Tags: sxsw08

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Iron Man and me

All of my Flickr pictures are published under a Creative Commons attribution licence. One of the reasons I switched over to using this licence was so that people didn’t have to write and ask me whenever they want to republish one of my photos. But I still get plenty of emails from people asking me if it would be okay to use one of my pictures. I’m very lax at responding to those requests. If and when I do respond, I point out that they don’t really need to ask; as long as they credit me—as either adactio or Jeremy Keith—then they can use my photos wherever and however they want.

Back in March, right before I was setting out for Mix’08 in Vegas and South By Southwest in Austin, I received a typical request:

Is the photo Andy in the VAB your image on flickr? If so can you please contact me with regard to possibly allowing us to use a part of this image in a feature film.

Andy in the VAB

I didn’t respond. I was too busy packing and gearing myself for a big showdown with Microsoft (this was right before they reversed their decision on IE8’s default rendering). I soon received a second email with more details:

The photograph would be cropped in a way where no people would be shown. We are interested in using this image as a background to insert our main characters which would be included as part of a biography film on our main character which is shown at an award ceremony honoring him in the film.

I thought it was an odd picture to be asking about. Let’s face it; it’s not a very good photo. It’s blurry and washed out. I guess it’s somewhat unusual in that it was shot inside the at Cape Canaveral. Usually members of the public aren’t allowed inside. Myself, Andy and Paul were lucky enough to be part of the first open day since 2001. It was all thanks to an invitation from Benny, a bona fide rocket scientist at NASA—thanks again, Benny!

I never got around to responding to the emails. I figured that, whoever it was, if they really wanted to use the picture, they would notice the licence and realise that they didn’t have to ask permission.

I quickly forgot all about it. Other events were foremost in my mind. I got a call from Pete Le Page and Chris Wilson telling me that Internet Explorer 8 was going to render pages as if it were—get this—Internet Explorer 8. Now I was going to Vegas for a celebration instead of a battle.

After a long trip across the Atlantic, I awoke in my hotel on the first morning of the conference, eager to hear the opening keynote. But before I could head downstairs, my mobile phone rang. I answered it and the woman on the other end said, “Hi. I sent you two emails about using a picture of yours…”

“Ah, right!”, I said. I then launched into my usual spiel about Creative Commons licencing. I explained that she was free to use my picture. All she had to do was include a credit somewhere in her little movie.

“Well”, she said, “the thing is, getting your name in the credits usually costs at least $1,500. That’s why we need you sign the license release form I sent.”

“Wait a minute”, I said. “What is this for?”

“It’s for a movie that’s currently in production called Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jnr.”

Holy crap! One of my photos was going to be in Iron Man? That certainly put a new spin on things.

“So I guess you want to use the picture because it’s inside NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building?” I asked.

“No. We just thought it was a picture of some warehouse or something.”

The woman on the other end of the phone—her name was Ashley—said she could reimburse me for the use of my photo if I signed the form she sent. I thanked her, told her I didn’t need any reimbursement, and said I would print out and sign the form for her. Ashley made it clear that I would need to get the form faxed to her before the end of the day.

There was a printer in my hotel room so I set about getting it connected up to my Macbook. That’s when disaster struck. My Macbook began making the dreaded ticking time bomb noise. Within seconds, my hard drive was dead, broken, kaput. Pining for the fjords, it had shuffled off this mortal coil and was an ex hard drive.

Well aware of the irony of my Apple hardware failing while I was attending a Microsoft conference, I abandoned all hope of printing out the license release form and sat in on the opening keynote. This consisted of a few words from Ray Ozzie, a quick look at IE8 and about a billion hours of Silverlight demos. That’s what it felt like anyway.

The next day, I made my way to Austin for South by Southwest. That turned out to be quite an adventure.

Once I finally made it to Austin, I settled into a comfortable routine of geeking out, having fun and generally over-indulging. As I was making my way to the conference centre one morning, my mobile phone rang. It was Ashley.

“Sorry I didn’t manage to get the form to you”, I said. “My laptop died on me. I know it’s too late now.”

“Actually, there’s still time”, she responded.

“Look”, I said. “Let’s cut out the computers completely. Can you fax the form to my hotel? I can sign it and fax it back to you straight away.”

And that’s exactly what we did.

Iron Man was released a few weeks later. I never got ‘round to seeing it in the cinema; I’m not a big fan of the whole cinema-going experience. But some time later I was travelling across the Atlantic yet again and one of the in-flight movie options was Iron Man. I fired it up, wondering if my picture had made it into the final cut and even if it had, whether I’d be able to spot it.

Three minutes into the movie, there was my photo.

Jeff Bridges and Robert Downey Jnr. in Iron Man

It fills the screen. The camera lingers over it while performing its best Ken Burns effect. Not only was Robert Downey Jnr. photoshopped onto the picture, Jeff Bridges was on there too! The Dude!! …On my picture!!!

My Flickr pictures have been used in some pretty strange places but this must surely be the strangest …and the coolest.

Before and after

XEN

I’ve published a transcript of the panel I moderated at South by Southwest this year. The subject was Building Portable Social Networks and I had a blast moderating, mostly due to my great co-panelists, Chris Messina, Leslie Chicoine, David Recordon and Joseph Smarr.

During the panel, I made reference to an ongoing joke by Brian and myself to do a negative version of — an XHTML Enemies Network. I always thought of it as a frivolous idea but sometimes I wonder if there might be the occasional real-world use case.

Suppose, for instance, that I wanted to link to Mike “The Dick” Arrington’s latest bit of bollocks over on TechC*nt? Well, now I can add some extra semantic richness to that link by throwing in the appropriate rel value.

I give you the XEN 1.0 profile.

Please note the fine print:

XEN is not a microformat. It is a joke.

Moderation

As well as enjoying the panel offerings of my peers at South by Southwest, I had the pleasure of hosting a session too.

There are two ways to approach speaking gigs. You can do a proper presentation with plenty of preparation. That’s what I’ve always done in previous years and that’s what Richard and James opted for with their talk, Wireframing in a Web 2.0 World. The presentation was excellent although much of the humour derived from putting this picture on screen for all to see. And what were the chances that Derek’s presentation immediately afterward would feature a further two Star Wars related pictures of me?

The other approach is to do a panel. This is quite a different beast to doing a presentation. In this case, too much preparation can actually be harmful. If you ever find yourself in the position of having to moderate a panel, I suggest you read the wise words of Derek Powazek:

Do not get everyone together beforehand. Do not have breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Do not start an email thread and make everyone participate. All this does is rob the panel of any spontaneity. Your panelists learn very quickly where the hot buttons are, and will avoid them later, which makes for a boring panel. And when the audience hears a panelist say, Well, as we were discussing earlier … it just makes them feel like they missed the good part.

The secret to having a good panel is actually pretty simple: get together a bunch of passionate, smart, sassy experts and let ‘em rip. I was lucky enough to have a dream line-up for Building Portable Social Networks:

They were all wonderful and the time up there on the stage just flew by. I had a lot of compliments on the panel afterwards. The kind words of Jeff Veen in particular meant a lot to me—he’s my public speaking role model.

I’m coming to realise how much I love moderating panels. It started with the Hot Topics panels at @media and now I’m hooked. I probably enjoy moderating panels for much the same reason that I enjoy moderating Werewolf: a feeling of power and the chance to get some cheap laughs at the expense of other people’s public humiliation …all without the hard work and preparation that goes into a proper presentation.

So if you’re putting together a conference and you’re looking for a dictactorial sarcastic bastard to moderate a panel, come see about me.

Meanwhile I’ll be eagerly refreshing the podcast coverage from this year’s SXSW until the audio from my panel is made available, at which point I’ll get it transcribed and published. C’mon Hugh, don’t make me break out my bitchin’n’moanin’ mojo.

South by secularity

On the Sunday afternoon in the middle of South by Southwest Interactive, Andy, Jessica and I took some time out for a very pleasant Mexican lunch at Las Manitas with Sean Bonner, Tantek, Ariel and our anglo-Canadian musical masters, Matt and Hannah.

As lunch neared its end, every single mobile device at the table began to vibrate with ever greater frequency. We were missing the now-infamous interview by Sarah Lacey of Mark Zuckerburg but Twitter was giving us a blow-by-blow account of the debacle. The most astute observation was delivered from afar by Tom Morris:

What’s the difference between Facebook and the FB session at SXSW? You can leave the session…

On balance, we were all pretty glad that we were missing the train wreck.

We got the bill and started paying up. Tantek began going through each of his dollar bills with a felt-tipped pen, crossing out the word “God” from the phrase In God We Trust. I asked the obvious question. Tantek, what are you doing? His answer:

Separating church and state.

Southby gone by

South by Southwest is over for another year and once again, I had a great time. Yes, it was overwhelming. Yes, it was even bigger than before. But I went in with expectations of an overwhelmingly big conference so I wasn’t constantly comparing it to previous years and muttering It’s not like the old days.

As always, the most valuable and rewarding aspect to SXSW is the people. Sure, I didn’t get to see everybody I wanted to but rather than running around frantically trying to connect with everyone, I decided to savour the time I had with people in the moment. It was wonderful to spend some time with old friends and it was equally wonderful to meet new people, all of them smart, passionate and just plain nice.

In between the geek breakfasts, the hallway conversations, the BBQ lunches, the geek bowling—superbly overseen by Cindy—and such great parties as The Great British Booze-up, there was even time for an occasional panel or presentation. These can be fairly hit or miss (remember, no-one gets paid to speak and with 10 simultaneous tracks, the quality is bound to be inconsistent) but I got pretty lucky with the panels I attended.

I did some panel-hopping, invoking the law of two feet and remembering that if you’re not really enjoying a talk, it’s more insulting to stay than to leave. I also made a point of trying to get outside my comfort zone so for the most part, I steered clear of CSS and JavaScript discussions in favour of topics like High Tech Craft.

I really enjoyed the What Teens Want panel. If this had been a bunch of adults talking about what they think teens want, it would have been excruciating. But because this was coming straight from the young horse’s mouth, it was absorbing.

Jim Coudal’s presentation on Creative Relativity was engrossing but I must admit that I ducked out half-way through: just about everyone I follow on Twitter was raving about the Worst Website Ever comedy revue managed by Andy Baio that was on at the same time. I ducked into the back of the already-packed room and sure enough, it was absolutely hilarious—possibly the highlight of this and every other SXSW.

There was one presentation I really didn’t want to miss. Even before the final schedule was announced, the talk at the top of my list was called The Web That Wasn’t based on the new book Glut by Alex Wright. It was a fascinating look at the alternative histories of hypertext from Paul Otlet to Doug Engelbart. It made me kick myself even more that I had to pass up David’s invitation to meet in the flesh at Saint Paul’s a couple of weeks back.

All in all, I had a great time filling up my brain whether it was at a panel, in a hallway or at a dinner table. I’m sure the conference will be even bigger next year but that’s not going to stop me from coming back. South by Southwest is the one event in the geek calendar that is truly unmissable.

But I hope that next year the organisers will heed Jeffrey’s remarks and provide some kind of daycare facility for the children of geek parents. Not only would it earn good , it strikes me that there’s a great sponsorship opportunity there too.

Rescue

Getting from MIX08 in Vegas to South by Southwest in Austin should have been fairly straightforward. All I had to do was change planes in Dallas. But the best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft a-gley.

Moments after my flight from Vegas landed, Dallas was hit with an unseasonable snowstorm. My flight to Austin was cancelled. One phone call to American Airlines later, I was booked onto a (much) later flight. Jessica was flying in from London and I managed to get her booked on to the same later flight to Austin. Now we just had to kill some time in an airport. We met up with Natalie who was also trying to either get on a later flight.

Inevitably all the flights were cancelled. At this stage, there were no more hotel rooms to be had in Dallas. The airport infrastructure was beginning to collapse under the weight of a thousand irate passengers.

In the end, Twitter came to the rescue (I know that surfacing serendipity is meant to be Dopplr’s bag but I’m accumulating quite a store of serendipitous Twitter stories). Erin was also in the airport. She read of my predicament and sent a direct message to tell me that she, Peter and Josh had managed to rent a vehicle with space for a few more people. All we had to was get to the rental space. That turned out to be quite a challenging level of the game. It was like Trains, Planes and Automobiles crossed with War Of The Worlds.

Eventually we made it out of the airport and begin a classic American road trip through the Texas night in a gold-coloured rental van, stopping at the occasional gas station to buy toothbrushes and souvenir t-shirts because American Airlines still had our luggage. Meanwhile, other stranded geeks were making their way to Austin by any means necessary. An octet of Britpackers rented a taxi all the way from Dallas (one fine geek didn’t even make it that far).

My simple shot from Vegas to Austin turned out to be quite an adventure. I feel like quite a few us really paid our dues getting to SXSW this year. It was certainly worth it.

Vegas by Southwest

One trip ends, another begins. In a few hours I’ll be back in Gatwick. This time I’m embarking on a journey to Las Vegas where I’ll be attending a little bit of MIX08.

I’m going specifically to meet the IE team. I was all set to head out there in a fighting stance, ready to fight my corner in the battle against the default behaviour for version targeting. Well, it turns out that I needn’t be so adversarial. I’ve just heard that Microsoft are reversing their position on the default behaviour. So now instead of going to Vegas for a title fight, I’m going to celebrate.

I can’t express how happy this makes me. I’m also extremely impressed that Microsoft listened to—and acted upon—the feedback from the developer community. They can now count on me as a staunch ally in educating site owners about how to implement version targeting when necessary.

Once I’m thanking the IE team from the bottom of my heart, I’ll hop on a flight from Vegas to Austin for the annual geek Summer camp that is South by Southwest. I’ll be in transit on Thursday, spending most of the day hanging around the airport in Dallas. If you’ve also got some time to kill there, send me a direct Twitter message and we can meet up in some corner of the airport.

As is now traditional, I’ve drawn up Adactio Austin: a mashup of microformats and maps that lists all the best parties so you can see how far apart they are. If our paths should cross at any of those geek gatherings, be sure to say Hi and drink a Shiner Bock with me.

It won’t be all beer and BBQ in Austin; I’m also going to be moderating a panel. This is the first time that I’m doing a panel rather than a presentation and I’m quite looking forward to it. After getting together with my fellow panelists at the Social Graph Foo Camp, I’m certain we’re going to have an exciting and fun discussion.

If you’re going to Southby, be sure to make it along to The Great British Booze-up on Monday evening. It was one of the highlights last year and we aim to repeat the success (we being Clearleft, Boagworld and Carsonified).

See you in Vegas and/or Austin.

Pick’n’choose

It’s never too early to start thinking about South By Southwest. The Clearleft posse booked some rooms at The Hampton Inn in downtown Austin months ago. Now it’s time to think about what you might like to see on stage in Texas. The panel picker is live and hungry for your clicks.

There’s a bunch of design and development panels on offer from my friends and colleagues. I’m not voting for most of those though because:

  1. they don’t need my votes and
  2. I want my friends to spend their time partying with me instead of preparing presentations.

Speaking of which, there’s a panel with my name on it. That’s mostly because Brian had already reached his limit of three panel ideas and asked me to take over. Please don’t vote for it—I don’t want to spend the whole time worrying about keeping my voice. Besides, there are many more panels worthy of your attention.

There are almost 700 presentations to choose from. To make your choice a little easier, these are the panels I think I voted for—the Ajax powered panel picker is built with dynamic disappearing stars—ordered more or less in order of interest:

  1. The Web That Wasn’t

    What if the Web had turned out differently? Before Tim Berners-Lee came along, a number of now-mostly-forgotten information scientists were pursuing competing visions that in many ways surpassed today’s Web. By exploring the Web that wasn’t, we can find tantalizing clues to a Web that may yet be.

  2. Go For IT! Attracting Girls to Technology

    As the technology workforce changes and outsourcing becomes more feared, it is difficult to attract smart, qualified youth to technical careers (especially girls). This session will survey current programs encouraging computing education, discuss what these programs are missing, and suggest what the techie community can do to help.

  3. Totally Wired Teens: How Teens are Using Your Applications

    Listen to real teens talk about the role technology plays in their lives from the time they wake up to their cell phones to sending that last text message at 2 a.m. Anastasia Goodstein will moderate a panel composed of Austin area teenagers to find out where they go online, what types of web design and features they love — and more importantly, which ones they don’t.

  4. ‘Redrum in the Rue Morgue’: Collaboration in International Communities

    Do Italian citizens of Second Life stand physically closer than Canadians? Are Portuguese more prone to blog than French? Is collaboration in international communities being driven more by the platform selected than by the culture(s)? The panelists will discuss how people interact and collaborate in international online communities.

  5. Meet The Architects

    Meet the Architects: the people who design and think about buildings and those who do the same for websites. The panel also introduces everyone to some of the most active and provocative design-based online communities out there.

  6. Adult Conversations: Sex, Intimacy & Online Relationships

    ‘Sex’ is one of the most commonly searched terms online. From MySpace to online personals, the Internet allows a growing number of consenting adults to keystroke their way to new relationships. Join sociologists, bloggers and sex researchers to discuss how the Internet is changing interpersonal relationships and human sexuality now.

  7. Designing Social Media: Interface Tricks and Tips

    We all know the core concepts — Identity, Presence, Relationships, etc — but how do these manifest themselves in our design choices? From avatars or log-in pages, a million tiny choices make the difference between lively community and crickets chirping. We’ll teach you how to make social software social!

  8. Lost in Translation? Top Website Internationalization Lessons

    How do you publish software or content for a global audience? Our expert panel discusses lessons learned translating and localizing. Leaders from Flickr, Google, iStockphoto and the Worldwide Lexicon will tackle various marketing issues; how to translate the ‘feel’ of a Web site, and; best practices for software and content translation.

  9. Designing for Freedom

    In a world where an increasingly diverse set of people are stumbling around the internet, the role of design becomes even more important. This panel will focus on a discussion on how to to design products considering user freedom and user empowerment at every step of the development process.

  10. What Women Need to Succeed

    Some feel that women have a tougher time succeeding in a man’s tech world. This panel will examine the facts, ideas and theories surrounding what it takes for women to be empowered and successful as business owners and contractors.

  11. Stop With the Web 2.0 Already

    We must put an end to Web 2.0. The buzzwords have affected Web design clients to the point where they just want the latest without having any clue about the implications of what they are asking for. A site for an electrical company really does not need social networking.

  12. DataPlay: Living Games

    Our movements in real space and virtual space are tracked by pedometers, GPS units, keystroke loggers, spyware and myware. How can we have fun with all our data trails? I will discuss examples of surveillance data-driven entertainment including our “Passively Multiplayer Online Game”: PMOG transforms the existing topography of the Internet into a game world for players to vandalize, annotate, and curate.

  13. All About Storytelling

    Whether you blog, write for a website, or have a need to present important technical information in a way that is meaningful, you are a storyteller. Humans have used the art of storytelling over thousands of years as a means of sharing socially relevant, inspiring, and dangerous information. Learn how to convey your concept, philosophy, or technology in ways that your clients, readers, and customers will understand and appreciate.

  14. The Great Debate: Is Web 2.0 Bulls#!t?

    Six people. Two teams. Six minutes each. The Great Debate will use a formal debate structure to allow some of the Web’s best thinkers and communicators to convince you that Web 2.0 is/isn’t a load of tripe. Sincere argument, fiery rhetoric, or insulting ridicule: any approach accepted.

  15. Social Design Strategies

    Now that social networking is quickly becoming a regular feature set, designers need to understand the dynamics of designing experiences that encourage social behavior, while giving individuals a sense of privacy, personal gain, and ownership. How do you create a symbiotic relationship that maximizes discovery, game-play, connections, and communication? We’ll examine a breadth of examples and explore their pros and cons.