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At the NY Tech Meetup, animation lessons and iPhone worship

Here's what happened at the January edition.

Last night, while CES and Macworld were both raging on into the after-dark hours, I was at the Great Hall of NYC's Cooper Union for the first NY Tech Meetup of 2007. The monthly event was hosted, as usual, by Meetup founder Scott Heiferman, who proudly announced that the NY Tech Meetup had spawned parallel events in 20 cities, and that in the month of January there would be around one thousand meetups held across New York City that ranged from yoga enthusiasts groups to political activist organizations. While some meetups number only a handful of people, this one draws a crowd of 500+.

For the most part, the NY Tech Meetup followed its standard format of a handful of six-minute presentations from local entrepreneurs' start-ups--several of which I'll be writing up over the next day. This month, one of the presentations was given by a visitor from across the country in Portland, Oregon: Diane Eisnor of Platial, a Google Maps mashup creator that CNET covered shortly after its launch about a year ago (in the pre-Webware days). And a second presentation was not a start-up at all, but rather a technique: a demonstration of how to make quick and easy cartoon animations using a wipe-off board, a piece of free software called Monkeyjam, and a USB webcam. Yeah, we're creative here in the New York tech scene!

After the presentation, Heiferman opened up the floor for comments about the thing that was on pretty much everyones' minds: Apple's iPhone. A few attendees were skeptical, citing the fact that the iPhone is only available on Cingular's carrier, and it's got a $499-$599 price tag, but most in the room were purely effervescent about the new handheld. They were particularly impressed by the sensors that automatically orient the screen and can tell when the iPhone is being held close to an ear; the apparently seamless switch between Wi-Fi and cellular modes; the multi-touch functions for zooming in and out; and the fact that Apple has managed to weave such disparate technologies into an interface that's so simple.

As one NY Tech Meetup member put it, citing Apple's recent name change from Apple Computer to just Apple, Inc.: "I think Apple revealed its entire company strategy today."