Washington Apple Pi

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June General Meeting Show Picnic

by Lawrence I. Charters

In a break with tradition, there was no June Garage Sale in 2004. Nor was there a June General Meeting. Instead there was the long-discussed, long-rumored, long-debated Washington Apple Pi Picnic. We have a photo record:

Held June 19 at Lake Accotink Park in Northern Virginia, the picnic had a storied journey to fruition. Former Board member Grace Gallagher lobbied for more than a decade for an annual Pi picnic. She contended that Pi members were much like butterflies: yes, they might spend most of their time interacting with one another in socially inept but technically brilliant ways, but underneath this outer cocoon they were beautiful creatures, just waiting for the chance to spread their wings and fly. Another of her fantasies was that people had more sense than to use Windows, and would abandon it for Macs after the Y2K debacle.

Unlike her Windows fantasy, the Pi Picnic did come into being on the shores of Lake Accotink, a surprisingly rural park that is shockingly close to the Capitol Beltway. Watching people fish, ducks and geese swim, and children throw rocks at one another, you’d be hard pressed to imagine that tens of thousands of motorists were engaged in life-and-death auto racing less than a mile away.

As predicted, it turned out to be a portable digital feast. In addition to the usual hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, beans, chips and garnishes, there were also iBooks, PowerBooks, and a variety of digital cameras. Picnic goers could discuss the merits of this most traditional of American meals and show off snapshots of last summer’s vacation with iPhoto. As luck would have it, the various Mac laptops were in a variety of sizes, so it was easy to compare the drive in theater-style screen on a 17” aluminum PowerBook G4 and the jewel-like compactness of the 12” iBook and PowerBooks.

Phil Shapiro brought an iSight camera, and tried hard to recruit some adventurous soul to go canoeing and, using two canoes, two iSights, and two iBooks, hold the first canoe-borne video iChat session. Everyone congratulated Phil on his imagination, while imagining what would happen to an iSight and iBook if there were a canoe iMishap.

Jeff Lauterette, a computer consultant with Mid-Atlantic Consulting, brought an electronic wonder of a different kind: a Segway. Technically known as a “Segway Human Transporter,” his trusty two-wheeled steed looks like an old-fashioned push lawnmower. Inside, an amazing amount of computer power, combined with multiple gyroscopes and some very efficient electric motors, turn this modest-looking device into a fast, reliable electric-powered vehicle. Jeff bought it to cut down on parking costs in the District of Columbia as he visits his clients. He states the Segway paid for itself in less than a year.

Generously offering anyone who wished a chance at riding the Segway, Jeff offered several demonstrations and, as people tried it out on their own, he constantly monitored their actions for safety. His background as a consultant was on display as he repeatedly told people how to stand, how to grip the handlebars, how to adjust their weight, how to stop, back up, go forward, etc. It was a heck of a lot of fun.

Those not eating, computing or Segwaying were busy gossiping or comparing digital cameras. It was easily one of the best documented Pi events, featuring not only many photos reproduced in the Journal but also some QuickTime videos, available on the Pi Web site.

Closing out the picnic were the 2004 Outstanding Volunteer Awards, mentioned elsewhere in the Journal. It was easily our most successful picnic in more than a decade…