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Series: Will Hack For Food!
The ADHOC (formerly MacHack) hack contest sports programmer's best, funniest, and weirdest!
Article 1 of 8 in series
MacHack, held in mid-June this year at the Holiday Inn Fairlane in Dearborn, Michigan, bills itself as "The Annual Conference for Leading Edge Developers." If you develop Macintosh software (or want to), you have either been to a MacHack or you aspire to attendShow full article
MacHack, held in mid-June this year at the Holiday Inn Fairlane in Dearborn, Michigan, bills itself as "The Annual Conference for Leading Edge Developers." If you develop Macintosh software (or want to), you have either been to a MacHack or you aspire to attend. Unlike most programming conferences, only half of MacHack is about learning new programming techniques and operating system directions. The other half is atmosphere. In fact, given its relative chronological proximity to Apple's own World Wide Developer's Conference, the social climate may well be the most important part of MacHack. Even for someone who's technically savvy but not, strictly speaking, a Macintosh programmer - such as myself - the atmosphere can be intoxicating. MacHack is plain fun in a way that an Apple-sponsored event such as WWDC finds difficult to emulate. In large part this is because MacHack is organized and run by volunteers and funded by several sponsors, effectively negating any agenda one of them might have.
No coverage of MacHack would be complete without a mention of the defining event of the conference: the Best Hack Contest, produced by the MacHax Group. The goal of the hack contest, if you're a developer, is to devise and program a demonstration of how clever a programmer you are. Anything goes, even programming techniques that don't play well with other applications. The wilder and more silly the concept, the better. You garner extra prestige if you develop the hack during the conference itself. However, if your program actually does something useful, you will likely be greeted with derisive shouts of "Useful!" when you present it - although, for comic effect, audience members seem to call it out just as often for completely useless hacks. Trying to plug your other products will result in equally derisive shouts of "Marketing!" The occasional technical difficulty is often met with cries of "Ship it!"
It's difficult to attend MacHack without being swept up in the excitement of new ideas being generated and realized as code, especially if you're in the machine room just before the actual contest begins at midnight. I'm not much of a developer myself, but last year, I was sucked into helping programmers from Corel with graphics and sound for their project, and this year I found myself helping Andy Bachorski and Nat McCully name their hack and create a splash screen for it. It was a Breakout game that runs within the MacsBug debugger - MacsBug hacks are always popular - which was dubbed, depending on who you believe, either BrickPoint or BreakPoint.
Some of the hacks took a few moments for their creators to set up in the conference room, so the contest staff kept the audience entertained with QuickTime clips from Babylon 5, a Star Wars-meets-Cops parody called Troops, the ubiquitous clip of Bill Gates getting a pie in the face, and old Apple marketing videos. Some of the latter had been doctored - "We've got a family of two-bit products," said Steve Jobs in one (the original clip said "thirty-two bit"). Attendees' laser pointers played Pong on the large video screen.
The ingenuity and creativity displayed by the Macintosh developer community is astonishing enough in ordinary circumstances, but here, in a handful of caffeine-drenched hours, it reaches a crescendo. Marcus Jager and Quinn "The Eskimo!" went BrickPoint one better by creating OFPong, a version of Pong which runs on newer Macs' Open Firmware FORTH interpreter. (The code for the game, which runs before the Mac even starts up, must be loaded through the serial port.) Eric Long's "Spell It Don't Yell It" rearranges desktop icons to spell out words. Allon Stern, Dave Kamholz, and Jon Gotow presented a hack called Gestalt & Battery which enabled Power Manager features for desktop computers with a serial-interfaced uninterruptible power supply (that is, you could see your UPS's battery status as if your desktop computer were a PowerBook battery). Kamholz on his own presented a hack called Spotlight, which produced a transparent circular area around the cursor which allows you to see (and manipulate) desktop icons behind open Finder windows. Eric Slosser figured out how to boost the speed and range of the IR port on a Power Macintosh G3 by tightening the beam and boosting the power; the resulting laser-like beam was visible in a smoke cloud and set fire to a piece of newspaper at one point.
A set of three applications dubbed PhaseShift (by Ed Wynne and Matt Slot) adds screen-saver-style visual effects behind your desktop icons; this hack received much applause when all three effects were launched simultaneously. Mike Neil and Leonard Rosenthol contributed the nostalgic Switcher 98, which provides the sliding visual effect of Andy Hertzfeld's original Switcher when switching applications. Rob Churchill, Mike Pinkerton, and Eric Shapiro from Netscape contributed Mozetta, a re-working of the Netscape browser which adds a pop-up menu that allows Web pages to be passed through Digital's Babelfish translator (or a Pig Latin translator!) automatically - the name derived from Rosetta Stone and "Mozilla," Netscape's mascot. (This idea was raised by Apple's Maynard Handley during the previous day's Thank Apple session - Handley suggested something similar be built into the OS.) Even keynote speaker Chris Espinosa participated in a hack or two, producing a usable voice dictation system that allows you to speak letters to your computer - as long as you do it in hexadecimal ASCII codes. Hilarity ensued as he tried to demonstrate it working through a string telephone.
There were a number of "youth hacks," a term which encompassed all student contributions, even those of college students. One team contributed an updated rendition of the classic NetBunny hack featuring a character called Mr. BagelButt. ("You were five when NetBunny was written!" objected one attendee.) Not all the hacks involved actual programming, either: a couple were QuickTime movies; one involved a couple of songs. There were Rhapsody hacks, a Newton hack, and a PalmPilot hack - even a hack for Hewlett-Packard calculators, presented in absentia. Many hacks took potshots at Microsoft or Apple; one hack, a MacsBug command called "jobs", kills all running programs but the Finder while displaying a message saying that it is necessary to focus priorities to succeed. Another hack allows users to turn OS features on and off to match Apple's changing OS strategy. Another, called the Crash Manager, allowed users to select Microsoft-style crash messages (including a Blue Screen of Death) or the "Classic Apple" bomb dialog and to determine how frequently the OS goes down, ranging from "Never" to "All the Time."
The ASCIIs to Successful Hacking -- The most awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping hack, though - one that had "winner" written all over it at first sight - played off the resemblance of the iMac to an old DEC VT terminal. Dubbed asciiMac, this hack from Alexandra Ellwood and Miro Jurisic converts the entire Mac screen to color ASCII art - in real time. The programmers demonstrated the hack converting QuickTime movies and CloseView-magnified screens to a thunderous ovation. It was a shoo-in during later balloting and received the coveted A-Trap award (a Victor rat trap). OFPong, "180 Years of Hack" (which didn't involve programming at all), PhaseShift, Spotlight, and Switcher 98 took the honors as the first five runners-up. Most hacks received a token award of some kind, usually related in some humorous way to the hack itself - for example, a youth hack that played a video clip from South Park whenever you quit an application was awarded earplugs.
Last year, conference attendees had to wait months to get a CD-ROM containing the year's hacks. This year, the CDs were burned on-site and were available the day after the hack contest. If you didn't attend, the hacks will appear on the MacHack Web site soon.
(Special thanks to Lynda Botez for her assistance with this article.)
[This article is excerpted from a longer report with permission from MWJ, the Weekly Journal for Serious Macintosh Users. If you can't get enough insightful Macintosh news, sign up for a free, no-obligation, two-issue trial subscription to MWJ, or download some of the free sample articles. For more information, see the MWJ Web site.]
Article 2 of 8 in series
Most often, the primary news items that appear in the press after MacHack are the results of the Hack Contest, run by the MacHax Group at MacHack every yearShow full article
Most often, the primary news items that appear in the press after MacHack are the results of the Hack Contest, run by the MacHax Group at MacHack every year. The reason is simple - the results of the Hack Contest give the world a glimpse into the creativity of the Macintosh programmers when unfettered by reality, utility, or stability. Hacks generally aren't stable, useful, or even usable - they're just impressive feats of technical prowess. In fact, if a hack could be construed as having some utility while being demoed at the Hack Contest, someone in the audience will derisively yell, "Useful!" And if the programmer dips too far into promotion, the audience may reply with jeers of "Marketing!"
Since I first attended MacHack this year (see "MacHack: The Ultimate Macintosh Event" last week in TidBITS-487), I can't compare this year's Hack Contest to previous ones, but it was certainly a unique experience for me. The producers of the Hack Contest queued up a vast number of hilarious QuickTime movie clips to fill bits of time in between demonstrations, while contestants feverishly loaded new hacks onto the computers hooked to the projection systems. Also keeping the audience alert and happy were goodies thrown from the stage: the basic rule was to stay attentive or risk getting whacked upside the head by candy, a software package, a stuffed iMac, or one of the many basketball-sized inflatable plastic balls from Netscape that bounced around the entire conference.
Top Five Hacks -- This year's top five hacks had little in common, although there was no doubt which was going to win: Lisa Lippincott's Unfinder, which provides an Undo command in the Finder for non-destructive actions such as moving files, was a shoo-in for first place. Lisa had been one of the first to demo, and as she finished her introduction, moved a few files, and chose Undo from the Finder's Edit menu, the crowd gave her a full-bore standing ovation (after a few catcalls of "Useful!"). I hope Lisa's hack shames Apple into adding the feature to a future version of the Mac OS. It wouldn't be the first time a hack contest entry led to improvements in the Mac OS.
The prize for the best hack is the coveted Victor A-Trap, a large rat trap whose name has been modified to be a perfect pun. First, it's made by the Victor Corporation and goes to the winner. Second, it's named "A-Trap" (the R and T in RAT are excised with an X-Acto knife) after the initial character of the hex values for trap addresses used by programmers to patch the Mac OS. The contest organizers also get a kick out of coercing the winners into prominently displaying a large rat trap for friends and coworkers to see. For me at least, it also seemed a slight nod to the concept of building a better mousetrap.
Eric Traut's Out of Context Menus application took second place by providing a set of contextual menu items that aren't normally provided for Finder windows, including Gaussian Blur, Compress, Duplicate, and Slide (all of which visually modified the contents of the window). A more involved command, New Game, required the creation of Left Paddle and Right Paddle folders in the window first, after which choosing that command caused the folders to play a game of Pong. Eventually something caused a problem, so Eric chose Restart from the contextual menu, seemingly restarting the Mac OS within only that window.
Ed Wynne's DesktopDoubler came in third place. DesktopDoubler essentially fooled a PowerBook G3 into thinking it had a second screen attached, but went one step further than most virtual screen utilities by fooling the Mac OS into thinking a second monitor was attached instead of virtually enlarging the existing monitor or faking a larger desktop. As a result, the Monitors & Sound control panel saw the second screen, so you could arrange it however you wanted. DesktopDoubler also put a menu bar and certain desktop items like the Trash on the secondary screen. Movement between the two screens was accomplished by moving the mouse pointer between them.
Fourth place went to Jorg Brown and Ned Holbrook for MacJive, a politically incorrect extension that caused all text in every application on the Mac to be translated into fake ghetto-speak. A variety of these translations exist as CGIs through which you can run Web pages, but seeing the entire Macintosh interface so translated increased the effect. For MacJive, Jorg and Ned won a large frozen turkey, in part, I suspect, just to see how they'd attempt to get it home.
Filling out the top five was Paul Baxter's PatchMaker, a programmer's tool that took care of the basic support code necessary to create each of 1,258 68K and PowerPC patches, enabling the programmer to concentrate on the hack itself. Like Unfinder, PatchMaker garnered some cries of "Useful!" from the audience, and at least one person was considering writing next year's hack using PatchMaker to get started.
More Hacks -- Although the above five hacks took home top honors, other hacks deserve public recognition (and I'll probably make some mistakes here, due to taking notes in the wee hours).
In a successful attempt to avoid "Useful!" cries, Leonard Rosenthol and Miro Jurisic wrote Mactive Desktop, which used Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape Communicator, or iCab to put live Web pages on the Macintosh desktop, much like the Windows Active Desktop. Also truly useless was Bill Hubauer's "CD-ROM Drive You Crazy" which caused the CD-ROM trays on Macs elsewhere on the network to move in and out. Jesse Donaldson and Katherine Smith entered ReaderMouse, which used speech synthesis to read the word under the mouse pointer, reportedly performing OCR on the pixels on the screen.
Richard Ford, previously Apple's Open Transport product manager, showed HUF (Hotline User Frustrator), a hack that made use of the PacketShaper, a neat device made by Packeteer, the company where Richard now works. Responding to complaints that Hotline users were flooding MacHack's 256 Kbps Internet connection with downloads, Richard set the PacketShaper to restrict Hotline users to 300 baud, then showed real-time graphs of how his hack had improved network throughput for other protocols. Another popular Internet hack, Geo Killer from Mark Lilback, automatically closed those annoying pop-up windows that appear when visiting Web sites hosted by GeoCities; it could be configured to close pop-up windows from any site.
Apple DTS's Andy Bachorski continued a theme from last year, when he wrote a version of BrickOut in MacsBug. This year, he used BBEdit to write ASCII Invaders, a version of Space Invaders. He created the screen display by making a special font, and handled the animation entirely through text manipulations in BBEdit.
Keynote speaker Andy Ihnatko also stayed with the kind of hacking he had shown in his keynote. Using an ADB/IO device and some custom AppleScript scripts, Andy wrote Skinner Cubicle (a takeoff on the Skinner box used in behavioral research). The basic idea was that sometimes you need to provide positive or negative feedback to cubicle dwellers; one script caused a motorized candy machine to dispense a piece of candy, and another fired a toy dart gun.
Finally, several people showed Y2K-related hacks, the most amusing of which prevented the Mac's clock from ever ticking over to midnight on January 1st. Instead, every time it reached 11:59:59, it reset to 11:59:00. Good thing we won't be needing that one.
Yoot Hacks -- The student hacks ranged tremendously in sophistication, which wasn't surprising, given that the youngest entrant was seven year-old Rachel Green while several other contestants were in their last year of eligibility for yoot status, as defined by graduation from college. Rachel's hack used AppleScript to make two icons chase each other around the screen. On the other end of the spectrum was Avi Drissman's Balloon Preview, which used QuickTime to preview images and movies in help balloons that popped up when he pointed at the files. Ned Holbrook's CD Namer was also quite sophisticated; when you inserted an audio CD, CD Namer automatically figured out which CD it was, looked it up in an Internet database, and filled in the disc and track titles.
Other yoot hacks were quite impressive, including Lucius Kwok's Prose Posse, which rewrote text files based on word proximities, and a three-person yoot hack called Altered States, which could apply a number of garish effects (especially garish at 2:30 AM) to windows. Ben Furnas's The Creep hack implemented a simple dialog box-based network chat client using program linking.
One yoot hack made its way into MacHack legend. Matt Linden's AppleScript-based "Is it a folder?" hack was supposed to identify either files or folders selected in the Finder. If you pointed at a folder, it said out loud "This is a folder." and displayed a dialog box containing the same words. Unfortunately for Matt, a bug caused it to display the same dialog box when he clicked a file, though the spoken words correctly stated that "This is not a folder." Unable to believe his code wasn't working, Matt tried and tried to get his hack to work, pointing at numerous different files. The sleep-deprived audience found this hilarious, and badges labeled "I am not a folder" appeared the next day, and Steve Kiene of MindVision made a t-shirt that proclaimed, "I am a folder and I've got the documents to prove it!"
AltiVec Hacks -- A perk of attending MacHack was that Apple sent a few prototype G4-based Power Macs for the developers to hack. The PowerPC G4 is essentially a souped-up G3 with the AltiVec vector processor, an addition to the chip that radically speeds up certain types of code. Most of the AltiVec hacks, including AltiVec expert Doug Clarke's "42," showed code running both normally and with the AltiVec processing turned on. In one instance, using the AltiVec instructions ran 188 times faster, although Doug said speed increases of 2 to 4 times were more likely with minimal work.
Other Platforms -- A couple of hacks ran on top of Mac OS X Server, including one called Blue Box Spy, which let you see what was happening in the Blue Box (where the Mac OS was running) even when the Blue Box was hidden. Andrew Stone also entered a hack that provided a graphical interface to a chat-based poker game. The most serious Mac OS X hack was entered by Apple engineers who wrote a Mac OS X device driver to enable a Mac running Mac OS X Server to use a Windows Theater TV tuner they'd just bought at CompUSA. And for those who want to get used to the NeXT interface early, Jonathan "Wolf" Rentzch wrote Carbonized Menus, which hid the normal Mac OS menu bar and replaced it with NeXT-style floating menus.
A few Palm OS hacks were also shown, including an impressive one from 3Com/Palm's Steve Lemke and Jesse Donaldson that not only created a remote control that controlled a PowerBook's CD-ROM drive via infrared, but also used a serial connection to display on the Palm's screen a DVD movie playing on a PowerBook. Steve and Jesse awarded the best Palm hack to Andrew Downs, for his P1 Preview, which simulated the Finder on the Palm.
Getting the Hacks -- You can buy a CD containing all the hacks for $20 via the MindVision online store at the URL below (profits go toward next year's conference). The MacHack Web site also lists the hacks and includes the top five for download.
Article 3 of 8 in series
Although MacHack features sessions and papers and a variety of other events, much of the emphasis is placed on the annual MacHax Best Hack Contest, organized by the MacHax GroupShow full article
Although MacHack features sessions and papers and a variety of other events, much of the emphasis is placed on the annual MacHax Best Hack Contest, organized by the MacHax Group. All the MacHack attendees arrive for the keynote at 12:01 AM on Thursday, and then they spend all of Thursday and all of Friday hacking to create entries for the Hack Contest itself, which starts at midnight on Saturday. Everyone demos their hacks in turn, with the contest organizers projecting movies and silly graphics (including a parody this year of Apple's Think Different ads featuring Eric Raymond and the iBook that the MacHack attendees bought him) on the presentation screens between demos. This year may have been a record, with over 90 hacks submitted in a marathon session that finally broke up at 6 AM. You can see the full list of hacks on the online ballot at the URL below.
There's no way I could tell you about all of the hacks submitted, in part because there were so many, and in part because lack of sleep seriously hampered my ability to pay close attention as dawn grew ever closer. Here then are descriptions of the top five hacks along with a few others that I thought worthy of mention. You can get all of this year's hacks, along with papers and many of the presentations on the MacHack CD for $20. Also $20 (or $35 for both CDs) is the MacHack Historical CD, which contains hacks, papers, and presentations from the first 13 years of MacHack. All profits go toward funding future MacHack conferences. Keep mind that these hacks are completely unsupported, so any troubles you may experience are your own problem.
Fifth Place: Los Alamos Security -- Jonathan Garry's AppleScript-based hack implemented "security practices" based on those at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Drop a disk icon on the Los Alamos Security icon and the disk disappears, and a folder called Copy Machine appears on your desktop. Double-click the Los Alamos Security icon to hide the disks behind the copy machine, then double-click it again to reveal the disk. (If you don't keep up on current events, this is essentially a news hack making fun of the recently lost then re-discovered hard disks containing nuclear secrets at the weapons laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico.) Be warned that like all of these hacks, it may not work properly on your Mac; when I tested it, it hid my disk fine, but wouldn't reveal it. I recovered it by opening Sherlock, double-clicking the disk in the lower pane to open its window, then dragging the icon from the window title bar to the desktop.
Fourth Place: Monitor Doubler -- Eric Traut had some trouble demoing his Monitor Doubler hack, which doubles the horizontal and vertical resolution of your monitor. The projectors just couldn't handle the concept of a 2048 by 1536 resolution coming out of Eric's PowerBook, so he had to show it using the camera provided for Palm hacks. Even then, it was technically astonishing, with text on the screen actually being readable. Eric also added a magnifying glass feature that expanded the size of objects around the cursor in case the text just became too small. Eric warns that Monitor Doubler is very buggy, not well documented, works only in thousands of colors (16-bit), and probably won't work well with multiple monitors.
Third Place: Vertigo -- Some things shouldn't be allowed to happen near dawn, and this hack is one of them. Inspired in part by Chris Russ's MacHack paper on 3-D imaging, a team consisting of Drew Thaler, Ed Wynne, Darrin Cardani, and Keith Stattenfield produced Vertigo, which displays the entire desktop in 3-D stereo. Chris provided the bicolored 3-D glasses for everyone, and although the result of looking at this hack on the presentation screens with the glasses on was quite striking, it did truly evil things to my head at that hour of the morning.
Second Place: EtherPEG -- Written by three Apple engineers - Peter Bierman, Sam Bushell, and Stuart Cheshire (who wrote an excellent two-part article for us on bandwidth and latency some years ago), EtherPEG is a network sniffer that displays JPEG and GIF graphics being downloaded over unencrypted AirPort wireless networks. EtherPEG's designers wanted to create a simple tool that would encourage everyone to turn on encryption in their AirPort Base Stations, and although the contest organizers were a bit scared that someone in the audience would be caught surfing through a naughty site during EtherPEG's demo, everything went off without a hitch. Encrypting wireless network traffic may not be a big deal at your house yet (even if your office is good about it), but eventually there will be enough 802.11-compatible laptops out there that encrypting all network traffic will be the standard approach.
First Place: Dock Strip -- The award for top hack of 2000 went to Miro Jurisic and Alexandra Ellwood for DockStrip, which makes the standard Mac OS control strip act like the Mac OS X dock, complete with the nifty way the dock increases the size of icons as the cursor moves over them. I was sitting at the same table as Miro and Alexandra while they were writing their hack, and it was amusing to see their approach to writing and debugging the code, along with some of the intermediate missteps that produced rather amazing visual glitches on screen.
Other Worthy Hacks -- Among the many other hacks submitted, a few particularly caught my attention.
Jorg Brown's Mac OS X Throbber hack was a comment on Mac OS X's rather obtrusive throbbing OK buttons. Instead of just throbbing the OK button (which you could overlook, as Jorg noted), his hack caused everything on the screen except the OK button to throb, making it painfully clear where to click.
Mike Neil's FishHack was one of the few hardware hacks of the contest. Mike took something called "Big Mouth Billy Bass," a trophy-mounted plastic fish that could move its head and sing "Take Me to the River," and connected it to the Mac via an audio out cable. Then, whenever the Mac beeped, the fish would start to sing. Billy Bass served double duty as one of the prizes awarded at the banquet.
Rich Siegel (author of BBEdit) produced a hack for the Justice Department's antitrust trial against Microsoft. Instead of just splitting Microsoft into two separate companies, Rich's Divestiture hack split the windows of all Microsoft applications down the middle. You could even click in the space between the two halves to access whatever application lay underneath.
Mark Johns and Justin Lee, a pair of 16-year-old "yoots," won the Best Yoot Hack for Doggie-Style Windows, a hack that referenced one of Eric Raymond's keynote comments about dogs and territoriality. Whenever you dragged a window in the Finder, Doggie-Style Windows caused all the other windows in the background to "run away" so they weren't underneath the frontmost window.
Finally, Jimmy Grewal, Steve Falkenburg, Tantek Celik, and Maf Vosburgh of Microsoft submitted Internet Explorer 5.5b1 as their hack, making it the first ever to come with an End User License Agreement (EULA). New in Internet Explorer 5.5b1 was the capability to drag any graphic (even animated GIFs) to the toolbar as a button, a Command-Shift-click shortcut for opening a link in a new window in the background (finally!), and type-to-select navigation that enables you to type the first few letters of a link to select it before pressing Return or Enter to follow the link. The Microsoft team also used their sleepless nights at MacHack to improve the Tasman rendering engine's performance, standards-compliance, and stability. I even ran across a page that crashed Internet Explorer 5.0 instantly but loaded perfectly in 5.5b1. Internet Explorer 5.5b1 may just be a technology preview, but it is on the MacHack CD with the other hacks.
I was once again amazed at the incredible productivity caused by MacHack. Even though the code written during the short time before the Hack Contest itself was inelegant and horribly buggy, almost all of the demos actually worked. Several people noted that they actually did their best work at MacHack, since work doesn't necessarily stop on other programming projects during MacHack, and the confluence of so many smart people with such deep knowledge of everything related to programming the Macintosh provides a fertile environment for coding.
Article 4 of 8 in series
Although much happens at the MacHack developers conference, the heart of the event is the MacHax Group's annual Hack Contest, which gives the programmers a chance to code without worrying about utility, stability, or even usabilityShow full article
Although much happens at the MacHack developers conference, the heart of the event is the MacHax Group's annual Hack Contest, which gives the programmers a chance to code without worrying about utility, stability, or even usability. And yet, the hacks that emerge every year show more than the playful side of the Macintosh - a number of them have later been turned into shareware or even commercial products. Of course, such hacks risk cries of "Useful!" from the audience, but that's never stopped a programmer with a good idea at MacHack before.
My Hacks -- I was in no danger of "Useful!" cries with my first hack. Last year, the prize for my hack revealing Eudora's auto-correction capabilities was a four-foot wooden stake, complete with splinters. Why the hack contest organizers chose to give me such a prize is immaterial, but it was in part to see how I'd get it home, since a four-foot wooden stake is going to take some explaining in the airport. As I was leaving, I had a brainstorm, and I wedged the stake securely under the bathroom sink in my room and put a note on my calendar to request room 323 the next year. This year, when I checked in, I asked for the room, got it, and was overjoyed to find that my stake was still there. For the hack, I donned leather gloves and retold that story while brandishing the stake. To make it relevant to the audience, I cast the hotel as a storage device and the stake as data that I wrote out under the sink, then later asked the file system for the address to the block holding my data (the room number). Access time to my data was poor, but I did get a laugh from peering closely at the stake and announcing that there hadn't been any data corruption. Oh, and just in case you're wondering, this year I'm seeing if my data can be copied to another location and, if so, I'll edit it with the sandpaper prize I won this year.
I also participated in another hack with Leonard Rosenthol and Richard Ford to design and implement a statistics server so we Eudora users could compare our usage statistics with others (Eudora 5.0 and later can keep detailed usage statistics in an XML file). The idea was for Leonard to write a Eudora plug-in to extract numbers from the XML file and upload them to a set of Perl scripts Richard wrote to group and sort the results. I set up my iBook to run the Perl scripts under Mac OS X's Apache Web server, and I worked on the HTML interface as well.
The only problem was that since we started after dinner on Friday, with the hack contest starting at midnight, we just didn't have enough time, even with working through much of the contest. Mac OS X stymied many of our efforts with a crash while installing the developer tools, wacky permissions problems, and other annoyances caused by its rigid directory structure. But it was still neat to be run Leonard's application fresh from the compiler, enter its output into a Web page I created in Mac OS X's TextEdit, and see the results served by Apache from Perl scripts that Richard was editing remotely on my machine until the last minute before I started talking.
Yoot Hacks -- Many of this year's 93 hacks came from the large contingent of "yoot" hackers still in school, the youngest of whom was only seven years old. One yoot hack from Justin Christie and Paul Scandariato was even useful - a REALbasic application called iWake that runs items in a Wakeup Items folder whenever the Mac comes out of sleep. A yoot team of Mark Johns, Justin Lee, and Charles Melby-Thompson wrote Chia Windows X to restore the Mac OS 9 zooming window rectangles to Carbon applications under Mac OS X. Daniel Fox wrote an AppleScript called Hackable AirPort Network Seeker, which was designed to alert you verbally if you drove into range of an AirPort network. Finally, Andy Furnas hacked a copy of iTunes to make it scriptable by copying several resources from iTunes predecessor SoundJam MP back into iTunes. It was an impressive showing from the yoots this year, and it's great to see the MacHack experience helping these kids learn and grow year after year.
My poor efforts and the yoot hacks aside, here are the top five hacks of 2001 as chosen by the developers who watched all of the contest demonstrations.
Fifth Place: Palm Finder 2 -- Although most of what goes on at MacHack revolves around the Macintosh, alternate platforms are generally welcome, and the Palm OS often receives strong support in the hack contest. This year, Lucius Kwok's Palm Finder 2 took fifth place with its uncannily accurate representation of the Macintosh Finder on the tiny Palm screen. It could have been even scarier if it had been combined with Jesse Donaldson's HFS-, which took advantage of Palm OS 4.0's new capabilities for accessing files and external storage cards to use an iBook's hard disk as a 10 GB storage card.
Fourth Place: Crrrhaaack -- Inspiration was born of misfortune for Jon Gotow, author of Default Folder, Screen Catcher, and other shareware utilities. Jon accidentally dropped his PowerBook the first day of the conference, cracking the screen and rendering the bottom two-thirds unusable. Rather than crying over a cracked LCD, Jon wrote Crrrhaaack, an extension that resizes the screen to just the usable part (1024 by 260 in his case). An application provides an interface for choosing the functional part of the screen, and if Jon had mentioned during his presentation that he also wrote the hack on his broken PowerBook, he might have placed even higher.
Third Place: AirPort Radar -- Three years ago at MacHack, every table in the hotel atrium where the hackers congregate was adorned with an Ethernet hub. Most of those disappeared last year, because many people had AirPort cards and could use the wireless network instead, and this year, all but a very few people relied entirely on six AirPort Base Stations scattered around the hotel. Taking advantage of the wireless network setup, Mike Neil and Eric Traut wrote AirPort Radar, which used the differing signal strengths from multiple AirPort Base Stations to triangulate and display the location of a PowerBook, even while it was moving.
Second Place: AquaShade -- Mac OS X's "genie effect" when minimizing windows into the Dock makes for a good demo, but lots of Macintosh users have bemoaned the loss of Mac OS 9's windowshade feature, which causes a window to roll up into its title bar. Nicholas Riley and Avi Drissman set out to fix this problem with their AquaShade hack, which brings back the windowshade functionality to Mac OS X's minimize button, at least in Carbon applications. Holding down Control when clicking the minimize button does a normal minimize to the Dock, holding down Option toggles the windowshaded state of all open windows, and holding down Shift makes the windowshade action move more quickly. Derisive cries of "Useful!" were rampant during their demo, but that didn't stop the applause nor the votes that gave AquaShade second place.
First Place: Apple Turnover -- In the grand tradition of almost useless hacks, Mac Murrett's Apple Turnover took home first place with its technically impressive dynamic rotation of the live screen image. Different modifier keys caused Apple Turnover to rotate the screen clockwise and counter-clockwise, or to jump to specific angles of rotation. Apple Turnover made good use of the Velocity Engine, but perhaps the deciding factor was its demonstrated compatibility with asciiMac, a hack from a few years ago that displayed the entire Macintosh interface in ASCII graphics.
Although details weren't available when I wrote this, CD-ROMs containing all the hacks (many with source code) are usually made available for purchase at the MindVision store. Check the MacHack Web site for details.
Article 5 of 8 in series
The centerpiece of the annual MacHack conference is the MacHax Group's Best Hack Contest, in which the world's best programmers compete (preferably during the preceding 48 hours) to come up with software that displays the ultimate in programming creativity, knowledge, or arcana, ideally presented with tongue firmly planted in cheekShow full article
The centerpiece of the annual MacHack conference is the MacHax Group's Best Hack Contest, in which the world's best programmers compete (preferably during the preceding 48 hours) to come up with software that displays the ultimate in programming creativity, knowledge, or arcana, ideally presented with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Hacks that perform some useful task are generally greeted by the audience with derisive cries of "Useful!", and pushing the benefits of a hack will elicit jeers of "Marketing!"
The hacks were many and varied again this year, with a total of 65 hacks, 26 of which came from the yoots (the proper plural of "yoot" according to at least one sharp-eyed reader). That's down a bit from the last two years, but since the lower number meant the Hack Contest itself could end an hour earlier at 5 AM this year, no one complained.
The theme of MacHack was "Iron Hacker," a reference to the popular Iron Chef TV show, which brings a level of competition to cooking normally seen only in crazed sports shows like American Gladiator and BattleBots (an Iron Chef fan site even noticed MacHack because of the theme). The theme "ingredient" for the Hack Contest was Clarus the dogcow, a half-dog, half-cow creature that appears in the Page Setup dialog box in versions of the Mac OS up to Mac OS X. Many of the hacks were thus dogcow-oriented, and yells of "Moof!" resounded throughout the evening whenever Clarus appeared on screen. (It's worth noting, for those unfamiliar with Clarus, that "Moof!" is not a term of affection, and both the dogcow logo and her cry are bona fide trademarks of Apple Computer. Moof!)
The Rest of the Best -- Not everyone can win the Hack Contest, or even place in the top seven, but there were numerous valiant efforts. Most hacks were built on Mac OS X, and several played off Mac OS X's Unix core, such as Josef Wankerl's OldSchoolEdit, which let you open any text file in the Unix editor emacs (or vi) in the Terminal.
A few people hacked the Dock, making the icons somersault, roll around, or flee in horror from your mouse cursor. A yoot team of Travis Hicks and Paul Scandariato also built Dock Invaders, which featured Clarus defending the planet against icon invaders from the currently active programs.
Another yoot team - Andy Furnas and Noah Spies - hacked the Login screen in Mac OS X so you had to complete a round of the open source game TuxRacer before you could log in.
Peter Sichel of Sustainable Softworks wrote Mac Enforcer, which scanned the network and identified all the PCs by checking the Ethernet cards' MAC addresses. There were a few cries of "Useful!" but people around me agreed that it might have placed in the top five had it then connected to the PacketShaper Richard Ford had installed on the network and throttled the PCs down to 1200 baud.
Some hacks involved other hardware - Mike Neil wrote an editor for the secret Breakout game that's hidden inside the iPod. And Jorg Brown, Sean Parent, and John Shafer cobbled together a set of motors, pulleys, and cable, and then combined it with a USB controller kit to make AniMac, an animatronic iMac that could tilt its monitor up, down, left, and right. What's more, it could stick out its tongue (the optical drive tray), and all the actions could be controlled remotely, since they were actually scripts driven through Apache.
Seventh Place: Depth Perception -- Seventh place went to Lisa Lippincott, who won the Hack Contest a few years ago with UnFinder, a hack that added an Undo command to the Finder (such a good idea that Mac OS X now has such a feature built in). Her entry this year was Depth Perception, a hack that made use of Mac OS X's transparency capabilities to let you look through a set of stacked windows by making them mostly transparent.
Sixth Place: Metadata -- Allon Stern, who also serves up espresso to anyone at MacHack who needs a more refined caffeine kick than Jolt cola, won sixth place with Metadata, a biting commentary on Apple's silly reliance on filename extensions in favor of the more powerful type and creator information. With Metadata running, if you renamed a file using the proper creator and type codes as filename extensions, Metadata actually changed the file's type and creator appropriately. So, if you had a file named "foo" and you renamed it to "foo.R*ch.TEXT", it would have its type and creator changed to become a BBEdit file (which deals with files of type TEXT and uses a creator code of R*ch, a play on the name of the author - Rich Siegel).
Fifth Place: Clarus All Over -- Fifth place went to the father and son team of Doug and Nigel Clarke, aided by P.D. Magnus, who put together Clarus All Over. It was a three-part hack: a dogcow made from Legos and animated with Lego Mindstorms to click the mouse; a set of attractive icons and a script to replace a variety of Finder icons with dogcow-oriented ones (the best was the Trash can, knocked over on its side with Clarus halfway in); and finally a hilariously hacked version of Apple's Power To Be Your Best television ad with Clarus trying three times to click the mouse button.
Fourth Place: Classic Edge -- Tony Francis and Matthew Morse took fourth place for Classic Edge, a hack that aimed to return some of the tension about applications crashing to Mac OS X. When activated, it picked a random program, and then asked a multiple choice question. If you answered wrong, it performed a force quit on that application. Ouch!
Third Place: Load Minimizer -- In third place was Load Minimizer, written by Mac Murrett and Philippe Hausler. Load Minimizer attempted to show the load on the system graphically by shrinking the screen as the load increased. To place a high load on the Mac (and to gain presentation points), Mac and Philippe played a movie of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in full rant - Load Minimizer promptly shrunk the display to a tiny window.
Second Place: NewsTracker -- In a tremendously unusual event, second place went to a yoot - 12-year-old Adam Atlas - for his program NewsTracker. Amid catcalls of "Useful!" and job offers from the audience, he showed a program that could visit a set of Web sites, collect headlines, and display them. When you double-clicked a headline, it loaded in your Web browser, or you could choose to load it in the mini-browser that Adam had built in. He even had an interface for configuring which sites to load and how to interpret the HTML to find headlines on each site. It was an impressive effort, good enough for the Best Yoot Hack award (and a coveted Victor A-Trap award), and I'll be curious to see what he does next year.
First Place: FireStarter -- First prize was, as always, the coveted Victor A-Trap award, a Victor Corporation rat trap whose name is slightly modified with an X-Acto knife (the R and T in RAT are excised) to match the name of the trap addresses used by programmers to patch the classic Mac OS. It went to Quinn "The Eskimo" for FireStarter, a program that draws a QuickTime burning flames effect and then propagates the effect to any Mac you plug in via FireWire, all without requiring any special software on the target Mac. That Mac can even be booted from an installation CD, or be waiting at the Login window. Basically, FireStarter is accessing the video RAM of the target Mac directly via FireWire's physical DMA (Direct Memory Access). For those who might be worried about it being a security problem, rest easy - it requires specific information about the target Mac, and of course, if someone can get close enough to your Mac to plug a FireWire cable in, they can do far more nefarious things much more easily. Congratulations to Quinn, who has distinguished himself with a long career of programming on the Mac (including work on Internet Config, with Peter Lewis) and helping Macintosh programmers everywhere through his job at Apple's Developer Technical Support. And yes, he just goes by "Quinn."
Getting the Hacks -- In past years, CDs containing all the hacks, along with other papers and presentations from MacHack, have been available for about $20, with profits going to support the next year's MacHack. The conference organizers haven't yet been able to set that up this year, but we'll mention it in TidBITS when it happens. Even if you're not a programmer, it can be fun to experience these hacks first hand, even if you have to imagine the occasional calls of "Useful!" from the audience.
Article 6 of 8 in series
The touchstone for the MacHack developers conference has long been the annual MacHax Group's Best Hack Contest, in which numerous Macintosh developers of all skill levels work alone or in small groups to show off their programming talents and learn new skills, all while having some fun and entertaining their friendsShow full article
The touchstone for the MacHack developers conference has long been the annual MacHax Group's Best Hack Contest, in which numerous Macintosh developers of all skill levels work alone or in small groups to show off their programming talents and learn new skills, all while having some fun and entertaining their friends. Despite the reduced number of attendees due to Apple's rescheduling of the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), the Hack Contest received more than 50 entries. Although the raw number of submissions was lower than in recent years, the overall quality and humor level was high.
Taking notes during the often raucous Hack Contest is tricky, since you're trying to pay attention to what's happening on screen, correctly transcribe the name of the presenter and the hack, and make comments to your neighbors, all while keeping an eye out for the various tchotchkes being thrown to the audience from the stage. So this year, after hearing about it from another attendee, I tried an experiment in collaborative note-taking. I took my notes in the Hydra collaborative editor, which enables multiple people on either the local network or the Internet to edit the same document simultaneously. It was simple for people to connect to my document via Rendezvous, and after we implicitly worked out some techniques for avoiding each other's lines, it went quite smoothly. You can see the raw transcript at the second link below, though we could find no way to preserve the colors and internal identification of who wrote what in the saved text file.
The theme of this year's MacHack was "Unstoppable", which was a tongue-in-cheek comment both on Mac OS X's reliability and on the damage done to the conference by Apple rescheduling WWDC. As such, many of the hacks used the theme as launching pad, with Mac OS X's busy cursor, the rainbow-colored Spinning Pizza of Death (affectionately known as "SPOD"), making frequent appearances. After all, the Spinning Pizza of Death is itself usually unstoppable as well. Anyway, on with the hacks!
The Best of the Rest -- As usual, many of the hacks that didn't place in the top five were still impressive or amusing.
John Vink's Stinkin' Badges hacked Mac OS X's screensaver to display Dock icons that have status badges in them, such as iChat, Mail, and Mailsmith.
Maurita Plouff and Chef Chris from the Holiday Inn collaborated on a pair of huge cookies decorated to look like the Spinning Pizza of Death (although I suppose this raises the question if it might in fact be a Spinning Cookie of Death). It wasn't clear who ended up eating them, or if they were at all tasty.
Mike Cohen wrote a Perl script that enabled remote control over iTunes via a Web browser, but members of the audience figured out it was readily accessible and started controlling it during his demo.
David Shayer used the Notes reader in the iPod 2.0 software to recreate the classic game Adventure. You can install this on your own iPod if you buy the CD; details at the end.
Darrin Cardani's GLCheat put any OpenGL application into wireframe mode, which meant that you could see through walls in games.
In an amusing twist of events, a doctor named Carl Williams accidentally wandered into the conference and ended up porting a medical information application he wrote for NeXTstep to Mac OS X for his hack.
Nicholas Riley and Avi Drissman showed EdgeWarp, which enabled drag & drop between computers.
Noah Spies and Andy Furnas did a clever hack that showed what was "under" the Desktop (a Terminal window, of course!).
Lastly, though not an official hack, I was pleased to discover that my running MacHack joke of storing a four-foot wooden stake in the hotel was able to continue (see "The MacHax Hack Contest 2001" in TidBITS-585 for how it started). Last year after the Hack Contest finished, I buried the stake in the flower beds that line the raised lobby of the hotel. I forgot to leave myself a note in my calendar to that effect, but when people started asking me about it I managed to dredge the location out of my memory. Presenting the dirt-encrusted stake during the Hack Contest as an example of an unstoppable hack got a good laugh, and I've increased the difficulty level for next year by leaving the stake in plain sight. No one seemed to notice it during the last day of the conference, but I won't know until the next conference if it will escape the attention of the hotel staff for an entire year. Given that the point of being awarded the stake several years ago was to see how I'd get it home, the contest organizers raised the stakes (sorry!) this year by awarding me an emergency flare, which I could neither bring on a plane nor mail home and which I wasn't comfortable stashing in the hotel somewhere. Luckily Dick and Andy Furnas offered to drive it home to Ithaca.
Enough of the also-rans, though - here are 2003's top five hacks.
Fifth Place: Size Doesn't Matter -- Nicholas Straker's hack was dizzying, and I'm not speaking at all figuratively. Playing off a movie that showed how the next version of Microsoft Windows would be able to rotate windows smoothly (presumably to demonstrate graphical processing power), Size Doesn't Matter brought a similar lack of utility to Mac OS X by spinning all sorts of windows around one of the corners. By the end, Nicholas had so many windows spinning, including the menu bar, that many in the audience felt distinctly queasy. But enough people had recovered by the next morning to vote it into fifth place.
Third Place (Tie): GUI Kablooie -- Andrew Pontious and Mac Murrett tied for third place with this extremely well-presented hack. Initially, they said they were trying to make a Breakout game using Finder windows, but after lowering everyone's expectations, their hack just kept getting better, until it became clear that they had in fact written an Asteroids-like game in which you fly around your screen, shooting SPODs to blow up windows and icons. This not only demos well, but it also turns out to be surprisingly fun, as I discovered when I tried running the hack myself. I may have to keep this one around for when I feel like letting off some steam. (Be warned that although GUI Kablooie doesn't delete files when you blow up icons, it does close windows, and you must restart when you're finished to see everything properly again.)
Third Place (Tie): Interface Unbuilder -- If GUI Kablooie will be useful for taking out generalized frustration on the visible items on your Mac, Gorman Christian's Interface Unbuilder hack is a tool for people who feel like being more methodically violent. Once Interface Unbuilder is installed, you can Option-drag any control in a running Cocoa application to a new location. Even more astonishing, you can also drag controls to other applications, and no matter where they've been moved, the controls continue to operate on their original application. Needless to say, there were no derisive cries of "Useful!" for Gorman's hack.
Second Place: AirPong -- Written by a pair of 18-year-olds, Paul Scandariato and Jon Johnson, AirPong takes a simple concept (the Pong game in which you use paddles on either side of the screen to keep a ball bouncing around) and extends it. In this case, they extended it over the network, so up to four Macs could be used to widen the AirPong playing field. The ball was of course a Spinning Pizza of Death, and it was both technically impressive and amusing to see the SPOD bouncing from screen to screen across the network while they were playing.
First Place: Unstoppable Progress -- Capturing first place in a runaway vote (more than double the number of votes than any other hack received) was Unstoppable Progress from the father and son team of Jon Gotow and his 15-year-old son Ben. Unstoppable Progress hacks progress bars such that after the bar fills up, "water" from the Aqua-themed bar starts spilling out the end. A few seconds after that, the dialog containing the progress bar starts to fill up with water, complete with waves sloshing back and forth. (And yes, it could have been called MacLeak, the nickname for the now-defunct MacWEEK magazine.) The ovation immediately following their presentation made it clear to me that Ben and Jon were in line for an award, since Unstoppable Progress epitomized the theme of the conference, was technically clever without providing any utility whatsoever, offered high graphical production values, and was extremely funny. First prize was, as always, the coveted Victor A-Trap award, a Victor Corporation rat trap whose name is slightly modified with an X-Acto knife (the R and T in RAT are excised) to match the name of the trap addresses used by programmers to patch the classic Mac OS. This year, however, Jon and Ben also won a FireWire drive kit and an Nvidia video card.
Jon Gotow is best known for Default Folder, a long-standing system utility for enhancing Open and Save dialog boxes, and the only such utility to have made the jump to Mac OS X. Most recently, Default Folder X won the 2002 Best System Enhancement Utility Editors Choice Award from Macworld. Ben has written a math quiz application called FlashMath that works for one or many students and intermittently interrupts whatever they're doing to ask questions. Congratulations to them both for a hack well done.
Acquiring the Hacks -- Despite the need for everyone to catch up on their sleep after MacHack (one night I made it to sleep by 2 AM; bedtime for all the other nights came after 4 AM), the MacHax Group has managed put together a CD containing all the hacks for those who want to check out the source code or try the hacks. Keep in mind that the hacks will almost certainly crash, and you very well may need to restart afterwards. The CD costs $20 plus $5 shipping within the U.S. and Canada, $15 shipping elsewhere in the world.
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Article 7 of 8 in series
It is tempting to see, when faced with a decline for the quantitative attendance numbers for a conference, some larger trend or lurking bogeyman. Such an explanation would be appropriate for the thinning of the herd at the just-passed Macworld Expo in Boston, nominally hampered by the refusal of Apple and other large companies to exhibitShow full article
It is tempting to see, when faced with a decline for the quantitative attendance numbers for a conference, some larger trend or lurking bogeyman. Such an explanation would be appropriate for the thinning of the herd at the just-passed Macworld Expo in Boston, nominally hampered by the refusal of Apple and other large companies to exhibit. In reality, it is not difficult to understand Apple's stance: this second of two major trade shows creates an artificial and potentially troubling product release deadline, forces the company to cede some level of control over any announcements, and does not particularly serve the goal of introducing the Macintosh and iPod to new customers. Ironically, with the recent releases of AirPort Express, the current crop of large monitors, and the Click Wheel iPod, Apple would have had plenty of announcement fodder for Macworld Expo, but at this point, Apple doesn't need the customer clumping of a trade show to gain media attention for such announcements. In addition, the Apple Stores meet the goal of introducing potential Macintosh and iPod users to their new digital buddies.
All that explains the drastic drop in attendance for Boston's Macworld Expo. But there are no such sweeping explanations for the small number of attendees at last week's ADHOC - the Advanced Developer Hands On Conference - previously known, of course, as MacHack. In the past, MacHack has never been a particularly large conference, maxing out under 500 attendees, but attendance this year was notably sparse, with roughly 100 developers present. It's not as though there are that many fewer developers out there, and although Apple had almost no presence at ADHOC, there hasn't been much of an official Apple contingent for some years.
No, the explanation is simply that ADHOC's committee of volunteers never managed to do much of the necessary marketing to introduce the conference to people who hadn't attended in the past. Also problematic was the name change and a new date that moved the conference a month later to escape the heavy tread of Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (for which attendance is nearly mandatory if you're a Macintosh developer). The new date fell right after Macworld Expo and at the same time as a Digital Design conference in Seattle that lured at least one long-time MacHack regular away (PDF expert Leonard Rosenthol couldn't turn down the offer of being paid to talk in Seattle - a financial and geographical win over paying to attend ADHOC in the charmless Dearborn, Michigan).
In essence, though, the problem lies with the fact that the people who market the conference - the volunteer committee of attendees - have no financial interest in the conference itself. That interest lies with Expotech, a small conference organizing company that has always handled all the logistics for MacHack (actually, given their lengthy relationship with the conference, everyone at MacHack thinks of Expotech as Carol Lynn and Maurita Plouff and their increasingly grown-up daughters,). And while the committee's attendance goal - attracting like-minded geeks to network with - is admirable, decoupling it from the goal of turning a profit results in a marketing approach that tends toward the haphazard.
Although this year's reduced attendance is undoubtedly troubling and will hopefully result in renewed efforts on the part of this year's committee, it didn't seem to make a qualitative difference. Yes, there were fewer people to talk with in the hotel lobby, and there were fewer sessions and papers, and we weren't able to take over an entire theater for the annual movie screening (thus eliminating the opportunity for group heckling of "I, Robot"), but the conference retained its full sense of utility and fun. The sessions I attended, such as James Goebbel's session on Extreme Project Management and the Hardware Technical Trends talk from Chad Magendanz, were extremely valuable. And I'm not even a developer! I hope in the future to see more business-oriented sessions (such as my Hacking the Press session, and one I wasn't able to attend on using eSellerate by Josh Ferguson). That would make the conference more attractive to other types of highly technical users and executives.
There was some concern that ADHOC wouldn't really be MacHack, particularly because the always notable MacHax Group's Best Hack Contest was replaced by the ADHOC Showcase, featuring "demos" that attendees later voted on with fake investment capital. However, the change in name wasn't accompanied by more sweeping changes, and as much as the new organizers of the ADHOC Showcase tried to set themselves apart from the 17 years of the Best Hack Contest, everyone found it difficult to break from the old terms and traditions. Nonetheless, despite some presentation mishaps, everyone had a good time and the lowered attendance meant that it was possible to get to bed by 2 AM instead of 5 AM.
In short then, whatever that elusive thing that set MacHack apart from every other conference was, ADHOC had it. The familiar faces were there, the sessions were good, the demos were amusing, and this year I managed to hook up with the group making the annual pilgrimage to Zingerman's, an absolutely stunning deli in Ann Arbor. Although ex-Mac OS 9 technical lead Keith Stattenfield wasn't able to attend, he and some other Apple programmers joined us via iChat AV (projected for the entire room) for a couple of hours of humorous dissection of the movie "I, Robot." Rather than attempt to describe an event for which you almost certainly had to be there, you can see some short movies I took with my Canon PowerShot S400 of the festivities. (Three warnings: the movies make the most sense if you have seen "I, Robot" already; you should watch them in order; and they're about 100 MB combined, so don't even try unless you have a high-speed Internet connection.)
ADHOC Showcase Top Demos -- Even if the ADHOC Showcase wasn't the full-metal straitjacket experience of the MacHax Best Hack Contest, a number of the demos were still highly amusing. I hosted a SubEthaEdit document for notes, and a number of people who couldn't be at the conference joined via the Internet as well. Here then are the top five demos, the first three of which actually tied for 3rd (or 5th, if you prefer).
Lisa Lippincott showed off Scroll Plate, which involved a program that used an iSight to do color recognition, scrolling the document up or down based on the color of an arrow (drawn on a plate) in the iSight's field of view. Some devices have scroll wheels; now we have a scroll plate!
Wolf Rentzsch developed EtherPEG Cocoa, which was a port of a previous year's hack, EtherPEG, to Cocoa. EtherPEG displays images being transferred across an unencrypted Wi-Fi network; Wolf enhanced it by making the images appear in order instead of randomly. He would have done more, but while testing, someone started using Google Image Search, and thus they developed a new game that took the rest of their time. One person would do a search and the other would watch the images and try to guess the search terms. Who knows, maybe it will become the next game craze to sweep the nation.
Adam Goldstein, a student, wrote ExposeHopper, a game in which you invoke Expose, then navigate your player from window to window in an attempt to collect the checkmarks in the corners. The trick is that moving between windows causes your player to disappear in a puff of Dock smoke.
In second place was Mike Zornek's demo, The MegaMan Effect, which replaced the standard icon bouncing animation of an application launching with a full screen animation of the icon zooming through a star field, taken from a cheesy video game from years ago.
Lastly, winning the first ADHOC Showcase was Jorg Brown's Unsummarize, a clever bit of code that takes a short sentence or phrase and "expands" it in the reverse of the way Apple's Summarize service works (select text in a Services-aware application then choose Services > Summarize from the application menu). Unsummarize works (perhaps with some smoke and mirrors for the demo) by performing a Web search using the selected text and using the search results as the expansion. Jorg got the idea for Unsummarize from a joke David Pogue made during the ADHOC keynote about how Summarize was cool, but he'd really like something that went the other direction so the Mac could write his articles for him.
I hope the ADHOC committee will figure out a way to make these and other demos available to the public, as has been done in the past by the MacHax Group.
Conference Rating -- ADHOC is, as you've gathered, an extremely unusual conference whose 18 years as MacHack colors every aspect of the experience. That undoubtedly skews my conference rating system somewhat. I won't attempt to rate ADHOC as an exhibitor (since there aren't any). In terms of speaker ratings, I'll note merely that there's no payment, no moderators, and fairly confused logistics, but all that is sort of beside the point, since speaking at ADHOC is something one does to contribute to the community - it's a peer-to-peer event. And from the press perspective, it makes no sense to have a press room, nor is there ever much in the way of a news event (short of the results of the Hack Contest/ADHOC Showcase), but neither is important in the context of the conference (and the logistics are really easy). As for my rating of the conference as an attendee, here goes:
Cost/value. ADHOC is about as cheap a conference as you'll find, with prices ranging from $325 for a speaker who registers early to $550 for a normal attendee who registers at the last minute. High school and college students pay only $50, and anyone who has a paper accepted by the paper committee gets free admission. The hotel costs about $120 per night, but many people share rooms and split the cost. Flying to Detroit is relatively easy and can be cheap, since it's a Northwest Airlines hub. +1 point.
Time/place. ADHOC is intentionally in a somewhat odd place in part to avoid attendees wanting to leave the hotel, and the hotel itself is part of the tradition of the conference at this point. (The big question is, in my running joke of hacking the hotel, will my four-foot wooden stake be found this year, after it survived all of last year in the lobby in plain sight, staking up one of the plants? See the links below for the entire story of the stake.) The timing for the conference was mediocre this year, coming as it did in such close proximity to so many other conferences. 0 points.
Logistics. Expotech makes the logistics surrounding ADHOC simple, and the fact that they've been exactly the same for years helps. The main oddity for newcomers is remembering that when booking tickets, even though the conference nominally runs from a Thursday through Saturday, the keynote is really Wednesday night and things don't end until early in the morning on Sunday. +1 point.
Breadth and depth of exhibitors. There are no exhibitors, though a few companies sponsor different aspects of the conference, including Bare Bones, Nvidia, O'Reilly, QuickSilver, Speakeasy, and well, us (to help promote our Take Control ebooks we donated some money to buy fruit for the snack room). 0 points.
Product support. If someone with a company you need help from is in attendance, it's easy to find some time to get one-on-one support. I had an extremely helpful talk with eSellerate's Josh Ferguson, for instance, that helped make the conference even more worthwhile. +1 point.
Session Quality. Although I can't rate the quality of the developer-specific sessions, all the others I attended were top-notch. +1 point.
Keynote. MacHack keynotes are legendary events that start at midnight and continue for hours, with well known speakers such as Ted Nelson, John Warnock, Steve Wozniak, Andy Ihnatko, and numerous others. This year's lead-off keynote at ADHOC was ably given by David Pogue, who initially seemed a little shocked by the extreme level of interactivity traditionally shown by the audience. But David rolled with it, and quickly drew everyone in with his witty song parodies and jokes. His Panther tips were a challenge to members of the audience, which tried (successfully on a number of occasions) to tell David things he didn't know. The second night's keynote (also at midnight) was delivered by Apple's Steve Hayman, substituting for an ill Jordan Hubbard. Steve drew on his experience with Apple's large education installations (the places that have thousands of iBooks in school systems) and years of working with Unix to give a talk that was both hilarious and useful, in that he showed how simple it was to use development tools like AppleScript Studio to marry a graphical interface and a command line utility. +2 points.
Free wireless Internet access. Although it has long been commonplace for MacHack to offer free wireless Internet access, this year was notable for its lack of networking problems. Steve Yuhasz, who always runs the network, may have dodged some of them by requiring that everyone sign up for a static IP number, thus eliminating any confusion about who would be responsible for network problems. So the network access was flawless this year, and the T-1 donated by Speakeasy worked well other than a few hours of emergency maintenance time. And although the conference didn't specifically coordinate SubEthaEdit notetaking, I ran it during the ADHOC Showcase, and a number of people asked for my notes afterwards. +1 point.
Great deals. Short of the 50 percent off any Take Control order we gave attendees, there weren't any other deals I was aware of this year. 0 points.
Freebies. There were tons, and it seemed that everyone went home with books from O'Reilly, a wide variety of t-shirts, mugs, and stickers. The big prizes came from Nvidia, which raffled off a number of high-end video cards. +1 point.
Snacks. ADHOC provides not only snacks and a constant supply of drinks but two lunches, a brunch, several pizza dinners, a banquet dinner, and an ice cream social. The snacks and drinks have tended toward serious junk food, which was why we donated money for fruit, but there was no reason to go hungry. My only complaint was that hotel food this year was below the standard of last year, and decidedly sub-par. +1 point.
Fun. It's almost impossible to convey how much fun people have at ADHOC, but suffice to say that there are people who use vacation time to come each year. To be fair, the conference might be less fun for people who have trouble interacting socially with geeks, but my experience as a non-programmer was still stellar. +2 points.
Community. The entire point of ADHOC is community, and the hotel lobby is always occupied by attendees working on their hacks or just hanging out and talking. Deals are made, relationships are cemented, and the standard farewell is, "See you next year, if not before." Younger attendees aren't just tolerated, they're welcomed and encouraged, and perhaps the only negative I could think of in this category is that it would be nice if more women attended. This year was no different. +2 points.
I'd like to reiterate that these ratings should not be compared to those I gave Macworld Expo recently; to do so would be to compare apples and oranges. I hope the ratings give you a sense of whether you'd like to attend next year; I'll certainly be there. And for those regular attendees who skipped this year, we missed you, but it was definitely your loss. See you all next year, if not before!
Article 8 of 8 in series
After 20 years, ADHOC, the conference formerly known as MacHack, is shutting down. Attendance, which was similar to the level of last year at about 100, was simply too low to be sustainable; conference organizer Expotech essentially broke even on the show for the second straight yearShow full article
After 20 years, ADHOC, the conference formerly known as MacHack, is shutting down. Attendance, which was similar to the level of last year at about 100, was simply too low to be sustainable; conference organizer Expotech essentially broke even on the show for the second straight year. With increased competition from companies handling their own logistics for small conferences and from large exhibition organizers now handling smaller conferences than they would previously have considered, Expotech's Carol Lynn decided to close down her company and move on.
Honestly, it's a blow. ADHOC/MacHack was a fixture in the lives of many of us, and numerous top Macintosh programmers honed their skills and made key contacts at MacHacks of the past. Winning the MacHax Group's Best Hack Contest was a mark of honor for years, and the contest generated both early takes on software that would later become available commercially and proofs-of-concept that would find their way into the Mac OS itself (I still remember the standing ovation, coupled with happy catcalls of "Useful!", that greeted Lisa Lippincott's UnFinder, a hack that finally added Undo to the Finder many years after the debut of the Macintosh). ADHOC/MacHack was unique, and everyone who attended a show will mourn the passing of its unique aspects, the hacks, the midnight keynotes, the sleep deprivation, the convivial atmosphere of Mac geeks at all hours of the hotel lobby, the always-available snacks, the nightly pizza or ice cream parties, the last-day movie, and more. Other conferences could mimic some of these ideas, but I've yet to experience one that did.
Alas, there's no sense crying over spilt milk, and so let's celebrate the passing of ADHOC with a look at what made this year's event as unique and enjoyable as ever.
Tour of Dearborn -- When I wrote about ADHOC last year, I made an offhand comment about how one frequent attendee had gone to another conference in Seattle rather than attend ADHOC in "charmless Dearborn." Two TidBITS readers independently forwarded that minor slam to Sharlan Douglas, head of the Dearborn Chamber of Commerce, who volunteered to give me a personal tour of Dearborn in the hopes of changing my opinion of the city. So on Friday after lunch, I met Sharlan, a slight, energetic woman, for a drive around some of the more interesting parts of Dearborn. To share the amusement, I invited Scott Knaster and Lisa Lippincott along for the ride; when we met Sharlan in the hotel lobby, she said that her boss couldn't believe she was going to give some random people she'd met on the Internet a tour. Of course, everyone we had told about the tour was equally incredulous that there was anything interesting to see in Dearborn.
Happily, the drive proved to be highly enjoyable, as Sharlan ferried us around and filled us in on the history of the area. It's all about Henry Ford, whose heavily wooded Fair Lane estate is located in Dearborn and whose family farm now houses a Ford-designed development across the street from our hotel. Henry Ford built large chunks of Dearborn, including a now-historic district of cute brick homes designed for Ford workers; the summary seems to be, "It's good to be king." Sharlan also showed us the two downtown areas of Dearborn, one of which is a vibrant Arab community, and treated us to ice cream at Shatila, a bakery considered one of the top ice cream stores in the country. The most notable problem is that, with the exception of the small downtown areas, Dearborn is almost entirely impassable for pedestrians, an unsurprising fact given the supremacy of the automobile in the area. We didn't have time to visit the highly recommended Henry Ford Museum and associated Greenfield Village, or the Arab American National Museum, and although I still can't rank Dearborn among the country's top tourist destinations, Sharlan's tour easily convinced me to retract my "charmless" categorization.
Hmm, if a mild insult about Dearborn, Michigan garnered a personal tour, perhaps I need to think more carefully about what I write. After all, I've always thought of Dearborn in the same category as perennial conference towns like hum-drum Austin and bland New Orleans. Just kidding!
Google! Although the first night's speaker was Jordan Hubbard, co-founder of the FreeBSD project and Apple's manager of the Darwin core of Macintosh OS X, he was joined by only one other Apple employee - ex-Mac OS 9 technical lead Keith Stattenfield. Despite the conference's start in the Macintosh world, it was telling that there were more attendees from Google: Scott Knaster, Jorg Brown, and Maf Vosburgh (along with a recruiter who flew in for the last day). All three go back a long way with the Mac, but like so many other engineers in Silicon Valley, they've moved from more traditional software companies to the high-flying Google, with its geek-friendly culture, policy of giving engineers freedom to work on whatever they want for 20 percent of their time, and informal motto, "Don't be evil."
Google was one of the main sponsors of ADHOC, and the company's name was on everyone's lips. There were jokes about Google needing to buy a satellite to improve the image resolution in Google Maps, not one but two sessions about what it's like to work at Google, and rumors of Google opening an office in nearby Ann Arbor, Michigan. Several of the hacks in the ADHOC Showcase revolved around Google, including the winning entry.
In short, Google is hot right now, and it seems the company can do no wrong. I'm sure there's more to Google than meets the eye, but the fact that they've managed to maintain a strong sense of humor and desire to do things differently helps convey the feeling that there are individuals behind the corporate facade
[Brief aside: While writing this in the Detroit airport, I saw a middle-aged woman roll by on a Segway; perhaps I'm out of the loop, but I've never seen a Segway in the wild before. Cool, but when I was later telling Tonya about this at the Ithaca Farmer's Market, we were overheard and then harangued by a woman on an electric scooter about how Segways were overly expensive and hard to live with in comparison to electric scooters.]
ADHOC Showcase Hacks -- Though the number of entries has fallen precipitously over the years (I remember one MacHax Best Hack Contest that ran from midnight to daylight), this year's ADHOC Showcase saw plenty of inventive hacks, including Andrew Turner's DashSaver, a screensaver module that displays Dashboard; Shawn Platkus's HoverDash, which lets you "extract" Dashboard widgets and display them as normal windows; and David Steinbrunner's Jobs for Everyone, a command line tool that, as a joke, automated the task of applying for jobs at Apple via Apple's Jobs Web page.
The top five vote-getters this year were:
#5: Improbability 101 from Avi Drissman, which was a humorously presented hack that modified the Finder's sorting algorithm from Mac OS 9 style (where 10 came before 2 because of the leading 1) to the more-correct approach in Mac OS X to a version that also properly sorts files named with spelled-out numbers (as in 1, two, three, 4, 17, two-hundred thirty-seven, and so on).
#4: Don't Panic from Keith Stattenfield replaced the kernel panic screen with an alternate picture. Keith showed several possibilities, including one with icons of a person and a screw, separated by the letter R (work it out yourself), but settled on a logo from Douglas Adams's book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, complete with the words "Don't Panic" in large, friendly letters.
#3: bTop was a Mac mini-based, wheeled robot built before the show by Perfectly Scientific's George Storm, but the hack part of the project coupled an iSight camera with the bTop digital acquisition board to perform rudimentary visual processing for robotic navigation. That's a fancy way of saying that the robot relied on code from Lisa Lippincott and Andrew Turner to activate its wheels when it saw the color green. George Storm demoed the hack by walking in with the robot hesitantly following him, lured by several strips of green gaffer's tape around George's leg.
#2: CubeDetach from Adam Goldstein modified Fast User Switching to go beyond the current cube-rotation transition between active users. With CubeDetach loaded, you could rotate a cube whose faces showed the Desktops of each active user, either by pressing a number key associated with each user or by using the mouse to rotate the cube freely; once you'd settled on a user, you could press a key to display the login screen and enter that user's password.
#1: GoogleFlash by Geoff Adams and Allon Stern took home the top honors, coupling a Google pin with flashing multi-colored LEDs with a clever presentation and some custom software. Geoff and Allon claimed to have created a Bluetooth interface to the Google pin and pretended to pair with the pin at the start of their presentation. In fact, the whole Bluetooth thing was a red herring; they'd renamed a phone "Google Pin" and were actually interfacing with the pin via one of the bTop digital acquisition boards over USB. Then they performed some Google searches in what looked like Safari (in reality it was a custom browser, and with each search, the Google logo on the Web page flashed colored outlines around particular letters as the Google pin that Geoff was wearing flashed in exactly the same pattern. For their prize, Geoff and Allon received an engraved "code injector" - a large basting syringe filled with the green glowing liquid from a light stick.
Final Memories -- ADHOC/MacHack is the sort of event that lays down indelible memories for the attendees, and a few from this show will stay with me.
On the positive side, Scott Knaster and Andy Ihnatko ran the Showcase and presented the awards in a style to which I'd like to become accustomed. Their humor, good will, and massive collection of pop culture fan films kept us all entertained into the wee hours. Andy also filled in at the last minute with the second night's keynote, delivering a multi-hour extravaganza despite having hard disk corruption problems just hours before he was slated to begin.
On the other hand, the group movie this year, Stealth, was the worst movie I've seen at one of these conferences, and, although I don't see many movies, is very possibly the worst movie I've ever watched. It's bone-crushingly, mind-numbingly, soul-suckingly bad. It was so bad that in the immediate aftermath, the main positive thing we could think of to say revolved around the font face used for the credits. Only the audience heckling made this 121 minutes of our lives worthwhile; the highlight was a balsa glider that someone threw into the projector beam just as one of the movie's airplanes (OK, they were cool looking) zoomed across the screen during one of the near-instantaneous and disbelief-defying flights between Tajikistan, North Korea, Siberia, and Alaska.
My five-year-old running joke of hiding a 4-foot wooden stake in the hotel ended this year, as the hiding place at the base of one of the fake trees in the hotel lobby was apparently discovered at some point during the year. The hotel staff must not have realized they'd found it, since the ADHOC organizers told them about it in the pre-conference setup meeting, and they were apparently extremely excited to see if they could figure out my hiding place. Even though I wasn't able to pull the stake from a hiding place one more time, the joke lived on. Andy and Scott, knowing in advance that it had been lost, told the entire story during the awards banquet and gave me a special prize of a new stake... actually, a leftover steak from the Chili's restaurant across the street. The stunt garnered much laughter and I certainly hope the steak doesn't stay hidden in the hotel as long as the stake did.
And lastly, I'll remember the end of the awards banquet, where nearly everyone said the most incredibly nice things about everyone else, an act notable not just for its generosity, but because I dare say that more than one person in the audience felt moved nearly to tears at the thought of losing the opportunity to connect personally and professionally with so many intelligent, interesting Macintosh users and developers. Other trade shows may have their pros and cons, but to those who have attended it, ADHOC/MacHack had real meaning. It, and all who made it what it was, will be missed.