, was to collect FREE STUFF from the various nation-states and eeevuuul corporations. More anon.

Didn't see any protesters, although there was a table (outside) for Larouchies, with a sign reading GO TO MARS NOT WARS!



You never think of these clever things on the spot. Fortunately.

Now, at our professional society's conferences, we sometimes have a few corporate and government exhibitors---NASA, Lockheed, Springer-Verlag, etc, along with a few of the larger universities. They'll have a space with a few chairs, a table with literature, and usually a backdrop with a pretty picture on it. There'll be a bored presenter or four, and they'll be handing out brochures, or posters, to give out---maybe a pin if you're lucky.

Springer, Kluwer, Cambridge U. Press, etc, will sell discounted books!

But that's about it.

Here, however, it was a little different. It was the same idea, but the exhibit hall was enormous. And you could tell a lot of money went into the exhibits. Some of them were larger than this apartment, and contained their own offices. Wish I'd brought my camera. It was kinda like "New York, New York" (the Vegas casino, not the song).

The Italians apparently chose "Our Future in the Ozone Hole" as their theme, which relied heavily on ultraviolet light. They had a huge space with futuristic glass tubes everywhere, lit from beneath by black lights. The big tubes had round TV screens at the bottom, so that you could look down into whatever was playing on them. This produced dizzyness, and nausea in the sensitive (what with the black light and all). Scored one Telespazio package (notebook, pad, pen, and CD). Wish I could've taken the blacklit little magazine stand I plucked it from.

The Dutch had an extremely orange exhibit, as you might expect. Niles (who was a Real Attendee, and not just riff-raff, like me) said they used to have a huge wooden shoe hovering over it, but that was gone by Friday. They had no freebies to give away at all. (Once upon a time, in America, they had a reputation of being stingy. You see it in old movies and books sometimes. Huh.) I did, however, grab a little card that featured a yellow wooden shoe sporting a telescope and solar panels, riding into space on an orange carpet. Most undignified. But cute.

The Chinese exhibit looked like an aquarium---a blue glass tunnel to nowhere. I was afraid I'd go in and be beamed to China, so gave it a miss.

The Lockheed exhibit was an enormous, mostly-empty space. They had some freebie posters which were snatched up by roving packs of foreign teenagers. Really, it was like locusts---groups of four and five would descend on some site, grab all the goodies, and swarm off, giggling. Remember, the Americans are the rude ones.

They were worse than me, even.

Japan's contribution was boring except that 1) they gave out paper fans, which came in very useful for cooling off after snatch-and-grab raids, and 2) they are developing a module for the International Space Station called the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) or---and this will only be amusing to Usenet veterans---"Kibo". (Hey, kids! Did you know that before there was googling, there was kibozing?)

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics had a full-scale model of the Wright Bros plane set up, with a full-scale model of Orville, as well.

The best exhibit there was the Planetary Society's mock-up of a Mars rover, made of LEGOs. This was a joint exhibit with LEGO, and featured real dirt and walls made of translucent Sojourner pictures of the Martian surface. Sadly, the LEGOs making up the solar cells were not real photovoltaic LEGOs. I asked. That would've been cool.

The LEGO half of this exhibit which contained two LEGO robots that you could operate by remote control. They gave me a brochure, but unfortunately I can't find a good picture on-line. Here is the same sort of thing. The ones on exhibit were radio controlled, ran (at least partly) on solar power, and had little cameras attached so you could see what you were doing. Your assignment was to pick a rock up off the ground, grab it, and place it on a ledge. I was successful! Here is the LEGO Mindstorms (the name of the product) web site, but I couldn't find pictures of the rovers on the brochure.

Now we move on to the issue of KEWL STUPH you can get. Besides several posters, the notebook, and the fan, I also picked up a bunch of bookmarks and stickers. This doesn't sound like much, but sometimes the bookmarks are very pretty, with pictures of astronomical objects on them. The stickers are instrument or shuttle mission patches. I keep them because I'm always thinking that I will soon be out of the science business, and I'll need them to remind me that I once worked in a semi-glamorous job. I've been thinking that for about 15 years now.

A great deal of design thought is put into these mission patches. If you've ever had one of these stickers, you see that its iconography is detailed on the back, outlining what every element means. Sometimes, though, you gotta wonder what got into people, as in the WORF mission patch. Aaah! In my dreams! Winged eyeballs! (This is what WORF actually is.)

I thought of Lileks when I picked these up. One day some future Lileks will want these, some guy who's charmed by the quaint obsessions of an earlier age. (Just imagine what kind of high tech toys he'll take for granted. Interactive business cards that play tiny movies, maybe. [Foreshadowing.]) He'll love the solar powered wooden shoe card, and the bookmark in the shape of a thermometer giving handy-dandy melting points for tantalum boride and rhenium. This means I must keep the bookmarks and brochures crisp and clean for the future Lileksian. They'll clutter up my abode for the next 40 or 50 years. I hope the little bastard's grateful.

I was delighted to grab a pin from my much-missed former employers in California. It has, for no damn good reason, a blinking LED on it. I figure it's supposed to induce hypnosis and make, it can't make you buy their product, because it's not the kind of thing you can buy unless you've got a spare million or two.

The LEGO people were giving away little LEGO astronauts. It turns out there were two kinds: a man and a woman. I only got a man, but Niles got both. And how can you tell them apart?: the woman has makeup on. No, I'm not kidding. Lipstick and false eyelashes. I guess they figured the old standby---breasts---wouldn't show through a spacesuit, but

Then there's the NASA antenna ball, for the antenna I don't have. And several much-appreciated additions to Fridge Magnet World. I have yet to blog about FMW; suffice it to say it's our retirement plan.

Now, throughout the ages---well, at least since the early '90s---organizations in my business have been handing out CDs. It used to be CDs with tables of boring yet useful data on them. Now it's professionally-produced CDs extolling the virtues of whateverthehell it is they do (e.g. "A Tour of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory" or "Space Shuttle 2020").

But at this meeting they gave out these little doohickeys---obviously mini CDs cut on two sides to the size of a business card. I thought it was just a funny way of making a business card, though it did seem wasteful to cut up CDs just for that. Then we noticed they had system requirements on them, and Niles stuck one into his computer. They work!

There's one for the National Science Digital Library. That site has an interactive tour, maybe the same one on the little CD (it requires Flash). Hope so, because then you can hear the scary woman who sounds just like the disembodied voices in any number of science fiction movies from the '70s (the ones with British art directors---brrr).

Then there's "Naval Space: Putting Space into the Combat System" (couldn't find a link), which shows how satellites identify targets for aircraft. There was an exciting little movie of Things that Go Fast and Explode, complete with terse phone conversations, war rooms, and a pilot shouting, "Wooooeee! I think we nailed 'em!" Good stuff.

Some of my work involves making animated models. I feel a strong temptation to put my resume on a little CD, including all my papers and some semi-published work and nice animations. I couldn't hope to match the professional ones, but I could get out my little GIMP and make lots of pretty pictures. Hmmm.... It'd probably have to run off PowerPoint... Hmmm.... That way I could be having lots of fun while pretending to be job-hunting.

Well, so the future's here: interactive business cards containing tiny movies. Who knew, eh?