PACKET RAT

Trade show schwag ain't what it used to be

'Do you do computer stuff?'

The Rat turned and looked up from his conference program. The Rat'with his 2-month-old daughter ensconced beside him hacking into the ROM code of an old Speak 'N Spell he had brought along for her enjoyment'had just settled into his seat for a FOSE 2001 keynote speech.

Another attendee sat down beside him, grinning. 'Do you do computer stuff?' he asked again.
'Uh, yeah,' replied the cyberrodent, wondering why all the crackpots always picked him out of the crowd.

'I love computer stuff,' grinned the Rat's new friend. 'There sure is a lot of it here.'

That was true enough, thought the whiskered one. Unfortunately, the schwag count was extremely low this year; most vendors had opted for big giveaway raffles for items the Rat would just have to give back if he won. 'Now there's a leading economic indicator if I ever saw one,' the Rat reflected.

And now he was sitting next to someone who, judging by the sneakers and canvas shopping bag, was a nontechie schwag-hound. Both he and the other attendee were waiting for Microsoft vice president Craig Mundie to recycle the same slides Microsoft Corp. had been trotting out at every event for the last eight to 10 months. This did not bode well, the Rat thought.

'Yes there is,' the Rat finally replied to his neighbor, while glancing over at his daughter. She had managed to reprogram the Speak 'N Spell's code to display in kanji. 'What do you do?'
'Oh, I'm a congressman,' the Rat's neighbor replied.

Well, thought the Rat, at least he's here looking around. Maybe he'd pick up something by osmosis.
Not that there was anything to pick up from the market-speak Mundie churned through. There was only a passing reference to Microsoft's HailStorm, which as far as the Rat can tell is Microsoft's next plan for world domination.

Obviously Mundie wouldn't want to bring up HailStorm in front of federal policy-makers. It's a Web services play linked to Microsoft Passport, the MSN-provided personal information and authentication service.

The Rat has heard through his network of semi-intelligent agents that Microsoft told developers at a recent secret partners confab that all Windows XP and Office XP users would be forced to set up a Passport account, though the company then denied this at the public rollout.

There wasn't much to learn at the Microsoft booth, either. When the Rat asked about HailStorm, a Microsoftie rolled her eyes and said, 'Read The Wall Street Journal article.' Meanwhile, some of the Microsoft partner kiosk occupants were too busy coping with one company's decision to use walking, oinking toy pigs to draw attention to its software, which the Rat can't seem to remember much about because he was distracted by the darned pigs.

The wirebiter also came up empty'both tchotchkewise and knowledgewise'at the Apple Computer Inc. booth, where he accosted an Apple-ite wearing a Web Objects shirt to see Web Objects running under Mac OS X.

'Sorry, we don't have it loaded on here,' the Cupertino, Calif., refugee said. 'But if it was here, it would look really cool.'

The Rat sighed and pushed off'and just in time. His daughter had reconfigured the Speak 'N Spell as a universal remote and was playing havoc with the presentation of 'Austin Powers' in the ViewSonic Corp. booth. She had brought up a French audio program and had the DVD locked into a loop playing 'Merde!' over and over at full volume.

'I think somebody needs a change,' the Rat intuited.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.

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