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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

3-19-2016

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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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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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Macnas: Street Theater at SXSW 2016

Macnas: Saturday March 12

Macnas from Ireland decorates SXSW 2016

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There is a giant sculpture of a rhinoceros in the middle of the street. It’s ominous. The early evening light has cast a particularly eerie shade over everything. There are several other giant sculptures rolling up the street.

People are dancing at the foot of the statue. They are wearing colorful costumes. The audience is joining in.  What is happening here? It’s “Macnas,” according to one of the performers. The word translates roughly to the frolicking of the spring lambs.

It’s an appropriate term. There is a spirit of whimsy here. This performance by the Macnas theater troupe is supported by IDA Ireland and Culture Ireland.

Ireland’s had a pretty strong showing at SXSW for the last couple of years.  At SXSW, representatives from countries  rent out a  venue or organize a series of events to promote the culture and businesses of that country. Representation ranges from a booth at the Trade Show, to a series of concerts, to elaborately-decorated venues with free sushi and talking robots. These countries include:

Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, Spain, and the UK.

Ireland frequently is categorized with the rest of the UK’s SXSW events. For the last couple years, the UK reps have rented out the same bar just off 6th street. They have several days of music programming there. Usually there is a day that particularly promotes Irish music. So there is some differentiation.

Also, St. Patrick’s day happens to occur during SXSW. It’s pretty crazy then. Weird things happen. Probably super offensive. If any Irish people are reading this. Sorry?

The performance continues. The crowd is getting denser. Other costumed characters are getting closer. Small children are gazing in wonder and inebriated adults are being forced to doubt their sense of reality. This is a fascinating spectacle. Which has to count as some form of success.

There are other places to be on Red River Street. The performance goes on, nevertheless. The rhino statue has eyes that follow you, wherever you may go. It’s Macnas.

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Klaatu barada nikto

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