I wanted to tell you a little bit about the Macstock Conference and the Midwest Mac BBQ. I promised it wouldn’t be “My Summer Vacation” but rather to try to give you a feel for the conference so maybe you’d consider going next year.
In case you’re not familiar with the conference, it is the brainchild of Mike Potter of the For Mac Eyes Only podcast, and Barry Fulk is the host of the Midwest Mac BBQ along with his lovely and welcoming wife, Bobbi Ann. The BBQ is close to Chicago proper, while Macstock is north about an hour in the little town of Woodstock, Illinois.
This was Macstock 7, but I think it’s I think 10 years since Macstock started. For the years before the pandemic, the conference took place at McHenry College, which had a beautiful theater that could house probably 300 people. Macstock was never a big conference, with maybe 150 to 200 or so people attending. But what Macstock has always had is a very high percentage of the attendees being friends of the Podfeet Podcasts.
This year was the first year the conference was back with no restrictions since 2019. As the conference date approached, it was obvious to Mike Potter, that we weren’t going to have the numbers back up to pre-pandemic attendance. Rather than take a bath financially, he chose to move it to a small theater called Stage Left in the town of Woodstock, Illinois. It’s a really cute little town, made famous as the site where the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray was filmed.
The best way to describe Stage Left for the crowd we had is “cozy”. Mike had to cap the attendee list at 75 people because of the size of the venue, which was kind of sad because there were people who wanted to come but couldn’t. While it was really swell to be able to walk to the local Winestock to hang out after the show, I’m hopeful that we’ll grow back to our previous numbers so we can be in a larger venue.
Now that I’ve set the stage, let’s back up to the barbecue at Barry and Bobbi Ann’s house. This barbecue was open to all and any who wanted to attend, even folks who couldn’t make it to Macstock. It was purely a social event, and for those of us who’ve attended in the past, we all said it felt like coming home again or being with family … but family you actually like.
For those who hadn’t been before, like Jill from the Northwoods and Penelope who flew over from England to attend, they said they found a warm and welcoming community of fellow Apple nerds. Dave Hamilton and Mike Laplante performed live music for us!
The conference itself was really good. Because of the size, it kept that tightly knit feeling of camaraderie. Mike likes to have a theme to his conference, and this year it was simply, “Learn!”
I’m not going to give you the full low-down on all of the speakers, but just a tidbit or two I got from each.
My nemesis, Chuck Joiner entitled his talk “Learn and Live in the Future (or Get Stuck in the Past).” The big takeaway I got from his talk is the idea of giving yourself a “learning budget”. Not just a budget for the money to learn, but for the time to learn. I think that’s brilliant, as much as it pains me to say it.
Probably the big surprise speaker of the show was Rachel Schmitz. Her husband is Mike Schmitz whose pretty well known in the Apple community, and a fellow ScreenCastsONLINE tutor. When Rachel got up to talk, she explained that she’s actually not very technical. She’s the home-schooling mother of five, and she talked about how we might want to think about our consumption of information. She suggests that we might have “Information Obesity”. You probably know what that feels like, when you start kind of vibrating with too much mental stimulation. She suggested setting yourself some limits on consumption and turn to creating with your tools. She told great stories about how her kids are doing that – one son is her audio editor for the podcast she does. He learned how to use Ferrite on the iPad and loves having that job.
Dave Ginsburg gave us an overview of Cloud Services and how they fit into our business and personal lives. One of my takeaways was that Dropbox and iCloud are tied at 300 million users, with Google Drive and OneDrive pretty far behind. That surprised me.
Dave Hamilton is a big fan of network attached storage and talked about how to supercharge your network with these tools. I took some notes on how to better use Synology Drive to access data on my Synology rather than always using the web interface, and I made a note to add another drive as a hot spare. I hadn’t thought to do that.
The fabulous Kirschen Seah walked us through Shortcuts on iOS – not just teaching us how to make them, but starting with the foundations and working our way up.
Wally Cherwinsky took the stage next with the Macstock Film Fest Day One, where he showcased videos created by attendees just for the show. Steve created a fabulous video he called “Learn! About Iceland” filled with fun facts to know and tell, including such things as an Icelandic Santa named “Sausage Swiper”.
The final event of the day was great fun. Dave Hamilton hosted the Mac Geek Gab Caucus. On stage were all of the people who had ever been on the show. Of course John F. Braun, host emeritus was there, along with new co-host Pilot Pete, but also Adam Christianson of the MacCast, Jeff Gamet, and little old me!
Dave called it the Caucus because he posed a series of topics to us, and we had to come to a consensus on whether we think the state of these things are better today or were better early days of Apple. We talked about backups, and automation and more. It was a lot of fun, and Dave has released the audio as Mac Geek Gab 993 so you can hear the brilliance of us all for yourself.
After an evening of tomfoolery at dinner and back at the hotel lobby (where Jill and I did pushups for unknown reasons), we started day two of Macstock with a brief talk by Bob Wood about why if you like Macstock you might really like your local user groups.
This was followed up by my talk entitled “The Power of Learning by Teaching”. It was kind of funny but just about every person on day one referred to my topic in their own talks – kind of stealing my thunder but also emphasizing how much they resonate with this. I know you’re sad you didn’t get to see my talk but I have good news for you. Steve recorded the whole thing for you and you can watch the video at this link: The Power of Learning by Teaching – Macstock 7
Brittany Smith’s talk was entitled “Save Your Brain: Work Smarter, Not Harder!” and she explained some of the tools she uses to help in her consulting practice. She figured out that she has a string of workflows that she goes through with every new customer, and she figured out how to automate those workflows. For example, she can automatically create a worksheet, an outline for meeting notes, and even calendar appointments all without doing anything manually.
I especially enjoyed Jeff Gamet’s talk entitled “Decoding the World of Hi-Res Audio.” He started by explaining just what the heck audio bit rate and sample rate mean and why we might care. I’ve studied this so many times and it took his talk to really cement the concepts in my noggin. He moved on from there to get into Digital Audio Converters, aka DACS. He told us why we might want one depending on what Mac we have and what we want to listen to, and even gave a couple of recommendations.
Our very own Jill from the Northwoods was up next. You know I’m a big ol’ fangirl of hers so don’t take my word for it on how well she did. After the conference and Jill had gone home, we were hanging out with Dave Hamilton, and out of the blue he leaned over to me and said, “Jill crushed her presentation.”
The title of her talk was “Learn New Technology with Sticks”. It’s hard to explain the sticks in a brief explanation, but she artfully wove two totally disparate subjects into one set of lessons to learn. The two topics were how she gets people to learn the medical software that she supports, and how she converted herself from Windows to the Mac. It was fascinating, and somehow the two subjects blended perfectly with her lessons.
Another well-known NosillaCastaway from our live chatroom, Professor Marty Jencius, was the next speaker. He started his talk called “Apple of My AI” by saying that when he first thought of his topic, nobody was talking about AI, and by the time he got to Macstock, that’s all anyone has been talking about lately. In any case, he had a very interesting lesson on how he uses AI. He explained how with repeated, and well-constructed prompts, he’s able to create a syllabus for a course. He used the example of if you wanted to teach a course on Final Cut, and how you could use his method to make sure you had a good outline of everything you need to teach to not leave anything out.
Mike Schmitz, more commonly known as Rachel’s husband, talked about PKM, or Personal Knowledge Management. He explained how he uses tools like Obsidian to gather all of the knowledge that he really deems important. He made sure to clarify that every note you take and resource you find isn’t necessarily knowledge you need to retain, and how he filters things down to what he wants to retain.
I really enjoy watching Mike present because he always does something interesting in the way he presents. At the first Macstock where I met Mike, he did a live demo. Live demos are fraught with danger not only because you have to be able to flawlessly execute the demo while explaining it, but you’re also really likely to have dodgy WiFi. It turned out it wasn’t a live demo at all! He’d tricked us. He creates video screencast segments and puts each segment on a different slide. This allows him to just hit the space bar on the Keynote and the video advances. It was GENIUS and I’ve occasionally stolen that technique from him.
This year the cool thing he did was that all of his graphics were hand-drawn. Remember how Rachel said we might benefit from learning something creative instead of consumption obesity? Mike’s thing was that he wanted to learn to draw! His icons were playful and eye-catching and I loved them.
The slide that stuck with me the most was when he said learning to do things takes practice and you’ll fail a very long time before you succeed. His slide showed three hand-drawn poop emoji, followed by a hand-drawn diamond.
Wally finished out the conference by showing the second half of the inspiring videos from show attendees in Macstock Film Fest Day Two.
We went out for tapas and wine at a lovely place called Winestock, then out to dinner together on an outdoor patio where we talked and laughed until they closed the place down. Well, technically we stayed well past when they closed the place down.
The bottom line is that Macstock is one of my favorite events of the year, and we missed it terribly over the past four years. Getting to see Barry and Bobbi Ann Fulk, Jill from the Northwoods, John Ormsby (aka @NASAnut in the live chatroom), Marty (aka @DrunkNickNolte in the live chatroom), Brett Canedy who used to come to the live show, Troy Shimkus finally made it for the first time, and we got to see Tim Gjenevik again (aka @DrTim in the live chat). Tim won T-shirts when he showed up at the Midwest Mac BBQ in a Podfeet shirt. And finally, the wonderful Corky who chauffeurs us all around town was delightful. Bruce (aka @UseTheData in the Podfeet Slack) was supposed to be there but unfortunately fell ill so that was a bummer.
I’m sure there are people I forgot to mention who are listeners to the show but my memory is only so good! I loved seeing absolutely everyone – old friends and new. If you count Steve and me, the NosillaCastaways were more than 10% of the attendees which is pretty much how high it usually is even with a bigger crowd.
Oh wait – there’s one more story I must tell. At Macstock 7 I got to hang out with Reverend Barry Gin. Would you believe he was my office mate back in 1989? He somehow stumbled across the NosillaCast online and figured there probably aren’t two Allison Sheridans out there and made contact a few years ago, and decided to come to Macstock to meet up after 34 years! How cool is that?
As long as Macstock is still going on, Steve and I will keep going. I hope this has encouraged you to keep an eye out for the dates next year and that you join us too!