Conner Zwick: sweating the small details for hardware innovations. Hardware Kicks Software’s Butt at SxSW Interactive 2013

SxSW 2013 Connor Zwick: hardware is the new software

College dropout whiz kid  Connor Zwick. Hardware is the new software. Presenter at the 2013 South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin Texas.

 Hardware Kicks Software’s Butt at SxSW Interactive 2013

Conner Zwick has one word for you and the word is not’s hardware. He dropped out of college, armed with the basic skills of CAD and a knowledge of electrical engineering, and went to work on high-quality prototyping. To those who want to follow in his footsteps, he says there are tons of tools out there to work with and resources to help you learn.

He set out to design something that would be a “joy to use.” But, to get to the prototype, there were design dilemmas. Hardware start-ups are the sweet spot for profits and this has big implications for new things to come to market in 2014.

More images from 2013 South by Southwest Interactive

2013 SxSW Interactive Presentations on Soundcloud 

Find out more about the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin Texas

One virtual singer, unlimited creators. Hatsune Miku: The open source girl who conquered the world


The Hatsune Miku demo booth at South by Southwest Interactive 2013. #sxswmiku

The creators of Hatsune Miku, the virtual singer software, discussed how the vast collaborative effort that is expressed via Miku blurs the perceived boundaries between audience and star at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival 2013 in Austin, Texas.

Miku is singing synthesizer software that is virtualized as an anime of a young female pop star with an abundance of ponytailed blue hair. The full name, Hatsune Miku roughly translates as “First Sound from the Future” — and it is a welcome sound, one that is incredibly popular, with millions of fans worldwide and hundreds of YouTube fan-based music videos.

Many of the Miku fans — not all of which are young Asian females — create songs and share them within the Miku community, where they are vetted. The user of Miku creates lyrics and a song: the Miku vocaloid software sings and performs the song. Fans vote popular songs up. Songs that make it to the top in the eyes of the fan community have a chance to be selected for a virtual digital performance.

A virtual singer, projected as a hologram animation to sold-out venues, performs digitally for a live audience who respond with the same enthusiasm they would exhibit for a live performer. But the audience cheers as much for each other as for the virtual singer, because the fans create the music: the boundary between performers-artists and audience-fans is blown away like digital dust.

SxSW 2013 Crypton CEO Hiroyuki Itoh MIKU culture

Crypton CEO Hiroyuki Itoh. MIKU Participatory culture, boundaries vanish between fan, artist.

Crypton Future Media CEO Hiroyuki Itoh and his creative team tried to explain to the Austin audience, most of who had not experienced a Miku performance, how Miku, the virtual singer avatar, provides creative collaboration as songwriters create and post songs, which are enjoyed and voted upon by fans.

Each song comes with a unique copyright, with variable copyright options available to the creator who uploads the image for sharing with the community.

Revenue for Crypton may also come via mobile games and advertising. Interestingly, Miku fans seem to enjoy it when the company partners the Miku image with large corporations. When they see Miku’s image coupled with a popular food or drink franchise, they see her success as their success.

Although the software is mostly sold and used in Japan and other Asian countries, it has international appeal. Miku has crossed beyond Japan and is now an international phenomenon, as the software has been bootlegged into Thai, Russian, Spanish, and other languages.

There is also a virtual interface—Miku dance software. Downloadable Miku skins are also available to overlay onto the singer, making changes to the singer’s appearance for the users. All of the skins and other options are free to users.

Itoh observed that Japan’s fan culture appears to be much more coherent and organized than in the US. This may be a factor in the success of the product. But Miku is not a human idol such as a real-life singer: Hatune Miku is a symbol of an idol, and one that evolves and mutates through mass audience input.

SxSW 2013 MIKU virtual singer, open source

What is fascinating about the Miku project is its participatory culture and vast complexity: users’ content freely contributed, collaborative creation, celebration of the idol at conventions, in games, in role-play, at live concerts.

The music software and the music created with Miku software is profoundly misunderstood by the US media, where journalists have sometimes described Miku as a “fake” singer. The user of the word “fake” has angered Miku fans worldwide, and has led to death threats made by fans towards journalists.  Fans activities have been denigrated in racist and simplistic tones as “one more of those weird things Japanese people do.” Judgmental and naïve descriptors such as “fake” fail to describe Miku. A more enlightened understanding recognizes that Miku music is participatory and collaborative.

SxSW 2013 MIKU virtual singer

Hiroyuki Itoh, Cryton CEO, Tara Knight, Kanea Maraki, and Alex Leavitt were the panelists at the Miku presentation at South by Southwest 2013. 

Itoh said that part of Miku’s success could lay in the fact that she has no back story. Miku just is: the fans overlay their own stories onto the avatar. Although the software is not open source, the creation is open-ended and invites user input. Miku is a crowd-sourced character. And the crowd controls the image, punishing those who push the boundaries defined by the majority. User generated content, fan generated content define Hatsune Miku.

The original Miku image is of a 16-year-old girl singer. Fans create artwork of their idol. Hatsune Miku is evolving visually as an animé image as well as musically. The fans spin off the original “no story” girl singer into extreme creations. Abuse of the image happens. Porn images and slasher fantasies of Miku pop up on the web. Fans swarm onto anything that is not canonical and kill it on YouTube, with thumbs down votes and vitriolic comments. What is wanted, what is not wanted, is managed by the fans.

YouTube’s up or down votes affect the algorithms that determine which videos will be offered when users search for Miku content. Fans check in every few weeks and rank new Miku videos. They curate and compile evaluation videos about Miku music videos. The things the fans like get pushed up and those characteristics enter the canon.

As the creator fans create the content, they evolve Miku into what they want her to be. The fans are in control of the Idol they are creating.

Creators and artists are often captured by their creative games. There could come to pass a future where Miku evolves into something more sentient, with perhaps an AI element.


The Miku software sales team at the 2013 South by Southwest Interactive this spring, bringing something completely different to an event that thrives on invention.

Links of interest:


Corruption Garden – English & Chinese Sub – Megurine Luka. Classic, early example of the use of Vocaloid singer

“decadent flowers, bloody memories
lamentations of flowers, graven miseries
silence that will never return
please lead the mistakes of this world to a rotten end
now before this world is over
what’s left in my hand are the ashes of a flower”

– Corruption Garden 

More images from 2013 South by Southwest Interactive

2013 SxSW Interactive Presentations on Soundcloud 

Find out more about the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin Texas

Change is as good as a holiday

South by Southwest Interactive (SxSW) 2013, a five-day free flight of imagination and creativity, just ended in downtown Austin, Texas. Each year, creative minds gather to share dreams and nightmares about technological changes, inventions, and twists in the road that takes the rest of us to the future.

Who was the most interesting wiseguy at Southby Interactive this year? Whose prophecy, whose new hardware gadget, 3D print imager (laser tech), or change-the-world idea will be the one left standing when 2014 rolls around?

Will it turn out to be this guy who said the most important thing at SxSW Interactive in 2013? He’s Nobel Fellow and UT Austin professor Dr. Steve Weinberg. He discussed new physics discoveries that are transforming our understanding of the world; Dr. Weinberg urged that we concentrate on funding and building a mammoth particle accelerator. (2019 update: Now CERN has its own Intagram.)

SxSW 2013 Steve Weinberg Physics Discoveries

Or will it be Takahito Iguchi, the CEO of Telepathy, whose interactive glasses from Japan might beat out Google Glass for style and features?

Takahito Iguchi from Facebook 2013

Takahito Iguchi, the CEO of Telepathy, using wearable tech. (pix from his Facebook)

(2022 Update: Keep up with the many tech projects, from vision tech to audio social innovations spun out by Tajaguto Uguch by following his Twitter. Quotable: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”


And speaking of magic, how much longer do we have to wait to climb into our own spaceships? Want to catch a ride on Sir Richard Garriott’s Nauvoo-like multigeneration colonizer flight?

SxSW 2013 Preview on Space with Hugh Forest at UT Austin
Hugh Forrest does a pre-flight of the upcoming 2013 South by Southwest Interactive, which has a focus on space, with a NASA visitor area at the Long Center that will be open to the public.
SxSW 2014 NASA booth 03
SxSW 2014 NASA booth 02


SxSW 2013 Preview Talk on Space with Richard Garriott
Sir Richard Garriott did a pre-event visit to UT Austin to discuss space travel.
SXSW 2014 NASA booth 01

The answer might be: not long at all, if we are willing to work our way across the universe, according to Richard Garriott, who is busy building rocket ships with his friends. Garriott, AKA Lord British, is juggling multiple projects, all deep in the field of dreams. (2022 update: his latest MMO gaming project, currently called Effigy, will be using blockchain tech, will include NFTs and some user-created content.) Follow Garriott on Twitter because life should come at you faster than the speed of light if you plan to exit this galaxy to get to The Rings.)

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