Here are a few pics and stories from SXSW.

The jist of what we were doing as NASA and JWST are in my blogs for Blueshift:

But here are a few more things.

A view of Baltimore from the air:

The waffle wasn’t great, but it is in the shape of Texas!

Our first day there (Friday) it rained. Kind of a lot. But the full-scale model was really impressive anyway.

You couldn’t even see the skyline in the background!

People braved the weather anyway:


Mid-afternoon, Doug and I decided to go back to the hotel for a bit. He needed something for his computer, and I needed a break. Of course, we managed to leave at the time when it was raining the hardest.


I had a rain jacket, but the rain was blowing sideways and my pants were getting soaked. So we finally dug out our plastic ponchos that we use at Disney and I stayed much dryer after that. We were at the 1st St bridge and then decided since we were already wet, to go see Stevie Ray, since I knew he was nearby. (As it turned out, he was literally a straight walk down to the lake from our model and we took the long way to go see him.

Doug was also a saint and carried my bag most of the weekend, when I needed him to. I have bad shoulders and the weight of a laptop (even my new macbook air that I got just for this trip) gives me sharp pains in my shoulders. He’s wearing both of our bags under his poncho here:




We were able to get a cab from the Raddisson (which is where I stayed last time I was in Austin and which is not only a delightful hotel, it has a Starbucks in its lobby) without too much of a wait. We stayed at the hotel for a bit, to dry off and rest. The wifi was way faster during the day, with everyone away, so I was able to get a bunch of stuff done.

They had a media room set up for us in the back of the NASA tent, but it was often crowded, and the plugs were taken pretty much all weekend, and on Sunday, someone stole our chairs! Since I could work pretty much anywhere with an internet connection, I sometimes worked there, a couple of times at one of the tables out in front of the big Viz screen, sometimes at the Long Center next door (which had fast wifi and was quiet), once at the hotel (as mentioned), and a whole bunch of times at a coffee place we found, which was maybe a 10 minute walk away.

So I’d just make sure to check in while I was at the tent, and be in email contact otherwise, and it worked out great.

We didn’t have much trouble getting a cab back – and it even cleared up!

It actually became quite a nice afternoon/evening.

One good thing was that there were a whole bunch of food trucks so there was food on site at least, and they provided us with tons of free water at the tent, which was really nice. One of the trucks had mediterranean wraps and the food was really good there – they kept selling out of stuff! They had a really good gyro wrap with spicy sauce, and awesome fries with feta cheese and spicy sauce on it (we only had them once because they sold out afterwards and for the rest of the weekend), we also tried the falafal wrap, which was some of the best falafal I’ve ever had. It was easier so we ended up eating most of our meals there, though we tried the BBQ truck once (it was decent), and a Mexican truck once (good chicken tacos), and a burger chain (Whataburger) once, which was decent too. (But no Five Guys!) And then the coffee place – we had breakfast tacos there a couple of times, and though I’m not a big coffee drinker, I had two lattes that I liked there. And it was quiet with free wifi. :-)

Anyway, afternoon turned into evening, and the model was all lit up with lights and it was beautiful. My friend Mike snapped this pic of Doug and I (right foreground). It’s blurry, but I kind of like it!


I took this one:

And I pointed out this spot to our photographer, Chris, who is awesome – he had professional equipment, and he took this amazing shot:

Doug was a volunteer and Friday night, he was on the late shift, 7:30 til 10:30, out by the full-scale model. We were just up the hill from the Interactive Expo (which was free) at the Palmer Center, so we had a lot of foot traffic. I stood out by the model with him and it was really fun talking to people and answering questions, and telling them about JWST. We had a lot of really good, intelligent questions, even from a group of non-astro major college students that had homework questions they needed answered. They were actually interested and kept coming up with new questions of their own – it was very cool, and was a big reason why this was all worthwhile.

We were done around 10:30 pm, and I was dead tired and ready to go back to the hotel. We had to walk over the bridge to catch a cab anyway. And we’d been invited out to a bar by a bunch of co-workers, but I really wasn’t up to it. My friend/co-worker Amber needed food as she hadn’t eaten, and she didn’t want to go to the bar (because she’d been told they didn’t have any food). So we ended up agreeing to get something to eat with Amber, and Alberto, who is a scientist at Space Telescope, who was one of the main organizers of this whole thing. (Amber was too, actually.)

We had a few minutes before we met Alberto (who had run back to his hotel), so we made Amber go see Stevie Ray – I wanted to see him at night. (He was not lit up like I hoped.)


We weren’t sure where to go, but I remembered having dessert at the cafe in The Driskill Hotel, on 6th street, and after calling and verifying it was open til midnight, we decided to make our way there. It actually worked out perfectly. Though it was super crowded outside, we were seated right away. And they had beer, because Amber really wanted a beer. Doug and I had eaten dinner (though several hours ago) so we each just ordered a bowl of clam chowder. It was actually the best clam chowder I’ve ever had. It tasted almost like a she-crab soup. And dinner was really fun – we got to hear a lot of crazy behind-the-scenes stuff about the planning of this event, and we talked about all sorts of things. And I’m glad we went even though I was tired.

After dinner, Alberto walked back to his hotel (lucky!) and Amber, Doug, and I tried to get a cab. It took 45 minutes – and we had to do a lot of walking. We kept narrowly missing cabs – and finally we ended up back near the Raddisson (actually the hotel next door) and we finally got one. We got back to the hotel at 1am. I heard later the others got in at 3am. And the next morning none of them had hot water. :-/

We (thankfully) got to go in later the next day because we didn’t need to be there early for orientation, and the tent generally opened around noon. So we met up at 11am to drive in together, and stopped at the coffee place again. We actually passed this on the way in:


And we also passed a long line for a tent, which we later learned was Grumpy Cat’s line!

I was sad I never got the chance to see her – but her tent wasn’t close by and her line was super long.

Here’s the front of our tent:

The weather was a repeat of the day before, only it didn’t rain as hard and it cleared up sooner. Doug and I worked from the coffee shop for a bit in the afternoon, and in the evening, the model was lit up again:



In the evening, this time, Doug was working the infrared camera – and I was asked to watch the education table because the guy had to leave. So I was able to work from that table, which had a nice breeze from the door.

Oh, yes, and I did this:

We weren’t very deep into the evening before people were concerned about a big storm on the radar that was supposed to have high winds and hail. So… we closed the tent early and took everything down. And I mean everything. It went down pretty quickly – but it was going to be a mess to put up the next day. I was grateful though, that we closed early. We got back to the hotel at a reasonable time (though I stayed up a bit later than I should have, working on the laptop), which was good, because we were meeting in the lobby at 8am the next morning, because we had a NASA Social coming through. NASA Socials used to be called tweet-ups, but they’ve been expanded to include more social media. A pre-selected group of people were being given a special tour of all the NASA stuff at SXSW. We were the first stop, but there were also panels, and some Curiosity stuff. And we were supposed to have a retired astronaut, but because of sequestration, HQ didn’t allow him to go. There was another astronaut who was supposed to be there (who didn’t work at HQ) and I don’t know if he ended up being there not.

So at 8am, Amber, Doug, and I met up with John Mather, our Nobel Laureate – he was going to drive us in. Which was pretty cool. I took a picture of his breakfast at the hotel. Here’s what a Nobel Laureate eats at a crappy free hotel breakfast!


The Social went well, and afterwards, Amber and I were ravenous, so the two of us walked to the coffee shop, where Doug was already hiding out. And we had a fun late breakfast.

Later in the afternoon, Doug and I took another break and walked down by Stevie again (in the sun this time!) on the way back to the coffee shop:


It was a nice day!



So we were both working at the coffee shop and I got a text from a high school friend, Jason. I’d seen him tweet that he was going to be at SXSW for work the same weekend I was, so I told him to try to stop by the NASA tent. Which he did. So while Doug worked, I ran back to the tent to meet up with him. He was there with a co-worker, and I gave them a tour of the tent and told them about JWST, and it was really fun seeing him again, since I haven’t seen him since high school graduation!


At some point during the weekend, we also did walk through the interactive expo, which was mostly gaming stuff. I did think this was hilarious though. A paper hotspot!


Evening rolled in again:

The big evening event was a Guinness Book of World Records attempt at largest astronomy lesson.

Here’s the start of our line:

I helped give directions to the people on line, and then when we weren’t sure if we had enough, we tried to persuade people at the Palmer Center to come up. Once things got started, we couldn’t get in anyway, so we made an attempt to see Comet Pan-Starrs – which was a fail. Then we walked back to see how the World Record was going and we found out that we did it! 526 people did a hands on demo about light and color, using red and blue filters and spectral glasses. So everyone was pretty excited.

As you can see:
We did it!

For participating, everyone got glowy light-up things provided by Northrop Grumman.

Here’s the team of organizers with their certificate:

Doug was out by the model again, but this night it was COLD. I ended up being needed inside to blog/post about the World Record Attempt.



We finally left at 11pm and I was even more dead tired than I’d been all weekend – it had been a long day, 8am to 11pm and we had a 10am flight the next day.

So we walked back up to the Raddisson and were finally able to get a cab. And that was SXSW!

In case you’re curious what I was doing, I was in the morning tweeting out our entire daily schedule on a twitter account we made just for the event. Then also tweeting through the day on the official JWST account. Also posting to FB and G+, sometimes uploading things to YouTube. Answering questions when we got them. I wrote captions and uploaded 75 images to Flickr: (which was super time consuming) – and I wrote 7 blogs for our event Tumblr: Plus 2 Blueshift posts (I didn’t get to the 3rd til I was home). Plus helping out in the tent, at the model, at the Social, at the World Record, etc.

It was a really successful weekend and I don’t think we could be any happier with how it went.

The “Low Quality” Inn:

I still haven’t had time to go through my pictures, but I wanted to write down all the stuff about our SXSW hotel before I forget it. Though maybe it’s better if I forget! Short version is that our hotel was humorously bad, which we were all laughing about at the time even, it was too ridiculous to not be funny.

Ok, it all starts back in December when the first talk about actually being at SXSW came up. Mind you, SXSW is a lot like DragonCon (except more people and spread out all over the city). It wouldn’t be easy to just waltz up to Atlanta in in July and say, “I think I’ll go to DragonCon” and have an easy time finding a room. As many of you well know, the hotels sell out a year in advance. Same deal here.

Anyway, one of my co-workers did find a Quality Inn that was reasonably priced and still had rooms so a bunch of us from NASA booked rooms there.

Fast-forward a month or two to when I found out that I was definitely going to be going. I tried to change my reservation for checking in Thurs and checking out Monday. I was told there was a 5 night minimum because of SXSW. Which caused a lot of stress because I didn’t know if work would want to pay for an extra night’s hotel I wasn’t going to use. There were tears and frantic emails, and then the civil servant guy who approves my travel actually said “don’t sweat it, it’s fine.” Whew.

Fast forward to the week before I left, and I got a confirmation email from the hotel – but it said there was a 3 night minimum stay. What? I actually had an anxiety dream about how I would explain I would be checking out on Monday not Tuesday and how they told me on the phone there was a 5 night stay. But I convinced myself after that to not worry about it. Much.

Fast forward to arriving in Austin. We were just going to take a cab to the hotel, but the information desk said we didn’t want to do that, that the cab line was really long and there was a hotel shuttle. Which would wait for us. So we hopped on and marveled at how smoothly that went. Then we got to the Quality Inn, I went through my rehearsed speech about my stay, the lady said no problem (yay!) and then proceeded to look up the reservation and tell us we were at the wrong Quality Inn. Sigh. We didn’t know there was more than one, and neither did the Airport or the shuttle driver.

So she called us a cab and we waited over a half hour for the cab to show up. Wasn’t a big deal as they had free wifi so I was able to get some work done (as I was already getting “do this” emails for SXSW). When our cab was about there, we went outside and there were a couple of other people who had also gone to the wrong Quality Inn and we shared the cab with them.

So finally we were at the hotel, and when I got up to the counter, I went through my speech again and again, they said it was no problem to check out Monday. So all that stress for nothing. And I don’t know why they told me it was a 5 night minimum as there was no indication of that when I made the initial reservation.

Anyway, crisis 1 was solved. The hotel itself wasn’t great. It was also motel style, so all the rooms had doors to the parking lot. Our room was clean enough, and the bed was actually fine, no bed bugs.

The other SXSW issue was that we weren’t at all close to where the festival would be. There was a shuttle, but it only went to the convention center and we were across the lake a mile away at the Long and Palmer Centers. And we were told it would be really hard to get cabs. A few NASA folks had cars, so we decided we would just try to get rides when we could and cabs when we couldn’t and see how it went. The shuttle was $60 a piece and we were leery about paying that when it wouldn’t go to where we needed and we weren’t sure how long the walk would be.

Anyway, so in the morning, we had planned to meet up with a bunch of co-workers to drive in together. The hotel had a free “hot breakfast,” so we checked that out first.

All they had were bagels and boxes of cereal, hard boiled eggs, and a waffle maker that made waffles in the shape of Texas. Which was pretty cool, but they waffles themselves weren’t very good. Oh, and the seats in the breakfast area were filthy. I almost didn’t want to sit on them. Yuck.

Then my co-workers started showing up. Colleen had opened the door to her room and found that there was no bed. The room was under construction! Room #2 had a bed but the air conditioner put out air that smelled bad.

Mike had loaded all his video equipment into his room and then a security guard came by because they noticed his door hadn’t shut all the way. When Mike answered the door, the handle sheared off in his hand. (If the door had been closed, he would have been trapped in his room!) They had to replace the whole door handle mechanism. Then, he was working on multiple laptops on the desk (which was missing a drawer) and slid over to type onto one of them, and got gouged by the desk, which cut his jeans and his leg!

Amber joined us, sat down with her coffee and instant oatmeal, took a sip of the coffee and realized it was cold. Then she took a bite of the oatmeal before realizing it was made with the same water as the coffee and was also cold.

We stopped at a coffee place on the drive in to get some drinks and food because breakfast left a lot to be desired.

The drive took 45 minutes because rush hour and SXSW traffic was so bad!

Fast forward to the next morning – we met up in the lobby again (skipped “breakfast” this time) – and learned that pretty much everyone (including a few other project people I didn’t mention above) had not had hot water. I think we might have been the only ones who did have hot water. Apparently the boiler in the building they were all in had broken. Which was kind of bad because Amber, Doug, and I had gotten in relatively early at 1am. (We’d been working at the festival to 10:30, and went for a late dinner.) But a bunch of other people had gone out to a bar and they didn’t get in til 3am. And then didn’t have hot water the next morning.

Our Nobel Laureate, John Mather, who is the nicest guy ever, was coming in that day, and we were worried about what he might experience at the hotel. We wondered if he’d have hot water, or if we should ask to inspect his room to make sure there was a bed. Though this was all pretty sucky, we all laughed a lot everytime we’d heard about something else awful happening. Becauase it was kind of unreal and just increasingly silly.

Fast forward to the next morning – I was told that John had gotten in ok, that they hadn’t heard yet if he had hot water (I asked him later and he did, so that’s good), but that he apparently had to change the light bulbs in his room himself. Which awesomely sets up the joke, “How many Nobel Laureates does it take to change a light bulb?” And John is so nice, that when I was telling him about all the problems people had with the hotel, his reaction was “Wow, they must really need our money!” Yep, he actually felt bad for them. I’m guessing not many Nobel Laureates are that nice.

Amber had planned to stay a few extra days after SXSW, as she had family in town – she emailed that they continued to have hot water issues and after yelling at the manager (and Amber is really mild mannered normally), they checked out and found a hotel near the airport that was much nicer.