Thar be Vendors

The conference’s vendor “pit” is on the bottom floor, off to the side of the hotel. Because no attendee would intentionally wander in where the vendors are, the conference sets up coffee tables the room to lure them in. Every day at 10:00 and again at 2:40, there is an influx of people. It’s like the Eloi and the Morlocks.

The tables are on the wall opposite the boothlets, one’s right by the door, the other’s across from me, 30 feet from the door. The table by the door has thirty people queued up to sip the acidic nectar of plenary awareness. “My” table has only two… at least until the hotel staff has to barge in to replenish the coffee containers, causing a burst of the crowd to shoot off and migrate to “my” table. Occasionally, someone will let his (or her) attention wander and they’ll drift over my way.

The engineer’s interest is piqued by the 3-D model of the competitive swimmer. His scientific inquisitiveness compels him to investigate closer, yet his hypothalamus fleeing function (the four “F” functions are: feeding, fighting, fleeing and reproduction) starts kicking in. I see the conflict in his body language as he walks over, arms folded.

“Is that a model of the heat distribution on the Space Shuttle? Cool!”
“But there’s a vendor sitting there.”
“It looks like they’ve got a corporate logo-branded tchotchke.”
“You don’t have any money.”
“Ooh, look at the pretty performance graphs. That would be useful in publishing”
“Abort now, or you’ll have to sign over your grant to fund his investment in time shares built upon ancient burial grounds.”
“Uh-oh, too late.”
“Caught in the tractor beam.”

Yes, I made eye contact, smiled and said hello.

One of several things happens at this point. The most frequent, for this group, is the engineer pretends to not understand English/me, turns, makes a hasty beeline for the door, spilling his coffee. Sometimes, they’ll ask to take a data sheet, ignore my inquiries and leave. If he responds, there’s a good chance he’ll realize that I’m a technical person, interested in their work, and have no fiduciary interest in time shares.

These conversations are fun because I get to learn about a variety of different applications. For example, one researcher modeling fabrics uses ellipsoidal mass particles to mimic the behavior of spinning objects hitting the fabric, disintegrating, and ricocheting in all directions. (Think: kevlar vest) He admits there’s some bling appeal, but the simulations also run faster. The specifics of ellipsoids is not something we have thought much about. I suggest some approaches another researcher (using, of all things, rabbit lungs) uses that may or may not be applicable.

If someone approaches without the classic body language, but not smiling, it could mean they already own my product and have a technical question. These are fun, too. This morning a conversation went like this:

Her: I wanted to ask you if you’ve fixed the memory leak in…
Me: (Anticipating) Animation?
Her: (Puzzled, smiles) So, you’re familiar with that?
Me: (Comically painful look) Yes. We fixed that in October. (Detailed technical explanation of how to work around the issue until she upgrades.)
Her: (Discussion about her work in tensor analysis.)

If someone well-dressed approaches confidently, smiling, odds are they’re selling space at next year’s conference, possibly hosted at a time share built atop ancient burial grounds. Having been at the other end of the transaction, I politely offer to forward it onto the person who ultimately decides.

8 thoughts on “Thar be Vendors”

  1. Holy crap! You changed your picture at the top of the blog! Just when I thought I had any idea whatsoever what you looked like, there’s a new guy there!

  2. I hope I didn’t make you change your image, Jim. I wasn’t complaining, I swear! I believe they’re both pictures of you, I just can’t wrap my tiny brain around it. One of these days, The husband and I will take you up on that cool, foamy pint of root beer, and then I’ll let you know which of those guys you really are…

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