Apple,MacTech Conference,OS X October 17, 2012 at 11:00 pm

MacTech Conference 2012: Day 1 Roundup

Today officially kicked off MacTech Conference 2012. Today was full of great sessions, good food, and a spectacular tour of Walt Disney Animation Studios with a special surprise for conference attendees. Below is a roundup of the first day of the conference IT track with some of my thoughts included.

After some opening remarks from Ed and some logistical information from Neil, the keynote was given by Matt Drance. Scoping Twitter for #mtc2012 tweets shows that the response to the keynote was overwhelmingly positive. He covered a wide range of relevant information to conference attendees about relating to customers, but something that he touched on that hit me personally was the topic of curiosity. Curiosity, I believe, is at the heart of all sustained learning. By being curious, IT professionals increase their learning potential. Both Ed in his opening remarks and Matt in his keynote touched on the importance of moving out of one’s comfort zone into a more risky, but not dangerous, adventure zone. Too much risk introduces danger, but a little risk introduces many learning opportunities.

The “secondnote” was given by Jonathan Geibel of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Jonathan’s presentation was mostly forward looking and focused around a possible future of smarter use of iOS devices in the enterprise that could potentially allow them to replace the Mac. He presented an interesting concept that surprisingly no one has created yet that would enable an iOS device to connect to a “smart screen” that would have a quick application launcher of iOS apps. Ideally these iOS apps would be written to connect to a more high performance cloud for the viewport of the application. These applications could potentially even integrate with Google cloud collaboration services to show when others are working on the same file. It wasn’t clear to me whether or not Disney is already working on something like this, or if the entire talk was just to get us attendees thinking.

Ed Eigerman from Google kicked off the IT track with a talk about the current state of Mac IT. He showed many charts showing Apple’s growth and overall profit increases over time. Not surprisingly, the profits for iOS are soaring while the overall percentage of Apple’s profits coming from the Mac has been shrinking for quite some time. He showed that Apple Remote Desktop, as many of us well know, hasn’t been updated (major version) in years. Around the same time that ARD development seemingly came to a screaching halt was almost exactly the same time that the overall percentage of Apple’s profits from the Mac began shrinking. Ed stressed the need for better tools for and from OS X admins. He also proposed the idea that perhaps someone should create an OS X server like Linux distro for OS X admins (any readers want to take on this project?).

Armin Breigel from USC gave a presentation on automation for OS X admins. He showed mostly Applescript services that he’s written to integrate with tools like Apple Remote Desktop, but the scope of automation for OS X admins clearly isn’t limited to AppleScript. He also showed tools he’s written to integrate with Casper’s JSS, USC’s custom BootCamp implementation, and his use of Cord for connecting to RDP connections on the Mac. MacTech conference every year seemingly has a different theme. The theme I gathered from last year was that system administrators should essentially also become developers. This year’s theme seems to take that idea and focus on the specific development of tools to make one’s life easier (automation). Armin planted the seed for all of us to automate more of our tasks, and his content from his demos is available at

Ben Waldie from Automated Workflows, LLC built on Armin’s presentation and explained the benefits of an automation server. Automation is important, but finding a way to automate the automation is equally important. An automation server, ideally, removes almost all human interaction from automation tasks. He gave real world examples that his customers are using. For example, one of his customers has a recipe database. As they mark recipes completed, they can send those recipes off to an automation server running Adobe InDesign that will create a finalized and formatted cookbook out of the recipes. He wrote the automation server in AppleScript.

Tom Limoncelli from Google presented on time management for systems administrators. Far too frequently system administrators are bombarded with interruptions throughout the day that keep them in a continuous cycle of break/fix instead of working on new, challenging projects. Tom gave many tips to help avoid this, but my favorite was the idea of a half-day shield partnership with a coworker. One coworker shields another from interrupts for half of the day so that the other can focus on project work. For the second half of the day, they switch. This allows each administrator to spend a good amount of time on both tending to problems and working on new projects. He also stressed the importance of documentation (both internal and external) to help reduce the need for one person to always perform the same tasks. Almost anyone can usually follow a well written set of instructions in a checklist style format. He suggested documenting everything, but with a particular focus on add/delete procedures, machine deployment procedures, “rare tasks”, and security related tasks.

Charles Edge ended off the day of IT sessions with a presentation on regression testing. He stressed the importance of automated testing on both OS X and iOS clients. System administrators who maintain images for machines for deployment can automate a standard set of checks for post imaging using tools like Sikuli and/or Eggplant. This is something that interested me as I generally have a standard set of things I spot check on a random group of client machines post deployment. If I can automate that testing, it will save me time and allow me to test on more client machines (and test on client machines simultaneously).

After dinner, we all made our way to Walt Disney Animation Studios. Greg Neagle and the entire staff there did an amazing job welcoming everyone. They gave us all an exclusive behind-the-scenes look into how they create the amazing films that we all have seen and know and love. The building has a very fun and enjoyable atmosphere with an amazing group of talented and enthusiastic staff members. At the end of the night, we all participated in a special advanced screening of the new movie Wreck It Ralph. The movie was great and had plenty of cultural references and adult humor to be enjoyable for all ages. Jim Rispin tweeted “Huge thank you to the #MTC2012 team, @gregneagle, and all the folks at Disney Animation who created an evening 2nd only to my wedding night”, and I think that tweet does a great job summarizing the quality of the event tonight.

MacTech Conference 2012 day 1 was spectacular and I’m excited about the learning opportunities that will present themselves tomorrow.

(Read day 2’s roundup here.)

Mike Boylan

Mike Boylan is a recent graduate of Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, PA where he received his Master’s of Science in Competitive Intelligence Systems. Mike is a senior systems engineer for the University focusing on core University server infrastructure and telephony. He also still administers and manages all of the University’s Macs. He’s been doing Mac systems administration for over eight years, having worked previously for Fox Chapel Area School District in Pittsburgh, PA. Fox Chapel holds one of the largest Mac deployments in the Pittsburgh area. When not at work or in class, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and exploring new restaurants. He’s also active in and passionate about Pittsburgh politics. He proudly volunteered for the Bill Peduto for Mayor campaign in 2012/2013. He’s on Twitter at @mboylan.

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