WWDC 2011 Journal, Day 2

Wednesday, June 08, 2011 at 10:22 AM

By Mike Morton, Google Mac Team

Google Engineer Mike Morton continues his nerd's-eye-view report from the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco. Today Mike starts with a festive breakfast and finishes at this year's edition of the legendary Stump the Experts.

My team had a 7:00 a.m. meeting at a nearby restaurant so I woke early, dashed through the shower, glanced guiltily at the hotel gym, and headed out, only to find the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays. I continued on to a 7:30 breakfast for folks who coordinate chapters of CocoaHeads. I had a great time talking with people from around the world, everything from small talk about the conference to challenges in getting people to present technical talks. Mark Dalrymple, who helped found the organization, showed up and was mobbed by friends and well-wishers, about five steps from the food table. I helped disengage him and steered him to the food.

There were door prizes, with iTunes gift cards going to the oldest chapter (besides Mark’s), the person who traveled the farthest, and the one who had the earliest Mac model. There was a tense moment on that last one when another guy and I both said we had original 128KB Macintoshes. I challenged "September, 1984. Full price!" He admitted he got his for two bucks at a yard sale — score!

Mark talked a little about founding Cocoaheads with the mysterious Agent M. (I’ve never known Agent M’s name, and have gotten kind of resigned to that little mystery. I was kind of alarmed to see that nobody else there seemed to know it either.) Mark graciously said that Agent M had the vision to plan a global organization, joking that left to himself he would have named it "the Western Pennsylvania Macintosh Programmer’s Cooperative". We posed for a group photo. Someone yelled "Java!" at the right moment and got a good group laugh.

I headed to Moscone and played hooky only once in six sessions. Apple works hard to make their engineers give polished talks with polished slides, and it shows. Most presentations were good — and crowded. Lines to get into the most popular sessions snaked randomly around the waiting areas.

A few sessions had hiccups: A missing slide, a demo application not working. Presenters rolled with the punches. One cheerfully moved on with "imagine you saw a demo, and it was great!". (He got a round of applause.)

I went to lunch in the Moscone cafeteria for the first time this week and found that every table had power strips and fast, wired network connections. Nerdvana! As so often happens when traveling, network connections are iffy. My hotel’s wi-fi and wired connections are both flaky, and Moscone’s wireless net is variable, depending on how crowded the room is. My iPhone’s tethering makes a nice Plan B at any location.

After dinner out, I poked my head in for the Apple Design Awards. It was crowded, so I left and took a break at the hotel to try to catch up on email and other things. I returned about 9:00 p.m. in time for Stump The Experts, my first time seeing this famous event. It’s a manic, disorganized, geekier-than-thou fest, with serious technical trivia about products (way back to the Apple I, even) and programming, but also some wild hats, a lot of improv, rebus puzzles, trying to guess a "will it blend" mystery object from its blended remains, a Mountain Dew tasting, and a "crazy Swiss guy". If I had attended any of the 19 previous years, maybe I would have understood what that last was all about.

Stump The Experts in a typically organized pose

The event is a competition between the audience and the on-stage experts. The format is… well, I couldn’t figure out if there was one. Competition is high-spirited, with lots of argument about who’s right. Example: "I quote the Wikipedia page, which we didn't even have to lie and edit".

Some questions are asked on the spot by the audience. The biggest laugh of the night came when an audience member asked what sounded like a rhetorical question: how did a particular much-hated app gain App Store approval? One expert turned out to be the bowling partner of the guy who wrote the app, and texted him to ask. The answer was "beer", which may or may not be a rhetorical answer.

We wrapped up at 10:30, with a few brave folks disco dancing to "Night Fever" as the rest of us headed out to get some rest (or beer).