The annual SXSW festival is under way this week, funneling film, music and digital-interactive hipsters into the city of Austin in the quest for gift bags and free booze. However, whenever there are a bunch of tech-savvy people in their 20s and 30s gathering in one area, everyone is on their smart phones—which causes a bandwidth issue, slowing to a trickle texts and the time it takes to log in to Foursquare.
However, one group tackled that 21st-century issue with a unique solution: homeless persons operating as Wi-Fi hotspots.
BBH Labs handed out portable Wi-Fi devices with 4G connectivity to a number of Austin's homeless, along with a T-shirt announcing their online capabilities. The person needing to get online introduces themselves, hands over the fee (BBH suggests $2 per 15 minutes) and then gets online.
The company organizing the event compares the service to an update on the "street newspaper" model, but there is a weird element to the whole thing, considering the buyer will be standing next to a homeless person doing something with their expensive digital device in the process.
However, something that takes a service in high demand (reliable connections to the Internet) and creates income for people trying to get back on their feet is a net positive, even if the gimmick is somewhat weird and mildly dystopian (turning people into infrastructure)? I can always use a reminder when I have the selfish impulse to be constantly online that some people have real problems.
The week on The Range
We tried to figure out what on earth Tucson Unified board member Michael Hicks was talking about on Facebook; shed a tear for the hard life of the modern member of Congress; grimaced as we had to recount another week of Daniel Patterson news; translated Al Melvin's Twitter feed; nodded our heads as the conservative National Review described Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Obama birth-certificate quest as a trip to a "political mental ward"; recapped the first Republican debate in the 8th Congressional District race; sighed as we read a local radio talk-show host's classless Facebook posts; and discussed the highlights of this week's political events with Carolyn Cox and Jeff Rogers on Arizona Illustrated's Political Roundtable, with your host, Jim Nintzel.
We cooked up some local greens; praised the beer gods for another night of tastings at Borderlands Brewing; let you know where to find delicious local cupcakes; and cleared our schedules for the forthcoming Tucson Taco Festival.
We wondered if Eddie Murphy should consider firing his agent; watched a Taiwanese take on the SXSW experience and shared NPR's mixtape for the music side of the event; tried to find Murray State on a map; encouraged you to see Said the Whale at Plush (although you missed your chance); introduced you to some of the speakers at the Tucson Festival of Books; announced your opportunity to win concert tickets and limited-edition vinyl from Electric Guest; snuck up behind Garry Shandling with Wilbur the Wildcat; pondered the ethics of the dog collar; puzzled over how someone could spend a million dollars on Cabbage Patch Kids; asked you to look deeper into the "Kony 2012" meme; introduced new news anchors at KVOA Channel 4; hid under our desks after watching a robot run on a treadmill; laughed at the pain of Chicago Cubs fans; and scolded Paste magazine for slighting Tucson's music scene.
Comment of the week
"Rats! I wanted to run next year! Seems to me the trouble to the voters is minimal, and the whole project adds to Arizona's quirky charm. There should be a referendum. Don't let this go uncontested!"
Best of WWW
If you enjoy getting out of the house and actually doing things, The Range is a great place to see what events are coming up, hear music from bands playing in Tucson, and generally learn about what's going on. However, The Range is also becoming a destination for people who enjoy getting free tickets to local events. We've recently given away the opportunity to meet Foreigner and to see Boz Scaggs and Steve Aoki, and we're currently running a giveaway for Electric Guest's show at Club Congress. We have forthcoming contests for comedy shows at Casino del Sol by Craig Ferguson, George Lopez and Gabriel Iglesias. To summarize, read The Range, and go to cool stuff for free.