SXSWi Day Four Recap

Day four brought us beautiful weather for the first time at SXSW so far.  The sun was out and made our adventure to the BBQ Crash Course that much better.

  • To start the day off, Aaron hit up Finance 2.0 to discover solutions that help the computer nerd save/conserve money in this turbulent economy.  The panel was guided by Stessa Cohen of Gartner whose analyizes the space of social finance.  The panel itself consisted of small business finance blogger Nichelle Stephens (Keeping Nickels), Murali Subbarao CEO of Billeo Inc, Aaron Patzer CEO/Founder of Mint.com, and Michael Ferrari Co-founder of SmartyPig.  The main theme out of the session was to find solutions that meet your individual needs while freeing up time in our busy lives.Mint.com offers a quick and easy solution to gain insight into your personal finance. Where does all that money go? Find out at Mint.com. A note from Mint, their service is read-only, so even if someone gains access to your Mint.com site, they can not drain your accounts. SmartyPig offers a saving account alternative solution that allows you to visualize your goals of your savings. If you really want that shiny red bike, open a savings account at SmartyPig and share your goal with your family and friends. They can see your progress and SmartyPig even allows them to contribute toward your goal. Forget that sweater for Christmas, grandma can now add that 10 dollars toward your new bike. SmartyPig offers one of the highest savings rate on the market. Billeo offers a smart wallet that helps pay your bills online at the company website, through a private wallet that is attached to your browser (plug-in).  Billeo also allows for faster shopping through many of it's affiliates.  Auto form filling, including credit cards, speeds you through the checkout process.  Access reports and analysis your shopping habits and your monthly bills.  If you need to make a rush payment, Billeo provides bill pay directly at the company's website, allowing for those late payments to be processed ASAP without the extra fee most banks charge. And lastly Nichelle offers a blog, Keeping Nickels, that provides tips on how to save, invest for personal finance. A great blog, for the money conscious  geek.
  • James headed to "Beyond Aggregation -- Finding the Web's best content".  The panelist included Marshall Kirkpatrick (VP Content Dev, ReadWriteWeb), Louis Gray (Author/Publisher, louisgray.com), Gabe Rivera (Founder/CEO, Techmeme), Melanie Baker (Community Mgr, PostRank.com), Micah Baldwin (VP Business Dev, Lijit Networks Inc).  The panel focused on how they use tools, search engines, grease monkey scripts, Del.icio.us and other social media services to track down new and interesting content.  One of the most interesting ways of tracking down new content that Marshall Kirkpatrick talked about was a process they are using at ReadWriteWeb.  They are currently going back through their top news stories, they then use Del.ic.ious to find out what users linked to the source content before ReadWriteWeb posted it. They then build a list of users that continue to find interesting data before ReadWriteWeb does and then subscribe to the user's Del.icio.us feed.  It is a very interesting and smart use of mixed data sources to find leaders in the news aggregation field.
  • Next up Aaron joined the Browser Wars (part III), which is a reoccurring panel at SXSW where the web browser gods battled each other and defended or dodged a series of fireballs thrown at them by panel moderator Arun Raganathan (now of Mozilla).  The panel was interesting from the standpoint of seeing first hand how each of these individuals mix with one another. Remember these are the same folks that collaborate to define the web specification such as ECMA-Script, and HTML 5.  It's fair to say there was animosity but they played nice and no one got hurt. The foe of the panel was Chris Wilson "the IE guy" who is the main player for Microsoft in the specification groups.  Arun fired many of the  fireballs his way (they were not nice).  I was impressed with Chris and how he came off. I almost walked out of the session with IE as my default browser.A question that stuck with me was one pointed at Darin Fisher of Google, which asked why Chrome picked Webkit as the rendering engine. Darin's answer was intriguing, they first looked and intended to use Gecko, but soon saw the superior rendering capabilities that Webkit provided. He also said Gecko is an application platform, so it's large, bloated and does way more things than Chrome was going to do. Panel Members: Arun Ranganathan - Mozilla Darin Fisher - Google Chris Wilson - Web Platform Architect Charles McCathieNevile - Chief Standards Office, Opera Software Brendan Eich (CTO Mozilla Foundation and Creator of JavaScript) Other blogs with more content: http://www.appscout.com/2008/03/sxsw_browser_wars_become_brows.php Podcast
  • While Aaron was at Browser Wars, James headed over to "Start-up Management: OMG I have to manage people?".  It was hosted by two of the founders of Catster/Dogster: Steven Reading and John Vars.  They both have been part of multiple startups and they talked about the process of hiring new people (hire as slow as possible) and letting people go (fire as fast as you can).  They talked about how to handle layoffs, encouraging employees, and working as a small team that grows.  It was run in a town hall fashion, where most of the topics were based on the audience's question.  It was a very good panel and James enjoyed hearing how other small companies are grown and managed.
  • For both of us, the most anticipated event of the week was the BBQ Crash Course at Emo's.  Emo's brought together 7 of the best BBQ restaurants in Texas for an all you can eat BBQ ho-down  The name of the game was to unplug for a few minutes and eat as much as you can. We both we eager to participate and we quickly grabbed a couple beers and worked our way around the backyard, piling our plates with pork ribs from Artz Rib House, the most tender brisket either of us ever had from Snow's (Aaron hopes his Father-in-law isn't reading this), and amazing BBQ taco by Ranch 616.   While enjoying more than enough food, we got the chance to meet SXSW's CTO Scott Wilcox.  Scott looked a little stressed and confirmed it when he told us he was on his second week of 14 hour days, dealing with the normal technical challenges anyone faces with trying to put on three conferences in one, with over 15,000 attendees (music, film, interactive), and over 1800 bands.  Scott, after chatting with us for a few minutes, quickly ran off to tackle another technical issue, no rest for the weary.  Big props to Scott for putting on such a great conference and for surviving 14 years of it! One of the nicest stories we heard was from Snow's BBQ which was recently named the best Brisket in Texas. Before being crowned, Snow's BBQ was a weekend hobby that produced a few 100 pounds of various BBQ for sale to locals on Saturday morning.  After the best brisket recognition, Snow's still opens only on Saturdays, and yet consistently sells out of 3x (they dug 2 extra pits) of everything within two hours of opening. Most of the customer base is now tourists seeking out the best BBQ, with only a few locals. However, when a family member sees a local standing in the long lines, they quickly pull them out of line and take their order immediately. It's good to see community is not sacrificed when success has been found. And for those that can't travel down to Lexington, TX for a weekend, they ship all over the country, only on Tuesdays though. Below is a list of the rest of great BBQ joints and their website. Visit any of them and you will not be disappointed.  UPDATE: James is currently waiting for his first order from Snow's. Snow's - http://www.snowsbbq.com/ Louie Mueller Barbecue - http://www.louiemuellerbarbecue.com/ Ranch 616 - http://theranch616.com/ The Country Line - http://www.countyline.com/ Inman's Ranch House BBQ - http://www.bbqtours.com/2000/2000inmans.htm Artz Rib House - http://www.artzribhouse.com/
  • Wirefames  for the Wicked - was presented by some of the best information architects in the industry; Nick Finck (Blue Flavor), Donna Spencer (Maadmod), and Michael Angeles (Traction Software). The group walked through the various types of wireframes; reference zones, low/high fidelity, storyboards, standalone, specifications.   All the panelist had good things to say about each form and what the censunsus was is that the detail of the wireframe depends on the project, but a wireframe is very important step in the project lifecycle to help convey information architecture to a client (way before you spend all your time on design).  It's also a contract that helps find and define the features of your project.  Choose the one that best serves you and your project.   A few programs recommend for wireframing were Visio (Donna's tool), OmniGraffle (Michael has a great set of stencils that the panel recommended), and Axure (Aaron's favorite) but it's Windows only.  Here is a link to the slide on slide share. If you are a information architect or are engaged during this stage of the process we recommend you take a quick peek.
  • While Aaron was checking out Wireframes, James headed over to catch Robert Rodriuez and Henry Selick talk about how they are using 3D in their movies.  They were not talking about 3D animation, but actual 3D projection in the theater.  Robert was the first director to bring 3D back into the theaters with his Spy Kids 3D movie.  Since then, we have seen a huge resurgence of 3D movies such as Henry Selick's Coraline.  One of the coolest aspects of the panel was when Henry talked about how they shot Coraline in 3D.  The typical process is to have two cameras hooked to a single lens with a special mirror splitter to offset the images.  Yet, this was not possible because Coraline was all miniatures shot in stop-motion.  To achieve the 3D effect, take a single frame with the camera, move the camera to the 3D offset and take another frame.  These two frames where then overlaid digitally for the 3D projection.  Brilliant!
  • The most amusing and mind boggling session of the week was Bruce Sterling's talk. We sprinted as fast as we could to get prime seats and it was well worth it.  Joining us front and center was our good friend Larry Gonzales (Eye-Fi).  Bruce is renowned for putting on a great presentation.  His insights into the tech world are deep, rich, spot-on and very very amusing.  He referred to us as the group formally known as the audience and delved into how technology such as the iPhone and Twitter have the potential to destroy the previous definition of interaction.  He teased (rightly so) that most of the audience was Twittering away as he presented.  He questioned if people where truly paying attention when they twittered.  To point this out he joking said some very rude/crude statements to jest with us about who would hear the comment correctly and who would just twitter "omg did you hear what Bruce said!" without full context.  Bruce then proceeded to open up bags of chips and eat them while he talked.  We have lost formality, if the audience doesn't pay attention why should he, as the speaker, be civil?  It would be incorrect to state that Bruce is opposed to Social Media and the changes being wrought on society, but he is concerned that we may be losing things of value for the sake of progress.  Is all progress good?  Should we just open our arms and accept all that changes?  This is an issue that we in technology should keep in the back of our minds as we blindly adopt the newest and greatest thing.  Just because something is old or "outdated" does not mean it has lost its value.  It was truly a great presentation about the state of social media.

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