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I’ve returned with a face full of smiles and a bag full of delicious, good-god-don’t-leave-me swag. But Zefrank’s right — why are the Interactive conference geeks the only ones of the three that don’t get condoms in their bags? Are filmies & musicians more sexually active? Or do they just have more diseases? Hmm.

I prefer to keep my mouth closed on the matter, but will take personal offence at this blatant omission. I mean, I never!

SXSW Interactive | Oh, good lord, it's schweet schwag!

Coming soon: a detailed analysis of the corporate crap mountain stored in the big bag.

SXSW Interactive, in its first full day of panels, has not only offered a juicy cocktail of industry information but also an inspiring place to meet people who salivate about this thing called the Internets. Internets, we love you!

SXSW, Austin | Audience at the High class and low class web design panel

The buzz is intoxicating, and the panellists have been great… all except for one, of whom I’m not proud to say that I walked out on after 15 minutes. This pains me, especially since the speaker was a well-known and respected fellow Canadian. Gasp!

I like Douglas Coupland. Well, I did when I was in high school and obsessed with Microserfs and Generation X. From my decaying memory, his quirkiness and pop culture references as a writer are wonderful and spot on, and, well, in person, the content’s there, too. It’s just that Douglas Coupland is somewhat… awkward. No real surprise here, considering he’s an author and encompasses the typical quirks and scatter-brained nature that come from being an iconic writer of his generation. He’s definitely an intriguing case for a personality study, but my fellow Canuck here seemed to be speaking more for his own entertainment than for an audience eager to hear about what makes him tick. Again, that’s a noble thing about the man, and listening to this would be great if the context was a free lecture at the Vancouver Public Library. It just doesn’t gel too well for someone like me who has forked out 300 bones to come here and learn something new. I know about pot smokers in Vancouver. I do enjoy hearing about your speaking tours. But those moments of silence were painstakingly awkward, and I could hear the money ticking away.

And maybe that’s why he is who he is. I still like you, Dougie. By all means, feel free to drop by my apartment anytime for an evening full of non-sequitors… but not when it’s on my dime.

I stumbled into Austin a few hours ago, and already I’m in love. It’s kind of a blind love, really; it’s pitch black outside, and I haven’t been exposed to any of the nightlife that the city boasts. Still, I think it’ll be good.

SXSW | Taking their advice...

My accommodation this evening is situated two miles from the downtown core — that’s about 3.5 kilometres to those of you back home — right along the banks of the Colorado River… I can see the city across the way, yelling something like, “Hey! This is going to be your life for the next 10 days! Love me! Take me now!” And Austin, I think I will certainly love you, but it’ll have to start some time tomorrow. With the day-long interactive conference in full force tomorrow, mixed with free evening parties with free booze and hors d’oeuvres, followed by free concerts at the music festival and more free booze, and then pulling 2:00-3:00am nights in various SXSW clubs, it’s going to be a rough week.

It’s probably best that I just relax on the shore with a chunky issue of The Austin Chronicle, take a deep breath in, and enjoy the balmy evening breeze (71 Fahrenheit / 20 Celsius), since it probably won’t happen back in Vancouver for another couple of months.

Thanks for being my temporary home, Austin!

I’m responsible for the 10-minute delay at the customs x-ray machines. Apologies to all, especially to the elderly couple standing behind me, their tender tootsies all bare, veiny, and on public display.

The culprits?

DFW airport | What caused the 10-minute delay at customs

That’s right. Leave it to doofus here to forget the gel restrictions are still in place. A total of five perspiring customs and security officers were involved in the incident, just to give me permission to take my 4-pack of Hunt’s Banana Cream Pie pudding cups on the plane. A lot of kafuffle erupted around the desserts, including a staff member running back and forth, relaying information from one employee to another, making it seem like the world was going to end. An assertive lady whisked to the scene, and stated that since each cup contained less than 100ml of pudding goodness, I was permitted to take them on board. She then punctuated the statement by unfurling a Ziploc, noting that all my liquids/gels had to fit in one bag, or I was to dispose of them.

What’s stupid about this is that I already had a ziploc bag full of gels in another carryon that someone else had checked. So I scammed the system and ended up with more than my allotted amount of gels AND four delicious pudding cups for my layover here in Dallas-Fort Worth.

The sun is certainly shining down on me this fine Texan day.

AUSTIN, TEXAS, HERE I COME!

For someone who suffers from Internet A.D.D., scheduling for SXSW should only be done with the aide of an administrative assistant and a cup of soothing chamomile tea. Otherwise, you’ll end up like me, overwhelmed and quivering in a corner of the apartment.

The good thing about this whole event is that 1. I’ve scored myself a wristband, which, though overpriced and does not guarantee me a single thing, at least offers the opportunity to weave in and out of clubs at leisure and the luxury to move from one group of annoyingly inebriated spring breakers to another. And 2. I actually have accommodation set with an awesome host from couchsurfing.com, which is more than can be said for a lot of last-minute planners who will probably end up sleeping in public libraries, movie houses, or a puddle of their upchucked Pabst Blue Ribbon between gigs.

For other SXSW virgins like me, here’s a list of some useful sites to plan your week full of great music, sore feet, and ringing ears. Maybe you’ll become just as overwhelmed and sick as me. That’s right; I’m bringing you down with me!


SXSW Official Schedule of Bands

Get it.

Donewaiting.com
An incredible site listing great free day shows. If you’re low on cash, you’ll probably be able to see all of your favourite bands if you plan accordingly and are willing to wake up before noon hour. Indie favourites Architecture in Helsinki are playing around 3-4 free day shows, if that’s any indication.

Yaris-SXSW
Need to compare checklists with friends? Need to know where you’re going and if you’ll be able to leave the datarock show and make it in time to see Matt & Kim in time before you have to leave 15 minutes early to see Daniel Johnston and get back to the first club to see Peter Bjorn & John? (Gasp.) This is the place to do it, with Google Map and all.

Austinist
This isn’t specific to the music festival or of SXSW in general, but it does have a lot of great interviews and show announcements for anyone wanting to have fun in the city.

You’re getting sick, aren’t you?

Have fun.

I can count on one hand the times I’ve paid more than $15 for a haircut. Maybe my friends are snickering in the background, whispering, “No wonder” to each other. Fine. Judge. But look who’s saving money and who’s not, Miss I-Got-Extensions- &-Highlights-for-only-$200. Please!

The last “expensive” hair cut ($45) I received was at Misako’s Hair Salon (888 Davie Street, 604-683-8853). The joint is staffed by a team of hipster Japanese youths with their finger on the pulse of every breaking, happening trend, which is paradise for someone with lifeless and flat Asian hair like mine. So I figured I deserved to have the appearance of being hip this past holiday season and spent the “big bucks”. My stylist’s name was Shuzo, a new arrival to Canada who barely spoke English. However, despite some communication problems, I was endeared by the fellow, namely because he kneeled down beside me and asked me if I wanted my hair to look “cute” or “cool”. I opted for “cool” and after a soothing head massage and chopping session, left rather pleased. And with typical Japanese courtesy, he bowed his head when I paid my bill and then ran out of the salon to prop the door open when it was time for me to leave. If I wasn’t all bedecked in my runners and ripped jeans, I would have felt like true Asian royalty.

However, as wonderful short hair can be sometimes, it ends up looking like a mop in a matter of two months, and spending $45 each time is a pain for someone who depends on unreliable contract work to fill her pockets. Sorry, Shuzo.

Your best bet if you’re cheap and willing to deal with people who don’t speak English are the joints in Chinatown. The service may be surly at times, and at other times a bit over-eager and pandering, especially if you’re a non-Asian, but you can find haircuts for as little as $7! If you’re okay with a lack of style or just want something shorter, this is perfect. In fact, my locks were chopped last week for a paltry $8 at Carmen Beauty Studio (150-139 Keefer Street, 604-685-1088), just across the street from the mall on Keefer, west of Main Street. The older man cut my hair with strict Chinese efficiency, and it turned out just as I’d hoped. To show my gratitude, I offered a 50% tip. Do the math, and you’ll see that everyone wins.

Vancouver | Chinatown hair salon and freaky heads

Many other Chinatown salons exist for just as cheap. You’ll just have to prowl the area yourself and judge the stylist by his or her own haircut. It usually works.

Hairport (740 Davie Street, 604 688-9099), close to Misako’s, was all right the first time, but befriending the lady can be disastrous to your precious hair if you’re concerned about length. This cute Vietnamese lady has good intentions, but aches to talk for a decade and will clip and clip and clip until you say stop. Be on guard if you’re the last person in the joint, because she will, indeed, go out of her way to keep talking and clipping. But if you’re in the market for a slick buzz cut, this is the perfect place to go.

Burrard Hair Design & Skin Care (2421 Burrard Avenue @ Broadway, 604 738-1808) is hit and miss. It’s approximately $14 for a cut, but I’ve gone there enough to say that it has about a 25-50% success rate. Only one member of staff can be considered a “stylist”, and it’s quite obvious who it is once you spend some time there — she’s the only one with an immaculate hairstyle and, even more telling, constant traffic in her chair. If you get her, you’ve scored, and the success rate could be elevated to 75%. If one of the other rotating members of the team stands behind you, don’t panic. Just ask her to substitute the razor/hair-thinning device with a pair of scissors. I know it’s only $14, but you deserve a real haircut.

For real adventurers, prowl Craigslist for ads by hair design students in the “volunteer” or “free” sections. I know one pretty trendy girl who gets her hair cut by craigslisters on a regular basis for free, and she looks good.

Again, it all depends on your hair type and how finnicky you are as a person. If you tend to be dissatisfied and Mr. or Mrs. Picky-Pants with most things in life, stick to your $100+ stylists. For the rest of you, enjoy the ride and let me know about other cheap hair salons. I’ll will enteratain all recommendations: after all, I’m cheap and none too proud.

YAHOO!

Plane ticket. Check. Hostel and couchsurfing plans. Check.

It’s still a month away, and already the mere thought of heading down to Austin sends oozy-woozies up my spine! (Believe me, that’s a good thing.)

The primary intent of the trip has shifted from the music festival to the interactive conference: I feel like I’m at a career crossroads of sorts, and in an effort to fully determine whether the field of technology and Internet is the right one for me, I’m going to wear my conference lanyard with pride and hop around with other geeks in Austin, pretending I’m actually a part of the new media / Web 2.0 industry. Ooh! Networking! Ooh! Learning!

But so long as you don’t think I’ve abandoned the idea of having fun at the SXSW live music festival, I’ve compiled a tentative checklist culled from the preliminary list on sxsw.com. These will likely change as schedules are cemented. If any of you random blog readers have suggested must-sees, send them this way. EX.CI.TING.

***

Beirut
Annuals
Architecture in Helsinki
Au Revoir Simone
beach house
Badly Drawn Boy
Bishop Allen
Bound Stems
Cloud Cult
Daniel Johnston
Data Rock
David Cross
The Detroit Cobras
Frog Eyes
Interpol
Junior Boys
Junior Senior
Ladyhawk
Mando Diao
Menomena
Rock Plaza Central
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
Sondre Lerche
The Presets
Tokyo Police Club
Thurston Moore
Under Byen
Chad VanGaalen
Watson Twins
We Are Wolves

PS. Anyone going alone or like meeting new peeps? Want to say “hi”? Come on, do it! I’m a friendly Canadian and I swear I don’t bite.