SwagWatch 2001

You can go to Macworld Expo to grab the latest in hardware and software products. But for those of us who appreciate bargains over betas, trade shows are a rich source of fun, free products. The real question is, how does one uncover the booty without suffering through one too many demos? Follow the steps below for a rich and rewarding Macworld Expo 2001 treasure hunt; we've included Expo booth numbers for easier searching.

Step One: Get a Bag

You can see stands of red Iomega (booth #1817) bags as you enter the Moscone center. Should these be depleted -- or should you fill them up -- stop by the Epson (#1007) or Wacom (#3727) booths for attractive and sturdy shopping bags. Epson's booth also features gallery prints of assorted photographs as printed by Epson products; although they weren't free when we went by, one can always hope. If you select your bags by volume, take our advice: Wacom is good for small, light stuff; Epson is a nice midsize bag, and Iomega will clear a path for you when fighting your way through the crowds.

Step Two: Find the Crowds

Like pigeons around breadcrumbs, Expo attendees have an uncanny homing sense when it comes to free stuff. If you're at a loss for free things -- or have gone to one too many booths that only have hard candy -- look for large groups of people huddled around two or three mildly overwhelmed booth personnel. Hint: the booth people are the ones in the embroidered denim shirts.

Alternately, look for the kids: we ended up nearly coming to blows with a group of sixth graders who insisted on hogging all of Iomega's (#1817) "Flashdance: Now there was a flick" buttons. We finally had to remind everyone that we are the only ones who can remember the film from its theatrical release. We now own a Flashdance button.

Step Three: Stick with Software

As much as we'd like to be around if the folks over at Handspring (#507) start tossing Visors into the crowd, it's probably a futile fantasy. Hardware vendors are great places to visit if you want actual product information; if you're looking for toys, stick with software. We got a fantastic doggie frisbee from Yellow Dog Frisbee (#1951), a pen that blows bubbles from WebEx (#3420), a maraca on a keychain from Automated Solutions Group, a green bendy toy from Emulators Incorporated (#3837), and a pen that looks like a hypodermic needle from Totally Hip Software (#3354).

There are exceptions to the software rule: we got a rubber ball with blinking lights from GCC Technologies (#1743) and a tasty black Expo badge from QPS (#521).

Step Four: Lavishly Compliment Vendors on Their Marketing

Why settle for one Earthlink (#2239) temporary tattoo when you can have six, plus a CD, plus a foam rubber toy brain, plus a button identifying you as a Net Hugger? All you have to do is tell the booth personnel -- honestly -- that you like their stuff. It really works: Quantified Systems Incorporated (#447) handed over a half-dozen stickers and a really nice poster from Shepherd Fairey. Automated Solutions Group gave us the maraca keychain and they also followed up with a can-opener keychain and a soft drink can cooler. WebEx (#3420) gave us green doughnut stickers to match their bubble pens, and Alien Skin Software (#1342) eagerly gave out tiny buttons reading "We will never wear suits" and "Saturate the industry with freaks."

Step Five: When Compliments Fail, Talk Fast

We got a really cool T-shirt from MacSpeech (#3425) that had the names of all the founders printed on it, and all we had to do was tell them what kind of story we were writing, and who we were writing it for. Everyone else has to pay $10. But we really have to thank Event Marketing Director Rhonda Lawrence profusely for her generosity. So, Rhonda, thank you.

Step Six: Remember, You Can Take a Break

It's tempting to barrel across the show floor, cutting in and out of demos to grab free stuff. But pace yourself -- you haven't even begun to look for practical items like pens and calendars, and you haven't addressed the question, "Where have all mousepads gone?"

Think about that until we return with part II of our Expo handout report -- and happy hunting on the Expo show floor.

JENNIFER BERGER and LISA SCHMEISER spent the afternoon thanking vendors profusely.

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