TweetFollow Us on Twitter

USENIX != WWDC

Volume Number: #
Issue Number: #
Column Tag: Community

USENIX != WWDC

An impressionistic report on two very different technical conferences

by Rich Morin

Background

Apple (www.apple.com) and USENIX (www.usenix.org) both run excellent technical conferences, but the events are extremely different in approach, scope, size, and general flavor. So, although I can easily recommend their conferences to MacTech readers, the specifics of the recommendations will vary significantly.

Both organizations are both quite experienced at running conferences, having done so for more than two decades. Apple's WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) is much larger than USENIX's Annual Conference, but USENIX runs several events each year. So, both organizations do a good job of crafting schedules, picking talks, etc.

USENIX (co-)sponsors more than a dozen events (www.usenix.org/events) each year, covering a wide range of topics. This year's offerings, for example, include gatherings on autonomic computing, distributed systems, electronic voting, mobile computing, virtual execution environments, and several subtopics of system administration (e.g., computer security, large installations).

The Annual Conference is thus a smorgasbord of refereed and invited papers on hot topics in software design. Not accidentally, it is also a gathering place for researchers who want to trade ideas, argue about approaches, etc. A few brief tutorials may slip into the main track, but most are sequestered into intensive "tutorial tracks".

WWDC, in contrast, is Apple's annual opportunity to bring interested techies up to speed on new, Apple-specific technologies. So, WWDC sessions tend to be a mixture of presentations and tutorials. Although there may be an occasional nod in the direction of Unix and/or Open Source, the focus is primarily on Apple products: iPhone, Mac OS X, Safari, etc.

USENIX Impressions

The first USENIX conference I attended was in the early 80's. Many vendors were rushing to create Unix systems. I recall being quite intimidated, as a newbie, by the presence of the operating system's developers and early adopters. However, this was more than balanced by the excitement of hearing them present (and argue about) various design possibilities.

It was also amusing, on occasion, to watch the interactions of the business and technical folks. In one fabled interchange, a "suit" asked a pony-tailed man if he had been using Unix for a while. In a masterpiece of understatement, Dennis Ritchie answered "yes".

This Year's Sessions

Today's Annual Conferences are far less focused on kernel issues than in earlier years, but they are still a great place to hear about new and upcoming technologies. And, because most Open Source projects are developed on Unix-like operating systems, many of these projects get discussed, as well.

Even if you can't get to a specific conference, you can still take advantage of its presentations. Recordings and proceedings are often available from the USENIX web site. Here, by way of example, are some highlights from this year's conference...

Guido van Rossum (Google) gave an update on the "Python Programming Language". Steven C. Johnson (MathWorks) led a discussion about the disconnect between current programming languages and parallel (e.g., multi-core) computing environments. Tom Christiansen's "Advanced Perl" session contained several useful tricks about using regular expressions.

This year featured several sessions on large-scale computing, with presentations from Amazon, Google, Linden Lab, LiveJournal, SiCortex, Tellme, and others. There were also a large number of refereed papers (generally quite specialized) from researchers.

I particularly enjoyed Luis van Ahn's talk on "Human Computation". As one of the folks behind the CAPTCHA puzzles, he felt guilty about the amount of cognitive effort that is being wasted in making humans recognize distorted text. So, he has been devising ways to capture some of this effort (to assist OCR efforts) and writing games (e.g., www.espgame.org) that capture useful work from the players.

One Laptop per Child

My favorite session, however, was "Crossing the Digital Divide: The Latest Efforts from One Laptop per Child". Mary Lou Jepson, a key hardware developer on the project, described some of the tricks she and others have used to produce a truly extraordinary laptop.

The OLPC laptop (laptop.org) has many features that I'd like to see more generally adopted. First, it is amazingly robust and safe. It can be used in the rain or at high temperatures (e.g., 50C!), dropped several feet onto concrete without damage, and fed by a wide range of power sources. If something breaks, it can be repaired in the field (often by children). It contains no mercury and the battery electrolyte burns at 100C, rather than the 1000C of typical laptop fires.

It also runs on a measly two (!) watts, provides opportunistic "mesh" networking, and has a screen that can be read in direct sunlight. Finally, of course, it costs less than $200. Where do I sign up?

Where's Apple?

Apple is arguably the world's largest Unix vendor. However, aside from the prevalence of Apple laptops, the company was completely invisible at this event. They provided no speakers, held no BOFs (Birds Of a Feather meetings), and were not listed as sponsors. [Ed. note: Apple has sent speakers to Usenix in the past.]

I can understand why Apple might not wish to discuss unannounced or proprietary technologies, but why not present some of their shipping, Open Source innovations? Apple has introduced a substantial number of these, in areas ranging from device driver design through dynamic configuration to power management and web standards. Someone is missing a bet...

WWDC Impressions

Due to the restrictions of Apple's WWDC Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), I'm unable to talk about unannounced information, let alone the specifics of the presentations. However, I can (and will) talk about the presentation style, amenities, etc. I hope this gives you a useful idea of the "flavor" of the event. Speaking of which...

Noxious Noshes

In previous years, one of the benefits of attending WWDC was the presence of plentiful, high-quality food. Hot lunches were provided, generally with a selection of entrees. Tasty snacks were available between sessions and free "espresso bars" were on hand to provide hot drinks. Unfortunately, the food service this year was considerably degraded from that of previous years.

I tried one "mocha" at the espresso bar; it was made up from a packet of pre-mixed powder, much of which was still present in the drink. It was so unpalatable that I discarded it after two sips. The lunches were better, but over-cooked chicken and refrigerated sandwiches are not to my taste; I opted to pay for food at a nearby restaurant. I realize that complaining about the food may sound petty, but given the substantial cost of the event, Apple really should do better.

Solid Sessions

Apple's annual WWDC conference is a mix of overview and tutorial talks, generally presented by Apple employees (primarily engineers, with some managers and "evangelists"). As you might expect, the production values are solid, if sometimes a bit monotonous. All of the presenters use Keynote, most of the demonstrations work, and presentations follow a rather predictable pattern.

Because Apple publishes the WWDC session titles (at developer.apple.com/wwdc), I can tell you which topics I particularly enjoyed. In many cases, a bit of Googling will bring you to sites that give more details than I can (safely) disclose here.

The "State of the Union" talks are always worthwhile. Even if I'm not planning to work with a particular technology, attending its SotU session will give me a good overview of where it is headed. SotU sessions also serve as useful road maps to more detailed sessions.

I'm not a big fan of Objective-C; as a scripter, I think it makes the programmer write way too much code. So, I was happy to see that Apple is moving forward with its "new and improved" version, "Objective-C 2.0". Careful borrowing from scripting languages could make ObjC code easier to write and less subject to programming oversights.

Xcode 3.0 also looks very interesting as a scripting environment. I've been using TextMate and Terminal to develop Rails applications. Xcode's support for Ruby and the Xcode Organizer will provide an interesting, GUI-based alternative. And, of course, I'm delighted to see official support for Cocoa programming in Python and Ruby.

I've been a fan of DTrace (www.sun.com/bigadmin/content/dtrace) since Sun first announced it. Having a scriptable way to monitor kernel, library, and application activities is immensely useful. So, having Apple add DTrace to Leopard is a big win for Mac OS X developers.

However, Apple didn't stop there. Borrowing extensively from GarageBand, they produced XRay, a really slick GUI-based front end to DTrace. XRay provides dozens of "instruments" that can be attached (via DTrace) to various parts of the system. It then allows the developer to view the results, drill down for more information, etc.

I dislike the fact that widgets don't live in the same "space" as normal Cocoa apps, because this keeps me from cutting and pasting, etc. However, many folks find widgets to be extremely useful. Apple's new development tools (DashCode, WebClip) will allow many more (and better) widgets to be created.

For advance information on Xcode, XRay, and DashCode, see Apple's "teaser" page (www.apple.com/macosx/leopard/developer) and/or fire up your favorite search engine...

Pernicious Privacy

Apple's well-known penchant for privacy makes the sessions less useful than they might otherwise be. Because cameras and recorders are prohibited and no printed materials are provided, attendees are left trying to take notes (or simply remember) the "fire hose" of material that each presentation provides.

And, because Apple doesn't provide any NDA-safe forums, it is difficult for attendees to follow up on presented technologies after the conference. More generally, non-disclosed ADC members have no legal way to trade notes on bugs, features, or programming techniques. Apple has known about this problem for years; it's really time they fixed it...

Non-Apple material is very sparse at WWDC, consisting of end-of-talk Q&A periods and a small number of feedback sessions. There are a few informal lunchtime sessions and some evening events at the nearby Apple Store, but there are no BOFs. Nor, sadly, were there any booths this year for third-party vendors, Open Source projects, etc. These were an interesting part of earlier WWDCs; I'd like to see them return.

One conspicuous (and delightful) exception this year was a scientific "poster session" that took place in a conference hallway. Several dozen presenters stood next to large (roughly 3' x 5') posters that described their work. Topics ranged from ArchImage (architecture) to WeatherScope (meteorology).

Conclusion

In summary, WWDC is a large, narrowly-focused, unidirectional multicast from Apple to its developers; the back-channel is informal and low bandwidth, at best. That said, WWDC is by far the best way for prospective Mac developers to get started and for experienced Mac developers to learn about new technologies and fill in gaps in their knowledge.

If you can't go in person, watching the recorded versions of the talks is reasonably effective. Unfortunately, Apple does not make these generally available. Given that only 0.5% of the ADC membership got to this year's conference, I think that Apple is missing another bet...


Rich Morin has been using Unix on Macs (e.g., A/UX) for two decades. As you might expect, he's very happy with Mac OS X and the way it has been accepted by the Apple community. Rich does contract technical editing and writing, programming, and web development for a living (and, between contracts, for fun). You can reach him at rdm@cfcl.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

BusyContacts 1.0.2 - Fast, efficient con...
BusyContacts is a contact manager for OS X that makes creating, finding, and managing contacts faster and more efficient. It brings to contact management the same power, flexibility, and sharing... Read more
Capture One Pro 8.2.0.82 - RAW workflow...
Capture One Pro 8 is a professional RAW converter offering you ultimate image quality with accurate colors and incredible detail from more than 300 high-end cameras -- straight out of the box. It... Read more
Backblaze 4.0.0.872 - Online backup serv...
Backblaze is an online backup service designed from the ground-up for the Mac.With unlimited storage available for $5 per month, as well as a free 15-day trial, peace of mind is within reach with... Read more
Little Snitch 3.5.2 - Alerts you about o...
Little Snitch gives you control over your private outgoing data. Track background activity As soon as your computer connects to the Internet, applications often have permission to send any... Read more
Monolingual 1.6.4 - Remove unwanted OS X...
Monolingual is a program for removing unnecesary language resources from OS X, in order to reclaim several hundred megabytes of disk space. If you use your computer in only one (human) language, you... Read more
CleanApp 5.0 - Application deinstaller a...
CleanApp is an application deinstaller and archiver.... Your hard drive gets fuller day by day, but do you know why? CleanApp 5 provides you with insights how to reclaim disk space. There are... Read more
Fantastical 2.0 - Create calendar events...
Fantastical is the Mac calendar you'll actually enjoy using. Creating an event with Fantastical is quick, easy, and fun: Open Fantastical with a single click or keystroke Type in your event details... Read more
Cocktail 8.2 - General maintenance and o...
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
Direct Mail 4.0.4 - Create and send grea...
Direct Mail is an easy-to-use, fully-featured email marketing app purpose-built for OS X. It lets you create and send great looking email campaigns. Start your newsletter by selecting from a gallery... Read more
jAlbum Pro 12.6 - Organize your digital...
jAlbum Pro has all the features you love in jAlbum, but comes with a commercial license. With jAlbum, you can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code!... Read more

MLB Manager 2015 (Games)
MLB Manager 2015 5.0.14 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 5.0.14 (iTunes) Description: Guide your favorite MLB franchise to glory! MLB Manager 2015, officially licensed by MLB.com and based on the award-... | Read more »
Breath of Light (Games)
Breath of Light 1.0.1421 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.1421 (iTunes) Description: Hold a quiet moment. Breath of Light is a meditative and beautiful puzzle game with a hypnotic soundtrack by... | Read more »
WWE WrestleMania Tags into the App Store
Are You ready to rumble? The official WWE WrestleMania app, by World Wrestling Entertainment, is now available. Now you can get all your WrestleMania info in one place before anyone else. The app offers details on superstar signings, interactive... | Read more »
Bio Inc's New Expansion is Infectin...
Bio Inc., by DryGin Studios, is the real time strategy game where you infect a human body with the worst virus your evil brain can design. Recently, the game was updated to add a whole lot of new features. Now you can play the new “Lethal”... | Read more »
The Monocular Minion is Here! Despicable...
Despicable Me: Minion Rush, by Gameloft, is introducing a new runner to the mix in their latest update. Now you can play as Carl, the prankster minion. Carl has a few new abilities to play with, including running at a higher speed from the start.... | Read more »
Dungeon of Madness (Games)
Dungeon of Madness 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Dungeon of Madness is an action game where you rotate tiles to create our own route. Help the hero by connecting the... | Read more »
Filters for iPhone (Photography)
Filters for iPhone 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Photography Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Jump'N'Shoot Attack (Games)
Jump'N'Shoot Attack 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: A mobile game for gamers! Join Louise Lightfoot, the legendary "Master of Jumping and Shooting", on her mission to save... | Read more »
Space Bounties Inc. (Games)
Space Bounties Inc. 1.4 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.4 (iTunes) Description: SuperGameDroid: 4/5 "Satisfying futuristic RPG combat, high replay value, and a heavy dose of nostalgia make Space... | Read more »
Gamebook: Pocket RPG (Games)
Gamebook: Pocket RPG 1.0.11 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.11 (iTunes) Description: Walk into the Land of Lanthir Lamath ruled by wicked skeletons and fight for your life in a thrilling adventure.... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Logitech Says MX Master Is Its Most Advanced...
Logitech’s new MX Master Wireless Mouse incorporates the best of Logitech’s many computer mouse innovations into a striking hand-sculpted design. The company claims that the MX Master creates a new... Read more
Save up to $300 on a new Mac, $30 on an iPad,...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad at The Apple Store for Education and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free,... Read more
Apple refurbished 2014 MacBook Airs available...
The Apple Store lowered prices on Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 MacBook Airs recently, with models now available starting at $679. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and... Read more
Mac Notebook Evolution; A Desktop Replacement...
More often than not right from the beginning, Apple’s Macs have tended to skew toward small. The original Macs were called “compacts,”, and notwithstanding a few exceptions like the honking Big Mac... Read more
13-inch 1.4GHz/128GB MacBook Air (Apple refur...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 13″ 1.4GHz/128GB MacBook Airs available for $759 including free shipping plus Apple’s standard one-year warranty. Their price is $240 off original... Read more
YEP! Alternative Browser for iOS Now Supports...
Pfaeffikon, Switzerland based Power App AG has announced the release of an update to their Yep! Web Browser (v1.3.0) for iOS8 iPhone and iPad. Yep! hit the App Store shortly after the release of iOS... Read more
15-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has the new 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $250 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $... Read more
Clearance 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros availab...
B&H Photo has leftover 2014 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $250 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.6GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $1098... Read more
Clearance 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has MacBook Airs on sale for up to $180 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 11″ 128GB MacBook Air: $789.99 110 off original MSRP - 11″ 256GB... Read more
Apple refurbished Time Capsules available for...
The Apple Store has certified refurbished Time Capsules available for $100 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each Time Capsule, and shipping is free: - 2TB Time Capsule: $199, $100... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
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
Sr. Technical Services Consultant, *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple Professional Services (APS) has an opening for a senior technical position that contributes to Apple 's efforts for strategic and transactional Read more
Lead *Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail...
**Job Summary** Job Summary The Lead ASC is an Apple employee who serves as the Apple business manager and influencer in a hyper-business critical Reseller's store Read more
*Apple* Pay - Site Reliability Engineer - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Consultant (ASC) you are the link between our customers and our products. Your role is to drive the Apple business in a retail Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.