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Series: The Story of the Stake
For five years at the MacHack conference, Adam wrestled with a four-foot wooden stake. Why? It's hard to say, but follow along for the whole amusing story.
Article 1 of 5 in series
As most of you know, I'm not a programmer - I can handle macros and was moderately accomplished with HyperCard scripts back in the early 1990s. But I still wanted to present a hack at the MacHack developers conference back in June, so I decided to do what I do best - gather information from a variety of sources and put it together in a useful form. Another Secret in Eudora -- A while back, I learned from Steve Dorner that the internal spell checker in Eudora 4.2 and later included a feature that he hadn't exposedShow full article
As most of you know, I'm not a programmer - I can handle macros and was moderately accomplished with HyperCard scripts back in the early 1990s. But I still wanted to present a hack at the MacHack developers conference back in June, so I decided to do what I do best - gather information from a variety of sources and put it together in a useful form.
Another Secret in Eudora -- A while back, I learned from Steve Dorner that the internal spell checker in Eudora 4.2 and later included a feature that he hadn't exposed. It's essentially an auto-correct function, much like the one in Microsoft Word that automatically fixes common misspellings and typographical errors as you type. Why force the user to fix such mistakes manually later on, when you can do it automatically as text is entered?
Steve chose not to expose this feature in Eudora since creating an interface to it would have been ugly, so Eudora doesn't offer a dictionary containing misspelled words and their replacements. When I learned of this feature, I immediately searched the Internet to see if I could find such a dictionary that could distribute, much as I did with my personal user dictionary of technical terms and names. No luck - I found many dictionaries and even some research into typing mistakes people tend to make, but nothing quite right. Of course, I knew precisely where such a dictionary lived - in Microsoft Word - but it wasn't a text file.
The next step was to complain about this to TidBITS's Technical Editor Geoff Duncan, who promptly extracted the word pairs out of Word's auto-correct dictionary. So now he and I had an auto-correct function in Eudora, and Steve had given me permission to tell the world about this feature (as long I tell you it isn't a supported feature, so don't complain to Qualcomm if it doesn't work right). However, I couldn't distribute Microsoft's dictionary. Theoretically we could have written a script to extract the words and create a dictionary, and although that might have been technically legal, it wouldn't have been gentlemanly. I was stymied.
AutoCorrect at MacHack -- Nonetheless, I showed this feature off at MacHack, hoping someone could help me find or create an auto-correct dictionary that could be freely distributed. While working on my demo - which mostly involved thinking of the pun in the title, writing an email message with numerous typos, and making sure my sample replacement dictionary had the appropriate replacements - a solution presented itself. Micah Alpern, a Princeton student who was inspired to attend MacHack after reading our articles about the 1999 conference, said that he was a lousy speller, and as a result had created a several thousand word dictionary of exactly this type for use with WordPerfect, which also had an auto-correct feature.
My demo was pretty bad. It happened somewhere around 4 AM as I was rapidly losing coherence. But I survived, and was even awarded a truly annoying prize - a four-foot long wooden stake. (The Hack Contest organizers, who get even less sleep than everyone else, buy all the prizes at Duke's Hardware, and somehow made a connection with my hack's title and stakes being used to kill vampires). Needless to say, flying home with large splinter-producing stake presented a challenge, but if everything goes as planned, the stake will rise from the undead next year.
Share & Enjoy -- After MacHack, Micah sent me his word list, to which I promptly added other correction pairs I've accumulated based on editing TidBITS Talk. Now everyone who uses Eudora on the Mac can take advantage of this auto-correct feature. Simply download and expand the TidBITS AutoCorrect Dictionary text file, drop it in your Eudora Spelling Dictionaries folder, and launch Eudora. From then on, Eudora will automatically fix mistakes contained in the TidBITS AutoCorrect Dictionary as you type. (And yes, it will make sure that everyone capitalizes TidBITS correctly from now on!)
The text file itself is easily created, if you want to make your own. It must start with a line containing only "#LID 1033 0 3" and go on to list replacement pairs (the misspelled word, a colon, and then the correction), one set per line. The misspelling must be a single word, but the correction can contain multiple words, up to a maximum of about 64 characters. You can't put a return in the correction text (since that starts a new line) and there may be other non-kosher characters. Feel free to add or delete words from your copy of this dictionary - just make sure to save as a text file when you're done.
The main annoyance I have with Eudora's auto-correct feature is that it takes hints about case from the misspelled word. So, if you write PB, Eudora's auto-correct feature would try to replace it with "POWERBOOK" rather than "PowerBook".
In the spirit of MacHack and of the open source theme that permeated the conference, Micah and I decided to place this auto-correct dictionary in the public domain for use with any program that can take advantage of it. Share and enjoy!
Article 2 of 5 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 3 of 5 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 4 of 5 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 5 of 5 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.