SXSW: March 15 2016

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The Ides of March…also known as Convergence Day at SXSW 2016. This was the last day of Interactive and the first day of Music. (Film continues throughout the festival.) Daytime highs were again over 90°, but dropped after sunset, when Bill and I visited some official SXSW parties.

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My first session of the day was Ira Glass in Conversation with Mark Olsen. Ira said that he has been doing all sorts of things, including a dance tour that will end with a show at the Sydney Opera House this summer. They discussed how podcasts need good content to be popular. Podcasts ads bring in more money than radio ads. His NPR series, This American Life, took four years to get to one million listeners. In contrast, his podcast Serial took four weeks to reach that many. Most of his job is as an editor, including his film work with his friend Mike Birbiglia. He’s a talker. My favorite quote was: “With a fiction movie, it’s so amazing—you can just make up the facts!”

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The room was packed for a popular session titled Next for NASA: The Journey to Mars. Five NASA employees were spoke and answered questions from the audience.  Two were from the latest class of astronauts. Of their class of eight, they said that half are women. The Orion NASA Mission Planning Lead explained that their Mars program plan to have unmanned launches starting in 2018 and a manned mission in 20121. The other two panelists worked with rockets and ground systems. I found it interesting that the program work is distributed across the US: Alabama, Ohio, Mississippi, California, Texas, Florida, and maybe some other places not mentioned. They touched on various issues facing the Orion program: the long distance to Mars, short- and long-term human impacts, political will, communications, and Earth’s orbital debris field.

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Why Happiness is Hard and How to Make It Easier was the title of the closing Interactive Keynote given by Andy Puddicombe. He studied as a Buddhist monk and is now is the founder of a digital health app called Headspace. He observed that it is not possible to “get rid of your mind” and sometimes we hold onto stuff for decades before letting go of it. He described meditation as a bridge—an ability to rest the mind—and noted that it’s not the same as mindfulness, an ability to be present in the moment. Saying that meditation leads to calm, clarity, contentment, and compassion, he then led the huge audience in ten minutes of quiet meditation. I enjoyed the rest time in the middle of a busy, noisy week. The person next to me fell asleep.

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I Go Back Home – Jimmy Scott was a documentary about a German businessman’s project to produce an album with jazz singer Jimmy Scott. Jimmy was a singer with Lionel Hampton’s band in the 1940-50s. This producer, plus the film’s director, attended the screening. They said that the project started in 2009 and the album was completed before Jimmy died in 2014. Sony will release the album in the coming months.

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After having real food for dinner, Bill and I checked out some official SXSW parties. There are many parties at SXSW (I’m sure some attendees never go to the actual sessions), but a badge is required to get into the official ones. Some had free food and drinks, others did not. We started at the Music Opening Party at Maggie Mae’s, where CHVRCHES was DJing. We also stopped by the Japan House Party, the SXGood Party, and the Interactive Closing Party at Stubb’s.

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