SXSW 2019 starts this week—here are some highlights from the


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Pray to see SXSW performances as good as Vagabon at Cheer-Up Charlie's, 2017

Pack your earplugs, brace for meat sweats, and map out your caffeine spots now: South by Southwest 2019 officially starts this Friday. Maybe other events on the yearly science and tech calendar involve bigger hardware reveals or more specialized discussions, but none have the extremely vast array of topics and notable people that SXSW annually gathers.

As usual, there's almost too much interesting stuff to see it all during the next week-plus in Austin. Just on screen alone, Neil Gaiman is coming to promote (and show) American Gods S2. Jordan Peele will debut his follow-up to Get Out, another (presumably) smart horror called Us. Filmmakers of all kinds—VFX pros, storyboard artists, screenwriters—will come to chat about recent works like Searching, Mission Impossible, and Doctor Strange for instance. (There's even some other film about Apollo 11, though we're still partial to a certain docuseries.)

So for this week's Orbital HQ, we're highlighting just a fraction of the stuff that stood out to Ars during a first pass of this immensely packed conference schedule. We'll be on the ground for the entire thing (tell Nathan Mattise and Sam Machkovech what they should check out), so stay tuned to the site for updates. But whenever our team isn't sneaking a few breakfast tacos, they'll be focused (hopefully) on this kind of stuff first and foremost.

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Orbital Transmission 03.06.2019
A Jade Egg, please don't insert this inside yourself.

Please, someone (anyone), bring up science to Goop

At 11am on Monday (*sigh*), Gwyneth Paltrow, queen of the Goop empire, will take the featured SXSW stage. The talk is ostensibly a feel-good conversation about starting your own business as a modern woman, but Goop feels more sinister than your average startup. The company infamously touts various pseudoscience and quackery—everything from homeopathy to magic crystals and garden-variety dietary-supplement nonsense—at a premium to customers who presumably just want to work on their wellness. If there is a SXSW scheduling god, there will be an end event Q&A so informed audience members can ask about facts, coffee enema BS, and whether anyone else has tragically died from bee sting therapy.

Elizabeth Holmes, of Theranos infamy

The rise and fall of Theranos, soon in documentary form

Though the company's fall happened three years ago now, infamous blood data startup Theranos is about to have another moment. Fresh off a high-profile book, now documentarian Alex Gibney is about to debut The Inventor: Out for Blood, a film about Elizabeth Holmes and her company. Gibney may be familiar to Ars readers for one of his prior films on Julian Assange, and his fascination with these kind of diabolical subjects (see also his film about Lance Armstrong) may be a sufficient hint at what's to come. Not in Austin this week? No worries—after SXSW, the film will eventually hit HBO.

The offices at Firefly Aerospace

Want to know the state of Space? Listen to this guy

Last spring, lucky SXSW attendees were shepherded just north of the city to witness genuine rocket fire in some central Texas cow pastures. That opportunity may not exist in 2019, but you can hear Firefly Aerospace CEO Tom Markusic talk about new space in general and the resurrection and progress of his company specifically in a session on Sunday (5p). As Ars' Space Guru Eric Berger recently learned, the company is now testing its stronger Reaver engines, building a launch facility in Florida, and closing in on its goal of making it to space before the end of 2019.

The original Hyperloop concept sketches

Hear hyperloop hype, all built on air bearings

We're now five-plus years into the Hyperloop hype, and a very real industry has popped up to ideate and develop concepts (and negotiate/lobby with potential government customers). But to date, none of these pre-existing technologies has come together to deliver the full Hyperloop promise (no Hyperloop demo has exceeded train speed records yet, for instance). That doesn't mean interesting things aren't happening, if annual competitions like the ones held at SpaceX HQ are any indication. One of the companies we've grown accustomed to seeing at those (Texas Guadaloop) has a fun Hyperloop pod design leveraging air bearings—as Elon Musk had specified in his original white paper on the Hyperloop. Luckily, they'll be at SXSW talking up air-levitation as the concept for success in the Hyperloop space (next Tuesday, 12:30pm).

One last SXSW tip—support the locals

AUSTIN, Texas—Yesterday may have been Mardi Gras, but in Austin Friday starts SXSW 2019. Unfortunately one of that event’s underappreciated staples will be a bit undermanned this year: within the last two weeks, a fifth of the city’s licensed pedicabs suffered damage in a massive East Austin warehouse fire.

Luckily, the closest thing Austin may have to a proper krewe, the Minor Mishap marching band, has been parading through Central Texas for years in a unique way—instead of floats, it often relies on pedicabs. Suddenly its Mardi Gras 2019 event last week could double as a fundraiser.

Bandmembers hopped into ~20 pedicabs for an hour long journey around East 7th St. staple dive bar, the Hard Luck Lounge. The loudest trombones led (their sound carries best), drum majors situated mid-lineup, and Mishap’s eccentricities (an accordion player?!) fell in line. The first notes of “Track Suit” got wheels rolling. (See for yourself on the Ars Instagram.)

Maybe the whole thing lacks the bravado of a true NOLA Mardi Gras—minimal crowds, no throws, an overall smaller production—but it nailed the camaraderie. Kids in rollerblades kept up with the movement as older couples in blankets stood on street corners admiring it all. And when the pedicab party reached the overpass on Tillery St., it felt like catching any small French Quarter second line band holding court at the river after finishing the route: booming brass in the middle, dancing onlookers enveloping the music from the perimeter.

Everywhere else it’s still just a Tuesday, but there's plenty of excitement in Austin this week, too. And hopefully, the city's pedicab community will still be able to play its integral, overlooked role in the whole fest.

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