XOXO 2019

My visit this year was abbreviated because of other commitments but I am grateful that I did get to spend at least some time at one of my favorite gatherings. It was also fun this year because I got to introduce XOXO to my colleague at work, Vincent Chang, who has a side gig as a game designer.

Vincent’s game is available at a local bookshop

I was happy to hear that the organizers decided against a repeat of last year’s experiment to hold the conference in the cavernous Veterans Memorial Coliseum and returned to the more intimate grounds of Revolution Hall. I applaud their attempt to be more inclusive with the larger venue but, ultimately, something is lost when you host intimate talks in a cavernous hockey rink.

This was my third XOXO (post from 2018). Each time I go, I gain a deeper appreciation for what Andy & Andy are building. I confess that I do not feel marginalized as some of the presenters but, as an Asian-American, it is helpful to learn about the struggles described in some of the talks. Empathy comes from understanding and I thank all the presenters for being so brave to share their stories and the audience in being so collectively supportive.

Against the backdrop of fascinating talks about the etymology of Ms. and the hegemony inflicted upon us by culturally one-dimensional restaurant reviewers , this year I focused on the attendees and their interesting And varied backgrounds. We were encouraged to spend 80% of our time listening and 20% talking. Moving beyond the standard conference introductions such as, “Where do you work, what do you do?” and spending time to uncover a person’s inner fire was immensely rewarding.

Some people I met included

  • a couple that was deep into Japanese Pro-Wrestling as an art form. They turned me on to Hoodslam, a world I’ve never heard about, taking place right in my backyard.
  • a recent migrant to San Francisco who was now working on a secret VR/AR project
  • a woman who took the last year before she turned 31 to take advantage of Australia’s Working Holiday program
  • I also learned more about anxiety and had an open conversation with those that experience it, what it is like and what are things that I can say that can help someone having a severe anxiety attack. I learned about Box Breathing.


Estelle Caswell (Earworm) showed her video exploration into the male falsetto in popular music and answered questions about the process to make the video presenting her findings. FYI: she made a Spotify playlist.


I was only able to attend Saturday’s talks but each one was excellent.

Tracy Clayton reminded us Not only of the importance and value of a diverse workplace but also underscored that Diversity isn’t the same as Inclusion. Tracy grew up on Twitter and drew strength and support from her network but the same thing that was keeping her alive was also hurting her emotionally. She shared her struggle to reconcile those two forces and find hope. “Hope leads to motivation, motivation leads to action, and action leads to change.”

Emma Kinema shared her experience as a labor organizer for the video game industry drawling a line from the IWW in the 1930s to the present day struggles of video game developers. Organized labor as something that can unite people in our politically divided world was a theme all weekend both in and outside the conference. The labor movement is strong in Portland.

YouTube personality hbomberguy shared the story of his epic 57-hour Twitch stream in which he raised over $300k for the British Trans Rights charity Mermaids. At hour 56, AOC showed up.

The charming couple Rekka and Devine make up the Hundred Rabbits team. They shared their adventures of moving their life on to a 33-foot sailboat Pino and making their way across the Pacific to Japan. Life on the water lead to extreme self-reliance and radical simplification. 11GB XCode updates and Adobe Creative Suite connectivity are unacceptable on a satellite phone connection so they were forced to build alternative solutions. Just as open source tools lead to more efficient solutions for their technology, they also have open-sourced their lifestyle to help others live off the grid.

Photo by Arnaud de Bock

Black Belt Eagle Scout shared stories about her life as an radical indigenous queer feminist from the Pacific Northwest and sang her song You’re Me and I’m You.

Soliel Ho confronts East Coast media ignorance of Boba

Soleil Ho, one of the hosts of the Racist Sandwich podcast that covers the race & politics of food. Here’s a link to Episode 14 which talks about the politics of food photography. Soleil has now become one of those she used to rail against as the new food critic at the San Francisco Chronicle. In her words, “Representation in media is a powerful thing but you must beware of commodification.” This is her new challenge.

Caitlin Doughty shared her career path to a mortician and how she started her “death-positive” movement. I learned a lot about things that are not normally talked about.


Wild at Heart beta tester

I chatted with one of the developers at Moonlight Kids, a game studio that is halfway done with, Wild at Heart. They expect it will take their small team two years to complete. The team is completely distributed and the festival was one of the rare times that the team were together. I asked how they coordinate their work schedules and maintain momentum towards deadlines set by their publisher. One thing they try and do every week is open an hours long conference call, not with any set agenda but just as a way to connect, to keep the lines open for quick questions and to be there for each other.


I wish I could say more – it was fun but a bit overwhelming as I’m not much of a game player. Vincent and I played Mechanica while the one of the designers of the game patiently walked us thru the mechanics. It had something to do with making vacuum cleaners.

Vincent was really in his element and he signed us up for a “Super Secret” playtest of a game called The Adventure Zone. Our round was led by Keith Baker who is someone really famous in gaming circles. He was really nice and took an interest in Vincent’s game which made him very happy.


Everything is Alive

Saw the tail end of a live performance of Everything is Alive, the podcast where they interview inanimate objects. In this episode they interviewed a chainsaw.

The Allusionist talking about singular they

Finally, I enjoyed the exhaustive breakdown of the Ghostbusters theme song by Ray Parker Jr., and learned about the history around the lawsuit(s). I’ll never not be able to hear Ray’s “Bustin’ makes me feel good!” line again.

Wrapping up, Demi Adejuyigbe made an announcement that he was finishing the season (and moving on from the show) and threw down the most amazing dance routine to a mashup of all the songs covered in the season. Here’s just part of it.

Greater Portland

Vincent and I explored several places around Town.

We ducked out for dinner at McMenamin’s Kennedy School located about 6 miles outside of town but well worth the trip. The complex is a restored 1915 school with each of the rooms converted for alternative uses. There’s a speakeasy in the “Detention Room” and a Beer hall set up with crazy pipework art in the “Boiler Room” – well worth the trip but bring your bathing suit as I hear the soaking tub is quite nice too.

The Boiler Room

Back in the late-80s I visited Portland for the first time to see my sister who was attending Reed College at the time. Late one evening she and her friends took me to a cafe. All I remembered about it was that there was one table in the room that was rigged up with a pneumatic lift that ever-so-slowly would push the table upwards and downwards. They always left the table open for out-of-town visitors so that the unknowing visitor would at some point realize that what was once a normal table was now up around their chin, would let out a yelp and the rest of the room would giggle and welcome them to Portland. Vincent promptly googled and found the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, right around the corner from the conference!

Other spots visited:

If you’ve read this far, thank you for indulging me. XOXO 2019 was a rich experience that I will reflect upon many months afterwards. Thank you Andy x Andy for making all the arrangements – I’m spiritually recharged with a renewed sense of optimism for the potential of a connected humanity.


XOXO 2018

Excerpts from a trip report published for my SmartNews colleagues

When: Thursday, Sept. 6 – Sunday, Sept. 9
Where: Portland, OR
Website: https://2018.xoxofest.com/

XOXO is an experimental festival for independent artists and creators who work on the internet

That is what it says on their website but it’s so much more. It’s a community of people that live their lives online coming together to meet each other face-to-face, share side projects and talk about ways to make the internet feel more human.

I highly recommend this conference to anyone with an interest in online culture, design, or gaming. Because this conference is by invitation-only, there is a bit of an exclusive feel to it but also it means that most people you meet are interesting and talented and excited to share. You will leave refreshed with new sense of optimism about the future.

The invitation to attend comes months in advance along with an invitation to join the XOXO Slack community so much of the fun at the conference is meeting face-to-face all the people you have been communicating with via Slack or Twitter. I arrived Friday afternoon so unfortunately missed some of the social events on Thursday evening at during the day on Friday but what follows are some notes of things I saw. Photos are discouraged so I do not have many photos to share.


Games I saw at the Arcade, an open space demoing indie video games:

Busy Work, an installation of four office cubicles where your team has to frantically answer inane customer service questions.

Kids, more interactive art than a game, it was on an iPad projected on a big screen and had the audience shouting commands to the person “playing” the game as we all tried to figure out how to “win”

Goose Game, where you play a naughty goose and cause havoc.

Cathode Mk1, a turn-by-turn game played across a series of tube televisions by the folks at [public games].

The Film & Animation section (which was held in a half of a huge indoor stadium). Here I saw:

Graham Annable spoke about his uniquely dark view of pets.

Film critic Lindsay Ellis took questions from the audience about how she built her audience and the challenges of delivering serious, academic research via YouTube. Here’s an exhaustive deconstruction of Disney’s depiction of indigenous female characters that got over 1M views.

Bill Wurtz is most famous for his History of Japan video (below) but he has a whole YouTube channel of nonsensical videos which he sampled for us. In Q&A we learned that attempted to do a History of the United States video initially but eventually had to give up because “he know too much” and could not summarize effectively. Japan (about which he knew nothing) was easier because his lack of knowledge gave him the distance to help him summarize it.

At the Art & Code session I missed Baratunde where he debuted his new app in which you are quizzed on headlines to determine if they are real or not as a way of alerting you to the problem of “over-policing.” He shared insights about why he built the app and the importance of data privacy in a Medium post.

Janelle Shane shared bits from her AI “research”

Nicole He gave a talk (Yelling at Computers) about the rich space between what technology can do today and what people think technology can do today and shared Twitch videos of people playing her new browser-based game, Enhance Computer.

Diana Smith showed us her amazing digital renderings done entirely in CSS and HTML and then shared how the art beautifully degraded when viewed in older browsers. She then shared how the Internet used [Inspect Element] to fork and remix her work so that each piece lives on and have taken on a life of their own. Try it yourself – it’s an amazing labor of love – you will not be disappointed!

Pure CSS Francine

Botnik Studios uses AI to write examples of movie reviews, Twilight Zone episodes, and Tinder profiles.


Andy Baio, co-founder of XOXO kicks off the official conference

Jennifer 8. Lee – Emoji Activist

Jennifer 8. Lee is a self-proclaimed emoji activist described her experience lobbying for (and getting accepted) the emoji for dumpling.

Matt Furie

Matt Furie, the guy who invented Pepe the Frog, spoke about what it was like to get your character co-opted by the alt-right and what he had to do to try and get it back.

Natalie Wynn spoke about gender identity on the internet and her experience as a transvestite character online. She runs the YouTube channel, ContraPoints.

In the evening the arcade and table-top game rooms were back.

On the main stage John Hodgman and Jean Grae held court and told stories based on topics submitted by the audience on a large, projected spinning wheel which randomly chose which topic to discuss.


Someone had printed out and put all the terms of service of several social networks side by side. The long yellow one is Snapchat.

There was an art exhibit where you could mail a postcard to yourself in a year’s time. My favorite one said, “Have you asked her yet?” I assume this person is getting ready to marry his (or her) girlfriend.

Because of some work stuff I was in and out of the Sunday sessions but I did get to see a couple.

I caught the closing credits of Demi Adejuyigbe’s talk.

I came back to see Adam Conover talk about the difficulty of presenting facts to people that don’t want to hear them. Adam has a TV show called, Adam Ruins Everything.

Other Resources