Like so many people these days, I work at home, so for me, nearly every day is “take your child to work day.” As often as not, after school my eight-year-old son Tristan helps me balance bank statements or put stamps on envelopes, or “helps” by staying out of the way while I wrap up editing a manuscript or making one last phone call.
But, there’s much more to my job than what Tristan normally sees, and some of that “much more” happens at Macworld Expo, an event that is oft-discussed around my dinner table, but that Tristan had never seen. So, this year, thanks to Tristan’s aunt Jen and uncle Linus (at whose house he stayed while Adam and I attended the event), Tristan came to the show with me for a few hours.
Our first stop was the DriveSavers booth. DriveSavers rescues data from damaged disk drives, and they can succeed in cases where it would seem all hope is lost. They typically have examples of success stories at their booth, so we checked out a laptop that had been run over by a car, a laptop that had sunk in a damaged cruise ship, and a computer that had been burned in a fire. Great stuff if you’re an 8-year-old! The folks at DriveSavers even gave Tristan a little flashlight (his first swag!). You can check out a bunch of these stories online at the DriveSavers Museum of Disk-Asters.
Our next booth was Google, where we played with the recently released Google Earth 4. The interface of this new version is meant to be simpler to use than previous ones, and Tristan enjoyed zooming in on landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Eiffel Tower. This new version has “textured buildings,” so some landmark buildings look especially real, and “3D terrain,” so some landscapes look stunningly real as you fly over them. Tristan also liked looking in on his elementary school, but we couldn’t see much – upstate New York doesn’t yet rate the same kind of resolution as San Francisco. He also liked turning on and off many layers in Google Earth to hide and show not only basic mapping elements like roads, but also to show icons for where you can click to view a photo of a landmark location or to view a Discovery Channel movie of your location.
I pried Tristan away, pointing out that we could get Google Earth at home (the non-pro version is a free 29.6 MB download), and we headed to the booth run by The Software MacKiev Company. MacKiev has been around for a long time, and they have a good collection of children’s software. I didn’t bother to show Tristan their various Dr. Seuss-related programs, because he has never much liked fiction and Dr. Seuss doesn’t excite him (Tristan can be an odd bird at times). But, MacKiev’s 2007 World Book Multimedia encyclopedia ($50) immediately appealed to him, with an article seemingly about Pearl Harbor that had a good chunk of text and a movie. (I say “seemingly” because I was paying attention to the problem that the counter was so high that Tristan had to crane his neck way up to see). However, a booth person helped me boost Tristan up on the counter and then gave us a fun demo of Kid Pix Deluxe 3X 1.1 ($40).
Kid Pix – which is now a universal binary – has grown far past its roots as a comic-book-like, kid-oriented MacDraw, and though the laugh-out-loud standard features like “stamps” that work like stickers, a hose tool that sprays water on the drawing, and an egg-beater tool that mixes up the pixels delighted Tristan, I took note of some features that he wasn’t yet sophisticated enough as a Mac user to fully understand – how you can save various pictures in an online album, how an album can become a slideshow, and how you can export the slideshow so it plays on an iPod or be further tweaked in iMovie. Kid Pix also imports from GarageBand, iTunes, and iPhoto.
From Tristan’s perspective, other highlights of the show included the tricked-out cars with fancy sound systems and TV screens (living in Ithaca, NY, our concept of a fancy car is an ancient Volvo sporting a bumper sticker about how it runs biodiesel), seeing Adam giving a presentation at the Peachpit booth, and the muffins for sale in the hallway. The escalators also rated high on his list.
As I’d hoped, taking Tristan to Macworld Expo helped him understand more deeply that while it appears that I spend a vast amount of time interacting with my laptop, that in fact I am interacting with people and software that become much more physically real at Macworld Expo. Unexpectedly, though, just as I enjoyed seeing the show through the filter of Tristan’s enthusiasm, Tristan enjoyed seeing the show under the wing of a member of the press, and it seems to have rubbed off. Entirely by his own choosing and motivation, Tristan spent the weekend after Macworld writing about Google Earth (and learning exciting Macintosh concepts, like what happens when you press Delete with your entire document selected). You can read his (well-edited) take on it next in “How to Google Earth” (2007-01-22), which gives an idea of how literacy and mapping awareness play a big part in how a child handles a software interface.