I typically spend SXSW assiduously avoiding most of the programming, hanging out with friends in the hallway and the streets, enjoying the austin/california social network infill. This time for inexplicable reason I sought out more programming than usual.
The geo panel was interesting because I haven’t been following the field super-closely. There were intriguing visualizations of taxi trips across london and stress levels of pedestrians. The data showed pretty pictures, but more context and real investigative research would be needed to determine what the information teaches.
Jerry Paffendorf from Electric Sheep talked about simulacra of 3d places in “second life”. The point doesn’t grab me. I love ideas about annotating the 3d world (and Liz’ mention about annotating virtual worlds). But making a second life simulation of Palo Alto and moving in? Why?
There were some interesting bits in the hallway: a demo of a prototype university tour guide app running on a Nokia mobile, where you can find information and annotations about the various buildings and programs. A friend’s grad school credit project to build an annotated map of a new infill neighborhood, for the interests of neighbors, local businesses, and potential residents.
Kathy Sierra was good on the need for contextual help, and kind of off-base (if she was serious), about computerized help systems that recognize human emotion. It’s really hard to imagine an IA that would make a pissed off customer be less irate, rather than more irate.
Danah Boyd had a fabulous interview with her mentor, Henry Jenkins about the growth and increasing recognition of fan culture, and fearmongering about the threats of myspace and cousins. Re: combatting bad laws. The people in the room have more power than they know. Just a bit of organizing would go a long way.
From a panel on building a great in-house design team, how to hire designers. a) poach. b) hire them out of school and teach them how to have a job. Alternatively, c) build a community around agile design, and get to know good people.
Technology at SXSW was in much better shape in years past. The network was occasionally flaky but mostly on. The sessions were being podcast, greatly reducing the anxiety about missing any given thing.

Fry’s Austin has been holding my computer hostage

Fry’s in Austin still has my laptop computer. I bought the Fujitsu touchpad in Austin before I moved to California. When I was in Austin two weeks ago, the computer stopped charging. I’d had problems with the internal part of the power connector on Fujitsu laptops before, so I figured that’s what it was, and took it into Fry’s. The friendly service person said they would look into it. If they were done by Monday afternoon while I was leaving town, they’d let me know and I’d pick it up. Otherwise they’d send it to me in Austin.
A week goes by. No computer. I called them last weekend. They had diagnosed the problem on Thursday. It was the power adapter failing, not the inside part. They were waiting for me to pay an $89 diagnostic fee. They hadn’t called to tell me that’s why they waiting.
The service person said that they might have the part in stock, and that she’d be willing to go check. At that point, I made the mistake of asking her to look for the power adapter, but to ship without the power adapter if it was not in stock.
A week later I call Fry’s again. Turns out the power adapter was not in stock. So, Fry’s kept the computer, did not ship it, and didn’t notify me. The service person I talked to this weekend promised she is going to ship the computer, although Fry’s has a policy not to ship computers (now they tell me??). The service person told me they are not charging me for the shipping, not because they want to waive the fee to apologize for bad service, but because they forgot to put the shipping charges on e.arlier. The service rep was not apologetic at all. She sounded quite annoyed that I had the nerve to want my computer back, and pleased with the level of incompetence they had managed to achieve so far.

Moving logistics

The Green Muse is playing Morphine. I’m at a pause in moving logistics. Just bought a duffel bag to carry the sleeping bag and camping pad, since I’ll be in the new apartment without furniture for a week or so. The new owner wants the lawnmower and leaf vac/blower (yay!), but I may need to dispose of a perfectly fine washing machine if nobody buys it from Craigs List. Austin Public Library will submit my $25 in fines to a collection agency where it will go on my credit rating, but their computers are down so I can’t actually pay them.
The local music scene that Mark Sandman helped catalyze in Boston seemed like an oddity there; that kind of community instinct is normal in Austin, and is one of the things I’ll miss about Austin.

I prepared for the hurricane, and all I have are these extra peas

So, I got a concerned call from my Mom on Thursday morning, with a complete disaster preparedness shopping list. Flashlights and batteries, radio, water, canned food, sensible so far. Not quite enough. Do you have two to three weeks of food? Canned fruits and vegetables? A cooler? A tent and sleeping bag? Are your papers in a waterproof container?
Now, Austin is 150 miles inland, and my house is pretty well elevated from Stacy Creek. I figured that the most likely scenario if the storm came by was a lot of rain and wind, and the power out for a few hours, a day or two if it’s really bad.
So I went to the HEB, and got some water, tuna, crackers, pbj (all of which will get consumed during the normal course of things). And, against my better judgement, this can of peas. I resisted the temptation to buy a styrofoam longhorn cooler, thank goodness. Came home from the store and found that the hurricane had changed route. The peas will make a fine food bank donation.
p.s. wishing the best for the folks in East Texas and Louisiana who are getting hit by the hurricane, and the folks in Houston for the traffic jam on the way home.

Neighborhood veggies

The new Farm to Market Grocery on South Congress is a super-convenient and friendly little storefront with fresh organic vegetables from local farms.

It’s not cheap, but it’s better food-per-dollar than takeout, and a fraction of the hassle of Central Market or the Whole Foods theme park, or HEB’s sad little organic produce section.

The veggies are the star of the show, but they also have fridge cases with organic dairy and frozen food, and shelves with packaged staples and condiments.

They also do a fine job with small quantities of fancy treats. A few days ago, I was buying dinner and craving dessert. They had a tiny container of goats-milk ice cream (no photo). Yum. For the money, less volume and more happiness.
Unlike the local Disney-qua-grocer, which requires you to get a permit to take a picture of their displays, the Farm to Market crew were happy to see a customer take snapshots.

Belated praise for Library Lookup

Jon Udell’s justly-praised Library Lookup bookmarklets snag the url of a book you’re admiring on (or, or other book site), and finds out if it’s in stock at your local library.
You can find the Austin link on this page. On Firefox/Windows, you can “right-click” to bookmark the link, and add it to your Personal Toolbar folder.
The only thing it doesn’t do is return the books for you.

Texas bill bans gay foster parents

As blogged elsewhere, the Texas House passed an amendment to SB6, the child protective services bill, to prevent gay and bisexual parents from being foster parents.
1200 kids will be pulled from caring homes and put into institutions because of socially acceptable prejudice against gay parents.
The child protective services agency is now responsible for investigating the sexual preference of people applying to be foster parents.
On the bright side, the Connecticut legislature just approved civil unions.
On the dark side, via AmericaBlog, Microsoft withdrew support at the last minute from a gay anti-discrimination bill in Washington State, after years of promoting its support for gay rights.
According to a story published in the Stranger, the change was prompted by a complaint by a single Christian-right organization that threatened a boycott. The Stranger quotes Microsoft’s government relations person as saying, in response to concern that Microsoft’s reversal will kill the bill, “no one will ever know.”
The list of Pacific Northwest companies supporting the bill includes: Boeing, Nike, Coors Brewing, Qwest Communications, Washington Mutual, Hewlett-Packard, Corbis, Battelle Memorial Institute, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc, and more.
Washington House Bill 1515 would protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing, banking, insurance, and other matters by adding sexual orientation to a state law which already bars discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, marital status, and mental or physical handicap.
The vote is scheduled on Friday, so if you’d like Microsoft to rethink, follow this link.

HB3314 may refocus on library filtering

At a hearing on HB3314 on Monday night, the sponsor said that she may focus the bill specifically on libraries.
According to the US Supreme Court in United States v. American Library Association, filtering software used in a library needs to enable adults to turn the filtering off. Representative Gattis, who is part-owner of a wireless broadband company, explained that it is not practical to deploy filtering to public access points.
In 2001, the Texas Library Association helped to defeat a library filtering amendment to the appropriations bill. Current Texas law requires library internet filtering only for recipients of TIF grant funding, a program whose revenues are no longer being used to fund library computers.
The hearing starts at about 2:20 at this video

Bill protects truckers from Playboy

HB 3314, up for hearing in the Texas House State Affairs committee, would require the state to filter internet access at highway rest stops.
Since last May, the Texas Department of Transportation has offered wifi access at state rest stops. There is also wifi access at some Texas state parks provided in partnership with Tengo Internet.
This bill mandates filtering at any state-provided network on public property.
This bill protects truckers at rest stops and campers in their RVs at campsites from adult content.
Sounds both wasteful and unconstitutional.