Category Archives: Events

My SXSW 2011 Recap

If you don’t know what SXSW (South By South West) is…you’re probably not a nerd, film or music person.

It’s also the reason I didn’t release the HouseOfRave Behind The Scenes product earlier…since I got only 1 day of work done in two weeks.

Onwards…

It’s a gigantic festival/conference here in Austin with an economic impact of over $120 million per year….so it’s pretty damn big.

There is one part of the festival called the “Interactive” portion.  It essentially means “anything technology related.”

Every year I go to SXSW activities for all the free stuff, but have never bought the badge.  This year I bought a $700 badge that’s good for just the Interactive portion

I had such a blast!!  …but I also have a bad memory….so in order to remember this experience I’ll document parts of it here:

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First of all I had to go pickup my badge for the event.  You can always spot a fellow SXSW’er by the large badge around their neck.  This badge cost me $675 at the time I bought it:

Since this is the Interactive event, it’s all internet dorks like me…so all the people you follow on Twitter or read their blogs…are most likely at SXSW also.

To illustrate this point, Adam who has a blog called Magical Penny reads my blog.  He actually emailed me a few days in advance saying he’d like to meetup.  Surely enough, as I’m registering to get my badge (along with THOUSANDS of other people), the guy next to me asks, “Are you Neville?” ….turns out it was Adam!

I randomly get the “Hey-are-you-Neville-I-read-your-blog” thing pretty often, but it was funny that it happened RIGHT as I got there (not gonna lie…it felt a little celebrity-ish) :-)

This was on Thursday before SXSW started.

That same Thursday a good friend of mine who owns Smiley Media was throwing a “little” pre-SXSW party which was part of a long list of “SXSW Pub Crawl” parties.  They named the party “The Smiley Media Penthouse Party” which sounded pretty cool compared to the other parties at small bars.  Theirs was being held in their 28,000 sq. ft. office at the very top of the Omni hotel in the heart of downtown.

Originally they called it the “Penthouse Party at Smiley Media” but figured that might draw the wrong crowd (aka strippers and douchebags) because of the Penthouse Magazine association.

Somehow this little party went viral from a small Facebook invite they sent out to employees.  Soon there were 1,200 RSVP’s and 1,500 people that showed up!

Here’s some of us playing one of those dancing games on the WII at the office:

My friend Michael Cummings took this photo when I was standing by one of the painting at the office….I am:
1.) Wearing glasses  for the first time in months
2.) Looking like an Indian IT professional

This is one of the Smiley Media conference rooms called “The Nest”.  Their office had this cool time-lapse video made of their build out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQnVakCSJRE

In terms of the sheer number off people who showed up, this was possibly one of the largest SXSW parties behind a few of the REALLY big guys like Microsoft.

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The next day SXSW actually started, including all the sessions.  There were sometime up to 25 talks going on at THE SAME TIME every hour.  It’s sometimes difficult to choose one with that many options.  Fortunately a lot of the small ones suck, so that makes it easier.

One of the cool parts about walking around the SXSW Convention Center is randomly meeting REALLY cool people only tech nerds would know.  For example, I wouldn’t REALLY care if I got to see and meet Angelina Jolie (although I sure as hell would take a picture to prove it!)…but I was very excited to bump into people like Tony Hsieh, the Zappos.com guy:

You are simply walking around with cool people…..and then when the parties start, EVERYONE there is generally cool, interesting and slightly nerdy (all of which I like).

That was one of the BEST parts of SXSW.  Simply turn to the person next to you and introduce yourself….almost every time you’re having a great conversation immediately!

A lot of the sessions were hosted by people who’s blogs I read.  For example, Tynan was speaking about how he travels the world without holding down a job…cool to finally see him in person (even though we’ve always had lots of mutual friends we both know really well).

There was sitting room only in the back (and then they wouldn’t let anymore people in because it was too crowded).

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Another thing that goes on at the convention center is the SXSW booths where people can advertise their stuff.  A lot of big players like Google, Microsoft, Monster etc show up to promote.

There was even that Matthew Lesko guy with the question marks suit on those infomercials I so vividly remember as a kid!  I love this picture!

A lot of companies were simply promoting stuff….for example, the new Chevrolet car “The Volt” was being hardcore promoted through the whole convention center.  They BY FAR had the absolute coolest “booth attraction” of them all.

They had this giant round rig setup with 30 cameras positioned around it.  When they press the button, all the cameras click in unison and take a picture.  Here’s mine….but this is only one frame:

Click the image above to see the full 360-degree “Bullet Time” Matrix-style picture!

The rig looked pretty impressive on it’s own…and you stand inside and take a picture.  They have all sorts of props you can use, and even if you stand still, the end result still looks EPIC because of the Bullet-Time effect:

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Even though there’s parties going on all day, most of the really big parties start happening sometime around or after 6pm.  One of the most elaborately decorated (and I’d say by FAR most expensive) parties was the Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 party.

They rented out the ACL Live venue in the W Hotel which can hold upwards of 3,000 people….they DECKED IT OUT and had all sorts of great bands including Passion Pit playing.  Open bar the whole time, any drink you want, as much as you want….plus all the cool nerds you can talk to!  (actually…pretty much EVERY SXSW party has free open bar…but Microsoft allowed you to get ANYTHING, not just well drinks):

This was the very-surreal setup they had…it was all moving with virtual birds flying around it, it looked INCREDIBLE!  This event was actually at fire-capacity, so they weren’t even letting Microsoft employees in. Fortunately we found a route through the W Hotel to go backstage and pop out the front (with some clever name-dropping peppered in of course) ;-)

That 80 foot column thingy was AWESOME looking….two of us hopped on stage right as the band was finishing to get a picture.  As expected, we got kicked off immediately :-)

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Another noteworthy event was the Nikon and Vimeo party which was held at an abandoned power plant close to downtown.  When we got there, the line had several hundred people in it….so of course we pretended like our asses BELONGED there and barged through the VIP entrance.

…it worked beautifully ;-)

They gave us earplugs (we soon found out why) and walked in.  We could hear the booming bass from far away.  The whole power plant looked awesome from far!

My buddy got a picture at the front:

Mine didn’t turn out quite as well…I look like an obnoxious drunk guy:

Turns I may have been obnoxious for hopping the line…oh yea…and possibly drunk!

P.S. checkout the camera-shirt I was wearing in honor of Nikon!  It LOOKS like camera around my neck :-)

Inside the lighting looked AWESOME and music was THUMPING:

The music was so loud they handed out earplugs to everyone that walked in!  I don’t know why they just didn’t turn the volume down a little instead…

Anyhow, checkout the sound system, and realize the sound is contained within a giant concrete bunker.  THAT’s how loud it was.

Even though I own a rave company, I’ve never been to a rave….THIS might have been the closest thing so far!

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In typical SXSW fashion we’d go to great parties with great people all night, then wake up early in the morning to hit up the convention center and speeches.

There’s always all sorts of promotions, free food, free drinks, free swag being given out left and right over there.  I even saw my friend Phil Dhingra taking 3D Pictures of people.  This one is a stereoscopic 3d image (meaning it’s a 2D image that wiggles to look 3d):

One of the more memorable talks for me was definitely Tim Sykes and Andrew Warners speech about “Building a Tribe”.  I think they BOTH had much better topics to speak about, but the SXSW people only wanted some certain yadda yadda….

Anyhow, I met Tim up earlier in the week, and he wanted to do his whole speech dressed as a Jewish Indian…or as he called it, a “Jindian”

I think he wanted to be “the cheapest combination of people possible” or a Jew + Programmer….some ridiculous thing like that you’d except out of Tim :-)

He brought some fake Hasidic Jew hair curls and hat, and I brought him a full Indian kurtha to wear:

Credit: I stole this particular picture from Chris Dunn’s Facebook

The Jindian outfit did several things:

  1. Immediately offended or pissed off the more conservative people in the crowd.
  2. Looked pretty ridiculous.
  3. Made the talk a hell of a lot more entertaining!

The speech was great, and Tim’s crazy and brutally honest style played well off Andrew’s more conservative and genuine style.  After the speech Andrew said, “Since Tim keeps bragging about how much money he makes, let’s go to the lobby and get drinks on his tab!”

About 15 or 20 people came and all had drinks on Tim and Andrew (this venue was slightly further than the SXSW convention area…so no free bars here).

I’d already met Tim, but never Andrew.

Andrew Warner runs a pretty big (and growing fast) website called Mixergy.com.  I personally watch all the business interviews he does with successful people….quite often actually.  They’re GREAT inspiration and he’s a kick ass interviewer.

I completely forgot to get a picture with him, so I’ll just post a picture of my friend with him:

actually….screw that!  I want a picture with him, so here’s me and Andrew Warner (well, at least my Facebook profile picture) ;-)

And finally here’s Andrew and Tim with one of their adoring fans lovingly staring at them (both of them actually have really sizable followings):

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I forgot to mention that for about 6 full days I didn’t pay for ANYTHING.

There are so many people during SXSW Interactive that want to give you FREE music, FREE drinks, FREE parties, FREE shirts, FREE swag, FREE this, FREE that, FREE samples…it’s insane!  …and I took full advantage of it.

I’d eat breakfast at the convention center because some booths had free food.  I’d have free lunch because sponsors were giving away BBQ and other stuff left and right.  Alcohol?  There’s PLENTY of parties (about 30 each night) that will gladly load you up for free.

Speaking of free…I saw a very clever form of advertising that someone thought of.  Remember that Car2Go Austin service I spoke about a little while ago?  You can just pick up any car and…well…GO!  The maximum they can charge you per day is $65, you can park in any parking spot even if it’s metered.

So some clever person decided to rent a bunch of them, park them in highly-trafficked-by-SXSW’ers areas and slap advertising all over them.  BRILLIANT!

The company was HeyWire…I think it’s an app or something, no idea, but it was a GREAT idea.  Unfortunately I have only one picture of the car, and it’s being blocked by two jackasses John and Tarun pretending to arrest each other or something:

You can see the big sticker over the door and the QR code sticker.  I’ll let them slide because those two also happen to own the largest iPhone app development company in the nation.

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So now there’s a very big SHIFT that happens.  Towards the end of SXSW Interactive, the MUSIC part starts.  In fact, my friend told me this:

“There’s an iconic scene every March 15th when hoards of sleep-deprived and physically exhausted nerds start leaving the Hilton (closest hotel to the convention center) and a bunch of pimped-out cool-looking people with mohawks, chains and shiny shirts start coming in…READY to party.”

It’s a perfect demonstration of what’s happening!

SXSW is still going on, but all the cool nerds I love hanging out with start leaving, and all these grungy/cooler-than-me musician types start showing up from every country on the planet.

The music part gets Austin into an even crazier state.  Almost all roads anywhere near the center of Downtown get closed, full of traffic and tens of thousands of people who are NOT at SXSW start showing up to enjoy all the free music.

It’s great for the city, and quite a sight to see….although the crowds would suck if you were driving, thankfully I have a scooter and bicycle (and I live 3 blocks away) :-)

6th Street (Austin’s main party area) turns very grungy and hipster-ish…and it’s pretty significant.  The people watching during SXSW Music is incredible!  You see all types of freaks everywhere!  It’s great!

Anyhow, if you can’t beat em, join em….so we started going to a lot of SXSW Music stuff (after a day of recovery from Interactive).  Exactly 30 steps from my door is the French Ligation Museum Grounds which had a constant massive party with free music, so outside my window (where I’m typing this right now) was a constant stream of people walking by.

Then the famous “Fader Fort” started, which is this giant tent city that gets built in a field only 3 blocks from my apartment.  We walked or scootered there nearly everyday.  They have free music, free drinks, free snacks, free arcade games and all sorts of fun little things.

One of my FAVORITE things there was the Guitar Center Booth:

I noticed inside it said, “Guitar Tune Ups” and two guys fixing guitars.  Presuming everything is FREE at SXSW, I inquired who they were fixing guitars for.  Their reply:

“Anyone!”

I thought this was so cool!  You bring in any of your guitars and they’ll re-string, fix-up, polish and tune-up the thing for FREE!

They had a little “lounge” area you can just pickup guitars and jam:

I live just a few blocks away, so I scootered back home, strapped on my bass guitar (which is an old and no-name-brand cheapo guitar) and had them fix it up:

The threw away all my old strings, polished the HELL out of the neck and tune-up the electronics.  He even replaced one of my janky-ass tuning pegs!

They really went to town…and I thought it was such a cool service.  Great job @GuitarCenter !

Funny side story:
As I was waiting for my bass to be finished up, I was playing some bass guitar on a REAL bass amp they had laying down.  It was the first time I’d played bass on such a powerful amp…it felt like a different instrument compared to my baby-amp I use at home.

Another guy next to me strapped on a guitar and started improvising something in an E7 scale (which I happen to know), so I started backing him up.  Then someone else kicked in on the guitar, and before you know it we were playing in our own little “band”.  Then people standing outside started gathering around like we were playing a set!

So technically so far I’ve had two live performances ;-)

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Speaking of live performances….

My brother was over during SXSW and me and him were practicing for our upcoming performance together at a friends wedding.  After some drinks and other friends coming over, we decided to have our very own SXSW Music performance and form a little “band” on our balcony.

I remember it being pretty crowded on our balcony with all the instruments, amps and people, so my roommate was hanging out like a cat on the railing:

Then we got the idea to take this awesome color changing light bar from HouseOfRave that I bought and put it outside…to all the people walking by it looked like a real concert (except on a balcony) :-)

That was actually a BLAST!

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Then the very next day when I woke up, I thought my roommate was playing music in the morning.  No big deal since I could barely hear it, but then I walked in the living room and noticed out my desk window THIS:

Even though there’s the French Ligation 30 steps away, there was an even CLOSER band playing 5 steps out my window!

Apparently it was a band where all the members live in our apartment complex, so some of hopped outside and started watching them….with drinks in hand of course..it’s not like I had to drive home :-)

It was a great start to the morning hanging out in the road with all our fellow apartment people watching a good band on a beautiful day over an AWESOME backdrop!  Plus people brought their dogs out to play also:

Hahaha, that’s one photogenic Pomeranian!

During the band changes (there were FOUR bands playing outside my door) we would hop on the instruments and play until the bands kicked us off. Here’s a cool shot of my brother playing the drums (yes, his hair is “slightly” longer than mine):

This unexpected band was the PERFECT way to end the absolutely craziness known as SXSW.

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So people who aren’t familiar with SXSW have asked me if I’ll buy an Interactive badge again next year.  The answer is:

HELL…..YES!

Kelleher Speech – 3rd Time Seeing

I saw Herb Kelleher the founder of Southwest Airlines speak again on the University of Texas campus, this time in front of a huge audience of around 800 people.

If you recall, Herb is the completely out-of-the-ordinary chairman of a very out-of-the-ordinary airline. The last time I saw him I pre-empted taking a funny picture with him with his favorite things: Wild Turkey Whiskey and cigarettes!

Ended up getting this picture with him last time:

He was a great sport about it, and I thought it was a hilarious and completely unique picture! This time for the photo I tried upping the ante and taking a funnier picture, but it was hard to top the last one. I tried dressing like an airline pilot (using a black suit and an old hat) but it didn’t work so well….it basically looked like I was wearing a black suit and old hat. So instead I got this picture with him:

Cigar smoking!

If you look closely at the enlarged picture you can see he kept the cigar tube on so he didn’t have to put his mouth on the cigar and waste it. He smokes like crazy, but not cigars apparently (Last time I saw him he smoked about 7 cigarettes in one sitting)!

He spoke predominately on the extreme importance of a good company culture, and unfortunately didn’t show the absolutely hilarious “Malice In Dallas” video like the last appearance I caught.

Incidentally the Southwest Airlines Archives JUST posted a short YouTube clip of the Malice In Dallas video (I’m actually quite surprised it’s not fully up on YouTube already):


(Thanks to Drew)

It’s crazy how precisely the companys attitude reflects its leader. What he seemed to be most proud of was keeping a fun company culture despite being such a large company (something most of his peers said couldn’t be done).

A Word On Business Cards

I attend tons of events, networking parties and all that jazz, one thing in common is coming back with a pocket full of business cards.

Some are big, some are small, some are normal, some are fancy. By and large, it doesn’t make a single bit of difference what your business card looks like. I have never once decided to contact some someone back based solely on their business card.

In fact, most of the very successful people I meet have exceedingly simple business cards. Name, contact info and maybe a company logo. Nothing ornate because it doesn’t matter.


What my business card looks like (except a different email address, this was an old photo and I was too lazy to take a new one).

The funny thing is, usually the people with brand new companies which aren’t even making money generally have the coolest/most expensive business cards. I interpret that as a very ominous sign.

Not all cool business cards are bad though. If you’re making good money with the company, then sure, go nuts, although it’ll unlikely make any difference. I like some business card designs that tie into their industry, like some of these which would be great for tradeshows….but for most occasions, a standard personal business card would do fine.

If you’re actually of any interest to a person, it doesn’t matter if your contact info is written on a napkin, they’ll get back to you. If you’re relying on a cool business card to get you a call back, then you’ve probably got some work to do on yourself.

Just remember: You are making the impression, not the business card.

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Random:
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  • In 2007 I bought several hundred business cards with a 2007 yearly calendar on the back thinking it would be a good idea. It wasn’t. Now in 2008 I still hand out those business cards and mention, “…and on the back you have a nice 2007 calendar!” which always gets a laugh! However a more timeless card would’ve been preferable.
  • VistaPrint.com has really cheap and easily designable business cards.
  • I keep about 3 business cards in my wallet at all times, it really comes in handy.
  • Sometimes at events I get a person who introduces themselves and nearly immediately hands me a business card *cough* real estate agents *cough* …these generally go immediately into the garbage. Only trade cards if there’s at least a small possibility of you two connecting again.
  • Even if you don’t have a business, a personal business card with your name, email and phone number would be nice to carry.
  • I don’t like glossy business cards, you can’t write on them.
  • It’s helpful when you get home to write interesting information about the person directly on the business card in case you forget. This has helped me several times.
  • Generally when I get home, I checkout the websites listed on the business cards I get.

My Trip to The GooglePlex

You know, I wasn’t quite sure how to write this particular post. Originally I wanted to do a post called “What Would I Do If Google Disappeared?” in which I would describe the various facets of life that Google directly affects my life.

Then recently I wanted to write a post about my trip to the GooglePlex in Mountain View, CA. I just had to see it since I’ve heard so much about it…almost built up to mythical status in my head.

Both ideas seemed good, so I think I’ll just roll them both into one big Google-y posting:

WHAT WOULD I DO IF GOOGLE DISAPPEARED?
All the ways I use Google in life.

Boom. Something big happens and every Google service I currently use is gone. The best way for me to think of every Google service I use it by taking it step by step.

DAY TO DAY:
I wake up every day, and the first thing I do now is NOT go into the home office like I used to, but stay in bed and grab my iPhone. Almost immediately all my email from several different accounts are downloaded. Two of them utilizing Gmail.

So my day starts off without any spam mail whatsoever, thanks to Google Gmail. I later get up, then start my desktop and laptop…both of them have Google Desktop installed (which I use constantly), and then I soon after load up my internet browser, which is 50% of the time Google Chrome. The other 50% of my surfing is done on Internet Explorer since Chrome is so new and still has a few tiny bugs, but even my Internet Explorer has the lovely Google Toolbar installed on it.

BUSINESS RELATED:
I update invoices and many documents through Google Docs which is great. Many times a day I search the internet for something. The search engine I use? Take a guess…

Even though my business email addresses all have their own domains, all the mail is relayed through Gmail servers to filter out the spam.

When I look up videos or host my own product demonstration videos, of course I use YouTube which is owned by Google.

When I look at the analytics for my businesses, guess which service I use? Google Analytics. It’s by far the best website analytics service around, and it’s free.

For making money off websites I use Google Adsense.

For advertising my own products I use Google Adwords.

For accepting money on websites I use Google Checkout in addition to my merchant account.

For HouseOfRave searching, the site uses Google Sitesearch.

…and finally, as I type these very words into my internet browser, I’m using Blogger….ALSO owned by Google!

I’m sure there’s lots of different ways that Google affects my personal and business life that I forgot to mention, but I digress to continue to my next subject:

MY TRIP TO THE GOOGLEPLEX:
WOW, so Google plays a hand in almost everything I do. There’s many other companies that do this: Microsoft, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and the list of big companies goes on…but Google is the most visible character I play with.

Myself and many others continue welcoming Google into our lives because they keep simplifying things for us, making things better and providing great tools.

Now where is all this stuff made, and how do they continue banging out such cool stuff at such breakneck speed? Well, I’m pretty sure my visit to the GooglePlex shed some light on that.

QUICK DISCLAIMER: Google, if I offend you in any way I apologize in advance. I don’t think anything I’m posting here is confidential or intrusive to Google. I might have gotten a few security gaurds on my case telling me to put the camera away, and I always obeyed, but here are the pics I have. Considering the above list of ways I use your services, you probably know EVERYTHING about me, which makes you sort of like God. Please don’t smite me.

Now keep in mind I have pretty much zero experience working for a big company, so I’m not too familiar with how workspaces are setup, but from what I know, Google seems to be on the cooler end.

I quickly realized why they call it the GooglePlex. It’s BIG. Each building isn’t particularly massive, but it’s definitely a large network of separate buildings (hence the ‘plex’). In the relatively small city of Mountain View, CA., Google’s offices hold roughly 15,000+ people and is still growing. It occupies 47 buildings.

At first I thought I was driving through a large business park, but quickly realized that every building I was passing had a Google sign. Some are buildings that existed previously, some were just recently built for Google, and more are in construction, but they’re all Google’s.

So walking through a typical building might look something like this:

Very nice, serene landscaping coupled with the beautiful year-round weather of Mountain View makes a nice combination.

But for the most part, the main attraction at Google is the food. From what I’ve read, I had this weird impression the Google cafeteria would be some crazy Willy Wonka-like wonderland with chefs sliding down poles and food being tossed into your plate by Oompa Loompas, but it was a little different.

Have you ever been to Las Vegas and eaten at one of those expensive buffets at a nice casino? It was kind of like that.

So the entrance to the main cafeteria building looked like this, with lots of people opting to eat outside:

I personally don’t like buffets too much because there’s just WAY too much stuff to eat. However there’s something to please EVERYONE at Google!

Google provides free breakfast, free lunch, free dinner and free snacks to all their employees…and they’re welcome to bring guests and family often as they wish. Many Googlers feel absolutely no need to eat anywhere else.

They have every type of cuisine you can imagine, and hire some of the best chefs around. From the main buffet area here’s what I chose:

I eat weird things at buffets, and wasn’t particularly hungry, so don’t judge the quality of the food by my diet.

What’s also cool is they have 19 other cafeteria locations, each with a theme. One of them is called ‘Seven’ or something like that….and it serves only foods made from the 7 original food groups. Near the main cafeteria there’s also a fruit smoothie bar that makes smoothies only from fresh fruits, vegetables and other stuff that was harvested practically yesterday.

There was a woman in one of the ancillary cafeterias I saw whose sole job was to grind wheatgrass into juice. It takes a huge amount of wheatgrass to make a little juice, and she puts this concentrated juice (which is supposedly full of stuff that’ll make you healthy) into a shot glass, then puts the shotglass in crushed ice. There’s roughly 20-30 shotglasses on ice full of ice-chilled wheatgrass juice which you can just walk by and drink. As for drinking pure, crushed wheatgrass….it honestly didn’t taste that bad.

Here’s me chillin’ with my Gmeal:

Another cool thing is many of the herbs, fruits and veggies used to make the food are grown on site at Google. In the same outdoor area where people sit to eat, the food is being grown. Fresh food AND locally grown…hard to complain.

Walking along one of the main buildings there was a full scale tyrannosaurus rex, one of the many pieces of funky art dotting the landscape:

Right alongside this garden were meeting rooms. Here’s an actual Google meeting taking place (with the T-Rex in the reflection):

So after taking pictures of a meeting room, I think I got a few uneasy stares and had to chill out with the camera action. In fact while indoors I wasn’t supposed to be taking any pictures at all (hence the lack of the cafeteria pictures).

This was one of the outdoor concourses of the main building. Pretty funky architecture:

Now you see that bike the guy is riding in the above picture? Well there’s hundreds of those around the GooglePlex that anyone can use. Lets say you need to go from building 25 to the building 40…well that’s a long walk. However simply walk outside the building, and you’re bound to see a fleet of these bikes just randomly parked around. Grab one and go!

I thought it was pretty fun just grabbing a bike and going, then not having to worry about securing it to a bike rack…just leave it and go, ready for the next person. By the way, I actually got in trouble for taking the above picture on the bike.

Here’s a bad picture of the visitors center:

On the walls they have several monitors projecting live Google searches from around the world. The monitors quickly scrolled keywords, maybe 1 or 2 per second. From what I understand, they’re filtered for profanity, or else it’d be a very offensive visitors center!

And finally here’s the picture I call my “SEO Picture.” Search optimization at its best, literally on top of Google!

So that was my Google trip. This was one of the first corporate environments I’ve ever stepped in (besides Take Your Kid To Work Day), and I must say one thing:

It reminded me of college.

It was a bunch of smart, young people working hard on projects, riding bikes around, working and playing in the same area and everyone lives close by and you don’t necessarily have to show up every day.

There are however some subtle differences such as you get PAID to be here, they provide everything for you completey free (gym, personal trainers, haircuts, car washing, dry cleaning, good food etc) and everyone is slightly older (but not by much).

From what I understand, this single Google location blows through $1,000,000/week on food alone. That number doesn’t include all the other amenities they provide. But considering the company brings in a billion and half dollars per month, that figure isn’t so crazy.

I definitely see why people would want to work here, and how they attract some of the best talent around. So I guess attracting top talent and keeping them very happy has definitely helped Google become such a strong, global force so quickly.


The only problem I found with Google:
was parking. I find it ironic that I can find the entire text of Moby Dick using Google in half a second, but it takes me 15 minutes to search for a parking spot. Ha! Perhaps they’ll find a solution for that too (update: I’ve been informed they offer free valet parking at buildings 40, 41, 42 and 43)!

Bill Gates Rolls in an Escalade

Kind of last minute I heard that Bill Gates was delivering a speech at the University of Texas campus to a crowd of only computer science students. I’ve already seen Steve Ballmer speak, so now I wanted to see Gates.

Problem was only current computer science students had admission to this speech, which is bad since I’m neither a computer science major nor a student….but there’s ALWAYS a way around those little rules.

A little recon showed the admission “ticket” was simply an inch wide, hot pink wristband that CS students stood in line for hours to get. They were making this almost TOO easy! After a quick trip to Office Max for some different shades of pink paper and double-stick tape, I was going to cut the paper to an inch wide and double-tape the ends to make a bracelet. However I quickly realized that two standard-sized wristbands put together looked like the real thing. Even easier.

So a strip of scotch tape plus two hot pink wristbands and voila…

…instant fake Bill Gates admission pass!

So I walk in the Texas Union Ballroom, flash the wristband and they let me in. It was a packed house, and I literally had to sit in the LAST seat at the very back.

One of the first things he did was show the (very well done) “Bill Gates’ Last Day at Microsoft” video that’s supposed to be a spoof of “The Office” ….in case you haven’t seen it:

He then gave his speech which was mostly about how software and philanthropy can help each other, it was pretty interesting stuff.

Some stuff I found interesting:

  • He was actually a really charismatic and good speaker. I was pleasantly surprised by this.
  • Instead of water at the podium, he drank a Diet Coke.
  • He never bashed Apple or Google, and in fact spoke very highly of both.

So of course I wanted a picture with him, unfortunately since this was so last minute I didn’t have a great plan to get one. As the richest man in the world, he is probably also the most bothered man in the world, so I knew his security would be really high, and since the Obama/Clinton debate was taking place at UT the following day, the whole campus was on high alert already.

So after the speech I went around the back of the Texas Union where the VIP’s leave from, and spotted his entourage. There were two vehicles which looked associated with him: one red Cadillac Escalade and one black Chevy Tahoe.

Three “normal” looking guys were standing around these cars which were obviously positioned for a quick escape out of the building. The guys were obviously his security detail…all looked tough but were dressed to blend in the crowd. It didn’t quite work, since it was three strong guys dressed in similar, gray North Face jackets. There were also several police officers positioned by the doors where he would exit from. I tried casually walking through the doors several times just to push my luck but was stopped each time.

It was funny because one of Gates’ guards looked a lot like Tim Ferris!

Once his security guys got the word Gates was leaving, they re-positioned the red Escalade right against the stairwell and opened the doors. Right then, Gates and two other guys walked down the stairs together as his security guys stood in a flanked position to block any access to him. I was about 10 feet away from Bill Gates when one of the security guys (who I was chatting up earlier) stopped me. I asked, “Is there any way I could get a quick picture,” to which he replied, “Sorry man, not today.” By the time he finished his sentence, Gates and the two other men hopped in the backseat of the Escalade.

Two of the security guys jumped in the front driver and passenger seats and drove off with the third security guy trailing them in the black Tahoe. Judging by the tires, windows and side-profile of the opened doors, none of the SUV’s looked armored.

I snapped this quick picture right as they were leaving. That’s Bill Gates sitting by that window (can’t really see him through the tint).

Attending An Elton John Private Performance

A little over 2 years ago I attended a private charity fundraiser event which included a private performance by Elton John. This past weekend I got word that this event was being held again so I decided to go. Based off the PHENOMENAL performance and “fun-ness” of the event last year, I didn’t want to pass this chance up!

Last time I went, I actually had to duck out during the first part of dinner because there were absolutely NO seats left. However this time I was lucky enough to get a seat at one of the tables they kept for last minute invites. They brought in a 5-star (or diamond) chef to cook the nights meal, so naturally every course was delicious.

Another cool thing about this time around was I got to sit RIGHT next to the stage for the whole performance. As I was holding my camera up to record some clips of the performance, it dawned on me that I was watching a private show by Sir Elton John, sitting right against the stage whilst sitting right next to Lance Armstrong and a bunch of rich & famous in Austin. Just a fun feeling :-)

The Fundraising Power of Elton:
These events always have auctions, and this one was no exception. Each of the 8 items auctioned off raised several tens of thousands of dollars apiece, but that wasn’t enough. Elton John took the mic and auctioned off a private dinner with him for you and your friends in any of his homes in France, London, Atlanta, Paris….and the list goes on (He listed like EIGHT different places he lives).

They started this item at $10,000, and it quickly escalated $5,000 higher with each bid…quickly shooting up past $50,000, then $70,000, then over $100,000! It soon became apparent that three different parties were set on winning this private dinner with Elton John, so they all went to the stage to collaborate. A few seconds later, each of the three parties agreed to get their own Elton John private dinner for $150,000 a piece! That’s $450,000 for the Andy Roddick Foundation in less than 3 minutes!

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VIDEO UPDATE: 11-12-2007
Here’s a 1min 45sec video of Elton playing Tiny Dancer I took from the stage where I was sitting. I forgot to upload it when originally writing this post. I don’t know if the sound and picture quality captures it very well, but Elton John delivered a mind-blowing performance!

I’m fortunate enough right now to have people that know about these events and even help me get in. This event was pretty easy to crash since I was helped out and given the needed wristband for entrance. However, the end goal here is to one day be in a position where I can afford to donate $12,000 for a table at these kind of events. Obviously right now I can’t drop that kind of cash on a single event, but meeting people at these places might definitely help get me there one day.

And by one day I mean within the next two years.

Painting Address Numbers on Curbs

I’ve seen people do this all day, charge up to $40 per painting and do whole neighborhoods:
Re-painting the address numbers on curbs of houses.

I always thought this was a cool and easy way to make some extra money. So in some spare time this week I bought some plastic stencils (About $8) and some black/white outdoor spray paint (About $10) and decided to see how hard it could be.

I took the materials outside and gave it a rough shot on some newspaper:

It was a little messy, and I had to end up cutting the stencils apart, but my first painting came out alright. Not perfect, but alright.

I then started using tape to seal any loose areas of the stencils together, and I successfully made a semi-neat spray of the numbers. This isn’t hard stuff, but it takes a little trial and error testing.

I’ve seen lots of neighborhoods around Austin where I couldn’t find a house because of the lack of address numbers, think of what would happen if a police car or ambulance couldn’t find your house number.

Perhaps in the next few weeks I’ll give this a shot. I tried it out on some old curbage at my apartment complex, and it turned out decent….very rough….but nothing a little practice won’t clean up.

This would be an awesome way to make a good $100+ a day for a couple of high school kids or Boy Scouts. Actually, anyone could setup this little curb painting business for themselves and make a quick income!  It involves an easy service you can sell door-to-door that people will gladly pay for.

It seems everyone nowadays is talking about “Making money doing nothing” …..which is great….but making money from good old manual labor is sometimes very rewarding!

My first tries of the curb painting were a little rough, and I wanted to actually DO this door-to-door, so I bought new materials and made my own custom curb border out of cardboard I had laying around the house.  I was surprised how cheap everything was!  Altogether my total at Home Depot came out to less than……

GO TO PART 2 –> of the experiment (I did a much better job on my second tries)!

FacebookProfile Stats, Entpr Year, New Apt

The condo I was living in with two rommates was sold, and we have now moved to a college-based community of apartments like I used to live in. These apartments are great because everyone living there is a student of some sort, they have lots of great amenities, and best of all individual leases. This means if you have four people living in an apartment, and three of them move out, the last person is not stuck paying the full rent….just their share. This way I can be very flexible about my living arrangements.

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I recently followed an idea for starting a Facebook based site which offers Facebook Tricks etc, and it’s coming along nicely. I’ve been getting some decent traffic, up to 350 unique visitors a day and growing.

Right now the site is making less than $1 a day from the one Google Ads, but it’s not even been online for two weeks….so I’m not worried yet. A problem with Google Ads is they base the ads on page content….mostly Facebook talk. Needless to say the pay per click rates are low, even though I’m getting a lot of clicks.

It’s sometimes getting above 1,000 impressions a day, so I’ll start looking for other ad systems that pay higher rates for page impressions. Here are the stats from the last few days:

This is actually turning out to be a fun little project!

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Thanks to “Bob”, I was tipped off about the Austin Entrepreneur of the Year awards last week, and I attended the event with Kunal of Grade-A-Books. It was one of the better events I’ve been to, with a great pre-event, event, and after-party. Then later out to Downtown!

This picture is a good sum-up of the night!

Texas Film Society Hall of Fame Awards

This past Friday, “Bob” once again tipped me off about a great party. This particular event was going to have a lot of celebrities, film producers and a lot of high powered people in general.

I was informed the attire was “Texas Cocktail”, and I had NO clue what that meant. I played it safe and wore a tux, until I found out I was WAY over dressed. The bow tie came off, a few buttons were let loose and my wardrobe looked decent.

I had the chance to hang out with my friend N-a.te P a – ul at this party (He’s a college freshman and has already sold six companies….a whole post will go up about this guy later).

It was quite an eventful night, but some few major points:

I somehow heard Lucy Liu was in the crowd, and after dinner I actually went up to her and said, “Are you Lucy Liu? May I take a picture with you?” She gave me the COLDEST look and said, “I’m not Lucy Liu” and her friend sitting next to her confirmed her statement.

Turns out is was Lisa Ling from the show “The View”! Obviously, Lisa Ling is not a big Neville Medhora fan anymore. I’m usually not embarrassed easily, but I must laugh at MYSELF for that slip up :-)

In hindsight it’s clear to see they don’t look exactly alike…but it person in was deceiving!

Towards the end of the night me and NP happened to stumble upon access passes laying out on the tables. I got lucky and picked up an “All Access” pass which allowed me to go in the promo picture room with all the celebs and directors. It was surprisingly strict in there, the bouncers actually made someone delete two pictures from their digital camera inside the room.

Matthew McConaughey was there being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and NP and I went through a lot of crap to get this awful picture. We FINALLY got MM’s picture while he was ordering a drink. Long story short, Matthew McConaughey is an ASS. He’s also People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive.

I’m hardly in the picture. When he finally agreed to take the picture, he said, “Fine, but I’m not moving.” So far that night I had pissed of TWO celebrities, a new record.

Lyle Lovett performed that night, and we got a picture with him. His people were trying to get him out of the venue and told us we couldn’t have a picture, however he told them to hold on and took one with us anyway. He even talked to us for a little while. He looks a bit like a rooster, but otherwise he was a great guy.

The party was great, but the BEST part of the night was figuring out where the after party was! A little asking around got us the location, so we headed to Downtown. When we arrived, NP dropped a big name he knew personally which got us past the tight security. Surprisingly, it was at a 3-storey, private condo in the middle of Downtown Austin.

THIS is where all the fun and mingling was that night! Before we left, me and NP took some “Party-Crashing” pictures by the rooftop pool to remember the good times:

It was an awesome time. Of course I wouldn’t have known about it without “Bob”, so another great big thanks to him for another party hookup!

Meeting Michael Dell and Lance Armstrong

7:00pm my phone rings and “Bob” calls me from his regular hotspot, a swanky hotel, saying he happened to notice a large number of high powered individuals heading to the ballroom downstairs. Party crashing time. I took a quick shower, threw on a suit, got my roommate to tie my tie (because I still don’t know how) and drove to the hotel.

I met “Bob” in the lobby as dinner was being served. The place was packed and every seat was taken except at one table. We went up to the table, “Bob” did a little talking, and in an instant we were having a conversation with people we didn’t know, at an event we knew nothing about, and having a delicious meal.

After scoping out the room, it became very apparent that this was a big event with big people. In fact, while opening the bathroom door, I literally bumped into Lance Armstrong!

The event was in honor of Michael and Susan Dell for their philanthropic contributions. There were three billionaires in the room, the biggest being Michael. There was a movie about the Dell charity, several speakers and then they both gave a speech after being honored.

Michael Dell’s wife, Susan, is a tri-athlete and frequently goes bike riding with Lance Armstrong. Here is a picture of Lance, Susan and Michael together….well, their backs at least:

Later in the evening I got to meet Michael Dell, the famed founder of Dell Computers who started his company from a dorm room at the University of Texas. I talked with him briefly and found him to be a very approachable and extremely nice guy.

After the event was over, “Bob” and I headed back upstairs to the hotel lounge to finish up the night with an evening cocktail. That suit cost me $200 and the drinks cost me $25, but now I had the opportunity to meet Lance Armstrong and Michael Dell.

Thanks “Bob” for another great event!