I am sitting on an Amtrak train in Chicago waiting for it to depart. I am connected via a wireless cell modem that the company I work for has bought us to use around the US and in the UK. It's a nice fringe benefit for working there. It does, however, come at a cost, even if it's not a monetary one.
This past week (9 days in total) was IPS. The International Planetarium Society meeting. IPS is the single largest gathering of planetarium vendors, directors, content producers, immersive display engineers, and VR junkies in the world. It only happens every other year, and it alternates what side of the Atlantic it's held on. Next time (2010) it will be held in Egypt. Due to its size and our status as a relative new-comer to this field, it was vitally important that we showed well. In the end, I think we did that, though, and at the risk of repeating myself, it came at a cost.
We demoed two of type of ulta-black projectors (500,000 to 1 sequential contrast) that SEOS develops. These two projectors were placed in a 15' fiberglass dome and fitted with two tons (4,000 lbs) of gear shipped out from the UK at some exorbitant price. The dome assembly and subsequent fitting of gear began last week Wednesday (the 25th of June) and continued through the end of the show (July 3rd). To assemble the dome and make all of the gear function, we assembled a team of five engineers, two project managers, and a carpenter. In addition to that, we had to use union teamsters, electricians, and decorators. Apparently, this is required by law. Some of these guys were great, and I had a good time ordering them around. Others, however, were not. For example, we had to wait for 2 hours for a union decorator to arrive so he could Velcro our black curtains over the dome, a job any one of us could have completed in less than 10 minutes. The dome went up with little trouble. Since I have no experience assembling such things, I concentrated on getting the servers and projectors functioning. Here our troubles began.
I don't want to bore anyone who has read this far with all of the technical hurdles we had to overcome throughout the show, but I can at least say it was intensely frustrating. There were more times than I'd like to remember where the group of us would work for 18-20 hours straight and be worse off than we were when we started.
In spite of these difficulties (or maybe because of them) we came off as a very cohesive group. The general attitude from show-goers was that we were very professional, approachable, and technically adept. I think I'd agree with everything, but there is obviously much room left for improvement. These tradeshows need to be managed like any other project and have the same time and resources applied to them as there would be for any other project we do. If not, we're going to end up Egypt running around like headless chickens with flashlights. [Interestingly, in Egypt we will not be allowed to wear our black polos, since black is only worn by people in mourning].
Our central showpiece on the night we sponsored was a project called Space Confidential. It was sort of a contest to get teenagers to produce content using the our software. It worked really well. The two winning girls were flown out with their mothers to Chicago for the event, where they presented the space show they had created and answered questions about how they did it. It was especially good since all of the rest of the main-stage presentations were tech-demos. Ours really got to the heart of the idea that content still is king.
We finally have a new site up that goes into more detail about what we do, who we are, etc. You can check it out here. The web tester in me has already noticed a slew of grammatical errors and dead links and will be passed on to the company designing the site.
I've posted a bunch of pictures I took at the summit on our Flickr stream. The stream can be accessed by clicking on a picture on the little slideshow applet running on the right-hand navigation bar.