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An era comes to an end, as Adam reports on the proceedings of the final ADHOC/MacHack conference. Jeff Carlson takes a break from reality, for a good cause: reviewing Star Wars Battlefront. Also this week, Geoff Duncan looks at the revised iBook and Mac mini lines, and in the news, we cover HP dropping the iPod, iPhoto 5.0.4, and Dejal Software's Simon 2.0.
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HP Dropping the iPod -- Only one month after adding the iPod shuffle to its product lineup, Hewlett-Packard reportedly plans to stop reselling Apple's iPod digital music players by the end of September 2005. The reselling arrangement between Apple and HP was launched in January 2004 to much fanfare and, at the time, seemed like a good way for Apple to get the not-yet utterly iconic digital music player into new retail and marketing channels. But that's not quite how things worked out: HP apparently never made much money selling iPods, and its versions often fell behind Apple's product offerings and were sold as discounted also-rans. HP's portion of the iPod phenomenon reportedly amounted to less than 5 percent of iPod units sold. And HP has bigger problems to solve: it's currently in the process of jettisoning about 10 percent of its workforce in order to make its bottom line roughly $2 billion fatter. [GD]
iPhoto 5.0.4 Flips Photos Properly -- Apple has released iPhoto 5.0.4, a minor update that "addresses an issue with browsing photos that have been auto-rotated by a camera." Honestly, I've not seen the problem (it seems to relate to editing photos that were auto-rotated by your camera and that appear in the wrong orientation), but the speed with which 5.0.4 followed 5.0.3 means that it's probably bugging a bunch of people. The update is roughly 40 MB via Software Update or as a standalone download. [ACE]
Simon 2 Says: Monitor Your Server -- Dejal Software has released Simon 2, a major update to their server monitoring utility. Simon performs repetitive checks on a remote Internet service and reports back if the test fails and, if so, when the service comes back online. Simon can also watch Web pages for changes. The most important new feature is a Port service that provides the capability to check virtually any server type; that's key for keeping tabs on POP, IMAP, SMTP, AFP, DHCP, and other servers that weren't previous supported. Simon can notify you of problems with a variety of local actions, via email (which can enable text messages to cell phones), by launching an application (which extends Simon's reach even further), by playing a sound, or by speaking pre-defined text. Simon 2 also features a more flexible interface that better lends itself to the creation and maintenance of many tests and multiple notifiers. Simon 2 costs $30 (Basic License: 7 tests), $60 (Standard License: 20 tests), or $200 (Enterprise: unlimited number of tests). It's a 3.4 MB download. [ACE]
by Geoff Duncan <email@example.com>
Apple Computer last week took the wraps off minor updates to two affordable segments of its Macintosh product lines, speeding up and improving the iBook portable line while (finally!) doubling the default RAM installed in Mac minis.
Improvements to the iBooks aren't just limited to processor speeds - which have been boosted to PowerPC G4s running at 1.33 GHz in the 12-inch model and 1.42 GHz in the 14-inch model - but extend to a higher-performance ATI Mobility Radeon graphics controller, built-in AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth wireless technology, and the scrolling trackpad and Sudden Motion Sensor technologies which originally appeared in the PowerBook G4 line. Prices start at $1,000 for a 12-inch iBook with 512 MB RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, and 512 MB of RAM; prices for the 14-inch model start at $1,300. A variety of build-to-order options are available for iBooks, including larger hard drives, more pre-installed RAM (although we usually recommend purchasing RAM through less-costly sources than Apple), and, for the 14-inch model, slot-loading SuperDrives. iBooks still sport two USB 2.0 ports and a single FireWire 400 port, along with 10/100Base-T Ethernet; iBooks ship with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and Apple's iLife '05 application suite pre-installed.
Apple's also cranked up the default RAM installation across its Mac mini product line, with 512 MB of RAM now being the new standard with no change in Mac mini pricing, which still starts at $500. The top two Mac mini models - at $600 and $700 - now include AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth wireless connectivity by default, and the most-tricked-out Mac mini offers a slot-loading SuperDrive. Mac minis also ship with Tiger and iLife '05 pre-installed.
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.
by Jeff Carlson <email@example.com>
When I was 7 years old, I sat in the back seat of my family's car and imagined the Millennium Falcon flying through the stars in the cloudless night. We had just seen the original Star Wars movie, and it lit up my imagination like nothing before.
Although the films have been disappointments since 1983's Return of the Jedi, the universe George Lucas created has thrived. I collected and played with Star Wars action figures for years as a kid, acting out my own adventures in the Death Star (the living room coffee table with the glass top) and on the ice planet Hoth (my parents' white faux animal fur floor rug that I'm sure was cool at the time). However, I distinctly remember the day when, in the midst of playing, I realized that action figures weren't as much fun anymore. Not long after, the figures and plastic starships ended up in storage.
Now it's the twenty-first century, and computer games make it possible for me not only to fire up my imagination, but also to play an actual role in the Star Wars universe. Star Wars Battlefront, a LucasArts game ported to the Mac by Aspyr, puts me in the boots of several types of Star Wars characters, fighting battles in locations from the movies from a first-person viewpoint.
Star Wars Battlefront spans all of the Star Wars movies, enabling you to inhabit four different character classes: the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire from Episodes 4 through 6 (the first three movies to be released), as well as the Republic Clone Army and the Separatist Battle Droids from the most recent prequels, Episodes 1 through 3. Within each class, you choose a soldier type, such as infantry, scouts/snipers, heavy weapons soldiers carrying rockets, and pilots. Each class also has its own special type: flying troopers for the Empire and Clone Army, wookies for the Rebels, and the rolling, lethal droidekas for the battle droids.
These characters inhabit 12 environments located on 10 planets, many of which are the sites of battles from the movies, such as Hoth, Endor, and Geonosis. And of these, many also include vehicles such as AT-ATs (the giant walking dinosaur-like ships from The Empire Strikes Back), X-Wings (the Rebellion's ship of choice for attacking the Death Star in Star Wars), and Jedi starfighters. If you've ever wanted to sit in the cockpit of a TIE fighter, now's your chance.
Like other "battlefield" type games such as Battlefield 1942 and Call of Duty, you're not a lone superhuman soldier blasting away at everything in sight. Instead, you're part of an army, one of a large group of soldiers working toward specific goals. The primary goal is to eliminate the other team. But to do so, you need to capture command posts to gain tactical advantage over the enemy. Some maps have additional goals, such as destroying shield generators.
Stay on Target -- Star Wars Battlefront offers two campaigns in the single-player mode, taking you chronologically through the two movie trilogies. However, you don't get to choose which side of each conflict you're on. I'm sure this behavior is meant to give you a taste of each character class, but it's a bit confusing to be fighting for the droid army on one map and then blowing them away on the next.
If you want to choose your class and play single maps, the Instant Action option is the route to take. You can choose the battlefield and the character class, and switch sides in the middle if you're not happy with how well your fellow soldiers are doing their jobs.
The last gameplay option is Galactic Conquest, where you choose a scenario (such as Dark Side Rising, representing the birth of the Empire) and must attack and take control of every planet in the galaxy. If you win a battle, you get to choose the next engagement and hopefully conquer the planet. As you add more planets to your winnings, you take advantage of planetary bonuses, which range from having reinforcement troops at the ready to being assisted by a "Jedi hero," such as Luke Skywalker or Mace Windu, who run around slashing foes with their lightsabers.
In terms of visuals, Star Wars Battlefront doesn't disappoint. It ran perfectly fine on my 1.25 GHz PowerBook G4, and superbly on a fast dual 2.3 GHz Power Mac G5. The G5 took advantage of a higher setting for drawing shadows, which was often helpful when trying to sneak up on stormtroopers behind a corner or spotting a snowspeeder's location from inside an AT-AT.
But to me, the game's audio is its signature element. The sound design of the Star Wars universe (accomplished by the talented Ben Burtt) has been consistently unique from other movies, and it's all here in the game: laser blasts, which vary depending on the gun and the character class; the specific engine whines of each ship; the powerful crunch of AT-AT legs in the snow. Rounding out the auditory experience is John Williams's score. These aspects do more to put you into the game than the graphics or playability, in my opinion.
Star Wars Battlefront also sports multiplayer action, either on a local LAN or over the Internet using the GameRanger service. However, since the game has only recently begun shipping, there were only a couple of multiplayer games available to test, so I can't offer much more commentary other than it seems to work fine. You can play only single maps, not Galactic Conquest or campaigns.
Apology Accepted, Captain Needa -- Star Wars Battlefront isn't without its shortcomings, which are more annoyances than fatal flaws. For example, when you finish a battle in Instant Action mode, you must wait for the next battle to load and start before you can exit to the main menu. If you've loaded only one map, it must load again before you can return, which is pointless and frustrating. The addition of a simple button at the end of a battle that let you return to the main menu would easily fix this.
Flying can be a problem, because often you're piloting a supersonic spacecraft within a small area of battle, so you end up turning and turning often to avoid leaving the battlefield. The exception is Hoth, which is large enough that the Rebellion's snowspeeders, which play an integral role in the battle to bring down AT-ATs, have plenty of maneuvering room.
Unfortunately, sometimes your fellow soldiers simply act dumb. Several times I've been the rear gunner in a snowspeeder and watched with dismay as the computer-driven pilot flew around in circles or smashed us into a cliff. When fighting in groups, other soldiers sometimes push you around as they move into position, making it difficult to aim at the opposition.
Oh, and the ewoks. As in the movie Return of the Jedi, the chirping and squealing of the little teddy bear creatures is annoying, but in the game it's worse because you spend more time on the Endor maps trying to accomplish the mission. Some people may take some small pleasure in the fact that you can blast the little fuzzy obstructions without diminishing your troop reinforcement numbers.
Now, I Am the Master -- However, these irritations haven't kept me away from the game. As someone who grew up with the original trilogy, it's exciting to jump into the Star Wars world and fight the battles depicted on the big screen. And in at least one way, this option is better than the movies: one of the great pleasures of playing Star Wars Battlefront is that it offers the best parts of the most recent trilogy without the inane dialog. At no point did a clone trooper stop and say, "Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo."
Star Wars Battlefront costs $50 and is available now. It requires a 1 GHz PowerPC G4- or G5-based Mac running Mac OS X 10.3.6 or later, and at least 256 MB of RAM (512 MB is recommended). Video requirements include ATI Radeon 8500 or later, or Nvidia GeForce4 MX or later, with at least 64 MB of video memory. Lastly, the program comes on a DVD, so your Mac needs a drive that will read DVDs.
by TidBITS Staff <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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