Monday, March 16, 2009

SXSW 2009, Day 1 - 3

I'm in the midst of SXSW 2009, and have intended to record my activities, but I'm slow out of the gate here. It's day 4 already. Today I'm attending some Interactive panels, so I've got my laptop with me (as do 95% of the people around me). I've never seen so many MacBook Airs, and everyone is carrying iPhones or Blackberrys. Lots of people are Twittering away.

So, I'll do a brief recap through day 3:

DAY 0:
This year, they opened the registration desk on Thurs night in order to expedite the registration and getting our badges, and (we assumed) picking up the directories and 'big bags' -- figuring it would be useful to start looking over the directories and other items. This was a waste of time. We spent maybe 45 minutes plus a trip downtown in order to save what would have taken perhaps 15 minutes by waiting until Friday. Seems everyone was coming to do the badge early, and the line was an order of magnitude longer than any we'd seen in prior years. And we still had to come back to get our directories and big bags. And it was raining. Oh well -- an annoyance but no big deal really.

DAY 1:
It was a workday for me. Panels started at 2pm and I intended to leave the office to arrive by then, but I seemed to have too many things I was trying to wrap up. So I blew off the interactive. We picked up our big bags and directories, I had a free drink at the registrants lounge -- Fuse with vodka; Fuse is a sponsor and it's everywhere, as is the new Sierra Mist Ruby Red that they're rolling out at SXSW (In a similar vein, I have no idea how many granola bars I've been handed so far. And one guy was passing out bottles of Sweet Leaf Iced Tea, Mint & Honey. I love those.). We started at a movie at the Alamo Ritz (where we could eat dinner while watching; I had a chicken pesto pizza and a beer). The trendy pick here would have been going to the Paramount to see the premiere of "I Love You, Man" ...which might have been OK but it looks kinda dumb, really. And we tend to favor the documentaries. So we saw "New World Order". This was a doc about the personalities of various conspiracy theorists, the central focus being a talk radio host named Alex Jones (who was in attendance, and we seemed to be the only people who'd never heard of him). What was interesting about it is that I was watching the movie thinking, "wow, these people are just plain nuts,", while I could tell there was a segment of the audience watching the very same movie and thinking "yeah, these guys are heroes, 9/11 was an inside job" and other such nonsense. The directors and Alex Jones then came up for a Q&A.
Next up was a documentary at ACC called "Blood Trail" which followed an accomplished freelance photo journalist (Robert King) over 15 years as he did dangerous assignments photographing news in Sarajevo, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. He was an interesting character, and was in attendance (with the director) for the post-film Q&A. He said he is on his way to Mexico to cover the drug battles going on there right now.

DAY 2:
We didn't get an early start. Stopped at Einstein's for a bagel sandwich lunch, then went to see Tony Hseih's opening remarks (after looking at a few booths on the trade show floor) He is the Founder/CEO of and he discussed the history and philosophy of his company's culture. I followed this with a presentation by Christine Li on the future of social networks (lots of talk about OpenID, Facebook Connect, etc).
Next, a movie documentary: "Objectified" at the Paramount. This was a movie about people who design objects -- covering design, material science, etc -- and designers from Apple, the guy who designs furniture and things for Target, etc. It it hard to describe without making it sound dry, but really it was interesting to hear from these people and to hear their processes described.
Next: we stopped by the PBS party, on our way back to the Conv Center. It was in a bar on Sixth Street, and there was live music (an accoustic duo, don't know who, but they sounded good). However, it was just too crowded. We checked it out for a few minutes and left. For dinner, we went to Iron Works BBQ and met a guy in line from San Jose named Nathan (he had an Interactive badge). So we shared a table with him. After eating, we walked with Nathan to the SXSW opening party by Frog Design. Had a free beer and there was sort of a Chinese Dragon parade thing going on. Then we said goodbye to Nathan and went back to the Conv Center for a documentary, "The Last Beekeeper", following three beekeepers as they struggled dealing with the colony colapse disorder that has struck the USA in the last couple years. I was unaware that 80% of the nation's beehives are driven annually to California for the almond harvest. The film followed the keepers to and from Calif. One found that 4/5 of her hives had died and she has had to fold her business. Q&A afterwords, as usual.

DAY 3:
Started with an 11:30am talk by Derek Powazek on 'The Wisdom of Crowds" as applied to the web -- e.g. collaboration, things like PageRank, etc.
Then, I checked out ScreenBurn, the arcade area where game companies were previewing their new games. I didn't stay long -- went back to the trade show floor to finish walking the aisles.
Then went to the day's keynote speech, actually an interview, with Nate Silver of (discussing statistical data mining to make predictions of things, e.g. his models of the Obama election victory last Nov).
I then stopped in for the first 15 minutes of a panel on Web standards, but left early in order to be in time for the movie "American Violet" at the Paramount. This was the first non-Doc I saw, although it was based on true events. It had Alfrie Woodward, Tim Blake Nelson, was directed by Roy Disney (yes, of that Disney family). It was about a poor single mother who was wrongfully arrested and being encouraged to take a plea bargain, but she fought back with help from an ACLU lawyer; she had been caught up in racially-motivated raids of her neighborhood. Stayed for the Q&A.
Then, I went to the SXSW Web awards pre-party. Had some (quite good) free food & drinks (is there a pattern here?). Shrimp and chicken fried rice, mushroom pasta, egg rolls, and a Chardonnay. I then watched a few of the web awards being presented, but that got old fast as I had no vested interest in anything there and didn't know most of the sites. M had gone to another movie instead, so I just hung out a bit until she got out. Got home by 10pm, a little early by SXSW standards. That's good because later in the week, there may be some verrrry late nights. Still, even once home, I spent a good amount of time mapping out the top candidate panels and movies for the next couple days, before the Music festival starts. The vibe of the festival always changes dramatically between Tuesday (when most of the web types wrap up), and Wednesday (when the crowds of colorful music types pour into the city).

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