SXSW – on a Mission from Dog

The puppy what nuzzled my knee at SXSW 2010

I was given a marvelous opportunity recently, namely representing DogWalkBlog at SXSW. Jumped on that offer immediately, because who wouldn’t??

I was also given a few tasks to accomplish while I was there, mostly along the line of “see if you can find Chris Brogan, aka @chrisbrogan, and say “hi” to him. Some of these I completed with great success. Others, not so much.

Chris Brogan I saw before I was even registered. I had been in the registration area barely five minutes, when I looked up, and there he was. I really thought that finding everyone else on my meet and greet list would be a piece of cake. Silly me.

SXSW is simply packed with people. Masses and super-mases, moving, standing, talking on cell phones, tweeting on cell phone, sitting in chairs or on the floor and typing away like mad things (more or less as I am at this very minute). Through it all there is the constant buzz of thousands of people talking.

There are two ways to approach SXSW, maybe a third if you mix the first two together. Last year, I mostly socialized. I went to parties, and parties in between the other parties. I talked myself hoarse and tried not to drink too much (mostly because I had been hit and badly mashed by a big-rig truck the month before).

This year, I was determined to attend as many presentations, panel discussions and core conversations as humanly possible. Some have been fabulous, some a little ho-hum, and a one was disappointing, but on the whole, it was a great time for me.

What follows are my impressions of what I have seen so far, touching on those presentations that most impacted me.

Day 1:
The highpoint of my first day, aside from meeting Chris Brogan, was a panel discussion on “Eight Ways to Deal with Bastards.” The content the panel presented and discussed was actually useful, concentrating on the four contexts in which most of us meet the bastards with whom we much deal, and good ways to diffuse otherwise potentially explosive situations.

The panelist who simply blew me away was a lady named Jane Waldron, aka @Chookooloonks. Lovely to look at, delightful speaking voice, and intentionally hysterically funny. She told me later that she was from Trinidad. You would never know it to hear her speak, although, just for giggles she lapsed into a very Trinidadian patois for me, and after scraping my jaw up off the ground, I wanted to vote her in as Queen of the Universe for Life. She’s the type of person you’d gladly follow into battle even knowing that you wouldn’t be coming out of the fray alive.

Day 2:
My apex presentation this day was about “How to Bulletproof Your Finances.” It was really intended for people much younger than I (by 20 to 30 years), but the beauty of it was that I took a ton of good information away with me, information that I wish I had had available when I was 20 or 30 years younger, but that I can still apply to my life today. That one was with Ramit Sethi, aka @ramit (who has written a book, as it seems everyone at SXSW has, the difference being that I might actually buy this book).

Midday, I embarked upon my second meet and greet mission. This time for Julia Roy, aka @juliaroy, manning a booth for @imagespacemedia. I had a lovely conversation with her, and managed to score a free lunch in the process. If there is a God, may he/she eternally bless these folks for providing real non-candy solid food for the masses. (I pulled off the free lunch trick again on Day 3 … amazing, right?)

The disappointment of the day was a panel discussion called “Engaging Your Queer Audience.” It wasn’t disappointing because the panel was not interesting or didn’t present well, and to be entirely fair, it was probably only a disappointment for me. That was because, based on the catalog, I expected it to be about how straight people could open dialogs with and market to the gay community. Turns out it was more of a discussion by and for gay blog writers on the unique problems facing gay blog writers. I’ll cop to expressing my frustration at the end of the discussion, and I ended up having a much more informative discussion with some of the participants after the program was finished.

Informative, and yet still frustrating; this was because I wanted to find out how a straight transactional (business/estate planning) attorney goes about marketing to the GLBT community without pandering to them or misleading them into thinking I am gay, or downright insulting them? The answer I received was surprising, in essence it was “I know plenty of gay attorneys, so I would never hire a straight attorney” and “How many of the attorneys in your firm are gay?” Since I don’t understand how sexual orientation makes a person a better or worse attorney, and since it would never occur to me to ask someone about their sexual orientation in a work context (and isn’t that sort of thing flying in the face of Federal Anti-Discrimination laws?), I began to see a serious communication disconnect.

The conversation was pleasant and interesting, and I liked the people I was talking with, but I found myself wondering how the gay community can complain about the straight world not accepting (or ignoring) their sexual orientation when they are not willing or able to accept or ignore ours? Doesn’t the good of the human community as a whole mean that both groups have to give a little?

Day 3:
The time change didn’t help things much, but when I had driven half way into Austin before realizing that I had left my SXSW badge at home, I think I should have taken that as a hint that this was a day I should have stayed in bed. Drove home, grabbed badge and missed half of what I’d be willing to bet was a fantastic presentation called “Perfectly Irrational: Who Put the Monkey in the Driver’s Seat?” by Dan Ariely, aka @danariely. The little bit that I saw was well worth the drive and meant that two other books were going on my wish list.

Midday (while trying to find a dog to photograph), I felt what I can only describe as a large and cold finger poking me at knee level at the Daskeyboard booth. How lovely, you think “I want to find a dog to photograph at SXSW” and one magically appears! Yet another of my quests completed.

By the time I went to the panel discussion “From Trolls to Stars: The Commenter Ecosystem,” I was dragging. I went by the trade show floor one more time to see if I could find Hugh MacLeod aka @gapingvoid to tell him that all the mutts at the Walk loved his work and his book “Ignore Everybody.” That done, and having picked up enough free t-shirts to dress a small army of large or extra-large people (so shoot me, I like my t-shirts on the baggy side), I had decided that, parties or no parties, I was going home for the day.

As I headed for the exit in the Austin Convention Center, someone behind me stepped on my heels. Who ever it was apologized, and as I turned to acknowledge the apology, someone who must have been moving very fast slammed into to me so hard that they actually spun me around. I never did see who this human equivalent of a Mack truck was, or which way they went, but with the next step I took, I realized that my big toe on my right foot was broken. In this case, I should say “broken yet again” because this particular toe has been broken at least five times in the past 40 years.

I took this to be the universe’s way of telling me that my complete disregard of the hint provided to me this morning had left me open for the follow-up baseball bat to the head. Not as subtle as the hint, but certainly effective.

So, here I sit, staying off my foot as much as possible, downing the occasional Vicodin, and thinking that I met a lot of really nice people, ate some great hotdogs, learned so much, and generally had a great time (notwithstanding the whole broken toe thingie).

Would I go again? You bet!
Even if I had to pay for my own ticket? Hell yes!

Do, I owe @dogwalkblog a huge debt of gratitude? More than he will ever know.

This is Ricky Maveety @rickymaveety reporting for @dogwalkblog from (or at least within 45 miles of) SXSW.

Risk as a downhill ski run, Bode Miller style

I was reading my Wall Street Journal today, page after page of blah, blah, blah and then I came across this story on page B8. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

I am not following the Winter Olympic Games nor am I really a fan of Bode Miller. I didn’t even read the article, but what I did do is stare at the photograph.* Here’s why.

Notice how much of the ski is touching the surface of the snow. Notice how “off center” Miller’s body is. Now, imagine how that feels at 90mph (I don’t know how fast he is going, but pretty dang fast.)

And it strikes me that downhill skiing is a lot like doing something that you are passionate about. You hurl yourself headlong into it without thinking about the risk. Your actions and reactions are instinctive, you trust in yourself and your skills and when you doubt yourself for a split second or become aware of the cheering (and sometimes jeering) fans along the fence, it all unravels quickly.

You may crash, you may win a gold medal, but if you don’t hurl yourself out of the gate, you’ll never know.

*I kinda stole the photo from the WSJ and they may find out about it and not share the same enthusiasm I have for showing it to you… so, until I get that cease and desist letter, posting it up here is my downhill ski run of the day. 🙂

Dogs playing tetherball

I wish I had a video camera, but I only had an iPhone. Englewood Hills left their tether balls attached to the poles over Winter break* and I swung one as I was walking by. Charlie jumped to grab it and a game ensued.

So, as fast as I could focus and snap, here you go. Hilarious!

*In case anyone wants to play a good game of tetherball, I know where there are two poles set up! 🙂

Real airport security is very low tech

With all the news media chattering on about this latest round of terrorism with flight 253 and the guy with a bad stomach in the restroom, we are seeing the latest group of pundits advocating for more technology, full-body scans, etc, etc.

Oh, brother.

Real airport security is far more low-tech than that. Here is the formula, in case anyone at the Department of Homeland Security or TSA wants to read it and maybe do something effective rather than expensive and whiz-bang.

Train TSA agents to be charming and firm
If you need some inspiration for this, watch Road House. “Be nice” was Dalton’s direction to his staff. And nice works, until you’re told to not be nice. In that case, effective, clean take-down is far more effective in controlling crowds than is a wild display of guns, badges and shouting.

Ask simple, rapid-fire questions in a dispassionate manner at checkpoints and randomly in the gate area. Where were you born, what day is it, what city are you in, how long will you be here, what is your mother’s name. And stare the passenger straight in the eye as you are asking and force the passenger to look back. If cultural differences prevent them from holding a stare, the passenger should be reminded that looking the agent directly in the eye is a requirement for travel. But gently and firm.

Train TSA agents to be unemotional and not take any comment or question personally. Really, it can be done and it is very effective. The Marine Corps does it every day. So does the Queen’s Guard.

Pay TSA well. Train them and expect high-quality, consistent results. Discipline emotional responses. Right now, they are seen by most Americans as over-zealous mall cops who are quickly prone to anger and an excessive display of authority which they will wield for petty reasons, especially in smaller market airports like Dayton, Ohio.

Use dogs
Nothing makes a smuggler more nervous than a sniffing German Shepherd walking in and out of the boarding gates sniffing at every piece of luggage. And since dogs sniff at crotches as part of their nature, you get the added benefit of that without training, which would have come in handy for this last round of explosives. And use a lot of them. Be everywhere, all the time. Dogs don’t take anything personally, don’t profile based on race, gender or religion and are pretty darn accurate. Taking them for a 3-4 hour walk and a sniff is their idea of heaven.

And, after all the passengers have boarded the plane, take the dog down and up the aisle one more time in the plane. The dang thing will be just sitting on the tarmac anyway, so why not use a few extra minutes for security.

And nobody messes with the dog. Nobody.

Don’t dress in para-military garb
The dog handler and all security past the checkpoint should be dressed in simple, plain clothes but that also makes it clear they are the controlling authority. They should also be armed, but not obviously so. An over-armed security agent in an area that is supposed to be secure just says “I am more scared of being attacked than I am of defending myself.”

Dress in para-military garb
And carry very big sticks. Any area before the security check point should have armed guards very obviously and strategically placed. When you are entering into an airport terminal, there should be a “no-shit, this is serious” tone set from the start.

Airport insecurity is a human problem, created by human beings for the purpose of inflicting harm on other human beings. Pushing more technology at the problem just makes solving the real causes of the problem more complicated and gives passengers a false sense of security.

*For the record, I am not a security expert, but I do watch people in airports and other public places both here and abroad and can make judgments based on observed behaviors. Eventually, a pattern emerges.

Plain Joe Lieberman

If you haven’t already seen the “one more moment” video between Lieberman and Franken, here it is.

At first, I just laughed. Funny people, Senators. “Let him talk, he wasn’t saying anything anyway.”

But then I got to thinking. If Joe Lieberman had to deal with real life the way we all out here in Realitytown have to, the following things would also be denied.

“No, Joe, you can’t have another moment to score a touchdown. The buzzer has already buzzed.”

“I’m sorry, Joe, but we stopped serving breakfast at McDonalds at 10:30. I know it is 10:31, but sorry.”

“No, Joe, you can’t have a few more minutes to finish your SAT test.”

“Sorry, Joe, but that parking meter expired a minute ago. You can’t have a few more minutes to shop.”

“Ooooo, Joe, yeah, but that insurance premium check arrived in our offices 1 day late. Sorry”

Perhaps if Privileged Joe Lieberman had a few more Plain Joe life experiences, he would not be so quick to deny health care to folks who have trouble getting affordable insurance between the ages of 55 – 64.

And maybe the public option may not be such a bad idea for the rest of us.

Climate change thoughts

Screen shot 2009-12-07 at 8.59.15 AM

The two-week climate change conference in Copenhagen began Monday. Only another ten days or so of being lectured by Danes on how we are screwing up everything. It’s ok, its a very Danish thing to do. Ask any Dane.

And the conservative talk shows are all up in a tizzy over the emails that were hacked recently, calling into question the entire Global Warming movement, Al Gore’s credibility, etc, etc. But, the facts remain; the world is getting warmer and the science of increased carbon in the atmosphere is helping accelerate the warming. Since humans are multiplying and increasing activities that increase the volume of carbon in the atmosphere, if I was a betting pooch, I would bet with the inductive reasoning even if I don’t have all the conclusive facts. Call it a hunch.

The argument the Conservative are using reminds me of an old riddle. You can read it via the link, but briefly, a man was convicted of a crime, sentenced to death at noon on a day the judge will disclose at 11:00am. Sitting in his jail cell, the prisoner deduced through logic that it was not possible for the sentence to be carried out. Eventually, though, the judge really did hang him at noon on one day.

The Conservatives have reasoned their way into believing that global warming is not happening by way of the same logic the prisoner used. Only the planet really is heating up and eventually the ice caps will melt and the shores will be under water.

Good time to rethink that move to Dayton, Ohio, right? No crazies allowed; we already have our recommended number allowed.