Archives for posts with tag: Life

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 soirĂ©e, 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

What I’m getting at, I’m suppose, is that I’m not quite dead. I’ve just been…well, busy is something of an understatement. I know, I know – I use that excuse a lot, and it starts to lose all meaning after a while, but ‘struth.

I should explain. I’ve been working an average of 9.5 hours a day lately. And when I say ‘lately’, I mean for the last couple of months, until this weekend. This weekend, I’ve been working an average of 15 hours a day. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say – quite the contrary, in fact – it’s just that by the time I get the opportunity to write, all I really want to do is turn my brain off.

I’m hoping to correct this behavior in short order. While I have quite a bit of travel coming up over the next 60 days (as evidenced by the Dopplr widget in the sidebar), my schedule should be a bit more open, allowing for more creative output. I’m also going to start thinking about giving the site another facelift – Qwilm! works well as a stopgap theme, but I’ve never been 100% happy with it. (I don’t know that I’ll ever be entirely happy with an existing theme, but I don’t have the ‘mad skillz’ to code my own.)

I also have a number of half-started projects to finish, not least of which is the editing and posting of the balance of my SXSW photos. (No, I’m not kidding.) But all in due time.