Entries Tagged as 'Geek'

20 Tips for Surviving and Thriving at SXSW: 2016 Edition

‘Tis the season for SXSW.

I will be there this year to read from my forthcoming book The NEW Web Typography. I’ll be talking about how “good” typography is NOT what a lot of designers think it is. If you can attend, I’ll be giving out tickets to receive a copy of the book when it comes out in June, and signing copies of some of my current books.

I’ll also be there to support my wife, Tara, who will be leading an amazing meet-up on how to raise digital native children. This session is not to be missed by any parent with kids under 22.

SXSW is not for the feint of heart, and despite the fact that it gets bigger every year, it just seams to keep getting bigger. This event is not like any other conference I go to. Even Comicon seems a little tame in comparison.

So, how do you survive and thrive at SXSW in 2016? I’ve updated my list of 20 tips to give you a head start.

  1. Get the apps — Although they have their quirks, the mobile SXSW apps can prove indispensable for keeping track of your schedule and helping to track old friends and make new ones.
  2. Check off everything you want to see — Whether you are using one of the apps on a screen or those massively convenient bundles of pressed wood pulp, check off everysession that piques your fancy. Some people try to carefully schedule a single session for every time slot during the day, agonizing over their choices. Don’t do that. Don’t even look at the times. Just look for titles that interest you and put them on your list. Then you can choose the best sessions that interest you as the conference unfolds. You may choose one because of the topic or because it happens to be close by and you are tired, but it’s best to have options.
  3. Get there early — One fact of life about SXSW is that you will spend a lot of time waiting in line. Whether it’s for registration, a keynote speech or that session you just can’t miss—the earlier you arrive, the less time you spend waiting in line. Plus, for really popular events, getting there late (or even on-time) may mean that the venue is full and you are left out in the cold. That’s not a problem, of course, if you followed my advice in #2, because you have back-up options. Just head to the next session on your list.
  4. See it with a friend — While you are standing in line, it’s nice to have a friend to talk to and share a conversation or debate about the session afterward. If it’s a choice between a session you are mildly interested in by yourself or one your buddy is interested in but you are not, choose the one with your friend.
  5. Talk to the people standing/sitting next to you — Whether you have a friend along or not, take the time to interface with the people around you before the speaker starts speaking (it’s rude to do it after they start speaking). If the people around you don’t seem into communicating, don’t push it—some people are just anti-social or maybe they don’t like you. However, I’ve made more than a few friends in lines at SXSW.
  6. See President Obama speak — Love him or hate him, he is the President of the United States, and the most technically Savvy one to date. He’s also a big GEEK, possibly the first since Teddy Roosevelt. Obama is giving the Friday Keynote at 2:30p. The bad news is that he you have to enter a raffle for tickets. If you did an won, you better be there by 12:30p to get in!
  7. Buy a book at the SXSW bookstore and get it signed — There is something about owning a signed edition that adds an extra sparkle to any book. If you see a session, and the speaker has written a book, then that book is likely on sale at the SXSW bookstore and it’s likely that the author will be doing a signing during the conference. Having the book can also come in handy if you are standing in line for a session with no friends and no one wants to talk.
  8. Take sketchnotes in a Moleskin — Mike Rohde introduced me to the concept of sketch notes (a form of visual note taking) at SXSW last year, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Even when I am armed with an iPad or other electronic note taking device, I find that nothing can replace the versatility of paper and pen for quick note taking, and you won’t believe the speed of its instant-on feature. Although any smallish notebook will do, the reason you will see more Moleskin notebooks than others is their high quality at a reasonable price.

    Mike's Sketchnotes From My SXSW 2010 Presentation On Web Typography

    Mike’s Sketchnotes From My SXSW 2010 Presentation On Web Typography

  9. Leave a session if you aren’t getting anything out of it — Some people think that it’s rude to walk out on a speaker. That’s because it is rude to walk out on a speaker. Trust me, short of actual booing, there is nothing more disheartening to a speaker than seeing a bunch of people walk out on them. That said, you paid a lot of money to be at SXSW and you don’t have time to listen to someone you are not interested in hearing. The session as described in the program guide may not be what you were expecting or the speaker may just not work for you. Whatever your reason, if you want to leave try to be considerate. If you are not sure about a session going in, sit towards the back, but regardless of where you are sitting, leave as quietly as you can.
  10. Ask questions, but don’t hog the mic — Don’t be afraid. Get up there and ask what’s on your mind. Speakers love good questions. Some will even take questions through Twitter, although I always find the live questions to be more interesting. But please ask an actual question; don’t stand up to give your own speech. No one is there to hear how clever or smart you are. People who try to upstage the speaker end up looking like an ass. Also, only ask one question and at most one follow up. Other people deserve a chance to ask stuff too.
  11. Try new things — SXSW is where a lot of new concepts are tested, ideas are launched, and cutting edges are sliced. A couple of years ago, it was Twitter that hit the big time at SXSW. Last year, Foursquare and Gowalla went head to head — the rumor was that anyone checking in at the SXSW Gowalla party using Foursquare instantly lost all mayorships. Try out different products and apps, even if they take the place of some beloved product or app you are already using. You should also go to a session dealing with a topic you know nothing about or…
  12. See someone speak whom you completely disagree with — You came to SXSW to get new ideas, right? There’s no place better to do that than while listening to someone whom you don’t agree with. You probably won’t end up agreeing with them any more than you did going in (although you just might), but it forces you to reconsider your own assumptions, usually leading to some new insights and ways of thinking. Finding someone you disagree with may not be as easy as it sounds, since the crowd at SXSW tends to be birds of a feather. However, the good people who choose the speakers like to toss a few bombs throwers like Andrew Keene into the mix to keep things lively.
  13. Recharge your devices wherever you get the opportunity — There’s something about being in the Austin Convention Center that seems to suck the life out of batteries faster than Charlie Sheen can suck down a speed ball. But there are lots of recharge stations around the conference center. If you are just chilling before your next session, seek these out and grab some juice.
  14. Get all of the free drinks and snacks you can — SXSW is full of places to get free snack bars or drinks from event sponsors like Monster Energy Drinks, Pepsi and McDonalds. In fact there are people just walking around the conference center handing the stuff out. When offered, take it. Even if you are not thirsty or hungry right now, take stuff every chance you get and save it for later. Even if you don’t like the thing, take it and give it to a friend. I’ve survived for an entire day at SXSW on nothing but a diet of free meals and snacks, allowing me to save my money to do more important things like…
  15. Have a drink at the Red Eyed Fly — the Red Eyed Fly (or REF) defines the term “hole in the wall,” but the beer is cold and they serve a straight shot of whisky. It’s a few blocks from the main strip, yet still convenient to the conference so a lot of speakers and conference regulars end up hanging out there.
  16. Change your plans as often as possible — If there is one thing I’ve learned about SXSW it’s that no matter how well you plan, your plans will change. You may discover a new session, run into an old friend or make a new one, so don’t be afraid to turn on a dime. Some of the most useful sessions I attended were on the spur of the moment and some of the best parties I went to I didn’t know about until I got there.
  17. Don’t plan on getting anything else done — Some people come with grandiose plans of staying in touch with the office, calling into meetings or getting other work done. Forget about it. Either focus on the conference and get the most out of it or go home.
  18. Don’t publicly tweet things at one in the morning that might be easily misunderstood by your significant other — One night, a friend who saw I was at SXSW tweeted me that I should meet another friend of his while there. I absentmindedly tweeted back “I’ll try to hook up with her.” My wife — at home and up late checking her Twitter feed — was not amused.
  19. See Bruce Sterling speak — There’s a reason that Bruce has spoken at almost every SXSW: he’s both highly entertaining and highly enlightening. Even if you haven’t read any of his books, if you want a hopeful but pragmatic peek into our future, then he’s who you need to go see. Bruce is giving the closing keynote this year Tuesday at 5 PM. Alas, I’ll have to miss it due to client commitments, so if you make it, I would appreciate it if you would let me know what you think. I still highly recommend that you see it, but whatever you do, if you see him on the conference floor, don’t bug him. He gets a bit cranky.
  20. If you miss a keynote session you wanted to see, watch it on YouTube — Ok, this isn’t something you do at SXSW — although you can watch last year’s sessions if you want — but I like going back to re-watch to the sessions that I attended as well as the ones I wanted to make but couldn’t. The last 4 years of keynotes are available through YouTube.

Yes, Twitter is broken, but you can fix it!

There’s a lot of talk going around these days about the death of Twitter, but I think the stories of its demise are greatly exaggerated. I’ve been a Twitter user since 2007, and my use ebbs and flows. Like many, I have noticed some alarming trends in the tones of tweets that have come across my feed over the last few years.

To some, the matter is cut and dried: abuse. Not people abusing Twitter, but abusing each other on Twitter. To be sure, this is a huge problem, but I don’t think it’s why people have stopped using Twitter.

From my observation, it comes down what is actually a much larger problem on the web, one that allows the abuse to happen in the first place: trust. We find it increasingly difficult to trust each other online.

In order to trust each other, though, we have to take responsibility for our own use of the internet: in this case Twitter. To help, here are six simple rules I follow to help make Twitter a nicer place to visit.

01. Don’t use autobots


Twitter increasingly seems to be made up of autobots talking to autobots. People set up systems to automatically tweet and re-tweet and re-re-tweet but no actual human is there to see them. It reminds me of the scene in True Genius where students increasingly leave tape recorders to record the class lecture, to the point where the professor simply starts playing a tape rather then delivering the lecture in person.

If you haven’t read it, seen it, or heard it, don’t post it. Autobots can seem like a good idea for repetitive tasks – like saying, “Thanks of following me” or posting the astronomy picture of the day – but are really a disservice since these posts become nothing more than noise. Whenever you post, always add value, either by giving your opinion or just a few words on why you think what you are posting is important.

02. Make your avatar you

Twitter Avatar

Not only does it help people to know what you actually look like to help them trust you, remember that your Twitter avatar gets around. If you ever use Twitter to sign on to other services, they generally default to your Twitter photo.

If you are anonymous in the real world, you have to wear a mask or stand in the shadows. Everyone knows that you are protecting your actual identity. Online, however, you can appear to a known entity, but actually be hiding your true identity.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the right to be anonymous. It’s important to be able to say certain things without worrying about reprisals. But if you want to be anonymous be anonymous! Don’t pretend to be something or someone you are not.

03. Don’t RT… QT

If I wanted to see tweets from the person you are retweeting, I would probably follow them. I want to read what you have to say: your take on what the person tweeted.

The ‘quote tweet’ allows you to not only post the original tweet, but add your commentary to it, making the information even that much richer.

04. Use lists

One problem that contributes the signal to noise issue on Twitter is following too many people. I try to keep the number of people I follow down to around 500-600. Lists allow you to create personalised sub-sets of your main Twitter feed, meaning that you better better filter who you see in a particular feed on a particular topic.

I’ve created lists for my friends, scientific sources, news sources, design sources, political sources, and a few others. Some of these I look at constantly (friends), others only occasionally, but it drastically cuts down the signal to noise ratio for me. Of all the things I’m proposing here that will make Twitter useful to you personally.

05. Don’t use the Twitter app

Don't use the Twitter App

A big part of the problem with Twitter is the Twitter app. Regardless of the device, the Twitter app is nothing but the basic – yet incomplete – functionality of the website. It’s just not very good, and seems mostly designed to get you to look at Twitter ads and follow more people. Over the years, Twitter has done a ‘good’ job of killing any unofficial Twitter apps, but there are still a few official and unofficial apps that do a damn site better job.

For my computer, I keep Tweetdeck running most of the time. Tweetdeck allows me to monitor my whole feed, individual lists, searches, messages, and mentions in an easy to navigate interface. With my mobile and tablet devices, there is no Tweetdeck, but there is a close competitor: Hootsuite. While not quite as refined as Tweetdeck, it still fulfills most of the key features, such as allowing me view individual Twitter lists.

06. If you can’t tweet anything nice (or at least constructive), don’t tweet anything at all

This gets into the abuse thing. Yes, I occasionally make snarky comments, but never with the intent to harm anyone. There’s also a difference between abusive language and constructive comments. If I need to explain that difference to you, then I’m afraid it maybe too late… but maybe not.

When I was young, we had a word called ‘tact’, which does not seem to be in common usage anymore. Apparently in the 21st century someone who is tactful and expects others to be tactful is referred to as ‘politically correct’. But tact is something Twitter desperately needs more of.

Before you post any tweet, just ask yourself one simple questions: What do I want the person’s response to be when reading my comment? If you are simply trying to upset them, scare them, antagonize them or are in any other way being tactless, then you are being abusive. If you want to be abusive, then that’s your own look-out, but don’t expect others to treat you with tact if you are not willing to do the same.

Wonder Woman Will Always Be a Feminist

Several years ago, I was having dinner with a Vice-President of a major financial institution. I was doing design work for the bank, and she and I had spent the day testing a new call center intranet with its users. She was in her late twenties, yet was already highly successful and on her way up.

At one point, the conversation came around to women in the workforce, and she casually confided in me “I am not a feminist.”

I was stunned by the audacity of her statement.

How could she not be a feminist? How could she sit there and act as if, without the feminist movement of the past 100+ years, she would have ever been able to rise in importance in a major bank past teller, receptionist, or coffee girl? If she wasn’t a feminist, who is? It was like hearing a successful African-American say “the Civil-Rights movement really didn’t do anything for me.”

I am a feminist, and have been since childhood. My mother—the first female stockbroker in North Carolina—had raised me at ERA rallies and conventions to know that men and women are equal. That has always seemed perfectly logical to me. So when I encountered men who thought women were inferior to men, or worse, women who thought women were inferior to men, I didn’t seek their friendship.

The problem is that I have heard similar statements from a lot of the successful women: “I am not a feminist.”

I think I finally understand why they say this. It’s because they fundamentally do not understand what the word means. They think of Feminism as akin to a political party that one affiliates oneself with, like being a Republican or a Democrat. The members of these parties have loosely defined common core beliefs that they can adhere to or not, and which evolve greatly over time—just compare the two parties to their counterparts 150 years ago to see what I mean.

If you think that feminism is an organization that you associate yourself with, then you also think that you associate yourself with all of the figures in that party as well, and the excesses of those people. So, many woman (and men) who don’t like the Betty Friedan, bra burning, “womyn need a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” militant, “feminazi,” style of feminists assume that’s all it means. Actually, for the most part, these are all perceptions that were painted on a movement by men who think women are inferior to men.

This lead to the word feminist becoming a “dirty word” to many, stigmatized and distorted.

Unfortunately, that perception persists and is growing steadily. This, I believe, is what led to the unfortunate comment in a recent interview in CBR by David Finch — the new artist on DC Comic’s Wonder Woman — that:

We want [Wonder Woman] to be a strong — I don’t want to say feminist, but a strong character. Beautiful, but strong.

Why don’t you want to say “feminist?” In the sentence before, David says of the Amazon:

…we want to make sure it’s a book that treats her as a human being first and foremost…

That is what a feminist is! Someone who treats women as human beings.

In a recent tweet, Caitlin Moran, the author How to be a Woman and the forthcoming How to Be a Girl, clearly spelled out the simple rules of Feminism:

Do you try to follow these rules? Then you are a feminist. My VP colleague was a feminist. Anyone who believes that all people should be evaluated based on their individual abilities—not by primary and secondary sexual characteristics—is a feminist. You don’t have to hate men, grow leg and armpit hair, or scream about the injustices of the glass ceiling to be a feminist. You just have to try to treat men and women as human beings, follow Wheaton’s Law, and you, my friend, are a feminist.

Wonder Woman is a feminist. She is a feminist (or at least a fictional character who is a feminist), not because she self identifies with that label, but because that it is how she acts and how she thinks. Unfortunately, David, like so many others, is afraid to apply the supposed stigma of feminism, out of, I assume, a fear that he will scare off readers who think they are “not feminists.”

To his credit, David tried to clarify and apologize, saying on Twitter:

However, this still betrays a fundamental lack of understanding as to what a feminist is. Women are fallible. Men are fallible. Saying Wonder Woman is a feminist does not negate that in any way.

Why is this a problem? After all, he is only the artist, not the writer. However, if you know anything about comics, you know that the artist is as much the story-teller as the writer, and the writer also happens to be his wife. I think they will closely collaborate and they are now the team responsible for the feminist icon. That is a powerful position.

The good news is that I actually believe that David is a feminist. By the rules Ms. Moran so eloquently outlined, he falls within the definition, whether he realizes it or not.

Unfortunately, he also seems to be someone who perpetuates stereotype that feminists are not humans.

I hope that good will come from this uproar, and David will do some introspection and realize that feminist is not a dirty word to run away from, but a beautiful core belief that only serves to make Wonder Woman (and all of us) that much more human.