Occupy Cheatham Street

Occupy Cheatham Street

 

It’s a sunny afternoon in San Marcos, Texas. The air is full of smoke and music as the area around Cheatham Street  has been transformed into the Occupy Cheatham Street Movement. The Occupy Movement started on Monday, April 27, and is continuing until Saturday. At night, there’s music in the bar. By day, there’s music outside of it–specifically in a parking lot next to the Woodshed (a small recording studio) that has been transformed into something called “Fort Badass.”

The tour bus of Todd Snider is parked on the side of Cheatham street, adding a particularly dramatic ambiance to the events. He is filming a documentary during the Occupy week. There is a ragtag group of grungy musicians with guitars, violins, harmonicas, and other methods of expression gathered here in fellowship and protest.

 

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Just what are they protesting? Ryan Seiler, local musician, has written an anthem to explain. The lyrics are scrawled in sharpie across five brown paper bags. The song says “peace love and anarchy/right here in the USA/ if all of ya’ll would just be cool.”  As he starts to sing, several others that have gathered in the circle join in and it becomes clear that this ain’t the first time they’ve sung this song here.

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Cheatham Street is a self-described “honky-tonk” nested in the heart of the Texas hill country.  The town is San Marcos–described by some as a town that reminds them of what Austin used to be. It’s a college town, by some definitions. Texas State University looms on one of the highest hills and approximately 35,000 students that attend..

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Cheatham Street is located on Cheatham Street. It’s right by the Greyhound station and several blocks away from the “Square” that sometimes serves as playground for the college undergrads. The bar is right by the train tracks. Thin walls shake when the train wooshes past. Musicians you have and haven’t heard of  come out and play a few songs in the small room to a comparatively gentle audience.

The walls are covered with pictures and memorabilia documenting the history of the place, as well as the requisite assortment of light-up beer signs and things shaped like Texas.  There’s a longhorn skull hanging on a post near the entrance. The bar’s on the left and it provides a clear view of the stage. George Strait and Ace in the Hole are known to have gotten their start at this venue. Terri Hendrix, Townes Van Zandt, Randy Rogers Band, James McMurty and many others have played at Cheatham Street.

Many of these famous folks that started here came for the Songwriter’s night. Kent Finlay, owner of Cheatham Street, was a singer and a songwriter. Cheatham Street grew out of his passion for music and songs. Kent Finlay’s Wednesday songwriter night provides budding talent with an opportunity to take the stage and play the songs they wrote. All you have to do is sign your name on the list and be respectful to the other musicians. It’s a listening night.

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On Wednesday nights, Kent Finlay oversaw the songwriters night. He was usually found sitting near the stage on the left side of the room. His iconic hat and red bandana added a strong gravitas to his presence. He would occasionally nod approvingly but was fully willing to call people out if they were not respecting the spirit of the night. Sometimes he stood up to remind people that it is a listening night.

The Wednesday that fell during the Occupy Cheatham Street Movement was no exception.  The room is unusually crowded, but the people are quiet. Sterling Finlay, Kent’s son, also a musician, makes introductions and reminds the crowd that it is a listening night.  Halley Anna Finlay, another musician, and descendant of Kent, is also here to play some songs.

During the introductory period, there is a guest appearance by San Marcos Mayor Daniel Guerrero, who was allegedly “kidnapped” by the Occupy Cheatham Street movement. Apparently, he was pronounced “cool” and released back into his environment. He speaks fondly of the venue and the influence that Kent Finlay had on the musical community.

Todd Snider and Terri Hendrix take the stage to play a few songs. Both prelude their songs with brief descriptions of the effect that Kent Finlay had on their lives as artists. This remains a pattern of the night. As musicians take the stage, many take a moment to express gratitude to Kent Finlay for his contributions and influence. Included among them are songwriter night veterans Victor Holk and Missoula Slim, who have been intermittently occupying Cheatham all week. The night concludes with Sterling Finlay singing “They Call it the Hill Country.”  The song is a fond ballad calling for the preservation of the hill country and is the traditional tune that Kent Finlay always used to close songwriter’s night.

 

The Occupation of Cheatham Street continues. It’s been on since Monday and each day the movement grows. The growth is measured in the addition of various items of furniture to the rather large tent-like structure fondly named Fort Badass. On the sunny afternoons, musicians wake and start to gather beneath the shade of Fort Badass.

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Various signs surround Fort Badass. They are slogans generally relating to the theme of the protest the “be cool” movement. Beneath the tent is a table with various snacks and drinks. Coolers of beer are plenty and there is a particular smoke in the air.

In the middle of the tent, there is a circle of chairs and a couch. This is where people gather and play their songs. Some follow in the tradition of the songwriters night, taking their turn to play and to sing.  At various times, a group of musicians will stand up at play to the small crowd that has gathered.

The musicians are a mellow lot. They encourage each other in their musical endeavors and speak appreciatively of the songs that are played. When the unofficial official anthem is played people join in right around the chorus declare that everybody should just “be cool.”  And they are all pretty cool.

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Things are happening all week. A steady stream of people are filtering in and out as the hours pass.  There is talk of moving a small piano out to Fort Badass, so that a more proper rendition of “Seven Spanish Angels” might be played. A keyboard serves as a substitute.  People are wandering around with nonsensical picket signs. Caitlyn Holk is silk-screening shirts with the unofficial official logo. There is a rather ornery pig.  As evening draws near, a longhorn steer is brought out to graze placidly beside the street.

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Every night there are concerts with an assortment of musicians. The final concert is on a Saturday night after a particularly long day of music and mellowness. Todd Snider takes the stage and plays his heart out with a variety of signature songs celebrating the lifestyle and culture that he represents. He sings songs that range from the more than slightly political to ballads to a little tune called Beer Run.

Throughout the night, a continual theme is appreciation of this particular place. He expresses a gratitude for Cheatham Street and everything that has happened this week and the people who made it possible. Throughout this week, people came from near and far to protest nothing and appreciate everything. They sang stories and told songs. They were cool. Todd Snider describes the Occupation of Cheatham Street as a success.

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McDonald’s at SXSW 2016

McDonald’s 2016

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I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it just a little

McDonald’s is back at SXSW 2016 with a music venue and free food

McDonald’s showed up as an unexpected presence at SXSW last year. They were one of the main sponsors last year, with a large pop up venue that included live music, free food and swag.

This year McDonald’s is back and they have expanded their presence. They have a lounge for badge-holders in the Convention Center where many of the SXSW sessions take place. It’s oddly classy. There are flavored waters, flat screen TVs, chairs, and Wi-Fi. Quiet people in somewhat serious clothing are sitting and working on whatever it is they work on.

The big deal event here is the McDonald’s venue at SXSW. It’s right next to the Convention Center on Red River Street. The venue is called “Textile” and includes an outdoor patio area. The smell of burgers and fries emanates from blocks away.

There is a line that varies depending on the time of day. During the day, “guest pass” (a free pass available to the general public) holder can stand in line and be admitted as capacity allows. It’s a popular place to be. At night, it’s badges only, in general.

Walking in from the bright Texas sun requires a few moments of adjustment. Once the eyes adjust a carefully-curated world is revealed. Like many companies this year, McDonald’s has a VR station available.  People can paint in virtual reality and have a picture taken that shows them and their creation. It’s probably better to do this station before eating or drinking.

Eating and drinking are also popular activities at the McDonald’s venue. There is a soft serve ice cream sundae bar. The ice cream is served in a tall plastic cup, generously filled with the ever-so-familiar McDonald’s vanilla soft serve. Various candies, cookies, M&M’s, Oreos, and all the standards are there to hit your sweet tooth right in every weak spot.

McDonald’s has also brought the McDonald’s classic fare. There is a food truck setup where guests can request whatever their fearful heart desires. Within reason. There is a designated menu. At this moment it consists of:

Egg McMuffin

McDouble Sandwich

Jalepeno McDouble

 

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Dude is waving at my camera. He was cool.

There is a second window where guests can pickup fries, Cutie brand oranges and tiny bags of apple slices. Because McDonald’s cares about your health.

A couple of people are walking around in uniforms carrying trays of fries and condiments, like the cigarette girls of old. They are ready with that second helping of fries, should you need it.

There is also a bar with free drinks. Pretty par for the course at SXSW, but this means that McDonald’s is rising to the expected level of extravagance. They have also decided to pay their musicians this year, minus the drama that surrounded last year’s “to pay or not to pay” dilemma. They even took it to the next level by having a table setup and dedicated to HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians) a charity that helps musicians get health care.

The stage is in the outdoor side of the venue. The area is entirely covered in a tent-like structure. There are wooden picnic tables so that people can sit down to enjoy their free food and music. There are tables to stand by, for those that want to be close to the music.  The audience is engages in a range of appreciative behaviors ranging from selfies to slight dancing movements.

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Enter a caption

The bands are pretty good. Solid setup, decent sound. And they seem pretty happy to be there. Brief discussions with a couple of musicians reveal that some of them were surprised to find themselves playing the McDonald’s venue, but are pleasantly surprised by the legit setup.  Some of them were also surprised to learn that they would be paid.

There’s nothing to say about the food. Most people know what McDonald’s tastes like. That’s the whole point of McDonald’s. But there is something here. It’s sitting down with a nostalgically familiar flavor, listening to a couple new songs.

SXSW is all about walking miles a day. That leaves you hungry. This dose of hangover soaking fast food hits a particular craving that sneaks in at this sort of place.  It just might be the right snack for this particular moment in time.  No doubt that McDonald’s has effectively marketed to a demographic.

 

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McDonald’s at SXSW 2015

McDonalds comes to SXSW 2015 and there’s drama

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Ronald is waiting for you

SXSW has an unexpected new sponsor. McDonald’s. The familiar golden arches traipse across each of the SXSW banners. There are mixed opinions on the matter. Nevertheless, their distinctive scent permeates the air around the Convention Center. This is because McDonald’s has set up right behind the Convention Center

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Oddly beautiful lighting inside the McDonald’s tent

The venue is a parking lot, behind the Convention Center, and next to the “official” Convention Center parking garage. It’s right off of I35 and just asking to invite riff raff. Riff Raff being non-badge holders. This seems to be a badge only event. There might be open hours.

Inside the tent, the smell of McDonald’s permeates the senses, as well it should. To the left there is a food trunk serving burgers, fries, and coffee depending on the time of day. There are a few other rotating surprises. The staff seems reasonably cheery to be here.

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Free food

There is a band on the stage. This is the part of the setup that became a magnet for drama.

Indie band Ex Cops went Facebook public with the knowledge that McDonald’s wasn’t paying their acts.

McDonald’s reps said that other people weren’t paying their acts either so why just hate on them. This might not have been the most diplomatic response.

The drama bloomed and became a mildly-popular topic of discussion around SXSW. It was the perfect storm. People are constantly looking for ways to say that SXSW sold out and doesn’t care about the music anymore. A mega-corporation becoming a main sponsor then refusing to pay musicians was the gasoline needed to make this trashcan fire burn.

Initially, reps from McD’s dismissed it with a condescending hashtag “#slownewsday.”

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Ronald sees you. Run. 

This probably wasn’t the best way to deal with issue of a giant corporation not allocating a budget to pay their performers. Especially not at a festival that is supposed to promote up and coming musicians. Corporations might be people, but they aren’t necessarily the people that get away with saying snarky things like that. Those people have moustaches.

McDonald’s relented. They made the statement that they would be paying their musicians.

. Some people are still complaining, because why should McDonald’s be held to a higher standard when other brands are still getting away with not paying artists. Some people like to complain.

The current band seems happy enough to be here. They are a young group from New York. A few people are listening to their show, but the crowd isn’t huge. The daytime shows are usually smaller. Presumably the bands more likely to bring in a crowd are reserved for a later time.

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Ambient lighting

Then the swag arrives. There is a table by the entrance. One of the employees comes out with a boxful of McDonald’s T Shirts, tote bags, and Buttons. These are the original, official, promotional items. The T Shirts are a cheap, but hearty material, with mildly amusing slogans. One is a picture that equates happiness to the presence of French Fries. They are everything you want at SXSW.

At night the activation really comes to life. Dangling lights lend an eerie sort of beauty, further separating this space from the outside world. There is a statue of Ronald McDonald, and his eyes are shining in the blue light. The statue is taking a “selfie.” People are encouraged to take a selfie with him.

Many people are standing in line to take a selfie with Ronald. They are milling about, munching warm, golden, French Fries. Through the duration of this activation at SXSW, people who look like the poster children of “Austin hipster” are walking around carrying various food items branded boldly with the iconic “Golden Arches” Never before, have so many people in downtown Austin been seen carrying McDonald’s.

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SXSW summarized

 

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Deloitte Digital and Robert DeLong at SXSW 2016

Deloitte Digital

Interactive music with Deloitte Digital and performance by Robert DeLong

 

Deloitte ” provides industry-leading audit, consulting, tax, and advisory services to many of the world’s most admired brands,” according to their website.

This year they are at SXSW doing slightly-weird, attention-seeking ,things like all the other cool companies here.  In 2014, they were set up just outside the trade show, with 3D printers printing scanned busts of their employees. They also printed tiny little turrets of absurd detail. It was successful at getting attention.

This year, Deloitte has kicked it up a notch. They rented out the Palm Door, a popular venue on dirty 6th, and made it a technology party. They have brought the ARC, an interactive musical experience. Guests walk into the bar, cross the room, and enter a wondrous alcove of musical interaction.

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The official haircut of SXSW

The ARC is a musical composition in perpetual flux at the whim and will of its admiring audience. It’s a mysterious form, a round table embedded with tactile, kinetic, shapes.  It is the main light in this room. There is a sphere that rotates and other objects that light up when they are touched. Interaction with the objects changes the rhythm and sounds that are playing in the room.

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Oddly addictive activity

The audience becomes the composer as they start to figure out which button does what. It becomes collaborative as people ask each other what they have learned so far. They discuss patterns and strategy. They gaze intently at each other, faces lit with the glow of a musical table.

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The lights draw us in like moths

The ARC uses an algorithm to make a song that will evolve and change on its own. The audience also influences this algorithm, as they are joyfully discovering at this particular moment. They look up and smile as they discover the meanings of their movements. They are at the center of this music and they are all too aware of it.

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Collaborative sounds

Deloitte is also bringing musical performance to their venue. One particularly-apt choice was the inclusion of electronic artist, Robert DeLong. His electronic, EDM-influenced, tunes explore themes of humanity and consumerism in a technological age. These upbeat, danceable, tunes  accompanied by lights and visual experiences, are well-suited for this environment.

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Robert DeLong

DeLong’s work uses innovative, interactive, technology, in a concept that could relate to the ARC. He’s known to use Wii remotes that adjust elements of his sound as he performs on stage. It’s electronic tools meeting organic performance.

Deloitte’s event succeeded in highlighting the interaction between humans and the technology they use. People played with cool toys and they made sounds. It was interactive. It was SXSW Interactive.

 

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Angry Scotsmen at the Hype Hotel

The Hype Hotel is open and some Scottish dudes are angry

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Magnificent tower of marketing power

 

It’s Saturday night at the Hype Hotel on the last day of SXSW. A whiny guy in a Plexiglas box has started to sing but the Scotsman is still angry. He’s gonna stay that way. But he has good reason.

The Hype Hotel is a staple of the SXSW experience. This year it’s at the fashionable new-ish venue called “Fair Market.” Fair Market is a warehouse venue on the East Side in a neighborhood where lately upscale markets, tech start-ups, and cat cafes have been emerging from the cracked sidewalks. It’s very in right now, probably.

The Hype Hotel is sort-of open to the public. There was an RSVP, done online, and pick up your wristband. So like many things at SXSW, capacity determines whether you get in. But, being a few blocks from the main SXSW downtown activities, it’s not as crowded as it could be.

Guests in the GA line are given a couple drink tickets. A raucous crowd is dancing to a band and a lightshow. It’s a good setup here. Nice venue.

The lines are long for mixed drinks. Outside is a grassy fenced in area. Many people are smoking out here. Smoking is still very cool apparently. They huddle in crowds and fight the wind to light the brand of cigarette they feel most affiliated with.

Crowds like this do have a tendency to inspire conversation. People bum a cig and join a discussion of geopolitics in an ever-connected era. Politely are discussing the political state of host-country America on a terrifyingly-amplified world stage. Smoking brings people together.

There is a small beach in the corner. Sandals wine is here and right on brand. Their breezy beachy brand message is reinforced with a set of lawn chairs and a make-your-own flip flops booth (sometimes awkwardly referred to as “thongs”). The key to the free flip flops is sharing images through social media. An excellent gift for those who are paranoid about the shower sanitation in whatever hotel/hostel/craigslist posting you are staying at.

Drink tickets can also be used on Sandals wine. Their line is much shorter.

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Sandals Wine setup included sand

There is a band in a box. The main stage is inside, but in this outdoor area, a Plexiglas box has been set up with all the necessary equipment for a small, contained performance. A band is currently setting up to play.

Some Scottish people are here as well. They are milling about with their mixed drinks and reminiscing on their SXSW experiences. They are mostly finished with their SXSW music experience, and a pretty happy with the shows they put on or were part of. They are not happy the show that is happening now.

The man in the box started on a bad note. For some inexplicable reason, he chose to precede his performance with a rant about how much he hates this city and the people here.  He could be joking, a dry humor, but there are no real indicators of that. It’s all rather left field really.

The Scots do not take kindly to this unkindness. They talk about how this city “has been nothing but nice” and how you can dislike a government or policies but you can’t just go and hate a people. Especially when you are a guest. Their language is much more charming than this.

The music is astonishingly mediocre. Continual references to “the blood in his veins” or whatever. Some songs about waking up and drinking, but the tone is all sad and slow. Like the juxtaposition of party lifestyle and slow song is supposed to imply deepness.

It’s like, if you’re gonna roll hard and swagger like that, right from the get go, you got to be good, or funny, or better than this guy, at least.  There may be some way to pull of the whole “I hate you all, but I want you to be sensitive to my sensitive music fully of my personal feelings.” If there is, he didn’t pull it off.

There is talk of a rebellion. The Scottish band says they could do a better job than this fellow. Under the flag of the Hype Hotel we must rise up and stamp out this mediocrity. If ever a man “needed a kicking” it was this man.

So the (short) set is spent complaining about this dude. Creative phrasings for how to deal with his rudeness and lameness. All dry wit, followed by base insults. Creative gestures from these Scottish jesters. Using up the last of the drink tickets. The sky is clear for now, but rain is coming. Perhaps the rains gods have come to render judgment. But that will be later.

The set ends and the dude takes time to, once again, state that he  hates this city and the people here. The crowd isn’t paying much attention. Most people are inside listening to the other band, who doubtless has a better attitude.

But the Scots are listening. They hear him. They will meet with him again they say, some day, in some other place. They will teach him the importance of being civil. They phrase this much more directly.

It’s a good night though. A delightful evening standing in the grass with strangers talking politics and laughing at a rude man in a plastic box. Free drinks. The Hype Hotel lives up to it.

 

 

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Dramatic Rain at SXSW 2016

“The rain gods have spoken. Your band sucks.” -an unknown prophet

 

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StubHub is psychic

 

It’s Friday during the music section of SXSW.  People are here to party. Dirty 6th is in full rush hour with people at a standstill, waiting on the crowd to move forward. But it won’t. They are all stuck there forever. And ever.

Then the rumors start. The rain. The rain is coming. It’s the end of the world as we know it. We are not fine.

In Texas, there isn’t much rain. When there is rain, it does have a tendency turn into immediate thunderstorms with added flash flooding. But that’s not the worst. The drivers are the worst. People here are unfamiliar with how to drive in rain. They have yet to fully comprehend that speeding up won’t make your car into a boat.

Therefore, any announcement of rain can lead to chaos. In the case, there are added predictions of hail. People are told to see shelter in the Convention Center. Stub Hub is handing out Ponchos in the streets by their concert venue on Rainy. Branded ponchos are some next level advertising. Positive brand associations. Somebody on the marketing team really planned for all circumstances, or is a psychic.

Then begins a mass migration. Every car is headed out of town all at once.  Drunkenly they stumble to vehicles and onto the roads to weave their way home. Soon the sound of sirens follow. Because a bunch of possibly inebriated people leaving town all at once during a thunderstorm was never a bright idea.

Between the sirens and the thunder the air has a certain vibrancy. The people that remain are just a little brighter. They are the adventurers. They are the once who came to dance in the mud. Or they are the ones too drunk to remember where their car was. Regardless they stand in the streets together.

The storm rolls on. People seek refuge. They cover their heads with pieces of paper. They check their phones. They go to whatever venue is closest and are forced to appreciate whatever music is there.

The McDonalds house is closed. No food there. The music must cease, at least until the weather forecast turns better. Whoever was supposed to play there must feel a particular shame. Because the rain gods have spoken. And their band sucks.

Eventually the storm passes. There was never any hail. Texans sometimes overreact to rain.

 

 

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Mr. Robot at SXSW 2016

A SXSW carnival in downtown Austin from television series Mr. Robot

 

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The carnival is fun, the sociopolitical comedy is serious, the T-shirts are free

 

The Ferris Wheel looms in the heart of downtown Austin. The festive glow of a parking-lot carnival adds a unique ambiance to the crowded streets.  A grinning mask looms over it all with a sign that says “Mr. Robot.”

Mr. Robot is a television show. It’s about a mentally unstable man who looks behind the curtain of society to see that corporations control us all. He fights the power with technology, hacking skills, and the help of other people that may or may not exist.  The important thing is the continued revelation that corporations are corrupted and all powerful must be defied. The show made its world premiere at SXSW 2015

SXSW is a crazy mess of corporate showmanship. A beautiful collision of capitalism and performance art (brought to you by our modern Medici’s according to several of last year’s SXSW panels.) Things that sound like silly exaggerated jokes take place in the streets of this moderate metro area.

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This is usually just a parking lot

In this particular case, there is a carnival. The network has constructed a grand carnival to promote this television show. It’s a grand spectacle. Today, it is open to the public. Later the gates will be closed to all those not in possession of badges.

It’s a “Coney Island Carnival Experience.” This is a reference to the “Fun Society” arcade that was central to the plot of season one. The arcade was a hub where the hackers gather to make and implement their strategies of setting the world to right.

Before the advent of the Atari and home gaming systems, places like arcades could allow tech enthusiasts the opportunity to play with the sort games they didn’t own. Anybody with a quarter could walk to the cutting edge of gaming in these techno-social gathering places. Setting the “F Society” revolution at such a gathering place seems like a very logical choice. Setting this carnival/arcade experience at SXSW and making it open to the public is an equally appropriate decision.

Later in the season, the hackers throw an “End of the World Party” so the general public can come in and cover their fingerprints. On Saturday, March 12, the SXSW “Mr. Robot” carnival is having its own party. From 7-9, the gates close to the general public, and this event will transform into an “End of the World” party, complete with pseudo-homemade posters taped to buildings.

The event is very well-attended. There are games to play, masks to wear, and silk screened shirts. The masks mimic a mask shown in the TV show, a figure that represents their hacker revolution. It bears a strong resemblance to the Monopoly man, presumably intentional.

People carry the masks for a while and take some selfies. Then they get bored and toss them away.

The line for T Shirts is very long. Rumors say it’s been taking hours.  People politely stand in this very long line so that they can get one of these limited edition “F Society” shirts. There are other designs as well, but the “F Society” message seems to resonate.

Any event that is open to the public in this area usually draws a decent handful of homeless residents willing to stand in line for whatever is free and always in the know about what happens in their backyard.   As a result, homeless people of Austin now have “F Society” shirts made possible through corporations and viewers like you.

The “Mr. Robot” Ferris Wheel, with its grinning emblem, looms over us all. It’s 100 feet tall and can be seen from blocks away. After the sun sets, this sparkling wheel will lend a particularly eerie light to some of the foggier nights this SXSW.   It’s beautiful and strange.

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The carnival at night

 

 

 

 

 

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Containment at SXSW 2016

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This event at SXSW Interactive promotes the CW’s Containment with a dramatic presentation and free alcohol

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Spray paint so you know to be afraid

 

The people in the box are writhing on hospital cots. Bloody handprints are streaked across the glass that separate them from the crowd.  The clock has stopped. People in hazmat suits are roaming around looking for the infected. People in lab coats are working on the cure.  A man stands guard at the ” cordon sanitaire,” the barrier that separates this scene from the rest of the bar.

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This is for real

It’s all a performance. This is an event to promote the CW’s new show Containment. Based on the Belgian series Cordon, Containment is a miniseries event about a virus that enters Atlanta, forcing the area to be put under quarantine by federal authorities. The show premieres on April 19, 2016.

This is the middle of SXSW Interactive, and extravagant promotional events are to be expected here. This particular event is happening on Rainy Street, a yuppie-cool street made of bars that used to be houses. The CW has transformed a part of Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden into this promotional event.

There is a man standing guard at the gate. His face  stays stuck in a glare that remains even when he is posing for pictures with the amused guests. Standing behind the guard, is the man keeping count of capacity. He makes the actual decisions around here.

People in lab coats are roaming around. They offer “the cure” in the form of syringe-shaped shots. They dispense the shots into the mouths of willing participants and declare them cured. Over at the bar/lab there are more “cures.” A fruity-but -mellow mixed punch drink is served by the glass and declared to have curative properties. Reviews say the cure is quite tasty. Screens behind the bar show a PSA from CW’s Containment, and it adds a certain layer of drama to the “lab” area.

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Fake blood, real television

People are gathered around wooden benches appreciating the complimentary “cures” and general ambiance. Every once in a while, people in hazmat suits drag along an “infected” they are pale and weak. They are moved behind a metal fence.  They are placed in containment.

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The lights flicker on and off and flash red

The area of containment has clear walls. They are streaked with the bloody handprints of the people that lie prone in the cots. They moan and roll over. The lights flicker on and off as the recently-infected are contained with the others.

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These people were committed to the part (hopefully)

On the next day of the event, things have progressed further. The people are paler and sicker.  The walls are more streaked with blood. The lights flicker on and off with more frequency.  The infected are weaker, staying on their cots, curled and suffering.

Meanwhile on the benches, people continue to casually sip various cures. Many selfies are taken, the event is a perfect SXSW photo opp. The event hits capacity and those lucky enough to be in the quarantine gaze with a certain superiority at the masses below, outside the ” cordon sanitaire.”

People in lab coats hand out drinks, people behind plastic wall pretend to be gravely ill, as attendees take selfies.  This is South by Southwest Interactive, at its most interactive.

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Free drinks anyone?

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Nolan Bushnell

 

I look for coffee and find Nolan Bushnell, inventor of Atari

 

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Nolan Bushnell and Guy Kawasaki

It’s that time of day. I am at SXSW and I need coffee. Wandering at large in the upper floors of the convention center,  I see a lounge, one of the corporate sponsored hangout rooms where people sit, recharge their phones, send work emails, and nap. These places sometimes have coffee.

I smell coffee and I hear the puffing whir of a cappuccino machine. Good enough, going in.

This is the Comcast Social Media Lounge, brought to you by Comcast. It’s supposed to have tech influencers giving speeches as well. In fact, there’s one here now.

At the door there are some friendly people scanning badges, they apologize but they are out of books. Apparently Nolan Bushnell is here, and everybody wanted to pick up a copy of his latest work. He invented Atari and is regarded as an integral part of the tech revolution by some people.  Right now, he is being interviewed on a small stage.

The interviewer is author and speaker, Guy Kawasaki. Kawasaki is very enthusiastic about this interview. The tone of his questioning and the excitement of his interjections are reminiscent of a young person at a comic con who is meeting their favorite graphic artist.

Bushnell maintains a cool distance. He’s leaned back in his chair, hands clasped, legs crossed at the ankle. He doesn’t need to be here, it’s all a choice. He’s done this sort of thing a million times.

Questioning starts with the ancient history of a time before home computers.  They go back to discuss Bushnell’s association with fellow tech innovator, Steve Jobs. Apparently Bushnell was the only person to actually employ Jobs, a fact he seems to take some pride in. Bushnell speaks highly of the innovative usefulness of Jobs.

They delve into the gossip of their company culture. Kawasaki asks about the Grass Valley culture ” what was it like “were you guys just sitting around in beanbag chairs smoking marijuana all day.” Bushnell responded  “yeah, we had a research facility in Grass Valley and everybody said, oh yeah, Grass Valley, they must be doing a lot of doobies but actually those in my marketing department, almost none of them smoked.” The crowded laughs because the someone said doobie.

Then Kawasaki gets into the history of Atari in particular. Bushnell explains how it all started at an amusement park where he was head of the games department and he ” knew the economics of coin operated games.”

Later, he happened to end up in “the university of Utah video lab, the only place hooking up video screens to big computers .” He describes it as ” magic time magic place, total serendipity” and explains his realization that “if I could make this cheap people would play it.”

He started the company with just “$250 each my partner and I, and we could not raise capital from anybody, so we had to grow the company to about 40 million dollars until anybody would pay attention to us.” He expands that they “never had any money,” so they had to generate their funding “the old fashioned way.”

Kawasaki asks a specific, but common question about Atari, “Can you explain what “Atari” the word means? ”

Bushnell explains that it started with a game called “Go,” “an Asian game played by Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and it’s black and white stones on a 19 by 19 black and white matrix” He describes it as “The best game in the world, it balances your left and your right hemispheres there’s and art to it there’s a logic to it.

In the game, if you are about to engulf your opponent it’s an Atari. And so you say “Atari! It’s like check in chess and I thought, that’s a pretty aggressive name to name a company. So a lot of people thought it was a Japanese company because it was a Japanese game. But it was an American company with a Japanese name.

Bushnell also expands on the relevance of the arcade to innovative tech culture.  He explains that “historically it was the training ground, this bridge between what’s going on in the lab and what’s being done at home, because when things start out they are expensive, they’re not robust, and you can do them in the arcade.”

This perspective paints arcades as the kind of place that could bridge the gaps in available technology to the general public. An arcade was the kind of place where, for a quarter, anybody can reach the cutting edge of gaming tech.  Nolan Bushnell described how “arcades kind of lost their way when home technology seemed in terms of graphics to exceed what was found in arcades.”

Bushnell speaks of a future full of “sensors and processes and very cheap Raspberry Pis running HDMI, I mean magical stuff.” These things could be used to recreate arcades of the future and  restore “the arcade ” as a place of cultural relevancy.

Meanwhile, another event at SXSW also touched on that theme. The Mr. Robot television show chose to set their characters, techno-anarchist revolution at a former arcade. They gathered to learn and expand what was possibly in the (former) cultural hub.  This concept of the arcade as a cultural center could be of further relevance to the future.

Bushnell has other things to say about the future. He is currently discontent with the education system. He says “I feel like our schools are doing a horrible job. We’ve got too much school and not enough education.” His ideal vision with more “project-oriented” work in order to “up the ante for engagement, keeping curiosity and passion alive.”

He speaks critically of the idea that college is the only way. He explains that he thinks “we’ve reinvented indentured servitude, because of student debt. College is way too expensive. I mean the cost of college per hour is horrible.”  Taking it a little further, he references the “old joke ‘if you have a problem with pigeons on campus give them tenure and they’ll quit showing up.'”

His ideal world involves “eliminating noise”. Things like the “liberal arts” can be done more efficiently. He says ” we need to know how to write, we need to know how to fix sentences, that stuff. But that stuff, if mediated by software, you can do it in a day and a half, 15 or 20 minutes.”  From this perspective eliminating noise can lead to a better, more efficient, world.

The cappuccino machine is very loud. Throughout the discussion various people walk up and ask for one. At one point, the interviewer snaps cheerfully” Do you have to make cappuccino? It’s Nolan Bushnell you can always make cappuccino later.”

I am polite enough to wait till the presentation is over. However, it seems the cappuccino machine closed with the conclusion of the presentations. Apparently you can’t make cappuccino later.  But you can go get a picture and an autograph from Nolan Bushnell. Many people do. He is an icon to them.

 

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He wears practical shoes

 

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The Virtual Soldier

 

In this digital day and age, records are kept of everything. Shelves and shelves of pictures may be consolidated into a tiny  thumb drive. There are so many things that can be saved in an intangible form to be accessed at convenience. Now, experts at the University of Nevada are looking into taking this to a whole other level. They are in discussion with the US military and working on making “virtual soldiers.”

Many things happen when people are sent off to a war. Some of these things change them in ways that cannot be repaired. With the help of new technology, doctors and scientists might now have the means to better repair what has been altered.

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3D image from MRI scan: http://www.ablesw.com/3d-doctor/images.html

Some of this proposed technology is already being  used in “3D dissection tables.” X-rays, ultrasounds and MRI’s are used to scan a body and the resulting scan may be used and interacted with on these tables. Experts are suggesting that this technology can be used to create personal replicas for the purpose of documentation. If the scanned human is injured the documentation provides a “saved point” to compare with the now-damaged individual.

These 3D virtual copies might be especially useful to people sent into dangerous areas where they face a risk of mutilation and severe bodily harm. Virtual copies could be made of soldiers before they are sent into the battlefield. The virtual copies of soldiers could serve as useful templates for surgeons. If a bone were broken, the 3D copy could serve as a consulting tool in the repair.

Thanks to new innovations in 3D printable materials, the scans could provide an even more direct solution. Porous titanium prints of bones can be inserted into a body and new bone grows to fill the gaps. This technology could create very precise versions that provide the best possible restoration of the original form.

Presumably, this technology could also apply in the making of prosthetic limbs. No more approximate guesses, these scans could provide data that would allow for an exact replica of the damaged form. 3D printing could make the 3D image into a custom prosthesis made to order for the individual.

Overall, these virtual scans of soldiers would be an innovative way to take advantage of data storage and scanning technology. When all the king’s horses and men aren’t enough, they can round up the x-rays, ultrasounds, MRI’s and 3D printers. Combined with scanned data, 3D printing technology could create life altering solutions to medical problems.

 

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