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SXSW 2013: A Mixed Bag

Richard is a designer/developer/strategist/coffee addict/Twitter junkie/slash/slash/slash.

by Richard Rudy

Posted 26 March 2013

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Richard is a designer/developer/strategist/coffee addict/Twitter junkie/slash/slash/slash. He's been working with SilverStripe since 2009 and runs his own company design + awesome. In 2012, Richard blogged about OmniOutliner to SilverStripe. Find him on twitter @thezenmonkey.

Every March, tens of thousands of filmmakers, marketers, designers and musicians from around the world descend on Austin, TX for South By South West (SXSW). What started as a humble music festival has grown into a city-wide event crossing industry and cultural boundaries.

Lee Blazek (@surfjedi) and Richard Rudy (@thezenmonkey) - two SilverStripe developers from opposite sides of the globe, met in blur of jet lag and daylight savings.











The breadth and depth of this conference can be overwhelming for first-time attendees. Multiple simultaneous streams covering marketing, social media, music, film, design and development across multiple industries is enough to make anyone's head spin; and that's before you include workshops, networking events, concerts, parties and lounges. Where else can you see Nick Cave talk about his childhood, then go to a demo of Google Glass, followed by an in-depth HTML5 workshop or a panel with Joss Whedon, and close your night with a party featuring Deadmou5, Vampire Weekend or Prince?


Google Glass Will Change the Way You See Things

Beyond the obvious amazing things that can be done with a wearable heads-up-display, the Mirror API allows devs to directly interact with RESTful services, meaning your SilverStripe sites and apps can easily be integrated. How cool is that!

Google Art, Copy Code - Bringing the Hacker to traditional Art Director/Copywriter team

Google has partnered with advertising agencies to bring a whole new level of personalization and relevance to the advertising. Right now, it's just a series of experiments and an app they developed in partnership with Volkswagen, but they demoed a talking shoe (no, Google is not getting into the shoe business) that uses accelerometers and GPS to track the user and give feedback. The lazy version complains if you walk to much, while the active one doesn't want to sit still.

One of the more interesting demos was the dynamic video that pulls current location and time of day to generate a video with live time, weather, plus footage of up-to-date feeds from a variety of sources. Notes from the talk are posted on Rick's Tumblr.

LEAP Motion

This product may be less relevant to web developers, but LEAP Motion had live, hands-on demos of their 3D motion tracking device. Imagine playing Fruit Ninja by swiping your finger through the air or manipulating 3D datasets with your hands. The technology is already small and affordable; it begins shipping in May. At gen 1, it's the size of a large USB key. Just wait until they get small enough to pair it Google Glass.

Intentionally Dealing with Responsive Design with intention.js

The design technologists at Dow Jones (Wall Street Journal) have developed a javascript library that works like media queries on steroids. Its core ideals are that HTML, CSS and JS should be separate; and that content and context (device) are exclusive but need to interact. At its most basic level it does DOM manipulation based on various parameters (screen size, input type, device orientation).

This library solves one of the key issues with responsive design: document order doesn't always coincide with visual importance of items on the page. With a multi-column desktop layout, often your secondary items are in another column from your main content and therefore further down the page. When you load the page on a mobile device, that secondary item is multiple page scrolls down instead of in a position of secondary importance. Intention.js will move it to its correct space using only data attributes in the HTML.

That's the functionality at its most basic level, but it can handle dynamic resource loading, animation, feature sniffing, class rewriting and more. The best part? It's fully extensible.

This was a four-hour session and I could write a whole post about contents.

Tim Ferriss - Acquiring the Skill of Meta-Learning

Tim Ferris (The 4-hour Work Week, The 4-hour Body) gave a talk on his new book The 4-hour Chef. Cooking is just a vehicle for what the book is really about: how to learn any skill quickly. He shared what he calls the DiSSS framework. In order to master a skill you need Deconstruction, Selection, Sequencing, Stakes, and Simplification. A more detailed run-down of his talk is available here on Rick's Tumblr.

The Food or "Oh, the Places You Will Eat!"

You can't talk about South-By without mentioning the food. Austin is a great place to eat. I could write an entire post about the food.

Last year's Top Chef winner curated a Food Truck Court (South Bites) with some of the best food trucks from the region. My favourite by far was Chi-Lantro, Korean-Mexican fusion food. Their bulgogi tacos with kimchi were amazing. This year I also made it out to Franklin BBQ, arguably the best BBQ in the US. The three-hour line-up was pretty standard (and not just for SXSW) and well worth it.

SXSW was a mixed bag this year

Though there were some great tech demo's and some really interesting sessions this year, SXSW is suffering some growing pains. The media has been saying it's getting too big, and they may be partially right.

The conference spans most of the downtown core which creates a bit of logistic nightmare to a conference goer. Getting into the sessions you really want often means sitting through the one before it to ensure you get a seat, or skipping a really interesting event to get to another venue.

Is it worth the trip to Austin?

Despite logistic problems, the tendency to get overwhelmed and the uncharacteristicly wet weather, SXSW is still the go-to conference, especially if you're interested in a variety of subjects. It's a unique experience every designer, developer, community manager, entrepreneur, film maker and/or musician should experience at least once.

Tips for going

  • Book early as close hotels fill up fast. If you're going with a group it's often better to rent a house. (I bought my badge Day 1 and still couldn't get a walking distance hotel)
  • Stay hydrated
  • Plan your days
  • Talk to everyone (some of the best conversations happen outside of events)
  • Be flexible (have back-up plans just incase your session is full)