W a l t e r z A l t e r
p o r t f o l i o

a r t i c l e s


Dateline: Las Vegas- The city with all the soul of a 60 watt light bulb

Report from COMDEX- "The Ergonomics of Display"

Great Zoth!...What a monster.

It could have been the Nationaal Art Gallery. By midday, one more Rembrandt,
one more Man Ray and you'd hurl green chunks onto the road. While the
politically correct mavens of social engineering go on code 3 alert over the
neo-plague of "Information Overload", the real killer of men, "Convention
Throughput Tolerance Shutdown" goes dangerously unreported. For the roving
hipster-diagnostician, on safari for evidence of our species' capacity to
invent a more humane future, the hype amplitudes at COMDEX force you to shift
emphasis from the "gee wiz!" technological design-suffused display objects, out
onto the esthetic field, the setting as container, in a ralphing purgative catharsis.
Up comes all that Gestalt form/content foreground/ background shit, that
Deconstructionist meaning/ambivalence shit, that Freudian libido
cathexis shit.

Like Beavis and Butthead drunk with the power of the remote channel tuner, the
tendency, then, is to take subjective control of exhibition halls full of objective
shibboleths by grabbing it all by the yarbles with a "this really sucks...heh
heh" and "...that wuz cool...heh heh". Like the big black pyramid casino that
takes Las Vegas' skyline from behind, jackal god style, COMDEX reams itself
out real good, just from the sheer metric volume of its event phase states.
To properly get a text meme vector fix on the sucker, you gotta kill it,
mumify it, remove its guts and stuff 'em into a word jar. "...you said event phase
state...heh heh...heh heh".

Its big, alright, big as a blimp hanger city, but a couple of scale sizing
notions make themselves real clear real fast. First off, most of these tunnel
visionaries couldn't prioritize a marketing strategy if you gave them a rigged
government bid. At no point is there a recognition in evidence that the
customer, trying to get through 49 miles of aisles with a modicum of
efficiency and a minimum of podiatric distress, might want to know what the
sam hell the product is that the booth was built for? Booth design has
apparently not advanced past the point where the combined and congealed
ego of the company top brass, (the freakking name n'logo ensemble, ie.,
algo-morphed into a quadraduodenal-rectoid shape in red on gun metal with
radiused corners) is the first of many confusions thrown into the face of the
prospective client. With hundreds of categories of products strewn across a
square mile of desert floor, you gotta be able to spot what you are looking
for from a distance or soon drop into a heap of buzzard meat, far short of
seeing the full panorama, because you had to stop at every booth and try to
figure out what was going on. Your eyeball driven attention activator gets its
bearings overheated scanning a babel of VocalTec, Deltek, Rom-Tech, AITech,
Labtec, CenTech, Antex, Vitec, Wetex, Keytek, Austek, GianTech, Contek,
Group-Tek, Fontech, Evtek, etc.- a meaningless clutter of prefixes and suffixes
in a high necessity threshold frame of reference. When the customer's first
question is an embarrassed- "what are you selling?", one can predict a growth
curve for that product containing all the regularity of a sidewinder track in the
sand. Instead, why not increase the steak to sizzle ratio with some prime cut
signal logic- say, a heirarchy of diminishing necessities- "DRIVES- HARD, BIG,
FAST, 500k HOURS MTBF', say, readable from five booths distance, say, in a
clear font against a contrasting background? You know- the minimal sentient
being setup.

An awful lot of COMDEX pilgrims cross continents towards Nirvana, i mean
Nevada, for the thrill, the smoke, the mirrors, the headmike dramaturgy. But
the real lizard eating, alkali baked COMDEX desert rats traverse the great
industrial carpetways for the illusive pocket sized promotional freebie.
Yet, it looks like pickings are getting thin out there in the depresso-recession
driven digital arroyos. A good 6" clear plastic pocket rule could take you
half a day of stalking with nerves of steel. It aint like it used to be- approach
from a position behind the decoy customer, flick the arm out into the fish
bowl, tuck and spin back into traffic, nobody the wiser. (yah!, you got two
this time!). Yep, pickings are as thin as a third world debt payment. They try
to buy you off with white man wampum... badges- big, round, heavy, if-i-wear-
this-i'm-a-promo-lacky-in-the-low-30's-I.Q.-range badges. They got tons of
'em (two color, company name on a background) here- take ten...duh. The
one 3-D holographic badge i stumbled upon was in chronic short supply, a hot
number. I had to unbutton my shirt, spit down my remaining hair and suave my
way into the counter maiden's unmet sex fantasy holo-thalamus. This is an
initiatory ordeal in applying delusional thought processes to a 3-D situation-
the only hope at that point is for a pitying appreciation of the effort. It
was tough terrain, but a Phu Bai veteran don't know how to quit.

Yep, pickings are getting thin. How thin was it? It was so thin a laser
printed $100 bill couldn't bribe your way to a munchkin mouse pad or an
embossed phillips head screwdriver. They were sneaky- kept the goods down
behind the counter & sprung them on you like a divine blessing after you
feigned interest in their quick release jello-proof Mach 5 speech synthesizer.
They made you trade your soul for a frizbee small enough to fit in your
wallet; a beige coffee mug- mind altering stuff; a day glo foam beer can
cooler- easier to locate from the hands & knees drinking position; a red ink
ball point pen, a green ink ball point pen; a miniature flash memory card key
chain that would provide an amoeba with hours of entertainment; a shot at Big
Bertha, the giant software spitting slot machine, C++ tools, boy, just what
the therapist ordered. And no excuse for the paucity of demo diskettes- every
one a 720k- useless although probably better aerodynamics than the incredible
shrinking frizbee.

The only oasis in this developed nation underabundance was the porno CDROM
queen who autographed her poster for my cyber-hermit roommate... "Mick- you
can cum all over my body". This will give Mick tactile kinetic dream cycles
for a week. Thank you, bad nice lady thrill saint virgin/harlot. Eventually,
however, a deep and knawing sadness overtook me at the telling absence of the
once bountiful complimentary white plastic pocket protector. One can only
guess at the cause for the endangerment of this precious species, this
implement of legend. Let us never forget that COMDEX celebrates a global
geo-strategic industry built upon the shoulders of men in shirts whose pen and
slide rule laden pockets could structurally make it through another unwashed
week because of a small rectangle of holy polymer. COMDEX where are your
children!?...now gone like the bones of some forgotten loyal mastiff, tossed
into a forever dark castle catacomb.com.

If it had been the National Art Gallery, you could have defined no more than
two booth design stylistic tendencies of historic significance- Classical
Renaissance Pavilion Undertaker and Neo-Post-Retro-Modern Multimedia-In-
Your-Face. Both tendencies seemed to borrow from one another with unlimited
freedom- more pillars than Karnak and Luxor, more flying buttresses than
Quasimodo's bell tower, more tubular space frames than a NASA launch pad
explosion, more faux marble than a mall branch S&L, more chrome and formica
than a 50's Airstream house trailor, more video wall presentation arrays than
a cliche-bloated progressive rock video. Among all the eye candy, the texture
sleaze, the backlit logos, the inbred conceptual anemia, was one flashcube of
surreal brilliance- one company with a sizeable chunk of square footage had
nothing but an expanse of grey rug, a literature table at one edge and
diagonally across the center, a beautiful Brunswick pool table that the
company reps were chalking up at all day long...self parody where the
seriousness level can make you grab your head and fall to the ground...I love
you guys. Also enjoyable from an ideational standpoint were the well funded,
tire squealing screen-saver companies, who, in effect, mirror the
paradoxically obvious yet esoteric meaning behind the infinitude of conundra
we witness within the physical universe...the filling of the void because
there was nothing there to stop it; it was a void, right?

Well, I'm one who sure is glad a lot of void filling is going on. Any other
schematic and I wouldn't be here talking and you wouldn't be here either. I
actually went undercover for a short while and gathered intelligence on the
enemy camp, the void makers. It seems that they affixed some importance to
working their evil schematic upon the memory chip market recently and simply
declared a void where there wasn't one.* I made a half dozen inquiries at as
many chip vendor booths. They all freely admitted that memory chips have
achieved full pork belly commodity status in the global economic scheme of
things and repeated in near unison that "chip prices are down". right...pegged
at about three orders of magnitude beyond their cost of manufacture. I asked
them how many companies in the world make memory chips & the answer
ranged from a dozen to two dozen. I asked them why the price fluctuated
upward in the face of an obvious capacity to produce surplus. No answer. I
asked if there was a de facto cartel flexing its choke point muscle around a
rather strategic product. No answer. I asked if the great Yakuza Mafia Confucio-
Masonic Ring of Fire syndicate might have had anything to do with the situation.
Their faces went white, as i suspected they might. (You know, i kinda got the
vibe that Vincent Price's ghost was chuckling just outside my left ear- "Nice drain,
little Nosferatu". Heh heh...heh heh) Ok, so let's just forget the little memory chip
blip and get that NAFTA cooking so we can ship more of our strategic
industries to a galaxy far far away where we can keep a close eye on them...
eh, you techno wizard best and brightest cutting edge heralds of the age of

Walter Alter

*Comdex '93 was held during a shortage in memory chip production, before
Lam Corp. had caused a chip factory renaissance in Taiwan, Indonesia and
the Phillipines.