TweetFollow Us on Twitter

MacHack 14 in Review

Volume Number: 15 (1999)
Issue Number: 9
Column Tag: Conference Report

MacHack 14 in Review

by Andrew Downs

The World's Best Redeye Deal

Introduction

The following is an attempt to share my MacHack experience. If you were there, you probably had quite a different experience. If you did not attend, I hope to see you next year. Maybe this article, in conjunction with other MacHack materials available on the web, will convince you to give it a try.

This was only my second MacHack conference, but I noticed a tremendous difference: the number of attendees was much larger than last year. No doubt this was due in part to renewed optimism and interest in the Mac OS platform. I also think the increased sponsorship and additional support for students attracted a number of attendees who otherwise might not have known about the conference, or would have had to forego it because of cost.

What I Learned

MacHack is not a spectator sport: it is definitely more fun if you participate. Here is a quick indicator:

Last year I presented a paper and attended many of the sessions. I had a good time.

This year, I presented a paper, co-presented a session, entered a hack, and attended some sessions. Plus I talked with a lot of the developers I met at last year's conference, and made some new friends. I had a GREAT time!

What I Should Have learned

For the second year, I traveled with about sixty lbs. of books. For the second year, I opened only one of them during the entire conference.

There's no need to travel with many, if any, of your programming references, unless they're obscure. Copies of Inside Macintosh are available in the Machine Room during the conference, and reference CDs can sometimes be found in hard form or mountable via the network. And the ever-growing set of web-based Mac documentation is certainly available, as are many experts who store a lot of programming knowledge in their heads (and are willing to share).

If you really need something in hardcopy, you may be able find it at one of the local bookstores, if you care to leave the friendly confines of the hotel.

Sessions I Actually Attended

Here are the sessions and presentations I attended during the conference, along with a few anecdotes.

About This MacHack

This is always the first MacHack session. It is presented by one or more of the organizers: this year, Michael Bentley and Warren Magnus did the honors. They gave an overview of what to expect during the conference, etiquette (!), who the sponsors were, etc.

So why would a returning attendee attend the first-timers' session? Good question. Originally I wanted to spread some hack ideas around. But I also found it useful in seeing just how many new folks there were, and what items did not make it into the pre-conference press releases.

The biggest piece of news during this session was that the local Jolt Cola distributor was no longer in business, implying a local blackout of many programmers' favored caffeine-saturated drink. Fortunately, the hotel staff went the extra mile (well, maybe ten miles) and found a few hundred remaining bottles. They also found a stash of the new citrus-flavored Jolt. Disaster averted.

Keynote

Marshall Vale, the conference chair, started things off by stating that there were nearly twice as many attendees and students as last year. He also mentioned the "Yoot" (youth) hack contest, encouraging the younger attendees to try their hand at hacking. Some of the yoots have been attending for a number of years, and come up with very imaginative hack ideas.

More good news: the network actually reached down into the lower atrium of the hotel. This turned out to be a good thing, as I sometimes had to go that far to find an open network port. My personal thanks to those who brought, and shared, their own ethernet hubs.

Andy Ihnatko presented the keynote address, which he themed "Dink Thifferent". Andy is also the self-proclaimed "America's 42nd most-beloved industry personality." A lot of Andy's presentation has a visual element, and it is nearly impossible to capture anything other than a shade of his humor in this column. Here are a few items:

  • His Steve Jobs impersonation: "Several times people have asked me to assume the position."
  • Regarding his run-ins with various magazine editors: "Editors are a cowardly and superstitious lot."
  • Andy is a serious hardware hacker. His background includes a lot of Apple II hardware and OS hacking, which apparently is quite common behavior among Apple II lovers.
  • Andy devised a contraption to keep the landlord's cat away from his desk: a Darth Maul action figure, mounted on wheels, with a motion sensor that enables the figure to follow the source of movement (e.g. the cat).
  • He demoed an AppleScript controlling a Darth Vader figure (I think it was originally one of those coin-activated banks) via a Beehive ADB I/O box.
  • Andy also announced the "240 Square" contest, where all of a program's visual elements must fit into a 240x240 pixel space. The prize was a Boston Computer Society t-shirt with an Apple logo.

AltiVec

I was almost on time for this session; I wish I had been. Doug Clarke presented an informative overview of this exciting new technology: the incorporation of vector processing into the new PowerPC G4 chips. He even included sample code to illustrate the additions to the processing model. During the remainder of the conference, Doug helped hackers in the Machine Room create their AltiVec hacks. Doug (and co-hacker Ben Martz) also won the 240 Square contest mentioned above.

AltiVec appears to be nearly as great a technological leap as the PowerPC was originally. (See MacTech 7/99 for an AltiVec overview by Tom Thompson, and look for more AltiVec articles in the future.)

Palm OS

I attended this one in part because I have been talking about Palm development with a colleague for the past few months. I had a few questions regarding Palm development that I couldn't find answers to in the one-and-only Palm programming book on the market (at that time).

Like all things MacHack, this turned out to be extremely interesting and to hold a few gems. The Palm engineers (Steve Lemke and Jesse Donaldson) gave an overview of the Palm product line, Palm internals, and the development environment.

The Palm family is based on a 68K chip derivative. This means that if you drop into a low-level debugger you are likely to see some familiar territory! And apparently of the two original Palm engineers, one was a Mac guy. Its pedigree is pretty obvious once you start looking at the API. The Palm OS is written entirely on the Mac.

Q&A at the end of the session was informative. We talked about events, launching apps, memory (the usable stack size is only ~2.5KB, yikes!), and such. Did you know that Palm apps execute from their fixed storage location? Did you know that you cannot disable or gray-out a Palm menu item?

The engineers also handed out the pieces needed to make clear cases for Pilots. I didn't understand the hoopla until I called a coworker and mentioned it. Turns out these clear cases are a hot commodity.

Palm was interested in attendees hacking the Palm OS. They even made available the required add-ons for CodeWarrior Pro 4 to enable you to build Palm apps. I found this offer enticing, and started thinking about a potential hack.

Reverse Engineering

This was great fun! A chance to hear about the making of Virtual GameStation, and see it demoed. The speaker, Eric Traut, was very entertaining. Plus, he spoke to the hearts of most attendees. Although much of the initial portion of this session was informative (i.e. legal info), it was never boring. Eric later discussed the process, such as how to conduct the necessary research, and also tools and emulators that help make the process easier.

Many developers may not know this, but there have actually been a number of reverse engineering cases besides Virtual GameStation. These include the PC BIOS (Compaq v. IBM), i386 clones (AMD v. Intel), Sega Genesis, and SoundBlaster clones (Creative Labs v. others).

Resume Workshop

I missed most of this one due to session overlap. It appeared to be much better attended than last year. It always helps to have your resume up-to-date, and the folks from Scientific Placement provided tips on how to improve your presentation. Plus, there were several companies recruiting at the conference this year, providing an extra incentive to attend this session.

Watching the File System

This was my paper presentation, so I won't comment on it specifically. But generally, if you enjoy reading or writing MacTech articles, you will enjoy doing the same with MacHack papers. Paper authors do not pay the conference fee, which is a pretty sweet deal.

Where did that source code go?

Apparently a virus infected many of the computers in the Machine Room. The Disinfectant squad (including John Norstad himself) went into action to quash the problem. But at around 5am, while downloading an old version of the source from NU, John accidentally deleted it. Not to worry: Peter Lewis located the offending piece of code and they wrote a binary patch for Disinfectant.

Palm Debugging

This, the second of the Palm sessions, focused on tools and techniques to aid in ridding Palm apps of those hard-to-find bugs. For example, the Palm Debugger allows source-level debugging, and also shows the disassembled code, call stack, etc. It also supports a console with a MacsBug-like syntax. The Palm OS Emulator (POSE) allows you to perform high-level testing against different ROM images without using a physical Palm device. Gremlins are an automated test tool: they will bang on your app's GUI elements in a repeatable manner and see what happens (then you have to go in and repeat the process, breaking just before the offending test).

Of course, the program known as HackMaster got some attention. What a great name. In lieu of a Palm-endorsed approach to patching the OS, this program manages patches for you. As with Mac OS patches, anything goes, but the patches ('hacks') must follow a prescribed model, similar to a plug-in architecture. Since everything underneath is 68K (or nearly so), things like calling the original trap still have to happen.

B y this time I had finally settled on a hack idea. My goal was to write a Finder knockoff that ran on the Palm. What to call it? Eventually I settled on "P1 Preview: the world's smallest Finder implementation" in deference to the forthcoming Mac consumer portable.

Atomicity

This was Jonathan Rentzsch's paper dealing with the "Window of Death" in 68K and PPC programs. He illustrated the use of data structures that function atomically in a non-atomic world, using the right combination of machine instructions.

Jonathan and I later presented a session on FileWatcher, a product that can track changes made to the file system.

Hack Show

Okay, I missed most of the hacks because I was still working on mine. There is a photo on the conference CD which proves it. I almost didn't think I'd enter the contest, which started at midnight on Friday, but at around 2:30 in the morning a few people walked into the snack room (where I was working) and said "get in there and show it, it looks fine". To those who did this, thank you.

I staggered in for the last 45 minutes of the contest. Just about everything I saw was impressive considering the relatively short time spent on the programs. The audience gets tougher as the night drags on, so unless you've got a ringer, you should probably try to show your hack early. On the other hand, I didn't get booed off the stage, and I think I was the second to last person to present a hack. And it didn't completely work.

Awards Banquet

This was a lot of fun. Scott Boyd, Greg Marriott, Jon Kalb, Grant Neufeld, and a few others passed out awards for various hacks. Most of these items came from the offical MacHack awards supply store, Duke's Hardware. Plus there were a lot of freebies thrown to the audience.

Congratulations to Lisa Lippincott for winning the coveted Victor A-Trap award for her hack, "Unfinder".

Yours truly was awarded "Best Palm Hack", for P1 Preview. The prize: a Palm IIIx.

It's hard to go home empty-handed from MacHack. Not only during the banquet, but also during the various sessions, sponsors are tossing goodies to the audience. Of course, packing it for the trip home is up to you.

Movie

Many of us trekked out after the banquet to see the Austin Powers sequel, returning in the early a.m. for the ice cream social and ensuing all-night discussions in the atrium (and Machine Room). This is a great way to end the conference.

Sessions I Wish I'd Attended

The rest of them. As trite as that sounds, it's true. I missed OS X, C++, Mozilla, Java, QuickTime, and many others that I had hoped to attend when I first saw the session list.

There's so much cool stuff happening at once, you have to make some decisions about what to do at the conference. The number of sessions this year was greater than last year. I think the number of papers was about the same. It all adds up to a very full schedule, with lots of overlap between scheduled events.

As For The Rest Of The Story

So, what was I doing the rest of the time? Hacking! Trying to turn an idea into something semi-functional in less than 36 hours, using an API I hadn't tried before. I spent a day trying to make my hack work using what seemed to be the "approved" way, meaning the mainstream, high-level forms-based API from Palm. Later I found that there was no approval for what I was trying to do. I guess that's life on the edge.

The sick thing is that once I got P1 Preview limping along well-enough to demo, I kept working on it. In fact, I kept coding until I left for the airport Sunday morning at 6:45. At 5:00 that morning we found a bug in the Palm Debugger, which the Palm engineers then fixed. Nonstop programming.

Some may accuse me of bias, since the Palm gods/engineers smiled on me during the conference, but I find the Palm OS and accompanying API refreshingly small in this world of increasing software size. The Mac roots of the Palm are very obvious once you start figuring out how to write software for it. The primary dev tool is topnotch: CodeWarrior for Palm, of course.

MacTech would like to run some Palm articles in the future. If you have ideas and/or are interested in writing about the Palm OS, let us know.

Bring Your Own, Or...?

One decision you might want to make is whether to bring your own computer. PowerBooks of all models abound at the conference, and someone even brought their personal G3 mini-tower as well.

About two weeks before MacHack I purchased a PowerBook, my first CPU purchase since 1996. I was certainly looking forward to the faster performance. I also wanted some hacking flexibility. Plus, I wanted to do some polishing on my presentation at the conference.

Well, having a PowerBook turned out to be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I could work where and when I wanted (my room at 11pm, the atrium at 3am, etc). A curse because I spent more time off by myself, working feverishly to stabilize and complete my hack. I missed out on some of the comaraderie.

And the Machine Room? It looked pretty well stocked this year, with many iMacs and G3 mini-towers, and perhaps a few boxes I didn't see. Whenever I looked in there were quite a few people, but usually a free machine or two. If you don't own your own computer, finding space in the Machine Room shouldn't be a problem.

URLs

Of course, the primary URL for all things MacHack is <http://www.machack.com/>. This is where you can find the session, paper, and hack information for this year and previous years. There is a post-conference press release describing the top five hacks. There is also a CD for sale containing the conference goodies.

Here are several URLs containing other attendees' conference summaries from previous years:

Conclusion

If you have not attended MacHack, try to go next year. Registrations are now being accepted. Check the conference website for more information. See you there!


Andrew Downs is a Technical Lead for Template Software in New Orleans, LA. With hurricane season approaching, it’s time for him to start taping the windows again. At other times, you can find him teaching his twin toddlers about planes, trains, and computers, interests that they all share (it must be genetic). You can reach him at andrew@downs.net.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Ember 1.8.3 - Versatile digital scrapboo...
Ember (formerly LittleSnapper) is your digital scrapbook of things that inspire you: websites, photos, apps or other things. Just drag in images that you want to keep, organize them into relevant... Read more
Apple iTunes 12.1 - Manage your music, m...
Apple iTunes lets you organize and play digital music and video on your computer. It can automatically download new music, app, and book purchases across all your devices and computers. And it's a... Read more
LibreOffice 4.4.3 - Free, open-source of...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
FoldersSynchronizer 4.2.1 - Synchronize...
FoldersSynchronizer is a popular and useful utility that synchronizes and backs-up files, folders, disks and boot disks. On each session you can apply special options like Timers, Multiple Folders,... Read more
Simon 4.0.2 - Monitor changes and crashe...
Simon monitors websites and alerts you of crashes and changes. Select pages to monitor, choose your alert options, and customize your settings. Simon does the rest. Keep a watchful eye on your... Read more
Cocktail 8.1.2 - General maintenance and...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for OS X that lets you clean, repair and optimize your Mac. It is a powerful digital toolset that helps hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world get... Read more
Cyberduck 4.6.4 - FTP and SFTP browser....
Cyberduck is a robust FTP/FTP-TLS/SFTP browser for the Mac whose lack of visual clutter and cleverly intuitive features make it easy to use. Support for external editors and system technologies such... Read more
Herald 5.0.2 - Notification plugin for M...
Note: Versions 2.1.3 (for OS X 10.7), 3.0.6 (for OS X 10.8), and 4.0.8 (for OS X 10.9) are no longer supported by the developer. Herald is a notification plugin for Mail.app, Apple's Mac OS X email... Read more
DEVONthink Pro 2.8.3 - Knowledge base, i...
Save 10% with our exclusive coupon code: MACUPDATE10 DEVONthink Pro is your essential assistant for today's world, where almost everything is digital. From shopping receipts to important research... Read more
Boom 2 1.0.1 - System-wide pro audio app...
Boom 2 is a system-wide volume booster and equalizer app that is designed especially for OS X 10.10 Yosemite. It comes with a smart interface, self-calibrates itself according to your Mac, offers... Read more

Playworld Superheroes Review
Playworld Superheroes Review By Tre Lawrence on January 30th, 2015 Our Rating: :: HERO CRAFTINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad It’s all about the imagination, fighting bad creatures — and looking good while doing so.   | Read more »
Join the SpongeBob Bubble Party in this...
Join the SpongeBob Bubble Party in this New Match 3 Bubble Poppin’ Frenzy Posted by Jessica Fisher on January 30th, 2015 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Handpick Review
Handpick Review By Jennifer Allen on January 30th, 2015 Our Rating: :: TANTALIZING SUGGESTIONSiPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad Handpick will make you hungry, as well as inspire you to cook something... | Read more »
Storm the Halls of Echo Base in First St...
Storm the Halls of Echo Base in First Star Wars: Galactic Defense Event Posted by Jessica Fisher on January 30th, 2015 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Contradiction Review
Contradiction Review By Tre Lawrence on January 30th, 2015 Our Rating: :: SPOT THE LIEiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Contradiction is a live action point and click adventure that’s pretty engaging.   Developer: Tim Follin... | Read more »
Unlock Sunshine Girl in Ironkill with th...
Unlock Sunshine Girl in Ironkill with this special 148Apps code Posted by Rob Rich on January 29th, 2015 [ permalink ] Robo-fighter Ironkill has been out on iOS a | Read more »
Crossroad Zombies Review
Crossroad Zombies Review By Jordan Minor on January 29th, 2015 Our Rating: :: CROSSWALKING DEADiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Crossroad Zombies is a rough draft of a cool genre mash-up.   | Read more »
Blood Brothers 2 – Tips, Cheats, and Str...
War is hell: Is it the kind of hell you want to check out? Read our Blood Brothers 2 review to find out! Blood Brothers 2, DeNA’s follow-up to the original Blood Brothers, is an intriguing card collecting / role-playing / strategy hybrid. There’s... | Read more »
Blood Brothers 2 Review
Blood Brothers 2 Review By Nadia Oxford on January 29th, 2015 Our Rating: :: AN AGGRAVATING RELATIVEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Blood Brothers 2 is built on a simple, solid foundation, but its free-to-play system... | Read more »
I AM BREAD, the Toast of the Town, is Ro...
Have you ever dreamt of being deliciously gluten-y? Do you feel passionate about Rye and Wheat? The guys at Bossa Studios do and that is why they are bringing I AM BREAD to iOS soon. The loafy app will feature all the new content that is being... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Intel Aims to Transform Workplace With 5th-Ge...
Intel Corporation today announced the availability of its 5th generation Intel Core vPro processor family that provides cutting-edge features to enable a new and rapidly shifting workplace. To meet... Read more
iOS App Sharalike Introduces New Instant Smar...
Sharalike slideshow and photo management software for iOS, is making it easier than ever to create shareable meaningful moments with its new instant SmartShow technology. Staying organized is a goal... Read more
Apple Becomes World’s Largest Smartphone Vend...
According to the latest research data from Strategy Analytics, as global smartphone shipments grew 31 percent annually to reach a record 380 million units in the fourth quarter of 2014. Apple became... Read more
Cut the Cord: OtterBox Resurgence Power Case...
Dead batteries and broken phones are two of the biggest issues for smartphone users today. Otterbox addresses both with the new Resurgence Power Case for Apple iPhone 6, promising to make those panic... Read more
13-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.6GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $1199.99 save $100 - 13″ 2.6GHz/... Read more
15-inch 2.5GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
 B&H Photo has the 15″ 2.5GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $2319.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $180 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this... Read more
Back in stock: Refurbished iPod nanos for $99...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 16GB iPod nanos available for $99 including free shipping and Apple’s standard one-year warranty. That’s $50 off the cost of new nanos. Most colors are... Read more
Apple lowers price on refurbished 256GB MacBo...
The Apple Store has lowered prices on Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 MacBook Airs with 256GB SSDs, now available for up to $200 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included... Read more
New Good Management Suite Simplifies Enterpri...
Good Technology has announced the availability of the Good Management Suite, a comprehensive cross-platform solution for organizations getting started with mobile business initiatives. Built on the... Read more
15-inch 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pro (refurbishe...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished previous-generation 15″ 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pros available for $1489 including free shipping plus Apple’s standard one-year warranty. Their price is... Read more

Jobs Board

At-Home Chat Specialist- *Apple* Online Stor...
**Job Summary** At Apple , we believe in hard work, a fun environment, and the kind of creativity and innovation that only comes about when talented people from diverse Read more
SW QA Engineer - *Apple* TV - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** The Apple TV team is looking for experienced Quality Assurance Engineers with a passion for delivering first in class home entertainment solutions. **Key Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions(US) - Ap...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you re also the Read more
*Apple* Systems Engineer - Pre Sales, Educat...
…is responsible for proactively providing technical expertise to drive sales of Apple solutions into assigned accounts. The SE architects, validates, and assists in Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
As an ambassador of the Apple brand, the ASC is accountable for driving sales performance by: Connecting with customers. Discovering customers' needs and values. Showing Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.