#SXSW Day 3 – DOOM, Signal, Noise, and BBQ by

Belatedly I’m getting these SXSW recaps posted!

On Day 3, the usual SXSW fatigue sets in – people show up a little later, and the time change (Daylight Savings) doesn’t help!  I started with Houndstooth Coffee – not sure I would have made it through even one session without caffeine!

DOOM

The first session of the day for me was by Romero – one of the co-creators of DOOM, one of the best games of all time, and certainly a game that altered the gaming landscape for many years to come.

Romero is a fairly unassuming guy – long hair, quiet voice, he looks like the kind of guy that might stay up all night -gaming or writing games.  And, no surprise, he fairly oozes credibility around this subject matter.  He had some really funny anecdotes in his talk, which goes month-by-month through the progression of the Id team and their release of DOOM.

For example, they moved to Wisconsin, after visiting in the summer… And then found at that winter is brutal.  He went into a long sidestory of how they bought the NeXT computer that Steve Jobs was putting out – which cost $11,000 back then – and then found excuses to use it -like generating the dictionary for the user manual.  I might have missed it, but I don’t think that he mentioned that one of the first “demo” releases of DOOM was a NeXT version (black and white, as were most of the NeXT monitors back then).

In 1992 they moved to Dallas – working out of apartments.  It is pretty amazing that they had already done 4 first person shooters – Hover Tank, Catacombs 3D, Wolfenstein 3D, and Spear of Destiny.  Next up was DOOM.

No surprise really, but DOOM was partly inspired by the large quantities of D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) they had been playing.  He discussed how Carmack’s vision of what they could do vastly exceeded the technology of the time.  And he relates that they “did some calculations” to determine certain things were not doable.  One wonders what kind of calculations they did – because on the one hand, of course the things they were thinking about would be impossible back then – but on the other hand, they did so many things that were groundbreaking and *thought* to be impossible back then.  They invented new math and techniques to vastly improve game performance.  Clearly not everything “in the black box” is going to be shown the light!

DOOM pioneered so many parts of gaming it is easy to forget. No lives.  No score. Texture mapped environment, non-orthogonal walls. Light sourcing / diminishing. Variable height floors and ceilings.  Environment animation and morphing (doors, control switches).  An “open game”, etc. They were so in love with their own game they predicted it could cut world productivity in half.  It probably did cut world highschool test scores that year!

BRUNCH

Technically I went to see Rachel Maddow’s session next – but it wasn’t really the kind of session you take notes on, it was just interesting to see someone live that you normally only see on TV.  I had to decide which of two different Stanford grads to support in that time slot – Rachel or Cory Booker – but Cory’s session was all the way across the river in the Long Center, so Rachel one the coin flip.

Next we grabbed  brunch at Second Bar and Kitchen – a fabulous place to eat at any time, but this was my first time eating brunch there.  We sat out on the patio, where I promptly earned my first SXSW sunburn of the year.  Highly recommend the Eggs Benedict with pork shoulder. I know, it should be illegal.

Coffee from Cafe Medici sustained us for a return to the Austin Convention Center, and a delve into statistics – Nate Silver’s talk on The Signal and the Noise. The basic premise that Nate raised was – would big data really change things? would it lead to “big solutions?”  And isn’t that the whole point of progress?

After returning to the convention center, we looked around the SXSW Trade show for a bit – and I managed to get a blurry picture of Shaq, who was checking out some of the audio headgear at one booth.  Let’s just say he’s tall, so you can take a picture from a good distance.

THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE

He showed a chart, that I’m relating from memory… But if I recall correctly, the WWW was presented as having started in 1990 (a bit earlier than its common usage), but that 70% of all the data on the WWW was created in the last 2 years.  He joked that most of it is remixes of the Harlem Shake.  But he showed, for context, the 200 years from 1400 to 1600 – the graph looks the same! Exponential growths of books in print over that 200 year span.  The printing press had arrived and had a huge impact on information access.

So what else happened during those two hundred years?  Lots of wars in Europe and pretty much everywhere those books went.

It turns out that when you have more data, you get more conflict rather than more consensus. 

This is pretty surprising to most people, though we’re all aware of the problems of cherry picking that occur with more cable news channels and more sources on line (facebook, twitter, news sites, etc.)  If you get to pick the facts you believe in, then you can get pretty upset with someone who doesn’t agree with you (because they’ve picked their facts to believe in as well).

He used the recent election as an example – not that Republicans weren’t facing facts at all -but that they were looking at primarily the polls that were favorable to Romney winning, and not averaging in the polls that were unfavorable to get their overall picture.  They decided that the methodology of the polls that predicted a Romney win were more accurate.

Nate also gave a fascinating explanation of the Kasparov-Big Blue matches.  That during the second match (or maybe the first?), Big Blue made a startling and nonsensical (But legal) move. Kasparov simply could not figure out why, but the move bothered his mental game, making him feel as if Big Blue might have a further look-ahead than his own famous 15-move look-ahead.  Kasparov managed to win the game, but his style became more defensive and he lost the overall series.  He didn’t know that Big Blue’s odd move was actually a designed-fail-safe for what Big Blue should do when it had not selected a move in the allowed time.  It just kept Big Blue from forfeiting by accident!

He also chastised that you have to keep applying common sense, or use personal knowledge of a situation to improve your statistical model.   For example, in baseball – two players with identical statistics may be the same to the computer. But the scout might know how much practice they’re doing, how hard they’re working, which one has a more stable home life or which one goes out partying.  Lots of personal factors might weigh one in favor of the other.

BBQ

Of course you can’t leave SXSW without BBQ.  We ventured to the Leap Motion tent again, and then into the food court of trailer food – which had some of Austin’s best.  Peached Tortilla was there, masquerading as some kind of “Hannibal” ad for the new TV series.

Since I’ve eaten at Peached Tortilla quite a bit, I tried Slab.  The pulled pork slider was quite good.  And loved their decor:

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Why yes, that is a pig with wings perched on the end of this red smoker.

NETWORKING

It wasn’t enough to just have some BBQ at the food trailer court, I had to stop by Fogo de Chao for a networking session.  Laura Beck runs a really cool meetup (or, Meat up) there to give visiting entrepreneurs a chance to meet up with Austin entrepreneurs.  It is pretty cool.

I once again managed to get home at a reasonable time so that I could return for more sessions on Day 4…