I've been speaking at the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) for more years (decades) than I care to remember. I used to think speaking had its trying aspects but, in hindsight (the one exact science), my life was easy; all I did was roll in on the appointed day, present my paper(s), and then meet up with my chums to blow the froth off a few cold beers. I didn’t realize just how much work went on “behind the scenes” until the beginning of this year when I became the Technical Content Director for ESC.
Have you seen the Cowboys Herding Cats video on YouTube? All I can say is that, once someone has been embroiled in organizing all of the pieces and players that go to form a technical conference, they'd probably agree with me that the cowboys have it easy (LOL).
Of course, “No Man Is An Island,” as that pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets — John Donne (1572-1631) — famously wrote. The only way a technical content director can survive the ordeal is with the help of his or her technical advisory committee in the form of the track chairs.
These sterling guys and gals are the real unsung heroes of ESC. In addition to presenting papers themselves, they help to promote the conference and to recruit other potential speakers who they persuade to submit abstracts. Later, once all of the abstracts have been submitted, the track chairs have to peruse and ponder each and every submission for their particular track.
This review process is not simply a case of giving each abstract a brisk read-through followed by a swift “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down.” After any obviously marketing/sales submissions have been weeded out, the trick is to construct a balanced conference in which all current topic areas of interest are well (but not overly) represented. There's no point in having the entire software track consisting only of sessions on one specific debugging technique, for example.
Things really start to get problematic when you have two or more great presenters who have submitted proposals on essentially the same topic. Also, the temptation may be to go with “known-good” presenters with proven track records; in that case, however, younger engineers would never manage to “get their noses through the door,” as it were. All of these considerations have to be taken into account.
Suffice it to say that being a track chair is largely a thankless role to play, so I'm delighted to say that I have a little surprise in store for this year's incumbents, who I'm hoping will continue to fight the good fight with me in 2016.
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the products from Saddleback Leather. My belt, business and credit card holders, wallet, and iPad case all carry the Saddleback logo. I also have one of their Messenger Bags along with my pride and joy — a Squared Backpack.
Now, for the longest time, when heading back and forth between my home and my office, I used to simply stuff my mouse, power, and other cables into my backpack. The end result was that I spent an inordinate amount of time each day untangling cables (I have no idea how they manage to tie themselves into such extraordinary knots) and muttering things that would be better left unsaid.
Then, a couple of years ago, I hit on the idea of sticking the various cables into individual plastic Ziploc bags. This works pretty well for things like my mouse and main notepad power cable, but it gets a tad “busy” when it comes to smaller items like my earbuds and my two iPad cables (I use the new Lightning connector, but I still carry one of the older 30-pin connectors in case someone else needs one).
Thus, I became quite excited a couple of weeks ago when I discovered Saddleback's Cord Wrap Sets as shown below (just the leather straps — not the cables themselves, of course). This set comprises a small, medium and large cord wrap, each of which is equipped with sturdy hardware and is lined with pigskin for strength.
As part of this, I was also tempted (I'm a weak-willed man) by an associated Cable Bag, which is designed to occupy minimal room inside your bag or luggage while keeping all your small cables organized.
To be honest, I wasn't 100% sure whether I would really use the cord wraps, or whether they would end up gathering dust in a drawer somewhere. However, I am happy to report that I love the little scamps and that I use them all the time.
More recently, I discovered their Square Cord Wrap Set — four cord wraps in different colors, each lined with pigskin, that are ideal for containing earbuds, iPhone chargers, iPad chargers, camera cords, and other thin cables.
And why am I waffling on about all of this here? Well, I'm delighted to report that I currently have a small pile of traditional Cord Wrap Sets and Square Cord Wrap Sets sitting on my desk in front of me. I'm poised to bounce over to the post office and ship a set to each of our track chairs. I'm hoping that every time they use these wraps they will think: (a) “I really love being a track chair for ESC” and (b) “Max is a prince amongst men; the next time I see him I must buy him a beer!”