Several years ago, the session almost didn't happen. Raskin was preparing for the event when one of the contestants asked her to make a last-minute change to her PowerPoint presentation. The guy had decided to tweak the name of his company and wanted the slide to be correct.
Raskin, happy to oblige, pulled out her notebook and set it on her lap. What she didn't realize was that her shiny pants created a slick surface -- and were not particularly secure.
"The computer just slid off my lap," Raskin says. "The screen didn't break, but the laptop was dead as a doorknob."
This was before the advent of the USB flash drive -- and certainly before the ubiquity of cloud-based storage services -- so Raskin didn't have a simple backup on hand. The only accessible copy of her Last Gadget Standing data was on the hard drive, inside that now-bricked PC.
"I call a tech guy and he says he can't imagine what to do. The audience is getting raucous out there -- I can hear them," she remembers.
A friend came to the rescue. He suggested finding someone with the same Compaq computer and swapping out the hard drives, thereby putting her data into a functioning machine. He set off to roam the halls of the convention center on a wild goose chase and, against all odds, found someone with the same model system. Even more amazing, the guy happened to work for Compaq -- the maker of the PC -- and was happy to help out.
"At this point, I'm laying on the floor begging God that if he just makes this work, I'll be good forever," Raskin laughs.
The switch went off without a hitch, and Raskin was able to load her presentation and get on with the show. The event, after all, is called Last Gadget Standing -- and she wasn't about to let a broken computer keep her down.
Tech conference blooper No. 5: Wild Web woes
Internet access is a vital -- and extremely volatile -- component of any tech conference. Between Web-connected product demos and Web-dependent attendees, a sudden drop in connectivity can wreak all sorts of havoc.
David Schreiber learned that the hard way. Schreiber recently helped organize a tech-centric event for his IT company. The event was designed to show off the company's new and improved content management software and encourage clients to make the upgrade. One key piece of the puzzle, therefore, was a fully functioning demo lab where visitors could try out the system for themselves.
"We spent months organizing it and making on-site visits to be sure the hotel's bandwidth would be adequate," Schreiber says. "The hotel folks assured us it'd be fine."
So much for assurances: As soon as Schreiber's colleagues started their first demo, the Internet access evaporated. Apparently, the numerous Wi-Fi-connected laptops and tablets in the audience zapped up more bandwidth than the hotel had anticipated.
"The worst thing was having my boss come up to me, red-faced and ready to explode," Schreiber recalls. "I mean, we're a software company. People may intuitively understand that these things can happen, but it still makes us look silly."
Schreiber sprang into action. He tracked down a hotel engineer who, with a little prodding, was able to connect the room to an alternate router. As if a magic switch had been flipped, everything came back online -- and the event surged forward glitch-free. Schreiber says his company has already committed to doing more advanced load-emulating tests in the future, but he knows even that can't create a foolproof guarantee.