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Sunday, March 13, 2011


Being told that I had to dress like a 'geek' was somewhat concerning.  I wasn't sure I had anything suitable. When I questioned Samantha on her statement, she simply said, 'Just don't co-ordinate your clothes!'  Where were were going?  We were off to the 'Interactive' portion of South by Southwest, one of the largest music and film festivals in the USA, and we were going to 'check out the games', and collect 'freebies'. 

Collecting free samples has become somewhat of a hobby.  When I moved to the USA, I received very little post.  To some, that may be a delight, meaning that there are no bills or, just as good, no junk mail.  I received birthday cards, and Christmas cards, with the occasional, 'happy Easter', tribute, but nothing else.  I used to joke, 'anything for me', when the mailbox was checked, and the answer was always the same; 'Are you expecting something?' 

I received an unsolicited email from a large retail outlet, some time ago, and when I entered their website, I found a section entitled 'Free Samples'.  At the time, the amount of free samples being offered were numerous, and I decided to apply for every single one.  I have no idea if I will ever need (and, indeed, hope I will not) the lifetime supply of incontinent pads that arrived, but I can now tell you, in my opinion, no named brand shampoo, available in the larger supermarkets, actually mend split ends.  Believe me, I have sampled them all! None of the toothpaste companies were able to produce products to reduce my dentist's bill, and despite commercial terror tactics, the lack of the use of one against the other, has not caused gingervitis.  The dog has sampled several brands of canine food, and has not shown preference to one in particular, although my friend's cats showed great appreciation for their tasty morsels.  Suffice it to say, I received an inordinate amount of post, and when asked, 'why, are you expecting something?', I could honestly answer, 'Why, Yes!'

However, as usual, I digress.  During my first experience of South by Southwest (or SXSW as it is broadly known), I was the recipient of a number of t-shirts, and other items of limited or no use.  The following year, the adrenaline kicked in, and I was out to collect all that I could, although I have no idea why.  There was a sense of achievement returning to the office with a bag full of plastic sunglasses and guitar pics.  The earplugs do come in rather handy.

Back to this weekend, Samantha had planned to go and see Edward, who was manning one of the stands inside the Conference Center, for an International gaming company.  As he was going to be (hopefully) pre-occupied with answering questions from 'gamers', she thought it would be preferable to have company, and who better to take along than her mum!  'There is lots of free stuff', was enough to twist my arm and, after the Saturday chores, we left the house and drove downtown.  Fortunately, working in the City Center, we have 24 hour parking permits for the lot behind our office, which is just a couple of blocks away from the Convention Center.  After saying a quick hello to Dana, who was in the office, we made our way to the festivities.  Before entering the Center, we came across a large bus, covered in yellow signs, suggesting we all smile.  Desperately wanting a yellow cardboard stick man, with a diamond shaped head, we looked around the vehicle in anticipation.  Hearing our English accent, the promoter rewarded us with a book on how to make a billion dollars very quickly.  'Can we have a yellow person?', I asked, almost apologetically, as the book was obviously the prize giveaway.  He obliged, and we continued along the road, receiving a free cloth bag for the excessive amount of giveaways that were apparently on offer.

The walk around the room that housed the 'games' promoters, was rather more educational than I had first imagined.  We stopped at a stand where a young, rather enthusiastic girl, was explaining the product she was advertising.  Absolutely intrigued, I waited until she had finished furnishing the previous interested party with details of this concept. I looked at her, probably rather vaguely, and asked, 'So you produce the actual program that allows us to drop and drag games on our phones?'  She nodded, again, very enthusiastically.  I was rather astounded.  I heard myself saying, 'That is so cool.  I don't think I had ever considered there was a process'.  I think I may have actually made her day.  She thanked me profusely for my comments, and started to explain the functions.  Having told everyone 'what' the product does, she was finally explaining, 'how', and in her opinion, to an 'old' person whose clothes were, more or less, co-ordinated.  She gladly provided me with a t-shirt.

Our next stop was at a stand that had, what appeared to be, a lot of very small cricket bats.  On closer inspection, I noticed that this was actually an attempt to gain support to stop corporal punishment in Texas.  Once again, I was rather interested.  Being informed of the Bill that had been filed with the Legislature, to address this matter, I asked many questions.  I explained to the young man that my main objection to such punishment, was the abuse of the privilege of the one who inflicted the discipline. This appeared to strike a nerve in the young man, and he continued to explain their cause. A famous clothes designer, whose name I will not repeat, (although it is repeated over and over again when in hollow places) was coming to Austin to fight for the cause.  Hesitantly, not wanting to lessen the importance of the subject, I asked, 'Can I have a t-shirt?'.  It then became clear as to why people were so keen to have their bottoms smacked with a wooden bat.  Signing a disclaimer, which I must admit I did not read, I placed my derriere in the path of the oar, and waited for the button to be pushed to release the weapon.  Even with the excess padding I have gained since I was at school, its sting remained for several minutes.  I received my t-shirt and watched Samantha undergo the same fate. 

By this time, I was rather enjoying the experience of pretending to be a geek.  I didnt fool many passers by, even though I was wearing black flip flops with a blue outfit (my form of rebellion).  Espying bags which contained many little gifts, I made my way to the next stand.  They were promoting nothing less than board games.  Once again, my interest was caught, and I gained the attention of someone who appeared to be nearer my age, if not older.  'Wow, board games! Howwonderful!', I exclaimed, and was quickly shot down by the aging gamester.  'Social! They are called Social Games!'  Apologising copiously, I tried to make amends by expressing an interesting, and proclaimed my admiration of those who didn't believe computer games were the only way forward for kids.  'That is why they are called Social Games!', I was told in no uncertain terms.  Having been reprimanded, twice, I became rather more bold.  'Can I have a bag?', I said, rhetorically, as I had already placed my fingers around the handle.  'Go for it', was the answer.  Probably glad that I was about to leave his area, he no doubt weighed the loss of a canvas receptacle against my continuing presence, and decided it was a small price to pay.

Saying a quick 'hello' and 'goodbye' to Edward, we collected a box of jelly beans, two more t-shirts and an electronic dice, and left the room to climb the stairs to the fourth floor.  Another computer software company was promoting its latest application, which was a 'web page builder'.  Before asking for the t-shirt, I once again engaged an employee in conversation.  Not entirely glad to explain, he started to run through his pitch.  His attitude altered once I asked what would, again, appear to be the 'right' question.  'So it's a web page builder for the novice, or uninitiated, or older person', I laughed.  Having now gained his undivided attention, unfortunately, he continued, in great detail.  My time wasn't really worth the t-shirt, but I did get a pen and a sticker too. 

With my two canvas bags stuffed with a variety of goodies, I was ready to leave.  I now felt qualified to be somewhat associated with 'geekdom', and had a new appreciation for electronic marketing.  I don't suppose I will get a job as a web designer, nor will I be considered for the 'drag and drop' position that was advertised, as my dropping after dragging around the Convention Center, apparently does not meet the criteria!  I am convinced I will be banned from ever buying a board game, let alone being a participant, no matter how social I may be!

Our walk back was quite uneventful, although we did notice that more places were requiring the production of an official (rather expensive) SXSW pass for entrance, as downtown became the hive of activity.  Dana was reasonably unimpressed with our collection, although he tried so very hard to feign excitement.  The sighting of the Scoobydo mystery bus completed Samantha's experience, and almost gained me a traffic violation ticket for crossing three lanes to access the left turn needed to circle around the block, so she could take a picture, but its appearance, apparently, is less common than Haley's comet!

SXSW is continuing on throughout the week, and I am sure we will collect more useless objects, but not as much interesting information, but that will be....another story.

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