Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Running Diary: The vendor trade show - Part 3

This is the final entry on a 3 part series describing things I saw and learned at a recent trade show visit. Other parts can be found here:


Wednesday - NASA and free stuff from Microsoft

Day 3 again started off with a general assembly with the cool set. They gave away some made-up awards to their "customers of the year", which I'm not sure were based on who gave them the most money or who had the most creative use of their technology. Then, there were three notable presentations. The first two were practically a working example of do's and dont's of PowerPoint. The third one speculated on how wired and connected we might all be in the future.

NASA

This guy from NASA's IT department certainly knew his audience. He started with a 5 minute CGI video of the Mars lander which ended with a clip of what a manned mission to the Red Planet might look like. Needless to say, that left the crowd of computer nerds in awe before the guy even stepped out from the green room onto the stage. Seriously, the guy almost got a standing ovation just from his lead-in video and that's sort of the point.

Anything he said from there on out he completely had us in the palm of his hand. I'm an advocate of setting the tone of your presentation with an anecdote or a story that later helps prove your point (point #2, be memorable) and this was among the best I've ever seen.

He went on to talk about making information available to engineers, administrators, and astronauts that work at NASA with an internal portal that includes collaborative aspects to it. Among his goals was to figure out a way to run TCP/IP to the moon so that the new lunar missions can access the portal during their mission. That was easily the coolest problem I heard during the three days.

Wells Fargo

Talk about a tough act to follow. Less than 5 minutes after the NASA guy told everybody how worried he was about trans-lunar networking this lady came out and talked about . . . . banking. Yawn City to begin with, but her presentation tactics were pretty bad too. Her slides were wordy, she read them, she had so many colored highlights on each slide that you couldn't figure out which things she was really trying to draw attention to, her body language was disinterested, and her voice monotone. Then again, maybe it was just the banking.

Future Speculation

The general session concluded with the vendor's Chief Technology Officer presenting some very exciting future visions that will effect everybody. He showed video snippets depicting some futuristic scenario and then talk about how his compay's products might help make the experience a reality.

The best one of the scenarios showed a pregnant woman who started her day by rolling out of bed and going into her bathroom. There, she put on a blood pressure cuff that started to take measurements as she pricked her finger and provided a small blood sample to an wireless Internet aware appliance. A few hours later, she gets a video call from her doctor, who asks if she took all her medications last night because the system noted some abnormalities in her blood sugar level and an increased blood pressure. The view of the video shifts to the perspective of the doctor, who pulls up electronic records of the patients mother and older sister before remarking that both of them had trouble with gestational diabetes at this stage of pregnancy. The doctor reminds the patient that, although they were not yet available for her mother, her sister responded favorably to the drugs and stressed the importance of taking them.

There's a lot of cool stuff in this potential future, but a lot of complicated issues too. It's not too much of a stretch to have some Internet ready appliance in your home where you self apply simple medical tests that then forwards the results to a system at your health care provider, which has software in it that is smart enough to flag abnormalities and raise the priority of certain patients in the queue of things for doctors to look at during a given day. The video conferencing is not that far away either.

But in a world of entirely electronic medical records, being able to correlate data from a current patient to experiences of other people in his or her family is incredibly powerful. Today, medical professionals have to rely on what patients remember or even know to begin with but in this future they would have access to the actual medical records. Some privacy issues arise here, though. What if you have something in your medical pas that you don't want your family to know about? How do you handle situations with adoptive descendants while preserving the rights of parents who chose to give up their children? What if you have some falling out with your grandfather and he holds access to his medical records as collateral for getting you to do something you otherwise wouldn't want to?

Clearly, there's a lot to think about in this space.


Dudes from Redmond

The final days breakout sessions weren't as good as the other days. The only one worth discussing was put on by The Evil Empire of Software (cue the Imperial March). They were pushing how delightfully integrated the vendor's product is with the Office suite of products. Seeing as this conference was taking place in late 2006 (meaning, prior to the delayed release of Vista), they were really pushing Office 2007. So much so, they gave everybody a free t-shirt. Free clothing is typically a good thing and a perk of conference attendance, except that my wife declared this particular item to be an anti-aphrodisiac upon seeing it for the first time and banned me from wearing it in her presence unless I was painting or about to do yard work (preferably to pick up after our 3 dogs). Being a bald nerd with little hope of finding a replacement spouse should that become necessary, I take these kind of statements pretty seriously.

Epilogue

All in all the 3 days were worth the time away from home, if for no other reason than I got to talk to some Disney guys. It always amazes me how many different groups can have so many different problems and the plethora of creative solutions that are used in solving them. That's the biggest thing I take away from these things and why I keep going.

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