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Diary of a SXSW Second-Timer

Apr 07, 2010

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SXSW 2010

As I expected, my second year at SXSW was stellar. And, just like last year, it was the people — not the panels or even the parties — that made it such a great experience for me.

It's almost four weeks later (color me embarassed), and the finer details are starting to escape me. Which means it's time for a recap! Again, like last year, diary-style. This one's a long-ass post, so get comfortable.

If you couldn't give a shit about my personal antics at Southby, you can skip to the summaries I did of the few sessions I attended:

Thursday, March 11

After making arrangements with the best cat-sitter in the world, Jason and I left The Burque with anticipation of adventure in our hearts and the standard "I'm traveling and it's 5 o'clock somewhere" cocktails in our bellies.

We arrived in Austin and headed straight for the Omni Hotel. We had such a great experience at the Omni last year, there was no question we were going back this time around. Granted it is several blocks from the convention center, but I love the additional exercise I get from walking a bit further and the Omni's bar is one of my favorites ever.

After dropping off our bags, we headed to the convention center to pick up our badges. This year, they opened badge pick-up a day earlier and, apparently, everyone and their brother knew. It was a horrific line to get in to the area, and then another miserable line to get badges and then a slightly–less–miserable line to get swag bags. These lines definitely portended what was to come with panels …

And Then There Was BBQ

Our main plans for the evening were to finally meet Ari Stiles and Christopher Schmitt, the two brilliant folks from Environments for Humans who hosted my Microformats Workshop Summit back in January.

I knew that I would dig these two, based on my experience working with them, but they completely won me over when they suggested we grab some of Austin's best BBQ from The Salt Lick.

Ari and Chris picked us up from the Omni and drove us 30 minutes outside of Austin, through poorly-lit roads and into what seemed like the wilderness. I have to admit, during the drive, Deliverance-inspired paranoia kicked in … I didn't know these people at all and no one knew where I was. But once we arrived and I smelled the sweet smell of smoke and deliciousness, my worries faded.

It was a bit of a wait before we were seated, which was not cool for my tummy, but very cool for conversation. We talked about microformats (earning Chris one of my coveted t-shirts), yoga, and living in Austin.

Chris Schmitt gets a Microformats Made Simple t-shirt

Christopher Schmitt gets the first Microformats Made Simple t-shirt!

Chris also introduced us to three of the yayQuery crew members — Rebecca Murphy, Paul Irish and Alex Sexton — who were also waiting for their BBQ fix. Rebecca instantly became one of my favorite people ever when we were introduced and she said: "You're her … the one on microformats." I have no shame in saying that I love a little ego-stroking now and then.

The conversation was only (slightly) trumped by the BBQ. I'm not exaggerating when I say it was the best I've ever had (and I'm a Southerner). Their rub and sauce was like ambrosia from the gods. There was a hint of cardamom and cinnamon, with just the right vinegary goodness and balance with brown sugar. No idea if my palete was on–the–mark for those ingredients, but it was something altogether wonderful and new to this BBQ lover. If you haven't been to The Salt Lick, make the time to go and bring a six-pack for the wait (there will be one).

During the drive home, I seriously developed a couple crush on Ari and Chris. They told Jason and I how they met (at SXSW), and how their relationship has evolved. I love hearing couples talk about themselves. And it only served to bring out the obvious affection these two have for each other.

Back to Buffalo Billiards

After Ari and Chris dropped us off at the Omni, Jason and I headed to Buffalo Billiards. I remembered from last year, it was a great pre-SXSW hangout for some of my favorite people and I wanted to see if said favorite people were there.

Lucky me, they were. The first person I saw was my beloved (and inebriated) friend Jeff Croft. We talked for a bit, but good conversation was not meant to be. I was sober, he wasn't, and I was more focused on getting my drink on and catching up.

I also ran into Chris Mills, who I had met (far too) briefly at the British Booze-Up the previous year. We really weren't able to talk much, as Chris was on the same track as Jeff, along with Molly Holzschlag. It was great to see them all, but would've been better if I'd had about four tequila shots first.

But perhaps my unexpected sobriety was meant to be, because I finally got to meet Jonathan Snook in person! And I suspect it was the lack of booze that prevented me from repeating last year's fangirl effusiveness and embarrassing myself. Although, I think I embarrassed him, as he reached out to shake my hand, and I made him give me a hug.

I also had a great conversation with Glenda Sims, who I had been introduced to previously, but had never really talked to. I'm glad that changed this year, as we not only have friends in common, but share a similar interest in the use of technology in art (thanks, Glenda, for turning me on to Brendan Dawes).

Last, but certainly not least, I had a chance to reconnect with John Croston. We'd met at last year's Southby and discovered our shared passions for accessibility and good wine. We hadn't been in touch much over the year, although John informed me my "fucktard" tweets kept him entertained daily. John was itching for one of my t-shirts, but I didn't have supplies, so we made arrangements to meet up again later.

Webmaster Jam Session Reunion

After talking with Snook, Glenda and John, I turned around and saw my buddy Andy Stratton, who I had met a few years ago at the Webmaster Jam Session. No more than five minutes later, I saw another WJS cohort, Andy Hite. After introducing them to Jason, the four of us headed upstairs and grabbed a spot on the balcony.

We proceeded to spend the next hour or so catching up, talking music, web, jobs and everything in between. Andy H. had moved to Austin since I first met him, so we got the down-low on the town. Andy S. had gone freelance since I last saw him, so we talked about his transition and what it's like to actually enjoy what you do each day (as opposed to working with fucktards, like I get to do).

Before we parted ways, Jason (who was fast developing a dude-crush on Andy S.) and I made plans to meet up with Andy S. on Sunday to catch a band. And then we headed back to the Omni to catch some Zs.

Of particular note, this was my first night ever at a SXSW conference that I went to bed sober.

Friday, March 12

After waking (hangover-free) from a great night's sleep (the only one I would get for the next seven days), we prepared for the day. I gathered the t-shirts I was going to giveaway and we checked the panel line-up to see when we needed to be at the convention center.

And then I got a text from fellow Albuquerquean and our dear friend Virginia DeBolt. She wanted to meet up before the conference got too underway and we entirely missed our chance for hanging out. So, we headed out after a quick stop at the Omni bar, where I got the only medicine that actually helps my back spasms: tequila. True, it was only just noon, but a gal's gotta do what a gal's gotta do.

Virginia greeted us outside the convention center, decked out in all white like an angel. We headed up to the Day Stage Cafe and grabbed a table. As is always the case, we had a great time talking with Virginia. She is truly one of the most open people I've ever met. Add the geek and Albuquerque factors, and she's just a pleasure to be around.

Beauty in Web Design

As it turned out, Virginia wanted to catch the same session Jason and I planned on, Beauty in Web Design presented by Cennydd Bowles. Thankfully, we got there early enough to get seats. Before the presentation started, I spotted my friend Jason Beaird. I hopped up from my seat, headed over and gave him a big hug. There wasn't any time to chat, as Jason was introducing Cennydd, so we parted and I figured I'd catch up with him later. Sadly, our paths didn't cross again, so I'm glad I at least had a chance to say hi.

Cennydd's presentation was great. It was my first SXSW session that wasn't a panel and, frankly, I think I prefer the one-presenter format over a panel. His presentation was tight, engaging and inspiring. By contrast, sometimes the panel format feels rushed, disorganized and unfocused. But Cennydd's was a great kick-off for me. He discussed beauty and how the web seems to be missing the mark somehow, when compared to the innnovation and evolution of beauty as seen in other fields like architecture. He also defined beauty, explaining the different types: universal, sociocultural and subjective.

Cennydd then went on to discuss that good design relies on reflective beauty; beauty that focuses on meaning and how it enhances our lives. He concluded his presentation with a call–to–action for web designers to seek out this reflective beauty in their work. To strive for more and take inspiration from emotion. Some of my favorite parts of his presentation were his "tour" of art history and emphasis on beauty across all areas of life.

He has posted a three-part recap of his presentation I strongly encourage everyone to check out:

Back to Fádo

After Cennydd's session, Jason and I said farewell to Virginia but made plans to meet up for dinner before the New Riders Author Party later that night. We had a couple of hours to kill before the next panel we wanted to see, so we set off for lunch. As my back spasms were kicking hard, a place with a bar was on our radar.

I love me some beer and fish 'n' chips, so we headed back to our favorite Austin Irish pub, Fádo. And it was just as I remembered, except this time, the place was empty, which is right up my alley.

Black and tan from Fado

Afternoon snack, courtsey of Fádo

We grabbed a spot at the bar, ordered food and a couple black–and–tans and struck up a conversation with a fellow patron who was on his lunch break. Turns out, he was a tech geek working for a hosting company down the street, so the conversation inevitably turned geeky (translation: good).

Unfortunately, Jason started feeling a migraine coming on, so based on alcohol's success with my back spasms, I suggested he order another drink. Flummoxed over what libation might do the trick, we turned to the bartender who schooled us about scotch and Irish whiskey.

Jason and I are both scotch lovers, so we were skeptical when she suggested Jameson Gold as the nectar we were seeking. But leave it to a good bartender to know her stuff, because the Jameson was delicious and Jason's migraine disappeared in record time.

Hilton Happy Hour

By the time we were finished at Fádo, I had lost all desire to see the panel we had planned on checking out, Eight Ways to Deal with Bastards. Frankly, dealing with bastards is part of my "other duties undefined" job description, so I felt confident I already knew all I needed (fuck 'em). So, we headed to Finn & Porter at the Hilton.

And lucky we did, because I spotted my favorite ginger-haired webbie, Grey Storey. I had met him the previous year and he was probably one of the most encouraging and supportive folks I've ever met, especially to someone (me) he barely knew. The guy is not only a legend in the industry, he's a straight-up good guy unhindered by ego (which can be a rarity amongst my "web heroes").

Just as I gave him a hug and introduced him to Jason, I spotted his entourage … some of my absolute favorite guys on the planet: Luke Dorny, Stephen Caver, Ryan Irelan and Mark Bixby. Using my ever gracious manners, I invited Jason and myself to their happy hour outside and proceeded to catch up.

Ryan had just found out that his new book, ExpressionEngine 2.0: A Quickstart Guide, had shipped so he was understandably pleased. As a fellow author, I know the feeling. As far as I know, Ryan's not that into microformats, but I gave him a shirt as a token of congratulations. I also gave a shirt to Luke, who may or may not be into microformats, but loves profanity (which is one of the reasons I love him).

But just as the conversation was flowing, it was time to meet Virginia for a bite to eat before the New Riders party. I barely had time to talk to anyone and, again, assumed I'd see them in the coming days. To my deepest regret, I didn't see Greg again. I just hope when I'm in San Francisco this summer, I'll have a chance to take him out for a coffee, because he really is the nicest of men.

New Riders Author Party

After a nice bite to eat with Virginia at El Sol y La Luna and a detour to the Omni to pick up a warmer top for Virginia, we headed to the Red Eyed Fly for the New Riders Author Party.

Now, if you know me or read my I'm Writing a Book blog series, you might understand how nervous I was about this party. It is no secret that the publishing process for my book was very stressful for me. But what isn't widely known is that my relationship with my editor pretty much fell to crap during the final hours of finishing my book, and it never recovered. There's no need to say more about what happened, but it left me (and I'm sure her) with a bad taste in my mouth and I was nervous about seeing her again.

As Virginia, a wizened author, advised me, I decided that kindness was the only way to go. Let bygones be bygones and accept that we are all human and make mistakes (myself included). So, when I saw Wendy, I gave her a big hug and my anxiety melted away. I can't speak for Wendy, but just letting it go did wonders for my psyche.

Another thing that helped me chip away my residual book-related angst was meeting some of the other New Riders folks, particularly Glen Bisignani and Gary-Paul Prince. Glen and I had communicated prior to SXSW via email regarding some book promotion efforts, and he'd been nothing but accommodating, so it was good to put a face to the gracious emails. Gary-Paul, meanwhile, was just a big ball of personality … the type of personality that is infectious and great to be around. Not to mention, Gary-Paul graciously offered to do an interview with me for Peachpit TV.

But the highlight of the party was seeing Stephanie Sullivan. Stephanie and I had met the year before, but she and I were both drunk and she had no memory of it (me, as the fangirl, of course, burned it into my memory). Over the past year, though, Stephanie and I had been in touch over Twitter and email, and she had become a bit of an advisor to me during the writing of my book. So seeing her in person after all the online communication was beyond awesome, because I've got the biggest girl-geek crush on her.

After the hugs and chit-chat, Stephanie introduced me to Zoe Gillenwater and Denise Jacobs, two other leading ladies of the web whose reputations preceded them and whose presence proved they were cooler than I could've imagined. I only wish I had spent more time talking with them, which seems to be my SXSW theme.

And then to top it all off, Tantek showed up. It was at last year's SXSW, that I met Tantek and he offered to be my technical editor. Over the past year, we both worked tirelessly on my book and then he dove right into his own publication, HTML5 Now, a DVD that just became available for pre-order (buy it now).

You would think we were in touch a lot, but we weren't other than the random IMs and DMs. So it was great to see him in person, and actually talk face–to–face. We, of course, exchanged microformats t-shirts. He is now the proud owner of a fuckin' shirt (the fact he chose the R-rated version just makes him that much cooler in my eyes), and I finally have my own "we do it with class" microformats shirt.

All good things must come to an end, and I was ready to move on. So Jason and I said our goodbyes and headed back to the Omni, so I could drop off the book promotion materials Glen had given me at the party.

Meeting Maria

After a quick freshen-up in our room, Jason and I decided that we needed to go back to The Gingerman. Last year, it was one of our favorite spots and they have the most amazing beer selection. But first, we hit the Omni bar (I told you it was one of my favorites) because I was running low on my tequila reserves.

At the bar, Jason and I struck up a conversation with a gal who turned out to be one of the coolest chicks I've ever met: Maria Diaz.

Maria was taking a break from school and her blogging for bitchbuzz to attend SXSW. From the minute we started talking, I had that instant feeling of connection and camaraderie. So Jason and I invited her to join us at The Gingerman. Being the fun gal she is, she agreed and off we went.

The Gingerman & EE

The Gingerman had moved to a new location since the previous year, and the new digs were nice. But, even better, they still had the same kickass beer selection. While Maria and I tried to make up our minds as to what to drink, Jason began searching for the little boys room. He returned to inform me that a bunch of EE folks were hanging out in the outside beer garden, including Brandon Kelly, who's name I hear all the time from my boss who thinks the guy is the shit and then some.

So I headed out in search of Mr. Kelly and to my absolute pleasure, saw that he was hanging out with the supremely talented and uber friendly Chad Crowell, who I'd met at last year's SXSW and gotten to know more over the past year on Twitter.

But wait! There's more! Also part of the little EE crew were the (in)famous Ryan Masuga and Kenny Meyers. I'd met Kenny a few years ago when he was at Blue Flavor, but I've been following his impressive work even before then. Masuga, on the other had, I'd never met, but he entertains me on an hourly basis via Twitter.

After a round of introductions, the EE guys, Jason, Maria and I settled in for some great conversation and beer drinking. The night flew by and eventually my thoughts (and memories) became of the "I'm so happy right now, but not sure specifically why" variety (thanks, beer). That was my cue to head back to the Omni, so Jason and I left Maria in the very capable hands of Brendan and Chad (who I later found out walked her back to the hotel … such gentlemen).

Saturday, March 13

The next morning, I awoke with the beginnings of what would later turn out to be laryngitis, one of the many faces of SXSARS. But did that stop me? Nope.

In addition to my t-shirt giveaway, I now had free copies of Microformats Made Simple to give away. This wasn't ideal for my still-spasming back, so Jason volunteered to serve as my pack mule and we headed toward the Hampton to meet John Croston, who I'd promised a t-shirt to.

Ink, Pixel, Paper
Jen Strickland gets first copy of Microformats Made Simple

Jen Strickland gets the first giveaway copy of Microformats Made Simple. Lucky gal!

En route, I got a tweet that a gal wanted a copy of my book. We agreed to meet on the Hampton balcony and I'm so glad it happened. The gal turned out to be the very funny, wonderfully frank and slightly off-kilter (just like me) Jen Strickland.

Jen was hanging out with Snook and another lady, who's name I don't recall (which I blame on my hangover). Jason and I pulled up chairs and spent some time chatting about Albuquerque and how awesome it is. Of course, Jen and I talked microformats and it was so nice to hear her excitement about my book and using it to add a little extra sumpin-sumpin to her sites.

It was then time to get John his t-shirt, so I met him in the lobby, handed over the goods and apologized profusely for leaving so soon. But I was itching to get to convention center for a panel.

Jen, too, was going to the same panel, so she joined Jason and I as we walked to the convention center. And the good conversation just continued, as Jen talked about her work and her passion for music. We also shared some "battle stories" about being women in our industry and some of the unpleasantries of it. I felt an immediate kinship and loved how entertaining she was with her words.

The Ten Commandments of User Experience

Apparently, arriving 10 minutes before the session wasn't enough time, because Jen, Jason and I were greeting with a long-ass line to get in to The Ten Commandments of User Experience. As my back spasmed and I got increasingly annoyed about standing in line, my frustration only grew as we learned it was a "one out, one in" line. And not too many folks were heading out.

But there was no way I was going to miss my friend Nick Finck's presentation, so I waited … and waited and waited. Finally, I got a spot, but it meant I missed the first seven commandments.

No worries, as I miss all fucking 10 commandments from the bible without any ill effect. And I still got to see a really great end to the presentation from Nick and Raina Van Cleave.

Raina and Nick talked about how "access" isn't just about what we tend to think of for accessibility (screen readers, keyboard navigation, etc.). Access means working to ensure anyone, using any device, can get to your content … children, mobile users, anyone. They also discussed the importance of planning and not just building or extending in an ad hoc fashion.

As a UX talk, Raina and Nick strongly emphasized the importance of knowing your users and, by extension, your goal (a single, most important goal) for a site. They concluded with one of the most valuable things I've learned during the course of my career (and life): failure is nothing but the gift of learning; don't fear it.

Nick posted the deck from the presentation on Slideshare. Check it out, and stay tuned on his blog for when he updates with the session recording.

CSS3 Design with HTML5

Next on the agenda was the CSS3 Design with HTML5 panel with Stephanie Sullivan, Zoe Gillenwater and Chris Schmitt. Now I already mentioned I prefer the single-presenter format, but this panel was an exception to that. Maybe it was how Stephanie kicked things off, falling off her chair and bouncing back up with the perfect self-deprecating response.

But no, I think the difference is that the panel was really just an hour-long demo of a single site developed with, you guessed it, CSS3 and HTML5: SXSW 2010 Parties. This was a pretty cool experiment with geolocating parties during SXSW, and showing where they are in relation to the person viewing the site. They probably could've done an entire panel on that functionality alone.

Note: According to Stephanie, there are a couple issues with the site, so it isn't functioning properly. She assures me that Chris is working on the fixes and the site will be right–as–rain soon.

The focus, though, was CSS3. Chris did a little introduction on the HTML5 used and mentioned the inclusion of microformats (yay!), and then Stephanie and Zoe walked through the different CSS3 styles. They started with just the basic site, and then one–by–one enabled the various CSS3 properties that added that extra layer of goodness to the site.

I consider myself to be a CSS wiz, and I'm already familiar with much in the CSS3 arsenal. What was really cool, though, about the presentation, was seeing each of the properties in action. And, to be honest, I've not done enough with media queries, and this presentation proved to me that I must get off my ass and start using them.

No recording yet for the panel, but Stephanie, Zoe and Chris posted a nice list of resources they used to get the demo site ready. Check 'em.

Peachpit TV Interview
Microformats Made Simple at New Riders booth

My book at the New Riders booth

Jason and I then headed to the exhibition floor to the New Riders booth, where I was going to do my interview with Gary-Paul for Peachpit TV. I don't know why it didn't occur to me that they were recording audio and video … Let's just say I didn't put too much effort into my appearance that day. Fortunately, the budding laryngitis left me with "sexy voice", so I crossed my fingers that would serve as acceptable compensation.

To be honest, I don't really remember the interview. Gary-Paul asked about my book, microformats, and what I thought of the conference so far. But I don't remember my answers or anything in-between. I'd never been interviewed before, and I think I was more focused on trying not to sound like an ass that I didn't pay attention to what I was saying … guaranteeing I sounded like an ass.

I don't think the interview has been posted yet, which is good. I don't think my ego could take watching it. But it was really great to spend time with Gary-Paul. Of all the Peachpit folks I'd met, he was the most open and engaging.

New Publishing and Web Content

I hadn't planned on catching the New Publishing and Web Content panel, but my friend and comrade–in–microformats, Jeremy Keith was there and desperately wanted a t-shirt. As it turned out, a bunch of folks I wanted to catch up with were attending, so off Jason and I went.

We only caught the last half of the panel, but what I did catch was some really good food–for–thought:

  • Book "ownership" in new publishing remains nebulous. Mandy Brown commented that you don't really "own" it, you pay for access over time. But, with that, you get access things you might not normally.
  • It is also unclear what format is going to work and what format consumers want. Paul Ford suggested the publishers experiment and try various formats to see what works, but they need to do it themselves and not outsource the effort. Brown added that publishers don't seem to want to do this experimentation; that there is a fear of new things.
  • There is a sense among traditional publishers that new publishing means loss of control. Moderator Jeffrey Zeldman commented that despite this sense, editors are still essential. Ford echoed the sentiment, adding that new publishing offer the opportunity to broaden editorial beyond what is traditional.

Not sure if SXSW recorded this panel, as I haven't seen anything posted yet. However, an audience member filmed a little bit you can check out on YouTube. And another audience member posted his notes from the panel.

A Buncha Quick Hellos

After the panel, I had a chance to catch up with Jeremy. Unfortunately, he was seeking the R-rated shirt and I didn't have one in his size. I promised to bring him his desired shirt to Cog'aoke. I also caught up with Chad Crowell and gave him a t-shirt and a copy of my book, both of which he had requested via Twitter.

Developer, songstress and all around cool chica, Lea Alcantara said a quick hello before she ran off to relax her vocal chords before karaoke. And yet another quick hello with my friend Nevin Lyne of EngineHosting (the supremely awesome hosting company which takes care of me and this blog).

Time for a Whitney Fix

Jason and I also ran into our friend Whitney Hess after the panel, which was quite convenient as I had made plans with her to meet for a drink and a chat that evening. So, the three of us headed over to the Hilton.

Whitney and I chatted a bit about my book. She had visited Albuquerque during the summer of '09, when I was deep in the writing process and stressed out of my mind, so it was good to be able to finally have some perspective on it and share that with her.

It is so easy to talk to Whitney. Part of it is her nature: she's open. But another part, for me, is that she's a woman who is working to connect with people and make a difference in this industry, which is a lot of what I'm trying to do. She's got far more experience being in the spotlight than I do and, with that, even more perspective and maturity. So, I naturally shared with her some of my fears and frustrations as I'm trying to get a foothold and push my career in a new direction.

Of course, her input and advice were excellent as always. Whitney has a knack for telling me to grow the fuck up, without actually saying that. Instead, reminding me of my own power and worth and that it is all up to me to pursue what I want. It was just what I needed to hear.

The visit was far too short, but altogether worth it.

Pork porterhouse

Needed sustenance: Pork porterhouse from Ancho's

The main activity on the night's agenda was the karaoke extravaganza Cog'aoke and we wanted to get there early to ensure we got in. Jason and I headed back to the Omni to change and freshen up, at which point we realized we hadn't eaten a single thing all day.

No better reason to hit the Omni's restaurant, Ancho's. And it was excellent. We ordered champagne. I got an amazing pork porterhouse. Jason got an equally amazing steak. Within an hour, we were properly buzzed and sustained.

We pinged Maria, who was also heading to Cog'aoke, and she met us at the restaurant. The three of us grabbed a cab and headed to The Scoot Inn. Once there, Maria went her way, Jason and I went ours.

I immediately ran into Jeff again, who introduced me to his lovely girlfriend, Nobu Buckley. I didn't really get a chance to talk to her much, which remains a huge disappointment. Anyone who has stolen Jeff Croft's heart is a winner in my book.

We wandered over to the corner opposite the entrance (and, of course, near the bar). The rest of the evening is pretty much one big blur of running into folks. We saw Ari and Chris again. I saw Luke again. Ran into Brendan Kelly again. Spent a ton of time with Nevin and two of his colleagues from EngineHosting, Laurie Ruggles and Lisa Wess (more cool chicas). Saw Stephanie and her other half, Greg Rewis.

I did get a chance to give Jeremy his desired R-rated shirt and have a halfway decent conversation with both he and his arguably better half Jessica. I would give anything if these two lived closer to me (or vice versa). Jeremy is the consummate gentleman geek (my favorite kind) and Jessica is funny, charming and a fellow foodie who puts a smile on my face whenever I talk to her.

I also made a new friend at Cog'aoke: Kevin Dees. Kevin was so much fun to talk to and not just because he gets about as geeky as I do about microformats (which earned him one of my t-shirts). This was his first SXSW and he reminded me of myself last year: earnest, excited, overwhelmed (in a good way) and open to meeting new people. Of all the new folks I met this year, Kevin was definitely a highlight.

Not at all embarrassed to admit that I did have a fumbling fangirl moment when I saw Jason Santa Maria and attempted to introduce myself yet again. Quite apropos, as I had the same exact experience as last year's Cog'aoke, when I gushingly told him how awesome he was. I'm guessing me making a good impression on him is just not meant to be.

As the night came to a close, Jason and I ran into Nick Finck and his partner–in–crime Olivia Zinn. The four of us pretty much closed out the joint, which we realized only when we noticed no one else was around, including cabs.

Fortunately, a cab did appear and we headed back to our hotels.

The Biggest Score of the Night: Sausage

Of course, Jason and I weren't quite ready to hit the hay, so we decided we needed to find The Sausage Cart. What is The Sausage Cart? Well, it is the best damn sausage I've ever had. We stumbled across it the previous year and it changed me forever.

We had been keeping our eyes out for it since arriving in Austin, but now, fully fueled by alcohol, we were determined to find it. And around 3am we did.

I learned that The Sausage Cart is actually called The Best Wurst and I learned that my memory was spot-on. Indeed the best sausage ever. Life-changing sausage. Nipple-hardening sausage.

After getting our sausage on, we headed back to the Omni … or, at least, we thought we did. About an hour later when we still hadn't reached our destination and were stumbling around unrecognizable parts of the city, we decided a cab was in our best interests. It was. Because we hopped in, told the driver to head to the Omni, and less than two minutes later he pulled up.

And what a nice guy. Didn't charge us a dime. I guess he cut us a deal due to our helmet specialness.

Sunday, March 14

Jason and I slept in the next morning, which is a real treat. We both have cats who feel it is their duty to make sure we are up no later than 7am every single morning. Plus, Jason's new kitten is a fan of parkour and she hones her skills during the wee hours of the morning.

Jason, nursing a hangover, wanted to chill, but there was a microformats panel I wanted to be sure I caught, so I headed to the convention center while Jason headed to the Omni's rooftop pool and hot tub.

Microformats & Government

Now, government really isn't my thing. I've worked as a contractor for various government agencies and learned the hard way it isn't for me. However, I was interested in how the government was using microformats, so I got over my distaste.

The presentation was much shorter than any other session at SXSW. It was more a quick 15-minute review than anything else and, as much as I hate to say it, it was a huge disappointment to me.

Silona Bonewald was the presenter. And it was obvious she had the best of intentions, especially given such a short period of time to talk about microformats. I'm not sure I could do an effective job in 15 minutes.

That said, in the interest of the greater good, the presentation was pretty bad from my perspective. Why? Because Silona didn't effectively explain what microformats are. Sure, she used the party lines of "designed for humans first, machines second" and "simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards."

But do these party lines actually say anything of practical values? Especially to an audience of government employees who have limited, if any, background in microformats and semantics?

This has always been my main beef with the way the microformats community has traditionally discussed microformats: in high-level, esoteric language that means very little to the people in the trenches doing the work. This includes me and it was one of my greatest frustrations when I first started learning about microformats. And it is why I started my Getting Semantic With Microformats blog series and why I wrote Microformats Made Simple.

Silona tried to demonstrate a couple examples of microformats, but again, her presentation of the information failed in my opinion. I do think this was mostly related to the time. She simply showed an example of hCard, but didn't have time to explain the true beauty of microformats: that it is simply the addition of class values to add meaning to the content.

I love that Silona did the one and only presentation on microformats at this year's SXSW. I love that she is obviously a very friendly, knowledgeable and approachable person. But I'd be remiss if I said that she did a bang-up job. I believe it is imperative for the folks in the microformats community to realize that the only way to spread the word about microformats to the people actually doing the work, is to talk in language they understand. Practical language. Simple language.

Microformats are practical. They are simple. But as long as they are buried with techy language and poor communication of their simplicity and value, we won't get much farther than we are today. And this makes me deeply sad.

It doesn't appear SXSW has posted the recording of her presentation yet, and I can't find her deck online. I did find notes on the presentation one of the attendees posted.

(Not Enough) Time with Tantek

Tantek was also in attendance for Silona's presentation, so I grabbed a spot next to him towards the end. Afterwards, one of the attendees was asking him some questions about using microformats for some sort of Outlook scheduling export. As I listened, it became clear to me that the attendee still didn't quite grasp what microformats are. Tantek was explanining, but it wasn't sinking in. So I gave the guy a 35%-off coupon for my book and encouraged him to buy it to really get his head around microformats. I hope he did, because he seemed genuinely interested in the possibilities.

Tantek then introduced me to Silona, who, as I already mentioned, was super friendly and approachable and sportin' a badass cowboy hat. She definitely gave of the kind of vibe that told me we would hit it off given enough time. But as is always the case at SXSW, there's never enough time.

However, there was just enough time for me to give her a copy of my book. I didn't say anything about my frustrations about the presentation (though I did tweet them), because I felt it would be in bad taste, especially in front of Tantek. But I figured if she read my book, maybe my more simplistic approach would click with her and help her future communication about microformats.

Both Tantek and I wanted to attend Bruce Lawson's HTML5 presentation, so we headed to that Ballroom. At which point, my energy level dropped to zero. So I figured a bit of nosh from the Day Stage Cafe would do me right. I was wrong. I realized the only help for me was some sleep, so I bailed on Tantek (too tired to feel bad about it) and headed back to the Omni for naptime.

Nick's Birthday

Nick had invited Jason and I to join he and his friends in a sushi-style birthday celebration at Uchi, so we joined them for dinner and boy am I glad I did because the company was amazing.

As I've said before (and I'll say it again), Nick and Olivia are such a great couple. The kind of couple that you can tell are meant to be together, but you can also tell they both are strong, independent individuals. It is, in my opinion, the perfect kind of couple. And they have both been good friends to me over the past few years. So spending even more time with them is just a bonus.

But I also had a chance to meet some of the gals from Brain Traffic, which was high on my list of must-dos. I had a very brief chat with the impressive–even–before–she–talks Kristina Halvorson, and a less-brief talk with Julie Vollenwieder who I'd been working with on behalf of my employer recently (and, not to put too fine a point on it, trying to insulate her from the fucktards, so Brain Traffic would still want to work with us). And I also got to know Brain Traffic writer Elizabeth Saloka, who was quiet (this is coming from one of the loudest gals on earth) but fun to talk to.

As a foodie, though, the company was trumped by Uchi's amazing fish. Amazing, I tell ya! I'm pretty sure I was making non-stop happy noises with every bite. And I was trying to get everyone to try the toro and escolar that I was having multiple mouthgasms over. I would move to Austin for this sushi.

Zechs Marquise & RX Bandits

After dinner, Jason and I headed to Emo's to meet Andy Stratton, who had scored tickets for us to see some bands. Once again, it was great to see Andy. And it was awesome to hear the first band, Zechs Marquise, a very psychedelic-sounding jam band that immediately called to mind King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man.

The resulting great conversation Jason, Andy and I had must've been inspired by the great tunes. We talked about quantum physics, volunteerism and community involvement, and a budding idea Andy has for combining social responsibility and technology.

All too soon, I had to head out to the Driskill Hotel to meet up with the Catch MIX If You Can crew, but promised to be back before the headlining band.

A Brief Detour

At the Driskill, I finally got a chance to meet my MIX10 partners–in–crime, Chris Bernard, Cali Lewis and Giovanni Gallucci. There were more of us in the gang, but not everyone could make it that evening. It was a brief introduction, but we worked out the logistics for travel to Vegas and it was nice to put some faces to names.

I had texted Maria earlier to meet me there, so she and I could spend some time together before she headed back home the next day. When she arrived, we headed out to a bar near Emo's. I can't remember what the name was, but it was a pure shithole … and my kinda dive.

We did the typical girl-talk for a while (men, sex, other women), had a few drinks and then said our goodbyes, with promises to stay in touch and meet up for a girl's weekend somewhere (Vegas, baby).

I then hoofed it back to Emo's where RX Bandits had already started. Fucking insane jam band. I hadn't heard such good live music in years, and it was easily the best time I had at this year's Southby.

Closing Out the Night

After the music, the three of us were still all wound up and not even close to ready to call it a night. So we wandered around Austin looking for a suitable spot to hang out. Turns out, none of us had brought our badges, so we couldn't get into most places. Thankfully, the Chuggin' Monkey has its arms open wide for us, so we found a relatively-quiet spot and proceeded to shoot–the–shit until they kicked us out.

Still not ready to finish the night, Jason and I introduced Andy to The Best Wurst. Now, I get a feeling from Andy that he is pretty health conscious. But our constant insistence at the awesomeness of the sausage broke him down and The Best Wurst got another convert.

After that, we took Andy back to our room at the Omni so we could raid the mini bar. And raid it we did, talking non-stop until the wee hours of the morning. Around 3 am, I realized that I was about to make a journey to Vegas in less than 24 hours and still had much to do the next day. So, Andy headed back to his hotel and Jason and I passed out.

Monday, March 15

On my last day of SXSW, I was draggin' much ass and sporting my first major hangover of the conference. There were three panels I was looking forward to. But, unfortunately, sleep called my name and I went back to bed until early afternoon.

Meeting Oliver

I was recently contacted by Oliver Lindberg of .net magazine to write a tutorial on microformats. Oliver was so nice over email, I wanted to be sure we had a chance to meet in person while both of us were at SXSW.

Fortunately, we coordinated our schedules and met at Finn & Porter for a beer and a chat. We talked a bit about the tutorial, which I had discovered earlier in the day was too long. I was so embarrassed, but Oliver was accommodating and suggested we turn it into a two-parter. Bonus!

Oliver and I also chatted about the magazine, and I was surprised to discover what a small staff they have to produce such a quality publication. We also talked about the role of women in the web, which was refreshing to do with a guy. Most often, I'm talking to my fellow ladies about the topic. I was pleased to know someone I already had so much respect for, was interested in knowing my thoughts.

All too soon (I feel like I'm writing that a lot), I had to say goodbye to make sure I made it to the next event on the agenda.

EECI10 Pre-Party

The one and only thing I wanted to do on my final day at Southby was attend the EECI 2010 pre-party at The Libary Bar. So that's where we headed.

And we once again ran into the EE crew we'd hung out with at The Gingerman: Brandon Kelly, Ryan Masuga, Chad Crowell and Kenny Meyers. We also spotted the EngineHosting entourage of Nevin, Laurie and Lisa. I made sure to talk to all of these beloved EE colleagues, but I have to admit that SXSARS was quietly kicking my ass and I don't recall the finer details of our conversations.

I Got Boyinked!

What does stand out for me, though, was meeting Michael Boyink. If you are an EE developer, you know the name. Mike is single-handedly responsible for helping me get over my EE block when I was first learning, thanks to his Train-ee tutorials.

Mike and I had a really great conversation. He wanted to know about my book writing experience, as he was just about to start the rewriting process for his Building an ExpressionEngine Site. I was, in my typical fashion, honest about my experience … the stress, the frustrations, the things I think went wrong. And I directed him to check out my I'm Writing a Book blog series.

Jason then joined in the conversation, which shifted to a discussion of EE certification. Mike was curious if we had any thought about it, which led Jason to mention Adobe's certification program as a potential model to reference.

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

At that point, they announced they were about to do the drawing for the free EECI2010 passes, so I excused myself and anxious waited, crossing my fingers they would call my name. I really wanted to go, but my employer has put the breaks on funding any professional development for the past few years. So my wallet needed all the help it could get.

And low and behold, they called my name! I was a weiner! I swear I have never won anything in my life, so to get this pass to a conference I'm beyond excited to attend is, well, beyond exciting.

Turn & Face

After the huge win, I got a chance to meet Adam Wiggall. I'd spotted his name on Twitter a few times, but didn't really know him, so it was great to change that.

I was so surprised (and flattered) to learn that he was a fan of my microformats work and was a regular to my blog. We had a nice chat and shared some war stories about working with clients and trying to get them to embrace microformats, before I had to beg off so I could make the Microsoft MIX party and begin my Catch MIX If You Can adventure.

Microsoft Party

I was pretty excited to hit the Microsoft Party at Speakeasy, for no reason other than the fact I was on the VIP list. I'm not even a VIP in my own mind, so I was dying to experience the VIP life.

As it turns out, VIP just meant I could drink for free at the upstairs bar and nibble on some free finger-food. Oh well. I'm not one to pass up free beer, so Jason and I camped out at the upstairs bar for a few drinks until we met up with Andy again.

While the three of us were hanging out at Speakeasy, I realized I had less than five hours until my flight. And thus began my internal dialog about going to sleep vs. staying up. Rockstar-style won out, so we continued to party. A few hours later, rockstar-style wasn't feeling so good, so Jason and I bid farewell to Andy (with promises of visits and staying in touch) and headed back towards the Omni.

Wild Sausage Chase

En route, we ran into Stephen Caver and Mark Bixby again, who were helping a very inebriated friend walk. They were looking for food, so Jason and I immediately convinced them to follow us to The Best Wurst. Alas, it was not meant to be. The cart was not there. I felt like crying. And I felt like a douche for dragging Mark and Stephen around with promises of life-changing sausage.

I accepted our defeat, gave farewell hugs to the guys and, once again, turned to the Omni. I had every intention of staying awake. I knew that an hour of sleep would be worse for me than none, but sleep has a funny way of ignoring rationality. When the alarm went off at 3:30 am, zombie Emily awoke and finished packing.

At 4 am, the limo arrived at the Omni. I said goodbye to my love and SXSW and, in full zombie mode, began my trek to MIX10.

Final Thoughts

As was true last year, it was true this year: SXSW, for me, is about the people. While I saw more panels this year, and they were of fine quality, I don't tend to really learn anything I can't learn on my own online. The true value for me is catching up with the people I know and love, and meeting new people.

What I'm most proud of this year, though, was I actually planned to meet people. I made sure to keep texting and DMing until we could firm-up plans. There's no other way to ensure that you will be able to spend time with people.

At the same time, though, I didn't spend nearly enough time with anyone. I realize it isn't really possible, but, still, I wanted more quality time. And I really did miss seeing the folks who didn't make it this year, especially my brother–from–another–mother, Chris Harrison.

And I'm sure I haven't been able to remember all of the people I talked to, so if you fall into the camp, know it's not you, it's me. Combine alcohol with sleep deprivation and then a month-long wait before writing anything down, and just know I'm an ass for forgetting and I do love you.

And then there's the other thing I forgot: pictures. I don't know why I bothered to bring my camera. I didn't use it once, and I only took five photos with my Storm. Same thing happened last year, and I still don't understand why. I take buttloads of pictures during the course of my everyday life, and I normally turn it to 11 when I'm at an event.

Will I be back next year? Yes. I don't fall into that camp of whiners who protest that SXSW is lame and not the same as it was. Grow the fuck up, people. Nothing is ever the same as it was. Embracing what is, is the way to go. And I'm all about that, so you will definitely see me there again.

Apologies for the Delay

While this is my blog and, therefore, it is up to me what and when I post, I feel ridiculously lame for posting my recap almost a month after–the–fact. But it wasn't really my fault. I blame the SXSARS that reared its ugly little head in Austin and then kicked my ass directly and completely once I returned back home.

As I'm writing, I still have a cough. I'm still congested. And that is three weeks after a massive dose of antibiotics and an entire week of sick leave.

All I can say is I'm wearing a body condom for next year's SXSW.

From Southby to MIX

I'm working on the recap for my Catch MIX If You Can adventure now and hope to have it posted in the next week, so stay tuned.

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The Coolest Person I Know

Emily Lewis

Yeah, that would be me: .

I'm a freelance web designer of the standardista variety, which means I get excited about things like valid POSH, microformats and accessibility. I ply my trade from my one-person design studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106 USA.

A Blog Not Limited is my personal blog where I pontificate about web design, web standards, semantics and whatever else strikes my fancy. Head on over to Emily Lewis Design if you'd like to see my work or, even better, hire me.


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