Getting the Goodies
by Danialle Weaver
In Yiddish, it's called tchotchke (pronounced chot-ska), that odd assortment of buttons, posters, dolls, and other memorabilia you just can't help collecting at exhibitions and conferences like SIGGRAPH.
Each year, one or two of these souvenirs becomes a hot commodity, and conference goers will endure just about anything to get one. This year, attendees slogged through lines that snaked off into infinity, sucked up to those who hand the prizes out, and even snoozed through 30-minute presentations on sometimes-obscure software packages -- all in order to score a trinket of their very own.
This year's flotsam and jetsam includes CDs, T-shirts, baseball caps, Frisbees, and millennium clocks.
The Holy Grail of tchotchke on the exhibition floor was The Official Dancing Baby, a creation of Kinetix, a division of Autodesk. Baby Cha-Cha was arguably the hottest property on the exhibition floor. "We decided to give them away because the Dancing Baby has become a pop icon," explains Bill Tryon, a Kinetix spokesman. "Did you see the baby on Ally McBeal?" he asks.
Another hot commodity is a doll being handed out by Intel Corp. It's a replica of the funky dancing microchip plant worker featured in Intel's Pentium II and MMX commercials. The faceless doll is outfitted in what looks like a white motorcycle helmet and a blue "bunny suit," or the special spacesuit-like clothing worn by workers in "clean rooms," where microchips are produced. Attendees from the San Francisco Bay area said the bunny-suited doll has been a hotter commodity there than the Beanie Babies sold by McDonald's.
Another must-have item this year is a videocassette copy of "Geri's Game," the Academy Award-winning animated short by Pixar Animation Studios. It features an old man playing chess in the park.
The coolest souvenir -- one that actually may be worth something some day -- is the limited-edition comic book being handed out by Caligari Corp. The comic book, which Caligari spokeswoman Aimee Jones describes as "the first 3D photorealistic comic book, was being signed by three of the key people who worked on the book: Justin Knowles, an animator; Robert Kraus, who converted the two-dimensional characters to three-dimensional renderings; and Bill Fleming, who did the graphics. Jones says there were only 40,000 copies made in the entire print run, and all of them have been given away at SIGGRAPH.
One of the most beautiful giveaways were beautifully designed shopping bags by Matrox Video Products Group/Matrox Graphics Inc., Wacom Technology Corp. and ELSA Inc. Also, Sun Microsystems was handing out prizes for attendees on the exhibit floor spotted carrying Sun's distinctive purple, white, and red Java bag.
By Thursday, mid-week, it seems as if every single one of the 31,000 attendees was carrying a briefcase-like box in a distinctive blue color being handed out by International Business Machines. What exactly was in those boxes? "They're empty," an IBM spokesman says. The empty box is extremely valuable to conference goers because they can put all of their tchotchke in the empty box, seal it and ship it back to their homes or offices effortlessly, he says.