Homeward bound

As I write this, it’s early Saturday morning, and we’re just slipping back into our berth at the Seattle docks. After cruising more than 2,000 nautical miles during seven days, including stops at three Alaskan cities, one Canadian city, and one very large glacier, Mac Mania VI has come to an end. And before I go any further, I need to clarify something about this voyage—this is actually a “dual track” Geek Cruise; it’s not just MacMania cruise, but an Aperture cruise as well. Attendees could choose from either the Aperture or MacMania tracks, or mix and match as they see fit. This is the first time Geek Cruises has tried an Aperture track, and all indications are that it was successful. Every Aperture class I sat in on, including Sal Soghoian’s advanced talk Friday on using Automator with Aperture, were well attended. Things have gone so well, in fact, that Geek Cruises has announced that Aperture Aura 2 will be setting sail in Spring 2008—from Venice, Italy no less! With three Aperture team members as confirmed participants, this should be an amazing experience for those looking to get the most out of Aperture.

I spent most of Friday in conference sessions. First I learned about some of the ways you can publish your Aperture images to the Web, and then I spent a few hours listening to Sal (as well as Ben Long and Joe Schorr) talk about using Automator with Aperture. Shortly thereafter, we arrived in Victoria, British Columbia, for an evening excursion (6 p.m. arrival, midnight departure).

Victoria is located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, and has a very strong British heritage. If you’ve never visited, Victoria is an amazing city, with a mix of old British tradition and modern urban living. My wife and I chose to skip the shore excursion, and just spent a couple hours wandering around the waterfront, downtown area, and surrounding neighborhoods (our daughter went to Butchart Gardens with my mother and her husband). During our walk, we saw some wonderful older homes in the various neighborhoods, along with many amazing waterfront properties, including this mechanized-looking condo building:

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A cool dive in a dry suit

After an all-night run down from Hubbard Glacier, the MS Oosterdam arrived in Sitka for the latest stop in the MacMania VI cruise.

Like Juneau, Sitka is only accessible via boat or air, and has only around 9,000 year-round residents (which makes it Alaska’s fourth- or fifth-largest city, depending on who’s doing the counting). With only 40 total miles of roadway (just over half of it paved), car theft isn’t much of an issue around here, unless there’s a ferry at the docks.

The town itself is located in a bay ringed by mountains which provide some dramatic scenery:

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Ketchikan, if you can

We saw something new on this MacMania voyage Thursday—sun! While the weather this trip has never really been bad (except for some strong winds), we’ve been accompanied by a constant gray background. Not only does this make the scenery less interesting, it makes it really hard to get nice outdoor photos—a flat gray backdrop may be good for portraits, but it’s not the most visually stunning thing to see behind a mountain range.

According to a Ketchikan local, the town averages more than 300 cloudy days a year, so we were quite lucky to have only partly-cloudy blue skies. Our stay here, unfortunately, was brief—we arrived at 7:00 a.m. and pushed away from the dock right around 1:00 p.m. for the long trek down to Victoria, British Columbia. With only six hours in Ketchikan, there wasn’t a lot of time to do much exploring. We took our daughter to the Lumberjack Show, which she found entertaining, though she had trouble understanding why these two men were attempting to run on a log floating in a pond:

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Going on a glacier safari

After departing Juneau at 9 p.m.—well before the local sunset— we MacMania VI cruisers awoke the next day heading for the entrance to Yakutat Bay, the home of Hubbard Glacier. But before the requisite sight-seeing, I had a course to teach.

Well, actually, it was more like being on a game show with 10 hosts and just one contestant—it was a Q&A session, where attendees can ask the speakers any Mac-related question, and we do our best to answer. Typically there will be five or six speakers on stage, so there’s a chance you don’t have to personally answer every question. No such luck this time around, though, as circumstances meant that the sole question-taker was yours truly.

Overall, I think I handled every question (excluding a couple about the use of ODBC Administrator and Directory Access in the Utilities folder—two apps I’ve rarely launched), but I did get one stumper: “When using Safari to browse a site that has a login form, the first time you complete the form, a dialog appears offering three form-related options. You can tell Safari to never remember what you use for this site, to not make a decision now, or to save the user name and password. If I tell Safari ‘never remember,’ how do I then save the user name and password in the future if I change my mind?”

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Juneau, you know

We’re all back on board the ship now after spending the day exploring Juneau and the surrounding area. For those who don’t know, Juneau is unique among American mainland capital cities: you can only reach it via airplane or boat. That’s right, there are no roads that lead to Juneau.

Despite that, there are plenty of cars here for the 31,000 year-round residents, along with a Home Depot, Wal-Mart (opening soon!), and a McDonald’s. Keep in mind that everything these stores sell must arrive in the same manner—either via the air or the water. According to our tour guide, when the McDonald’s opened in the late 1980s, it set a franchise record for opening day hamburger sales, and the drive-through line was two miles long.

Juneau sits right up against two mountains—Mt. Juneau (3,576 feet) and Mt. Roberts (3,819 feet). Neither is particularly tall by Rocky Mountain standards, but as they both start at sea level directly behind Juneau, they are visually impressive. The shot below shows Juneau nestled up against the foot of Mt. Juneau.

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Cruising with Leopard

It’s early as I type this—very early, given that we slipped into another time zone last night—and we're now headed up the channel towards Juneau, with a targeted arrival about five hours from now. Sometime during the night, the ship moved from the open ocean into the channel, and the difference is striking: there are no waves here, and the ride is now perfectly smooth. Looking out the windows up on the Lido Deck, it’s like sitting on some strange, huge, magical carpet—we’re moving forward, yet there are no engine sounds, and there’s no sense of motion whatsoever. The only giveaway that we’re actually moving is the small wake being generated by the bow of the ship.

The approach to Juneau is made up a wide valley, ringed by snow-capped mountains, as you can see below.

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MacMania VI sails from Seattle

As some of you may recall, I spent a week last fall on MacMania V, a Geek Cruise through the western Caribbean. This time, I’m writing to you from MacMania VI, headed north to Alaska from Seattle. Joining me this time, as before, is my wife Marian. But this time, we also chose to bring our eldest child, Kylie (who turns four in a month). I also managed to talk my mother and her husband into joining us, so that we’d have plenty of help watching Kylie—and so that they might get a bit of Mac education out of it as well!

As we live but a few hours south in Portland, getting to the cruise was much simpler than flying across the country to Florida—we just piled everyone (and a large collection of luggage) into the family hauler around 9:30 a.m. Saturday, and headed north on I-5 to Seattle. Arrival and boarding were very smooth. We were able to park directly next to the terminal, and from there, it only took about 20 minutes to get the necessary paperwork out of the way and board the ship.

We spent the next few hours exploring our home for the week, the MS Oosterdam . This is a large vessel; bigger than the Veendham that we used for the western Caribbean cruise. Thankfully, our stateroom is located almost directly in the middle of the ship—though that just means that everything is equally far away, and pretty much nothing is close.

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