Macworld Conference London Scores A Hattrick

(You can find a few photos from this event on my Flickr page.)

It’s time for a little celebration: last week saw the third anniversary of Macworld Conference London. While still rather small, it is on par, both in terms of information content and entertainment value, with the highly successful conference programs accompanying the US Macworld shows, after which it is modeled.

The first Macworld Conference London took place at the Barbican in May of 2004. Although it featured an interesting conference program, it can be considered a test balloon, since it was not connected to any other events. That changed with the second Conference, which was tied to last year’s Mac-Expo London, taking place at the Islington Business Center. This year saw Mac-Expo London’s return to its original venue, the Kensington Olympia, and the Conference came along with it.

Last week’s Conference featured two session tracks, one covering OS X and another on Pro Graphic Design, focusing on Quark Xpress and Adobe Creative Suite applications. With the exception of managing my photos in iPhoto, I’m not into graphics, so I followed the OS X track, presented by two of the Macintosh scene’s most respected authors, David Pogue and Andy Ihnatko.

Day One: Tips and Tricks Galore!

David’s “Mac OS X Tiger Super Session” and “Apple’s Hidden Software Secrets” were actually one massive session cut in half, with David Pogue covering tips, tricks, and advice on topics like Spotlight, Dashboard, Safari, Automator, security, and others. Pogue shared such a wealth of the information that it would be impossible to list it all here, but you can find it all in his book called “Mac OS X Tiger Edition – The Missing Manual“. And I can assure you that this is a great book, because I have a copy on my bookshelf. Just like all the other attendess of the “Tiger Super Session,” by the way, courtesy of a defective projector: since David had to hold up his 12″ PowerBook G4 due to said projector just showing an empty blue screen, the organizers of the show decided to give us all a copy of the book for free. What a great move. Thanks, guys!

Even if you’re an experience Mac user, you will still find a few tidbits about your favorite operating systems in that book that you have never heard of before. To give you just a taste of what you can expect:

  • To confine a search in Spotlight to a specific kind of data, type “kind:” and the type of data into the search field, e.g., “kind:contact Francis” will search for “Francis” only in your Address Book. Searching for “kind:contact” will list all contacts on your Mac.
  • To close a widget in Dashboard, you don’t have to open the drawer at the bottom; just hold the option key, move the mouse pointer over the Widget you would like to close, and that widget’s close icon will appear.
  • In Safari, if you have placed an online order and you’re asked to print out a receipt: instead of actually sending that page to your printer, select File->Print, click on the PDF button in the lower left corner, and select “Save PDF to Web Receipts Folder.” You will find the receipts in a folder called “Web Receipts” in your Documents folder.
  • To quickly look up a word in the Dictionary, move the mouse cursor over that word and hold down Cmd-Ctrl-D, and a dictionary entry for the word will be displayed. You can even move the mouse while holding down those keys. Click on the “More…” button in the lower right corner of that little window, and the Dictionary application is opened, showing the entry for the word you selected. This works in almost any app that works with text.
  • In Preview, you can select a rectangle of text, instead of line-by-line, by holding down the option key while you select text with the mouse. Very useful when you want to copy text from a multi-column PDF document.
  • Here’s my favorite tip: There is a way to burn data to a CD-R more than once without resorting to any third party tools: launch Disk Utility and create a new disk image, go to the Finder and add files to the image you’d like to burn onto the CD, return to Disk Utility and click on the Burn button. In the dialog sheet that pops up, there is an option “Leave disc appendable.” Select that option, and the CD will not be “closed” after burning the data onto it.

In between David’s session, Andy Ihnatko told his audience all about the iLife ’05 suite of applications. Truth be told, I skipped that session, because I only use iPhoto and iTunes.

Day Two: A Healthy Mac, iPhoto, and Letting Your Mac Work For You

The second day started off with Andy Ihnatko’s life-saving instructions about what to do when your Mac starts acting up, aptly entitled “Oh, &@%#! — The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Whatever.” The three sections of this session addressed what to do when things go wrong, how to prevent things from going wrong, and what to try if more subtle issues plague your Mac, the latter being as geeky as outlining the stages of the boot process of Mac OS X.

As expected, and like any computer pundit worth his money, Andy stressed the importance of backing up your data. If you have never done that so far, do consider heading over to your favorite online, or brick-n-mortar, computer store and buy an external hard drive and a decent piece of back-up softare NOW. If you do run into problems with your Mac, knowing that you have a backup that works(!) will take a lot of emotional pain from you. If you do not have a back-up, you’ll need a huge supply of Prozac to get out of your depression if you have any data that you cherish.

Apart from the well-received backup sermon, the other core piece of information is Andy’s path of escalation when your Mac is behaving badly in whatever kind of way. It’s a path that every Mac user should know by heart, so I hope Andy won’t mind me sharing it with you (using my own words to describe each step, mind you; Andy’s own formulations were so funny in the Ihnatko way, I wouldn’t dare copy them here!):

  1. Do Nothing

  2. Quit the app via the menu item File->Quit
  3. Force quite the application, e.g. via Cmd-Strg-Esc
  4. Free up space on your hard drive to provide ample swap space (at least ca. 10% of the drive’s size)
  5. Log out and back in again; shut down and restart (a full shut down is preferred to simply choosing Apple->Restart)
  6. Restart and zap the P-RAM by holding down Cmd-Opt-P-R during the boot process
  7. Restart in Safe Mode by pressing the “Shift” key after the start-up chime
  8. Shut down, unplug any external devices like drives, audio I/O, printers, etc., and restart
  9. Boot off another drive by holding down the Option key during the boot process and selecting a drive from the list
  10. Re-install the operating system.
  11. Start the Mac in Target Disk Mode: hold down the T key during start-up and connect the Mac to another machine via Firewire. The troubled Mac should now appear as an external Fireware drive on the other machine.
  12. Pack up your machine and see your Mac dealer or consult the guys at the Genius Bar if you have an Apple Store close by.

(On a side note, have you backed up your data recently? Just asking!)

David Pogue’s iPhoto Masterclass was next. In his tried-and-true hands-on style, David outlined the basic features of iPhoto and provided lots of hints about how to utilize all the app’s features to the fullest. From adding photos to the iPhoto library by dragging-and-dropping them onto the app’s main window, via creating photo books, to working with multiple iPhoto libraries: it was all there. One of the more interesting side notes was David’s mentioning 4..5 MPixels as the ideal compromise between photo resolution and size of the photos.

The OS X track of this year’s Macworld Conference was rounded off with Andy introducing the audience to the power and magic of AppleScript. Admittedly, another session I skipped since it was more targeted at scripting newbies.

Making a Good Event Even Better

It wasn’t just David’s and Andy’s highly enjoyable style of presenting the sessions that made attending Macworld Conference London 2005 worthwhile. It’s also the knowledge about all things Mac that presenters like these two are more than willing to share, enabling their audiences to use their Macs in more powerful, more productive, and more enjoyable ways. The aspect that does need some polishing, though, is the scope of the conference. Both tracks “only” featured six sessions each, and some of the ground covered was a bit too close to what was presented at the last two London conferences, so that there’s the danger of some attendees not returning next time if the topics are similar to those presented at this conference.

What the organizer should do, then, is expand the show by adding more tracks and also add the odd session that explicitly targets highly experienced Mac users. I mentioned this to Paul Bryan, who managed this year’s show, and he welcomed the idea of, for instance, linking an upcoming audio-specific Macintosh conference to Macworld Conference and the Mac-Expo, so, maybe, we can return next year for an even bigger, better, and beefier Macworld Conference London. See you there!

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