SXSW FYI

South By Southwest has somehow been on my calendar every March since 2012, which should mean I know what I’m doing in Austin. I don’t really–but with friends coming to SXSW for their first time, I’m due to share what I’ve learned over these five years of practice at hanging out with the unelected hipster elite.

sxsw-microphonePacking: SXSW is properly understood as CES in a more walkable city. Bring your most comfortable shoes and socks, take a jacket you can stuff in a bag (it gets warm during March days in central Texas), and ensure your bag/backpack/purse/satchel always includes a power adapter and external battery for your phone.

If you have a travel power strip and extra USB cables, bring them. Helping other people charge their devices is a recognized good deed at SXSW.

I hear that packing a sufficiently ironic t-shirt can’t hurt, but every year I forget to bring anything from my dwindling collection of ’80s concert attire.

Getting around: With Lyft and Uber having fled Austin after it enacted rules that require fingerprinting drivers, getting around CES may be more complicated as you deal with various smaller-scale ride-hailing services. I haven’t tried those alternatives, but I usually stick to walking back and forth–downtown is compact enough.

For travel from and back to the airport, the 100 bus is an underrated option, especially compared to cab lines on SXSW’s opening day of March 10. The Red Line light rail can be helpful for getting to spots on the east side of town, and if you have a car2go membership, that works in Austin too. The city also has a bike share network, but I’ve yet to try that. If only my Capital Bikeshare membership got me a discount on a day pass…

sxsw-6th-streetPanels and venues: At the risk of sounding like a dweeb, SXSW panels deserve your time. They gather smart people who have learned insightful things about the intersection of technology and culture, and you will learn from them if you pay attention. In the bargain, they provide a valuable opportunity to recharge your devices.

Unfortunately, they are also scattered around Austin. The core venues–the Convention Center, he JW Marriott, the Westin, even the Hilton across the street from the convention center–are placed just far enough apart that running into one random acquaintance will lead you to miss the panel you’d put on your schedule in a fit of optimism. If you’d set out to hit a more distant SXSW location like the Hyatt Regency across the river: good luck!

Get used to tearing up those plans in favor of going to whatever you can make in the next 10 minutes. Besides, randomly running into people is one of the best things about SXSW.

Don’t overlook the compact trade-show floor in the convention center. Last year, that led me to headphones 3D-printed to fit only my ear canals (unable to sell that review hardware to anybody else, I donated its sale value to the nonprofit news organization Pro Publica) and a nonprofit campaign collecting USB flash drives on which to smuggle non-totalitarian information into North Korea.

Eating and drinking: The amount of corporate-subsidized food and beverages available during SXSW is ridiculous. I’ve spent the last five years waiting for all of these marketing managers and brand ambassadors to be held accountable for the expenses they run up, but no such thing has happened. So it’s quite possible to spend all five days of SXSW’s Interactive festival without paying for lunch, dinner or drinks.

Breakfast is another thing. So is the late-night snack that may become necessary after attending a SXSW event with more booze than chow. Either way, you’re in one of America’s food-truck capitals: Fire up your eats-finding app of choice, be prepared to walk a few blocks, and you should be fine.

Advertisements

Weekly output: Google phones (x2), SXSL, e-mail encryption

I just watched the second presidential debate, and I was disappointed but not surprised by the lack of tech-policy banter. You?

yahoo-tech-google-phones-post10/3/2016: Why it matters that Google might be producing its own phones, Yahoo Finance

My suggestion at the end that Google might offer an installment-payment option for the new Pixel and Pixel XL phones–something analyst Jan Dawson suggested to me in an e-mail–panned out when Google introduced just that.

10/4/2016: Google’s new phones, WTOP

I spoke briefly about the Pixel and Pixel XL to the news station. One thing I wish I’d mentioned: These two new phones aren’t waterproof, unlike the iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S7.

10/4/2016: Obama gathers top tech to tackle US problems, Yahoo Finance

I spent most of Monday at the White House, which is not a bad way to while away an afternoon. This South by South Lawn event did not feature free beer (at least during the day) and so fell short of being a D.C. salute to Austin’s South by Southwest festival, but on the other hand SXSW has yet to allow me to see Rep. John Lewis (D.-Ga.) speak.

10/9/2016: How to protect your email from snooping, USA Today

Freelancing for multiple clients can sometimes lead to situations where one client asks you to write about an issue involving another.

Weekly output: Gogo 2Ku, online harassment, Twitter filtering, SXSW

I still haven’t caught up on the sleep deficit and food surplus accumulated at SXSW.

Yahoo Tech Gogo 2Ku post3/15/2016: Taking off soon: Gogo promises in-flight Wi-Fi that you won’t hate, Yahoo Tech

This was the most avgeek-ish post I’ve written since my recap of texting and calling from Gogo’s private jet at SXSW two years ago. For more details about this test of Gogo’s new “2Ku” satellite-based WiFi on that company’s Boeing 737-500, I’ll point you to the writers who sat one row behind me, Gary Leff and Zach Honig.

3/16/2016: At SXSW, talking about online harassment — but is anyone listening?, Yahoo Tech

I found SXSW’s Online Harassment Summit to be a little less depressing, slightly more hopeful and a lot less crowded than I expected.

3/18/2016: Hate it when social networks tinker with your timeline? You’d hate it more if they didn’t, Yahoo Tech

As I type this, the post on my Facebook page linking to this story has been seen by all of 29 people, or barely over 1 percent of the people following my page. So, yeah, I am fully aware that algorithmic filtering of social-media timelines has consequences. Or maybe I just wrote a boring post?

3/20/2016: SXSW 2016: A look back at the highlights, USA Today

After a lot of mental back and forth about how I could so some sort of SXSW recap that wouldn’t duplicate all of USAT’s earlier coverage out of Austin, I realized that I could contrast each highlight of the festival with whatever event I had to skip to attend that panel, Q&A or demo.

Weekly output: iOS updates, Mac ransomware, ISP privacy (x2), wedding gifts, e-mail security

AUSTIN–I’ve been here since Friday morning, and somehow I have not eaten any brisket yet. If you choose to regard that oversight as a character issue, I can’t blame you.

3/7/2016: How to recover from iPhone update gone bad, USA Today

I made a mistake in this column–I misread an Apple tech-support note about restoring an iPhone in an Apple Store as evidence that you could also borrow a computer there to backup your iPhone and then restore it. That’s not the case, as two people pointed out, so I’ve asked my editor to correct the piece.

Yahoo Tech ISP-privacy post3/7/2016: Your ISP might not be spying on you now — but you’d be crazy not to worry that it will, Yahoo Tech

This post started life as a simpler, shorter unpacking of a report about the limits to Internet providers’ visibility of their subscribers’ online activity, but the topic and the word count expanded a bit from there.

3/8/2016: Ransomware on the Mac: Turns out identify theft is a problem for apps, too, Yahoo Tech

After this ran, a friend commented on my Facebook page that he uses the Transmission app but had chosen to skip the update that had been contaminated with a ransomware payload. Yikes.

3/9/2016: Great Wedding Registry Gift Ideas, The Sweethome

As part of this long guide to wedding presents, Casey Johnston interviewed my wife and I about the stand mixer that (I think) some of her parents’ friends gave us, and which I use to make bread every week.

3/11/2016: FCC proposes new broadband-privacy rules — and your ISP probably hates them, Yahoo Tech

Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler proposed some not-too-sweeping proposals to limit what your ISP can do with the data it collects about your online activity, and Big Telecom is not amused.

3/13/2016: How to give your email a security checkup, USA Today

I was pleasantly surprised to see some large Internet providers support IMAP syncing and TLS encryption–but others have horribly obsolete and insecure setups. Think about that when you hear somebody insist that the only way to get a good and reliable service online is to pay for it.

Okay, maybe this SXSW commercialism really has gotten out of hand

AUSTIN–SXSW is really two events. One is the long series of panels and keynotes that teach me new things and get wheels turning in my brain for weeks afterward–for instance, yesterday President Obama did a Q&A that was supposed to be a sales pitch for SXSW techies to lend their talents to making government work better but wound up being his most revealing discussion about device encryption ever.

Sixth Street during SXSW(Twitter was not pleased with Obama’s displeasure about “fetishizing our phones above every other value,” to judge from my own timeline.)

But there’s also the Marketing Spring Break that surrounds this conference, in which every other social media manager, PR rep, advertising executive, and brand ambassador in America takes their employer or client’s corporate credit card and goes on a spending spree with restaurants, bars and caterers here.

The result is a schedule crammed with happy hours, receptions and parties, this year even more so than in the four before that I’ve been privileged to attend this event. My own calendar this evening features five events, most overlapping each other’s time slot. I am not sure what I could say to a normal human being’s “I hate you” assessment:

2) “Don’t hate the player, hate the game!”
3) Actually, just go ahead and hate me.

It’s not just tech startups lighting their investors’ money on fire in the hope of repeating Twitter’s 2007 SXSW breakout. The social scene here also features a wide variety of big-name Establishment firms looking to capture “mind share” by giving away free beer, tacos and BBQ–anytime I am overcome with SXSW-scheduling angst over which panel I won’t be able to attend, I can chill at the Scotts Miracle-Gro Connected Yard, the McDonald’s Loft, the Budweiser Beer Garage, or the Comcast Social Media Lounge.

I don’t know how all of these companies can get an acceptable return on their investment. What I do know: I’m not getting out of this place any skinnier.

Weekly output: SXSW panel pitch, Verizon Wireless pricing, TPP, Winvote, retargeted e-mails

For much of this week, I took notes from a seat in a room while somebody else stood before me and others to deliver a lecture about one subject or another. It was a bit like college–except I used a laptop instead of paper, I was never unplugged from the outside world, and there was the prospect of getting paid for what I wrote about those talks instead of Mom and Dad paying for me to attend them.

SXSW panel on panels8/10/2015: A Panel On Panels: Things We’ve Learned Not To Do, SXSW PanelPicker

For the past couple of years, I’ve talked about pitching a SXSW panel about nothing other than the weird performance art that is participating in a panel discussion. I finally went ahead and wrote up a proposal, featuring me as well as ACT | The App Association’s Jonathan Godfrey and Tech.Co’s Jen Consalvo. Please vote for it, if you’re so inclined; if it gets a spot on the SXSW program, you’re welcome to show up in Austin and ask a question that’s more of a comment.

8/11/2015: Verizon Wireless’s new plans, WTOP

I answered a few questions from the news station about VzW’s switch to no-contract prices without phone subsidies–speaking via Skype on some iffy conference WiFi. How scratchy did I sound on the air?

8/11/2015: The Latest US Export: Bad Copyright Laws, Yahoo Tech

I’ve had “write a post about the intellectual-property implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal” on my to-do list for a while, and the leak of a much more current draft gave me a reason to turn that into an actual column. Something tells me this won’t be among my most-read stories this month, but it’s a post I had to write.

8/14/2015: Unlocking Democracy: Inside the Most Insecure Voting Machines in America, Yahoo Tech

I spent most of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the USENIX Security Symposium in D.C., which gave me a chance to attend Jeremy Epstein’s entertaining and enraging autopsy of the incomprehensibly insecure voting machines on which I cast my ballot for over a decade. This post got a spot on the Yahoo home page over the weekend, in case you’re wondering how it racked up 665 comments.

8/16/2015: How ‘retargeted’ ads sneak into your inbox, USA Today

This is the column I’d meant to write last week–and could do this week when the reader who’d sent the e-mail I couldn’t find re-sent that message after reading about my holdup here.

Weekly output: Birdly, net neutrality, SXSW’s hot apps, Google moonshots, best LTE hotspot, basic cable on extra TVs

I completed two rites of spring today: editing and uploading my SXSW photos (here’s the Flickr album) and weeding the lawn for the first of many times this year. One of them has left me sore.

Yahoo Tech Birdly recap3/16/2015: This VR Demo Let Me Soar Over San Francisco Like a Bird, Yahoo Tech

My friend and SXSW housemate Dan Pacheco had been telling me about this crazy VR demo/bird flight simulator since at least Saturday, and Monday morning I finally got my introduction. The words practically flew onto the screen as I typed up this recap, which is always a good feeling.

3/16/2015: Take Back Your Internet, Golden Frog

I moderated this Austin secure-Web-services company’s panel about net neutrality. Will all of the panelists–lawyer and activist Marvin Ammori, Data Foundry chief technology officer Edward Henigin, Federal Communications Commission counsel Gigi Sohn, CompTel CEO Chip Pickering, and Computer & Communications Industry Association European vice president James Waterworth–being very much in favor of it, the discussion got a little one-sided. But I did expose a few differences of opinion in issues like the best ways to foster broadband competition.

3/17/2015: Where Are They Now? Hot Apps From Past SXSWs that Didn’t Have Much of a Future, Yahoo Tech

I knew that the apps people had been chattering about at SXSW 2012, my introduction to this festival, hadn’t made much of a dent since. But when I realized that one of them had become the “Nearby Friends” feature on Facebook that has yet to signal the presence of a pal I’m not already talking to, I thought: there’s a column in this.

3/18/2015: Don’t Trust Humans, Wear Fluffy Socks: Wisdom From Google X, Yahoo Tech

I’d seen Google’s “Captain of Moonshots” Astro Teller speak once before, at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York last May, and so making time for his keynote was an easy call. In it, he shared some new details about Google’s ventures into self-driving cars and Internet-broadcasting balloons.

3/20/2105: This Is The Best Wifi Hotspot You Can Buy, Forbes

A month or so back, I filed a condensed version of my update to the Wirecutter’s guide to LTE hotspots, and Forbes’ tech section seems to have been the first place to run it. (I only found out about it a week later when a publicist thanked me for mentioning her client’s product in a Forbes post I had no memory of writing.)

3/22/2015: Basic cable switch on extra TVs not so simple, USA Today

This column revisited a subject I seem to cover at least every two years–your dwindling ability to watch cable TV without a separate box with its own monthly fee. This time around, it doubled as a headline-writing refresher course: The hed I wrote the first time around had not one but two techie abbreviations and failed to describe the core problem my reader had complained about in her e-mail.

Updated 3/25 to add the LTE-hotspots post.