Monday, May 19, 2008

Geisterbahn nach Berlin

Travel can be a bit scary these days, but mixing technology and marketing can be far more frightening
When I was young, my parents took my brother and me on holiday every year. Because my Dad was an engineer and underpaid, my parents could not afford the Hilton or visits to Paris. Instead, we stayed in bed-andbreakfasts located in crumbling Victorian seaside towns such as Clacton, Bournemouth, and Plymouth. Every year, my Dad would sit in a deck chair on beaches at one of these resorts and burn his flesh until he turned pink.

Looking back, it was all rather amusing. But the highlight for my brother and me was a visit to the fun-fair (or local carnival) intimately associated with having fun on holiday in England. Unlike America, where public gambling is limited, we could spend hours pouring pennies into numerous slot machines. Often, if my memory serves me correctly, we came back with a profit, which my brother and I greedily stashed away under our beds at the bed-and-breakfast.

At the fun-fair, there were also numerous rides including ghost trains, bumper cars, and a wonderful machine known as a Waltzer. Sitting in a small car, you were spun around chairs situated on a circular platform that added more centripetal force to your turning chair. If you have seen Claude Whatham’s motion picture That’ll be the day ( tt0070788/), you will know what I mean.

However, it was not this motion picture that reminded me of my ill-spent past at Victorian seaside towns in England. Instead, it was a recent trip to Germany with our illustrious sales representative Johann Bylek. Rather than providing yours truly with an easy walking tour of a German city, Johann decided to set up numerous meetings in cities as far apart as Munich, Radeburg, Jena, Bremen, Hamburg, Dresden, and Berlin.

Company visits
During this time, we visited some interesting companies, including Allied Vision Technologies, Basler, Baumer Optronic, The Imaging Source, and KameraWerk Dresden. Many of these companies described interesting technical developments that you can read about in the pages of this issue. After five train journeys and two airplane trips, exhaustion set in.

Between company visits we did find time to discover what makes a city tick. In Hamburg, Johann insisted on dragging me to the Reeperbahn, where a few young ladies seemed so desperate for company they actually grabbed hold of me! Everything was going well until Johann explained that my health might be in danger.

Feeling disenfranchised, I decided that perhaps the Reeperbahn was not the place to be. But I did notice that a couple of blocks over there was a carnival, reminiscent of those from my youth. It was indeed a place to celebrate.

There was a ghost train (Geisterbahn), dodgems (auto scooters), candy floss (Sucker Wasse), and even penny machines! I immediately bullied Johann onto the Geisterbahn, where I paid four euros for the funniest ghost train ride ever. After disembarking, Johann remarked that it was not that frightening. Do Austrian’s have any humor? Despite his lack of enthusiasm, I rode the dodgems and bought some candy floss to celebrate.

Then we were off to Berlin for the annual European Machine Vision Association business conference. There, I sat motionless for two days listening to talks about the glowing machine-vision markets in Germany, Italy, and Israel. Marketing presentations are really not my cup of tea, I must admit, but it did present an opportunity to meet some very smart people involved in technical aspects of the machine-vision industry.

To defray the cost of the conference, many of those who attended had also combined their trip to Berlin with company visits such as mine. On the way home, however, I was left to wonder whether any of these technical people thought that, like Geisterbahns, marketing presentations never really seem to deliver what they initially promise.

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