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Pizza, HoHos, and MacHack 2002

by Daniel H. Steinberg
06/21/2002

In the last year Apple has done a great job of reaching out to the Unix community and attracting some of the hard-core developers to Mac OS X. It's not as if there isn't a vibrant community of Mac geeks working hard to produce the best applications for the platform. In its seventeenth year, MacHack is a conference that attracts the geekiest of the geeks when it comes to Macintosh development. The conference begins at midnight on Wednesday night and runs for 72 hours.

Welcome to MacHack

There is a saying at MacHack--that sleep is for the weak. I'm weak. That's weak as in beer. I confess to having succumbed last night to three and a half hours of sleep. Enough to keep me going on this second day put perhaps not long enough to write the cogent article that you may expect. Here's a quick and tired look at this year's MacHack. Other O'Reilly authors have been posting Weblogs. You can read about where Chuck's parents live or how bad the traffic is in his first post, or about "My Cousin Vinnie" in his second post. Jonathan tells you about his first Mac OS X moment in his post. My guess is that they didn't get much more sleep than I.

This conference was good from the moment I stepped into the Holiday Inn lobby in suburban Detroit. Attendees were already hangin' out in the lobby, their Titanium laptops open, showing each other their favorite sites, applications, or recent projects. I checked in at the hotel and then headed to the registration desk. There I was given a T-shirt, a mug, and a program in what is my all-time favorite show bag. You can get one just like the one we got here. The next time you go grocery shopping and the clerk asks you "paper or plastic", choose plastic and you will have a replica of a MacHack bag. I think this is a great idea. I love giveaways as much as the next guy, but I have enough show bags and I am happy to see the management keep the cost down by not adding an expensive backpack to the "giveaways".

A quick glance at the schedule showed the first potential conflict. The keynote was scheduled to begin at midnight, but the pizza was supposed to arrive at midnight as well. Now Southwest Airlines isn't about to charge me for a second seat, but I do pause before deciding on an XL or XXL shirt. The pizza arrived a little before midnight and we headed into Code Stadium a little after midnight.

The Theme Ingredient

On stage were open boxes of Twinkies, HoHos, and Ding Dongs artfully arranged. The three guys in the row ahead of me were discussing hacking their digital camera so that they could use it to play the game Breakout. This year's MacHack theme is the "Iron Chef," the popular Japanese cooking-challenge show featured on the Food Network. This year's theme is "Hakku no tetsujin," which the show organizers explain translates to "Iron Man of the Hack."

The Iron Chef theme starts up and an announcer parodies the show opening explaining that the chairman has gathered "developers of the highest technical prowess" who have come to battle for 72 hours and vie in the Best Hack contest, where the winner will "gain the people's ovation and fame forever." The Chairman of the Hack then entered in his version of a Chairman Kaga outfit and began "if memory serves me right." He continued his spoof of the standard Iron Chef introduction by giving the same look as Kaga before picking up a Ding Dong and taking a big bite.

What remained for the Hack Chairman, Scott Boyd, was to reveal the mystery ingredient. With a great flourish he reached over and removed the lid from a silver serving dish and announced that the secret ingredient was "DogCow". The audience responded enthusiastically but seemed to be waiting for more. Perhaps they expected four Iron Hackers to rise up from the floor. MacHack conference chairman John Penn had to announce that that was it for the introduction and he continued with announcements and the business of beginning this yearly ritual.

Choosing the Movie

The MacHack program guide says that one of the first orders of business will be to choose which movie to go to this year. On the way up I'd heard a review of the new Chris Rock movie "Bad Company". It's a story that you've heard before. In fact you could write your own movie using this template: There are two brothers (or maybe they're sisters, or cousins, or look-alikes who have never met). Anyway, one is really deep and intellectual and the other is attractive and shallow (or maybe one is rich and the other poor, or one is good and the other is evil). At some point in the story these characters switch places (or they are mistaken for each other, or exchange some part of themselves with the other, or the one has to take the place of the one that is dead or in prison or missing or -- never mind). The final rule in such stories is that the two characters come face to face and realize that they really need each other.

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Sigh. Of course this story isn't new--but it still sells. You've seen this story in everything from Shakespeare to Gilbert and Sullivan to Patty Duke to Young Frankenstein to Steve Erkel and his cousin Stephen to this summer's "Bad Company." In some versions of the story the two characters are even the same person. Sure, this may conjure up images of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde in your mind; I think of Mac OS X.

There's the deep, intellectual, Unix-based, hard-core, Mach kernel, BSD side of Mac OS X. There's also the attractive and shallow Aqua side with the pretty look and feel that laughs at operating systems that require users manuals. For years the two sides of the classic Mac OS lived in their own worlds. The happy twin hung out at MacWorld Expos twice a year while the serious twin went to Apple's World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) and MacHack. But lately these twins have been changing places.

At the WWDC keynote Steve Jobs showed the flashy improvements coming in the fall Jaguar release. In recent MacWorld Expos the keynote and other sessions have featured discussions of the Unix underpinnings, multithreading, and the CPU speed myth. Clearly you've been caught up in a sleep-deprived inspired digression. In any case, the choice came down to seeing "Minority Report" in a theatre along with the general-viewing public or go see a little older movie where the MacHack attendees would be the only members of the audience who would be free to make as much noise as they wanted. After audience suggestions that we go to "Minority Report," make noise, and get thrown out, it was decided that it would be better if we were in a theatre by ourselves.

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