Category Archives: Conferences

That time I slammed tequila with Quentin Tarantino at 2 in the afternoon

SXSW had barely begun and I had already slipped away from the crowd. Feeling overwhelmed by startup pitches, I had just made my way down to the lobby to get coffee with Joel, one of my best friends and partners in crime. I led him into the Omni’s sunny bar lounge and plopped down in a booth seat in the banquette farthest away from any other people. Joel sat in the chair across from me and looked at me expectantly, probably thinking I had something important to tell him.

“Sometimes I just need to sit and chill,” I told him.

“Baby, you got it,” he said with this faux-used-car-salesman air that makes me smirk every time.

We talked for approximately two minutes about how good it was to be in the same city again before I saw a man walk up and sit at the far end of the bar. My eyes widened with recognition.

“Is that Quentin Tarantino?” I asked Joel. He squinted at me and slowly shifted his body in his chair, keeping his eyes on me for any signs of Tom Foolery, before finally turning his head to look.

He snapped back to face me. “Yes,” he said decisively.

“Oh my God. Should we talk to him?” My pulse quickened.

“Um. Yeah. I want to get a picture with him.” One does not simply ask Quentin Tarantino for a picture, I thought, but I wanted one too. I don’t usually get celeb-crazy, but here was someone famous for actually being talented, who creates wildly entertaining films to stealthily convey his social commentary. He is no pawn or puppet of Hollywood. When Quentin Tarantino wants to make a movie, he kicks in the door and blasts the industry in the face with his agenda.

“OK. What do we do?” I asked Joel.

“Let’s just… go to the bar and order a drink,” he said. I contemplated leaving my coffee behind so I could actually have a reason to go to the bar, but I wanted it too much. I gathered up my belongings and we headed over to the bar.

Joel leaned on the bar in a space that was one stool away from Quentin, forcing me to sit there and act as a female buffer zone. I wanted to but could only stand behind the chair awkwardly. I didn’t want to bother him, and felt bad for even being near him. He was drinking a margarita, perceiving if we were about to annoy him or not. I was having a major processing malfunction trying to think of something to say. Joel turned to him and said, “I just wanted to let me know you’re a huge idol of mine.” Quentin turned to him with a look on his face that was humble, tired, standoffish, pleased, and a little skeptical — all at the same time. “Thank you,” he said, and focused back on his margarita.

Joel ordered his drink and I stood there stupidly for another awkward moment that seemed to stretch out into eternity. Finally I asked him, “Do you mind if I sit here?” He turned and looked at me. I was wearing my Texas best: A vintage button-down shirt, half-white half-black with southwestern triangles of the opposite color on each sleeve and a diamond cut out of the chest to make the collar look like a bow tie; standard black pencil skirt; cowboy boots. “No, go ahead,” he said, and gestured to the stool. I climbed on and sipped my coffee, thinking about what I could say to him that wasn’t completely boring, something that he hadn’t heard a million times in the past week.

“Death Proof is like, my favorite movie,” I told him. He arched his eyebrows at me.

“Oh yeah? Who’s your favorite character?” Oh shit. It really was one of my favorites, maybe not THE favorite but close enough. But far enough that I couldn’t remember “butterfly’s” actual name in real life or the movie.

“Well, I love the jukebox scene, I memorized that entire lap dance.” I blurted out. He chuckled.

Butterfly

A stranger walked up and point-blank asked him for a picture. “I’m sorry, no, I’m just trying to sit here and have a drink and I don’t want to take pictures right now,” he told the fan. Joel and I looked at each other wide eyed, glad we had at least some tact. Quentin turned back to me:

“As I was saying, did you know that entire sequence was filmed just down the street at the Texas Chili Parlor?” I told him to get out. No, he was serious. I relaxed a little, as we were pretty much old friends at this point. A woman with long, curly blonde hair came and sat on the bar stool next to him. “She’s a fan of Death Proof,” Quentin told her, pointing his thumb at me. I smiled at her. The bar manager brought up a bottle of tequila from the basement and displayed it for Quentin. Avion reposado. He ordered a second margarita, this time with the good stuff, and a shot for his friend. “Fuck it, I’ll have a glass as well,” I told the bartender. It tasted exactly like Quentin Tarantino’s drink of choice should taste.

As we sipped, we talked about his casting inspiration for Death Proof. I told him I was in awe of Jungle Julia, that I had never seen a woman who looked like her take on such a powerhouse role. He told me about the billboards they put up all over Austin while they were shooting, advertising Jungle Julia’s radio show like it was real. I told him I made my handle Amazon Arikia after I saw that movie, inspired to reclaim a name that boys used to call me in middle school when I was taller than all of them. “I’ll bet they don’t make fun of you anymore,” he said.

JungleJulia

He told me that the funny thing about the actress who played Jungle Julia was that nobody wanted to cast her because of her ethnic look. I told him she was beautiful, and that it was really comforting for me to see someone with hair as curly as mine strutting around with confidence, kicking her shoes off and laying it down in the DJ booth.

We talked about how Death Proof was the movie that broke all the rules when it came to women in films. In college, there was a challenge that went around the Michigan Daily newsroom: Name a movie where there are A) more than two women B) Who talk to each other C) About something other than guys. Nobody could name one, but I fired back with Death Proof. I remember when it came out, people criticized it: “Who wants to hear a bunch of chicks gabbing for an hour in a movie?” they would say. I did, and I loved it, and the way they kicked the shit out of Stuntman Mike in the end.

Our drinks were getting low, and I turned to Quentin and asked him: “What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not making movies?” He shrugged. “Live life.” Then he furrowed his brow and said, “no, let me revise that. It’s ‘not make movies.'” He explained that it was difficult for him to put his work away, and to experience life without being compelled to process people and events for the big screen. “So how do you decide when you’re going to stop not making movies?” I asked. “Well, something really has to grab you to make you decide to do only that for the next two years of your life,” he said.

When he asked for the bill, I told him I didn’t want to be one of those fans, but could I please have his autograph? I gave him my journal, which I don’t think I’ve ever let anyone else touch let alone write in, and said he could have a whole page.

QuentinTarantinoAutograph

That, my friends, is how you win SXSW on the first day. Life lessons from this encounter:

  • Dress like you want to be addressed, and if you want to be addressed like a cowgirl than fucking hell yeah, do it.
  • People who say you don’t need to drink to have fun or get ahead in life are WRONG.
  • If someone makes you nervous, it means you should definitely talk to them.
Advertisements

The software patent system is broken, long live the software patent system

Tonight I went to a panel discussion, one of my favorite closet nerd things to do on a Thursday night in NYC. It was at Hack Manhattan, aptly titled “Software Patents Debate – FREE alcoholic and non-alcoholic refreshments.” Sold out, obviously. The panel was hosted by America’s Future Foundation and featured Nilay Patel of The Verge, Chris Mims of Quartz, Reihan Salam of National Review, and patent lawyers Christina Mulligan, Alan Tenenbaum, and Greg Maskel, moderated by Chris Gaun of Gartner.

The purpose of the panel was to debate whether or not software should be patentable, if the current system is broken, and if it encourages innovation. All the panelists agreed that it was not optimally functional, mainly because of the legal aspects. The main example they kept coming back to was of a 15 year old kid in Wichita who makes iPhone game apps in between homework assignments. The kid could get sent a letter from a company claiming he’d infringed on their patent. The letter may or may not be valid, but that doesn’t matter—even attempting to defend his app could require up to $30,000 in legal fees and a whole lot of time. And it’s not like he knew about the patent in the first place because there’s no effective way to search the system and see if what you’re working on falls under another patent, he’d just have to build the thing and wait to see if he got a letter. As Christina put it, “when you’re in the position of making a product, it’s mathematically impossible to know what patents you might be infringing.” This is in-part because of the rate of growth of the software industry, in which there are about 700,000 patents currently pending, and millions of others in existence. Understandably, if I had the skills to invent something new, I would feel really discouraged from sharing it with anyone.

Furthermore, it’s difficult to define who the patent trolls are and thus impossible to impose regulations preventing such trolling. They are usually companies who bought up a bunch of patents but aren’t contributing any innovation to the marketplace, and will sometimes send letters in the hundreds or thousands to people who could possibly be infringing seeking royalties, which many inventors are inclined to pay even if they didn’t knowingly infringe on the patent because paying the royalty fees is cheaper than the legal costs. So the trolls can just sit back racking in the dough they’re bullying out of anyone brave enough to attempt to innovate. It’s clear they must be stopped via a reform in the legal system, but the reason they’re able to do that is because the ability to claim royalties exists to protect inventors from getting their ideas ripped off by intentional copycats. SO we need to find a way to differentiate between innovators and leeches. Shouldn’t be hard in theory, but what metrics do you use in practice?

It’s a stifling atmosphere that makes a lot of true innovators throw up their hands and say “to hell with the system, I won’t use it.” This is often the case with proponents of the open source movement, who are clearly the ideological heroes. But in refusing to seek patents on the principle that they won’t engage with a corrupt system, they are choosing to be poor. As Nilay put it, “the people who need [the patent system] the most are the people who don’t believe in it.”

Then there’s the case of companies trying to discourage competition by trying to patent things like rounded corners. Obviously no one company invented rounded corners, and certainly not Apple, but they still won. So the system is clearly still having some problems establishing whether an invention is “new” or if the company is exploiting the shit out of it.

The lawyers were very lawyery. One of my favorite exchanges was when Christina pointed out that the vast majority of patents are never litigated but one could still never know if he was in the wrong. Then Alan chimed in and said it didn’t matter, “go forward with your product and if you become successful then you become a target.” So if you don’t get successful, don’t worry about it. Except… what’s successful? Selling 100,000 apps at a dollar each and having to spend half that on legal fees? A million?

Then someone said maybe software shouldn’t be patentable at all, because it’s this thing that’s way different from a steam engine or light bulb or whatever was being invented when the patent laws were made with a 20 year expiration date that doesn’t really make sense in the context of today’s rapidly changing software landscape.

Ultimately, we want as much innovation as possible in our society. But as usual, the dudes on the golf course smoking cigars are keeping the nerds from saving the world. One thing’s clear about this royal mess though: Something’s gotta give.

How to build a psychological immune system

While my actual immune system goes to work on this cold that’s making me want to claw my gums out to alleviate the pressure in my sinuses, I’m sitting here munching chopped garlic on toast and watching this Ignite talk given by my friend and former Psychology Today editor, Jay Dixit.

Because of the format of Ignite talks, where 20 slides rotates automatically every 15 seconds, they are the best to watch and the most difficult to give. I know this because I gave one in November and am dreading the day the video surfaces on YouTube. Or I could take Jay’s advice and tell myself that next time I volunteer for such a speaking engagement I’ll rehearse instead of curling up in a little ball of anxiety every time I thought about rehearsing in the preceding days, and I’ll be great!

Anyway, Jay was great, so watch his video and learn how to stay positive:

Ladies, put some pants on

BasicInstinct

Today I came across a blog post that made me double check if this was the year 2013, and that I hadn’t somehow traveled backward in time to an Amish farm.

From the blog of Ellie Cachette, founder and CEO of ConsumerBell:

NEEDS TO STOP: WEARING SHORT DRESSES TO CONFERENCES

And this isn’t an issue of women or not, there’s three ladies on the panel below wearing pants. The difference? Panel topic. Let’s stop dressing up as traditional women roles while trying to pretend to be rule breakers. Actions speak louder than words so put some pants on.

You can click over to her blog for a comparison of what she considers to be an inappropriately dressed panel of dress-wearing hussies and, below it, an appropriately dressed panel which, lo and behold, she herself is on.

While it’s possible that her concern may be coming from a place of compassion for women who have found themselves embarrassed by wardrobe malfunctions when conference hosts seat panelists in elevated, director-style chairs, it comes across as petty feminist shaming.

There are so many kinds different forms of self-expression via wardrobe out there, surely there is no need to call for a ban on one particular style of dress. The thing that bothers me most about this argument though, is that it places the responsibility of professionalism all on the woman, when idealistically, men should be able to control their impulses in the face of a woman in a professional setting, regardless of what she is wearing. To me, this logic is reminiscent of people who blame street harassment on the victim for dressing in a certain way, or sexual assault on the victim for asking for it. What I’ve observed about both of those scenarios is, it doesn’t matter what a person wears or does — if a man acts inappropriately or illegally, it’s his fault, and it’s usually done based on a desire to exhibit power over the victim.

Slippery slope, Ellie. Slippery slope. Once you start dictating how women should dress, for their own benefit, it really doesn’t have to stop until we’re all in burquas, for our own benefit. And the thing about burquas is that they’re fantastic for the women who wear them because that’s what they feel comfortable in. But it gets problematic when they’re involuntarily imposed.

This all obviously isn’t to say that women shouldn’t dress with a regard for cultural and professional standards on a case by case basis. But hearing a woman take a swipe at all wearers of short dresses is problematic.

So, I’ll keep wearing skirts of whatever length, or pants, as I deem appropriate in whatever situations I find myself in. And if a guy mistakes me for an Azure Girl, I’ll correct him and he’ll feel like a douche and think twice before he makes an assumption like that again.