Day 2 was another good one with some good variety in my panel choices that happened to be purely by accident.

First up was “Netflix Shares a Decade of A/B Test Learning,” which of course was super popular and full. Todd Yellin, VP of Product Innovation at Netflix, took us through the many innovations at the company and explained how they roll out new features and designs on the site. When you think about it, the scale of changing Netflix’s UI is daunting simply because people access it from so many different devices…laptop, Apple TV, Roku, iPad, Surface, etc. Each one has to have a UI that works. They also spend a lot of time tweaking design using “big data” collected from users and A/B testing control groups and experimental groups that way. Long story short, your Netflix homepage probably looks a little or a lot different than mine. They watch how we click, how we scroll, how we search, and adjust the design accordingly. Surprisingly, simple big data collection is less useful than you’d think…global taste is homogenizing…meaning 60 year old Swedish women might watch The Avengers and 24 year old American men might watch Dance Moms and there is no use in stereotyping by age and gender. We are a simple yet complex humanity, apparently. If you look at the photo above, you’ll see their test on what graphics cause the most clicks – this one for Breaking Bad. We all voted on the yellow Walter White as being the most popular but we were wrong! The most engagement was from the middle graphic of the camper. Netflix has revolutionized actual TV metrics because before we relied on Neilsen ratings which makes people keep a diary of their viewing…which was probably fudged. Netflix knows exactly what you watched, what time of day, how long you watched it, how many episodes in a row you watched it, when you clicked out if you got bored, etc. Interesting stuff.

Next up…”The Changing Face of Fame: Social Media Celebrities.” There are people on Youtube and Vine with thousands and thousands of followers, creating content on a weekly basis that is liked, shared, and commented on by their fans…and if you’re over the age of 30 you might not know them at all. The Top 5 most influential figures among U.S. teens right now are these online short form content creators…not traditional celebrities. So many people consume content on Youtube these days, it is not surprising it has its own brand of celebrity. Interestingly, these newer stars are often very attached to causes and charities, so brands and nonprofits are trying to leverage this as a way of reaching new audiences. Cubby Graham of the Charity Water organization said, “Emotional connection is the new definition of quality in marketing.” Short answer: people can smell a disingenuous pitch from a mile away and millenials are even less susceptible to traditional ad marketing.

After that…a Conversation with Biz Stone (know for being the founder of Twitter). I was amused, because I saw Biz Stone talk last year and he was all about his new app Jelly. Jelly Jelly Jelly Jelly Jelly. It was going to revolutionize the way we help each other online. I downloaded it, used it for a minute, and now it’s off my phone. Turns out, that happened with a lot of people. So THIS year, Biz Stone is all about his new app Super! Super Super Super Super! To his credit, he talked about the failures of Jelly and after he explained Super…I was in. Super’s mission is to foster empathy. It’s a creative platform for people to share their thoughts with the help of graphics and text. As Biz said echoing the last panel, “The future of marketing is philanthropy.” I kind of like it. I don’t know if it’ll catch on. Truth is, you will only have a Twitter once, probably. It was cool to hear him talk about announcing Twitter to the 2007 SXSW people and having the app go down right before they unveiled it…but having that kind of revolution in tech with something catching like wildfire and growing to a company the generates over a billion dollars a year is…rare. A unicorn, if you will. In the meantime, try Super if you’re inclined.

Next up: keynote by Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud of the Saudi royal family. Amazing story. She is breaking down barriers in Saudi Arabia, running several successful business and charitable causes while working with the Saudi government for women’s rights. I guess the country has recently mandated that women must work in certain sectors of society (even mandating men NOT work in them), but Princess Reema has been tackling all of the cultural and societal norms there that still get in the way of the mandate. Things like…women can work, but they cannot drive there. “As a business person, you have no chance of measuring productivity among your workers if they are reliant on a driver to get themselves to work.” Princess Reema, who owns a successful department store line akin to Barney’s, is the first employer to offer a transportation stipend and on-site daycare for her women employees, as well as financial planning and training…things they have never had.

Fashion show at “The Edge of the World”

She’s also very involved in Saudi fashion which is very innately tied to the shifts in culture there. Her main point, “Work on the women first, then the business.” When your employees feel “safe, stable, and respected,” you will be successful. Her new project is a breast cancer awareness campaign for women in the Middle East…another taboo there that she argues needs to be overcome for early detection and education purposes. Check out for a great video.

On to UCB on TV: How Improv is Changing Everything with Nick Kroll of The Kroll Show, Matt Besser of The Upright Citizens Brigade, and Katie Dippold, a writer for Parks and Recreation and The Heat (and the new Ghostbusters!!). Cool panel. They talked about how the idea of the “Yes, And” is useful in acting and anything, really…instead of shutting down a colleague’s idea and killing any sort of flow, you learn the improv trick of saying, “Yes, and…” and let the story/idea/concept flow. That’s how brilliance is achieved…as opposed to, “that is a terrible idea let’s go home.”

LASTLY…phew! Sarah Lewis discussed her book “The Rise” and “The Story of Creative Icons…from Failure to Mastery.” As Sarah pointed out, “Mastery is not about the arriving, it is about the reach,” and our focus should not be on success, which is a one-time event, but on a commitment to mastery over time. To achieve mastery, we need the mindset of a “deliberate amateur” most of the time meaning…we need to not be afraid to fail. We need to “play,” we need to keep our art or research in a private domain and be careful not to share it too early, because…well, the world will crush you. I liked a lot of the ideas here and want to get the book.

Phew! Day 2 in the books. Onward…

I took this in Ganado, TX.

These days, our lives are one big stream of links and memes to look at, and while I have many cool things I want to share with friends, sometimes social media is (oddly) not the place to do it. Engagement, click-throughs, algorithms, post counts…things that make links on Facebook either unseen or ignored. Sigh.

I’ve decided to do a weekly (or so) round up of things I like, am working on, reading, whatever. All the cool bloggers do it and I desperately want to be in the cool bloggers club. (Fast forward to 10 years from now when some kid walks up to me and says, “So you remember when blogging was cool?” Ouch).

Carry On.

Projects I am Invested In.

– My friend Bill Small is doing a Kickstarter for his brand new record and my Social Thinkery is on the case. Why? Because Bill is amazing as a writer, musician, and human. He’s a Mystiquero, too, and you can’t but help love a Mystiquero. Consider getting in on this one.

– My OTHER friend (I have 2) D.C. Bloom is on the tail end of his Kickstarter campaign for his new record, “The Rest is Commentary.” I had a great time helping him film his video. He wins for cutest dog cameo ever, just see. Also, he’s one of the wittiest writers I know, and it transfers to his songwriting with ease. Get a Zeffy Bobblehead before they’re being sold on Ebay for $5000.

Good Reads.

I read a LOT of articles, y’all. I try to read books but I half-finish most of them. Articles are easy to get through on a car ride or in a bout of insomnia. Good ones this week:

Miss American Dream: How Britney Spears went to Vegas and became a feminist role model. No, really. – I have a weird fascination with Las Vegas, and we all know I love pop music. This article is well-written on both fronts, addressing Vegas entertainment history and letting us in on a little Britney.

How the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Came to Dominate 90’s Culture – I am key demographic fodder for this article…the TMNT came out when I was in grade school and I still pride myself on my original action figure collection of all 4 turtles. Leonardo was my favorite for a long time but then I decided the rebellious moody nature of Raphael was more my jam.

Awesome Music.

The Best of You: Susan Gibson – another thing that hits close to home. Susan recorded a great track and all proceeds from the download of this (you can stream or download for free but you can also pay what you want) go to a cancer charity. Last week we donated about $600 to Cancer Care Services of Fort Worth. Susan will pick a new recipient while we grow the donation pot again. Go listen and give.

Allow me to blog this topic again. Always…I am always self-justifying my pop music addiction (affliction?). Usually to myself, not even to the outside world. Perhaps people don’t “get” it, as they scroll past my Facebook updates and I have posted another Gaga video, and while I take the occasional “ew that is crap” comment people are generally nonplussed and sometimes, when kindred spirits, supportive.

I spent my teenage years loving pretty “serious” music as far as teenagers go. I was into the singer-songwriters at a young age so I was pondering things like Sunny burning her house down and divorce when you’re 36 with kids to take care of and no job skills. That’s hefty. Because of that I largely ignored the boy bands and bubblegum pop of the late 90’s and early 2000’s (but I did love me some Backstreet Boys…just that one song).

So one would think a logical progression would have me listening to Bach concertos and going to the opera if age means maturity. Not the case.

I went to see Demi Lovato last night in Dallas and it was a great show. I stayed with some friends but I went alone because um…no one I know likes Demi Lovato that much. I did list her album in my Top Albums of 2013 post, so I was pretty excited.

It was, as expected, a great show. Fifth Harmony opened for the the opener, meaning they did 5 songs, one of them being a Destiny’s Child cover. I was thrilled because I was one of the 12% of people in the venue old enough to remember when Independent Women Pt. 1 came out (THROW YOUR HANDS UP AT ME). There were 5 members of Fifth Harmony (clever), and they tried. They were so young. Part of me wanted to root for them and part of me thought perhaps 5 unsure teenagers singing to a backing track reeked of exploitation. I am pretty sure the minds behind this group are all old dudes in suits, but hey. We need the next generation of pop star from somewhere. At this juncture I felt a little unsure of what I had gotten myself into and considered slinking out to the parking lot to find something more grown up to do, like apply for a job at HR Block or whatever serious people do at 8:30 at night.

My fears were assuaged the minute Little Mix took the stage. Also singing to pre-recorded tracks, I immediately thought “here we go again,” except the four members of this British group (if you mixed Fifth Harmony and Little Mix together and divided by 2 and added a little more glitter you would get the Spice Girls) look way more seasoned (I don’t mean “old” but yes ok, they were older) and at home on stage. They opened with Salute and I was hooked. It was practiced, the harmonies were tight, and I didn’t feel like I was participating in some TLC show called “So Your Kid Wants To Be A Pop Star.” Little Mix also dipped into cover land, interestingly throwing out another Destiny’s Child cover as well as TLC’s “No Scrubs.” Again, shout out to the 90’s kids.

Demi took the stage to about 5000 screaming teenage girls going nuts which again, I had wondered if I might want to shrivel up and stuff a $40 concert t-shirt in my ears to dull the roar, but…it was actually thrilling. Being in a room full of enthusiasm can really lift a spirit. That and I looked over and my two (apparently of age) seatmates to the left were each drinking a 40 of Michelob and I knew I was going to be ok.

Demi started with one of her radio hits (of course), “Heart Attack” and having a room full of people singing along at the top of their lungs provides a rush for anyone in it. Demi had a full band but actually smaller than I expected – drummer, bassist, keyboardist, guitarist, and two background singers. I think I was expecting Lady Gaga proportions, which this show was not. Which was fine. We heard the hits – “Skyscraper”, “Neon Lights”, and “Give Your Heart a Break”. We heard some album cuts. She told us about her battles with eating disorders-cocaine-alcohol-cutting (good grief bless her) and that we can survive anything. Everything moved seamlessly from one to the next and before I knew it, the show was done.

It felt great to scream in a room full of people. It felt awesome to sing along like I do in the car except be watching it happen live. It felt great to drive to my friends’ house and go to bed. Pop concerts in your 30’s…I think I’ll keep doing it. Next up on the bucket wish list…Ke$ha.

Jeri+Renee: Blame Sally

This summer Susan opened for Blame Sally in Denver and I had perhaps heard of them before but hadn’t been exposed to their music. They were AWESOME. I have trumpeted their brilliance since that day, and I was thrilled to find out they were doing a house concert in New Braunfels on a Sunday that we happened to have off after a long gig weekend. It was the perfect way to wrap up the weekend and by the time we sat down there were only front row seats left. This was ok with me but I couldn’t really fit more than two Sallies in a photo at a time.

Also in a twist of good fortune, I was right in front of the awesome Jeri who is a fabulous guitar player. I was trying to soak in some technique for my current electric studies. It turns out we admire some of the same players. I can spot a Duke Levine fan anywhere.

Anyway – I’ll say it again. Go see Blame Sally and buy their records. One of the few bands I’ve seen lately whose albums hold up to their live show. As Martha would say, this is a good thing.