Month: November 2007

Macworld Expo: credit where credit is due

For the first time in years, Macworld Expo has exceeded 400 exhibitors. The South Hall of the Moscone Center is sold out for the January 2008 event, and space in the Moscone West is going fast. This is a tremendous accomplishment for a show that many had written off completely just a few years ago.

Some of the credit, no doubt, is due to Apple’s comeback, but that doesn’t begin to explain the scale of Macworld’s resurgence. I’d argue that the main reason Macworld is back and better than ever come down to the efforts of one man, and it ain’t Steve Jobs.

It’s Paul Kent.

Paul has been the driving force behind the conference program at Macworld for years, and it was always the shining star of the Expo. Even while vendors and exhibit attendees were leaving in droves, the conference sessions remained vital and relevant. Paul — through enthusiasm, integrity and sheer exuberance — continued to attract quality speakers and add exciting content. Say what they would about declining attendance and exhibitor flight, the press never — ever — had a bad word to say about the conference program.

A year or so ago, IDG hired Paul to run the whole Expo — conference program, exhibitors, feature presentations and all. He immediately put his stamp on the entire program — revitalizing the “upstairs” show in the same way he did for the conference sessions downstairs. Paul added content to the exhibit floor, brought in innovative features, won over exhibitors, all while continuing to improve the conference program. The result was the best Macworld in recent memory, and a stage well set for this year’s show.

I’m lucky enough to know Paul and to count him as a friend. I love watching him during Expo. He’s one of the most personable people I’ve ever met — constantly asking questions, gathering information on how things can be even better, making sure his speakers and attendees have what they need. In the midst of the chaos and crises, I’ve never seen him flustered. He is always upbeat, always quick with a solution. Putting him in charge of Macworld may well be the smartest thing IDG has ever done.

People speculate on what will happen to Apple when Steve Jobs decides to retire. Can it survive? Will it continue to innovate? Would it really be the same company? I’d ask the same questions of Macworld Expo and Paul Kent.

For Macworld’s sake, I hope we don’t have to find out for a long, long time.

Safari, you’re dead to me now

I completely skipped running Tiger on the Macs in my office — mostly over networking issues that never seem to have been resolved. We have two newer machines (both DP G5s) that came with Tiger installed. We found some workarounds for most of the issues, especially those dealing with our company’s proxy server.

In a desperate attempt at troubleshooting one of the Tiger machines, I upgraded it to Leopard. The upgrade was painless for the most part. Lotus Notes even launched and connected perfectly — which was my biggest concern. It all gave me the courage to install Leopard on my own 10.3 machine (I don’t even remember which cat that was anymore — Jaguar?) Again, all went well, including my Lotus Notes.

Unfortunately, Safari (or anything that uses Apple’s OS-based tools) still won’t connect through the proxy server, whether it’s through the pac file or by manually entering the proxy address. What’s worse — any app that makes the attempt crashes rather unceremoniously. Luckily, FireFox uses its own scheme and works fine.

I’ll have to see if SquidMan’s been updated for Leopard yet, but I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to rely on third-party tools at this stage in the game.

[UPDATE: HR Softworks’ “Authoxy” seem to work fine. More important than getting Safari to work is the fact that it allows Apple’s Software Update mechanism to work.]

Amazon’s ‘Kindle’ debuts

Amazon’s try at an eBook reader, the “Kindle,” was released today. If anyone can make a product like this work, I think it’s Amazon (OK, and maybe Google).

I really like the idea of taking the computer out of the equation. I also like that Kindle comes with free EVDO wireless networking that works only for the product’s features — I think that’s going to be an important factor in its adoption.

What I don’t like: The price, for sure. $400 seems like a lot — especially when you’re still paying $10 per book. It also seems dated already, both in terms of industrial design and the greyscale screen. And is the full keyboard really necessary? I guess it’s needed for the buying process, but it seems heavy handed given that the functionality of this device should be 90% focused on reading text.

I think it’s a very interesting start and has loads of promise. It’s definitely a 1.0 product, though, and unlike the iPhone, I think I’ll wait a rev or two to jump on this bandwagon.

High-tech hide and seek

This isn’t at all Mac-related (hence the “random” part of “RandomMaccess”), but I’ve been playing with my Magellan eXplorist lately and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a handheld GPS unit used for hiking and orienteering — it doesn’t have any maps or know roads, for instance, so it’s not much good for driving directions. It simply shows you where you are using latitude and longitude coordinates. You can let it track your movement, leaving “breadcrumbs” along the way so you can find your way back to camp for example. You can also set waypoints, so you can find a particular spot — like a good fishing hole or a campsite.

A game that’s grown out of the popularity of these devices is called “geocaching.” Essentially, it’s a high-tech game of hide-and-seek. The “hider” puts a cache — usually a container filled with a logbook, pencil and some trinkets — in a hiding place, then records the coordinates and publishes the information to a website so others can find it. Sometimes, some additional descriptions about the location or the cache are provided. Then, the “seekers” try to find the cache using their GPS devices. When they do, they sign the logbook, swap a trinket with one of their own, and report back on the website — whether the cache was where it was supposed to be; in what condition; notes about the surroundings, etc.

It all seems like fun. I haven’t found my first cache yet, but there seem to be a lot both where I live and where I work, so I’m sure I’ll go hunting soon.