Last week, the teams from Gizmodo and Lifehacker Australia went on a road trip up and down the East Coast of Australia to meet some of the best geeks in the country, thanks to Microsoft and Windows Azure. Here's what happened.
Home Crowd Advantage: Sydney
I felt like a ninja in the lead up to our inaugural Gizmodo/Lifehacker Australian reader meetup. Everyone knew I was around, but I was neither seen nor heard, hiding in the shadows of the Gizmodo CMS, carefully avoiding extra work. Tech publisher Seamus and Gus from Lifehacker had done all the heavy lifting for each night's trivia challenge, creating what could only be regarded as some of the most insanely difficult geek questions you could imagine.
As we made our way down to the White Horse in Sydney's Surry Hills, armed with our questions from hell and our prizes from heaven, the sense of excitement grew. In the three and a half years I've been editing Gizmodo, we've longed for the opportunity to host a reader meetup event, but could never get to the point where we could actually do it. But with a little bit of help from Microsoft and Windows Azure, we finally managed to get it done.
With the drinks flowing and the food coming steadily throughout the evening, it came down to a battle of technological wits. Readers were soon confronted with the impossible - questions naming the famous geeks at the same time as following the questions on the big screen. When it came time for the first video challenge - a clip of Chewbacca crying to the world - the crowd groaned its displeasure at the question: "What colour are Chewbacca's eyes". The answer, of course, is blue.
Being the first night, it was clear there was always going to be some contention on some of the answers, although not even we expected the passion behind the disagreement on what the letters PHP stand for. Gus took the challenge to heart and stood his ground, which proved to be correct upon further checking of the answers.
At the end of the night, the winners were fast and furious. The humourously named team rm -rf /bin/laden took out the team prize comfortably, but the individual prize for the most entertaining flowchart showcased Sydney's talent well.
The only downside with the whole evening was that I had to make the long commute home, instead of staying at a conveniently located hotel. The next two nights made up for that though.
Beautiful One Day: Brisbane
Every single time I've travelled to the Sunshine State, it's been wet and miserable. Not so for our reader meetup, where we were showered with bucketloads of glorious Queensland sunshine. After a half day in the office and an adventure through Qantas' new RFID smart check-in, Seamus, Gus and I all arrived in Brisbane, ready to see how the Queenslanders fared in our geek-quiz challenge.
Whether it was the abundant sunshine or the high ceilings in the Story Bridge Hotel, but the Queensland meetup just seemed so much more relaxed than the Sydney event. Or maybe it was just the Queensland beer.
Even when Tim Buntell from Microsoft got up to give his explanation of exactly what Redmond hopes to offer with Windows Azure, he focussed on the My Concept Rules competition rather than bogging down on the specifics of the platform. And his approach was welcomed by the Queensland crowd, who took the opportunity between quiz rounds to hit Tim up with questions about the platform.
With plenty of help from Mr Google, the Brisbane crowd performed well in the quiz, but not even Mr Google could help most teams with naming some of the complex mathematical formulae that made up the second round puzzle challenge. Similarly, nobody could stand up to name the molecular diagram of chilli, although nobody in three states could manage that task either, so it wasn't just a Queensland issue. Even pulling out a laptop couldn't help one enterprising reader up the back of the room.
At the end of the night as the prizes were awarded, it was the power of basil that gave the Pesto Party the skills to take out the team prize, while there was a supreme level of difficulty in trying to determine the winner of the flowchart prize. We almost came to (virtual) fisticuffs over that one, but in the end, the winner was a worthy one (but more on that later).
Returning to the hotel, I discovered to my dismay that I had left not only my iPhone charger on my desk in Sydney, but also my MacBook Pro charger. Fortunately, I was travelling with a couple of geeks who could give me the power fix to get me through the Melbourne leg of the adventure.
We Can Be Happy Underground: Melbourne
With Brisbane airport still upgrading to accept Qantas' smart chip checkin, it was almost inevitable that we managed to break the system as we got ready to fly south to Melbourne for our final meetup. In the end, we had to do some old fashioned luggage check-ins to ensure our kit made it into the cargo of our plane - on the upside, having Gus's Platinum frequent flyer status made the process relatively quick and painless.
The Grace in Melbourne quickly proved to be the trendiest venue we'd encountered on our East Coast tour, with the hipster staffs' trendiness in stark contrast with the geeks in attendance. But unlike the lifelong war between pirates and ninjas, the hipsters and geeks seemed amicable enough.
It became quickly evident that our choice of location for the Melbourne event would put the Victorian crowd at a distinct disadvantage - in our room in the hotel's cellar, mobile reception was practically non-existent. Only the most persevering geek could persuade the mobile data signal to offer up the answers to our nigh on impossible trivia questions.
But even with sketchy mobile service and an army of hipsters serving booze, nothing could dampen the spirit of the Melbourne crowd. Nor could it stop people from coming - our final event was also our largest turnout. With teams actually battling it out for victory without the reliability of smartphone support, the contest was probably the most exciting as well.
In the end though, there could be only one winning team, and the geekily named Fenster Blau (apparently it's German for "Windows Blue") took out the prize comfortably. They also managed to take out the two runner-up flowchart prizes, making it an exceptionally successful night for the team.
After the competition ended, the crowd stayed around, discussing anything and everything geeky. There was a real sense of camaraderie, even amongst the people who had only met hours beforehand.
It was with a great sense of satisfaction that we headed home to Sydney the next day. Over the previous three days, we managed to meet over a hundred Giz and Lifehacker readers, with everybody telling us they couldn't wait for the next meetup. And the truth is, we felt exactly the same way.
Flowing With The Flowcharts
The big prize at each event was an Xbox 360 Kinect bundle, awarded to the most entertaining flowchart of the night. While a large number of readers loved the idea of a flowchart dictating how to win a Flowchart challenge, how to pick up ladies and how to take advantage of a bar tab, it was the more unique entries that managed to take home the prizes.
And the runners up:
In all seriousness, thanks everyone who came along to each night. I know places were limited, but we all had a great night with those who managed to make it. We're definitely keen to make it a much more frequent activity.