The Little Things
Trina Teo - A First timer’s Memoir of SIGGRAPH 2007
It is not uncommon for a one to have the jitters in his or her first year attending SIGGRAPH. It is overwhelming, huge, not only in name—the Academy Awards of computer graphics, if you may—but also in its immense scale: an announced whopping figure of 24,043 artists, research scientists, gaming experts, developers, and filmmakers attended this year’s SIGGRAPH.
It is funny: in hindsight of this, my first SIGGRAPH, it is not the content of the conference, but the quotidian experience—the little things-- that stuck indelibly in my mind. It boils down to the location of the experience: this year SIGGRAPH was held in the pleasant halls of the San Diego Convention Center.
The enormity of the event corresponded to the size of the location. It was summer in San Diego and gorgeous weather accompanied the laid back vibe of the convention center. The place has architecture slightly reminiscent of an organic heart—the large ventricular domes loom in the main sail pavilion; the East and West hallways extend out like huge arterial arms. The sun-dappled arches of the hallways reminded me of concave ribcages, a particular image—not an unpleasant one at all— that accompanied all that wandering about in airy halls.
The little things: there was always the lingering scent of coffee and books in the air. There were Starbucks galore, one at every corner, with its less prominent cookie cousin, Mrs. Field’s, inevitably within vicinity. The hallways got increasingly colder as the day progressed and the sun outside got brighter. It got to the point that some people brisk-walked with harried expressions to keep themselves warm (then again, perhaps they were just rushing off to one of many courses or papers).
People popped in and out of little pockets of open balconies for a smoke, or basked in the sun at the main outdoor areas to defrost themselves. Individuals lounged about at rows of cozy tables lining the hallways, heads bent, absorbed in their laptops.
Little things come to mind, like the strangely overpriced, awful food that appeared at one or two hour slivers in the day— the schedule for these windows of opportunity something I never managed to decipher. No one seemed to mind much though. Attendees sat around the large round tables at the Pavilion munching on their food but paying little attention to it, instead choosing to browse their shiny new book purchases or the heavy conference booklet.
The collective experience of the little things gels into one big impression: going to SIGGRAPH is like going to a school (a huge, awesome college where the learning is pretty much voluntarily, and the dorm parties never end - not to mention the mandatory questionable canteen). It is a tight-knit society, housing a sizeable population of international students: constant murmurs of varied accents and languages always wafted in the air. Best of all, it is a college where everyone’s a geek, amateurs and experts alike.
Overstimulation seems to be the modus operendi of this college: intense learning and absorbing of cool new things in the day; hard core partying in the night, and then starting all over again the following day. The day commences early at 8AM, where the endless intense courses, papers and talks overlap, or run consecutive with each other. The theatre, galleries and new tech exhibitions exert their presences at the sides of the convention center, while the exhibitions and job fairs vie for attention on the bottom level. The night starts young: receptions at 6PM where booze are sometime free, attendees easing overheated minds from the day with every sip.
It was paradisiacal for the real college kids—the parties having free admission. For me, much time was spent with my peers (the equally broke circle of student volunteers) plotting, scheming, and generally scrounging around for reception or party invites floating about online and offline. We were mostly successful in our hunts; I felt like a kid in a candy store. The parties, like the day courses, overlap with one another and everyone shuttles back and forth to the clubs and pubs along the streets of the Gaslamp District. The after parties were the memorable ones, where good times were spent with the good company of friends and random encounters with kindred geeky spirits.
And like a freshman the first week of school, first time attendees likely experience intense health deficiencies that are not altogether unwelcome: malnutrition, lack of sleep, over-exertion and the inevitable aftermath - caffeine overdose.
In my first-timer’s zest to cover everything, for five days straight I walked the lengths of the sprawling hallways - up and down, left and right, from one length of the convention center to the other. Those hallways set the tableau of the archetypical neophyte experience: my brain reverberating with one intense talk or another, I suffered from a nasty hangover and glazed tired eyes, and through it all my legs constantly moving, digicam in one hand and a cup of coffee in another, I rushed off to another course.