Baja, fire drills, & sleepy speakers

Live, from somewhere off the coast of Baja California, it’s Mac Mania 4, the latest installment in the ongoing series of cruises (co-produced by Geek Cruises and Macworld) featuring a floating cavalcade of Mac experts, Mac users, and stimulating Mac talk.

We left port in San Diego on Saturday afternoon, passing by the island of Coronado on the way out into the Pacific Ocean. Saturday evening brought the traditional bon voyage party in the Crow’s nest, where the hundred-plus cruisers and their families mingled with technology stars such as Steve Wozniak, Leo Laporte, Andy Ihnatko, Bob LeVitus, Bruce Fraser, Deke McClelland, Derrick Story, and Macworld’s own Christopher Breen.

Undeterred by a shipwide middle-of-the-night wake-up call (apparently a fire alarm went off in the ship’s incinerator room at four in the morning!), cruisers and speakers alike woke up early to start a full day of classes on Sunday.

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Life below decks

As I wing my way from one major Macintosh event—MacMania 3.5, Baltic Blast—to another—Macworld Expo, Boston—I’ve decided that the appropriate way to wrap up my experience is by reporting what transpired on my last night aboard our cruise ship, Holland-America’s Westerdam . Saturday night was special not only because it was the last time I’d have the opportunity to dine with my most companionable table companions, Leo Laporte, Ben Long, and photography instructor Bill Durrence and his wife Barbara, but also because it proved to be my opportunity to gain some insight into what goes on below decks. It’s like this:

While finishing off a day with Ben in the Ocean Bar, one of the ship’s guest entertainers, Gary Arbuthnot, approached and asked if I had some connection with the Macintosh as I looked very much like the guy who appears in video form on Macworld’s CD. After acknowledging that the guy on the CD and the guy sipping a refreshing cocktail were one and the same, I asked Gary if he’d be willing to put me in touch with some of the ship’s musicians. Having earned my keep for a number of years as an entertainer I was anxious to learn what it was like to take your show on the road—or the sea, as the case may be. He agreed to make the arrangements.

After Gary put in a bit of spade work with the guys who make up the show band—the band that provides the music for the entertainers who hop on and off the boat at various ports—we set up a meeting for the last night of the cruise. I’m grateful that we did.

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Sweden, Germany, Denmark, and home

The final stops of the MacMania 3.5 cruise ping-ponged us across the Baltic sea, from north to south, before returning us to where we began to make our goodbyes.

We’ve truly been blessed with good weather on this trip. With a single exception (see below), every single day on this cruise has been sunny and warm, with high temperatures in the 70s and even 80s. From now on when I hear people talk about how cold Scandanavia gets in the winter, I’m not sure if I’ll really be able to believe them. Maybe this is how the Scandanavians keep all the good warm weather to themselves? It’ll probably take a winter trip to this region to convince me that it’s not all midnight sunsets and warm breezes. I hardly expected a tropical vacation when I signed up to cruise the Baltic, but that’s what we all got.

As we docked in Stockholm I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Our Rick Steves guide book raves about the city, but I knew nothing about it and had essentially no expectations. Boy, was I impressed. On a sunny day, with the water glinting as you cross one of Stockholm’s dozens of bridges, Sweden can’t be beat.

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Flushed with excitement

One has to make a number of adjustments to live on-board the giant floating hotel that is the MS Westerdam. These adjustments are not in any way difficult, or even an inconvenience, really. Sure, the Internet access might sometimes be slower than dial-up, and night doesn’t start rolling in until about 11 p.m. But “slow internet” still seems pretty impressive given our location, and the lack of dark means I don’t have to waste PowerBook battery life on keyboard lighting during those 3 a.m. WarCraft sessions. As such, the process of acclimating to shipboard life is simple enough and nothing to be afraid of.

Until you enter the bathroom.

Every cabin on-board is equipped with a well-appointed bathroom that includes a perfectly harmless-looking toilet. At first glance, this toilet appears to sport the same user-friendly interface as the toilet you probably have in your home: bowl, flush control, toilet paper dispenser, magazines. However, posted above the device is a rather stern warning sign:

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What I learned on my summer vacation

We’re in the home stretch of MacMania 3.5, anchored just off Visby, the quaint and colorful medieval village on Sweden’s Gotland island. As I placed those shirts I’ve deigned clean enough to avoid offense on an open deck into their respective Thursday, Friday, and Saturday piles, I thought that now would be as good a time as any to reflect on what I’ve learned while aboard the Westerdam.

Sure, as part of the faculty, my job is to impart knowledge rather than absorb it but, unbeknownst to my “students,” I’m gaining nearly as much information on this trip as I’m giving. With that in mind, allow me to pass along a few helpful tips I’ve picked up over the past week.

Tip 1: The hand disinfectant, which is available from dispensers scattered throughout the ship, is a darned fine screen cleaner. Boasting a goodly percentage of ethyl alcohol per dose, the disinfectant quickly evaporates after you’ve wiped it across your PowerBook’s dirty screen.

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