January 30, 2012
Why I'm not going to SxSW this year

For the last ten years, I've attended SxSW Interactive, a wonderful conference focused on changes in the way people interact, especially online. When I started going to SxSW, it was a much smaller conference and more like a fan convention than a typical industry convention. I felt as if I had found my tribe and met lots of new people that I have kept in touch with ever since. I learned a tremendous amount and hopefully added to the discussion a bit myself. The trip was a sabbatical from my corporate life.

Mike Pusateri Checking Out the Schedule
Photo courtesy Ashley Bischoff

Over the years, SxSW Interactive has changed, as all thing do. Many old time attendees complained a bit every year, but I was still enamored of the event and defended it's unique status. Last year, I was a bit dismayed, as a trend of recent years became complete. I found that the highlight of SxSW was almost exclusively events outside the show itself. Meals, drinks, and events outside of SxSW became the focus of my time, not an addition to the sessions. Sessions were hard to find and attend. The explosion in number of sessions and widely disparate locations lead to hard choices about what you could actually see. Gone was any chance to casually strike up a conversation in the hallways. Stand still for a moment and a marketing person was trying to hand you a postcard advertising a start-up or film.

I struggled with understanding what had changed. Was it me? Was it the show? Both? It's taken me about a half year to really understand what happened to SxSW, but now it's clear to me exactly what's happened.

SxSW Interactive is now a business conference and no longer a conference for individuals.

Let's compare:

Business Conference

  • Uni-directional lectures

  • Focus on making money

  • Company sponsored sessions

  • Trade show marketing booths

  • Product launches & announcements

  • Press attending to report on events rather than participate

  • Formal sponsored parties

Conferences for individuals

  • Bi-directional discussions

  • Focus on individual knowledge and talents

  • Focus on innovation and exploration

  • Time/space for people to meet

It's clear that SxSW has now grown and changed into a full fledged business conference. Yes, there a several sessions that I'd like to see, but mainly because my friends are in them rather than the topics being discussed. The opening keynote is by a business consultant. I've met the guy, and he's not a bad guy, but his sole focus is spoon feeding the basics of social media to C-level executives for consulting dollars. His talk will be old news for the alpha geeks and nothing new or innovative to report.

Yes, there will be interesting sessions, but finding them between the endless ones about start-ups and marketing approaches is hard to do. I mean when you have sessions titled "Keeping Loyal Consumers Engaged by Shaking Sh*t Up" and "Startup Marketing: Big Results with a Small Budget" is there any doubt that this is a business conference?

How interactive can a conference be when the larger talks require large overflow rooms linked via closed circuit television? How revolutionary can a conference be when even the power plugs are sponsored? How fresh can the information be if the speaker is there to promote their book, printed on paper?

Clearly there's a market for today's version of SxSW Interactive since every Austin hotel is full and the place will be packed even with the badges for Interactive at $850. The average person will need over $2,000 to attend. Not many individuals have this kind of disposable income.

As a veteran attendee other major business conferences like NAB, CES, and Comdex, I can say that there is plenty of value to attending these kind of events, but the value was always to my company and not to myself. Meetings were had, deals were made, relationship were created, but always for the benefit of the company, not the individual. Today's SxSW Interactive is about companies, not individuals.

Built Make and Tell SXSW 11: Cruftbox
Photo courtesy DL Byron

Holding SxSW in the neutral ground of Austin allowed the mixing of the various geek tribes from San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, London, and other places to exchange ideas and concepts over kickball, BBQ, and beers. Amazing ideas and companies came out of the mix at SxSW. Even a number of marriages between the blogerati began at SxSW. The cross-pollination that happened in the casual surroundings of 6th Street has led to numerous great things.

Too bad the idea of casual anything is gone from the SxSW experience. This mixing of tribes is going away as the branding of Silicon Valley, Alley, and Beach are creating business competition where there should be enjoyable coordination.

The thing that attracted me to SxSW Interactive in the first place was that people were interested in Michael, the guy from LA that blogged, not what my company was. That SxSW is gone now.

Change is good, but change is hard. I am going to miss seeing my friends and I have no doubt I'll be second guessing myself when the show is happening, but it's time for me to move on to finding a new place to meet with my tribe. My tribe is no longer in Austin, they're on the move elsewhere.

The time is right for a new conference that is focused on interesting people and not on companies. There is not a lot of money to be made, but to help inspire the next generation of great ideas, it is surely needed.

Lastly, to those that are going, remember the most important rule of SxSW: ABC - Always Be Charging!

Posted by michael at 08:14 AM
January 22, 2012
12 Years of Blogging

Today marks the first day of the 13th year of Cruftbox. I've been blogging regularly for 12 years now. Like raising children, it seems like just yesterday and an eternity since I started.

I wrote about my feelings after 10 years and pretty much it still all applies. I did do a bit of a redesign, so I feel good that it only took me around two years to do that.

Since then social networks and micro-blogging have accelerated dramatically. It is a very good thing that more and more people are finding their public voice. But what is troubling that so much of the stuff people are writing is basically disappearing. For a vast a majority of posts, that's not a problem since they are about what someone ate for lunch or thought about a movie. But the good stuff also appears to get lost. Either behind a privacy wall, not indexed by Google, or simply deleted by the service provider over time.

For good information to stick around, a weblog is still the best thing around. Searchable, linkable, and usually archived somewhere, it stands the best chance for being useful to someone in the future.

Maintaining a weblog doesn't work against social networks, it works well with them. Linking to your weblog rather than posting a Facebook or Google+ entry is more easy to share, likely to branch into other social networks, and most importantly, you maintain complete control over your words.

No one knows what the future will bring to the Internet and the ways people communicate, but if you want your words to continue into the future, your best bet to have them survive is to have a weblog.

Update: Felt like adding a little more.

Another thing about blogging that an individual can get is wide distribution. As an example, I wrote a little post about making Lasagna Cupcakes. For some reason it hit a note with people and has been read over a million times by people in the last year. Reading the comments on places like Stumbleupon are rewarding when I see people enjoying what I helped share. The post from 2003 about making a smoker from a trash can is well over a million as well. I still get emails from people seeing it for the first time and asking questions.

When was the last time someone got value from a Tweet you made last week, let alone a year ago?

Lastly, thank you to all the Loyal Cruft Readers that have put up with my shenanigans for more than a decade.

Posted by michael at 04:12 PM
January 05, 2012
One Good Earbud Review

When I ride and run solo, I like to listen to music or podcasts. Of course, this makes my friend Mike crazy, but I do it anyways. To be safe, I only put a headphone in my right ear so I can hear cars and the surroundings.

For a couple years, I've used the Apple Earphones with the built-in mic/clicker. The problem with this is that the left earbud just kind of dangles in my jersey, sometimes tapping on my heart rate monitor.

At Christmas, I got One Good Earbud, to try out.

The idea is pretty simple, make headphones with one good earbud for people that are active and need to hear out of one ear. The left and right channels are mixed into a mono feed so you don't miss anything.

They make several types and versions for left or right ears. I got the over the ear version for the right side.

I've been on a few rides and runs with them now and I pronounce them Cruft-worthy.

Everything works as expected and I think the larger button on the mic is good, especially when wearing gloves. Much easier to find without having to slow down and fiddle with finding it. There's also a small clip that I find useful when I run to keep the cable from bouncing. The mic quality is pretty good and I can still receive calls while running and riding without stopping.

The one drawback is no volume up or down buttons. I didn't use them often, but they were handy. No reason not to get them, but you should be aware if you don't equalize your music tracks.

Priced between $20-30, depending on the model you choose, it's a great value.

Update: One Good Earbud changed their name to Far End Gear, so I changed the linkage.

Posted by michael at 08:18 PM
Social Network Lifecycles

I made this a few weeks ago to share with a few friends. You all might like it though.

Posted by michael at 07:56 AM
January 02, 2012
How to make bratwurst

Any vegetarian friends might want to stop reading now.

I made bratwurst a couple weeks ago and it turned out well. I decided to make more and document the process. For those unfamiliar, a bratwurst is a German sausage, popular in the American mid-west for it's rich and distinct flavor. A staple of cookouts and tailgate parties, it's often simply referred to as a 'brat'. I love 'em.

My sausage making guide is Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. If you don't have this book, get it. It's wonderful.

The basic recipe for bratwurst in the book is this.

Finding pork back fat is hard. I don't care what the book says or what people on the interwebs say, you can't buy that stuff anywhere. As a result, I buy extra pork shoulder and ask for them not to trim the fat. Also, I couldn't find veal shoulder anywhere. So I substituted ground veal instead. "soy protein concentrate" sounds nasty, so I left that out as well.

Here is the pork shoulder as I prepare to dice it. Look at all the fat. That fat is one of the main things that make the sausages taste good. I tried to work fast so that the fat wouldn't start melting. You want to keep as much of this fat in the mix as possible.

Here is the pork diced, ready to mix with the veal and spices.

The three main spices, white pepper, ginger, and nutmeg are key to the recipe and responsible for the distinct bratwurst flavor. Here I'm holding a whole nutmeg. I slice off an end and use a micro-planer to shave into a ramekin. Don't skimp on the spices. If they aren't fairly fresh, you're wasting your time.

After mixing the meat and spices, the bowl goes back into the fridge. This is the Kitchenaid setup with the meat grinder attachment. There are dedicated meat grinders that handle volume better, but this setup gets the job done slowly. The bowl of ice is to keep the ground mixture as cold as possible. Keeping the fat from melting is important. Any time I'm not working with the meat, it's in the fridge.

Here is the grinding setup as I get rolling. This part of the recipe takes the longest. Grinding 5+ pounds of meat with a small machine takes time. Serious sausage makes use much bigger grinders and can mount them on a working table.

One trick I've learned is running bread through the grinder to help clean it. You still need to clean and sanitize it all by hand, but it makes the job much easier.

Defining ingredients for bratwurst include eggs and heavy cream. You whip them together and mix with the ground meat. The paddle blade is used to bind everything together.

After one or two minutes, the texture of the sausage changes and it now sticks together. You could shape them in your hand here and then cook them, but we're going to stuff. them. Back in the fridge again, while I prepare to stuff.

I use a 5 pound sausage stuffer. The Kitchenaid attachment for this sucks. Use a real dedicated stuffer. I picked up the sausage casing at the butcher counter when I bought the meat. It's real hog intestine, cleaned by the pros, and works well. If you are going to eat meat, you need to know what you are eating. Patience is key here as sliding the casing on takes time to prep all ten feet.

Stuffing begins. If you can't bolt down the stuffer, it's a two person job. Goes quickly when two people are working together.

I twist into links, cut into manageable strings, and their ready to go. I made these for a New Year's Eve party and everybody loved them. Well, my vegan friend didn't love them, but the omnivores did.

Posted by michael at 01:47 PM