The case for cruising

There’s more to a MacMania cruise than scuba diving —there’s also a full curriculum of classes to show cruisers how to get more out of their Macs. Rob Griffiths brought his Mac OS X Hints to the high seas the other morning; after that, Rob and I spent an afternoon showing attendees some of our favorite cool and affordable utilities. We also participated in a Q&A session with the other speakers. Finally, we challenged Leo Laporte and Janet Hill to a shootout of our favorite Gems. (We’ll post some of the details of our sessions at Macworld.com when we get back to dry land.)

As this is my first MacMania cruise—and the first cruise I’ve been on since I was a kid—I spent much of the first couple days getting a feel for what a Geek Cruise really is. Some quick observations:

  • A Mac conference on a cruise actually works. If you’ve never taken a cruise before, there’s a lot of down time. You spend a day in an interesting place, then you’re at sea for as long as two days as you sail to the next destination. Sure, these huge ships are amazing in terms of the onboard facilities, which include shops, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and courts, and more, but unless you’re a big fan of bingo or gambling (or, to be fair, relaxation), you’ve got time to kill. Spending a few hours learning how to get more out of your Mac—from people known for their Mac prowess—is a pretty cool way to spend some of that time (not to mention perhaps one of the few that you can use to convince your employer to pay your way). Even I’ve enjoyed listening to Leo Laporte, Andy Ihnatko, Ted Landau, Rob, and the other speakers.
  • “Geek cruises” is a bit of a misnomer. Most of the attendees on this MacMania cruise are normal Mac users—teachers, students, professionals, retirees, you name it. They’re no more or less “geeky” than I suspect the average Mac user to be. Some have been using Macs from the beginning, while others are recent switchers; some are experienced, others novices. About the only constant is that they’re all fans of the Mac. (That’s not to say there aren’t some people who go above and beyond the call of duty; for example, one of the attendees is a collector whose stable of Macs numbers 124—one of nearly every model Apple has released, most of them in working order.)
  • Internet access at sea is slow and expensive. As Rob mentioned in a previous post, we pay by the minute for Internet access, and that rate is steep. But beyond that, the access we get is roughly equivalent to fast dial-up. There’s a big dish on top of the boat that tracks the appropriate satellite, and that signal serves the entire ship of 1,500 or so passengers, as well as all of the ship'’s own networking needs. To make Internet access even more of a challenge, weather and surf conditions prevented the ship from being able to track the appropriate satellite(s) a couple times over the first two days, leaving us without any Internet service at all. (I know… boo hoo hoo . But some of us are working here!)
  • Food is very big on cruise ships. If you’re a fan of food, you’re in luck; no matter the time of day, you can find food, and lots of it. If one eating area is closing, you can be sure another is opening, and all of this food—much of which is quite good—is included as part of your cruise. Of course, if you're dieting, this isn't the best environment to be in.
  • Web “surfing” is very different when you pay by the minute.. As someone who tracks more than 100 Web sites each day (via NetNewsWire ) for my job, not having a live, unlimited Internet connection has been eye-opening. It’s amazing how reliant I’ve become on broadband. What I’ve found myself doing during the trip is connecting to the Internet, letting NetNewsWire refresh all its feeds, and then disconnecting. I then go through the 400 to 600 articles in NetNewsWire and use the app’s Flag command to mark those articles I actually want to browse on the Web. Some of those I visit the next time I’m connected; others I’ll save until I get back home. The upside here is that over the past few days I’ve become much more aware of which feeds are really important and which are frivolous.

It’s been a load of fun so far. The weather has been great, the attendees have been a pleasure to meet and spend time with, and the boat is beautiful. From Belize, we head on to Guatemala—we’ll be sure to keep you posted on our adventures on the shore and in the classroom.

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