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CreditCards.com survives South by Southwest Interactive

Jeremy Simon

When your boss asks whether you’d like to attend South by Southwest Interactive (or SXSWi) — a five-day smorgasbord of emerging technology talk, networking and fun — for the first time, the answer is pretty easy: “YES!” While many SXSWi attendees and presenters travel from across the globe to the annual conference in Austin, Texas, I was lucky to only have to head just minutes away to downtown Austin for the event.

Pee-wee helpings of free food for the revelrs at South by Southwest.

A badge and short drive made me doubly fortunate. So how did I make my SXSWi experience worthwhile? By attending all sorts of talks, enjoying several parties and scoring free food and drinks. All for your benefit, loyal readers! Here’s a small sampling of what I experienced:

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The lecture “Cops 3.0: The future of policing and the Internet” looked at how law enforcement is being educated about what they can — and can’t — do to monitor suspects online. If the police are going to protect our rights while also improving their understanding of the Web, Kirby Plessas, president and CEO of Plessas Experts Network, says that Web-savvy citizens will need to take on active roles within law enforcement.

 

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Robot soldiers and mind-controlled prosthetic limbs aren’t merely the stuff of science fiction. The presentation, “U.S. Military’s mad science revealed,” gave a glimpse into projects the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) may bring to reality in the not-too-distant future.

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If you want to see into the future, you need to look south. That was the theme of “Why Mexico will change your life,” an inspiring talk by Austin’s own “serial entrepreneur” Gary Hoover. He says many of Mexico’s troubles (such as drug violence) should pass, as they have elsewhere in Latin America. Hoover has spent significant time researching Mexico and traveling there — and obviously has developed a passion for that nation. He encourages others in the United States to do the same.

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Pee-wee Herman lives! “A conversation with Paul Reubens” allowed the man behind the bow tie to answer questions about the character’s past, present and his future (a Judd Apatow film, for one). Not surprisingly for anyone who has seen his movies, stage performances or TV show, Reubens came across as extremely creative and intelligent. He’s also very appreciative of the recent resurgence of Pee-wee love.

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Why journalists need to think like geeks” sparked a lively discussion about whether it’s journalists’ responsibility to understand the technological nuts and bolts of producing news content for the Web as we seek to tell stories in new ways.

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The “Man Vs. Debt” meet-up offered the chance to meet personal finance blogger Adam Baker and his family in person — genuine, great people. I also got a tour of their RV, which was parked in front of the coffee shop where the meet-up took place (it managed not to get towed, either). After past adventures overseas, the Bakers are currently driving across the country, meeting friends and attending events, including SXSW.

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The Internet offers a way for us to connect with friends and business contacts. But as the lecture “Terrorism 2.0: Al Qaeda’s online tools” showed, the Web also allows terrorists to spread their messages and propaganda to potential recruits across the globe. Presenter — and editor of the Washingtonian Magazine — Garrett Graff screened several Web clips of such propaganda, including “Dirty Kuffar,” an Islamic extremist rap/dancehall music video that went truly viral when it was released online.

 

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You need to scale back on your stuff, says author Dave Bruno, who explained the reasoning behind his “100 thing challenge.” Bruno talked about how after several generations of rapid social mobility, people in the United States have replaced their upward trajectory with a move “outward” — toward the acquisition of more and more items. Bruno’s personal response was to eliminate much of what he owned, cutting his possessions down to those key “100 things.” (He groups pairs of underwear as a single possession, for those who were wondering.)

 

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Looking to improve your creativity? Try downward dog. That was the theme of a conversation labeled, “Taming the monkey mind: yoga and creative focus,” which closed out SXSWi on March 15th. Session leaders Christa Avampato (Compass Yoga) and Jennilyn Carson (YogaDork) encouraged a conversation about the ways that yoga can calm the hyperactive “monkey mind” that has become the norm in today’s interconnected, over-saturated world.So I survived — and can even say SXSWi was a success. Even with all the information available to us online, the best thing (for me) about SXSWi was getting to interact with new and interesting people from around the world, in person. I’m looking forward to next year.

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  • Great summary! Re the Man vs Debt RV not getting towed, it’s amazing how velvet red ropes make anything look official.