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Countdown to SXSW 2014 – Tech Tool Tips

As a veteran of SXSW, I’ve learned many tricks of the trade over the years to not only survive the ‘marathon, not a sprint’ annual conference and party extravaganza, but come out the other end thriving. Most of these lessons have been learned the hard way by being ill prepared or just not knowing what to expect, since things change from year to year. I’m sharing my SXSW veteran tips and tricks so you can enjoy an event better SXSW experience.

Disclaimer: The tactics, tips, product and application recommendations, and any other information included in this Countdown to SXSW 2014 series are all opinion based and should be taken as such. I’m not paid to endorse anything here, just presenting what is in my bag of tools and process for preparing for the annual trek to Austin.

SXSW runs from March 7 to March 16, so that’s five weeks away. For those only attending Music, you have a bit more time to plan, so take advantage by getting ahead of the game now.

At five weeks out you want to assess what tech-related tools you may need, allowing for backorders of product and shipping time. Plan B, if you run short on time, you can always have stuff shipped to your hotel.

Here’s a list of recommendations:

Order new business cards – Even in the digital age and tools like Evernote (more on this in the next series), a hard business card is a valuable tool. Moo has some create cards with a really thick, bespoke-feeling Luxe stock that will make your card stand out from the others. Spend the extra money. It’s worth it and can even be a conversation starter.

Extending your cell phone battery life – If you haven’t heard of Mophie, now you do. I got one two years ago for SXSW and it’s saved me hundreds of times sense. It has also protected my phone from breaks with its hard metal case. When your battery runs now, flick a switch and it charges it back up. It used to be mail order only, but you can now find it at the Apple store and at some mobile carrier stores, coming in a variety of colors and prices ranging from $79.99 to $149.99.

A backup for that backup, which comes in handy about midnight when you’re on your way to the third party of the night and using Google Maps, is Powerocks Magicstick. It plugs into your smartphone or iPad directly, or to your smartphone’s Mophie if you have an industry-standard mini USB to standard USD chord, and will give you two full charges. Retail is $49.99.

Extending your laptop battery life – I have yet to use one of those computer battery back up devices, so I don’t have experience on which is better over the others, but the Bix MAC90 seems to have what you need to extend you Mac Book’s battery life from 10 to 20 hours, more if you have a Mac Book Air. It can charge your phone or iPad at the same time and can save you from losing power midway through a panel session or having to sit on the floor next to an outlet in the convention center. Look at the instructions closely for determining your voltage output and take note, “If you have a new Macbook computer that has a 6-pin Meg Safe2 power input jack, you may need to get a Meg Safe1 to Meg Safe2 adapter from Apple in order to use this battery.”

Another battery manufacturer includes: Versa Batteries for 15” and 17” MacBook Pros

Multi-plug power strip and USB port combo – This comes in handy both at a coffee spot or convention center, and in your hotel room. The Belkin has 6 outlets, 2 USB ports and provides power protection for just over $13.00.

Wi-Fi and hotspots – A few years back there were homeless people in Austin paid to be mobile hotspots. There was some obvious backlash and thus, it’s best to think ahead on your connection prospects.

Cellular reception has improved greatly through carrier companies’ use of COWs (Cellular On Wheels), so look into the cost and set up of a personal hotspot with your carrier. Cost and performance will of course vary from carrier to carrier, and many people will be doing the same thing.

Wi-Fi throughout the convention center has also improved over the years via their high-density networks, but it can be spotty at times given the number of attendees that’s grown to over 100,000.

Believe it or not, Wi-Fi in hotel meeting room panel sessions is not guaranteed, and you won’t know who has it and who doesn’t until you get there.

Aside from your carrier’s personal hotspot service, there is Karma, a portable Wi-Fi device that is open to others using your hotspot, giving you points to get free data, thus the name. Pricing for that data starts at $14 to 1GB and goes up from there, with the device costing $99 retail (free shipping). There are no contracts and data purchased never expires.

A checklist for your computer bag – This is something I go through in packing preparation, but it helps to get missing items or ones that need replacing prior to the night before you fly out, especially if you need to mail order it.

– Re-chargable AA and AAA batteries and charger
– Memory stick or flash drive and SD cards (remember the SD reader if you need it)
– Extra earbuds (in case of loss or malfunction)
– Pens and Moleskin notebook (old school tools that don’t require power)
– Mini Flashlight, great for searching through your bag at night
– Multi-plug power strip and USB port combo, which comes in handy both at a coffee spot or convention center, and in your hotel room.
– Extra power chords for all your devices
– Breath mints, gum, throat lozenges (zinc and elderberry ones help keep up your immune system)
– Hand sanitizer, ‘cause you’ll be shaking a lot of hands (I use
– Extra eye contacts case and solution, and extra pair of glasses, (by the third night out, you’ll be thankful you have these).

There’s also organizers to keep things tidy: Grit-IT Organizer – $14.99.


Next week in the Countdown to SXSW 2014 series we’ll look at apps that help you navigate SXSW, complementing both your business and pleasure adventures. Follow us @kaffeinebuzz to stay on top of our latest SXSW articles and listen to the weekly Kaffeine Buzz Show on each Thursday from 6pm to 7pm GMT (10am PST/1pm EST), which features SXSW 2014 Showcasing Artists, Film and Interactive news. Listen online via TuneIn on your computer or phone.


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