ShmooCon and the Shmoo Ball

Opinion: Throwing the Shmoo ball is as time-honored a tradition as booing the pitcher at a baseball game or walking out on a movie.

At a baseball game, some people boo when they are displeased; at a movie theater, some simply walk out. At ShmooCon, you throw a ball.Throwing the Shmoo ball at a presenter is a time-honored tradition at the annual hacker convention, now in its fourth year. The event was held in Washington, D.C., Feb. 15-17, and more than 1,100 tickets were bought this year-roughly three times as many as when it started in 2005.A newbie at the conference, when I first rifled through the bag given to attendees, I mistook the Shmoo ball for one of those stress balls. Actually, it's not that far off, according to the conference guide The Shmoo Group provides attendees.As explained in the guide, the idea behind the Shmoo ball is that it can be difficult to stand up in a crowded room and confront a presenter with whom you disagree. The answer: Throw a soft, round ball (they ask you to do this politely).More than one presenter had a ball thrown their way during the three-day conference. It got me thinking-what if we armed everyone with balls in daily life?Say you're in line at the grocery store. Someone, for example, is in front of you struggling with the concept of swiping their credit card through the machine. They swipe it one way, flip it over and swipe it again. They are confused by the presence of a "yes" button when the computer asks if they will accept the charges. Where's my Shmoo ball? Bong!You are in a staff meeting. Someone decides they need you to build a new piece of software to keep up with competitors. It will take six months to get it right. They want it bug-free in three. Bong!Balls would be going everywhere, and I would likely have an imprint of one on my forehead. I guess that wouldn't work. But who didn't love a good game of dodge ball as a kid?