Intervalometer Version 1.3

16.44.40 - Mark

I've been working on my home made intervalometer on and off for well over a month now. I bought the parts for it in early April, bounced between building the original version based on it's schematic and reading up and learning how to actually use 555 ICs in mid April. Finally got the first working version packed into an Altoids sized tin in a frantic morning on April 20th (written inside the tin since I was pulling it off between going to a class then driving 6 hours to go camping for a weekend) About a week after finishing it I got around to putting together a semi-decent time lapse video.

Homemade Timelapse TriggerPart of the reason I had held off on the time lapse is because I wanted this to work as a wired remote for my camera, rather than having to carry around a couple candy tins with switches and cables attached. This however has been my big problem.

The original schematic calls for a NPN transistor to work as the switch for the shutter release. When it's base is getting power, the emitter and collector are bridged and the circuit for the shutter is closed. Since the manual switches are wired in parallel, they can't override a closed circuit and are blocked until the base looses power - be it the few moments the 555 drops power or when the battery is disconnected. If I had gone this way I probably wouldn't have had a problem using it as a wired remote, but it is mentioned as a glitch in the original write up.

In my build however I used a PNP transistor, originally for no reason other than I had a bunch more of them than NPNs and they worked in the breadboard prototype. It's emitter and collector are still the connections for the shutter release loop, but those points are only bridged when the base is grounded. Unfortunately this was a somewhat massive problem for me. It not only blocked me from using it as a wired remote when powered off, the second it was plugged into the camera was the second it would take the first exposure. I could jerry rig it into working in my favor, but I wanted full control all the time.

At that point I started thinking about how to get that control. I first thought of using multiple transistors, looking into Darlington transistors or Sziklai pair, even started thinking of Logic Gates and building them with transistors. All it needed to do would be isolate the transistor from the circuit when the power was off. As I got frustrated with the complex schemes of using transistors to control transistors, I started to rethink the simplest approach of isolating the key PNP transistor.

A quick test on the breadboarded version, and just unplugging the PNP's base made it work with the parallel switches when the power was off. While I could have wired in and mounted another switch, I preferred simplicity, and a DPST switch was purchased to replace the SPST power switch. One side still for power, the other between the 555 and the PNP base. It's a good fix, and I finally feel good documenting my version.

In addition to my use of a DPST switch and a PNP, there are a few other changes I made. The first is the different selection of resistors. While the potentiometer and paired 100k ohm resistors remain the same as the original, I changed the LED resistors to 10 ohm (I wanted some more light coming off the LEDs).

Since I wanted a time lapse mode faster than once every 30 seconds or so, the fastest given by the 220uF capacitor (up to about 4 and a half minutes as its slowest), so I used a SPDT switch and 22uF capacitor to add in a second mode that can shoot as fast as one exposure every 9 seconds (which goes up to ~30 seconds).

I also changed the .1uF with 33k Ohm resistor to a 10uF capacitor and 470k resistor. The original design didn't allow my Canon XSi enough time to run the shutter. This my change is a particularly long break for the shutter trigger, about a full second. While I originally only changed the resistor for a sufficient delay, I realized that the SPDT switch with the key capacitors, really had three positions.
Intravolimeter Schematic
This switch happens to have ON - OFF - ON positions. While I only cared about being able to switch the 2 key capacitors, when testing it I accidentally had it on the off position. When I powered it on it started running the shutter faster than once a second. While I may not be getting this right, when the one of the 2 larger capacitors are connected the circuit is monostable, a quick burst for the transistor, then starts over. When neither large capacitor is connected however, it starts running as a bistable, or flip-flow, circuit, opening the shutter loop for a second, then closing it for a second, with it's pace set by the small capacitor and resistor. While I have yet to find a real reason for this feature, I decided to take advantage of it and added the 10uF capacitor. So, if you follow this design, this gives the camera shutter a full second or so to run when it's in Monostable mode, and get an exposure every 2 seconds or so when in Bistable mode.

While I'm sure there are other changes that could be made, I think I'm done with this one (with the possible exception of designing a real circuit board for it). Between arduinos boards and the parts for building a Camera Axe, I think this will suit me well for a carry around wired remote and intervalometer.

If you want to build one for yourself, feel free to work off my schematic (image above, enlarged, or EAGLE Schematic) put it's still a good idea to refer to the article I worked from in Make Volume 15 or the extremely useful discusion thread on it's Instructables page.

The components are all from Mouser, but I got the perf board from Radio Shack. You can get all the parts there as well (in theory) but they charge a lot for the things they do stock, and sadly my local Radio Shack's component area is a sad disorganized mess. Of course Digikey is on par with Mouser (just a bit harder to navigate) and in this case everything you need (including perfboards) can be purchased at All Electronics (which just takes a good bit of hunting) It's worth nothing however that you can scrounge together a lot of these parts from old electronics.

555 Timer IC Based Intervalometer Part List
Part DescriptionPrice Per Part
11M Ohm Potentiometer$.80
1DPST Toggle Switch$1.24
1SPDT Slide Switch$.75
2Tactile Switches$.31
2Tactile Square Caps$.15
1220uf Capacitor$.14
122uf Capacitor$.10
110uf Capacitor$.06
1555 IC$.31
1PNP Transistor$.11
210ohm Resistor$.10
2100k ohm Resistors$.10
1470k Ohm Resistor$.10
12.5mm Stereo Plug$1.55
19v Battery Snap$.38
1Multipurpose PC Board$1.99
Hookup wire
Solder (you should have it)
Enclosure (I used an altoids sized tin)
Total:  $9.01 + taxes and shipping

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Rainy Day

09.09.10 - Mark

It's raining today. Not the torrential downfalls of water that makes moving outside similar to walking though a solid brick wall, but one of those days where the sky is a light grey and there are drops of water coming out of the sky like a lawn spinkler. I think it's a comfortable cool and making my 20 minute commute was like driving though a series of stunning paintings.

The horizon was a washed out water color as patches of blue and yellow peaked out though the grey in the east. The sky was darker to the south, more like an oil painting, and complimented by the occassional bits of lightning. Lower to the ground my eyes were treated to a mixure of trees with brown leaves that never quite fell down last fall, intermixed with the trees that have not only budded, but trived during the warm march we've been having, and all of them contrasting with the vivid spring grass that has already taken root in the fields

Doesn't hurt that daylight savings time made my commute an hour closer to sunrise, which always add an extra element of beauty. Foolishly I didn't bother pointing a camera out the window (not that I could have edited it easily if I had), but you can get an idea of how beautiful my commutes can be from watching Leaves, which I shot along the same route. Not that any quality of camera and screen could possibly instill the same feeling of beauty. While I might hate wasting time and natural resources for my commute, somedays its worth it just for the scenery.

All of this makes me wonder why everyone seems to complain about the slightest bits of "unpleasant" weather. Its a beautiful thing that should be enjoyed - life is boring if its lived in a climate controlled zone where its 20% cloudy and 67 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit. If its raining turn on some light jazz and just soak it all in.

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Office Space Moments

09.21.41 - Mark

(I'm bored, and writing this ate up a good 20 minutes. It may or may not be fictionalized)

Right now I'm sitting in a very uncomfortable, bulk discount special office chair, propping my heavy eyelids open wide enough to stare at the flickering screen of the state purchased computer whose inhospitable Windows enviroment is barely allowing me to get work done in a horrible - but its the best I have - text editing application.

My mind is awake, at least more awake than my body feels. It's not paying attention to the task at hand, nor does it need to. Instead it is idleing in the background, watching, listining, waiting for this allocated block of boredom to end.

As I read over the lines of code I've written over the past few minutes, hours, days the buzzing of the fluorescent lights above me and the fans of the computers idiots left running over the weekend are assulting my ears.

The only other noise in the room comes from occasional outbursts from the two other drones sitting in the room, themselves banging away at some aspect of this project. When they choose to speek, its useless and undesirable chatter.

There's some talk related to this little project of ours, but most of the noise is small talk - weather and the like. One is boring me with news from some mundane confrence he attended last week.

The other is discussing his latest in a sting of get rich quick schemes, unlike some of his other plots, which might stand a chance of being executable, this one has all the thought and merit of a dot com's back of a napkin business plan. Come to think of it, that might be more than he has. As best as I can tell it's some sort of specialized web design group. He's excited because the group bought and installed a pre-designed website over the weekend. I try not to snicker at the irony.

I should be doing "work" right now, but its done. At least on this project. The code I've been staring out not only works, its superfluous. Some trivial little item that will more than likely go unnoticed except as some line item mentioned in the time sheets I have yet to fill out.

There's another project in the wings, but I don't have any of the materials I need to get started on it. It doesn't bug me and I won't be activally seeking it out. I'll just sit here, banging away at the keyboard, looking good and busy, a misserable little drone sitting in some uncomfortable office chair...

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Deep Dish Pizza

15.06.00 - Mark

Deep Dish Pizza
Originally uploaded by Mark_W.
There are many great things about North Carolina. The famous southern hospitality thing, the comfort foods, the diverse environment - Iowa never had mountains. But there is one thing I deeply miss about the midwest though, and that's Pizza. I would love to be wrong but I don't think there is such a thing as a great pizza south of the Mason-Dixon line. Sure there are some decent chains, but none of them started in the South, and the few local places I've tried are only marginally better. I've had pizza since moving here, usually Papa John's since its the only edible chain in town, and visited California Pizza Kitchen a while back, neither of those however, is able to come close to the nirvana induced by a Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza. Not that thing chains try to sell as deep dish - I'm talking about thick crusts holding in a mount of chunky toppings at least an inch deep and swimming in sauce. That is pizza.

Pizza Country gets some blame for the craving, watching the pizza photos they've posted has been regularly causing salivation, but at least one of the tips they've posted helped me make the pizza to the right (plus two more). One of those, a couple bottles of cold Bawls, and some classic rock made for a great start to fall break.

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Converge South

19.22.00 - Mark

Temporary Edit: To anyone coming here because of the Mount Airy News column, and is interested in learning more about Converge South or about blogs in general, please see this post.

Converge was a great experience, so I'm extremely glad I decided to go. I had put off registration (which is why you probably find any mention of me on the converge site) until it was full, but when I saw that I could still go to sessions I literally ran out the door and made the trip to Greensboro a bit faster than I probably should have. One I was there everything was well marked and easy to find, which is a big improvement over Chappel Hill last spring. I arrived later than the official start time, but fortunately (for me) someone got lost and I ended up being right on time.

Political Activism and Blogging
Wikis and Mass Collaboration
Mmmmm... Lunch
Tools and the Future of Blogging
Post Conference
Wrap Up

Political Activism and Blogging

Most of the sessions were great. I tend to sit back and listen so I was quite during all of the sessions. The first two, Blogging and Political Activism (discussion led by Ruby Sinreich) and Wikipedia/Mass Collaboration (Talk by Jimmy Wales) went well together. Political Activism seemed to push towards just go out and do it. I find I can be political here, but maybe not so active. What I, and probably a lot of other bloggers, need to do is rather than rant go out and find more constructive things to say. Venting just adds to the echo chamber. If we want the current and next few crops of congress critters to pay attention to blogs in the same way they do to the small town papers - which can have similar readerships - the echo is exactly what we need to cut down on. On a similar note, one thing Ruby brought up that I wasn't really familiar with was the memo that led to the rathergate thing. When bloggers first figured it out, the first thought wasn't "lets nail them" it was "how do we correct them". I guess the final tone I got from the session was activism dose not mean radicalism.

Wikis and Mass Collaboration

Wikipedia Session
Originally uploaded by mark_w.
The wikipedia session was OK. As a lot of people have pointed out it was more of a lecture than it was a discussion. I prefer the discussions, but I found that I was fine with the talk. Wales brought up a lot of things I wasn't fully aware of in the wikipedia community. I'm sure I could have found it if I wanted, but there was one thing at the very end of his talk that really interested me. I think most people missed it but he said that he wanted to see a news/politics blog fused with elements of a wiki. Possibly like the LA wikitorial disaster, but rather than trying to create better editorials (which I think was the goal of wikitorials) the idea is to take editorials and boil them down to news articles. Journalism has this idea that a single person can be unbiased - which can be a nice line of BS, but I think that we're seeing those "unbiased" stories hit the web, and all of a sudden millions of people find bias. If we take several people with vastly different social, political and economic views and have they focus on news items we can get them to produce a compilation that becomes unbiased though a massive collection of biases. Like the idea of an open encyclopedia, its going to need new tools supplementing the right people in the right atmosphere.

Mmmmm... Lunch

Originally uploaded by mark_w.
Lunch was good. Thats actually the first time during the day I met up with Dave Slusher. He was talking to someone about the video blogging session and some podcasting when he noticed the Evil Genius shirt I was wearing. I had been eavesdropping on the conversation and eventually joined in. The great thing about these conferences is how informal everyone is. Just listen to a conversation for a while and then just jump in. But back to the conversation each of these new media arenas (text, audio, or video blogging) the technical know how is second to figuring out which content best fits the media. I can read a rant on a text blog much easier and with a greater tolerance than the same content on a podcast or blog. There are going to be exceptions to those rules, but they're all interesting fields. After the third person broke off Dave interviewed me with his hacked CVS one time use camcorder.

Group Session
Originally uploaded by NCBrian.
Lunch kept up for a while but I also joined a group of some well known blogger sitting outside talking about the conference, some others that are in the works, and things like O'Riley Media.

Tools and the Future of Blogging

The sessions started up again and I think just about everyone was in Dave Winer's session on Tools and the future of blogging. I'm not sure where that needs to go but everyone seemed to be focusing on what text blogging needs in terms of tools. I'm not sure if thats what it really needs. It seems to me that there is a much greater need to increase peoples awareness of blogs, both the writing and the reading. Some people in the room were begging for video tutorials on how to blog, or suggesting that it takes so much time they can't do it. I think both are false. If you just look at tools like blogger, which I'll come back to in a minute, they pretty much explain themselves. One text box, one text area, connect a bunch of words and press submit. If you can deal with hotmail, you're more than qualified for blogger.

There was also some discussion on how to find blogs and podcasts, and how to make yourself known. Honestly I don't know much of anything about making myself known, otherwise I wouldn't be referred to as the "guy wearing an Evil Genius T-shirt, don't know him" (edcone.com) I haven't cared much in the past, but maybe I will. The buzz I got (personally) when I was macslashed was great, I wouldn't mind if that was the case a little more frequently than once. I think podcasting does need some tools to make it more searchable. The directories out there just aren't enough, but with text, and to some extent audio/video, the more people aware of it and feeding back to the environment the easier it will be to find things you agree with. Humans make a great filters, but in large enough numbers they can do great things not only well, but effectively.

Thats not to say there aren't some things that need to be changed. This is being hosted at blogspot, powered by blogger, but as a blogger I'm currently in the minority of users that has more than 500 post. For the new user I don't think you could have a better system than Blogger and the tools Google has lashed onto it, add feedburner and you have a mindless system than can do 90% of what the vast majority of users want. I think a number of power bloggers also have blogspot blogs, because there just isn't a better product for a short term, low content, high traffic blog. However when you get to 500 some posts, blogger just isn't build to support you. I know there have been several blogger outages that have only effected those of us with hundreds of posts. I think it was Anton Zuiker who actually hit on the idea of making it easy to take the posts from one system (blogger or livejournal) and making it easy to feed that into a more advanced system. I know there are ways that I can migrate to another system, but I'm a geek and well - I don't want to deal with migration issues. If I don't want to do that, what is Joe Public going to do.


Pulling back to my point on the Winer session, make people aware of the medium. In the following session on podcasting, someone said that "blog" isn't a term kids are using. They think of blogging as blogspot, xanga or livejournal, because most of them aren't aware of the terms, aren't aware of the uses, and aren't aware of the consequences of the tools. To go onto the next session, Podcasting, you just read most of it. Of all the sessions I was in podcasting had the worst execution. It wasn't on community like the leader said, and we didn't actually do one, which we very well could have, all he did was talk about what it takes to get involved with podcasting, in his book at least. $300 in hardware and software tools, expensive servers, and god knows what else. I don't blame the audience for 1) leaving or 2) being confused/bored as hell. It takes exactly $0 to get started with podcasting. Step one start a blogger account, sign in with audio blogger, make a phone call, talk, hang up, and then set up a feedburner feed for the blog. I could have done it in 10 minutes and circumvented 2 hours of dull bullet points. If you have some webspace, and you have a computer with a mic, you're set, as Cory Doctorow has done with his first few After the Siege Podcasts (he gave in and bought a real mic after 4 or 5 episodes)

Post Conference

After the mind-numbing podcasting session I floated around in the lounge. Several people were there, Paul Jones, Anton Zuiker, Will Raymond, Ryan Irelan and a few others. We talked in the lounge for a while before relocating to Natty Greeneís downtown. It continued on blogging tools and the future. at different pointed people were rehashing what had been said in the sessions, but one thing that caught my attention was I'm not the only person thinking about a weighted RSS reader. Will Raymond is also playing with the idea, but in reverse of my ideas. In his concept, repeated stories, the memes and polls that get boring, sink to the bottom of the pile. In my idea, repeated items rise, with my preferred blogs coming up first, as well as the origin (most linked source) Its reassuring that a lot of smart people are think on very similar lines about what tools need to be developed. The question isn't is there a need, its whose going to get rich or famous for being the first one to do it right.

Rocketboom Dinner
Originally uploaded by mark_w.
The group broke up closer to 7 when the dinners were starting. I think most of them went to Winer's dinner, I opted to go to the Amanda Congdon/Rocketboom Vlogging dinner at Minj Grill. Met Chris Daniel there and ended up talking about a lot about what it was going to take for video blogging to take off, which I think is going to be broadband and system resources. We already had all the tools for audio, and people can handle those bandwidth requirements so its no wonder why its exploded in the last year. Video needs a lot more of those resources and tools, so we need to let Moore's Law run its course, but I think most of us there agreed that content isn't a problem. Some of the best stuff out there doesn't need to be highly produced by a major studio. Look at Monty Python or the fan films working their way into the media.

Wrap Up

Closer to 9 we moved to Solaris for the free concert. It didn't start until closer to 11, but there were some more great discussions. I think if it was mentioned during the sessions, it was rehashed and expanded on by the 10 or so bloggers who were still there. More on vlogging, podcasting, text blogging, tools, ideas, technology in general, sports, music, mass media, content distribution, and on and on and on until a while after 2am. Over all a great experience, by while I may have been dead tired when I got home, it was 22 very well spent hours. I've got some more blogs to look into, and some others to catch up on. I'm pretty sure I said it after the Chappel Hill Conference, but its worth saying again, I love these conferences, and I can't wait for the next one.

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Your Attention Please.

Edit: Oct 10, 2005 - At least one person who has read this post felt it was a how to on bombing schools. They acted on that misinterpretation and on October 10th, 2005 I was questioned by an FBI agent. Let me make it clear that this post is not a how to bomb schools, its a post on how I would minimize the impact of a bombing if it was to happen. I may explain how to carry out a bombing, but emergency services are constantly developing practice scenarios to learn how to best deal with diasters, and thats what I do here. Skim over that if you want, but make sure to read the last three paragraphs, thats the important part of this post. For more on the questioning, See here

This was written shortly after a bomb evacuation drill at the lovely High School University about 12 hours before the actual blogger time. so enjoy

There is a bomb in the building. Please leave your Intelligence Behind.

I'm writing this minutes after a "Bomb Evacuation Drill" and like nearly everything else in this post 9/11 era it is a prefect example of group think cluster-fucking. Thats not to say that the drill didn't go smoothly, it did for as much was planned, but they aren't thinking about what the effect would be. Let's say I'm a bomber, and thats not too far of a stretch because as I have pointed out in the past its extremely easy for anyone to cook up a bomb (google anarchist's cookbook) make a decent remote detonator (cell phone and some cheap electronics) and combine them to make things go boom. So what exactly happened during this evacuation drill?

Congregations. Each building has a designated location to goto where they call for an evacuation. Thats not one location for each building, its more like three or 4 evacuation locations for all the buildings

If I was joe bomber and wanted to do the maximum human damage possible at High School University, I would build one or two bombs for each location into the trunk of a car (something cheap, like a used Geo Metro, a Kia, or a truck - which oh by the way - would blend perfectly with the types of cars students here are driving) Now park them near the evacuation areas the school has designated (all of them at the edge of a parking lot) On a busy day all the parking spaces are filled so you can't have bodies floating around freely, they're all confined to a certain space. Call in the threat (being specific that the device is in one of the buildings) and when everyone is evacuated, remotely detonate and tada, maximum kill zone. Proceed to watching the TV news coverage while running out of country - say Iraq. So the school's evacuation plan for bomb threats is bull.

Notice I said threats. As I see it the only reason someone would threaten to blow up a building is 1) if they're bluffing and want something out of it or 2) want to inflict maximum damage (as pointed out above). The one type of "bomb threat" that the plan actually works for is of the unexpected i.e. your 9/11s and train bombings, and you'll forgive me if I can't find the 9/11 commission document that talked about the threat issued to us by the attackers around 8am the morning of the attack.

So it fails when the attack is unannounced (most likely), it fails miserably when the attacker wants to do the most damage possible, and it doesn't do anything either way when the threat is a bluff. So what's the point, at least beyond the "feel good" effect? Anyone? Anyone?

Now that I've outlined so much of this I'd really hate for it to come back and bite me in the ass so here's how you get away from this centralization. Train all the teachers and staff to form distributed groups. The campus here (like at most schools) has a shit load of space available so you can very easily spread groups out in parking lots, grassy areas, baseball fields, etc. You can still have a handful sweep the buildings, and really need to (if for nothing else - to look for the bomb) Since the number of groups is significant, you'll see and communicate with the "evacuation cells" when they move back into the buildings (people are nice and stupid, mostly the will follow - especially in groups).

Of course this isn't going to be able to stop a really determined attacker. They will always be able to do significant damage, but as we're learning from middle eastern groups, a single Cell Unit is extremely hard to take down, and the challenge grows exponentially when you try and take down more at once. I don't know why this isn't a normal practice in emergency planning.

Keep in mind this concept is for schools, where the cells are virtually pre-made. The corporate challenges are different, but as the survivors of 9/11 proved, people on the ground organize themselves faster a lot more effectively than the hierarchies you find built into school environments.

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Test Drive a Mac Today!

Apple used to have a really sweet program where you could test drive a Mac for a week or so. They really need to reinstate that program.

Here's why.

Anyone can explain why one product is better than another - salesmen have been doing that for centuries, but its another thing when your product can stand up and present itself right out of the box - essentially selling itself. Apples and Macs, especially in their current reincarnation, are some of the few products that seem to be able to sell themselves

Apple doesn't simply place a computer into a box and ship it, Apple gives you a full package from the hardware and cables down though the OS and even down to the software packages from brain dead consumer to pro level audio and video production.

However while this is good for a generic consumer PC, Apple - or Apple retailers should come up with a "switch package" that is a little beyond what Apple generally hands out.

Here's what I'd stuff into a switch package:

Some items are more obvious than others. The Mac should be obvious, but its important that it has all the interfaces as possible. It can be easy for people to have a device and not be sure if they can connect it - cell phones for example - as a growing number of them have bluetooth . Wifi is another essential since it can be easier than connecting a cat5 cable to the Mac. The super drive allows the Mac to show off its one stop video processing ability (as well as permitting the user to get any data off the system before it is deleted)

Regardless of what the user might have available you need to have a mouse, and a 2 button mouse at that. For some reason people can't swallow the single button mouse thing and to put it bluntly there's no reason in hell that you shouldn't have a scroll wheel - period. A keyboard is something you just shouldn't assume (besides most Macs ship with them) Less obvious is the PS/2 adapter and the KVM. Chances are that the Switch package is going to a home with an existing PC, and chances are they won't want to disconnect the PC to test drive the Mac - so we want to make it possible for them to use the PC side by side with the Mac and the PS/2 and KVM switch are going to help enable that.

Include the DVD and CD as blank media. Anything they create you'll want them to pull off, and most people don't have blank DVDs floating around (and many don't keep blank CDs) The USB thumb drive is less obvious, but as PCs and Macs can easily handle USB drives this allows you to make it easy for the user to move files, it also presents an advertising mechinism - USB drives are cheap and easily branded. If you charge a small fee to test drive it can be practical to add in a few dollars worth of media to help make it easier to swallow.

The software is also a little less obvious, but between the consumer and professional packages you cover nearly everything. Games, reference materials, personal organizational tools, audio editing, professional software tools, an office like package, basically anything and everything a computer user really needs - and a collection of software that displays excellence in the developer communities. I would een go as far as saying that you should not preinstall pay for items - such as the pro level creation demos (Final Cut Pro) or Microsoft programs (Office X) however I would make a variety of 30 day demo deals available on an additional CD or DVD.

Of corse to use that software you'll want to make sure they have files to work with - so make sure you load it up with MP3s, AACs (ie the free iTMS songs), movs, jpgs, MP4s, AVIs (especially divx and xvid) Even WMV. Throw every format clip you possibly can because you need to show the user that you can handle everything their PC can. I know that Apple and Jobs dislike piracy as much as the next Hollywood mogul, you many people have DVDs and divx files - you better make sure you can handle them. Yes this stands to make a problem later, but if the user knows what they want to use, you have a better idea of how to help them configure their system when they (hopefully) buy it from a small retailer (ie you)

Similar to being able to handle all the software formats, you also want to make it easy to handle all the peripherals they may have. This means having the connections available for USB, Firewire, and all the storage medias you may have. 8 in 1 readers are dirt cheap, so if you can buy over one person by being able to read their camera's media card its worth it. This goes in with 3rd party drivers as well since you don't know what they may try and plug in. Chances are that they may have a scanner, printer or camera they want to use - so if you can handle it out of the box you're golden. us mac users know that drivers are rarely an issue, and chances are that the OS already knows the device - but again its better to be safe than sorry. I wouldn't even put a strong emphasis here as it is rarely an issue tho' having HP/Canon/Epson printer drivers isn't going to hurt you.

Then there's the auto wipe. To make this work I think you're going to need to be cloning this disk. This is for two main reasons first you're going to want to make sure you're not moving personal files between users. Piracy is bad. You can probably set this up as a Cron job. The other main reason is that it is going to force the user to return the system - thiws pack is going to cost $1000+ you want to keep your investment. Cloning the disk also lets you get away with another trick - reusing those 30 day deals. Which for test drivers is going to somewhat important.

The optional items aren't as important but things like the iSight, iPod, printers, scanners (which don't need to be high end gear) lets the user see that Macs can do everything the PCs can, and in many cases with a lot less hassle. Plus - you can charge a rental fee.

I needed to get some of these ideas out as I'm noticing a lot of people that would be more than fine with a Mac, but can't get past the switching part of Mac vs Windows. Simply clicking around in a store isn't enough - I think people see and think - "oooh pretty - but how is this better than windows?" Even us geeks have that experience. The salesmen is usually annoying, only partially knowledgeable, and spends more time locking systems up then trying to help people blow them up :) I'm a geek and I didn't have a really great idea about living with an iBook when I got mine - yes I had used one, but I learned more about iBooks in the first few minutes of having it in my home than I did with a hour of playing with Macs in a compUSA and Apple Stores. Furthermore in a CompUSA they're only giving you best guesses about what peripherals may or may not work with the Mac - thats something you can easily try at home and discover in a few minutes at a low cost.

Of corse there's some inherent risk that the loaners run, but I think that because this is a local deal, it could help keep local resellers afloat.

Ramblings over (and yes I know this is on damned long post)

A few responses to critics: 4:20 PM Jun 21

Now that I've been linked to on Macslash I've seen some criticisms so here are some responses:

First, Apple can open all the retail stores it wants, but it can't reach into all the potential markets unless it want's to suffer the same fate as Gateway Stores. The closest Apple store to me is at least 3 hours, the nearest CompUSA is 2, and there might be a small Apple dealer at an hour and a half and they're more of a repair shop. Then as some people have hit on, despite Apple's training some of the staffers aren't the most computer savvy. What Mac geek hasn't stepped in (or at least watched) while a Mac salesmen or a "genius" choked on a question?

While I don't really remember the office Apple Test drive I am familiar with it. The main difference I see is that back then you had far more Apple dealers (from the IIe days) and much fewer Macs (since they had just launched) Between the near fall of Apple in the mid 90s and Apple's own retail push now you have a few handfuls of Apple dealers who have managed to survive, and those stores are always looking for something they can offer that Apple can't. A test drive kit like the one I described probably falls into that category. I just can't see Apple, or any other major computer company for that matter, trying this.

The other shortcoming of Apple's campaign was that you only had it overnight. Giving it to a user, who is hopefully going to put it in use side by side with their older PC, and letting them play with it for a week is going to do a lot towards acclimating them to the Mac. OS upgrades aside you can use the Mac, or any other OS for that matter, for months and still pick up new tricks. While shortcut command have (and probably always will) be a problem when moving between Macs and PCs, however, I'd be willing to say that most users don't use short cuts.

Test driving works. I've handed out a few old Macs to friends and nearly all of them switched over at some point - and all of those that have said that test driving was a major reason for their switching.

The problem of course is getting Mac dealers to try it.

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