Archives for category: Life

I can’t believe that it’s been almost 2 years since I last posted something here. Not sure what happened – I mean, Twitter and Facebook happened, certainly, but I never meant to treat my blog like an afterthought.

Anyway, two years on, I suppose I need to consider that I’m going to do in this space going forward. Social networking has largely supplanted the blogging community at large (why run a blog yourself when you can just use Tumblr to retweet the latest Grumpy Cat opus?) Maybe (hopefully) I’ll find some inspiration here at SXSW this week. We’ll see.

Oh, yeah, there were some IRL changes too, but that’s for another post.

I’m writing this from seat 21D of Continental Airlines flight 251, as I fly home from South By Southwest 2011. For anyone who still follows this blog, you’ve probably done the math and realized that it’s been more than a year since I last wrote in this space. This wasn’t an intentional lapse, but perhaps more a lack of motivation to share what I was thinking, tinged by the instant gratification provided by posting to Twitter and Facebook. I’ve considered shutting my blog down entirely in favor of a Tumblr site or something similar, but I ultimately found the thought of removing 10 years of “random thoughts” from the web distasteful, and inaction would ultimately win out. Being that I generally return from SXSW somehow simultaneously renewed and exhausted, I’m hoping to resume regular longer-form posting here. (And yes, I know I’ve said that before.)

Ah, SXSW. I’ve given up trying to provide daily recaps of my exploits in Austin, in part because things move a lot faster in Austin than they did when I first attended in 2005, and in part because there’s a lot about this year’s conference that I’m still working to process. For starters, the interactive portion of SXSW has evolved from a poky little conference for bloggers and Internet types into a full-fledged extravaganza, nearly 20,000 strong. That isn’t a typo – I’ve yet to find a confirmed report (and I expect the official number won’t be published for a while yet), but buzz throughout the week places the total attendance between 18k and 20k. Either figure pushes IA well past the music festival, meaning that the geeks have taken over.

Or maybe not. While the conference still attracts a huge number of creatives, coders, and plucky end users & amateurs, 2011 may go down as the year the marketing started to drown out the message. You could test drive a Chevy, or chill out at the Pepsi Max lot, or…um, I dunno, eat Doritos and get high at the Sony Playstation house. I’m guessing, because I didn’t bother with any of these things. (OK, I suppose I might have mooched a free caffeine fix off the Pepsi people. It’s a long week.) For me, the conference is about content and camaraderie, and much of the marketing just throws off the signal:noise ratio.

(Pardon me while I have a strange interlude…

Normally when I fly, I try to sit in the window, mainly so that I don’t have to worry about having to get up anytime someone needs to stroll around or go to the lavatory. In, out, and on my way. On this particular day, I’d opted to exchange my window seat for an exit row aisle seat that, while granting no extra legroom, ensures that one of my fellow travelers won’t end up in my lap (row 20, the forward exit row, doesn’t recline). What I didn’t count on was the douchebag film attendee in the middle seat constantly leaning to the left, forcing me to lean half into the aisle just to get some personal space. Oh, and did I mention his nose picking, and the fact that he ate a bag of chips, licked each finger clean, then proceeded to touch everything in the setback pocket? Yeaaaaaah. You, sir, are the kind of person that makes me hate flying.

Back to our feature presentation…)

Let’s return to that attendee total for a moment. 20,000. The interactive conference has experienced amazing growth over the last 7 years; when I first attended SXSW, I’d have been shocked if there were 2,000 attendees. The entire conference was contained within a single cul-de-sac of a hallway on the 4th floor of the Austin Convention Center. There were, at most, 4 panels running at a time – and if none of the panels appealed to you, there were always groups gathered in the hallway, charging their laptops and exchanging ideas. At night, there was AN official event, usually sponsored by a local Internet business. It wasn’t impossible to meet, talk to, and collect business cards from the bulk of attendees.

Fast forward to this year: the interactive conference has expanded to encompass all but a handful of rooms at ACC, most of the meeting space at the Hilton across 4th Street, meeting spaces at the Courtyard by Marriott, the Hilton Garden Inn, the Radisson on 1st and Congress, the Sheraton on 11th & Red River, the AT&T Conference Center up by UT, and the Hyatt on the far side of Town Lake. (That doesn’t even factor in the official “meet ups” at the Driscoll, or the unofficial panels being hosted by sponsors.) There were several official, and about half a dozen unofficial (but tacitly endorsed) parties, plus SXSW Comedy events. The sheer number of panels is overwhelming Getting from one panel to another ranges from being a minor hassle to something approaching the Bataan Death March – and the changes of getting locked out of a panel are higher than should have been acceptable. Lines for after-hours events stretch for blocks, and the local bars and restaurants which were once late-night refuges overflow with overdressed hipsters wearing familiar-looking badges. In short, things have changed.

[Scene change - it's now late night Wednesday, and I'm at home, unpacking and doing laundry.]

So in rereading what I wrote while on the plane earlier, I think I may have been focusing a bit too heavily on the negatives…in part because of the constant discomfort I was in for the whole plane ride. After I stopped writing, Film Douchebag asked for some help getting his MacBook Pro to boot. The solution, as it happened, was to make sure the computer actually had power. So maybe he wasn’t a douchebag after all, just an idiot. That doesn’t forgive the nose picking, but…let me try closing this post in a more positive light.

Anyway, changes – they were many and numerous. Thankfully, some things stay the same. Through SXSW, I’ve had the good fortune to develop an amazing group of new friends, and that group grows larger with each passing year*. I got to connect with people I’ve only known through photos and Twitter streams. The important traditions of ‘old skool’ SXSW Interactive remain – Fray Cafe, 20×2 and Smokler’s closing dinner to name a few. And through the marketing, and the endless walks to too-small panel rooms, and the innumerable parties, hopefully somewhere in there the spirit of ‘old skool’ SXSW remains alive too – people exchanging ideas and forming lasting, meaningful relationships. Everything else is window-dressing.

*Many members of that core group were absent this year for various reasons, and they were sorely missed…

Brad L. Graham

Brad L. Graham at Fray Cafe 9 (SXSW 2009)

This isn’t what I thought I’d be writing about tonight. This is about the furthest thing from what I thought I’d be writing tonight.

I had planned to write about the end of the Russell T. Davies/David Tennant era of Doctor Who – specifically the two-finale, The End of Time. Then I saw this…

Tweet from @weegee re: Brad's passing

…and it felt like I’d been sucker-punched.

A bit of background – in 2005, I attended South By Southwest Interactive for the first time. I knew practically no one. And the ones I did know (save for a certain Jersey refugee and his wife), I didn’t know very well. I was stepping WAY out of my comfort zone – so much so that I didn’t sleep the night before traveling, and thought, albeit briefly, abut calling the whole trip off.

Brad Graham wasn’t the first person I met in Austin that year – that distinction went to Kristin – but it was Brad, through his annual “Break Bread…” opening night soirée, that I met so many of the people with whom I would spend the following 4 days and remain in contact with over the following five years; in no small way, he helped build the SXSWi family. And in that time, we bonded over our shared obsessions – theater, web geekery, Doctor Who – and I’d felt like I’d found something of a kindred spirit.

Brad passed away sometime over the long New Year’s weekend. He was 41 years old. I think James may have said it best: “The glue of SXSW for the past decade is gone.” And I never got a chance to thank him for welcoming me, with open arms and a cold beer, into that amazing family.

I’m not going to pretend that I knew him as well as the folks who were with him at that first SXSWi 11 years ago, but that doesn’t make his death hurt any less. I knew him well enough to know that he was a sweet, funny, passionate man. He had no shame (I mean that in the best way possible), and heaven knows he never missed an opportunity for an ribald comment…and that’s one of the reasons why we loved him.

I’m not sure I can write much more right now, and to be honest I’m not sure if what I’ve already written will make much sense unless you’ve taken up residence in my head. I will get around to that Doctor Who post soon – I think Brad would have liked that – but somehow I think it’s only appropriate to let Brad have the last word.

From Fray Cafe 9 at SXSW 2009, I give you the story of Brad’s ‘second time’.

Thank you, Brad. Godspeed, you magnificent bastard.

Edit (2:50AM) – there’s a memorial page (of a sort) up on Metafilter.

Game Theory

Game Theory

Thanks to Nikolai Nolan for the video. Please, don’t spoil the shock ending!

withbadge2008.jpgI’m on the ground in Austin for SXSWi 2008. I’ve already run into a few familiar faces, and will most likely catch up with the rest at dinner tonight. Updates as events warrant.

Reminder to those of you who are here – find me and get tagged!

(You can also follow me on Twitter, although I should warn those of you not in Austin that Twitter becomes less about what you’re doing and more about where you’re going. That’ll make more sense starting tonight.)

As part of my SXSW prep, earlier tonight I took a drive up to East Brunswick to do some shopping at the fat guy clothing store.  As I drove down Rt. 18 south, I passed the Mid-State Mall and noticed something…odd.  Something out of place.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned in this space on at least one occasion that I used to work at Borders – Borders Store #42, to be specific.  The one in the Mid-State Mall in East Brunswick.  It started as a part time job between seasons at Six Flags, but I ended up staying on full time, and eventually got promoted into a position where they trusted me with a LOT of money. I enjoyed my time at that store, and still keep in touch with a few of the people I worked with there, but after two years, I moved on to new ventures.

Anyway, I mentioned that there was something odd about the Mid-State Mall tonight, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, because a reasonably-new Starbucks (the kind with a drive-thru window) is sitting on the corner of the property where the enormous jughandle used to be, and therefore obscured my view.

borders_fail.jpgI took way too much time shopping, but as I returned north on Rt. 18 (heading toward Rt. 1, and eventually, home), I investigated.  And while my discovery confirmed my suspicions, it didn’t make it any easier to digest:  Borders #42 is officially closed.

I’m not sure why I was so shocked by this development – the store was chronically understaffed, even when I worked there; the fixtures were falling apart (and sometimes falling on employees!); and the location was, frankly, kinda crummy.  (Hell, look at the picture – those letters have been out for 10 years!) And according to an article from the Sentinel, Borders says the store was ‘underperforming’, although I find that somewhat hard to believe – Store #42 was (at least when I worked there) always at the top of the sales charts for our region, due in no small part to the high volume of computer books we sold – you know, the ones that are never discounted and weigh 40 lbs?  Yeah, those.  So I can’t quite fathom how the store ‘underperformed’.  But from what I’ve been reading in the press, there were a lot of ‘underperforming’ Borders stores to get the axe, so it shouldn’t be that surprising.

Still, I’m a little sad to see the store sitting there, closed down and gutted, with only an 8 1/2 x 11 typed note in the front window thanking customers for 15 years of patronage.  It’s another small part of my past that I’ll never be able to revisit.

Yeah, you know the drill. This is the part where I apologize for being away for such a long time, and I swear on several dead people that I’m going to make good and post more frequently.

Honesty moment: I’ve had quite a bit to post, I just haven’t really been inspired to post. I know that sounds like a crock of shit, but in all honesty, I just really haven’t been inspired to write lately. I pull up the ‘write post’ template in WordPress, and I sit there looking at a blank field, wondering where all the words went. (Really, I used to be quite good at this. I think. It’s been such a long time.)

Oh, and sorry about all the Boston references – I’ve been playing a lot of Rock Band lately. Finished the solo guitar tour on medium, and I’m almost exclusively playing bass on hard or expert (except for “Green Grass and High Tides” – that song just kicks my ass every damn time).

It goes without saying that work has been keeping me incredibly busy. After much wrangling on my part, my group has finally got the go-ahead to outsource our database and web application work; naturally, I’ve been given a lot of responsibility for this particular project. In addition to everything I’d normally be responsible for. It’s daunting, to say the least; for the better part of the last few months, I feel like I’ve continually been playing catch-up.

There’s been some good stuff in that time, tho – I’ve been down to DC a few times, and even had a chance to see the wily and elusive Becca; made another trek to the Bay Area in December, wherein Erica and I got lost on steep hills, and Esin & Tomek hosted a dinner party (and I finally got to meet Jessa‘s ‘bucket’); and I got a really positive performance review at work, which I’m hoping will materialize into a substantial raise. Oh, and I got some new shoes. So there’s that. But even still, I’ve been feeling generally drained.

Which brings us to the present. South By Southwest Interactive starts at the end of this week. As busy as SXSW can be, I always look forward to those five days in Texas as a chance to recharge the batteries. I’m hoping that I’ll be inspired by those clever, clever friends of mine – inspired to blog, inspired to try new things, and inspired to experiment and grow. Needless to say, there will be at least once-daily posting and photos a-plenty from Austin.

No excuses this time. Putting aside the post from LAX a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been away for a while. I could take the high road and say I was taking a ‘break’ from blogging, or that I was ‘re-evaluating’ what I wanted to do in this space, but I respect my readers (all 5 of you) too much to lie to you like that. No, the truth – the simple, damned truth – is that I kinda let my life get away from me since my last regularly scheduled broadcast. I’m not proud of it, but there it is.

OK, “let my life get away from me” sounds more dramatic than I’d intended now that I’ve actually typed it, so I guess I should qualify that statement a little bit. Over the summer my workload increased by several degrees of suck, and being…well, me…I was firmly of the belief that I could handle everything. I was proven quite wrong, and quickly found myself in the office until 7 or 8 at night trying to get everything done. (Although, in fairness, 7pm is a great time to GTD, because there are almost no distractions.) Sprinkle in some business trips, a generous helping of unexpected internal hurdles at work, and a heapin’ helpin’ of a certain Competition in Math, Science & Technology (130 hours worked in 2 weeks!) and suddenly it’s Thanksgiving.

(Alright, I guess I made some excuses. So sue me.)

So, with the formalities out of the way, I shall recall the good things that have happened since last I posted something remotely interesting in this space, in mostly-chronological order. I warn you now, some of the things on this list may seem a little mundane, but lately I’ll take any victory I can get, big or small.

July & August

  • Went to San Francisco. Every six months or so, my work in scholarship administration takes me out to the Bay Area, so I get to see a whole bunch of great people who I would otherwise only ever see in person at SXSW. Over the course of two days, I managed to squeeze in window shopping on Valencia Street with Erica (we got mopped at the Pirate Store!), went to a cocktail party at Esin’s house with Jessa & both of their wonderful, crazy families, and caught a flick at Smokler‘s Sunday Cinema with urban mermaid.
    Of course, it’s not all highly alcoholic neon drinks and Back to the Future. That Monday evening, I was off to Sacramento for my client’s scholarship awards banquet. I know it sounds hokey, but one of the best parts of my job is actually meeting the kids who win the scholarships and hearing their stories. Funny thing, tho, is that the parents and the students always come up to me at the end of the event and thank me for the scholarship, and I always have to remind them – all I did was move some paper and push some buttons…the students are the ones who did all the work. But regardless, I leave those events with a smile on my face and a much smaller stack of business cards in my pocket.
  • Went to DC. From SFO, I got to spend all of one day at home (well, at the office) before heading off to Washington, DC for an application review committee. But at least I got to see Becca for a little while before her birthday.
  • I would, of course, be remiss, if I didn’t mention Christmas in August, a/k/a Darren’s birthday. The highlight of which, quite obviously, was Ali’s gift of a shiny new Nintendo Wii. And as it turns out, the console I’ve scoffed at for the better part of a year is actually an insane amount of fun to play. I discovered that, after some practice, I’m quite good at Wii Sports Bowling, although I still pretty much suck at all of the other sports on that disc. Also, I can’t get my Wii Sports Fitness age below 50. *grumble*

September

  • Turned 32, which didn’t feel terribly momentous, except for the fact that I actually managed to avoid going into the office on my birthday this year, thereby avoiding a repeat of 31′s disastrous day. It was a low-key affair – dinner, board games at Stacey’s place, some poker (I think) – and that’s fine by me. Maybe I’m getting old?
  • CAN HAS NEW IPOD!!~! 32 was almost ruined by the lack of availability of a certain model of new iPod, but I managed to find it on 32.0.1, so it’s all good. (Sorry for the LOLCAT speak…I couldn’t help myself.)
  • Got jammed into an elevator with Colin Powell and Nancy Peloci. But I’m getting ahead of myself – I went back to DC in September for another client’s big-time press conference and luncheon at the Library of Congress. And when I say big-time, I mean big – the First Lady was supposed to speak, although she had broken her foot, but the Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, was there, along with half of Capitol Hill (including Ted Kennedy, who is a surprisingly eloquent speaker). Following a Bataan Death March-like walk through the bowels of the LoC, the luncheon was headlined by the former Secretary of State, with the Speaker of the House as a warm-up act. Both are quite compelling orators (also, Colin Powell is ridiculously tall), and in retrospect, I wish I had paid more attention and spent less time worrying about making the return train to Jersey (which I did, in fact, miss). But on the way out of the luncheon to make that train, my colleague James and I ended up jammed into an elevator with Powell and Peloci. (James just happened to have business cards at the ready.)

October

  • Got paid for crazy overtime. I said I was going to list the good things, and while, yes, October is where the wheels basically came off the wagon that is my sanity, I did earn quite a bit of green in the process. And that, my friends, is a good thing.

November

  • Got a new all-in-one printer. I warned you that some of these things would be mundane, but I really, REALLY hated my old Epson Stylus Photo RX600. With a passion. Seriously…Epson? You’re On Notice. Also, my new HP is five kinds of awesome.
  • Ate with my hands. Which is to say, I had Ethiopian food for the first time, when we went to dinner at Makeda’s for Jen’s birthday. I think I ate too much of the strange skin-like bread.
  • Went to a forum on global warming. Long story short, we’re managing an essay/scholarship contest for a group that was sponsoring a forum on global warming out in LA earlier in the month. (Hence the recent update, live from LAX T-5.) I got to hear Dennis Kucinich (nice guy, interesting ideas, but hasn’t got a chance in hell), Hillary Clinton (well-rehearsed & wooden, got heckled), and John Edwards (remarkably passionate, amazing speaker) talk about their plans to address the climate crisis, should they get elected in a year’s time. Although I wish more of the candidates showed up to speak, it was an informative afternoon, and I’m looking forward to working with this client. (As a side note, at the VIP reception – yes, la-de-dah, I’m a VIP now – afterward, I’m about 95% sure I was cut off at the entrance by Sheryl Crow. Also, saw Richard Simmons at the airport…but I think I mentioned that last time.)
  • Became the lead singer (and occasional bassist) for Skeletor in a Fright Wig. Alright, I guess this one will take some explaining. I’ve Twittered at length about my love of the Guitar Hero franchise…well, Harmonix, one of the original GH developers, has expanded the metaphor with Rock Band, which adds bass, drums, and vocals to the mix. I suck out loud at drums, and I’m not too great with the chords on the guitar line, but I do well enough on bass, but 10 years of musical theater training are paying off on vocals. The game is remarkably addictive – even more so than Guitar Hero, because just like being in a real band, it’s a cooperative effort. (As to the name of our ‘band’…well, remember that Richard Simmons sighting? I was describing him to Darren as we drove back from getting burritos last week, and between the eyes, and the hair, the best way I could describe it was “like seeing Skeletor in a fright wig”. The name stuck, and a legend was born.)
  • Finally got a decent single-cup coffee maker. After suffering mediocre coffee courtesy of my HomeCafe brewer for the last few years, and not wanting to pay through the nose for a Starbucks fix every morning, I finally decided to spring for a Keurig B60. (The 20% coupon, store credit, and rebate offer for free coffee at Bed, Bath & Beyond helped the decision along a little bit.) So far, so good, but I’ve been burned before. (Literally – that damn HomeCafe thing used to spray coffee everywhere, even on me on a few occasions. I’m glad to be rid of it.)

I’m sure I glossed over some things, but that pretty much gets you up to speed on where I’ve been for the last 5 months or so. Next week I’m in DC for a cup of coffee, and the week after that, it’s back to the Bay Area (yes, again; yes, already – it’s amazing how fast time goes by when you’re not chronicling the events of your life on a regular basis). And astoundingly, SXSW is only 3(ish) months away. But in the short term, I’m looking forward to some time off at the end of the month, and generally getting things back under control at work. Oh, and providing you with regular updates of my escapades, of course.

A nearly-belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! May your…plates…um…overfloweth with…the bounty of…um…stuff. Or something. (I probably should have given this more thought.)

Photos from tonight’s dinner have been uploaded to Flickr, marking the first time any of my family members have appeared in my photostream. Enjoy!