Reviews

XOXO 2013

In September 2013, I was fortunate enough to attend XOXO: an experimental art and technology conference.

Neon

There’s a contagious energy about XOXO that’s hard to explain. People of the internet collectively descend on Portland for 3 days of inspirational talks, events and fun. Pitches for new startups and talk VC money is frowned upon. It’s heartfelt, genuine and devoid of cynicism. The entire conference felt like a warm hug over and over again. And if you know any Hrachs, we like to hug. (Sorry about that.)

Andy Baio and Andy McMillan are making the world a better place by inspiring people to build products independently. And ‘products’ is probably too narrow of a description. Things? Wonderful and beautiful things? Just build something. Just be happy building something. Do it independently and control it. Be your own publisher, gatekeeper, and boss. That’s what they want for you. That’s what they want to see the world filled with. That’s how the world will be a better place.

And so they produced XOXO, which is in its second year and I was lucky enough to attend.

Opening with Chris Anderson

XOXO Attendees

While many things make XOXO wonderful, the level of polish and attention to the entire experience stood out the most. It was Apple quality in terms of a conference. From the laser etched wood badges, to hand picked food trucks, to the quality of events and speakers; it all conveyed one thing: they deeply care. This is service design at its best. If only everyone cared this much about anything.

Take a stand

And the events. The events! They fit in so many amazing things that I felt like I had been there a week after the first day.

We visited Panic’s office, which I’ve always wanted to see since first reading about the founder’s room. We had drinks on the roof top of Wieden + Kennedy, and while I’m happily out of the marketing/advertising world, I very much enjoyed seeing their incredible office (Don’t be late for your meeting in the nest). We hung out at an arcade that had all of my favorite nostalgic 90’s-era arcade games (old school Street Fighter battles ftw). There was an intimate concert with Jim Guthrie, Jonathan Coulton, Jack Conte and Anamanaguchi. We screened independent films and played table top games. We collectively played beautiful, unreleased pixel art video games from independent publishers. We had more fun than we ever expected to.

The line up of speakers were equally impressive but three especially stood out:

  • Vi Hart stole the show with an energetic, spontaneous, and downright hilarious talk on finding the way that fits you best to self-promote your work. She’s also an amazing musician.
  • Marco Arment spoke to his experiences and fears running a one person app company. He also announced his new podcast app: Overcast. I’m a big fan of Instapper and I’m excited to see this.
  • Cabel Sasser gave an incredibly sincere, emotional, and funny talk on how he overcomes his own self-doubt. It’s moving when someone as accomplished as Cable allows themselves to become that vulnerable in front of 200 strangers. He had the most genuine moments of the conference and made everyone feel just a little more human.

I hope they do post videos of all the speakers. There was too much good stuff to not share with the world.

Make Me Proud.

Finally, there’s Portland. It was my first time visiting and it’s my new favorite town. It’s friendly and approachable, but has the excitement and feel of a much bigger city such as San Francisco. Life revolves around good food, coffee and beer while Portalandia stereotypes are embraced. XOXO would not be as successful in another city. I know I’ll be back soon.

Hopefully, it will be at XOXO 2014.

Oh god.

Here’s the rest of my XOXO photos.

Modest Mouse: The Lonesome Crowded West

Pitchfork produced a documentary about my favorite album by my favorite band.

The Lonesome Crowded West is the album that introduced me to indi rock and would shape how I identify my musical tastes for years to come. It’s raw and idealistic without the baggage of experience or critique. The lyrics are smart and personal, progressing between quiet and intense. Even listening to it today outshines anything I’ve heard in the past few years.

If you’re a fan, you’ll enjoy the documentary below as much as I did. If you’ve never listened to the album, do yourself a favor and check it out.

PITCHFORK CLASSIC
Modest Mouse: The Lonesome Crowded West

Work Setup

I love reading about tools people use to be effective. Frank Chimero, a graphic designer out of Portland, recently detailed his working setup which inspired me to tell you about mine.

Software

Gmail: Like others in the web industry, I’m a proponent of the GTD system. It’s a brilliant strategy in dealing with overwhelming emails, client requests and constant fractured attention. It allows me to focus on the task at hand while keeping me sane. The Gmail web interface seems like it was designed for GTD, and I use it often. Archiving is your friend, people.

Another email app I have been testing is Sparrow: a light-weight Gmail client that makes it easy to power through email processing sessions. It needs a few more features to replace the Gmail interface (like instant send undo), but it’s a promising alternative and I enjoy using it.

Things: I rely on Thing heavily for my task management. It’s perfect for GTD and critical to my personal process. It’s also beautifully designed. I can’t wait for cloud syncing, which will make the iPhone and iPad versions that much more useful.

Coda: I’ve been using Coda since it was released. I love the interface, how light-weight it is, and the snippet system. I know many prefer Text Expander because of the features, but I’ll take Coda. I really like the company, Panic, as well.

Transmit: Another great product from Panic. You always need a good FTP client.

iWork: After years of suffering through MS office, I now exclusively use iWork. It’s cleaner, lighter, and more polished in every regard. Saves in all Office formats.

Simple Note: I love apps that use the cloud. I can take notes and instantly have them on all my devices.

Dropbox: Another cloud app, but with files. A must if you use multiple computers.

Photoshop: I’ve tried to use alternative image editors, but I keep coming back to Photoshop. It does everything for me from editing photos to designing web graphics. Until someone creates a better, independent layout program, Photoshop will be my main creative tool.

Hardware:

MacBook Air: Shedding 4 lbs from my 15″ MacBook pro has been liberating. The SSD memory is fast, runs what I need well, and is ultra portable. I just need to find a smaller bag now.

iPad: Singletasking: focusing intently and completely on one task at a time. And since you can only use one application at a time, the iPad excels at singletasking. It’s refreshing and meditative. I do some of my best writing while focused on my iPad.

iPad keyboard: If you have never used a keyboard with and iPad, I encourage you to try it out. It give a new dimension to using the iPad and it necessary for real typing.