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Macworld Expo SF 2007 Superlatives

Every year as we walk the show floor, we keep part of our attention focused on what’s cool, different, or otherwise worth mentioning outside of the major news of the event. Contributions this year come from Adam Engst, Glenn Fleishman, Jeff Carlson, Tonya Engst, Dan Pourhadi, and Andrew Laurence.

Did you see something we missed? Contribute to the TidBITS Talk thread devoted to this year’s superlatives.

Most Fit Hotel — Many hotels include a gym or exercise room for their fitness-conscious guests, but The Mosser was able to impose some exercise without any free weights: the elevator was in the midst of refurbishment, making for inexpensive rates. Plenty of porters were available to carry bags (though we didn’t avail ourselves of their services), we got a great nightly rate, and we burned plenty of calories climbing to and from the seventh and eighth floors! Fortunately, we learned long ago that hotels during Macworld Expo are really meant for sleeping and not lounging about, so we didn’t find ourselves making the hike too often. [JLC]

Biggest Energy SaverGreenpeace activists were politely handing out literature at the keynote, and our friend Raines Cohen was tromping the show floor in full pirate regalia as a comment on climate change. (If you’re unaware of the reference, in the Pastafarian parody religion, the inverse relationship between the number of pirates since the 1800s and global temperatures is used as an example of how correlation does not equal causation.)

But this award goes to Power Save Mac from Faronics, a utility that enables far more flexible control over when a Mac sleeps, wakes, shuts down, or starts up than Apple provides in the Energy Saver preference pane. Power Save Mac provides full time and day of week scheduling capabilities, monitoring of inactivity as defined both by lack of keyboard and mouse usage and by CPU usage or application activity (in other words, don’t sleep if a nightly backup or long rendering job is underway), and the capability for users to override tasks when appropriate.

Sounds neat, but the part that makes it truly important is that network administrators can save sets of Power Save Mac settings and then distribute them via Apple Remote Desktop. Plus, individual tasks can be installed into Apple Remote Desktop for remote invocation across a large number of Macs. Power Save Mac costs only $25 with workstation licenses at $12 each ($2 of which is for a year of updates and tech support). If you manage a large group of Macs, check out Power Save Mac to see how much you can save your organization in wasted power. [ACE]

Best Guerilla Marketing Effort — Can’t afford a booth at Macworld? Take a page from the marketing playbook of the TuneTether guys. They hung around Macworld’s booth when journalists were giving presentations, and then when we came offstage, they’d introduce themselves and show us their product. They hadn’t heard of TidBITS before (they were probably in preschool when we started), but nice guy that I am, I listened to their spiel anyway. The $10 TuneTether is a thin plastic collar of sorts, with notches on the two ends to hold earbuds and keep them from getting in the way. TuneTether currently comes in black, white, and hot pink, but clearly there’s room for a wide
selection of fashion styles. [ACE]

Most Incorrectly Sized Booth (Undersized Division) — Parallels purchased a 5-by-10-foot (1.5-by-3-meter) booth, which was probably about 20 percent of the area that they would have needed to handle all the people who were interested in learning more about the Windows virtualization product Parallels Desktop, were coming by for advice on their installation, or were well wishers. Their blog noted that people were 10 deep around the booth sometimes, and I can vouch for that. It was like swimming to reach the actual staffers. [GF]

Most Incorrectly Sized Booth (Oversized Division) — Apple had little to show that an Apple Store couldn’t offer, and thus had the smallest crowds I’ve ever seen at the Apple booth during Macworld. While the demonstrations of Apple TV were interesting, a few minutes playing with it showed that it’s not very different than Front Row. iPhone and Leopard demonstrations were shown off in the main stage area, and while those were well attended, they weren’t packed by Wednesday. [GF]

Biggest Blast from the Past — Every now and then I long for the days when ResEdit hacks were cool. Riccardo Ettore remembers those days too, and has a new utility, Sounds4Fun, that ties sounds to events on your Mac (if you haven’t been using the Mac for the last 20 years, Sounds4Fun is the latest version of iBeep2 from 1987, which evolved first into SndControl, after which it was included in the NowFun package as FunSounds). Want your Mac to yawn when you put it sleep? Or perhaps you’d like to be warned audibly when you accidentally press the Caps Lock key? Riccardo’s new utility, the $14 Sounds4Fun, can link sounds to all those events and nearly 70 more. He has so
many events, in fact, that there’s a filter field you can use to restrict the list in case you can’t find the one you’re looking for. Gone are the days of extensions and control panels, though. Sounds4Fun is a normal preference pane in Mac OS X, with a secondary application that offers an optional menu for easy access to basic controls, so it isn’t doing anything funky. And most people will have oodles of cool sounds in GarageBand’s sample files (in /Library/Application Support/GarageBand/Instrument Library/Sampler/Sampler Files/). [ACE]

Biggest Drive — A terabyte (TB) of storage in a single external drive package is no longer unique or unusual. Several vendors at the show had FireWire 400/800 plus USB 2.0 drive packages that contained 1 TB, usually in the form of two 500 gigabyte (GB) hard drives that could be striped (1 TB, higher speed) or mirrored (500 GB, with identical data written to both drives). Multi-terabyte drives were also available, although more typically in vastly more expensive configurations tailored for video recording and editing. Hitachi and others will drop the price for this storage, with a single mechanism containing 1 TB on the market in March for about $400.

Newest Mac Convert — I passed 3Ware’s booth several times before I realized I’d never seen them at a Macworld Expo before. 3ware is a long-standing vendor of storage controllers in the PC world, and the 3ware Sidecar is their first foray into the Mac market. It’s a hot-swap enclosure for 3.5-inch SATA hard disks (which are not included with the Sidecar), and a hardware RAID controller on a PCI-Express card. The 4-port card supports several RAID modes (0, 1, 10, 50 and JBOD) and connects to the enclosure via eSATA cabling. At present the card can be configured via an embedded Web interface or command line; 3ware says they’re working on a
Mac OS X-native interface. (No word yet on whether the Mac-specific firmware will work on 3ware’s other cards.) [ATL]

Most Intriguing Graphical Collaboration Tool — Plasq showed a beta of a graphical collaboration tool called Skitch that provides tools for quick visual collaboration via iChat or email, making it easy to share sketches, iSight pictures, and screenshots. You can emphasize and annotate the original image by adding elements like circles, arrows, and text to a separate layer. Skitch eschews menu use for common tasks, and puts most of its controls around the edges the workspace, making for a fluid workflow that is both friendly and well suited to the fast-paced nature of online collaboration. For example, although Skitch has a Save dialog, most users will probably never see
it. Instead, they’ll simply use the filename field at the bottom of the Skitch window (Skitch saves in a default location). The bottom also has a tab from which you can “drag off” a copy of the file to put it in an email message, in iChat, or in a folder of your choosing. My favorite feature exemplifies the fun, easy nature of Skitch – when you start typing, Skitch selects the Text tool for you and puts your typed text into the document. Skitch isn’t generally available yet, but when it is, I’ll write more about it here in TidBITS. [TJE]

Best Dual-Mode Geek at Show — While Robin Williams – the actor, not the Mac book author – was present at the keynote, singer Graham Nash takes the prize as the most famous geek present. Nash and his partner R. Mac Holbert have been producing extremely high-quality digital prints since 1990 at Nash Editions in California. (I met them briefly in 1992 in Camden, Maine, when they came to lead a workshop at the Kodak Center for Creative Imaging.) They’re still at it. While Nash is a literal rock star, Holbert earns that figurative sobriquet in the world of digital print reproduction. Peachpit Press released “Nash Editions: Photography and the Art of Printing” in early January.

During a short conversation with Holbert, I mentioned the high-resolution scanner that Nash Editions had in the early 1990s that was an order of magnitude above what could be commercially purchased. He said that they now have a device that can read 512 samples per inch at up to five by seven feet. And photographers still complain about the resolution. [GF]

Most Convenient In-Ear Solutions — The most inhibiting factor of any convenient earphone is the tangly mess of the intrusive cable hanging from your head. Exercising, traveling, or just walking – the cable can always get in the way. Two companies, Shure and Etymotic Research, realized this, and developed new products to combat the inherent flaw. Shure introduced its new line of SE in-ear headphones, the first in-ears with a modular cable design: if the included 3-foot (.9 m) cable is too long or short, simply replace it with another, more convenient size. Etymotic introduced ety8, Bluetooth-enabled wireless
, eliminating the cable altogether. The SE headphones come in four models and start at $150, and the iPod-specific model of the ety8 is available for $300. [DP]

Most Fun from a Business Application — A good phone system can help a small company seem like a big one, and Parliant’s PhoneValet lets you use standard telephones and phone lines to do the job of expensive telephone systems. It can announce, answer, transfer, and record calls, and it both simplifies dialing and keeps an extensive call log (see “PhoneValet, Can You Get That?” 2003-09-29, for a full review of a much earlier version). But what garners PhoneValet 5 this superlative is its newfound capability to identify incoming calls by caller ID and then feed them into customized voicemail systems, complete
with extensive phone trees. I’m sure you can come up with plenty of useful examples with how you might use this in the real world, but all I could think of was prank phone trees for particular callers. “Press 1 to leave a message. Are you pressing 1? Come on, you can press it harder than that. Well, if it’s not working, press 2 instead. 3? Why did you press 3, you nincompoop? I told you to press 2!” And so on… PhoneValet 5 costs $170 per line, with upgrades from PhoneValet 3 or 4 priced at $40 per line. [ACE]

Most Missed Figure — Our late colleague Bruce Fraser was on the minds of many at the show involved in digital imaging. Fraser was gracious, hilarious, and generous with his time, as well as a prolific writer. Graham Nash hosted a celebration of Bruce’s life that brought out a couple hundred attendees. We wrote an appreciation of Bruce’s life a few weeks ago (“In Memoriam: Bruce Fraser, 1954-2006,” 2006-12-18). A number of people have posted accounts and photographs from the event – Peachpit’s Victor Gavenda offered a good word picture of it – at which Bruce’s friends spoke, and then threw back a shot of his
favorite single-malt Scotch. [GF]

Coolest Database Trick — One of the dirty secrets about databases is that they often don’t communicate all that well with each other, either because they’re too different or because it’s impossible to connect them directly. Enter WorldSync’s SyncDeK, which has for several years synchronized data between remote FileMaker databases. The latest version, SyncDeK 7, extends that capability to SQL data sources, including MySQL, Oracle, and Microsoft Access, among others. SyncDeK is particularly useful for mobile users who need access to a corporate database but are often offline and remote sites that must share the same core database but don’t have sufficient network
connections to do so live. Pricing varies; see the WorldSync site for details. [ACE]

Least Secret Apple Revelation — People taking their Intel-based Macs apart had already figured out that Apple was using Wi-Fi chips that could handle the in-progress 802.11n standard, even though Apple hadn’t enabled the faster modes possible in those chips. 802.11n requires extra antennas, too, and Apple had to build their computers around that principle. While Jobs was too busy sliding and pinching on the iPhone to mention the release of AirPort Extreme with 802.11n, and the base station remodel wasn’t on display (it ships in February), it was pretty much a given. [GF]

Largest Piles of MarketingMaxtor made their point about why you need to back up by placing huge stacks of CDs and massive piles of photos in the hallway between Moscone’s North and South halls. Every time I walked by, I grinned, thinking of how easily all that data would fit on even a laptop drive these days. But yes, you do want to back up all that music (more from the iTunes Store than from CDs you could rip again) and especially irreplaceable digital photos. [ACE]

Best Alternative to Pinch and Unpinch — If you pinch to zoom in on an iPhone picture or map, what is the opposite gesture? Flab? Sandee Cohen, Illustrator expert and book author, suggested we adopt Adobe’s terms: pucker and bloat. Pinch, Pucker, and Bloat – my former attorneys. [GF]

Best Film Organization — People who shoot digital video with consumer camcorders mostly just record on the fly. But when amateurs seek to move into creating longer features, they quickly realize that it takes coordination to pull all the pieces together. Jungle Software’s Gorilla is a package for scheduling, budgeting, and organizing a video shoot. It helps to keep track of actors and locations, draw up shot lists, and speed up video shoots where often the biggest expense is the amount of time that the rest of the crew is standing around. Gorilla comes in three packages: Student, Standard, and Pro, depending on budget and number of shooting days; costs range
from $200 to $400, and a free trial is available for download. [JLC]

Largest USB Peripheral — Although Moscone’s South Hall is underground, that didn’t prevent the folks at Software Bisque from showing off what must have been the largest USB device on the show floor: the Paramount ME Robotic Telescope Mount (and separate telescope). In conjunction with their software Seeker, the $12,500 base can help you scan the stars (and maybe find the droids you’re looking for). In the interests of full disclosure, the mount was powered from a Windows laptop, because the company is still working on USB device support for the Mac version of
Seeker. [JLC]

Best New Mac — Sure, Apple didn’t have any new Macs at the show, but that’s not stopping us from giving out this award to OWC and Axiotron, for their ModBook tablet Mac. Not content to wait for Apple to produce a tablet Mac (which may never happen), OWC and Axiotron teamed up to design a full-fledged tablet Mac using technology from tablet company Wacom. The trick with the ModBook is that it’s not a new Mac as such, but a reconstituted MacBook. OWC and Axiotron perform radical surgery on a stock MacBook to add a better screen and the pen digitizer from Wacom, and to repackage it all in a smooth looking case with the
original iSight camera and a stylus holder. A built-in GPS is an optional add-on, as is a 6x DVD burner with up to 8.5 GB capacity. And if you don’t always want to control Mac OS X using the stylus and Apple’s InkWell technology, the ModBook can be attached to VESA-compatible desktop arms and used with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse (or USB devices, since it has the same ports as a MacBook). The GPS may be an important addition for some mobile professionals for whom location is key data. Pre-reserve prices range from $2,200 through $2,700 and all include the GPS. Oh, and if you were wondering, the price difference from a MacBook is about $1,100. [ACE]

Cleverest Use of Cardboard — From a distance, the booth for bag-makers Crumpler seemed to have an interesting texture. Get closer, and you discover their 25-foot-square booth was, in fact, comprised entirely of cardboard boxes. Metal bars were placed inside the open end of some boxes which contained line-drawing pictures of animals, looking much like O’Reilly’s cover art menagerie. [GF]

Best Use for an old iPod — Anyone who supports Mac users needs a good utility drive for booting recalcitrant Macs and running disk recovery or backup software. You could use Micromat’s cute TechTool Protege FireWire flash drive, which can boot a Mac and includes Micromat’s TechTool Pro. Or, if you have an old iPod around, or any other hard disk or flash drive, you could use Micromat’s new ProToGo, which is a software product that helps you turn the device of your choice into the equivalent of the TechTool Protege, complete with the capability of
booting Macs (this is of course dependent on individual Macs; PowerPC Macs can’t boot from USB, for instance) and a collection of Micromat’s utility software, including TechTool Pro 4. ProToGo costs $135, or $87 if you’re upgrading from TechTool Pro. [ACE]

Best Tchotchkes — One indication of the health of the industry is in the number of tchotchkes (free giveaways) that are available. Google handed out socks with the slogan “It doesn’t stink” on the bottom, while Griffin Technology gave away mints in tins that were reminiscent of its iTrip FM transmitter for iPod. CodeWeavers, whose CrossOver commercial implementation of the open-source WINE environment lets you run Windows applications on your Mac without running Windows, gave out a wine stopper. (Get it? WINE? Get it?) And Tolis Group, the vendors of the BRU backup software, gave out a yo-yo that lights up when in use; neat, but does a yo-yo really signify backup/restore software in a positive manner? Perhaps they should have been giving out beer steins instead. [ATL]

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