Comdex Chicago, April 4, 2001: We came, we saw, we got propaganda.

Walking on the early 70's carpet that lines the McCormick Place's floors, I should have known what I was getting into. Signs dangle from rafters and they all have pictures of a girl holding signs with such phrases as "Security", "Windows 2000 Enterprise Solutions", and various buzzword-esque things.

The girl holding the signs on the signs looks very bored and/or tired and wears a lot of dark eye makeup. I can tell what they did with the pictures is to take a single picture with her holding a blank white sign and then Photoshop it, expanding the sign and contracting it as need be. You can tell this because the hands holding the sign do not change angles as the sign expands. She is wearing a dress and calf-high boots, a barely perceptible look of disdain on her face. Her hair is like Uma Thurman's character in Gattica. I realize I am staring.

Opposite of Comdex at the McCormick Conference center thing is the Waste Management expo, and as me and my colleagues walked into Comdex, we wonder aloud about where Microsoft might have a booth. We walk past a half-dozen bored looking security guards, present our Comdex cards (which are swiped at exhibitions so they can mail you junk later), and head in.

As I said, I should have known better. Me and TJ split off from our the 6 others we came to Chicago with and head off, to the right, me eyeing the "Linux" (no GNU) corner, and both of us actively looking around for something hopeful in the graphics realm.

We try to get T-shirts from Sun Microsystems. I do not get a "Hi!" or anything, even one that's totally empty would be better than the "Watch 4 videos over there, fill this out, dance on one leg, and promise your soul to Scott McNealy," we did get. Okay, well maybe not the dancing thing. I do not want to watch these videos, I don't want to take notes. T-Shirts are cheap.

When we finally push through to the "Linux" corner, we find Caldera, Win4Lin, NetBSD, "The Linux Show!!", the Free Software Foundation, Lineo, and a couple others whose names escape me.

My companion addresses the NetBSD fellow, "So, what is this? FreeBSD?" And I could see the young man with long-ish brown hair and pimples redden with anger and me blushing. Behind the man is a sign across the entire booth that says, "NetBSD!!!" {Their emphasis.}

"No, this is NetBSD. NetBSD and FreeBSD are two different platforms."

"So, what does NetBSD run on?" TJ asks; I, of course, am pretending to blissfully ignore almost but not quite all of this.

"One of the big differences is that NetBSD runs on many more platforms than FreeBSD, not just the PC," and with this he points to the Apple G4 Cube sitting in front of him. "In addition to supporting Arm32, Mac 68k, Sparc, Sparc64, Alpha, Amiga, Atari, HP300, x86, mvme68k, PC532, pmax, Sun3, Sun3x, Vax, x68k," I don't see a piece of paper in front of him with this info and his eyes, are barreling into TJ with intensity I've only seen one other time in a *nix geek; I am impressed, "it has ran on Cray supercomputers, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo 64, and just about anything else with protected memory."

"Oh," TJ says, points at me, then the cube, "That's the Cube, and the wacky fan."

"No fan," I say. This is the ONLY Apple I will see at Comdex. I am slightly disappointed.

"Oh, right. Looks like one."

I take some BSD literature and move over a booth to the GNU/FSF booth, where the young man with longish brown hair and pimples sits in a high chair and talks about how important GNU was to the whole "Linux" movement.

"So, it's freedom that really helped launch Linux into the mainstream, and that's why we should acknowledge the necessity of freedom. Free. It's important to be free." He gives us copies of a pamphlet explaining the FSF. TJ and me notice the T-shirts on the wall; the one with the Ox seems cool. "So, we must acknowledge what Richard M. Stallman and the Free Software Foundation has done for the Free Software Movement, and that freedom they've given us. It's good to be free."

"Shirts?" TJ asks.

"Eighteen dollars."

+++

It is, perhaps, a trifle odd to be given a shot glass as a souvenir from a company, but that is what the Win4Lin people gave me, and I wonder if I'll really need it if I install their software. I think I will use it to drink Hawaiian Punch later.

"Is this Open Source?" I ask; I have never looked at source for any software I have. I would not know where to start.

"No. Licensing issues. Though we do support open source," the man says. He is about 35 and he's balding, black hair receding.

I notice a woman in calf-high boots and a just-above-the-knee skirt walking by from the corner of my eye; the marketing man tracks her, watching carefully and I watch him. Most of the stereotypically "cute" women under 25 are wearing that same outfit, and at this point I don't know if they:

  • Are marketing droids.
  • Know what they are talking about.
  • Are just pretty "things" used to sell product.

I refrain from judgment right now. The Win4Lin guy swipes my card and I get my shot glass. TJ gets one as well. I look at my card and it says my job title: Help Desk Analyst, and I suddenly have the epiphany that they really never read the stuff on there, and I should have put something like "w4R3z d00d" or "Hacker" on the card, though I don't know anything about hacking.

We thank the Win4Lin guy for his time and glass and we meander over to Caldera, where we swipe a card, are given a CD which I throw in my bag without looking at it, and are asked to move along. Across from Caldera are several Linux Magazines (Linux Journal and Linux Magazine). There are pretty girls with skirts and calf-boots in both of the booths and they give me a magazine each. The centerfold in the Journal is a penguin. Linux Magazine doesn't have a centerfold and I am slightly disappointed, even though the Journal's penguin has been obviously touched up in The Gimp. I do not pick up the "Embedded Linux Journal," and I don't know why.

We pass by a few dozen forgettable companies. I do recall one named Primus, and it seemed like the people behind the table were not in on the joke: There was
another called Uniwis, which I misread first as unwise the first, second, and third time I passed by, finally getting it the fourth time through. The sign on the side of
their booth (they had a corner) was misprinted and did not finish what Uniwis stood for. They had software that would link up with cell phones.

People all over have cell phones and talk into them ignoring everyone else, even the ground in front of them, and then often have the gall to say to the people they run into that they "should watch where they're frickin' {their word} going." The antenna sometimes makes them look like aliens with downturned and serious looking faces.

Mercedes is there. I don't know why a car company was at a computer show. They have a few little IR stations where you can download their brochure into your
Palm Pilot

Speaking of cars, FreeDesk has a Ferrari as part of their display. The man we speak to says the car might just be a lemon, as it had required about $50,000(U.S.) worth of repairs within the first 6 months, even though it was treated "Like a baby." I hold back the urge to give him child abuse statistics.

American Express' televisions have their volume turned down, I still recognize a younger Eric Clapton and I imagine the song being "Cocaine", and I marvel at the co-opting of rebellion and other "bad" things for use in marketing and the concept makes me nervous because it seems no matter what someone tries to do to rebel against the marketing monolith will be used, eventually, to market something to someone. They want us to fill out credit card applications for free stuff.

Some place trying to sell video conferencing equipment and we try and engage in "interfacing" with the person.

"And so, we embed our video conferencing Codec in your IP."

"Did you say, 'Embed in the IP'?"

"Yes. In the IP. With our propriety technology embedded in software as well."

"The MP4 Codec in the IP?"

"Yes; it's embedded into the IP."

"Okay."

We leave, after gathering another brochure from the woman, and pass by several remote administration utilities that cost thousands of dollars that could be replaced by a tasteful installation of Back Orifice.

+++

Lunchtime at McDonalds: I've never seen so many people drinking out of straws on cell phones. Some tables do not talk to other members of the table, only
their phones. The French fries are pretty good. Fresh.

+++

We stop at some booth that advertise themselves as Firewall and security and cost a small fortune; I subconsciously wonder about just using something free, and TJ wonders aloud "Why do executives have problems with just using, like a Linux firewall."

"Responsibility and the end thereof," I say. TJ thinks this is dumb; I agree. "Use what works. If GNU/Linux doesn't work for you, don't use it."

"You said GNU."

+++

Even forgiving the misuse of the term "Hacker," I can't help to notice the sheer paranoia of these unnamed assailants.

"State Point Plus" (part of Westinghouse), a seemingly about security company, is someone we ask something relatively benign of, and in response, he asks:

"Are you a systems administrator?"

I know the answer to this question--it is as if someone asks you if you are a God, you simply say “Yes.”

TJ, however, feels compelled to tell the truth and says, "No."

The man who we asked the question of turns around and starts a new conversation with someone else. And when we ask him another question, tapping him on the shoulder. He simply ignores us some more. The back of his bald head looks like it has chunks from spray-on hair.

Even I know this is bad business; now I will go out of my way to avoid using their product. I don't care if it keeps out every "hacker".

Across from the Rude Booth is EDS. I watch their video. I talk to others who watch the video, and we still can't figure out what EDS does. They, incidentally, have one of the biggest displays at Comdex.

In the distance, I see another product with an "i" in their name. I randomly see Chambers of Commerces from various areas, like Central New York and somewhere in California (not Silicon Valley). One company, ibart.com, has a logo that looks just like America On-Line's.

Some group named DigitalEve is next, who are, what seems to be, a pro-women computing group. I am all for this. I tell the women in the little booth that my girlfriend is a geek already, but is still in denial. We laugh. Me and TJ both get aromatherapy things. They smell nice. The product says I'm not supposed to use this during pregnancy.

Dice.com is giving out fuzzy dice like people used to put over their rear-view mirrors. We try and get a pair. No dice. Their presenters wore tye-tye that said
something about Job Nirvana.

+++

Notable non-attendees: Microsoft, Intel (though the Keynote for the 4th is given by Sean Maloney from Intel, who have Thomas Dolby and Morgan Freeman as co-speakers), AMD, Apple, IBM, RedHat, Amazon.com (indeed, no major dot-coms). I'm missing a few, I know.

+++

So, let's look at the bounty acquired, as there really is no real reason to go to these conferences unless it's for the give-away. I got two business card-size CD-Rs (holds 50 megs each); the Aromatherapy thing; Caldera's "Volution" (I guess they're taking the "e" out of their names instead of putting it in now a days); several business cards; "GNU & Linux" stickers; a copy of Linux Journal and Linux Magazine; a brochure of Sun Microsystems training stuff; a giant Comdex Guide; about four dozen separate brochures, flyers, and paper-scraps; a Caldera bumper-sticker; sore feet, a ball that lights up when you throw it, tasting the best fries I've ever had at a McDonalds and paying out the nose for the privilege, and the knowledge that I don't belong at Comdex.

Ever.

It is corporate, and all techs I spoke to were highly uninterested in most of anything but the funny cases and the motherboard submerged in "mineral oil" (I never got to see this). Everything is just propaganda, from the women tempting penises into corporate buying decisions to the bad Jungle music at the Mercedes exhibit; from Eric Clapton talking about shooting the Sheriff to the plethora of security guards to help us feel safe; so we can make corporate buying decisions not on our own, but concentrating solely on the products being marketed before us.

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