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Top Ten Tips for Mac Conference Goers

by Derrick Story

I enjoy preparing for an event almost as much as the show itself. It's a great feeling knowing that I'm ready to take advantage of every possible situation and maximize the value of my investment.

The problem is that we're rarely given the inside scoop beforehand so we know how to prepare. I've been involved with the planning of the next Mac gathering on the horizon, the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference in Santa Clara, CA. So I have a very good idea of what's brewing and when, including all event planning (some of which we can't announce yet) and the hotel setup.

The following ten tips will help you get the most out of this (or just about any) Mac conference. So right after you book your flight on Southwest or JetBlue, refer to this list for your final preparations.

Tip 1: Bring the extension cord for your Power Adapter. I'm not even going to insult you by reminding you to bring your PowerBook or iBook, but don't forget the extension cord for your Power Adapter. Sometimes socket real estate becomes quite sparse on those power strips and there isn't room for the Power Adapter itself. Those with standard plugs will live to compute another hour while others have to fold up camp.

Tip 2: Pack a stash of munchies. Yes there will be light breakfast and lunch, but sometimes you might want to roll through a series of afternoon and evening events and delay your dinner until later. If you're forced to choose between a growling stomach and a cool BOF, you might be tempted to opt for the meal. Have some munchies on hand to curb your appetite and give you maximum scheduling flexibility. By the way, protein foods, such as dry roasted peanuts, stave off hunger longer than carbs that convert directly to sugar.

Tip 3: Partition your hard drive. At a conference like this, you're going to want a sandbox to play in without compromising your everyday work environment. It's a total hassle to partition your drive while on location. But if you take care of business at home in front of Monday Night Football with a cold beer in hand, it's not so bad. Trust me on this one.

Tip 4: Cut your rooming costs in half. O'Reilly facilitates a room sharing list where you can team up with another conference attendee and cut your rooming costs in half. And if you enable Internet Sharing (in the Sharing Preferences panel), you can take advantage of the in-room Ethernet connectivity for half the price too. (Of course you have to have an AirPort card installed in your laptop to do so.)

Tip 5: For secure connection to your server, test your VPN setup. Don't wait until you arrive at the hotel to test your VPN setup. Open the Internet Connect application on your Mac, go to File -> New VPN Connection Window, and test your configuration from home. That way, if you need to consult your system administrator, it's a friendly request when he has time and not an emergency stacked on top of the other 10 problems he's trying to solve.

Tip 6: Bring extra business cards. Yes, it's a digital world and you can send your VCard to new acquaintances via iChat or email, but sometimes introductions happen in hallways, restaurants, and elevators. A paper business card is more practical. Make sure you have a few in your pocket, just in case you make a great potential business contact.

Tip 7: Find someone with wheels. The Westin Santa Clara is a great hotel to hang out in, but over the course of the week you're going to want a change of scenery. The best way to explore the local area is by sharing a car with someone else. "I buy if you fly" is a great way to repay the driver's generosity. And if you're looking for something different to eat, this is one of my favorite Santa Clara restaurant listings.

Tip 8: Take advantage of the O'Reilly Early Bird Discount. So far the word on the inside is that this year's discount deadline isn't going to be extended. So if you procrastinate and register after Friday, Sept. 12, it's going to cost you $995 US instead of the Early Bird price of $795 (for a 3-day pass that includes all of the sessions, keynotes, special events, BOFs, and meals). That extra $200 you save could be put to much better use in the Sunnyvale Fry's Electronics. (See Tip 7 for more information.)

Tip 9: Sign up for a 14 day free Safari Bookshelf account. While you're at the conference, you'll be attending a variety of technical sessions. In some cases you're going to want to dig deeper beyond what the speaker can cover in his or her allotted time. Or you might want to look something up right there during the talk. If you sign up for a free 14 day Safari account, you'll be able to add up to 10 titles to your bookshelf that will be available to you at all times during the conference. Remember, there will be wireless connectivity everywhere, so your Safari account will be like having 10 O'Reilly books right there in your laptop. Very handy for quick reference.

Tip 10: Get a cool laptop bag for on the go. Yes, you will get a very nice O'Reilly canvas bag at the show, but in all honesty, it doesn't protect your computer very well. And your all-purpose backpack stuffed to the gills with every accessory your own will get a little heavy after a day or two. There are some nice slim sleeves on the Apple Accessories Page, such as the Incase Laptop Sleeve for $39 US. Your shoulders will thank you.

And if you're not planning on attending the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference, then I hope these tips help you for the next time you do get out of the office and on to the conference trail.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit

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