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Conventions and the New Technology

Steve Bull

It has been noticeable recently that the computer revolution has worked its way into convention organisation in much the same way that it has apparently taken over the rest of society. There are hordes of "computer literate" fans about. Many of them work in the computer business and it's not surprising that they turn their attention to "modernising" the way conventions are run.

One thing is apparent though - few of these new innovations seem to work properly. Information systems like "Seafacts" at Seacon never seem to get updated because nobody who knows how to do it can be found. Elaborate computer to push-button hookups for games crash if too many people push the buttons at once. Disc databases crash and information gets lost. There are many similar pitfalls along the way.

If a new system is to be introduced a few simple tests should be applied:-

  1. Make sure the system does everything it's supposed to by trying everything before it's used in earnest. For instance: if you are using a database to store the names and addresses of attendees it is handy to learn to use it beforehand and learn all its ins and outs. There's nothing worse than spending hours typing in information only to lose it all because the database does not behave as expected.

  2. If things are to be updated (such as Seafacts) then leave complete instructions for how to do this, preferably aimed at the complete idiot. You should realise that not everybody understands or likes computers and thus cannot cope with anything written in contracted jargonese.

  3. Check the running of the machine periodically. Mains spikes will cause crashes/ loss of information.

  4. Choose sensible colours for use on screen. Certain colour combinations will interact if close to one another and make the words difficult to read.

  5. Computers are only as good as their programmers so don't expect miracles.

(Some parts of the above are obvious but it can be very surprising how few people will thoroughly test anything or leave clear instructions for its use.)

Another facet of our recent Information Technology boom is the availability of word processing systems. Producing a PR is a much easier task if you can correct your mistakes before printing out the articles. However, there are a few things to beware of. The quality of most computer printers is barely good enough for copying from and hence some parts of the finished page may be illegible. There is nothing more frustrating than reading something only to have it peter out into faded print because the printer needs a new ribbon, or the print quality was not good enough. Generally, a daisy wheel printer is best though there are some high resolution printer/ printer-typewriters which are very good.

Another thing to be careful with is thermal printer or typewriter paper. This works because the heat of the writing head causes a reaction in the surface of the paper producing black type. This has two annoying side effects. If you leave a typed page in the sun or on a radiator the paper turns brown. If you try to stick the paper down with a water based (or to a certain extent rubber solution) glue then the reaction takes place and the sheet goes black. In both cases the sheet will have to be retyped.

Personally, I find word processor output extremely boring to look at. It is difficult to intersperse illustrations within starkly justified text without knowing an awful lot about how the wordprocessor works. Hence I favour the old fashioned "cut and paste" technique.

In general, the use of new technology requires the experts to be on hand to solve problems or to foresee any that are likely to occur and take appropriate measures to prevent them. Since few would claim to be precient and we have had only a limited experience of the problems it may take some time before the computer takes over from the good old faithful pen and paper.


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This page updated on 09 July 1999