Monday, November 01, 2010

The Other Project

I've had some complaints lately about the infrequency of updates. I know things have been a bit quiet, and this is because I have been working on something else. In fact, on a completely different web site.

Do you remember Omni Magazine? It was published between 1978 and 1995 - so you have to be of a certain age to have encountered it - and it featured wonderful artwork, groundbreaking fiction and a rather variable level of commentary and reporting. Quite serious science reporting was intermingled with hilarious nonsense and crack pot theories. Viewed today, it provides an interesting commentary on a period in history - there are far more tobacco ads than you would see in any current American publication . You can trace the diamond industry's carefully orchestrated campaign to convince people that two month's salary is a reasonable amount to spend on an engagement ring. There was a wonderful series of ads from the International Paper Company, called "The Power of the Printed Word", each ad a two page spread on a subject such as "How to read faster" or "How to use a library". The fiction published in Omni included William Gibson's "Johnny Mnemonic", Harlan Ellison's "Mefisto in Onyx" and stories by Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card and many, many other notable authors.

I don't recall when I first encountered Omni - I know that I bought it regularly for much of its life, because many the copies I have still have the newsagent's reservation stickers on them, the early ones with my maiden name written on them, the later ones with my married name. However, some numbers I acquired second hand, to fill the gaps: all the early numbers seem to have come from a university fund raising book fair.

I have a full set now (I filled the last few gaps from eBay), but the paper is beginning to degrade. The company that originally published Omni is long gone, and whatever copyright still exists appears to reside with either the original authors of the material, or with Friendfinder Networks. I can't envision any way in which Omni could be reprinted, so eventually it will probably disappear. This seems a pity: if some entity like Zinio could get the rights, they could reissue Omni to an enthusiastic audience. Omni has many fan sites, and its own Facebook page. But I don't see this happening, because of the copyright issues involved. So a friend and I are scanning the whole lot, as well as we can, so at least there will be a soft copy that we can refer to when the paper copies become unreadable.

Scanning magazines is time consuming, and as a side activity, I am developing a comprehensive index. The fiction component has been indexed in the past, but not the whole contents. If you check the Facebook page, you will find many people who can remember something that they believe that they read in Omni, and which they want to find again. Searching 200 issues is impractical, and lot of requests could be satisfied by a decent index. However, manual indexing is labour intensive, and I'm being hampered by the fact that some of the artwork is not credited. So a lot of my free time has been going into scanning, indexing, and creating a web site where I can store the basic tables of contents and author indices. The detailed content indices will take months to complete (an issue takes about 3 or 4 hours to completely index). If you want to have a look at what has been done so far, the site is The Complete Index of Omni Magazine.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Vendor Swag

Last week I had the pleasure of spending two days at VMware's vForum 2010 at Darling Harbour. It was a great event, particularly since I was there as a conference attendee, and not as a company representative. If you have never had to man a booth at a trade show, let me assure you that is very hard work. You try staying on your feet for two days, while being upbeat no matter who you have to deal with, and see how you feel.

I met a huge number of old friends, which is always fun: you get to compare career paths, and since I changed jobs last May, a lot of people were keen to know where I had moved to and why. And the catering was excellent.

However, right now all the "stuff" that I was given to me by various vendors in the course of the event is stacked on my dining room table, and looking through it makes me question the sanity of some company's marketing departments. So what did I get?

First, from the conference itself, a shoulder bag. Nominally a laptop bag, and it would do in a pinch. I used it yesterday to carry my camera and accessories to the city, to shop for a new camera bag. Today, it's on it's way to the attic to join all the other spare bags in the house. I may never use it again, so as brand name placement it's a bit of a dud.

A coffee mug. I have coffee mugs from companies that don't even exist any more. They get used either when I have tradesmen on site, and need to provide hot drinks; or for large social gatherings, when I don't have enough cups. The only vendor mugs that I use regularly are some steel ones that APC gave me a few years ago: they are really nice, and I'm happy to put them on the table. The new one is a mundane white china thing with a logo: it's going into storage in the attic.

A squashy foam ball. Unremarkable, but it will wind up on my desk in my customer-site office, because if you are a naturally fidgety person (such as me) you need things to fidget with while you are thinking.

An object made of a similar squashy foam, and intended to represent a telephone - the office type, with many buttons. Of the vendor who gave me this I can only ask "why"? What were you thinking when you ordered this stupid thing to be printed with your logo? What do you expect the recipient to do with it? I'm either going to chuck it in the toy box that I keep for visiting children, or add it to the pile of missiles that I keep handy to throw at Percy when he is clawing the rug or biting Mungo.

Pad of sticky notes, printed with logo. Always useful, and will go to my main office.

Quite a decent pen, but I have scores of vendor pens: my Mum will probably get this one, since she does a lot of crosswords and loses pens regularly.

A screw-top "test tube" full of red jelly beans. This could have worked, but it doesn't have a logo on it at all. The tube will probably end up in my knitting bag - it looks to be the right size to hold buttons and small tools.

A key ring, the fob of which combines a tape measure and a flash light. I wouldn't use this as a key ring, it's too bulky, but a tape measure is always handy in the office, and a flash light can be very handy in a data centre - some of them are quite dimly lit. I recall once, working in El Segundo, and having to go to the nearest Fry's to buy a flash light, so that we could read the asset tags on the equipment.

A 4GB USB flash drive. Always useful, but this one has a cap that is going to get lost easily, and the rep who gave it to me told me that his marketing people had only provided a couple of hundred (this for a conference attended by 4,000 people), because they cost $20 each. You must be kidding me! A 4GB flash drive, even with three colour logo printing, should not cost more than $15, and half that for larger quantities.

A box of three Lindt chocolates. Nice, but again, there is no logo (other than Lindt's). I don't even recall which vendor gave me this.

A collapsible "frisbee" type flying disk. These always go down well with the folks on the help desk.

The purpose of this type of marketing material is both to lure the prospective customer to your stand for a conversation, and to keep your name before their eyes for days, weeks, and if you are lucky, months to come. Given the amount of money that is spent on conference give aways, I'm astounded at how poorly they are targeted.


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