Every year South by Southwest—or SXSW as we'll be typing from now until forever—occupies three distinct lanes in Austin, Texas: a tech portion, a film portion, and a music portion. Each is great in its own right, but when we saw the list of how many feature films that were funded through Kickstarter we were bowled over. There are so many. In an effort to give you (and, let's be honest, ourselves), a road map during the film portion of the festival, we collected all the feature length films, along with videos explaining what they are in one handy place, and that handy place is this blog post. Check them out in Austin, March 13-21.
Kurt Vonnegut's fiction took its readers into plenty of new worlds, but the most important of them was always the world of Vonnegut himself — it's remarkable how many of the young people who come across one of his novels on a school reading list or relative's bookshelf spend the next few years diving deeper and deeper into his work. There's something similar happening in Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time, a documentary about the author's life and work. Robert Weide set out to make a simple film about Vonnegut in 1982. Instead, the two struck up a friendship that lasted decades, filming all the while. We spoke to a few creators about how they got drawn into Vonnegut's sphere — their memories, obsessions, and first reads — and, just for good measure, added a few of our own.
Oscar-nominated producer and director
For anyone who has a favorite author, I think you always hold a special place in your heart for the book that provided the introduction. For me it was Breakfast of Champions. It was 1976 and I was a junior in high school. It was actually assigned reading for a lit class, which is hard to believe, because that book is a bit racy. When I read it, I knew I had found “my” author.
I’m a big comedy buff, so what appealed to me immediately was Vonnegut’s humor. I thought he was a very funny writer. Of course, he’s also a satirist, so he was using comedy to deliver some very important messages about what we’re all doing here, how we treat each other, how we treat our planet, the nature of existence and religion and free will, and so on. The book is very moving, too. Everyone I know who’s read it has the same reaction to that closing scene where Kurt puts himself into the book, and meets his oft-recurring character, Kilgore Trout — now an old man. He tells Trout (I’m paraphrasing), “I’m your creator. Everything you’ve ever done, you did so because I wrote it. But no more puppet shows. I’m cutting the strings and giving you free will. You’re on your own now.” As Vonnegut then transcends the void, leaving the book to go back to his typewriter, he hears Trout calling out to him, “Make me young! Make me young!” I still choke up just thinking about that scene.
Incidentally, the teacher who assigned me that book to read is named Valerie Stevenson, and we’re still friends, all these years later.
Publisher, and owner of the bookstore Singularity & Co.
Because I love the detective work of unpacking authors' homages to one another, the history of Kilgore Trout has long been a favorite literary reference case study. Created by Vonnegut as a fictionalized version of fellow science fiction author and friend Theodore Sturgeon, Trout is Vonnegut's facetious take on Sturgeon, the product of Vonnegut's amusement at the notion of a person named after a fish — though his recurrence in Vonnegut's books has also led critics to read Trout as Vonnegut's alter ego. Trout appears in several Vonnegut stories, though the details of his life and circumstances change with each appearance. He is, however, consistently written as a prolific, if underappreciated, science fiction author, even when other details, including his general appearance and demeanor, vary widely.
The various Trouts perform a variety of roles in Vonnegut's work: in Breakfast of Champions, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and Slaughterhouse-Five, he serves more as a catalyst for the main characters; in others, like Timequake, Trout is himself a main character and vital to the plot. In the novel Jailbird, "Kilgore Trout" is simply a pseudonym for a Dr. Robert Fender, novelist and prisoner. He makes some very subtle, even ghostly appearances, as in Hocus Pocus, wherein Vonnegut never mentions Trout by name, but the protagonist is deeply affected upon reading a Trout-like sci-fi story — or as the ghost of Trout's son Leon Trotsky Trout, narrator of the novel Galápagos. And yet Vonnegut never attempts to reconcile the many Trouts, leaving readers to connect their own dots.
One final delicious reference chain: Kilgore Trout is also the "author" of Venus on the Half-Shell, written pseudonymously by Philip José Farmer, the plot of which — the earth being destroyed by cosmic bureaucrats doing routine maintenance and the sole survivor questing to find the "Definitive Answer to the Ultimate Question" — Douglas Adams paid homage to in his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.
author of the novel Binary Star
I was dating this guy when I was 18 or 19. I loved Kurt Vonnegut but was dating this guy that had declared himself not a reader. Over the course of our relationship he confessed that he really loved books, but always thought he couldn’t love books. I gave him Breakfast of Champions and he fell in love with it and moved on to Cat’s Cradle. I have this distinct memory of being at his house — I’ve always liked to read aloud — I have this memory of us lying together in bed while I read half the book to him aloud. He was explaining things to me — how does this allegory fit together… I’m not sure if he’s still a reader, but I thought that was a good, inspirational way to do it.
writer, at Kickstarter and elsewhere
I spent part of a summer in my late teens visiting friends in Boulder, Colorado, which had at the time reached the kind of peak Boulder late-90s-ness where you could go outside and walk three blocks and almost certainly meet at least one person playing a didgeridoo and at least three trying to figure out where the guy with the mushrooms went. I read a lot of things on that trip that seemed really urgent and captivating and world-expanding at the moment, but I can now say with total certainty that the only really good one was Cat's Cradle. (No offense to the Dalai Lama.) A funny thing about Vonnegut is that he's the rare person whose much-repeated quotables actually do capture something about his voice and work — that beloved-uncle vibe that lets you say deep, rich, and sad things about the world with enough wink and mischief and sheer joy of invention behind them to offer some comfort. Which is good, because by winter I was in Illinois, and it was very, very cold, and I was lucky enough spy a whole long row of Vonnegut on a friend's shelf.
writer and editor, at Kickstarter and elsewhere
I was 16 and it was the tail end of summer — that part where you know it's coming to an end, but you still have a good amount of time, and it feels like a perpetual Sunday, all anxious melancholy and curiosity about what's ahead. My uncle sent me a box set of some of Vonnegut's novels. It was a compact thing: these mass market paperbacks with blocky painted covers jammed up against each other. Perfect for your back pocket. I'd read Slaughterhouse-Five, but I might as well not have; I couldn't remember any of it, and had this weird, itchy feeling that I needed to read it again. There was something so ecstatic about the way it celebrated life through the violence of war. I read that one again much later, but I burned through the set in those last days of summer, marveling at the way Vonnegut took alien ideas and made them relatable, and took relatable ideas and made them alien. These books felt like my life, if my life crossed oceans and planets and jumped around in time. Reading a book like Cat's Cradle made me scared of the world, and then suddenly love that I was scared of it. Kurt Vonnegut helped me grow up, or at least he helped me learn what it meant to never be sure about what it meant to grow up.
This week's featured Technology projects let you loop a beat, hack a ball, or snap a #selfie. The future looks like so much fun!
Finally, a computer you can throw. The super rugged Hackaball is packed with sensors, LEDs, and a vibration motor, and kids can use the iPad app to select games or program their own. They can even turn the Hackaball into an alarm clock or a whoopee cushion.
Why settle for a selfie from arm's length when the whole world could be your photo booth? Podo is a tiny, Bluetooth-connected, stick-anywhere camera. Just download the app, stick, shoot, and share.
Cyclists have long used a metric called power to measure their output, and now Stryd makes that number available to runners. This little wearable measures the intensity of your run over any terrain, and you can use the data captured to improve your overall efficiency.
This Hackaday Prize-winning project puts the power of side-channel analysis and glitching in your pocket. Designed as a tool to test embedded hardware security, the ChipWhisperer-Lite is completely open-source. Plus they have a very cute Quality Assurance Manager. (It is a dog.)
The Artiphon is a completely customizable multi-instrument that connects directly to your smartphone, tablet or computer. Strum, tap, or slide your fingers across its pressure-sensitive surface and jam out with nearly any instrument you can imagine. In case you've been wondering what the instrument of the future looks like, it's definitely something like this.
By reporting from far-flung war-torn corners of the world, GlobalPost is already known for telling stories that give voice to individual experiences in conflict zones — now they are looking to do more, by hiring an experienced conflict correspondent. For a period of sixteen months, this journalist will work to get first-hand stories from some of the world’s most violent places.
So what does it mean to do conflict reporting? Why is it important, and what commodities do conflict journalists need in order to do their jobs? We asked Patrick Winn, GlobalPost's Senior Correspondent, to talk to us about it; he wrote to us from Bangkok.
“Conflict reporter.” The words evoke journalists crouching next to bullet-pocked walls, shrapnel whizzing overheard, as they breathlessly narrate an attack.
Sometimes conflict reporters do that. But they’re more likely to be making nice with strange men who say they can maybe get them to the action, or at least lead them to refugees who’ve witnessed horrific violence.
Twenty-first-century combat is a different beast from last century’s major wars. It is, in many ways, far messier and harder to untangle. It’s often waged by militants who don’t wear uniforms and avoid squaring up on traditional battlefields. They bring conflict to nightclubs and tea shops. They pair old-school ambitions, like conquering territory, with new-school tactics: demoralizing the enemy with gory photos on Twitter.
Most people flee war. Those rushing in have their own agendas. It usually doesn’t include sheltering, feeding, and watching the backs of reporters. Covering it is not a daily thrill ride. It’s hard work, an arduous exercise in logistics.
Combat coverage is also a massive head game. Journalists, as we know well, are increasingly finding ourselves in the crosshairs. You have to know which tip-offs to follow, which are spin, and which could be a trap, costing you your career or even your life. Meanwhile, many correspondents risking themselves to bring us these vital stories are paid less than a Foot Locker cashier.
For the record: I’m not a “conflict reporter” of the caliber that routinely wades into nightmares unfolding in places such as Syria or the Central African Republic. But in my seven years as a Southeast Asia correspondent, I’ve covered guerrilla rebellions in Myanmar, an Islamic insurgency in Thailand’s deep south, and bloody confrontations in Bangkok where both sides opened fire.
Conflict reporters are often called “fearless” or “brave,” and those are excellent qualities. But neither can make up for the two most important commodities in conflict journalism: time and money. Both are hard to come by from modern media outlets, which like news produced fast and cheap, regardless of what the public needs.
Producing that series on Thailand’s insurgency, called “Red Light Jihad,” was neither fast nor cheap. It required lots of time to gain the trust of separatists, militias, sex workers, and others hardwired to distrust strangers — particularly those carrying big cameras and asking hard questions.
But money is even more crucial. Conflict ratchets up the cost of everything, especially services journalists need, such as hotels, translators, and drivers. You may find drivers willing to take you through a war zone, but they’ll demand (and deserve) a premium.
More expensive still are “fixers,” the unsung heroes of journalism, who open doors to key players. Bearing witness to conflict can win awards for journalists; it only brings fixers close to danger, with no promise of grandeur. Yet when trouble strikes in the field — harassment by police and militias, for example — journalists often rely on fixers to pull strings and make the problem go away. Fixers have prevented me from getting arrested in Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. The good ones are not cheap.
Without solid conflict reporting, we’re left with propaganda. Rather than illuminating the world’s conflicts, major broadcasters often prefer to broadcast political gossip, or focus the lens on celebrity anchors and misleading good-versus-evil narratives.
Conflict reporters are the world’s eyes and ears on the battlefield. Their job is to remind of war’s ugliness, to go beyond the propaganda and show us what's really happening where bombs strike and bullets fly. They’re the ones who can call out atrocities and shame those who perpetrate them.
The world’s conflicts are only getting messier and we need conflict reporters more than ever. Let’s make sure we keep funding them to make it to the front lines and tell the world what they’ve seen.
Everyone seems to be doing podcasts nowadays, but what does it take to get one started? Last week, we hosted a panel of five podcast producers on this exact topic. The panelists included Hillary Frank (host of The Longest Shortest Time), Benjamin Walker (host of Theory of Everything), Farai Chideya (host of One With Farai), Jaime Green (host of The Catapult), and it was moderated by PJ Vogt.
Some of the discussion points included getting a show started, the creative freedom the medium allows (you can do anything you want!), and why growing your audience can be a slow but ultimately satisfying endeavor.
In the 1960's, the signage within the NYC subway system was a total mess. The Transit Authority hired a design firm to come up with a solution, and thus the Graphics Standards Manual was born. It was a 3-ring binder loaded with pages that would dictate every minute detail of transit signage moving forward. Only so many copies were made, and most of them were ultimately lost or destroyed.
Not long ago, Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth discovered an original copy of the Graphics Standards Manual in a gym locker. They scanned it, shared the scans online, and the site became so popular that they decided to reissue the manual as a hardcover book. We asked Jesse and Hamish to give us some background, and explain the process of printing a book.
Our Technology category is home to the things the future is made of. This week we saw some mind-bendingly advanced stuff — from teen-made exoskeletons to skeleton keys. We hope you enjoy these cool and curious projects as much as we do.
When your door lock is smart, your phone is your key. The Sesame installs in seconds and fits over just about any deadbolt. Then just download the Sesame app, and pop that lock from anywhere.
What does this group of high school kids have in common with Tony Stark? If you said the construction of an advanced exoskeleton capable of lifting many times their body weight, you'd be right. The Amplified Juggernaut Assistance Exoskeleton, or AJAX, will debut at the Bay Area Maker Faire this May.
Sensors like an accelerometer and gyroscope help Ringo recognize stimuli, responding with LEDs and chirps. Plus, it's fully programmable and you don't have to clean up after it, making it just about the perfect pet.
The Qduino Mini is an itty-bitty Arduino-compatible board, and the first of its size to include a battery charger circuit and monitor. Use it to make all kinds of cool little things, like a binary clock, electronic dice, or an alarm that goes off when you burn your grilled cheese probably.
After funding last year's Fly6 rear-facing camera on Kickstarter, the Cycliq team has returned to bring you the forward-looking Fly12. The Fly12 illuminates your path with a 400 lumen front-light, and records where you're going with a 1080p camera — packing six to ten hours of run time in a single charge.
Oh, and in case their project wasn't cool enough, the Cycliq team also shared this video of some gnarly bike crashes. Remember folks, always wear a helmet.
Every week, we see great children's books get funded on Kickstarter. In honor of Publishing Month, we though we'd share a few of our favorites, past and present, with you.
Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas
Linda Liukas connected with more than nine thousand backers to make Hello Ruby, a gorgeous illustrated children's book about technology. Ruby has adventures, makes friends with Snow Leopard and a cute penguin, and helps teach kids basic programming skills along the way. The book will be published by Macmillan in October.
Horace the Eighth and the Great Marvellos by Helena Marlinspike
Horace is the youngest member in a circus family, and he's looking for his hidden talents. He's small, and shy, and not the most coordinated, but it turns out he's rather special after all. The illustrations are rich and the story is one of personal triumph — what's not to love?
Furqan's First Flat Top by Robert Catalino Trujillo
Furqan's First Flat Top is a bilingual picture book about a boy getting his first haircut. The author/illustrator, Robert Catalino Trujillo, says "I want to reflect some of the children and families I see; I love children’s books and think diverse stories like this one need to be seen. As a parent, I understand the importance of encouraging reading at an early age, and this book will be in both Spanish and English, as I know the positive impact it can have when children are exposed to more than one language."
Wee Beasties by Andi Smith
Dreamscarred Press published Andi Smith's Wee Beasties, a must-have book for any hardcore geek with kids (or nieces and nephews!) It's a bedtime story about baby versions of the monsters that typically populate dungeons and maul adventurers in Dungeons & Dragons, such as the Wee Cyclops and the Wee Troll. If you look carefully, there's a D20 on each page.
Wollstonecraft by Jordan Stratford
Jordan Stratford wrote Wollstonecraft, an illustrated steampunk book for kids 8-12, in which he invents an alternate history where Ada Lovelace (the world’s first computer programmer) and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) meet as girls and form a secret detective agency. It was just published under the title The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Random House Kids this month.
Grandmother Fish by Jonathan Tweet
Jonathan Tweet rallied over 1000 backers to help him make Grandmother Fish, a beautifully illustrated book about evolution for pre-schoolers. The interactive text encourages kids to get involved, asking them if they can wiggle like a fish or hoot like an ape.
Peter Pan and Wendy by Allen Morris
Sometimes an old story deserves new illustrations to bring it to life for another generation. Allen Morris created 50 new images for this well-loved story.
This is just a small sample of the wonderful children's book projects that have been made with the help of our community. There are over one hundred children's book projects live on the site now, so maybe you'll find your next favorite kids' book here!