Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hawaiian Lamplighting Ceremony

As dusk falls on the beautiful Kohala Coast of Hawaii, lamplighting ceremonies send warm, orange flares into the air.

Children gather round for a fun way to end the day, but for lamplighters like Elton who carry a flaming torch, the ceremony has an altogether more solemn significance.

Casual beachwear discarded, Elton dresses in traditional Hawaiian cloth and shell necklace, tying plaited fronds around his arms, knees and forehead. When he is ready, he collects a flaming torch on a long, metal pole.

Then he stands, torch in hand, and solemnly raises a pu - Hawaiian for conch shell - to his lips, sounding the first of four, high-pitched notes.

In turn he faces east for the rising of the sun, west for the setting of the sun, north and south.

As Elton blows the pu, he is acknowledging his kupanas - elders - and aumakua, the spiritual guardians of animals and nature, who Elton believes, live on in the sharks, turtles and whales, the trees, wind and rain and who are around him to protect him.

'That's why we're very sensitive to our environment,' he explained one evening, preparing for the ritual in the grounds of the Fairmont Orchid hotel.

Luxuriant tropical plants and trees surround him with the bright yellow hibiscus, the national flower of Hawaii, in abundance. Behind, the curling surf of the Pacific with its
subtle tints of blues and greens, tumbles gently on shore. A shore from where humpbacked whales, sharks and endangered honu turtles can be watched.

For Elton, like most Hawaiians, blowing conch shells is a part of everyday life but everyone, he says, has a personal way of doing it.

'It is similar to a trumpet but every conch shell will fit a separate person. You never blow someone else's conch,' he says.

Elton, named after Elton John, grew up on the Big Island, as Hawaii is also known, and has lived there all his life.

His cultural influences are mixed for the island has had huge western influence, beginning with the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778 and American missionaries in the 1800s.

He was educated in a Catholic school founded by the early missionaries, and grew up watching PBS - Public Broadcasting Service - on Hawaiian television, which broadcast British programmes. His two favourite shows are Monty Python and Keeping Up Appearances, so it is not surprising that inside him is a little bit of Britain!

During the day he works on the hotel's private beach, but it is as dusk approaches that he expresses his Hawaiian nature.

That evening as the notes of the pu sounded out in the peaceful setting, the air was cooler and there were no children running to join him.

But during the summer holidays as many as 30 or 40 children accompany him joyfully around verdant trails and paths, respectfully lighting up the descending darkness with flickering glows.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Welcome to Macintosh - Woz was there!

Legendary Steve 'The Woz' Wozniak of Apple computers made a surprise appearance at an 'alternative' film showing on the history of the Macintosh last night.

The event had been listed as part of Macworld Conference and Expo as a one-night film showing with a panel of Apple and Mac founders and creators appearing afterwards to answer questions. But The Woz's presence was a secret.

About 200 enthusiastic Mac fans went to the Sundance cinema for what turned out to a fun, quirky but thoroughly factual documentary on the development of the Mac - and so got a major surprise when the film ended and The Woz trooped down to the front with his Mac co-workers!

Had his name been announced in advance, queues would have been wrapped round the building like scarves round a neck on a cold winter's day.

The young filmmakers of 'Welcome to Macintosh - The documentary for the rest of us,' were Josh Rizzo and Rob Baca who presented their film and introduced the panel.

'I know this is kind of surreal!' said Steve, seated at the panel.

With him were Ron Wayne, original co-founder of the Apple Computer Company and logo designer, Andy Hertzfeld, co-creator of the original Mac, Jim Reekes, creator of the Mac start-up sound, Guy Kawasaki, 'evangelist' who at one point ran an email list of 44,000 members, and Leander Kahney, author of Cult of Mac.

Surprisingly, not only had several of them not seen the film until that evening, but some had not even met each other before.

How do you feel about this tribute to your life's work? was the first question.

'This movie was so much on the mark!' said Steve. '....This is by far the best one (independent film) I've seen.'

'I could never have envisaged it was going to turn into what it has...' 'To me it's astonishing...' the compliments were flying from the panel. But then Guy said, 'I'm embarrassed!' as he didn't think he deserved such a high profile alongside other Mac founders.

Jim, who turned in a fine humorously-laconic performance in the film said his favourite scenes were those of Macs in the environment - the Mac on a swing, the Mac in the long grass...

'Very humorous,' they all agreed.

The Apple community, said another questioner, is small but what will happen to it if it grows into something enormous?

'As long as Apple continues to make transcendantly good products, it will continue,' concurred Steve and Andy.

What is their favourite memory?

For Steve, it was when Steve Jobs introduced the Mac in competition against IBM's computer at a Macworld conference in January '84 with the slogan 'Never trust a computer you can't lift!'

Ron: the afternoon spent putting an impossibly historically detailed, complex logo together of an image of Newton and the falling apple, and a quote from Wordsworth! Like the apple, it fell to the ground!

Jim: choosing the name of the 'beep' sound when the computers start up, which he explained, was ridiculously far more complex than could be imagined with English barristers in horse-hair wigs crossing out his suggestions.

'Chime' was too 'usable'?!!! etc etc. Apple were also engaged at that time in a legal battle with the Beatles music company, Apple, over the use of music because of the similarity of the name.

In desperation and typical wit, Jim grasped at a solution: 'So Sue Me!' disguised as a Japanese word 'Sosumi!' It worked!!!!

In the film, a New York collector shows off his personal collection of thousands of old Macs, to the amusement of the audience, as room after room is revealed crowded with the beloved objects.

So what does the panel collect?

Not so much, it seems. The Apple ll was mentioned, but for Steve and Guy, no sentimentality. They appreciate their Macs at the time, and move on!

What did they think of this year's Macworld?

The iLife upgrades were 'good for most people'. They liked the 17-inch Macbook Pro because of its solid-state disc. DRM, unlimited iTunes downloads...'that's a big step,' said Steve. 'I'm happy!' chipped in another voice.

What is Steve doing in retirement?

Teaching, philanthropy, more speaking at events, sitting on the boards of technical companies, writing software for Google. He has written his autobiography, 'I Woz', and also started a company but pulled out because of what he considered to be their 'unethical' focus on money. Anyone who knows Steve, knows that he is not in it for the money.

And he married last year, on August 8. Spot the date? 8.8.08, 'binary numbers so I can remember the anniversary!'

Steve is also known for his 'double' pranks. He once called the Cupertino police to the Apple offices to complain of Steve Jobs being parked in a handicapped persons space, and gave Andy Hertzfeld's name as the complainant!

Where will Apple be in 20 years from now - apart from seeing it's CEO in handcuffs and down the 'nick'!

Slight hesitation at first. Twenty years in computer life is a long projection. But they tried.

'Thriving,' said Steve, 'because Mac is about users who want to be different.' Every time in the past that the market share shrank, it produced this effect: 'Now I'm that much more special!' he said.

An audience member narrowed the timescale to the next five years.

Jim: moving away from Desktops and towards laptops and other mobile devices. People want computers with them, to use them any time. On this the panel agreed.

Is there any difference in perception between older Mac users who have grown up with the history of Macs, and those of the younger generation?

Surprisingly, no, the panel thought. The younger generation are just as interested in the history.

'I think there are Neanderthal nerds! It's genetic!' said Jim.

And then the bombshell question landed. Who will succeed Steve Jobs?

Silence ensued.

Next question? The future of Macworld without Apple?

Andy said conferences were not as necessary now with the use of the internet. But The Woz thought there would always be a place for Macworld because it is where hardcore fans are able to meet up.

And not only it seems with each other, but with some of the very legends themselves!

Pics show: panel and standing on the side, Rob Baca and Josh Rizzo; (from left) Andy Hertzfeld, Steve Wozniak, Ron Wayne

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Macworld Conference and Expo 2009 (5)

For some people attending the Macworld Conference and Expo part of the fun is being in a group. (see previous blogs)

Like Sheldon and friends Lynne, Sam, Bob and Hal, who had journeyed up to 40 miles to be there.

'We met up here although we do the conference separately, and just went to lunch together which was by far the best part!' he said.

Sheldon has two reasons for attending.

'I always like to see if there's anything new,' he said, not only with Apple but on the periphery, and he also takes the opportunity to approach vendors with questions if he is having tech problems.

His friend, Sam, is attracted to Macworld for the new software.

'I always like to hear the presentations on that because they do such a good job of showing the capability, and then I like to window-shop for all the hardware,' he said.

Another group were Jason, Mark, Sara, Alisha and Nicole from the Bay Area.

'It's awesome!' said Mark. 'A lot of cool stuff to see. It's cool to get your hands on stuff and try it out.

'There are a lot of cool deals,' he added, but the schwag is lacking!' - 'schwag' being freebies.

And then the unthinkable occurred.

'I'm a PC person,' said Alisha. 'Me too!' said Nicole.

'Traitors!' I said.

'Traitors!!!' they expostulated. Surrounded by thousands of Mac devotees, their courage was undeniable.

'Doesn't it make you want to switch?' said Mark.

'No!' said Alisha.

'It makes me want to have both - if I had the money!' said Nicole.

She, at least, can be worked on!

pics show: Sheldon, Lynne, Sam, Hal, Bob.
Jason, Mark, Sara, Alisha, Nicole.

Macworld Conference and Expo 2009 (4)

'This was my first year so I was very excited and I didn't know what to expect,' said Stacey of the Macworld conference and expo that opened today. (see previous blogs)

'I was overwhelmed at all of the products available, I had no idea there were so many. I have been a Mac nerd for about ten years so I have always wanted to come here!'

Stacey and her husband had travelled from Massachusetts, where she and her husband run an art agency and a publishing company.

Top of her shopping list was printing software and Desktop publishing.

'And as I girl I love all the cool bags. There are some fabulous bags that I'll be picking up on the last day!'

As I left Stacey, I approached an older couple walking towards me. They paused briefly.

'He's lost his iPhone,' said the wife, 'so we're in a big panic right now!' and they disappeared back into the Moscone Center.

Later I met Samantha and Sheila who were girls after Stacey's heart.

'It's cool. It's different from last time, it has more exhibitions,' began Sam.

'There are a lot of accessories to choose from with the iPhone especially,' continued Sheila, referring to Laptop bags and iPhone cases.

Sam liked the iPhones and the expo raffles and Sheila the expo giveaways.

'The free stuff is always cool,' she said.

Henrik is an experienced attender of Macworld.

'I have been there many times before and you get some level of pulse as to how things are going,' he said.

'There are a lot more iPhone Apps programmers and there is less iPhone and iPod gadgets like there used to be.

'I haven't covered the whole floor but it seems like some of the main attractions are not here, like Adobe and Belkin, but I think there are a lot of attendees and people are having a good time.'

Henrik avoided the keynote speech. 'I didn't want to go there this time because I've been so many times and it's a lot of money.

'I heard some comments that it was one of the worst keynotes because there was so little news, just the 17-inch MacBook Pro, iLife and iWorks software.'

But then he brightened at the thought of the upgraded iTunes facility to the 3G iPhone, which is now DRM free, ie has unlimited use.

'That's a pretty big thing,' he said, wondering if initial restrictions had been for fear that it would use too much band width.

pics show: Stacey; Sam and Sheila; Henrik

More reports in next blog...

Macworld Conference and Expo 2009 (3)

There are feelings that this Macworld may reflect a decline in the quality of the conference and that the peak may have been as far back 2001. (see previous blogs)

One person who shares this view is Justine, an attractive, vivacious San Francisco blogger who I bumped into in the conference foyer. (See her blog,, for a great summary of the Apple roll-outs and some fun pics)

'I feel like this year the energy is just lacking as oppposed to more of the other years. Steve didn't do the keynote and they didn't really announce anything that was new or very impressive,' she said.

'You'll never be able to top the first release of the iPhone. It was the best day of my life...I cried!' she confessed.

I caught her in the throes of conversation with Scott who was making his first visit to Macworld but who, paradoxically, might find with hindsight he was at the centre of news-in-the-making.

He overhead a conversation among some of the organizers discussing whether the conference will continue now that Apple have withdrawn. At the same time, he was anxious not to spread rumours as these were purely speculative thoughts by people whom he didn't know.

The other side of the Apple coin, conferred Scott and Justine, is that people tend to think Apple have organized the conference when it's IDG, and that Apple have tended to 'steal the thunder.'

Maybe interesting days ahead!

Macworld Conference and Expo 2009 (2)

'I felt that Phil Schiller tried to deliver a presentation as if he was Steve Jobs. I'd like to see Phil,' said Susan who was at the Macworld conference today. (see previous blog)

Susan and her husband, Curtis, were there as dealers and debating one of the talking points: Phil Schiller versus Steve Jobs.

Susan has trained people in presentation skills so is well-qualified to comment.

'There were a lot of moments when there should have been applause, when there was a moment of emphasis, when there wasn't any,' said Susan of the keynote speech, and I felt that's because he was delivering the presentation in a Steve Jobs-like style. I would have liked to see Phil Schiller's own style to discover what that is.

'As a former trainer there are things I look for in a presenter and at the end of the day it would be nice to see who Phil Schiller is,' she said.

Curtis was positive about the speech and Apple's business strategy but had reservations about the future of the conference.

'Everybody considered Phil did a good job but they were late with announcements, but that's to be expected,' he said.

'Everybody always has ridiculously high expectations for what they're going to announce. Announcing a new business product after Christmas doesn't make good business sense, especially if it concerns products like iMac.'

He described the new 17-inch Macbook Pro as a 'safe' product to go for in the post-Christmas period because the Laptops are not likely to have been widely given as Christmas presents.

Curtis works in iLife and likes the 2009 version that Phil revealed which, he said, had some interesting features.

Did he miss Steve Jobs?

'It's okay,' he said philosophically.

What of the future of the conference and expo now that Apple have withdrawn?

'I'd hate to be IDG - the conference organizers. 'Trade shows themselves have been on the decline since 2001...their need diminishes with the internet.

'I was here in 2001. I said, "Enjoy it, it's the best one that's going to be!"'

More interviews to follow.

Macworld Conference and Expo 2009

'This was my first visit to Macworld, so this is the most amazing thing I have ever seen,' said Fred from Chicago who tumbled out of bed at 4 am this morning, walked one-and-a-half miles through the city and queued for five hours - to hear the keynote speech!

When he arrived in the dark at the Moscone Center where the Macworld Conference and Expo are taking place, he was far from alone. There were about 150 people already there, the first ones having lined up from yesterday morning, he said.

This year's conference is distinctive for the fact that Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, is not there amidst media discussions about his health, and also for the fact that this will be the last Macworld with Apple participating.

The keynote speech was delivered instead by Phil Schiller, Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing, whose chief announcement of new products concerned the lightest and thinnest 17-inch MacBook Pro.

So for Apple fans there is a lot to discuss.

How did Phil fare?

'I thought the speech was like going to see a movie show or a famous band...a media event,' said Fred.

'I work in iLife...there were a couple of things I thought were going to be announced (but weren't)...I sat on the 'edge of my seat, I did not sit back at all. And Tony Bennett was great!' he said.

Singer Tony Bennett brought the keynote to an end with songs 'The Best is Yet to Come' and a farewell of 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco'. Where else!!!

Fred's summary of Phil: 'It was great to see Phil...he was simple but yet fun and he kept your attention. I like his personality.'

What was Fred there for in particular?

'I want to buy a new Desktop computer, I'm looking for iMacs, a MacMini, a new LCD display. There's a 24-inch with a non-glossy screen but I was hoping they would do a 30-inch.'

And his opinion of the new MacBook Pro?

'I like it. You have to pay $50 to get the non-glossy screen,' he said, continuing, 'I was holding it. It's really light. You don't feel like you have a 17-inch powerhouse in your hand!'

For Fred, this is not only his first visit to MacWorld, but his first trip to San Francisco. Already he has seen Fisherman's Wharf but his eye is on the fabled cable cars.

'I want to ride on all the trolley cars because I love trains,' he said. But then his thoughts went back to the conference.

'I sent my co-workers pictures of the keynote. I'm like a little kid in a candy store. My fiancee is in Chicago and I didn't want to come by myself, but once I got here.....!!!!'

Other interviews follow shortly...