Last week I wrote about how Mac OS X fared at the MacHack developers conference, and I also looked at the results of the annual hack contest. However, MacHack is such an unusual conference that I can’t resist passing on a few other amusing bits.
Only in America — Although MacHack brings over 300 people to the Holiday Inn Fairlane for the duration of the conference, there are often a few other guests who walk around looking bewildered at the high density of hackers and their Macintosh paraphernalia. This year, though, those of us at MacHack returned a modicum of bewilderment upon realizing that we were sharing the hotel with the American Station Wagon Owners Association. And indeed, in a cordoned-off section of the parking lot, there were a number of old station wagons lined up, their chrome polished and (in a few cases) wooden door panels buffed to a healthy sheen.
It’s tempting to poke fun at organizations like this, but there’s nothing wrong with appropriately tempered fixations on consumer objects, like a station wagon or (dare I say?) a Macintosh. But if Macintosh users want to avoid becoming targets of ridicule, our Macintosh-related associations must continue to move forward and invent the future rather than living in the past. Otherwise we’ll all be sitting around in thirty years, reminiscing about our 2001 "Woodie" iMacs with their then-new LCD screens. (I doubt Apple will release a faux wood iMac at July’s Macworld Expo in New York City, but since the iMac is the only Apple product with a CRT-based monitor, it’s safe to assume the iMac’s bulky cathode ray tube display will disappear in favor of a sleek and electricity-saving LCD screen).
Please Raid This Tomb — It’s a MacHack tradition for many of the attendees to go to a movie on the last night, just before the midnight ice cream social that marks the final official event. The quality of the movie isn’t particularly relevant, since it’s likely to be drowned out by the non-stop commentary from the audience, such as loud cries of "Product placement!" every time a gratuitous burst of advertising intrudes into the film’s fantasy world. This year’s movie – Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – fit in perfectly. As you might expect from a movie based on a video game, it wasn’t finely crafted cinematic entertainment. The high point of the film came at the post-movie ice cream social, where many of us crowded around Apple’s Keith Stattenfield as he led an informal discussion of inspired zaniness in which we deconstructed and debated the movie. Topics included the possibility of deducting expenses (thousands of rounds of poorly aimed ammunition, killer robot repair bills, imported dust) related to the business use of a practice tomb in the home of a professional tomb raider; the legal liability and insurance implications of having an in-house tomb (a good reason to install bulletproof glass walls and automatic steel shutters that slam down loudly – again, deductible expenses); and speculation about the content of a trade magazine devoted to the profession – Tomb Raider Monthly.
As Keith summarized at the end of our marathon session (undoubtedly longer than the film’s screenwriting sessions), "This is not a good movie. This is a baaaaad movie." That’s not to say you shouldn’t see it – but go with the right crowd.
Open Source and the Mac — Although Eric Raymond, open source proponent and last year’s MacHack keynote speaker, vowed to return to MacHack, he and the iBook we all bought for him were nowhere to be seen. The open source concept took some hits too, with derisive comments about the viral nature of the GNU Public License (GPL), a popular open source license that requires all released modifications to GPL-licensed code also be made available under the GPL. The bursting of the dot-com bubble undoubtedly played a factor as well, since many MacHack developers remained unconvinced about the viability of the open source business model during Eric Raymond’s six-hour keynote, and the failure of a number of high-profile companies using the open source approach (including Andy Hertzfeld’s Eazel, which was developing Nautilus, a better shell interface for Linux) lent credence to last year’s skepticism.
MacHack CDs Now Available — Finally, a CD-ROM compiling this year’s Hack Contest entries as well as papers and presentations given at the 2001 conference are available for $20 plus $5 shipping ($15 for international delivery). Also available for $20 is the MacHack Historical CD, which collects hacks, papers, and presentations from the first 14 years of MacHack; you can order both CDs together for $35. All the proceeds from CD sales go towards funding MacHack 2002.