I don’t like big cities. I’ve been to San Francisco a handful of times, and usually the only thing going through my mind is “When can I leave?” However, this time I was taking a full day off of work to go to MacWorld Expo, and I had no pressing engagements or schedules to keep. I looked at the day as an adventure, and decided that I’d just enjoy whatever happened. Perhaps that new attitude helped. Whatever the reason, I had a good time, despite the traumas and few negative experiences.
It started out with the difficulties of getting to San Francisco. Even though I was driving through San Jose at 9 a.m., traffic was still bad, which surprised me: I figured everyone would be at work by that time. Driving in the City was even worse, though I tried to relax and tell myself to be calm. Nothing too terrible happened: I almost got run over by a fire truck; a few cars honked at me for not knowing what I was doing; I got stuck behind an armored truck for a bit when it pulled over for a pickup and the traffic going around wouldn’t let me out; and I drove the same parts of downtown SF several times, trying to figure out how to get where I needed to go. In the end, I figured out the secret to driving in the big city: there are no left turns. If you can get there by turning right, you’re fine, but with no left-hand turn lanes, you’re toast if you want to go left. Of course the parking garage I’d selected was to my left, so I ended up having to do a complex loop to my right and then go past the road I was on to end up to that road’s left and come back up it with the parking garage on my right. It took me a couple tries, but without a schedule, I didn’t have to worry about being late.
MacWorld Expo was very exciting. My entrance badge hadn’t arrived in the mail as promised, but they found on the computer in a few seconds and printed me one on the spot. Within ten minutes of arriving, I was inside the Expo. Moscone Center, where it’s held every year, is divided into two buildings, North and South (you can move between the buildings via a wide corridor that goes underneath the street that divides them). I started off at the smaller North Hall and was very pleased with all the booths. Everyone was friendly, demonstrations of products were lively and exciting, and I got some free stuff (T-Shirts, CDs, etc.). It had been oh, maybe eight years since I last went to a MacWorld Expo — I prefer the Seybold show, as it’s devoted to Electronic Publishing — and I was surprised to note that even I could see that the show was smaller than in the past. Curtain partitions had been erected around the perimeter so you wouldn’t notice that the booths didn’t extend all the way to the edges of the huge room. I don’t know if the show wasn’t sold out because of the economy or Sept. 11, but either way it was a touch sad. The expo organizers should have given more space to each exhibitor and used up that extra space: it would have felt like it was full. At any rate, the vendors who were there were excellent, and I discovered a number of products I’d never heard about, so that was good. At the REALbasic booth I met several of the REALbasic folks (REALbasic is the programming language I use), people I’ve talked with for years via email but never met in person. It was gratifying to walk up and not even have to introduce myself — they recognized my name from my columns and the software I’ve written. Later, in the South Hall, I ran into Matt Neuburg, author extraordinaire, the guy who introduced me to REALbasic via one of his articles. We had a great chat and he said he was eager to contribute to my REALbasic Developer magazine.
The South Hall was filled with larger exhibitors, including a monster Apple site which contains hundreds of the new flat-panel iMacs. They were impressive, by the way. I’d read the technical specs before coming and knew they’re excellent values, but seeing them in person you really get a feel for how fantastic those screens look. In the pictures, the new iMacs usually look like a bizarre kind of desk lamp (I call them iLamps). But in person, you really don’t notice the base: the screen takes all your focus, and with it in front of you, it covers up the base. The result is that the computer is the screen. Very cool effect but one that must be experienced in person. Overall, however, the South Hall disappointed me: most of the vendors were big huge companies, like Canon, Olympus, HP, Epson, etc., that are only peripherally Macintosh related. It was good those companies were there, sure, but their offerings are skimpy and not exactly innovative (gee, another scanner, another printer, whoop whoop). I liked the booths of the small vendors best. Here you were often talking with the actual programmer who wrote the software, or the president of the company would be giving you the demo of the product. It was a much more personal atmosphere. Some of the larger places were giving impressive demonstrations, especially the video and 3D software products, but those places were crowded, the demos long and technical (some of that software takes years to master and that assumes you’re already a video expert or artist), and the ones with chairs never had a free seat (I suspect most people just wanted to get off their feet). My suggestion to the Expo people would be to encourage more smaller exhitors. One thing I’d love to see, being a shareware author myself, is a shareware arena. Set up a large section with dozens of small booths, and allow several hundred shareware authors to promote their products. Each author wouldn’t necessarily get an exclusive booth but perhaps a set few hours each day. The cost would be free or minimal: just travel and living expensives to be at the Expo would be more than many authors could afford, but the benefits would be tremendous. I’d love to be able to demo my software to live people, meet users face to face, and listen to suggestions and problems and ideas for improvements. I’m sure I’d reach a new audience, people that hadn’t heard of Z-Write before, or didn’t understand it but suddenly do when seeing it demonstrated.
By four-thirty I was exhausted. I’d wandered through the entire show, seen just about everything I wanted to see, and I was lugging around my big bag of Expo goodies and my digital camera. I decided to call it quits and get some food. It felt great to sit and relax for a while. I ate a leisurely meal and started reading the new programming book I got at the Developer’s Depot booth. After dinner (I took an hour), I wandered over to the Yerba Buena Gardens area that’s on the back of the Moscone Center. It was surprisingly pleasant. There’s a nice fountain and a neat waterfalls and a little park. There’s a museum or something, too, but I didn’t go inside. I went over to the Sony Metreon building, which I’d heard about but never seen, and I wasn’t that impressed. It’s basically just a mall with restaurants, a multiscreen movie theatre, and a few Sony stores (there’s a Playstation store and Sony Style, which sells Sony electronics and DVDs). One thing was cool: a series of kiosks which would beam a Metreon map and movie timetable to your Palm handheld. I had my Handspring Visor with me and was tempted to try it, but I didn’t really need the info, and it just seemed unbelievably geeky, so I didn’t bother to try it. I’m sure it works as advertised. In the Sony Style store I got a neat demo of a hardware/software package for the Mac that lets you control your entire Sony stereo system, in particular, Sony CD changers. You can connect up to 12 changers and the software automatically gets the ablum and song titles from the Internet for you, and then it can control the changers and play the correct CD/song when told to do so. You can even mix CDs and MP3s together in your playlist! It was very impressive, with some features that I really like. For instance, you can tell the randomizer to only play songs you’ve haven’t heard in the last week (or month or 3 months)! There were also a zillion methods of organizing or searching the songs. It was very powerful, but the setup’s expensive: $300 and that doesn’t include the CD changer or the stereo system!
Finally, it was time to go to the REALbasic user group meeting. There was about a dozen of us there, and we got to share our concerns and suggestions with the REAlbasic team, and they gave us some hints and details at what improvements we can expect in the future. It was a great session: I was impressed at how open the RB guys were. They were honest and frank and willing to admit there were flaws in the product, and eager to hear from us users at what they could do to make it better.
It was ten o’clock by the time I got home. My parking garage bill was for $18, I got occosted by a begger wanting money for something I couldn’t understand (he mumbled terribly), and I discovered a huge blister on my left heel from all the walking. Next time, better shoes. But overall, a good day. A pleasant change from the ordinary. I wouldn’t want to do that every day, and I certainly wouldn’t want to live in the City, but I’m glad I went. I’ve put up some pictures of MacWorld Expo, if you’re interested.