Duck Butter

Sauces 2008

Ooooooo wEEEEE! Made my “annual” pilgrimage at SXSW to Tears of Joy Hot Sauce Shop in Austin (bottom of 6th street, across from Damn Good Tacos). Since I depleted last year’s 8-bottle shipment easily, ramped it up to 10 this time, plus an assortment of mustards (I loves me my mustards) and a bottle of Salt Lick BBQ sauce for good measure. Came home tonight to a big box full of foam peanuts and bubble wrap, which Miles and I dove into just in time for dinner (chicken sandwiches).

First up: Duck Butter. Mmmmm tasty! But too mild. Followed by Bee Sting, a honey-based habanero sauce. Totally different kind of tasty, but still on the mild side (Amy disagreed). I was looking for some real tears of joy, which I finally got with a big dollop of Lottie’s scotch bonnet elixir. Blinding sheet of pain racing up the plane of my face and I’m in heaven.

Music: Rufus Thomas :: The Preacher And The Bear

SXSW 2008 Recap

Howareyou Just before leaving for Austin last week I caught an article that brazenly wondered “Has SXSWi gone mainstream?,” citing the choice of Mark Zuckerberg for one of the keynotes. What happened to the cutting edge? It’s true nothing really ground-breaking came out of this year’s show, but that had absolutely nothing to do with the conference’s usefulness… or fun quotient.

As usual, I took (and posted) loose notes on most of the sessions I attended. And as usual, there are often two or three sessions you want to see all happening at once. If you realize you’ve stumbled into a clinker, it’s a crapshoot whether it’s going to be worth it to stumble out, walk halfway across the convention center and try for seating in another — but you do your best. The Twitter back-channel helped tremendously… getting bits and pieces of other panels whispered in helped alleviate the feeling that you were missing something big.

Twitterrific Icon Yeah, I fell for the Twitter thing big-time this year (I’m “waxwing,” if you care); remains to be seen whether it will be as fun or as useful outside the context of the show. Twitter was everywhere – at times it seemed like you couldn’t glance at a laptop (must have been 85% Mac, for cripes sake) without seeing someone plotting their tweets. I’m not big into SMS, but between trying to hook up with people and following Twitter feeds, I’ve never done so much texting in my life

Zucker Had the inverse privilege of being present at the Mark Zuckerberg train wreck interview … not to be forgotten. Gossip and armchair analysis of the interview dominated conversations for the next 24 hours until we were all just sick of hearing about it.

Cacherock Got four hours of good geocaching in with mandric on the first day, before badge pick-up. Austin is in love with virtual (no physical box) caches for some reason – I think they just love their history. As a way to discover parts of a new city through serendipity, caching can’t be beat (and I think Milan caught the bug too!) Some pretty creative hides. Thanks Austin!

As for panels… where to begin? The Expression Engine 2.0 demo blew our doors off (coming version fully integrates ORM-based framework CodeIgniter). Jason Fried’s 10 Things We’ve Learned at 37 Signals totally inspiring for the 2nd year in a row. Henry Jenkins keynote an intellectual rollercoaster — tough competition with Kathy Sierra’s Tools for Enchantment (walked out of that one reeling). So many incredible data visualization techniques unwrapped in Data as Art (big implications and challenges for journalists). Went to two scaling sessions: Scalability Boot Camp and Scaling Web Ventures – of the two, the 2nd had more real-world tips, both both full of useful goodies. Interesting web pre-history in The Web That Wasn’t. Still feeling ho-hum about Adobe Air. Building Portable Social Networks attempted to address the coming tower of Babel between SNs, but left us with “We’re in for a world of pain.” Speaking of pain, I felt for the Microsoft guy defending MS Sharepoint against Drupal at the CMS Roundup. More here.

Neil Getting too old for the relentless party scene that is SXSW, now more interested in finding quiet places to talk with old co-workers and friends, but managed to squeak in a couple of good parties. Really enjoyed myself at Opera‘s party at Stubbs, where I spent 20 minutes in the bathroom talking with an Opera engineer who was the spitting image of Neil from The Young Ones. Think Opera is dead/irrelevant? Factoid: Opera currently employs more than 500 people – the mobile browser market is huge, and Opera owns it. Also a great party at the Mexican American Cultural Center (gorgeous architecture, and music by Gruppa Phantasma = Santana + War + 2008; break dancing like you never seen. Managed to get by on 5-6 hours of sleep per night, but couldn’t keep up that pace for much longer (despite official advice to NOT try and pace yourself (the “liver hacks” portion of that session were especially interesting).

Finally made my pilgrimage to the Daniel Johnson “Hi, How Are You?” mural at the top of Guadalupe, en route to lunch at Ruby’s – some of the most amazing brisket and ribs I’ve ever eaten, served up by the pound on butcher paper in a ramshackle wood and corrugated tin building that hasn’t been renovated in 70 years (or something like that). Even beat The Salt Lick (but not by much).

Didn’t take as many photos as in years past, but managed to get a Flickr set up. Once again, it takes something like SXSW to lift us out of the .edu miasma and into the new world. Always worthwhile.

Update: Wow – Check out these SXSW Interactive 2008 Sketchnotes. Gorgeous.

Scalable Web Ventures

Loose notes from SXSW 2008 panel Scalable Web Ventures, with:

Chris Lea Media Temple
Joe Stump Lead Architect, Inc
Cal Henderson Badass MC, Flickr
Matt Mullenweg Founding Dev, Automattic/WordPress
Kevin Rose Founder, Diggnation/Digg Inc

This session was about much more than load balancing – scaling orgs in all directions (personnel, technique, communication), but was focused on technical scaling techniques. Amazing to see how some of the internet’s most popular properties have faced the problem in completely different ways, and how all of them basically learned by doing. You can throw, money, software, hardware, or brains at the problem, in various combinations… and these orgs have tried everything. Juicy stuff.
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CMS Roundup

Loose notes from SXSW 2008 panel Content Management System Roundup, with:

George DeMet Owner,
Jeff Eaton Lullabot
Tiffany Farriss Pres,
Mike Essl Owner Operator,
Matthew McDermott Principal Consultant, Catapult Systems

The perennial question on every web dev mailing list: What CMS should I choose? Expression Engine made a huge splash at this year’s SXSW, but the Drupalites were out in force as well. This panel basically boiled down to MS Sharepoint (missed this, but not interested), EE, Drupal, and observations on a smattering of other systems. In a software category that offers around 600 choices, it’s impossible ever to represent the whole picture with anything approaching accuracy, but the conversation was still useful.

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Building Portable Social Networks

Loose notes from SXSW 2008 session Building Portable Social Networks with:

Jeremy Keith Clearleft Ltd
Chris Messina CEO, Citizen Agency
Leslie Chicoine Experience Designer, Get Satisfaction
Joseph Smarr Chief Platform Architect, Plaxo Inc
David Recordon Open Platforms Tech Lead, Six Apart Ltd

This topic has been fresh on our minds at the Berkeley J-School in our work providing guidance to news publications who are trying to focus more on community, and wondering whether to just tap into Facebook, use Ning, or create their own. The public is rapidly approaching SN overload. Are people really willing to create yet another SN profile? Will they able to re-engage their existing networks of friends? What about all of the data they’ve already stored in their existing SNs? Will BuddyPress help? OpenSocial? SocialThing? What are the technical and privacy issues we’re facing here? Is this problem solvable, or are we erecting a tower of babel?

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Adobe Air

Loose notes from SXSW 2008 panel on Adobe Air, Taking it to the Desktop.

In October 2006, I attended an Adobe focus group for what was then code-named Apollo, which promised to let us easily create desktop software out of HTML + JavaScript + Flash web apps. Fascinating technology, but I had a hard time wrapping my mind around its potential. With software in general moving towards the web, who out there wants to move things the other direction? I thought the biggest market would be on cell phones. Now, 18 months later, Apollo has become AIR and the software has become more polished. But the strategy is still the same, and I’m still at a loss to come up with a compelling business case for the product.

Anyway, this session helped put a few more of the pieces together mentally. Still not convinced it’s going to become a big hit though.

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The Web That Wasn’t

Loose notes from SXSW 2008 session
The Web That Wasn’t with Alex Wright Information Architect, The New York Times.

For most of us who work on the Internet, the Web is all we have ever really known. It’s almost impossible to imagine a world without browsers, URLs and HTTP. But in the years leading up to Tim Berners-Lee’s world-changing invention, a few visionary information scientists were exploring alternative hypertext systems that often bore little resemblance to the Web as we know it today. In this presentation, author and information architect Alex Wright will explore the heritage of these almost-forgotten systems in search of promising ideas left by the historical wayside. The presentation will focus on the pioneering work of Paul Otlet, Vannevar Bush, and Doug Engelbart, forebears of the 1960s and 1970s like Ted Nelson, Andries van Dam, and the Xerox PARC team, and more recent forays like Brown’s Intermedia system. We’ll trace the heritage of these systems and the solutions they suggest to present day Web quandaries, in hopes of finding clues to the future in our recent technological past.

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Scalability Boot Camp

Loose notes from SXSW 2008 session “Scalability Boot Camp” with:

Blaine Cook Architect, Twitter Inc
Jakob Heuser Architect, Gaia Interactive
Alan Kasindorf MySQL DBA, SixApart
Sandy Jen Co-founder, Meebo
Kerry Miller Writer,

Good tips from diverse perspectives. Everyone on the panel admitted to having made huge scaling mistakes in the past, and to having learned critical lessons from real-world usage patterns.

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Data as Art: Musical, Visual Web APIs

Loose notes from SXSW 2008 session “Data as Art: Musical, Visual Web APIs” with:

Peter Kirn cdm: Create Digital Media
Joy Mountford VP Design Innovation,

Amazing data visualization demos. This field is going to become increasingly important to journalists looking for new and compelling ways to tell stories online that go way beyond shovelware. The tools need to get easier, but they’re getting there. These notes can’t begin to convey how impressive the interfaces we’re starting to see are becoming.
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Tools for Enchantment: 20 Ways to Woo Users

Homonculous tbLoose notes from SXSW 2008 session “Tools for Enchantment: 20 Ways to Woo Users” with Kathy Sierra, CreatingPassionateUsers.

This has so far been by far the most intellectually stimulating / inspiring session of the show. Sierra has a way of turning on your brain by talking about the brain, and running far afield from the usual web talk while still bringing it all back home to make it relevant. Awesome session.

Neurogenesis – Animals in cages have inhibited brain growth. An enhanced environment allows the brain to flourish. Corrollary: A cubicle environment inhibits brain development.

In studies of people who are really good at something: It’s not about natural talent (for the thing they’re doing) but more about having a talent for practicing. Ability to practice is what makes people good at things (could be anything). This is both encouraging and depressing. But you CAN change your brain in profound ways if you just put in the time.
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