The Farm – March 7th, 2013

We arrived in Austin the day before the official start SXSW. We had landed in the afternoon and were greeted by a balmy 55 degree temperature; mild for Texas, but a much needed change from the frigid north we are used to. Ahead of us laid a week of having our minds blown by new technology and amazing talks.

The taxi driver gave us a raised eyebrow at our directions, but after a short taxi ride we arrived at our lodging for the week. Usually the SXSW crowd tends to stay at hotels near downtown. By the time we signed up for SXSW, all accommodations downtown had been booked for months. So we searched Airbnb for a place to stay. The best remaining option was a small plot of land with an RV for rent that was available for the week and only six miles from town. Our host, a natural food caterer named Jim O’ greeted us and gave us the grand tour.

The plot, or farmette as Jim O’ calls it, has several campers parked on the property – most of which I believe are uninhabited. However, there is a constant circus of friends and well-wishers on the property. Jim raises goats and chickens on the farmette, and provides fresh eggs for all his guests.

The camp is located a 1/4 mile from the bus stop, so Victor and I walked to the local H.E. Butts Grocery and picked up our bus passes – $9 for the week. Now we were ready to head into town.

After a short bus ride we hopped off in the south congress district. A mid-century lounge afforded us Korean pork belly tacos, flash fried Brussels sprouts and libations. It was a delicious time.

After dinner we retired to the RV for the evening. Reservoir Dogs, picked from Jim O’s VHS collection, helped us recharge for the next day’s talks.

Day 1 – March 8th, 2013

Our first day of talks got off to a great start with a hearty breakfast of fresh eggs and toast on the farmette. After a quick bus ride over to the convention center, we picked up our badges and decided which talks we were going to attend that day.

Bre Pettis kicked off the day with highlights from the release of MakerBot, a 3D printer for the masses. Until recently, three dimensional printing had only available to large companies and research institutions, due to its hefty price tag. MakerBot democratized the technology by bringing the price down to a level that hobbyists and small businesses can afford. This opened up an ecosystem for tinkerers and creative types to share their ideas via communities like Thingaverse. Now these ideas can easily materialize as tangible items.

Bre then went on to reveal the prototype of a complimentary scanner for the MakerBot printer, the MakerBot digitizer. The demonstration involved a garden gnome that turned on a turntable. Two lasers mark points on the object while a camera sends the information to a processor which plots the points to create a 3D model. As with the MakerBot printer, the technology has been around for years. MakerBot simply shrunk it down to size for home use and made it affordable.

After lunch, Christina Woodtke gave a talk on gamification entitled “The Mechanics of Magic: 7 Game Design Insights”. This talk went beyond the cliche of handing out badges and achievements, and touched on how to get an emotional reaction from a player during a game. She used several examples from the time she spent working at Zynga and also featured short clips from epic game designers like Sid Myer, Brenda Brathwaite, and Will Wright. This was a very interesting talk.

At the final talk of the day, the futurist and videographer Jason Silva took the main stage of the conference center. Jason takes quotes from philosophers, scientists, and big thinkers from the past; lays them over stock video clips, and mixes in frenetic narratives recorded by Jason himself. This talk was very high energy, but was not our cup of tea.

We wound down the day’s with a trip to the Palmer Conference center to tour the Game Expo and experience the Frog Design opening party.

Stay tuned for our dispatches on the remainder of the conference!

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