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C4 Conference Rethinks MacHack

I recently returned from a weekend in Chicago, attending the second C4 conference for independent developers. Created by Jonathan "Wolf" Rentzsch, a Chicago-area developer, occasional TidBITS contributor, and all-around good guy, C4 in many ways picks up where the venerable MacHack programmer's conference left off several years ago while rethinking and refining the things about MacHack that caused it to fade away.

Holding C4 in Chicago, rather than MacHack's traditional location of Dearborn, Michigan, made it easy for many people to attend, given Chicago's central location and massive airports. Plus, Chicago is a bit more of a destination than Dearborn (though I'll never speak ill of Dearborn again, after having been given a personal tour by the head of the Chamber of Commerce; see "Adieu ADHOC," 2005-08-01).

Wolf organized a number of excellent sessions in a single track, starting off with Wil Shipley's (Delicious Monster) tremendously amusing keynote entitled "On the Creation and Maintenance of Hype." A number of other sessions focused on the business end of things, including Daniel Jalkut's (Red Sweater Software) talk about acquiring applications, my updated talk about "Hacking the Press," Allen Odgaard's discussion of the development of TextMate, and Cabel Sasser's wonderful recounting of the story behind the founding of Panic and the creation of their Coda Web development software (see "Coda Plays Web Developers a New Tune," 2007-04-30).

On the more technical end, Shawn Morel of VMware gave a good explanation of virtualization that was highly technical but understandable to the non-programmer. Several other talks were totally over my head, such as Bob Ippolito's introduction to Erlang, a new language and environment that provides hot code reloading, fault-tolerant runtimes, concurrency-oriented programming, and function pattern matching. I haven't the foggiest idea what that means, but some of the capabilities Bob talked about certainly sounded impressive. Tim Burks also talked about bridging between Ruby and Objective-C, though I have to admit to glazing over somewhat in the aftermath of my own talk and my lack of programming knowledge. For a better description of Tim's talk and other thoughts on the C4 conference, see Mike Zornek's coverage.

The most valuable part of conferences often comes outside the formal sessions, and C4 was no exception. There wasn't a lobby that attendees could take over as happened with MacHack, but Wolf cleverly set things up so there were a number of group meals and receptions for ad hoc networking. I enjoyed being able to catch up with numerous friends who I see only at industry trade shows, and I met lots of developers who hadn't been part of the MacHack community. Others commented on this as well, and if anything, the next C4 (assuming there will be one, since Wolf hasn't said anything either way) could use some time between sessions for people to gather, discuss the talk they just heard, and generally network.

One thing I hadn't anticipated was the constant use of Twitter, buoyed by the presence of Craig Hockenberry of Iconfactory, who wrote the Twitterrific client that provides a nice Macintosh interface to Twitter, along with Growl notifications. I haven't been a fan of Twitter, since most of what I've seen has been truly inane, but C4 used Twitter to create a group chat room with persistent messages. In other words, anyone could send a Twitter message that would be seen by everyone else who was following the C4 user; since messages are kept, that made it possible to follow what was said not just while you were connected, but the entire time. Such a use isn't entirely innovative; there are plenty of group chat systems, but the Twitter system was used heavily, whereas a parallel IRC chat room received much less attention. In a discussion toward the end of the conference, several Twitter fans explained to me that the trick with Twitter was to follow only those people who had something interesting to say (as opposed to updates on their meal choices or transportation woes), to limit it largely to non-working hours, and to be ruthless about ignoring missed messages (called "tweets"). Heck, I'll give it a try; for anyone who's using Twitter, feel free to follow me, or, if you want instant notification when we post new TidBITS articles, follow TidBITS.

C4 closed with Iron Coder Live, a hack contest along the lines of the MacHax Best Hack Contest from MacHack. Most of the 11 hacks involved the iPhone, that having been the proposed theme, though the third place hack, independent consultant Dave Dribin's The Bouncer was instead an Input Manager hack that caused a selected application's Dock icon to bounce. While that wasn't too impressive on its own, Dave then showed how he could make multiple Dock icons bounce in various synchronized ways, and then made them bounce to music, all to loud applause. Second place went to Lucas Newman and Adam Betts of Delicious Monster for Lights Off, the first native iPhone game (see "Lights Off for the iPhone," 2007-08-14) which they released to the public. Impressive as Lights Off was, first place - and Wolf's Golden Dog Tags prize - went to Ken and Glen Aspeslagh of Ecamm Network for Squidge, a hack that enabled two-way video-conferencing on the iPhone, using its built-in camera. Impressive stuff! The main problem with their demo is that Glen and Ken are identical twins, so it wasn't easy to see who was who on the tiny iPhone screens projected on the wall.

Overall, and from the comments I heard from other attendees, C4 was a smashing success. The first one last year attracted 98 attendees (Wolf had initially capped attendance at 75, but had to expand due to interest), and I gather this year's attendance grew to about 140. That's a good size, and if there are future incarnations, we'll have to see if Wolf and his crew - who did an excellent job with the logistics of scheduling, food, audio, and room setup - can handle more people as the word continues to spread.


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