Day 12

Saturday was the first day I took my ukulele downtown.  I spent a lot of time with Phil – we had lunch with the Bambuser gang, streamed me playing outside the convention centre and went and played again over in the park where another guy was learning the lessons of trying to strum a steel-stringed guitar with your fingers (don't try it at home kids, especially, if like him you're playing someone else's guitar and you're going to have to explain to them why it's covered in your blood)

Otherwise a blur of bumping into people.  Here's me and the lovely Jackie Danicki

I also played uke while waiting in line for the Cheezburger party – haven't been so ignored since I last played at Chancery Lane on the Underground 🙂

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Money #1

One of the big lessons I learned this year from fundraising is not to rely on *anything* at all until it's in my account.  I had a few potential corporate sponsorship deals in the pipeline and I guessed that at least one of them would come through either before or during the trip.  None of them did.

I'm hugely grateful of course to all those who've given money, bought me meals and made me so welcome in their homes.  However, I need some more help.

For those who don't know me, I have no income from employment in the UK this month  or next and I'm about £2,000 ($3,200) short on being able to pay the rest of my bills back at home (my rent falls due in a week's time) and maintain my minimal levels of day-to-day expenses here.

So I'm open to ideas in addition to the following:

There's a donate button on the sidebar of the blog.  If you didn't put anything in the pot before the trip and you're getting some value out of what I'm doing, please do consider contributing that way.

I'm still open to support from businesses and organisations who either just would like an association with the trip or, preferably, for whom I can do something useful while I'm here (though SXSWi is over from today).  This should give you an idea of all the sorts of things I can do, if you don't already know.

Perhaps you've heard me play ukulele and singing at some point on this trip – how about buying my album on bandcamp?  You can pay whatever you think it's worth.

And anything else you can thing of etc.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Solve it while I sleep #4

Getting to Lafayette

I've planned a few days rest near Lafayette LA before moving onto New Orleans – it's a kind of mid-point decompression after SXSW.  I'd really like to be there as long as I can – Thursday thru Sunday.  I misread the Amtrak timetable and thought I could leave Austin on Wednesday night and get to Lafayette on Thursday.  I can't.  The next train there leaves on Thursday gets in Friday morning.  My lovely hostess in Austin, Sarah Vela, can't have me beyond Wednesday.

So do I:

Stick with the train (i have a rail pass so the cost is covered) and find a way to stay in Austin until Thursday night and put up with the fact that I'll only be in Lafayette for 3 days instead of 4?

or

Find someone who is driving to, say, New Orleans leaving Wednesday who might be able to take me and drop me off in Lafayette? Do you know anyone doing Austin to Louisiana who might like an Englishman riding shotgun?

or something else… that gets me there on Thursday morning (or Wednesday night perhaps) with minimal cost and hassle and maximum interestingness.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Random Notes: Redundancy; Slowness; Lateness; Books and reading

NB: these are rough drafty notes on stuff that's going through my head

Redundancy

The temptation is to keep everything lean and only have one of everything. But often you need to know that you have enough, that if you lose or break or have to give away this one, you've always got another in your bag. This goes for people too. You can never have enough, never have too many options, no matter what it feels like. Bert and Ernie can both do the job, you only need one of them but they're a great pair to have around. Keep generating options because it's likely to be a combination of options you've come up with that will work best – lots of options make for lots of useful potential combinations.

Slowness

Travelling on a train, knowing that you're not going to get off it today, helps you appreciate the length of the day better. That is as long as you're paying attention.  It's great when the train is rattling along and you know that you're making up time and all that, but it's also good to be going slowly. Slowly enough to be able to look properly at what you're passing. Look deeply, connect, know.

Lateness

In a journey that takes three days on a network where your traffic is not a priority, you will end up having to get off the train at midnight or 2am. That's OK if your patient husband or wife is there to pick you up but it's tough asking friends to do it, and even more so friends of a friend that you've never met before.

Books and reading

Lots of people ask what I'm reading – the answer is not so much.  Books are too much of a psychoactive drug for me.  If I was reading, i'd be off on another journey inside my head and not paying attention to what I'm doing right now.  I'd be avoiding people, I'd be avoiding conversation and my story would be dominated by my reading.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

SXSW is like a walled garden

This year I've chosen not to buy a badge for SXSW.  If someone else was paying for it, I probably would have taken one, but last year, almost immediately after I bought my badge, I was wondering why I'd laid out cash for it.

So this week I'm on the outside.  Not completely because the ground floor of the convention centre is open with wifi and power outlets galore.  But I don't get to go up the magic escalators this year.  There has been much grumbling among my peers about the agency kids, the general overwhelm of people who don't seem to get the same thing we get and the accent on the social web as a commercial tool.

It occurred to me today that SXSW is becoming like the bit of the web we don't like but still (sometimes) participate in, the walled gardens of Facebook and the AppStore.  Not having a badge has given me a different perspective on the whole thing.

Some half-baked draft thoughts:

There's a price on entry and it's all about the sell – literally yes, but also because "they" might easily be doing creepy stuff to us and we'd never know (and only half care until it's too late).  There's also the constant nagging feeling that whatever I'm doing, someone else is making more of a profit out of it than I am.  

It's difficult to share-out – there are limits on how much video & streaming you can shoot without a press pass in sessions.  Live blogging is an ultimately unsatisfying experience for blogger and reader, especially when most of the content is a thinly veiled pitch or at best self-promo.  

The inside experience adds little value – there is far more intelligence, innovation experience in the room than there is on any panel.  There is much more value in the conversations that go on *because* of SXSW than the conversations that happen inside. Also because of the hyper-schedule, no-one has the capacity to make really good decisions on what to go to

Most people are still just playing stupid games that annoy the rest of us while advertisers try to grab us all by the eyeballs.

And yet, we still keep coming (yes and I keep using Facebook) – at anyrate I have, for the people, the Americans that I might not see for years otherwise, but also, bizarrely to have a touch point with other people from the UK who I don't have an excuse to hang out with normally.  I feel a bit left out, but I'm sure I've felt left out both of the other years I've been here.  I think I feel less like I'm missing out because the option of going to a panel and missing something cool for something dismal has been taken away from me.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Day 11

Maybe not so much to write on Southby days – it's a blur and difficult to differentiate the days once you're here.

Wore my Learning Pool t-shirt, I know that much.  I need to write more about Learning Pool because they are good people doing good things.  I'll be wearing my tee again tomorrow and I've a few of their postcards left to hand out about mylearningpool, their online training resource for community/voluntary groups and social enterprises.

Met Rohan G for a delicious and mellow (but spicy!) thai/vietnamese lunch and got bonus Kate Ho and Jessica Williamson 

Sat and wrote at the Convention Center for some time – the Trade Show doesn't start till Monday so there's an ongoing sweet power/wifi/perch spot outside there.

Bumped into Julia and Nat and went for a coffee with Nat at The Hideout by way of the Apple pop-up shop to take a sharp intake of breath looking at the line around the block waiting for an iPad 2.  Headed back for a drink with the Higginbottoms and Jagir Patel who suggested I might like to talk at the Liberal Arts college in Huntingdon, PA where he went?/teaches?

Then caught up with Sarah, we went up the Frost Tower and met (among others) a delightful young lady in "digital marketing for a real estate company" so naturally fled and went to find Phil at The Ginger Man where we also found the whole Chinwag and WeAreSocial gangs.  Escaped from there to Franks to fill Phil with hotdogs and found the MadeByMany posse in the line.

Um… and that was it.  I know Sarah & Phil weren't impressed by being home by 10pm but it was a perfect night out for me…

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Random Notes: Unexpected joys; Improvisation; Iteration with learning

I'm going to post these little jottings that I've been making while on the road – no order, structure yet, they're the bones of what I'll be writing about later.  Advisory: may contain platitudes, truisms and inanity.

Unexpected joys

The joy comes mostly when you realise how it's all been leading up to this, how it all just fits together perfectly, how this marvellous moment could not have come about exactly as it is without all the other apparently less marvellous moments that contributed to you being here.

Improvisation

If I have a choice, I will always go for something made up as I go along over something with a prescribed or predefined method. This doesn't mean that there's no thinking beforehand, preparation or structure, just that I think it's importance to keep allowing for the possibility of novelty or creation to blossom out of what you're doing. This is allowing yourself to be wrong that you've already found the optimal way of doing something.

Iteration with learning

The trick is silencing the voice that says “you should know this already, you've done it before” No. In circumstances like these, you haven't done it before. Those people who have done something similar before didn't do exactly what you're doing with exactly the resources and background you have, they also did it within a different space-time. And you only really learn when you fail, so fail early and fail often and then go round the loop again. The thing to avoid is iteration without learning, that's trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results, that's nuts.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Taking Stock

I'm aware that in the rolling daily updates there's been little talk of how it's actually going for me how i'm _gulp_ *feeling*.  

Well the headline is I feel great.  I'm really enjoying the whole thing.  Taking it much more easily than last year.  Hardly worrying at all, except when I do. 

The "Solve it while I sleep" posts have had a big effect on me – it's a great way of putting down the worries and getting on with what's actually happening, ie I probably need to sleep.  So that's the "what happens if I ask for help?" part covered – basically, if I ask for help, even in a supposedly indirect way by writing on my blog, I get what I need.

I have also repeatedly had the experience of being offered something that makes me wince or gives me a little twinge, the sort of thing that ordinarily I'd say no to or accept an "easier option" – and finding that the thing I'm avoiding is really much much better than I could have expected.

I had this when Robert offered to take me to the TED livestream and the other option was to hang out and relax in Half Moon Bay, perhaps down on the beach.  I chose to go out with Robert because a little voice was telling me to go where there are more people, different people, that's where you get your energy.  And it's true, I do, I'm totally extraverted like that.

I nearly didn't go to Tracy's Mardi Gras party.  I would have missed out on so much loveliness if I had sat all evening with @moethecat.

I've also been resisting the urge to go home and hide under the covers – I've stayed out (drinking water) for as long as other people wanted instead of insisting on disappearing when the sun goes down.  Much more fun, though it still feels far from natural.

And today, Phil just asked if I would bring my uke to play in the car driving downtown.  erk.  But good to just say yes and then of course I ended up playing a few times out in the sunshine and having lots of fun with it.

So all of that comes under the "Giving up control" bit of the strapline.

Overall, pretty well then: giving up control and asking for help only leads to good things 🙂

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Day 10

There's nothing like it getting dark over a cold, grey wet Illinois and waking up in glorious Arkansas sunshine.  I'm back in the South – hurrah!

Into Texas and we hit Dallas at around 11am.  I would have a double seat to myself from now on as Marisa was getting off.  We had a whole hour layover so I walked with Arie and Marisa away from the station for a while looking for coffee.  Thank heavens for Foursquare, we found a Museum Cafe and started walking towards it.  

I looked left to cross the road and there was something weirdly familiar about the scene.  I ignored it and kept walking but it was bugging me.  The I looked up and saw the memorial to George Bannerman Dealey.  I was in Dealey Plaza.  Yes.  That's the former Texas School Book Depository Building and hmmmm… that grassy knoll over there… really weird, completely unexpectedly I was walking through a historical site, a place where a man had his brains blown out by an assassin or assassins about a year before I was born.  The museum we were heading to had loops of video of that day in November.  I didn't know how to feel, I can understand the power of the memory of that President, but commemorating violent death a few yards away from where that violent death  took place? I don't know, I still don't.

Anyway we got some much better coffee that was available on the train and chatted with Kheira the barista who, on hearing we'd found her via Foursquare said incredulously "Really? How old are you?" We explained that this is what we do and what SXSW is all about.  We encouraged her to spend her spring break in Austin and get a clue about this stuff 🙂

Back on the train and able to stretch out.  I was impatient now to get to Austin – we had another 45 minute layover in Fort Worth, just half an hour or so away. I remembered how big Texas is West to East but hadn't quite clicked the North-South dimension too.  McGregor, Temple, Taylor no idea where I was just counting down to "Next Stop: Aaaaaaaaaaustin Texasssss"

Finally we were off the train.  The bizarre thing was that of course this was the same train that I'd caught out of Austin last time I was here.  So the light was exactly the same as then (which is where my twitter/FB profile pic was shot) I made a little piece to camera about being back and headed off to stock up at Whole Foods and find beautiful people.

Which of course I did in the form of seesmic veterans aplenty.  @philcampbell, @orchid8, @danpatterson, @iKrissi – we headed from there to The Ginger Man I think where we met up with half the population of Birmingham and watched @hermioneway have video of herself shot from a handheld projector onto her bottom – enlightening stuff 🙂

And so to bed, chez @orchid8, in my favourite bottom bunk bed in Austin, with rocket ship sheets – total luxury.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Day 9

Breakfast with Tracy: scrambled eggs, toast and an apple – simple and perfect. I was a little worried by the fact that a couple of inches of snow seemed to have fallen overnight. But that's just me thinking London thoughts. As Tracy pulled back out of her garage over the fresh white stuff, I knew it wasn't going to affect our journey time to the station at all. I got to experience drive-thru banking sitting in Tracy's passenger seat while she tucked a payment into a tube that then shot through to the cashier. Then a little grocery shopping so that I had Wisconsin cheese and brats to munch on the train and off into the city through the slush.

I realised how little time I've spent in downtown areas so far. I've been much more in suburban residential spots and I've liked it. However it's also good to soak up the power of areas with great big chunks of stone, steel and glass.

Hugs goodbye for Tracy and laughter that I would see her again the next day although she wasn't going to leave Milwaukee for nearly 24 hours. I was relieved when my tickets were printed and I had them in my hand and I was on my first train. This was a 90 minute commuter train to Chicago via the airport. Whizzed by. Really not sure what I did except for a bit of writing and some staring out the window. If I was in the mood for downtown after Milwaukee then Union Station Chicago didn't disappoint. I took a stroll around a few blocks as I had an hour or so before the next train. I went down to the post office and sent some stuff home. I wish now that I'd had a bit more time to explore the station itself – everyone's been saying how wonderful it is. All I saw was the line to the train – and then someone's calling my name – it's Arie Moyal regular tuttler and one of last year's SXSW buddies course, he's also getting the train to Austin. Somehow it's completely not out of the ordinary at all for me to be in a train station in a city I've never visited before and to bump into someone I see most weeks in London and for neither of us to be particularly phased by it.

The bad news when we got on the train was that there were very few power outlets in the whole train and none at all in our car – there were three other people admitting to being headed for SXSW and all were dismayed by the lack of power, especially the pair who seemed to have counted on this time to put some finishing touches to some software they wanted to show off.. I need to write something about what I've picked up about seat allocation on Amtrak. Anyway, knowing that the train was bound to be pretty full given that I'd had to beg for my reservation at 12.30 the previous night I let go of finding the perfect seat and just sat down. Next to Marisa Hricovsky (I didn't find out her name till much later) an artist from Chicago heading down to Dallas to see a friend of her's MFA show.

I did some writing, ate some lunch, satisfied myself that the power situation was indeed as dire as it seemed and went back to sit and snooze a little. Remembering the guy I sat next to on the way to Seattle whom I didn't talk to hardly at all and regretted it later, I made an opening gambit by offering Marisa some gum. “No Thankyou” she said very clearly in what struck me as a “don't take candy from strangers” voice. OK snooze.

I don't know exactly how the conversation started now but after I woke, Marisa and I were talking (ok, mostly Marisa was talking and I was uh-huh-ing) for most of the rest of the day. She works with ceramics but wants to do more inter-disciplinary work. We shared stories of “people who don't understand” and talked about the importance of just making stuff. Her stuff includes porcelain maggots, a cockroach fashion parade (you dress up dogs, why not cockroaches?) and a set of teapots that look they got mixed up with alligator skin handbags in the teleportation device from The Fly. Beautiful. What a privilege to accidentally end up sitting with an artist. We exchanged mailing addresses to indulge our mutual enjoyment of postal art, which is when I found out her name, she said it comes from the name of a Slovakian town (i'm guessing Hričovské Podhradie)

We ended our evening sharing headphones to watch The Never Ending Story on her laptop. But it was the early ending story for me because I just went off to sleep.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman