OSSAT?

Keen IO is proud to partner with Rainforest QA and Segment to support the open source community by putting together the next SF Open Source Show and Tell. “What is Open Source Show and Tell?” you may ask. Well, I’m glad you did!

TL;DR: Open Source Show and Tell is a series of events for anyone and everyone interested in open source projects. They are inclusive events that are all about sharing, learning, and getting involved in open source projects (“OSS”).

We will be featuring a presentation by Beth from Microsoft about their experiences open sourcing the .NET platform.

Click here to sign up and join us

Want to talk about your project? :D You can submit talks by posting a Github Issue™

In the past we’ve had many indie developers present their own projects. A couple notable ones are:

  • Alan Schreve on ngrok
  • Alex Gaynor on organizing the python community and doing proper code reviews in a distributed collaborative (and hopefully friendly) environment.

We have also had presentations about internal OSS projects from a wide variety of companies including Google, Airbnb, Uber, Rackspace, Plivo, Balanced, Keen IO, Twitter, and others.

Hope to see you at Open Source Show and Tell on April 24th!

PS. If you’re interested in organizing a #OSSAT in your city here’s a playbook for more information. It’s open source, so pull requests welcome ;)

Justin Johnson

community guy, hacker, music nut. i like to help people build stuff.

Lessons from a failed YC pitch with Paul Graham

Last week, Kyle Wild and I sat down to talk about one of our favorite topics: failure.

Our friend Alan had given us the idea. He said it could be interesting to hear people with some degree of objective success talk about the times they had failed. He thought it could help new people coming into tech, or any field, cope with impostor syndrome and other fears.

I asked Kyle if any failure story came to mind, and he started laughing immediately: “Oh man, this is bad. This is real bad.”

“Excellent!” I said, and started up the recorder.

Paul Graham experiencing brain failure as Kyle Wild pitches Keen IO (then-named Schmetrics)

Kevin: Tell me about your biggest failure.

Kyle: Okay, when we were starting Keen IO, I went to this thing called Startup School, which is Y Combinator’s weekend of talks for aspiring entrepreneurs. They sent this thing that said, “Hey we’re going to have a couple people come on stage do live office hours with Paul Graham, the founder of our company. He’s going to demonstrate what YC office hours are like.”

YC office hours are like, there’s somebody on the pulpit who’s brilliant, and the lowly entrepreneur is going to sit down with them for an hour and talk. I was hoping to get an interview for Y Combinator anyway, so I said I’d love to do it.

Anyway, I’ve always had stage fright but for some reason I thought I’d be okay for this. When they announced my name I got text messages from friends. They were watching live, which made me nervous. So I go on, I don’t know what happened, it was a blur. It was bad.

Kevin: What was so bad about it?

Kyle: I was abstract, I was mean, I was futurist, I was a little too certain, I didn’t have any evidence, I was reasoning from first principles.

Kevin: How do you know it was a failure?

Kyle: Two things. Number one, we didn’t get into YC. That was painful. This is the biggest class ever. 80-something companies got into YC and we weren’t one of them, which feels shitty.

Then I jumped on Hacker News and there’s a post on “How Not to Talk to Investors” and it had two videos, and I was one of the examples of how not to do this, basically being publicly humiliated.

So obviously I didn’t go on stage for demo day when we were in Techstars the next year, and I didn’t speak at all again until two years later! Every time I’d think about public speaking I’d clam up and I’d think about how the internet is everywhere and if I fuck up people are going to refer back to it as a failure.

Kevin: What are your biggest regrets about it?

Kyle: Honestly one of my regrets is I stopped talking, I stopped going out and being me. I was afraid of being me. I’m a pariah in the industry. I’m on the do-not list of fundraising so how can I fundraise? On the do-not list of public speaking, how can I public speak?

I’ve become a fairly effective public speaker now and I’m getting better. It sucks to lose two years that I could have been working on that. Could’ve helped the company.

And I didn’t even feel like an impostor until somebody called me one and then I was just like, well, I guess I’m an impostor. It’s not because I think he’s right. I now know he wasn’t right. It’s because he said the stuff I was afraid of. That puts you on a bad path.

Kevin: What’s it like to have success after the worst thing you could imagine happened to you?

Kyle: Oh it’s fucking sweet. Like at KeenCon, I did the opening talk. I’m like, what’s the worst that could happen? Someone could record it and then write a post about how stupid I sound and it wouldn’t even be news! It’d be like, well it happened again.

Kevin: What does it make you think about failure in general?

Kyle: Failing at that investor talk in 2011, being shit on a little for that, once I came around, it made me feel pretty bulletproof. Well I failed, now what?

There’s a big difference between zero failures and N failures. When you have an N greater than zero, you’re fine. You know what it’s like. It’s not that bad.

This post was on Hacker News for a second and everything on Hacker News is gone in 15 seconds. I’m sure 1,800 people saw it and maybe 90 of them remembered it.

I did have somebody approach me who said they remembered it. Somebody was like, “I think I saw you on stage in an article about flubs or something.” I was like, “Oh was it an article like, look at these idiots?” He’s like, “Yeah.” This is somebody who approached me after a talk specifically because he liked my talk.

This is why I feel like fear of failure is one of those dangerous things. We should all push ourselves so hard we fail once in a while. I am a little disappointed in myself for not just getting right back on the horse. I had to process in my own way.

Kevin: You’ve talked to people who are going through various startup programs now. Have you given advice that relates to this experience?

Kyle: To some extent. This thing happened to me, maybe October 2011, and then October 2012 I went on a trip, Geeks on a Plane, and I met a coach who is an amazing person. Ed Nussbaum. He noticed I was clenching and freaking out because I was about to go on stage just to say, “Hi I’m Kyle, I’m one of the geeks. I work at this company Keen IO.” This wasn’t even a talk but I was freaking out.

He said something great. He said, “Kyle, you’re an improviser. You’re not a politician. You’re not a stump speech guy. You’re an improviser so what you need to do is give yourself permission to improvise.” Those are the exact words.

So what I started doing was before I go on stage I would just try to meditate. I’m not going to think about anything. I’m just going to stand here. Find a dot on the far wall and just look at it and be like, I wonder how big that dot is.

Just focus thoughts on shit that doesn’t matter and then they’d call my name and I’d be like, oh shit okay. “I’m Kyle, I work at Keen IO. We make an API that lets developers build analytics into their apps. Whatever kind of analytics they want. If you want to talk to me about it, find me after the show.” Really simple little sentence. I could never write that but I just made it up. Even just now, I just made it up. And that’s what I’m good at.

So basically, fuck the haters. It’s easy to find people who are going to call you an impostor. It’s harder to find people who are going to help you find your path.

You’ve just got to find people who build your confidence, listen to them, and find the people who shrink your confidence and just crush them out of your life. They suck.

image
Kyle improvising for the crowd at KeenCon

Post-script: At several times during our conversation, Kyle said I should try to find the article from Hacker News. But after half an hour of Googling, I gave up. It seems to have vanished.

I did find the video of the talk, though. Get ready to cringe a little…

Kevin Wofsy

Teacher, traveler, storyteller

Using HTML5 attributes to clean up dashboard JavaScript code

For anyone who’s built one or more dashboards, there is a common practice I have termed “copy pasta” code. This is where you copy and paste a single code block multiple times and then tweak one or two parameters here and there. This can happen when using the Keen API to build a single page with a bunch of charts (AKA a dashboard).

There has to be a better way, though! All that copy and pasting means that making changes and updates is error-prone and tedious. In a recent revamp of one of our open source projects, Pingpong, I decided to tackle this very problem.

HTML data attributes are your friends

HTML5 added data attributes you can use to store custom data for a given element. What if we moved all of the customized information for a given chart into data attributes and had a single JavaScript function to render each one?

In the context of the Pingpong project, I wanted to have a status page for checks with a variety of charts, but I wanted to make it easy to play around with the different display styles of the charts and deal with “global” filters for all of my queries. Updating each of the charts every time was tedious, though, so I took the old HTML that looked like this:

<div class="row">
  <div class="col-sm-8">
    <div class="chart-wrapper">
      <div class="chart-stage">
        <div id="grid-1-1"></div>
      </div>
    </div>
</div>
  <div class="col-sm-4">
    <div class="chart-wrapper">
      <div class="chart-stage">
        <div id="grid-1-2"></div>
      </div>
    </div>
  </div>
</div>

and turned it into this:

<div class="row">
  <div class="col-sm-8">
    <div class="chart-wrapper">
      <div class="chart-stage">
        <div id="grid-1-1" class="chart-container" 
          data-querytype="average"                        
          data-charttype="line"              
          data-groupby="check.name"              
          data-timeframe="last_48_hours"            
          data-interval="hourly"            
          data-targetproperty="request.duration"             
          data-chartoptions='{"legend": {"show":false}}'>

        </div>
      </div>
    </div>
  </div>
  <div class="col-sm-4">
    <div class="chart-wrapper">
      <div class="chart-stage">
        <div id="grid-1-2" class="chart-container" 
          data-querytype="count" 
          data-charttype="donut" 
          data-groupby="response.status" 
          data-timeframe="last_48_hours" 
          data-chartoptions="">

        </div>
      </div>
    </div>
  </div>
</div>

All of the chart-specific information is now part of the DOM, and if I want to change something on a single chart, I can just edit that div element.

One JavaScript function to rule them all

The “copy pasta” method of rendering charts with the Keen JS SDK is straightforward, but it means that often your code turns into:

This code works, but there’s quite a bit of repeated code in there, and we could pull all that information from the DOM elements if we used HTML data attributes.

So instead, let’s add a single JavaScript function that handles the JavaScript elements of rendering a chart by pulling information from the data attributes (I’m using a lot of jQuery helpers)!

So, what does this do? Now any element with a class of chart-container will get a fancy Keen chart attached to it based on the metadata in the data attributes.

If I want to apply a filter to all charts, I can do that in this function! If I want to enable per-chart filters, that’s easy to do, too. If I want to play with the c3 library or chartjs, it’s easy to swap out all the charts on a given page.

Hopefully this is helpful in making dashboard pages manageable to maintain and modify! If you have any questions or additional ideas about how to use this technique, feel free to let me know.

Alex Kleissner

Software engineer by day, Partybot by night

An update on query durations

We wanted to provide an update on the state of Keen’s query performance. After some rough patches in February and March, we’ve made significant progress in stabilizing queries.

However, query durations are still not as fast as they were, say, three or four months ago. We understand this continues to be frustrating for customers who built solutions that relied on those faster query times. We want queries to be faster too, and hold ourselves to a very high standard when it comes to reliability & performance. It pains us to limit your experience. As part of our commitment to transparent communication, we wanted to increase your awareness of what we’re doing to address the situation.

Why are my queries slow?

There is no single reason for these query duration issues, but they are generally related to the challenges of rapidly scaling our service. To be perfectly transparent, many of you are running fast-growing companies, and your data & query volumes are growing with you. On top of being fantastic, committed, and growing customers, many of you have also recommended Keen to new developers, too. As a result Keen usage has consistently grown (and continues to grow) 20% month over month. Scaling to support you is the challenge we signed up for, and we’re happy to do it, but you wouldn’t be paying us if it weren’t indeed a challenge.

Although platform companies like ours would love to say it isn’t the case, of course another factor that leads to spikes in query duration are individual users dramatically exceeding the standard query load (aka, noisy neighbors). We have already drastically improved, and continue to improve, our ability to detect and protect the platform from these types of use cases, and to work with these customers to find the right solution for their needs. It’s our job to ensure noisy neighbors don’t impact your experience, and we’re committed to that. We don’t want to pretend like that isn’t a challenge either, though.

For those interested in the technical challenges (and triumphs!) of building distributed systems, we plan to write more to explain individual bottlenecks we have encountered with various pieces of the pipeline infrastructure.

What are you doing to resolve this?

Currently we are significantly strengthening nearly every major internal system we rely on. To get a bit more technical, enhancements to our Zookeeper installation are wrapping up. Capacity expansion to our Storm cluster is underway. Our Cassandra data model is being reworked to address costly hot spots. And we’ve further rationalized our internal DNS which will ease deployment and maintenance.

In addition, we now have even more powerful internal tools for performance profiling and benchmarking. We will also be rolling out better service protection in the coming weeks. Structurally, we are looking to significantly expand the size of the platform engineering team (there were only 6 of us until recently; now we have 8 and our team is still growing).

Finally, we didn’t set out to build a company just to see how fast we could grow it. There is no point in scaling Keen bigger and faster if it comes at your expense. The trust of our customers is our most precious asset. So, as another protection to our customers (and our team), we’ve decided to put on hold several new, very large potential customers. Longevity, stability, and sustainability are far more important to us than fast growth.

How can I stay up to date?

You can check our status page for regular updates on performance metrics and query durations.

We also suggest checking out our Query Performance Guide. The guide contains some great tips on how to optimize your queries. In addition, our beta Query Caching feature is now ready for general availability. If you’re interested in significantly increasing performance and consistency for queries that are used repeatedly please reach out to us and we can enable this new feature for you.

What’s the timeline?

While we continue to work through this rough patch, queries will not improve in one fell swoop. All queries will continue to be slower than normal over the next few weeks. Please be aware that Extractions and Percentiles are particularly slow at present.

Achieving our performance standards–in speed, dependability, and scalability–is our top priority. We believe that the investments we are making over the next few weeks will pay off and your query performance will improve, not just in the near term but well into the future as our volume continues to grow.

As always, your patience and understanding are greatly appreciated. We can’t imagine building for a better community. Once again, our deepest apologies for providing you with less than stellar service. We will improve, and we are committed to transparent communication along the way.

Peter Nachbaur

Passionate about throwing and catching flying discs and data

Don’t Let Anyone Tell You That You Can’t Be a Developer

My hands were shaking…I could barely breathe

I had just finished the first one-one-one coding assessment in my six-month coding bootcamp and it had not gone as well as I had wanted.

Honestly, I felt like I bombed it.

Slowly, I withdrew my hands from the keyboard. My mind was racing. It was going to be ok, right? Surely there would be a point where I didn’t feel so lost? When I wouldn’t feel like I didn’t have a clue, right?

Did I just make a huge mistake by putting my life on hold and taking out a loan to start this coding school when I would never be able to become a developer?

I needed a little reassurance. In a moment of self-doubt, insecurity, and vulnerability I turned to my instructor and said, “I know I didn’t do so well but I’ll get better, I’ll be able to learn and become a developer, right?” He threw his hands up and said, “I can’t say…this isn’t for everybody. Not everyone can learn it.”

I was crushed.

After going to the bar down the street for a nice pour of whiskey, I returned to class and just happened to run into another TA in the hall. She asked how things went and I told her my fear that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. Without missing a beat she said, “You can do this. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be a developer!”

She was so sure, so confident, I was taken aback. “Are you sure?” I timidly asked, hoping against all hope that she was. She smiled, “Aubrey, this isn’t easy. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but if you want it, you can do it.”

That night I had an existential crisis

I asked myself why I wanted to become a developer. I had always had a deep love for tech, the arts, and for helping others. When I was younger I had trouble deciding which direction to follow, first going to school for teaching, then spending some time in Nashville writing music, then doing humanitarian work in Central America, and finally finding myself working in an Apple Store in Boulder.

While I saw parts of myself in each new career turn, I never found a way to merge my strengths until I discovered software development.

Why had I not started sooner? Well, I remember being told as a kid that I “wasn’t very good at math” or I was more of a “creative type” - great with music and the arts. These assessments molded how I felt about myself and to some extent created internal boundaries I felt that I could not cross.

Unfortunately, messages like these are all too common. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, 56% percent of technical women leave tech companies within 10 years – more than double the dropout rate for men. And a Harvard Business Review study found that 50% of women in these fields leave because of hostile work environments.

Reflecting that night after my assessment I realized that in the past I had taken discouragements to heart more often than I had encouragements. It was at that moment I decided I would forge ahead despite how hopeless I felt and throw myself completely into learning as much as I could.

I would ask questions in and out of class, make connections with speakers who came in, and stay in touch with the people I met along the way.

Ten months later…

Less than a year after my anxiety-inducing moment of extreme self-doubt, I am happy to report that I am indeed a developer. I am three months into my dream job at Keen IO. It’s a running joke at work - every now and then a coworker pinches me just to prove that it’s real life, I’m not dreaming.

Not only am I working and learning more about code, but I am creating curriculum for an apprenticeship-style program that will allow people right out of bootcamps and college to rotate through our teams, learn more about new technologies, and continue to grow as developers.

The Learner Program will have cohorts of apprentices, multiples of two so that they can work together on projects and talk about how the program is going together. By working as pairs, they are also “not the only one” and are more apt to ask questions and seek out answers.

They will be rotating through the company spending 4-6 weeks embedded in each of our teams. Throughout the program, we will encourage Learners to share their learns and experiences with their team, the company, and the community.

As I am creating this program, I am also the first Learner and this is my first post. I’ll be sharing more along the way.

I’m sharing my story for a couple of reasons

If you are trying to become a developer, just know that along the way you will hear a lot of other people’s thoughts. Some will be positive and some will be negative. You can learn from both, but try to hold on to the positives and use them as encouragement while learning from the negatives without letting them hold you back.

If you are already a developer, to you I say choose your words carefully. Choose to speak words of encouragement to those junior devs at your company or those you come across at conferences or MeetUps. With a few minutes of kind words and attention, you can change their life. You can give them the boost they need to persevere through the struggle and pain of learning in this great, but sometimes terrifying world of software development.


Sharing my gSchool to Keen IO story

Aubrey Howell

Developer of software and people.

Introducing: Data Explorer

We’re excited to release Data Explorer, a brand new and improved version of the Keen IO workbench for querying and visualizing your data.

Many of our customers use the workbench to run ad-hoc queries, create quick charts, and extract data. We’ve made that even easier and more enjoyable with the new Explorer.

To check out the new Explorer, go to your project page in Keen IO and then click on the Explorer tab! Let’s walk through building a query, and some of the new things you’ll see.

If you haven’t sent data to Keen yet, and want to play around with Data Explorer, please check out our getting started guide!

First, build your query:

  • View your event collections and schema without leaving the page, using the new preview button that gives you a quick glance at your schema and recent events

  • Easily select the right collection and parameters for your query, using our dropdown menus. Just start typing part of the word you’re looking for and it will autocomplete!
  • Build a filter for your query, using the event type as a base for your filter - choose from string, number, null, list, Boolean, or datetime
  • Try out the new geo-filter, which enables you to to filter events by latitude/longitude
  • Pick a date and time range for your query using our calendar selector

Next, beautifully visualize the results of your query:

  • Toggle between different visualizations of your data, choosing from chart types including area, line, or pie. You can also view your results in a metric or JSON format. (Javascript will also be coming soon)
  • Select the table output to view your data as a simple table

Alternatively, extract your data by email or preview an extraction in the browser:

  • View up to 100 events as a preview table in the browser
  • Send a full extraction to your email, with an optional limit on number of events to extract

Our first couple years at Keen, we focused primarily on building the API and backend tools. While that remains our top priority, we now have a team of engineers focused on building out our front-end and visualization offerings, and Explorer is our first product release. We’re excited about growing this team to better serve your needs.

We’ve also worked closely with a set of customers to test out the Explorer in beta, and we’d love to give a shout-out to them here for their patient feedback and suggestions. We would also like to get your feedback on how you like the new functionality. Email explorer@keen.io with any comments, feedback, or suggestions!

Happy exploring!

Nahid Samsami

Product at Keen. Cat Advocate. Also known as Hidi.

How to scale your company culture

Your company culture is what you collectively believe and — in practice — what you collectively do. It shapes how people work together, how you deal with problems that arise, how people feel when they meet someone from your company. Derived from a company culture is typically a set of values and beliefs, such as transparency, collaboration, or trust.

What do these values actually mean, though? If I’m a new employee coming into an organization, am I expected to know how to convey these values? No. Of course not. That’s why companies instill their cultural values in all kinds of different ways. For example, at Facebook the value “moving fast and breaking things” is introduced during onboarding. But instead of just telling people to “move fast and break things,” Facebook sends all new employees off for 6 weeks to literally code new things, break things, and learn from seasoned “fast movers and breakers”.

At Keen, we value introspection: the examining of one’s own mental and emotional processes. We believe this is important for sanity, harmony, and productivity in the workplace.

One way we support introspection is through a weekly activity called Anxious/Excited, where we all get together to share the things we’re anxious about (work-related or otherwise), along with the things we’re excited about. Anxious/Excited (A&E) is such an integral part of our culture that we frequently invite people to participate if they’re thinking about joining the company. It gives them a chance to see what we’re like in our most reflective moments and get a sense of what it would feel like to work here.

I often tell people outside of Keen about this activity and the reaction I typically get is, “That’s great, but how do you scale that?” The answer: you don’t.

The commonly referenced “do things that don’t scale” for startup growth can apply to the expression of cultural values, too. What’s key to cultural scalability and success is a shared understanding of the company’s values and a commitment to revising and evolving how they’re expressed as the organization grows.

Sounds straightforward, but oftentimes organizations that should be working toward the same goals and values end up fighting over tactics, resulting in a toxic and unproductive environment.

Values > Tactics

When Keen was small (as in 6 employees working out of the founders’ living room), A&E was an excellent tactic for introspection. Everyone was working together day in and day out. Some days were stressful, some days were happy. Everyone was close. Taking time to share and reflect at the end of the day was not only valuable, it was easy.

We are now at 40 people, and as you can imagine, A&E is not as effective as it once was. Debates have emerged on “how do we scale A&E?” How do we recreate the feeling of safe space and intimacy that allows people to open up and be introspective?

In times like this it’s helpful to think about why we did A&E in the first place. If we look back to our value of introspection we can see this “scaling problem” from a different, more open lens. There may be a totally different and better way to support introspection at 40 people than 6, and yet another way to do it at 100, 200, and 1000. The key is stay committed to our values, and to evolving the way they’re expressed.

We’ve already evolved A&E to make it work better for more people:

  • Two time slots for A&E
  • Remote A&E (for our remote employees) + In-Person A&E

We’re also starting to think about other ways to support an introspective culture, such as:

  • Team-based A&E vs. the entire company
  • Company reflection time for personal journaling, or shared wiki/internal blog
  • Bringing in an onsite psychologist and coach to help talk through problems
  • Having a writer’s workshop to explore the issues and processes on our minds

The bottom line is: Don’t be afraid to let go of your cultural tactics. In fact, you should be constantly evaluating them. Are they still working? Do they still represent the value you intended? Be committed to evolving. Remember why you decided to implement an activity in the first place, even if that leads you to an entirely new approach.

How have you scaled your company’s culture and values? We’re still figuring this stuff out, and would love to hear your ideas. Feel free to tweet at me or share your thoughts in the comments below.

Alexa Meyer

Brand and behavioral design. Learner + Activator. Cheese consumer.

SxSW Field Report, Day 3: Farewell Transmission

Hi. Hello. Hi. We have departed Austin, so this will likely be my last post, unless something particularly wacky and hilarious happens on the dynamic 3-hour drive between here and Dallas. Which, um, can we all pray it doesn’t?

SCHMIDT HANGOVER INDEX

Do you all know about the Schmidt Sting Pain Index? This entomologist named Justin Schmidt invented a pain scale to measure how bad various insect stings hurt, but the descriptions are all written in really weird, irreverent, evocative language. Like: “Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.”

Anyway, there are some days when I try to describe my hangovers along those lines. Today is, hmm… like a poisonous fuzzy caterpillar worming its way along the folds of my brain? How’s that? Pretty good?

OK, SO THE R.V. WAS PROBABLY A MISSTEP

When Justin told me he was thinking about getting an R.V. for Sx way back when, it seemed like an absolutely amazing idea. We’d rock around the streets of Austin like royalty, doing weird little pop-up dance parties, mobile opium dens, etc., etc., etc. But, as it turns out, you need a sober driver for most of those things, and no wanted to deal with that trash, clearly, so mostly the RV just sat around this whole trip and provided reasonably comfortable sleeping quarters for any overflow Keenies who couldn’t fit in the AirBnb. (The RV was parked kind of tilty, though, so I found myself slowly rolling off the bed over the course of each evening.)

Favor has shifted even more against the R.V., however, as we are driving back now, and something is wrong with the waste tank or something, because everything smells like poop. There is a distinct poopy smell. It is… not great. I can’t really explain to you how not great it is, to be trapped with this smell, hungover and exhausted and emotionally drained. I do not super recommend it.

That said, it is a little funny, still, in that sort of masochistic gallows humor way I enjoy. The internet has not been super helpful with responses to my search for “poop rv smell,” so we mostly just have all the windows open and have stuffed toilet paper or ear plugs in our noses. This all seems kind of fitting to our collective mood, I guess is what I’m saying.

image

Not the happiest bear in the woods, perhaps.

UPDATE: We stopped at a gas station, and I bought a handful of car air fresheners to strew about the place. They may not help with the smell, but they will certainly help us with Courage. 

image

OUTLET MALL PURGATORY

Tim Falls needed coffee, so he won’t nod off and steer us into a traffic embankment, so we stopped for Starbucks and a grim food court lunch at an outlet mall 30 miles outside of Austin. 

I’m sure it’s more our collective mood than anything, but this place just seemed buh-leak. Like, I am sure it is a fine place if you’re in the mood to wander about and get bargain store prices on brand name goods™, but in the state we’re in, it just felt like sheer depression. We sat there, miserably eating our Subway sandwiches and kind of avoiding eye contact with each other, and I was like, “I imagine this is what Purgatory will be like.”

image

Seriously, hooray for everything.

They also had a sad, lonely Easter Bunny on-hand you could have your kid’s portrait taken with. I really, really wanted to get a morose group shot of us – “Happy SxSW Aftermath!” – but I don’t think anyone else wanted to stay there any longer than they could help it. 

Purgatory is gonna be a looooooong wait, huh?

PROP-UP AFTERMATH DAY

This might actually be a pretty short post (haha no it won’t), as yesterday wasn’t nearly as eventful as Saturday. If Saturday was our superhero day, Sunday was more like our kryptonite. We were all kind of beaten and broken and burned out, and it took us a looooong time to rally. (Some of us never actually managed, I’m pretty sure.) Justin’s stomach was a 5th-grade Science Fair volcano, for example, and I spent a disproportionate amount of time doing dead stares into the middle distance all day. WOO LET’S PARTY, is my point.

It took me twice as long (and like 3 times as many substances) to get through yesterday’s field report – although it’s been getting pretty good feedback from people, so that’s nice! 

(Although, it needs to be said, John and Andrew, I am so sorry I apparently amalgamated you into “some guy” who quoted my field reports back at me. I am normally pretty good at names, because I write little mnemonic poems about everyone I meet – e.g., “Steve with the rolled-up sleeves” – but I clearly dropped the ball on this one! Ahh, sorry!) 

That’s the tricky balance about this sort of writing, though – to actually sit down and write all this shit out, you’re probably going to have to miss out on some things. I DO THIS FOR YOU, INTERNET. 

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Pictured: Me, Substances, Writing.

Anyway, I finally got out the door around 4 pm, just in time for our impromptu pop-up party at Weather Up, which was a brilliant move on Justin’s part because a) that is an amazing bar, with a lovely porch and friendly dogs and delicious drinks and hand-cut artisanal ice (which is apparently a thing humans can care about?) and b) because we still got to meet people without actually having to move or do things. 

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You could really see just how rough of a state we were in for the first hour or so, all kind of just quietly sitting in a circle and trying to choke back enough alcohol to prop ourselves up and start interacting with other humans again. Taylor came by with a bunch of her school friends, and they were all so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I’m sure they saw us lurching around and were like, “What kind of dead-eyed ancients work at this company, anyway?”

I hate to say it, but the time may have come for some younger Keenies.

After a couple hours and a couple shots of house-recipe Fireball, though (I imagine it’s just Hot Tamales soaked in whiskey?), we started to get a little more sociable. Actually, truth be told, I kind of overshot my mark a bit and ended up quite trashed there for a while, handing out sloppy tarot card readings that kept predicting, over and over, that our night would end in disaster. (Which…)

Lots of great people showed up, though – Andrew and Cobi from Taplytics, Ryan from Galvanize, Matt and Simon from Adnostic came all the way from England! Tony from Context.IO was there (Hope your call went well!), Kerry of Night Mode fame came along for the evening. (He’s actually with SolarCity, but I believe popping the lenses out of sunglasses at night will be his true claim to fame). Basically, we were super thrilled and flattered y’all made the hike out to East Austin to hang with us!

THE WALL

After sunset, a bunch of us grabbed dinner at that little food truck area on 6th for the third time in as many days (The people at the Philly cheesesteak truck remembered me from my drunken Nic Cage tirade. Hooray! I have notoriety!), and then we kind of aimlessly wandered for a bit. It’s nice having gotten to know people enough that you start to have random run-ins with them on the street – additional shout-outs to Jo and Crystal and Constantine and Daryna (Sorry I kept calling you Serena apparently? I have no recollection of this.)

We popped into Latitude 30 for a minute, because the line at something else looked horrible, and I stood enthralled with some folk duo called Paper Aeroplanes for like 40 straight minutes. It’s pretty great how you can just walk into any random bar in Austin, and like the best band you’ve ever heard just happens to be playing there, no big. 

After, we met up with Justin’s roommate, Sarah from Sprinklr, who took us all up to the top floor of the Bank of America building to see their offices… then just as quickly took us back out again when it became clear the people up there didn’t super want like 15 rowdy Keen monsters stomping about.

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*I* wanted to go to this place, but apparently I was in the minority there. (P.S. I like how their icon for food is a beer.)

But THEN we hit this basement party at a wine bar, and we all just kind of hit a wall. Well, not Tim and Justin and Dustin, bless their hearts, who gamely kept up the good fight and mingled the night away, but the rest of us were just kind of done

Days upon days of talking and drinking and partying and wandering finally caught up to us, and even the extroverts among us were pretty much ready to call it. We all found a quiet room off to the side of the main party and formed a foreboding-looking circle of desperate exhaustion and protracted silences. A few kind souls tried to come over and chat, and I’m pretty sure we just made dementor moans at them. 

Like I said before, we love talking to strangers at Keen, but we were just plumb out of extrovert gas, and if you can’t give it your all, you shouldn’t be out there doing it, so we decided it was time to bail. 

ON PARTIES

OK, parties are kind of a passion project of mine, so forgive me for going on the teensy tiniest little bit of a rant here for a second.

The one thing that sort of annoyed me about SxSW as a whole has been a lot of people’s attitude towards the parties here – this weird mix of FOMO and perpetual dissatisfaction and status flashing that kind of makes us come off as entitled and gross.

The entire time we’ve been here, it’s always seemed like, whatever we were doing, some people were always holding out for something better. No one ever liked where they were at, unless they were still in line for it. As soon as you got to a place, you’d start planning for the thing you’d go to next. And I understand that there is something really fun about the thrill of the chase – the seeking matters more than the finding and all that. Rumors flying around, sharing secret passwords and passes with friends, the common struggle of standing in a boring line together – that stuff is totally fun in its own right. But it made me a little sad how unappreciative and impatient some people were with the parties they were already at.

It sort of seemed like, underneath it all, everyone was always in search of this one mythical Perfect Party – the platonic ideal of a party – which I found pretty funny, because every event we showed up to usually ended up being pretty much the exact same as the last: A buncha people standing around, sipping drinks, and chatting. And not that that’s bad by any stretch of the imagination, but what exactly is everyone hunting around for, anyway?

(Admittedly, there might have been a bunch of crazypants parties that I just totally missed out on – raves and drug orgies and costume balls. Maybe I just don’t hear about the cool shit?)

And then, even with the events that did seem kind of big and fun and crazy, it seemed like lots of people enjoyed them more for the bragging rights than because they actually had a good time? Like, I was talking with this one guy, and he was like:

Guy: “Yeah, so I managed to get VIP passes to see Spoon at such and such a thing…”

Me: “Oh, awesome! Do you like Spoon?”

Guy: “Eh, they’re OK.”

Me: >_<

I guess what I’m gradually working my way around to saying is that maybe there is no Perfect Party out there – that instead (and this is totally cornball, I realize), maybe the Perfect Party is inside all of us. Rather than scouring around, waiting to be handed some sort of magical, perfect event that has been custom-tailored to give you everything you’ve ever wanted, why not appreciate all of the stuff we have been given and then try and turn it into something even more magical yourself?

I have helped host events before – I spent no small amount of time helping put KeenCon together, for instance – so I have at least some small idea of the absolutely insane amount of time and energy and resources that have gone into creating every single one of these parties, parties that most people seem to start writing off as soon as they get into them.

I think the least we can do is take a second to actually appreciate all that effort that’s been done for our benefit, and try to return the favor by being awesome, amazing party guests in turn. You want a crazy dance party? Grab a bunch of people and get them moving! You want to get into some hijinks? Start thinking some up! A party is a symbiotic beast – if we want them to be great, we have to give back as much as the party gives us.

OK, sorry for getting preachy. I hate to generalize like this – I met tons and tons of people who were having a great time wherever they were at – but I think there is a lesson here we could all maybe benefit from a bit.

DANCE MESS

OK, back to business. Heading out, we knew we didn’t have the right energy to really get into deep conversations any longer, but we did still have enough energy to bond through the connective power of dance!

So, we asked Taylor, our resident Austinite, to take us to all the hot spots where the youths go to dance. (Taylor is 22, by the way, and seems to derive a sick pleasure in reminding the rest of us how grotesquely old we all are. “Oh yeah, I listened to that band…. in MIDDLE SCHOOL.” AUGH, WHY, TAYLOR.) 

Unfortunately, even during Sx, a Sunday night is still a Sunday night, and the dancing prospects were pretty, pretty dire. We began a comically depressing march down 6th St., poking our heads in any place that looked remotely promising and then pretty much immediately fleeing in terror at the sad, deserted dance floors. We also began mainlining tequila, it should be said, to try and increase our odds of finding this whole endeavor acceptable.

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Yeah, that face pretty much sums it up.

Eventually, we’d surveyed pretty much the entire lineup of bars, with no luck. So, with grim resolve, we made our way back to a place we’d seen early on but had instantly dismissed out-of-hand because it was so, so not our scene. 

KRAVE. 

KRAVE. Whose name I mention only so I’ll remember to never go there again.

KRAVE. Which was definitely 100% an 18-and-over bar and therefore completely mortifying as a 30-year-old.

KRAVE. Whose DJs seemed more concerned with yelling catchphrases than playing actual music. (”Y’ALL READY TO DANCE? MAKE SOME NOISE! WHO’S READY, AUSTIN! HERE COMES THE BEAT! HERE IT COMES! HERE IT COMES! adhfuiahsuhq834&09r3augh just play the song you fuckers)

KRAVE. Which featured a crowd of immobile, incredibly angry-looking women in the center of the dance floor, who seemed to be there mostly to glare at us for existing.

KRAVE. Which ate my lovely blue cardigan, never to be seen again.

KRAVE. 5 stars. Find us on Yelp.

OK, actually, it was pretty fun, in a buswrecky shitshow sort of way. It’s certainly the most I laughed the entire trip, just at the pure molten horribleness of it. I don’t think there has ever been a place on earth that was less our scene.

We held on for about 45 minutes, and then, our dance task complete, we headed home and all piled in the hammock for a while, while Tim regaled us with the tale of the 2 kinds of Domino’s Pizza he had eaten that night. (Thin crust and regular!) 

And, yeah. That’s pretty much it. Mischief managed. I am now on a plane, heading back to SF, and already feeling the initial onslaught of the inevitable death illness that allows follows trips like this. South By SARSWest, I think someone called it. 

I GUESS THIS IS IT?

Hey. Thanks. 

I mean it.

Thanks for reading, for sharing, and for being part of these adventures. Thanks for talking to us and hanging out with us and hosting us and buying us booze and food and teaching us new things and becoming new friends and just being rad in general. Thank you, Austin, for being a wonderful host and a perfectly lovely city I am trying to con my parents into moving to. Thank you, Keen, for letting me come along on this trip and document it in whatever weird way I wanted to (although, admittedly, I didn’t really “ask” so much as “just started posting shit”).

I’m not sure these field reports were useful in any particular way, or even all that representative of the SxSW experience, but I do hope they were at least sort of entertaining. It’s weird. I feel like I did so much over the past several days, and yet there was so much that I missed, too. But this was just my random experience. I would totally love to hear about yours, if you ever wanna drop me a line.

If you liked these field reports, let us know, and I imagine we’ll keep doing them for future events. If you didn’t like them, let us know as well, and I will begin self-flagellating IMMEDIATELY. I guess I also have a blog and twitter and stuff, if you are just super enamored with my cool brain and thoughts or whatever, but otherwise, I hope you had as great and weird and exhausting of a South By as all of us at Keen did!

This was a blast; let’s never do it again. (’til next year.)

<3<3
Nate

Nate Walsh

Writer. Party Planner. A Third Thing.

SxSW Field Report, Day 2: Keensplosion!

A HAGGARD MAN, A WORTHY MAN

Miracle of miracles, I actually don’t feel too much like heated-up garbage this morning. I do think, though, that I am starting to look it. A week plus of hard living in both Austin and NOLA, subsisting mostly on grapefruit-flavored ethanol and fried everything, has definitely taken its toll, leaving me haggard and beaten and bloated. This is not to complain – these wounds were completely self-inflicted, and certainly fun along the way – but let this serve as a reminder that, when I get back to SF, I am doing nothing but long-distance runs and eating small piles of arugula.

HERDING CATS

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See, it’s funny ‘cause we are all wearing cat shirts.

We Keenies have a lot of varied and excellent qualities, but “timely exits” is not one of them. Admittedly, it doesn’t help that our AirBnb has only the one shower and there are, like, 10 of us jammed in here, but still. It took us from like 10-2:30 just to get out the door. We are a slow-rolling boulder. But oh man! Once we get momentum!

KEENIES FULL FORCE

I can’t speak for how today is going to shake out, but yesterday felt like our banner day at Sx, the day we all kind of subconsciously agreed to go out in full force and rock the hearts and minds of America. We all suited up in our cat tees and Keen capes and then marched on Austin en masse, and woe to any fools who got in our way.

(OK, in reality, we were more like a bunch of nerds going to hang out with a bunch of other nerds and scam free drinks, but, like, perception is mostly about attitude or something.)

A day like this is kind of difficult to describe interestingly, I feel like. It’d be a little repetitive in the telling. Mostly we just bounced around from party to meetup to bar to whatever, chatting with people as we went, splintering off from each other and then joyously regrouping over and over again. It’s weird and fluid and all kind of blends together in my head (although some of that is certainly due to the free wine), but here is my overall impression:

SXSW is like one long, weird drawn-out ambling block party. In some ways, it feels a bit like a music festival, with only a little less music, a good deal more geekiness, and pretty much the exact same level of branding and posturing and see-and-be-seenness. If you’re not careful, you can start to have the same sort of rote conversations over and over, which reminded me a bit of college (”So, what’s your major?” == “What’s your company do again?”), but you also meet some truly fun and weird and interesting people along the way.

On my own little journey, I went to some great stuff hosted by our buds from SendGrid and TechStars Austin, and Crystal Rose’s talk at Ignite was amazing (more on that in a bit), and I definitely smoked under a bridge like a troll, and I think Jo Beyersdorfer from LA Startup Week and I are now, like, best friends for life, and I rodeo-rode these amazing little wobble chairs, which we are GETTING for our new office, no arguments, sorry. And Tim Falls definitely got pulled aside for having such an amazing man bun, and Philippe and Hidi showed up out of nowhere, and I met our amazing new Austin-based evangelist, Taylor, and I learned what Night Mode is, courtesy of Kerry Snyder (it is popping one’s sunglasses lenses out, so they are like regular glasses??), and I talked with lots and lots of people about lord only knows what, and I heard a hilarious cover of Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me,” and I had some pretty solid shrimp tacos, and it was all great and fun and exhausting, and I can’t possibly imagine doing it all over again today, but I guess we’ll see.

LONE STAR

Oh – one thing I forgot to mention when aggrandizing Austin yesterday – the constant, comforting presence of Lone Star Beer, my absolute favorite beer in the world. Not only does it mostly taste like a glass of water (my ideal attribute in a beer, honestly, as I think real beer tastes like gross ham sandwiches), it also looks like a fake generic brand from a TV show, it’s called “The National Beer of Texas,” which just shows all kinds of awareness, and every bottle cap has a little rebus picture puzzle to solve. 

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Again, I am less fond of them this morning perhaps, but on the whole, consider yourself whole-heartedly endorsed, Lone Star.

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The first person to reply to me with the answer to the above rebus gets a Keen cat shirt (once we make more of them)!

THE LUCK OF THE IRISH

I am generally not that clumsy of a person, but like an hour into the day, of course I immediately spilled red wine all over my brand-new Keen cat shirt, and therefore looked like a complete sloppy lush for the rest of the day. And maybe I was a sloppy lush, but let’s let people find that out through conversation, damn it! Now people all be judgin’ a book by its damn cover and whatnot.

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Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame!

Of course, Justin and Alexa also got huge, gross stains on their Keen gear over the course of the day, too, so maybe the lesson here is, don’t order white t-shirts for this sort of thing.

CSI: CYBER

There are lots of promotional gimmicks swirling around you as you walk the streets of Sx – so much so that you start to get desensitized to them – but not the CSI: CYBER party van. No way, not that. 

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I keep thinking CSI: CYBER must be a long con gag from SNL or something. That name, the whole premise, the presence of James Van Der Beek, everything. Like, just read these character descriptions and tell me this doesn’t sound like the silliest thing ever:

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OK, listen. I get how this must have seemed like a good idea on paper – tech-based show, huge interactive conference – but, like, know your audience and stuff. The people here know so much about how all this stuff actually works, and then they are going to watch your show, which is going to be ridiculous and full of holes and errors, so best case scenario, you have now actively courted an audience of people to mock you. 

That said, I honestly kind of want to write CSI: CYBER erotic fan fiction, so keep an eye out for that.

TALK TO STRANGERS

As I said above, Crystal Rose gave an amazing talk at Ignite about the power of talking to strangers as an introduction to her badass new app, Sensay, where strangers help each other out by answering questions and sharing our collective knowledge. The talk really resonated with me and the other Keenies in attendance, I think, because talking to strangers is kind of our whole thing – our not-so-secret strategy for friendship and connection and growth and success. And it’s been wonderful to really see it here in action at Sx, and to also be involved with it myself, in some small way. 

Brands are weird, magical, amorphous, fragile little baby animals, and it can be absolutely bewildering figuring out how to grow and foster them the right way. Walking around Sx, you see so many companies trying so many different ways to get your attention for just a second, to get you to remember their name or what they do, or to slightly nudge your opinion of them in a positive direction. They spend all this money and time and energy to throw parties or put together little gimmicks or give you free schwag, and then all they can do is hope it works, because it’s not always an easy thing to measure.

What’s magical about talking to strangers is that, yeah, it tends to do huge, amazing things for your brand, but that’s almost besides the point. We talk to people because we like talking to people, because people are fun and weird and interesting and have done things and know things that we don’t, and it’s great to learn new shit. It’s cool to learn what people are working on, and what excites them, and what quirks and kinks make them who they are. 

And if talking to those people is something you actually enjoy, it doesn’t feel like work, and it doesn’t have that sense of desperation or trying too hard that you can sometimes sense when someone is leaning on you to hit some sort of quota or agenda. Authenticity isn’t just more honest and more fun, it’s also downright easier, and success is easy to measure, because all we’re looking for are new friends, new stories, and cool new things to know about. 

Basically, we’re just a bunch of people talking to a bunch of other people, and if you happen to think we’re fun or friendly, that’s awesome! And if that makes you think a little more highly of Keen, or slightly more disposed to want to hang out with us or work with us or remember us or tell a friend about us, that’s cool, too. But, like, whatever. I mostly just want to yell with you some more about Third Eye Blind, because they are a funny, silly band, and I have a lot of thoughts about them.

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This is Jay, and he and I Bonded.

SOCIAL ANXIETY MONSTER

That said, while I believe in the power of talking to strangers, I’m still not all that great at it. Such is the nature of social anxiety. More people still come up to me than I come up to them, and ask more questions than I ask them, and it’s not because I don’t care, because god, I love new people and stories and friends and adventures, but it’s hard, because I am legitimately full-on crazy

Approaching a stranger is still the most terrifying thing in the world to me, and worse still because they’re always kind of vague, nameless fears about bothering people. Like, is someone really going to start yelling at me or cussing me out just because I came up and said hello? NO, DUMMY. People are so, so nice, and they appreciate the effort, and virtually every time I’ve made myself go and talk to someone, it’s been amazing and not-scary and I’ve been so glad I did it. But it still feels like ripping off a Band-Aid, every single time.

Here at Sx, I’m sure a lot of that comes back to our old, stupid friend imposter syndrome. I’m smart and stuff, but I’m not smart at the same things a lot of the people here are smart about, and I don’t want to make myself or Keen look bad by coming off like a dummy, so I get nervous and clam up.

But again, like I said above, it’s mostly just about being a fun, friendly person. At Keen, every single one of us takes turns doing shifts answering support questions, and it. is. terrifying. Developers are writing in with these complex, important questions, and their whole lives are rooted in this stuff, and I am just some nitwit who generally spends most of his time photoshopping cat pictures, and I am supposed to help them?! Gahhh.

BUT, if I am sympathetic and empathetic and friendly and helpful and human, I am still helping nudge the needle in a positive direction. Behind the scenes, I might be flailing about like a decapitated chicken, trying to get them some actual answers, but every little bit helps. 

And the same thing is true with talking to people here. It still feels like I know all-too-little, but I can be kind and human and point you in the right direction. And that’s enough sometimes to make a difference sometimes.

(Sorry if I am a little more rambly and philosophical than in previous manic field reports. Consider this a sort of existential hangover.)

6 DRINKS IN, I AM THE FUNNIEST HUMAN ALIVE

OR: 6 drinks in, I believe I am the funniest human alive.

OR: 6 drinks in, everyone else is 6 drinks in, too, so they now believe I am the funniest human alive.

But I like to think it’s the first one.

SOME GUY STARTED QUOTING LINES FROM MY PREVIOUS FIELD REPORT, AND THAT WAS QUITE FLATTERING

End of story, just wanted to brag.

THE AUTHOR, IN REPOSE

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I write on the stairs, because the less comfortable I am, the faster I write. 

SHITFOOT

At 2 am, the bars empty out, and 6th Street is suddenly, instantly flooded with wild packs of insane, drunk humans. Like, flooded. I’ve never really seen anything like it. The streets are just full to brimming, and there is energy, but it’s not always good energy, and lots of people seem kind of pent-up and angry, and Eric and Alexa saw two separate pairs of women get into terrifying, hair-pulling fights, and I was personally groped at least 3 times, and it was weird and a little scary, and I am glad I saw it, but maybe do not necessarily need to see it again.

The police come out on horses, whole lines of them, to try and clear the streets out, and, as horses are wont to do, they sometimes takes huge, massive, endless dumps in the street. And, as drunk humans are also wont to do, sometimes they don’t notice said dumps and stomp all up on them. And then, if you’re very lucky, there will be a guy there who goes completely buck wild whenever somebody does step in the horse shit and starts doing crazy taunt dances while crying, “YOU JUST GOT SHITFOOT, MAN!”

Far be it from me to laugh at the misfortunes of others, but if there was a hidden camera reality show based around the above premise, I solemnly believe it would be the most popular program in America. Also, I think we found our latest dumb inside joke at Keen. #shitfoot

All right, that’s it and that’s all. No idea where the day is going to take us – ideally, to a nice pillow-filled room with hugs and naps – but I hope to see you out there. 

<3<3
Nate

Nate Walsh

Writer. Party Planner. A Third Thing.

SxSW Field Report, Day 1: Arrival / Destruction

I HAVE ALREADY FAILED YOU (SURPRISE)

There is simply no way on this earth I could’ve written this field report last night. Or, I mean, I could have done, but it probably would’ve been a 15,000 word treatise on the merits of Austin’s Deep Eddy grapefruit-infused vodka (which is pretty amazing, btw, but certainly feels a bit less so this morning), followed by the letter h 400 times. hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

My point is, I made a judgment call, and I believe it was in your favor. OK, let’s go.

OH MY GOD, BIRDS

I think I made a joke in my first field report about how I was going to write an essay at some point about why birds exist. Well, let me answer that for you right now: Torment and destruction. 

I am on the roof of our beautiful AirBnb right now, and I would just like to quietly and miserably plow through this field report, so that I can crawl back under the bathroom cabinets and hide there in peace, but there are these monstrous birds making just the absolute worst cacophony of peeps.

I mean, admittedly, I am not in the best state for any noises, so even normal, happy bird sounds feel like nails on a chalkboard right now (I keep protectively hunching down like the sounds might wound me), but I should also say that these are not normal, happy birds. These are GRACKLES

Grackles (which is one of those perfect, hilarious-sounding names for something horrible – much like brambles), if you’ve never heard them, sound like a regular old bird maybe ate an 8-bit Nintendo, a faulty one, and now they just go around making these insane beepy explosion monster sounds. 

Dustin Larimer and I spent the night in the RV, and we were absolutely cracking up at the massive ruckus these little monsters were creating, all rattling around in the bushes doing the music from the Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers NES game. (Here is that what sounds like, by the way, but you should under no circumstances go there if you are reading this as hungover as I am writing it.) Then we actually started watching a bunch of grackle YouTube videos (which are all terrible, by the way – maybe learn how to edit your damn grackle videos, people!)

Anyway, I just wrote an awful lot about grackles, so a) maybe I actually love them? and b) sorry I just did that? I maaaay be a little too stream-of-conscioius-y this morning. Let’s talk about something that’s not birds, shall we?

THE TOILET MANUAL 

Not last night, the one before, I slept in the RV as well, because the hotel was a little crowded, and I am uncomfortable with human closeness. 

It was pretty cold and stuff, which wasn’t great, but the shittier part happened when I woke up to go to the bathroom at 3 am and found I had no idea how to use the toilet.

Recreational vehicles have pretty much all the amenities of a home, but (naturally) there is a somewhat more involved process in using any of them. So, like, to use the toilet, you have to turn on some switches and pull and push a lever, and probably a few other things. It’s not complicated, exactly, but it’s also not the sort of thing you can intuit your way through all groggy and hungover at 4am while doing a pee-pee dance. 

So, I had to go find the manual for the toilet, which sounds like a silly concept until you need it, and then you are thanking your lucky stars for whatever blessed, miserable copywriter had to write that thing up 17 years ago.

OK, I swear I am getting to Sx. I can feel it. We’re getting close. 

THE McCAFÉ CARAMEL FRAPPÉ IS ATROCIOUS

I took 1 and a half sips and threw that garbage out

I am not precisely sure what sorghum is, but I am positive I could taste it. 

At least with a Shamrock Shake, you know you’re in for some trash. I was hoping for a nice little coffee beverage, not a caramel-flavored PlayDoh tube being squirted into my mouth. 1 star.

THE R.V. HAS A NAME

Yesterday I reported the dire need to give our glorious apartment on wheels a suitable moniker. I suggested Janet – to which Becky, like, immediately replied back, “ANYTHING BUT JANET.” So, say hello to our friend Not Janet. She is like a friendly whale, and I sleep in her belly.

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Note that, despite the obvious temptation, I am not saying “‘Murica” here, because that is a lazy non-joke, and we are better than that.

THE TRIP DOWN TO AUSTIN 

Was pretty uneventful, to which I give full credit to the stable hands of our two amazing helmsmen, Tim Falls and Justin Johnson. I mostly lied in the little pirate bunk above the cockpit and tried to get a final bit of sleep in before The Reckoning. I used my shoe as a pillow, and only nearly rolled off once. Drool level: medium. 4 stars.

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Phone people, phone people, phone people, phone people…

OUR MAGNANIMOUS HOST

Yesterday I joked about our drunk-dialing AirBnb host, but that guy is rad, and he set us up. Beautiful place. Full bar of amazing, quasi-obscure, top-shelf stuff. A fridge full of drinks and treats. He even managed to track me down an iron, because I am a weirdo and iron my shirt literally every. single. day. 

Listen, y’all, even if I’m puking next to a dumpster, I want to look fully-pressed and professional, OK? (I did not puke near a dumpster. That one was a joke.)

AUSTIN, YOU GET ME

Listen, I love SF, and over the past 2 years, I have definitely come to think of it as home. But I don’t have the vehement level of enthusiasm that some people do for San Francisco. 

Like, back when I used to use OK Cupid, I would say at least a full third of everyone’s profiles began with something about their intense love of SF or pride in their identity as a San Franciscan. Which, wonderful! Good on you for finding your place! But I’m not quite there yet with SF.

Austin, though. Hm.

I am not sure what it is, but we just click, Austin and I. It always feels hot and dark here even when it isn’t (that doesn’t make any sense, sorry), and it’s forward-thinking and inventive but still manages to hold on to some of the good, fun, gritty, twangy Texas parts. Also, the music scene is just astounding. My first time here as an adult, I was waiting for a friend to meet me, so I just poked into this random bar for a beer, and these amazing women called The Whiskey Sisters were doing a sound check and did this twanged-up version of “Like A Virgin” that was like the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life. 

So, yeah, Austin. 

It is on my bucket list to live here one day, so that then I can be the one complaining about all these tech money hacks taking over my city and stuff. (Sorry, by the way! We’ll be gone soon, and we’ll try not to make too many messes!)

SPEAKING OF WHICH…

Harmony isn’t one of my Top 5 StrengthsFinder strengths, but it’s pretty high up there. And I have definitely been sensing some animosity from the local Austinians (Austinites? Austrians? Argonauts?) about the tech invasion for Sx. So my question for the locals is this: What can we do to be less bothersome? As I said, I love it here, and I would like nothing more than to be a gracious guest. Anything we can do to endear ourselves to you? Besides, you know, FOAD?

I talked to this one bartender about this, and he said the main thing that annoys him is that, because our schedules aren’t exactly packed out here, he tends to see a lot of us standing around, doing poses and trying to look cool? Which, if that is the case, god, I’d hate us, too. 

No posing, you guys. I feel like that one is a gimme. I know we nerds are finally having our heyday and stuff, but let’s keep a level head about it and not, like, artfully blow e-cigarette smoke in a slow arc as we regard the sunset. None of that please.

OUR ILLUSTRIOUS COMMUNITY TEAM

TF and JJ both just woke up, and told us that, after a full night of partying and meeting people, the only business card either of them had – actually, they both had it – was for the local weed club. Solid community outreach, fellows.

NOT A SECRET FOR LONG: ISLA

Yeah, sorry I am the guy who’s always ruining things, but listen: I met a friend for a drink last night at this new tiki bar here called Isla, and that place is both incredibly solid and, at the moment, disproportionately unpopulated. I was there around 6, and the place was mostly dead, whereas anything along Congress was just swarming with humans. 

Anyway, the place is adorable, and the drinks are outstanding. It’s tiki stuff, but it’s not cloyingly sweet like island drinks can sometimes be. There is good balance there. Also, this is the most aesthetically perfect drink I’ve ever seen in my life:

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Sorry I don’t take many photos, by the way. I’m a writer, not a photographer. I create pictures with worddddsssssssss.

WATCHING SOMEONE CON THEIR WAY INTO PARTIES IS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING AND IMPOSSIBLE

It is an astounding skill. After Isla, my friend got us into two parties with live music and open bars and free food just by talking fast and acting confident and vaguely indicating she might know someone of importance at the company who was hosting them. It doesn’t sound that hard on paper, but, left to my own devices, I am pretty sure I would’ve just started nervous puking and weeping. Confidence, man. It is a super power.

SPEAKING OF SUPER POWERS

We have capes! Which, OK, admittedly, I am a little too embarrassed to wear in public, but good for anyone who can!

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(Side note to our designer, Micah Wolfe: Micah, do not look too closely at the colors used on the logo. They are all wrong, but it seems we went for glitter over brand cohesion, and I regret very little with regards to glitter.)

Apparently people kept asking us what our super powers are, which turns out is a pretty fun improv game. My answers, in order:

  • lead into gold
  • horses into gold
  • immortal life
  • giving ghosts restored bodies
  • frag trolls
  • trolls into gold
  • etc.

WE ALSO HAVE INSANE T-SHIRTS

Which, not to brag (and I shouldn’t, because the Photoshop work is fairly atrocious), but I made them!

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Backstory: I came stumbling into the Keen office a couple weeks ago, hazy and exhausted from the aftermath of our 2-day writeathon. Justin and Tim pulled me aside – “Hey, man, Josh had an idea for a t-shirt for Sx. Can you help us Photoshop it?” A blurry eyed-zombie, I grabbed a white board pen and said, “OK, talk me through it.”

“So, it’s a cat.” I draw a cat face.

“A cat professor.” I add a graduation cap, because I don’t really know what professors are.

“And he’s pointing at a bar chart made of bacon.” Yep. Got it.

“Next to a donut pie chart.” Done.

Now, at the time, I was running on like 2 hours of sleep, so I thought it might have been on me that this seemed like a totally fucking demented idea. A couple days later, though, when I consulted my notes and the photo I’d taken of my drawing, I was able to safely confirm that I was not the crazy one here. But, that certainly didn’t stop me from taking like 6 hours to make it. 

Feedback has been pretty positive on them, though, it sounds like – except for Micah again, I imagine, who is probably drinking poison so as to not have to look at them any longer. Sorry about my skills, Micah! Sorry this is all I can do!

Hopefully we can have some of these shirts made for all y’all, too, so you can look as cool as we do. >_<

I AM NO LONGER THE ONE WHO BUYS US SHOTS, ALL RIGHT?

After the two parties we conned our way into (which I will talk about in a future post, because I certainly have Thoughts, but I imagine I am already trying your patience, word-count-wise), I caught back up with my fellow Keenies, who were still in East Austin and hadn’t made it past the second bar, which I found kind of hilarious.

I’m only just getting to know our Eric, Keen’s most recent Canadian acquisition, but apparently so far I have made a horrible impression by having been the only one so far to keep suggesting taking group shots together. This is a horrible, inaccurate framework.

I don’t even like shots, man. My body can’t really do ‘em. Like, the whole point of shots, right, is to bypass the TSA in your mouth and get the alcohol straight to your belly. Except the way I do them, the shots hits the back of my throat, and my throat’s all like, “Um, NOPE. Exactly what in the hell are you trying to pull here, kid?” and then sends it back to my mouth for closer inspection. And upon inspection, yes, it does appear to be warm, low-grade tequila. Spit. Barf. Death.

Anyway, thankfully, Alexa has now taken the title from me, forcing tequila shots on us no less than 3 times in an hour. It is your fault I feel this way, Alexa. This is on you.

THE PHILLY CHEESESTEAK FOOD TRUCK HAD A TIP JAR THAT SAID SOMETHING TO THE EFFECT OF, “EVERY TIME YOU TIP US, NICOLAS CAGE WON’T MAKE ANOTHER MOVE,” SO I SAID, “OK, LOOK, I WOULD LIKE TO TIP YOU ALL, BECAUSE YOU ARE DOING A GREAT JOB, BUT I DO NOT AGREE WITH THE POLICY OF YOUR TIP JAR, BECAUSE NICOLAS CAGE IS, IF NOT A GOOD ACTOR, AT THE VERY LEAST AN INTERESTING ONE, AND HONESTLY THE MORE WORK HE PRODUCES, THE BETTER,” AND THEY WERE CONFUSED, I IMAGINE, BUT THEY WENT WITH IT

End of story.

THIS IS ALL TRICKY, BY THE WAY

Writing these, I mean. And not just finding the time and energy to do them, although that, too. I mean writing these quickly and not always clearheadedly, and (hopefully) making them fun and funny and authentic, but also making sure I don’t say something totally stupid or hurt people’s feelings because I didn’t think something all the way through. I mean walking that fine line been sassy and mean, and irreverent and inappropriate. Punching up at big chain restaurants for serving unhealthy food, and not punching down at the people who eat there. That sort of thing. And it is tricky.

This is not to make excuses. This is just to say that I know I am going to fail a little bit on each of these entries, and that is utterly terrifying. In all honesty, it’s a huge reason I’ve always been kind of reluctant to share my work with a wider audience – in the back of my head, I know that, pretty much no matter how careful I am about choosing my words or considering who’ll be reading my work, at some point, there are things I’m going to miss, and mistakes I’m going to make, and audiences I am going to marginalize or offend, and oh my god that is horrifying. That is the last thing I want to do. I mostly just want to make people laugh and enjoy themselves and maybe, MAYBE think about something new.

Because of this fear, though, I’ve mostly kept my work to myself, or to a group of close friends who know me, because it’s safe, and they are already familiar with my faults, and more or less forgive me them. But, doing that is also pretty cautious and limiting and yeah probably kind of cowardly. 

So, I’m glad I’m taking this chance to write to a wider audience. Yeah, doing it is scary, and my inevitable failures will be shameful and disappointing, but, like, how the hell else am I going to get better? You can only learn so much in a vacuum – to start filling in my blind spots and growing as a writer, I have to present my work to the larger community and hear back from you, good and bad.

So, as I mentioned in my first post, please please get in touch if anything I say here bugs you – even if it’s just a passing flutter of annoyance. I would so much rather know than not, and hopefully over time, these mistakes will get fewer and fewer. Thank you for your patience, and for the opportunity. 

OK, I am still on the roof, and I’ve had to keep moving to avoid the shifting gaze of the hateful, hateful sun, but I am pretty much out of room now, so let’s just call it. See you out there, I hope.

<3<3
Nate

Nate Walsh

Writer. Party Planner. A Third Thing.