Appeared in Volume 8/1, February 1995
I felt mildly guilty, but I did it all the same. One Saturday morning, heavily disguised with a false beard and Plasticine nose (not really, but I wanted to), I attended the 'Home Computer Show'. The show's primary aims are to sell PCs, sell PC bits, and to sell PC software, and so, on the face of it, it doesn't seem to have much in common with our distinguished LP conferences. Nevertheless, there are some parallels.
The learnered LP talk, where the latest theoretical breakthrough is espoused in glowing hyperbole, is not unlike the PR man's demonstration of the latest multimedia, personal digital gizmo. Except, of course, that the PR man's slides are more colourful, his dress more natty, his smile more rigid. PR demos all deliver up free gifts at the end - I still remember the mad scramble for the coffee cups emblazoned with the words 'I'm a Pentium Mug!'. Why can't this level of excitement and audience participation be introduced into LP talks? Perhaps free copies of the author's 50 line Prolog program, written to 'illustrate' the ideas in the paper, could be handed out on disk? At least the disk would come in useful, once reformatted.
HCS'94 (all good conferences are known by their initials) had no workshops, but there were informal gatherings of like-minded people around the more popular stands. One individual would moan about the speed of a new machine, another would pour scorn on its buggy software, a third would decry the user interface. Who can honestly say that most LP workshops don't display similar characteristics, especially during the coffee breaks?
Many LP conferences have an exhibition, consisting of the stalwart MIT press stand, and a cheerful soul from Quintus. Both are excellent relief from high-powered talks, but it must be said that shows like HCS'94 make up in quantity what they lack in quality. The best part is the chance to discover new realms of creativity; for instance, the CD ROM solely devoted to pictures of cows. I was so impressed I almost ordered one (or is that uddered one?). You have to wonder at the boundless optimism of authors who write books entitled 'How to convert your computer into a home-help'. I wouldn't be surprised if its made him a millionaire.