SXSW Day 1: Toy Soldiers

First posted on Techblog 

(Liveblogging from SXSW Interactive conference in Austin. See previous posts)
SXSW Interactive has begun. Lots of geeks armed with laptops, blackberries, mp3 players and bottles of water are scurrying past the videographers (at the SXSW Film Conference next door). On one bathroom break, I noticed 5 men standing before the urinal, all with laptop cases hanging over their backs. Have you heard of the pack men wear to simulate the experience of being pregnant? Women, take note: look at how carefully men cradle their laptop. Laptops are their babies.

Actually, everybody is loaded with battery packs, recorders, notepads, freebie stuff. I feel like a soldier ready for battle. (See an annotated picture of my gear) . Student volunteers are everywhere standing around, earning time which they can use for the Music Festival. Several tables are covered with toy soldiers, legos and barbies to play with during the break.
The first panel is about podcasting and ways to make it profitable. Each panelist was a sound professional and had brought their own microphones (and were consciously speaking to their hypothetical podcast audience). Amazingly, all the different sound systems and mikes were causing a lot of noise and interference on the PA system. One audience member asked about product placement; didn’t having corporate sponsors on their podcast compromise their independence? “I’m all for corporate sponsors,” one podcaster said, “and I just want to say that Evian water is one of my favorite brands of water. And Walmart is a really really great store.”
There’s a special press room, beside the panel rooms, guarded by a volunteer UT student.
“Can I go there?” I ask.
“Are you press?”
“Well, sort of…”
“Where’s your press badge?”
“Gosh, you need a badge?”
“Sorry….” she says, while I try to peer over her shoulder to see what’s inside. Were the occupants inside sipping champagne and having their shoes shined?
For lunch, I stumbled into a room where several poets were performing slam poetry to blues music. They were great, and afterwards, I talked a bit to them. They were promoting a movie they starred in showing at SXSW Film Festival.
“So, have you been doing poetry slams for a while?”
They both looked at me in amazement. “Anis recently won the national championship. He’s the most famous slam poet in the country.” (here’s a random poetry audio file I found through googling).
On the way to the next panel, I made small talk with a filmmaker in search of Starbuck’s coffee. I point her in the right direction and ask her what she’s here for.
“I worked on a film called ‘Oh in Ohio.’ It’s about a woman who can’t have an orgasm.”