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How an independent art and technology festival captured my heart


When I told my friends and co-workers I was attending the XOXO Festival in Portland, Oregon, last weekend, I had a difficult time explaining what it was about. The event website describes it as an “experimental festival celebrating independently produced art and technology.” But that doesn’t quite explain why the event, now four years in the running, struck a chord with me. One of the initial reasons I was drawn to XOXO was that it’s about embracing technology not just as a means to make money, but also as a means for creativity and independence. This year, however, XOXO meant much more. The central theme of the festival, more than any other year, was about one thing: community.Slideshow-321983

The idea of XOXO is simply this: To bring independent creators together. “They’re the people who are using the internet in creative ways to bypass traditional publishers, traditional gatekeepers and retain creative and financial control over their own work,” said Andy Baio, who co-created XOXO along with friend and fellow Portland resident, Andy McMillan. “This includes musicians, filmmakers, video game designers, hardware hackers, writers and designers.” As long as you used the internet in some way to carve a path for yourself, XOXO is place for you. The talks and the events are designed to not only celebrate independent creators — be they app developers or podcasters — but also allow participants to listen and learn from the struggles that others have faced.

As a result, many of the talks at XOXO are emotionally driven. The presenters often show their vulnerability onstage as they reveal their trials and tribulations. Plenty of the ones this year centered around the difficult issues of being independent — Mallory Ortberg from The Toast gave a humorous speech on how she bootstrapped her women-run publication; C. Spike Trotman of Iron Circus Comics spoke about the challenges of making a living on indie comics especially as a black woman; and Heather Armstrong of Dooce told a heartbreaking story of how she had to quit blogging for a while due to increased pressure to write sponsored content and the effect it had on her family.

Zoe Quinn gave a talk on online harassment and having empathy.

But it was the sessions that centered on community that left an impression on me. Eric Meyer, well-known for his expertise on CSS, told a story of how the CSS community campaigned to have the color value #663399 officially named “rebeccapurple” in memory of his daughter who died from cancer. Amit Gupta, the founder of photography store Photojojo, explained how his internet friends collaborated on a campaign to find him a bone marrow donor after they found out he had leukemia. (They found a donor match three months after they launched the campaign. If none were found, he wouldn’t be alive today.)

And then there were presentations about the ugly side of online communities. Zoe Quinn, an independent game developer whose ex-boyfriend sparked the GamerGate controversy, talked not just about the online harassment she’s endured, but also her attempt at empathizing with her attackers. She said that most of them think of themselves as the good guys, and many years ago, as a teen struggling to fit in, she would’ve likely been on their side. Similarly, Veronica Belmont, podcaster and host of our very own Dear Veronica, told a tale about how an embarrassing GIF of herself went viral and her resulting endeavor to feel empathy for the people on the internet who were seemingly ganging up against her. Sympathy is not the same thing as empathy, Belmont said.

Andy Baio and Andy McMillan, the two founders of XOXO.

While I was certainly very moved by these talks — I’ll admit to crying after a few of them — they wouldn’t have the same gravitas and meaning if XOXO itself wasn’t the most community-focused event I’ve ever attended. Of course, the fact that the festival limits attendees to only 1,000 people is already enough to create an intimate environment, but the organizers went above and beyond just that. This year, for example, they created a festival-wide Slack channel where attendees could not just chat online, but also self-organize into meetups and offer each other assistance. In fact, most of Friday’s social activities were Slack channel meetups that weren’t organized by XOXO at all. “If we can extend that and if we ever do the next XOXO, and get people to self-organize all of it, we can take a nap,” joked McMillan during the event’s opening remarks.

Including people of all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life was also a key factor in making XOXO feel more like a community. For the first couple of years, the early crowd comprised of predominantly white men. “It was embarrassing,” said Baio. “We’d never thought of XOXO as a tech conference, but it was inheriting the systemic issues that [were] in tech.” This, he said, could be because the festival grew by word of mouth primarily among an early adopter audience. “It did not reflect the community that we cared about. Importantly, it didn’t reflect the ‘art’ part of the festival at all.”

A “virtual reality lounge” was set up at XOXO for attendees to try out games on Project Morpheus, an Oculus DK 2 and the Samsung Gear Vr.

In order to combat this, they included a diversity question in last year’s survey that simply asked applicants if they identified with a group that’s been underrepresented at XOXO in the past. That information was essentially factored into admission, and it’s definitely had an impact. In 2014, the percentage of attendees who self-identified as women doubled to around 40 percent, although only 13 percent identified as people of color. In 2015, the numbers rose again to 45 percent for female-identified attendees and 20 percent for people of color. There’s still a lot of work to be done, said Baio, but they’re trying.

For 2015 in particular, they introduced the idea of subsidized passes. If you made your case in your application that there was no way you could attend XOXO unless you could get a subsidized pass (conference prices are normally $500, while the festival-only fee is $125), then you were free to attend the whole thing for just $50. In all, 50 people attended XOXO this year with those subsidized passes. Grant Roberts, an unemployed video game designer from Seattle, was one of those people. He told me he was pleased to have a chance to meet like-minded folks and get excited about making things again. Jonathan Liu, a stay-at-home dad in Portland who blogs without pay for GeekDad, also got a subsidized pass, and relished the opportunity to learn more about Kickstarter projects.

The park outside Revolution Hall, where people gathered for food, drinks, concerts and parties.

It wasn’t just that either. There were quiet spaces throughout the conference for those who suffer from social anxiety or even introverts who simply needed a break from the crowd. Restrooms were marked with a sign that requested people not be concerned with the gender appearance of others. A special ADA-compliant taxi was available for free for those who needed it. Free childcare was available throughout the day and there were free non-alcoholic sodas too, making XOXO an all-ages event for the first time. A code of conduct banning harassment was also strictly enforced.

XOXO was created four years ago by Baio and McMillan out of a desire for an event that focused on this intersection between art and technology. Baio, who’s perhaps better known for his personal website (and other achievements like coining the term “supercut” and creating the social calendar), was particularly touched by independent creators thanks to his involvement with Kickstarter — he was the company’s CTO from 2009 to 2010. “I felt like there was a gap to be filled to do an event that was laser-focused on this one idea about independent art and tech.” He started talking to McMillan over drinks, and McMillan, who already had three years of experience running a design festival in Belfast called Build, happened to have the same idea as well.

The two then launched a $125,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund the conference, a goal that was met within two days and reached $175,000 by the end. On September 13th, 2012, the first-ever XOXO Festival was held at the YU Contemporary in Portland. A total of 400 people — including myself — attended the event, which at the time consisted of just two days of talks, a film night, a music night, a video game arcade and an arts and crafts market. Even though they never planned to have a second one, the response to the first was so overwhelmingly positive, they decided to do XOXO again in 2013. This time, they added a second night of music, an evening of tabletop games, plus cheaper festival-only passes with which you could attend everything but the talks. After another successful year, they hosted it again in 2014, this time without the market but with a brand-new evening of storytelling and podcasts called XOXO Story. And, of course, they did it again this year.

Several indie video games were set up on large projectors for XOXO Arcade.

“I’m not really sure why, but there’s something about XOXO that’s repellent to cynical, snarky, angry people,” said Baio of the community that the festival attracts. After all, he said, it’s named after hugs and kisses. “A lot of people like to draw a comparison with SXSW,” he said of the other technology-focused festival in Austin, Texas. “It was too big and no longer fulfilling what they were getting out of it.” Belmont said that XOXO felt like how SXSW Interactive was 10 years ago. “It’s where the creatives, the technologists and the big thinkers get together and have meaningful conversations,” she said.

In many ways, XOXO is a love fest and a nerd con all rolled into one. I enjoyed the live tapings of excellent podcasts like Hello from the Magic Tavern, You Look Nice Today and Reply All. I loved the personal stories told during a live storytelling event called Fray that had me laughing and crying. I was moved and educated by the Feminist Frequency videos that Anita Sarkeesian showed during film night. I was entertained by a showing of House of Cosbys and a Rick and Morty episode by creator Justin Roiland. I had fun playing indie video games and board games with the friendliest strangers I’ve ever met.

A sketch of the two Andys of XOXO, done by illustrator Lucy Bellwood during the event.

By the time I left on Monday morning, my heart felt like it had grown 10 times. I feel like I’ve made new friends. I feel inspired to make and do new things. More importantly, I feel like I’ve discovered a new community where I belong. Even a week later, I’m still hanging out in the XOXO Slack channel, which Baio and McMillan said they’ll keep running for as long as they can.

Right now, Baio has no plans to have another XOXO next year. But that’s what he says after every festival. “I know you can only say that so many times until people are like, ‘Yeah right,’” he said. “But we do honestly have no plan to do another XOXO after this one. … What happens is, when we wrap up, we look at how it went. Then we decide if we want to do another one. Whether or not we can keep this interesting. That’s why we keep the word ‘experimental’ in the description.”

“If it ceases to be interesting, then we have no qualms killing it,” he said. Considering how wonderful this year’s event was, I’m betting there will be another one. And I’ll try my best to attend that as well.

[Image credit: All photos by the author; illustration by Lucy Bellwood]


Maxis will start selling the OnePlus 2 in Malaysia next week


Malaysia’s largest carrier, Maxis, has just announced that it will start carrying the OnePlus 2 on this coming Tuesday, September 22. The handset will only be available in the 64GB Sandstone Black model and will have a price tag of RM 1,788 ($423).

For those in need of a refresher on its specifications, the OnePlus 2 is a pretty impressive high-end smartphone with a 5.5-inch Full HD display, a Qualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810 chipset, an Adreno 430 GPU, 4GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, a 5-megapixel selfie shooter and a 3,300mAh battery.

Maxis stock of the OnePlus 2 is limited, so if you want to beg yourself one, you’ll have to head over to its online store at 10:00 AM (local time) on September 22.

Source: Maxis

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30 years of Super Mario in pop culture

Mario may have cut his teeth hopping barrels as “Jumpman” in Donkey Kong back in 1981, but his true claim to fame came with Super Mario Bros. Created by acclaimed video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, that game launched in September 1985, landing on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)/Famicom consoles. This year, the highly influential Mario series celebrates its 30th birthday, having entertained generations of arcade and console fans throughout several iterations over three decades. The impact of Nintendo’s iconic Mario and his player-two bro Luigi on pop culture has gone far beyond just gaming itself; they’ve appeared in cartoons, movies, comics and even art. To join in celebrating 30 years of Super Mario Bros., we’ve put together a photo album of all things Mario over the years.



Here’s a list of all of the HTC smartphones compatible with Android Pay


Earlier today, HTC created a new page on its official website dedicated to explaining just how Android Pay will work on its smartphones. The Taiwanese company also addressed the privacy concerns many potential users are having by reiterating that “a virtual account number” is generated to protect account information and to ensure that all card details stay safe.

Android Pay is compatible with a variety of different AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon-branded HTC smartphones, including the One M7, One M8, One Max, Desire 601, Desire EYE and Nexus 9. The full list can be seen in the table below:

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 14.26.21

In order to use the service, owners of supported devices will need to download and install the Android Pay application from the Play Store and add their debit or credit card information. Once done, they will have the facility to pay for goods in over 700,000 locations in the United States using the contactless platform.

Source: HTC

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ICYMI: Giant air purifier, true invisibility cloak and more

ICYMI: Giant Air Purifier, True Invisibility Cloak and More

Today on In Case You Missed It: A 23-foot tall HEPA filter that looks like a building is running in Rotterdam, costing $1,000 a year to operate while cleaning up to 1 million cubic feet of air per hour. Scientists at UC Berkeley have hit on the tech that could lead to a true Cloak of Invisibility. For the first time, a 3D object has been hidden from visible light, using nanoantenna blocks which are usually found in solar panels. And the fastest human-powered bike on the planet just hit 85 miles per hour at a competition in Nevada.

You’ve likely already read about all the things that went down in Texas when Ahmed Mohamed was arrested after bringing a homemade clock to school, so we’d recommend reading up on this great New York Times piece describing car software built to evade emissions tests.

And just in time for your weekend, we found out about this dedicated goat gif website (also available in a multitude of app stores).

If you come across any interesting videos, we’d love to see them. Just tweet us with the #ICYMI hashtag @engadget or @mskerryd.


Recommended Reading: What will astronauts eat while exploring Mars?

Recommended Reading highlights the best long-form writing on technology and more in print and on the web. Some weeks, you’ll also find short reviews of books that we think are worth your time. We hope you enjoy the read.

How NASA Is Solving the Space Food Problem
by Elizabeth Preston

The first manned test flight for NASA’s Orion capsule may have been pushed back this week, but the project forges on. One issue that the agency faces in the quest to send humans to explore Mars is food. This piece from Eater examines the challenges NASA looks to overcome with regards to the dietary needs of the crew during deep-space missions, including some onboard gardening.

20 Minutes with Tim Cook
John Paczkowski, BuzzFeed

What’s it like to take a ride across Manhattan with the CEO of Apple? BuzzFeed’s John Paczkowski found out, and picked up some info on the iPhone, iPad Pro and more along the way.

The Duke, the Landscape Architect and the World’s Most Ambitious Attempt to Bring the Cosmos to Earth
Alina Simone, Atlas Obscura

A landscape architect in Scotland built a model Multiverse as a series of land installations, and the whole thing is really pretty amazing.

Why I Bought the Last iPod Classic in the Store
Greg Goldstone, Gear Patrol

This short read explains why the iPod Classic is still a solid music player even after Apple discontinued it.

Vinyl LP Frenzy Brings Record-Pressing Machines Back to Life
Ben Sisario, The New York Times

Step inside a factory that plans to crank out up to 1.5 million records a year to feed the vinyl craze.

[Image credit: NASA]


Here’s a list of HTC devices compatible with Android Pay

HTC posted a page on their website explaining how their Android Pay will work with their devices, along with a list of phones that are supported in the US. In order to use it, you have to download the dedicated Android Pay app provided by Google, and add your debit or credit cards.

HTC also stressed the security standards, stating that:

A virtual account number represents your account information so your card details stay safe. As soon as you make a purchase, you’ll see a payment confirmation that shows exactly where a transaction happened. If your phone is ever lost or stolen, you can instanly lock your device from anywhere

Oh, and here’s that list:


HTC One M9

HTC One (M8)

HTC One (M7)

HTC Desire EYE

HTC Desire 626


HTC One M9

HTC One (M8)

HTC One (E8)

HTC One (M7)

HTC One max

HTC Desire 601

HTC Desire 816


HTC One M9

HTC One (M8)

HTC One (M7)

Nexus 9


HTC One M9

HTC One (M8)

HTC One (M7)

HTC Desire 626

Nexus 9

The post Here’s a list of HTC devices compatible with Android Pay appeared first on AndroidGuys.


Skype for web will soon work without plug-ins on Microsoft Edge

Skype @ SXSW

Skype has been planning to make its voice and video call services available on the web without having to install plug-ins since 2014. Now, its parent company’s preparing to make that happen for its new Edge browser. The latest Windows 10 Insider Preview build comes with Object RTC API. That’s the element that allows real-time audio and video communication without the need for any installation not just for Skype for Web and, but also for other WebRTC-compatible services. This is just a preview of ORTC on Edge, though, and you can’t enjoy this seamless experience right now. However, the service says the technology will exit the preview phase and go live sometime later this year. To note, Chrome, Firefox and Safari all support WebRTC standards, but it’s unclear if and when Skype will enable a plug-in-less experience for those browsers, as well.

[Image credit: 1000heads/Flickr]

Source: Skype, Office, Windows (1), (2)


Best Buy virtually sold out of the Moto X Pure Edition

Moto-X-Pure-Edition-sold-out-Best-BuyWe just told you about Best Buy carrying the Moto X Pure Edition and already they are basically sold out. They only offered black, white, or bamboo in 16GB or 32GB. You were also unable to customize them, but that didn’t stop them from selling out.

The Moto X Pure Edition is clearly in high demand to sell out that quick. Neither in store or online have any left in stock. Currently, only the 16GB in black for $399.99 is still showing as available, but I’m sure it won’t be for long. Obviously they will get more stock eventually, but if you don’t want to wait, get the black 16GB while you can.

Source: Best Buy
Via: Phandroid

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The Air Force will have combat lasers on its war planes by 2020

The Army has its HEL-MD (not to mention is working on GI Joe-style rifles and minesweepers); the Navy put a battleship-mounted railgun aboard the USS Ponce; and within the next five years, the Air Force expects to have laser weapons of its very own. These armaments, dubbed directed-energy weapons pods, will be mounted on American warplanes and serve to burn missiles, UAVs — even other combat aircraft — clean out of the sky. “I believe we’ll have a directed energy pod we can put on a fighter plane very soon,” Air Force General Hawk Carlisle said at a Fifth-Generation Warfare lecture during the Air Force Association Air & Space conference earlier this week. “That day is a lot closer than I think a lot of people think it is.”

The 150 kW HELLADS system from General Atomics appears to be the current frontrunner for the USAF contract despite the system only having just recently entered ground tests. HELLADS stands for “High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System”. The third generation prototype measures just 1.3 x 0.4 x 0.5 meters — small enough to fit onto a Predator C UAV, exactly what DARPA wants to do by 2018 — and runs off of a single lithium ion battery pack.

According to DARPA’s Dr. David Shaver,

The goal of the HELLADS program is to develop a 150 kilowatt (kW) laser weapon system that is ten times smaller and lighter than current lasers of similar power, enabling integration onto tactical aircraft to defend against and defeat ground threats. With a weight goal of less than five kilograms per kilowatt, and volume of three cubic meters for the laser system, HELLADS seeks to enable high-energy lasers to be integrated onto tactical aircraft, significantly increasing engagement ranges compared to ground-based systems.

But before it enters operational service, the system must first pass a grueling set of field tests against mortars, rockets, UAVs, simulated surface-to-air missiles and both ground and air vehicles at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. According to Ars Technica, Air Force leaders at the presentation Beyond that, the USAF is working to develop and install Lockheed Martin’s ABC laser system on its 6th generation fighters by the mid-2030’s.

[Image Credit: top – Air Force Research Lab, inline – DARPA]

Via: Ars Technica

Source: DARPA, General Atomics, Military Embedded Systems

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