If you don't attend many conferences you won't have noticed that it seems to be fashionable to give out rucksacks, backpacks and haversacks as freebies to delegates. However, just how good are these rucksacks? Can they stand up to a proper benchmark? Are some products better than others? Is there a message that we can take from the quality of rucksack with respect to that company's software? All (well, some) will be revealed.
First, let me describe the TPC test for rucksacks - it is simple - give it to a pre-teenager and tell him (it was a him in this particular test but it could be a her) to use it to carry his books to school and see if said rucksack can stand the daily rigours of being dumped in corners, used as a football, or whatever.
But, and here is the rub, there is a second test: how cool is it? Having a cool rucksack is clearly an advantage. And of recent rucksacks acquired by yours truly, there is no doubt that the Oracle rucksack handed out at OpenWorld in September was absolutely cool: multiple compartments, hidden pockets, places for pens and, especially, shiny - fluorescent almost. Just the sort of rucksack that you would expect from a vendor that is renowned for its marketing.
The experimenter leapt upon this offering with some glee, and forsook all previous rucksacks. Unfortunately, it didn't hold up to the TPC test: within 8 schooldays one of the straps that go over the shoulder had ripped apart. RIP the Oracle rucksack.
My son reverted to his previous favourite: the SAS rucksack. Where Oracle was flamboyant, SAS is sophisticated and understated. If Oracle put one in mind of a boy band, the SAS rucksack is more like a torch singer in a nightclub. Of course, the SAS rucksack still had all the gadgets but it was a simple black number set off nicely by the SAS logo in white.
This rucksack was acquired back in May, so it had lasted the TPC test for a matter of months before two of its zips went simultaneously a couple of weeks ago. This meant that my son had to resort to the rucksack that we bought for him 3 years ago - or was it 4? - from the local store. It is pretty boring, it is just like the ones all the other kids have, it wasn't especially expensive, and it is certainly not cool: so it's funny how it does the job so much better than all those freebies.
There are various morals to this tale: "don't judge a book by its cover" and "beauty is only skin deep" are two variants on the same theme, while getting what you pay for is another. What is perhaps more worrying, is the extent to which the appearance of the rucksacks reflects one's impressions of the companies themselves. Whether there is any deeper relevance to this, I leave it for you to judge.