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MacHack News

Despite several kind invitations, I could not attend MacHack this year, where I would have kibitzed for 96 hours straight as the programmers created their wonderful hacks. These hacks are still being cleaned up and released, so I can’t point you to a site that has everything, but we have heard that you will be able to buy an inexpensive CD-ROM disk with all the hacks and source code. Expect to see more of the hacks released to the nets at that point too.

In any event, Leonard Rosenthol was kind enough to pass on some notes about the more interesting hacks.

Winning Hacks — The five winning hacks ranged from the terribly useful to the thoroughly trivial. Mike Neil and David Falkenberg came up with IR-Man, a combined hardware and software hack for controlling various Macintosh actions with a stereo or VCR infrared remote controller. The VCR remote, quite reasonably, controls QuickTime movies and can also eject disks. The stereo remote controls the volume, window movements, and window and process ordering, although I’m curious how they manage some of those functions. With a few extra features and a universal remote, you could probably control a Mac remotely during a presentation quite easily. However, you will probably have to build some of the hardware yourself.

NetMouse, an even more useful utility, came from Jorg Brown and Eric Hayes, allows you to control another Mac on a network with the mouse and keyboard on your Mac. NetMouse would be wonderful for working with a PowerBook and main Mac, or for something like testing a multi-user database.

The next three winning entries move away from the realm of the useful, with Dean Yu and Fred Monroe’s DylanTalk, a "semi-fake text-to-speech system with a really cool interface and multiple voices," Bell Choir, which simulates a bell choir using a series of network Macs, and MovieFinder, from Leonard Rosenthol and Alex Rosenberg, which will play QuickTime movies in the place of boring static icons in the Finder. Bell Choir, written by Kathy Brade, stands out among the winners for two reasons. It is the first winning hack written by a female (yay!), and it is also the only winning hack this year written by a single individual.

Hacks of Merit — Leonard mentioned several other hacks of merit, including Strobe from Barry Semo and Flashback from Barry Semo and David Shayer. Strobe turns a PowerBook into an expensive strobe light by flashing the backlight (good for parties, I suppose :-)) and Flashback works similarly, except it works over a network of PowerBooks (useful for runway landing lights?). Tom Lippincott won the dubious honor of writing the first hack ever to be booed, something called "Run & Stumpy," which the hackers considered rather sick apart from the terrible pun on the popular "Ren & Stimpy" cartoon. Eric Slosser’s elaborate joke control panel, "ADB Coffee Warmer," simulated control of a fake hardware device – if only he’d come up with the device too! Finally, Steve Falkenberg presented SloppyCopy, which runs all Finder copies in a separate memory partition so you can continue working while copying, a perhaps dangerous but useful utility.

I’ve run across a couple of the hacks on ZiffNet/Mac as well, two of which I found and used briefly before my hard drive’s untimely (and unrelated) death. StickyClick makes the Mac pretend that every click on a menu was the equivalent of a trackball’s click-lock, but it was well-implemented enough that if you clicked quickly and then moved on, StickyClick would realize that it shouldn’t keep the menu down. I didn’t think I’d like it, but ended up becoming rather fond of it, especially with long hierarchical menus. TrashSelector, which I only used for a day or so, also looks useful. When you select Empty Trash, TrashSelector pops up a scrolling hierarchical list of files available for erasure. You can then pick the ones you want to erase rather than erasing everything wholesale.

Conference Highlights — Leonard also passed on some of the highlights (or lowlights) of the conference, which are best in a more-original form.

  • Keynote from Steve Weyl, Manager of Apple Developer Tools. His talk came very close to being as boring as last year’s keynote, except that he demoed some cool games, including Prince of Persia, and told us how important game development was to Apple. Fortunately, most of the attendees had their PowerBooks with them, and were able to be productive!
  • Friday night movie – Batman Returns. 200 hackers take over most of a theatre.
  • Tornado, or "The Weather Hack." Touched down two miles from hotel. Determined hackers kept right on with their hacks – thank G-d for the PowerBook!
  • Lighting struck tree outside hotel, tree exploded, big bang (System 7 lives!).
  • Much sleep lost this year, probably more than any other year. Lots of late night discussions in the machine room – oh, and hacking too. Usually this is followed by a trip to Angelo’s, the BEST breakfast place known to man, with a specialty of homemade bread with raisins turned into french toast!
  • The "Bus Error" or "Double Bus Fault." Two of the buses headed for the yearly banquet got lost, drove right past the location (to screams of "STOP!"), kept going a couple of miles out of the way, and FINALLY found their way back.

Information from:
Leonard Rosenthol — [email protected]

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