June 23, 2015
Digital Health Summer Summit & Their Digital Health Playground
I've experienced some of Digital Health Summit's energy, largely at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, where it has grown in size over the years and now represents some of the most innovative technologies happening in the health, wellness and medical arena.
Last week, they held their Digital Health Summer Summit in San Francisco, which consisted of a full day of panel discussions, keynotes and something they refer to as Digital Health Playground, which is an expo of companies showing off their latest products.
Photo credit: LearnersOnline.com
The reason I've been so interested in digital health lately is not just because of the marketing and communications work I've done for HAPILABS and Kolibree over the past few years, both of which announced the world's first in their respective categories (connected fork and connected electric toothbrush).
This world obviously got me into deeper into the world of quantified self and devices that measure everything you do, from the quality of your breathe, to your sleep patterns and the steps you take every day. While I find quantified self interesting and in some cases, leaps ahead of our time, empowering individuals about their bodies in ways that was never possible before, I'm also concerned about over monitoring since doing so means that the EMFs emitted and other electrical energy that comes from these devices are close to our bodies if not on them 24/7.
I for one sleep more peacefully when I'm far away from anything that has bluetooth or wifi connectivity and when I'm not using my phone for texting or browsing, I turn it to Airplane Mode as a safety precaution. That said, the benefits of self monitoring for more serious medical conditions can be a godsend, particularly for kids and seniors, so that other family members can stay on top of their loved one's health as well. It's also useful for sending data back to your family when you're traveling and they're not with you.
Photo credit: www.kpcb.com
The idea of digital health centers on the convergence of the digital and genetics with health, healthcare, medicine, living, and society.
The biggest benefits of digital health as noted above, include the empowerment of consumers to better track, manage, and improve their own and their family's health. There are of course compliance issues, as well as hospital and corporate adoption curves that run alongside these revolutionary changes happening in the digital world today.
At the Summit, we heard from Chief Medical Officer for AFIA Rob Smythe MD and author of The Digital Doctor, Professor and Associate Chair for the Department of Medicine Robert W. Watchter MD, who addressed the need for digital health to better demonstrate its effectiveness, as well as the issues around privacy, security and regulatory challenges.
With the abundance of health tech accelerators and seed funders pushing out a wide array of digital health companies, we also heard tips on how to avoid the funding valley of death given the long time gap between institutional funding and ultimate launch. Reps from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Launchpad Digital Health, dRx Capital AG and DNAnexus took this subject on, which was soon followed by an interesting keynote from Michael Blum, MD and Associate Vice Chancellor for Informatics and Professor of Medicine and Cardiology/Chief Medical Information Office at UCSF.
Other panels discussed how partnering with strategic companies can better harness the power of talents and resources from both sides.
One of the more interesting dialogues was between moderator Karyn Skultety, Ph.D. and VP of Health Services at the Institute of Aging, and Commercial Lead at Big Health Dickson Waterfield and Co-Founder of Ginger.io Karan Singh. I like what they're doing at Ginger.io, which uses smartphones to improve mental health care.
Their app uses sensor data collected through the phone and self-reported information to identify people who may need help. Providers can use this data to better deliver support to the right people at the right time, making care more timely, effective and engaging. Ginger.io's Android and iPhone apps use data from your phone to safely and securely watch for days when your health may take a hit.
The Dealmaking, Piloting and Scaling panel presented the question: You Have What It Takes? Travis Good, MD and CEO & Co-Founder of Catalyze, Molly Coye MD and Sense.ly CEO Adam Odessky took on the topic head on, sharing insights on how to sell, pilot and scale successfully within the healthcare system.
Questions addressed included what healthcare systems looking for when they evaluate new technology, are all hospitals different or are there unified approaches entrepreneurs can take when working with them, and do you have a product that hospitals can actually implement to scale, among others.
Although nature will always win if I had a choice between trees, mountains and lakes and gadgets, toys and devices, I am a bit of a tech nerd when it comes to nifty things that can improve the quality of my life or my productivity. I'd argue that more devices than not add hassle to my life and extra time trying to figure out how they work and their effectiveness than the benefit they may actually provide.
One of the more interesting products being shown in the Expo part of the show, a small area set up for companies to do demos and show off their greatest, was Breathometer. Their mission is to build the World’s First Portable Breath Analysis Platform to help people make smarter decisions, improve healthcare and to save lives.
You download the Breathometer mobile app on your smartphone, power on the Breeze product using the small button on the bottom of the product and the Breeze should automatically pair / connect with your smartphone.
Once connected, confirm it has been 20 minutes since your last drink, take a deep breath and blow into the mouth of Breeze for 5 seconds and Breathometer will give you your results. Beyond providing dependable blood alcohol concentration levels, the Breathometer app is designed to help you make informed, dependable decisions.
Another cool product at the event was Splitsecnd, emergency assistance the instant you need it. Splitsecnd is the only plug-in device that can provide live trip data, detect a crash, call for emergency help in less than 7 seconds and notify your emergency contact in an instant.
This is a great device when you're traveling of course, but it's also great for seniors and teenagers -- parents can not only detect if and where there has been a crash instantly, but monitor the driving behavior as well. The device plugs into any vehicle's 12V lighter outlet and uses airbag sensor technology to activate the emergency response system on impact, calling for help even when you can't respond.
The GPS monitoring features allow you to keep up with family and loved ones on the road. Using build in location software, splitsecnd works with local 911 dispatchers to send emergency aid right away. The splitsecnd response team will call your emergency contact so your family knows within minutes you have been in a car crash.
You can also view the past 10 trips of anyone on your account -- where and when they went and even the route they took. For android users only, it currently also tracks how often the driver texts while driving making it easy to see how often they are making safety a priority. Wow!
I also learned a lot about hearing loss -- I had no idea it was such a huge problem in the states, how much hearing loss impacts one's emotional state, how expensive hearing aids are and the fact that they're not covered by insurance. Huh? When they're priced in the $2-6K price range per hearing aid, imagine how many seniors go without, trying to live day to day without accurate hearing?
Apparently there are a significant and growing number of kids who suffer from hearing loss as well. I chatted to the Audicus team at the show, who focus on providing affordable hearing aids. Apparently traditional providers and manufacturers mark hearing aids up more than 10x to cover overhead and other miscellaneous costs whereas Audicus cuts out the middlemen by working with a top-tier, independent German manufacturer and delivering it straight to the consumer.
They believe that everyone deserves to "Live Loudly" so are focusing on dramatically bringing the cost of hearing aids down so it's more affordable to the average American. They also sell accessories -- two thumbs up!
Producer Jill Gilbert, Organizer and founder of Living in Digital Times Robin Raskin and their team put together an incredibly enriching event full of great ideas, people, products, services and platforms.
The event was co-hosted by CDHI - Center for Digital Health Innovation at UCSF -- more information can be found at www.digitalhealthsummit.com. Be sure to watch for their developments, updates, future event dates and locations.
June 09, 2015
Soaring Fees & Declining Airline Service Do More Than Disempower Customers
While I’m not a 100,000 mile gal, I spend a lot of time on planes throughout the course of a year. When it comes to flying these days, I think we can all agree -- it's a far cry from fun. Barely tolerable is what comes to mind.
Photo credit: Outsidethebeltway.com.
The saddening reality is that airlines worldwide brought in $31.5 billion in non-ticket revenue in 2013 -- including passenger fees -- which is MORE than 11 times their non-ticket revenue six years prior, adjusted for inflation according to CNN Money. Unfortunately, there's little that we can do about it. There's no plea here and our voices go unnoticed....otherwise, the price increases wouldn't continue to soar year after year, not to mention new fees being added for incredulous things.
Photo credit: Dave Granlund.com.
Customer feedback no longer matters since it's become an industry that treats people more like helpless cattle in tow than worthful customers they care about "serving." Truth be told, I haven't had a memorable and rewarding experience flying coach in about 8 or 9 years and it's getting worse.
The smile comes on the video screen welcoming you prior to take off and if a video isn't enough to make the whole experience feel less personal, I saw a recent clip where an unnamed airline actually replaced people with avatars.
During that "happy" video, you're reminded that if you didn't bring your own headset, you can get one from them for a mere $5 and that's before you have to pay for the in-flight entertainment, no longer free. I'm old enough to remember when all of the "now" perks were just part of your normal travel experience -- the headsets, the meals, the movie, changing your flight date or time and hell, American used to give away pens and decks of cards.
Meals in coach used real napkins laid out on the side of your plate and silverware -- I'm not sure how I'm going to take a pilot down with a butter knife and silver fork, but hey, clearly they're still worried about it. If it’s domestic, I oscillate between my two favorite U.S. carriers – Delta and American and if it’s international, I try to use one of their partners for the mileage points although frankly, it's becoming less compelling by the day since it's a helluva lot of work to get "status" points and once you've killed yourself on god awful flights to get them, your perks and benefits get set back to zero before you have an opportunity to relish in boarding ten minutes early and that one bag free perk.
I avoid United as they remain as anti-customer as Comcast does on the corporate brand list....the two companies should do joint seminars on how to piss off a customer the most in a one hour period.
Photo credit: www.thefinancialbrand.com
If I don't have a choice to go with a preferred airline partner for international flights, I choose an airline that is known for its service and simplifies traveling for me at a minimum, or in the rare case, doesn't penny pinch me for everything. Virgin of course is the best known in this category stateside and they just came out with a credit card deal that allows you to change your flights for no fee. Remember those days? How bliss: "Customer-driven" decisions like that make me not want to ever fly another airline. When you purchase a car, design, color and safety matter a whole lot, but at the end of the day, the emotional reason for the purpose is how great you feel when you’re driving it.
Does it add to your experience and do you enjoy getting to your destination? The same applies to an airline experience. Too many airlines think they’re in the transportation business when they're in the hospitality, service and customer experience industry, even more than a 5 star resort is and frankly, I'd argue than any other business.
That might surprise you but in a 5 star resort, I’m not counting on service non-stop for anywhere from 3 to 24 hours like I am on a flight. From movies, wine, blankets, headsets, your bag, to a fee for the privilege of sitting in a middle seat towards the front of plane or boarding a few minutes early in a line that is now longer than the regular one. I've even heard rumors that American is going to charge extra if you want to sit next to someone else, even if there are plenty of empty seats available. WTF?
In 2012, airlines raked in around $6 billion according to USA Today, and airlines made over $20 BILLION with my least favorite airline leading the way - United ($5.4 Billion) according to CNN Money. Australia's Qantas Airways made $56.21 per customer -- the highest amount in that particular survey. Apparently the revenue came mostly through selling frequent flier points to partners such as hotel chains and car rental companies.
Airlines that made the most from baggage fees in order of milking you dry (from a 2014 Marketwatch article), include Delta, United, US Air, America and Spirit. Airline fees have risen from $2.8 BILLION in 2007 to over $30 BILLION in 2013 according to CNN Money. Below is a chart pulled from the same piece - original link below the image.
Photo credit: From CNNMoney.
Years later, I still hear arguments that they have to continue to rake us through the coals because of 9/11 and they'll also argue that gas prices have gone up so they need to compensate for that too.
While that may be true, gas has also oscillated and while it was extremely high a couple of years ago, we paid $1.77 a gallon in America's Midwest this past January. And, let's be honest, ticket prices have also gone up and flights are fuller than they've ever been before - it's very rare that I have an empty seat next to me and usually I'm sharing my paid seat with someone else when they can't fit that comfortably in their own. (this happens a lot btw)
It takes the fun and the pleasure out of traveling. Travelaholics or business travelers who hang their hat on airlines frequently will admit that if we could skip the airline process to get to their destination, they would. In other words, it's the worse part of the travel process -- getting from A to B is NOT about transportation, it's about the experience you have on the way.
This is why people smile when you mention the word Virgin -- it's because Richard Branson gets it. I also had the opportunity to meet Richard's CEO of Virgin Produced Jason Felts at Idea Festival last year and he is one of the most down-to-earth souls you'll meet sitting that high at the helm -- authentic and fun! His persona and energy gives you the feeling that he actually "cares" about their customers and I'll take it a step further, their experience of the world -- inside Virgin and out.
When I fly coach, it's such an uncomfortable experience that it's often difficult to imagine the joy I'll have when I finally get Italy, South Africa, Japan or wherever my journey might be taking me. Who doesn’t want to feel great on the journey there?
The problem is that most of us haven’t felt “great” on a journey to their destination in….well, years. We've all become accustomed to airline mediocrity, being treated as cattle (harsh, but true) and nickeling and diming every object we want to use and every move we want to make. As one woman put it who was standing in the security line before me at JFK recently, “now, it’s cattle in, cattle out, and no extra brownie points for being nice to the agent even when they were rude to you."
Most airlines have lost the essence of what matters to customers and forgotten what business they’re in. Virgin gets it right most of the time even though they were forced by competition to follow suit with with some of those ridiculous charges. That said, Richard Branson understands that he’s in the “travel experience” business -- my tagline, not theirs. It makes more sense for entrepreneurs who have successfully run high end theme parks or "high touch" resorts to run an airline since their approach to service and delivering an extraordinary experience are both so far beyond the mentality of most airlines, that their airline would likely very quickly stand out as the "Purple Cow".
Branson realized he had to build in “aha” moments into the Virgin flying experience, from check in to behind the doors of the Virgin lounge and ultimately the on-board service.
There are a few airlines who can get away with being in the transportation business like Ryan Air, where service and quality matters a whole lot less since you're paying so little for such a short flight. In a short flight scenario where the best deal is the order of the day, that free cushioned blanket and not paying for that tasteless processed meal isn't your top priority.
Travel is all about the emotions and memories you have during your journey, whether it's the journey of getting to a destination or an activity at a destination itself. Think about it. The Eiffel Tower is just a structure – a very large and beautiful structure, but a structure in the middle of a city nevertheless. People have come to associate romance with this structure and as a result, there have been hundreds of proposals in front of it. The emotion that is associated with this structure is significant for many. Paris exudes romance and restaurants and hotels embrace it - it's part of the French culture.
Exceptional service and including standards like a checked bag and more than just peanuts and pretzels on longer flights MUST BE the airline industry’s romance. Service and over the top customer care is to airlines what that memorable romantic experience is to Paris and why so many people flock to this popular European city.
While 9/11 was used as the primary reason airlines started tacking on additional charges, let's face it -- that was a long time ago and business & finance sites have reported how just how well the industry is doing. The additional charges have gone from annoying to ridiculous in some cases, outlandishly absurd in others. Rather than look for ways to innovate around customer service, they have looked for more ways to nickel and dime without creating more value and "high touch" moments for the customer.
Airline service used to be amazing however frequent flyers can attest that the "lack of caring” started before 9/11. And, it's not as if airlines have been at the forefront of innovation. The same inflight magazines and barf bags line the back of the seats together with the traditional safety cards we had so many moons ago. And let’s be honest, the tray tables are cheap and flimsy and really not suitable for drinks. I remember useful cup holders on the back of some airline seats but haven't seen those in years. There's no place to put that cuppa coffee while you’re working on your laptop or even reading a book.
Rather than provide a memorable experience, what I’m left with today is a series of inconveniences, thanks to a direction that some operations head at one of the airlines started and others followed. Let’s look at a series of pissy moments I didn’t have to endure two decades ago, most of which defy logic and are nothing short of infuriating for a customer. That said, they have become so common that outlandish fees have become the status quo and we now live in a world where each trip is more painful than the last.
Photo credit: FareCompare.com.
Booking a ticket: booking through an airline rep or agent on the phone now cost a fee - not the case 20 years ago. Since when did charging for a phone call to SPEND money with a company become okay? Imagine Macy’s charging you extra to make a purchase with a live person.
Booking a ticket online: while in theory, booking online has made things easier since you can jump online at 2 in the morning and purchase a ticket which I've done often, you incur fees and all sorts of cancellation policies that now get applied to the booking site as well as the airline.
Case in point is a ticket I booked through Expedia with Delta last year. When an emergency came up, I needed to change the ticket date and time from a flight from JFK to San Francisco. Expedia informed me that I needed to pay a fee to them as well as a fee to Delta for the change fee, on top of whatever the difference in fare was. After a whole lotta digging, I learned that the very same flight at the very same time 5 days later had many more seats than the original flight I was on, however the change fee for my $318 flight was slated to be $298.
When I looked at booking a new flight for that same route, there was only $14 difference in fare, and yet what I would be faced with was cost of a brand new ticket.
Blankets: Seriously? I once had a stewardess on United slip me a blanket saying she couldn’t bear to charge me because she found it so insidious. While I’m not a United fan, be assured that I have never forgotten that magic moment. Even though I still won’t choose to fly United because of so many previous bad experiences, she was a standout and her "out-of-the-box" attitude should be applauded, a rarity in the airline business today. Imagine a hotel charging for blanket and pillow use?
Headphone Charges: See above. Are you kidding? It is any wonder that there's hundreds of articles out there begging the question, “what’s next on the nickel and dime me menu? Toilet paper or the privilege to use the bathroom?” Oh yeah, lest not forget I can keep them, like I need 25 flimsy plastic headsets at home. At the very least, they don't charge you for using your own though it's probably on someone's list.
Change Fees: In the “we still care about customer service” days, we never had to pay for standby for same day flights if a seat was available in your class. Today, regardless of availability or the situation (see bullet 2 for an example of defying logic), you pay a change fee plus the difference in fare – same day, different day or anything in between. Bravo to Virgin for nuking that rule if you sign up for their latest credit card - oh so very smart! Doesn't it just warm your heart to hear that?
Additional Leg Room Charges: Remember the days when you could move to a better seat if space was available on the plane? Even if something is open in the emergency row or a preferred section (which it never is anymore), you can no longer sit there without incurring an additional $50 fee. Shouldn't seat leg room (and chair room) be ample to sit comfortably for a long haul?
Seats Are Getting Smaller And Yet: See above. It’s so politically incorrect to ask, but have the seats gotten smaller or are too many of us getting larger and larger? When I've raised this issue to other travelers and travel writers, they all agree that I shouldn't publicly bring this up because of the sensitivity around it.
Even if that's the case, if we don't discuss it openly, how can we come to a politically correct resolution? If someone is so large that I have to share part of my space with them in a way that is uncomfortable, then I no longer have a full seat even if I paid extra for that seat in Economy Plus. If I should be forced to pay more for a seat that is simply closer to the front of the plane, shouldn’t I pay less for less than a full seat? It may sound insensitive, but we need to figure out politically correct ways to handle this moving forward, sensitive or not.
More $$$ To Sit Closer to the Front: See above. Beyond absurd, they have created a "class" that applies to sitting closer to the front of the plane even if it's a middle seat – yes a middle seat with no additional leg room.
Paying More for a So Called Better Seat -- What About Paying Less For A Lousy One? If the airline thinks that sitting in a middle seat closer to the front should cost more, what about charging less for the aisle seat right next to the toilet or galley?
Let’s be honest - these are lousy seats, from dealing with the foul smell from the bathroom to the noise and chaos around the bathroom from the door constantly opening and closing. If they’re so hell bent on charging more for a middle seat closer to the front with no added leg space, why not charge less for a crappy seat where you can’t sleep or get any work done or if you get stuck in the back?
Wifi: Seriously, $30 for a flight? For those of you have used the various services know, wifi is rarely reliable for the entire flight. I have had so many touch and go issues with GoGo that I've been too frustrated to write about it yet. The codes either don't work or when they do work, I'm connected but then thrown off 15 minutes or an hour later.
Meals: The worse thing about meals on airlines today isn't even the extra charges even though we never paid for food 20 years ago either. Most of the food is processed or junk food (chips, nuts, processed meat and cheese and candy bars) and they charge a lot of money for the privilege of eating packaged food infused with sucralose, high fructose corn syrup, sugar and too many other unmentionables not worth naming.
For those who eat healthy and eating healthy is an important and integral part of your life, eating on airplanes today is a non-starter unless you're in First Class or bring your own meal on board. Europe still “gets it” and hasn’t dropped to American airline food “flight” standards, at least not yet….
Drinks: Most airlines now charge more for a beer or glass of wine than at a pub or bar, even from an expensive city. And, the prices for the cheap labels they serve keep going up.
Baggage Fees: Fees, fees and more fees. Now of course, you can often get your first bag for free if you gladly hand $100 or more a year for the privilege of spending money on their credit card.
Inflight Entertainment: Now, not only do we have to pay to see movies, but we often have to pay for each movie. The same applies to television. I was on a recent flight whose airline name I’ll omit, and on the TV menu, I had to pay $4-6 per episode.
TV used to be free for unlimited viewing and you never had to pay for a movie or the fee for a cheap plastic headset. In some cases, you can buy a bundle deal for a longer flight, but it's not cheap, especially if you have fidgety children at your side.
Arguing with Airline Staff About Why X is Wrong or Some Hidden Fee: while we may have add to endure a frustrating moment when our flight was cancelled, delayed or we were re-routed, airlines used to sort it out and even apologize profusely for the inconvenience.
Even when it wasn’t a technical issue, you were sent to a nearby hotel and given a meal voucher – in other words, you felt understood and cared for, and that they felt sorry for the situation, which can sometimes result in missing a family reunion, an important birthday gathering, wedding, business meeting or worse. I chatted with about a dozen people on a recent flight who were over 35 but under 60 (it was a long delay) and I was disheartened by their countless horror airline stories.
Perhaps there should be an "Airline Stress Tax" that gets reimbursed to the flyer? The toxic stress you often endure from flying is significant and has a price and yet airlines don’t seem to put a value on it. Trust me, frequent flyers do and, they are, but sadly there are few options today if any that make flyers feel empowered as a customer.
As extreme as you might think my bullets are, I’m simply trying to prove a point. These insidious add-ons have become so commonplace that we forget how emotional taxing each and every one is and how the combination of all of them has moved us out of an era of great service, something America was once notorious for, and into an era which focuses solely on increasing corporate profits over customer joy. A couple of exceptions are worth noting, something that would have been a normal airline customer experience in the past.
Sometime in the last six months, I ended a business meeting early in New York and wanted to get back to the west coast early. The thought of enduring the “fee” process or even calling to find out how ridiculous the additional charge would be, I decided not to make the call because of the stress involved in doing so, so simply headed to the airport instead. An odd thing happened. I was interjected in the queue by an overly friendly Delta representative who asked what flight I was waiting to check in for and when I explained that I had hoped to get on an earlier flight but wasn’t optimistic for all the reasons outlined above, he opened up a closed gate which led me immediately to a private area.
When I reached the service agent, I was checked into the earlier flight (4 hours before my original one) without getting out my wallet. A new boarding pass printed out with an aisle seat (my preferred choice) very close to the front on the 1 pm. No fee or some saga story about "it's our policy, I don't make the rules." What happened? I pinched myself not believing it was real and that I had somehow been transported back in time to a more formidable time.
Getting home earlier that day transformed my week given the grueling schedule I had gone through the previous ten days. I remember a time when it was simply a standard protocol for how an airline took care of their customers, an era where we weren’t nickeled and dimed for every transaction and every move, an era where we felt as if we mattered and our repeat business mattered.
A similar situation happened with American Airlines a week later when my baggage was 5 pounds overweight and the gleeful service agent let it slide. I was stressed about it for two days before my flight knowing that my bag for that trip would be heavier than most since I was heading to Vermont to review a ski resort and the temperatures were slated to be in the teens.
Most of the time, my bag weighs in at between 35 and 42 pounds, so why shouldn’t that one trip with a slightly heavier bag slide? In the above two cases, both service reps decided to let "policy" slide which resulted in memorable airline moments and a more loyal customer.
Maybe the Delta rep saw how exhausted I was and maybe the American Airline ticket counter agent liked my smile or saw that I had just taken an American flight three days prior, OR maybe they are just rare individuals who don’t think of their roles as airline employees but as vehicles for customer happiness. (Note my current frequent flyer status on Delta is significantly higher than American)
There is a huge value to be placed on a happy customer, a loyal one who will not just come back again and again but sing their praises when they're not flying. Most airlines have lost sight of who and what they represent as a business. When brands have been around for awhile, they can become complacent. Look at how god awful United’s brand was for years and while avid travelers still complain about them, their image has somewhat improved, but only marginally so.
Most people know the story of Canadian musician David Carroll whose guitar was broken by United -- on YouTube as of writing this, his protest song has received nearly 15 million views.
As for soaring fees and service going down the drain, it appears that customers are powerless at changing the current status quo. The first shot in the war over bag fees came in May of 2008, when American Airlines announced it would be the first legacy carrier to impose a “first checked-bag” fee (Spirit and Allegiant had such a fee at least as early as 2007 from the research I've dug up).
According to a useful article on airline fees from Christopher Elliott (link below under useful resources), the North American airline industry collected an estimated $8.2 billion last year for just fees for items such as checked baggage, premium seat assignments and early boarding privileges — a $700 million increase from 2013.
Isn't it time that these rules got reversed?
A question to the airlines heads making these “fee” decisions at home base: do you want to be seen as a transportation company that gets a customer painfully from A to B or would you like to be in the “ultimate experience” business, creating memorable moments for your customers in the way that Zappos has done so successfully over the years? The airline who truly figures this out will transform the travel experience forever.
Useful Articles on Airline Fees
- How Refundable Are Airline Fees from Elliot.org: http://elliott.org/the-navigator/refundable-airline-fees-not-much/#more-35966
- Airline Fees Are Out of Control But Who Can Stop Them: http://elliott.org/blog/airline-fees-are-out-of-control-but-who-can-stop-them/
- Are Airline Fees Being Properly Disclosed? http://elliott.org/blog/are-airline-fees-being-fairly-disclosed/
- Are Airline Fees Anti-Family? http://elliott.org/blog/are-new-airline-fees-anti-family/
- Maybe we should stop calling them Airline Tickets: http://elliott.org/is-this-a-scam/maybe-we-should-stop-calling-them-airline-tickets/
- 2010: Spirit Airlines breaks a new bag barrier by imposing a carry on bag fee (something Rick Seaney predicted one of the airlines might do, nearly a year before it happened)
- 2008: In August, JetBlue announces it will charge $7 for a pillow and blanket (but you can keep them, like I really want 25 of these at home after a year's tally of flights)
- 2008: US Airways begins a highly criticized practice: charging for all drinks (including water, coffee, and soda)
- 2009: US Airways stops charging for all drinks (mainly because no other airline dared join them)
- 2009: Airlines began adding surcharges to tickets for “peak travel days” in September of ’09; originally this surcharge was imposed on the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods.
- A great article on airline fees across most airlines from AirFareWatchDog: http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/blog/3801087/airline-fee-chart.html
- Airline Fees Ultimate Guide (another great resource from SMARTER TRAVEL -- you can even download as a PDF): http://www.smartertravel.com/blogs/today-in-travel/airline-fees-the-ultimate-guide.html?id=2623262
June 03, 2015
What Can You Find Out About Yourself on Ancestry.com?
I've always been fascinated by ancestry for as long as I can remember, but probably moreso because as a child, I knew very little about my blood mother, who we used to all refer to as my "real" mother. In fact, story has it that she simply disappeared when I was around 2 and that little was known about her except that she was living in Florida and from French descent. I always probed - what do you mean by French descent? The response was always the same -- "her mother spoke French, her father was French, they lived in Canada for awhile, dunno."
So I was left wondering whether they were French Canadian or French European, but always thought the latter and later learned that her parents and grandparents were more old school French that I originally imagined and that on my father's side, my great grandmother who I knew personally until my teenage years when she died a ripe old age, had an ancestral past with the French Huguenots. No wonder I was so taken by the French Huguenot history and culture when I roamed through Europe like a bohemian nomad in my early twenties.
Photo credit: Reddit.com
Sometimes I wish that they had blogging tools (and the Internet for that matter) when I was that bohemian nomad, so many of those stories could have been captured online. The truth is that my travel was so bohemian, it may not have worked for a blog -- I crashed with people and camped more often than not and often did swaps of sorts to make my way around the world, doing everything and anything you can imagine for my "keep", from washing dishes, waiting on tables and smashing olives to selling art, milking cows, packing foam in a factory and picking greengages.
Through that entire era, I came across French Huguenot references several times without actually knowing it was part of my heritage. I've always believed that we're creatures of knowing more than unknowing and that we naturally tap into the source of what makes us purr or light up when we listen to our own body rhythms.
Then, and only then, will we synergistically migrate towards what we crave and inherently know, and life will flow like a well moving river, processing only major obstacles, not absorbing the small ones, the kind that hinder our progress in the world.
They also tend to be the ones that get in the way of what could so easily be our best days otherwise. Being connected to the earth and letting the earth guide us while listening to our body along the way (which includes our breath btw), is as close to the perfect way to live as it gets and connects us to our ancestry in ways we don't even realize in real-time.
That brings me to something I've thought a lot about, which is whether our heritage and ancestral roots are connected to what we naturally crave, whether that be people and places, or food, which I wrote about a few years ago.
In that article, I refer to my grandfather's typical lunch diet, which consisted of cold meats, pickles and onions. He loved sauerkraut and we made it in one of those old fashioned wooden machines my Uncle Ed had several times over the years.
Pate was also commonplace as were stews, homemade soups, and plenty of cheese. Some of this perfectly ties into my so called French Huguenot past and my suspicion that some of my family came from East Germany or at least somewhere in the former Eastern Bloc.
It turns out that as Jewish as my father's grandmother looked at the time, if French Huguenot was indeed part of her ancestry, even if only 50%, it's no wonder that she was so adamant about keeping Protestant alive in our family, creating more than just a mild disturbance when I was sent off to catholic school for a few years.
Historically, Huguenots were French Protestants inspired by the writings of John Calvin in the 1530's and they were mostly concentrated in the southern and central parts of France. A series of religious conflicts followed, known as the Wars of Religion, which resulted in something referred to as the Edict of Nantes which granted Huguenots substantial religious, political and military autonomy.
The fugitives depicted above are French Huguenots - Photo from FineArtAmerica.com
So, in all the countries I've explored, which now exceeds 85 if I recall at last count, it's no wonder I feel so comfortable in France, but as all Americans know, we're muts of sorts and rarely is our ancestry from one or even two countries if we travel far enough back in time. So, where else have I felt like I "belonged" in a country you ask?
Truth be told, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and parts of Eastern European culture all resonate with me at a level I can't quite understand at the oddest of times. Having some Irish and English heritage always made sense to me since my grandmother's parents on my father's side hailed from England.
As far as I could tell from the laborious stories over the years, they were "oh so particular," according to my grandfather and he'd always add "oh so English," whatever that meant to a man with likely French Huguenot and Eastern European roots.
Alas, when I ran into the founder of Ancestry.com in Dublin Ireland late last year and we started chatting about the roots of his business (pun definitely intended), I realized I had to find out my ancestral background. What surprised me the most when I got the results was the fact that English roots were extremely far down on the list when for so long, I assumed I was only one generation removed from being all things British and whatever comes with that label. I did, after all, feel pretty comfortable when I lived in England for all those years after college, even though it seemed to take a minimum of a year before I truly understood their wit, banter and subtle candor.
So if English heritage was so far down the food chain so to speak, what was at the top? Nearly 60% fell into France and parts of Germany, something that didn't surprise me. What DID surprise me is that nearly 20% of my make-up is Italian! Bravo I say except that my skin is far more nordic than it is Mediterranean although I tend to crave Italian food often. And, my first encounter with a Brunello stopped me in my tracks.
Screen grab blown up from Ancestry.com results and shown in miniature here The rest of my genetic make up was scattered, from Northwest Russia and Finland to Greece, England to Ireland. What about the American Indian who bore children with one of my great uncles I thought? I'm not quite sure where that would fall, but let's see where Ancestry.com does the breakout across the globe.
Courtesy of Ancestry.com
How does Ancestry.com determine your ethnicity estimates? They get the percentages and breakdown for your genetic ethnicity by comparing your DNA to the DNA of other people who are native to a region. The AncestryDNA reference panel contains 3,000 DNA samples from people in 26 global regions (above).
They build a reference panel from a larger reference collection of 4,245 DNA samples collected from people whose genealogy suggests they are native to one region. Each panel member’s genealogy is documented to determine whether they are indeed representative of people with a long history (hundreds of years) in that region.
Then, each DNA sample from a given region is tested and compared to all others to construct the AncestryDNA reference panel. In the end, 3,000 of 4,245 individuals are chosen for the Ancestry DNA reference panel and then then compare your DNA to the DNA in the reference panel to see which regions your DNA is most like.
When they calculate your estimate for each ethnicity region, they run 40 separate analyses and your genetic ethnicity estimates and likely ranges for these estimates come from these 40 analyses.
Courtesy of Ancestry.com
The process shows the average estimate as the given percent for each region and the general spread of the 40 estimates is shown as the probable range. Ancestry.com's analysis suggests that your actual ethnicity for this region lies somewhere in this range.
Courtesy of Ancestry.com
Going through the process is easy. You simply spit into a tube, send it off and wait for your results which you'll receive by email.
Once they arrive, you have an activation code they match with your DNA and voila, you're given your genetic breakdown via an online account you create at Ancestry.com.
What's more interesting however, is what you can then do with Ancestry.com as it doesn't stop with your sample. You can create a family tree on their site and as soon as you begin a tree, they automatically look through billions of historical records, photos, and other Ancestry trees for information about your family.
When they find something, a green leaf appears on your family tree. Another cool thing about the site is the ability to dig deeper through advanced filters and downloadable research guides. Because their community is growing, you can also get tips from other members and even from fourth and fifth cousins you never knew you had. A few of my matches below....
As more members join, the likelihood of more matches increase over time. If U.S.-based, you can get a US Discovery membership, which allows you to search their 8 billion records, and build, grow and share your family tree online, attaching photos and documents.
You can find distant relatives, connect with the world's largest online family history community, record video and audio stories of your family directly from your family tree and share access to your family history so your own family and friends can join and add to the data.
It's a cool process and definitely worth doing. I still have a boat load to do on the search side, so discovery for me is just beginning. Over time, perhaps I'll do an update with even more exciting insights and finds. More information can be found at www.ancestry.com.
April 29, 2015
Melding of Minds on the Future of Humanity Over an Arc Fusion Jeffersonian Dinner
Ever heard of a Jeffersonian dinner? I've been invited to one or two over the last few years, one of which was being held in Washington DC, where it was birthed in the 1800's by none other than Thomas Jefferson himself. Because of those invitations, I had some vague idea of what they were, but never actually participated in one until the Arc Fusion folks hosted one recently in San Francisco.
Photo credit: www.smithsonianmag.com
Rewind the clock to 1819 and visualize yourself at a long and decadently adorned table with Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, his elegant Virginia home. Around the table, you're seated with a group of people steeped deep in culture, philosophy, education, history, politics, art, literature, science and theology.
The idea behind a Jeffersonian Dinner is to bring people together from different disciplines, creating a new cause-centered community around a topic of importance or significance you might want to discuss for whatever reason. This can be done to tap into new resources, raise funds for a non profit or important issue, or simply to expand the group's thinking about a variety of topics.
It's important that it be somewhat intimate so 12-15 people at a table is a good size and I'd argue that while someone's home isn't a requirement, it makes it more personal -- a private dining room could also work.
The purpose of the Jeffersonian Dinner is to build a sense of community and partnership around a shared interest or theme. One of the rules is that everyone participates in a single conversation and are not encouraged to engage in one-on-one dialogues with their partners on either side.
Photo credit: blog.asana.com.
How fitting that the San Francisco Arc Dinner be held at the 1880's Payne Mansion on Sutter Street and also how intriguing that the topic at hand was not about the past, but about our fears and concerns for the future, say in 100 years.
David Ewing Duncan kicked off the event. A historian, author, journalist and also CEO of Arc Fusion, which celebrates the conversion of IT, healthcare and biotech, David decided to take us down memory lane before dinner.
Photo credit: Arc Fusion Website.
We went back to 1915 and recalled some of the provocative insights, inventions and historical moments of the time. Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis Complete Idiot's Guide to Beating Stress was out at the time (surprising I know), the first EKG was used in 1913 and OMG was first used in 1917 (yes really).
The industries David and his team at Arc are most interested in exploring are at the intersection of what is happening in health, IT and biotech. It's not hard to see why, with nearly $800 billion being spent on health and wellness and $1.1 trillion on IT services with $50 billion on Health IT alone.
He asked attendees before they came to the dinner whether they felt they'd be alive 100 years from now. 18% said yes whereas 82% voted no. In case you think that even 18% is insanely overly optimistic, remember that the audience is highly vested in technology and some are actually working on the most important research in the fields on longevity/aging, science, technology and medicine.
The same audience voted on what will be most important to humanity's fate in 100 years -- 40% voted for politics whereas it was no surprise to see technology lead that vote at 60%. As far as the impact on humans in the next 100 years, 36% felt it would be in gene editing and a whopping 70% went for stem cells. Pharma only came in at 11% which tied with health and wellness and bionics took last place at 9%.
Other things on people's minds included mood manipulation, synthetic biology, longevity tech, next generation deep learning and renewable energy.
James Canton asked the audience to imagine a future where embedded devices and technology automate the work, resolving issues that need to be addressed in our bodies. The truth is that nano and quantum technologies are expanding so rapidly that we are now in a game changing time for our health. Innovative ecosystems will start to do disease detection for us, hopefully before it turns into disease.
Drew Endy asserted that learning "how to" solve problems is the secret to sustaining life over the long haul. His deepest wishes include a future where biology will have distributed manufacturing and distributed systems and that humans will start to think of a world outside of themselves. Hear hear.
Casey Lynett addressed where we are going with Alzheimer's pointing to some important finds for this disheartening disease that seems to be soaring not reversing.
Artist and molecular biologist Una Ryan showed us her work, reminding us of the beauty inside our bodies through our cells, our protein and our blood. She refers to the image below as the Tree of Life since it contains everything that makes our bodies operate.
The food they served at the dinner was not surprisingly farm-to-table and organic. It was also very purposely selected based on a fascinating premise -- each ingredient was chosen to serve every vital organ of the body. Dishes ranged from salads and nori rolls to fresh fish and wine for the heart -- two thumbs up for the Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon that showed up on our table.
The most riveting part of the evening, at least for me since it touched on some of the most controversial conversations happening around healthcare today, was the fireside chat between venture capitalist and serial entrepreneur Vinod Khosla and renowned doctor Dean Ornish.
Both visionaries took the stage to share their take on the future of healthcare. Vinod formed Khosla Ventures to focus on both for-profit and social impact investments and as a big believer in the importance raw data can have the future of health, he invests in both healthcare and biotechnology.
Says Vinod, "almost nothing that is relevant in medicine today will be relevant in 20-30 years. Even though some of it may still be true, it will be too imprecise to be that useful so no one will use it." He asserts that medicine will be mostly science and data driven over the next 10-15 years.
He added, "we will have more research opportunities but we won't use them because we won't have the causality which is most important."
He also went on to say that we won't use doctors that much in the future to get a diagnosis and what we may pay more credence to is the doctor or (non-MD) who has the highest EQ not the highest IQ. Hear hear Vinod! I couldn't agree more. Bedside manner, using common sense and logic and listening between the lines to a patient is something that so many traditional doctors so sadly "don't get."
Dean takes a slightly different approach although they agreed more than disagreed. While he agrees that data gives us a lot of useful information we may not have had access to twenty years ago, if all we are is a set of algorithms, then humans can simply be replaced by an app. The reality says Dean is that we are so much more.
What I love about Dean's approach and always have ever since I first met him now over a decade ago, is that while he's far from a luddite, he tries to get people (and the industry) to look at the underlying cause of an issue. He believes that lifestyle and diet shifts are fundamental game changers, pivotal to reversing symptoms and in many cases, the disease itself.
He's interested in lifestyle medicine which is very low tech, but the power of low-tech interventions is very very real and something that techies sadly discount all too readily, focusing most of their time on connected devices, data and the Internet of Things.
Personally I lose sleep at night thinking about how so many brilliant scientific and medical minds can be so misguided, overlooking the raw fundamentals of what can keep us healthy and happy, holistically so.
Bottom line, we need to treat the underlying cause and also look at the mind, body and spirit, NOT just the body alone.
This integrated approach is what the techies and scientists keep missing and a sad reason why insurance companies put holistic care like acupuncture and body work, organic food, diet modifications and supplements last on the priority list.
It's the same broken record when it comes to addressing the disgusting impact that processed foods are having on Americans today. (Note: processed food ingestion is increasing globally of course, but the yanks still sadly take the cake when it comes to fast food and boxed processed ingredients as their go-to- diet). I digress but the whole thing sickens me so much that I can't help but vent at times like this.
Truth be told, as Dean took the provocative and controversial low-tech stance amidst so many tech-centered entrepreneurs in the room that night, I wanted to stand on my chair and boldly blurt out - "GO DEAN and oh btw, don't stop here!"
He is a big advocate of lifestyle and diet changes and given recent research findings, they're finding that the same lifestyle interventions that deter heart disease are the same ones that can keep prostrate and breast cancer at bay and even in some cases, Alzheimer's.
You can apparently see a positive and reversing effects to 500 genes over the course of 3 months through lifestyle changes. For most chronic diseases, which account for 86% of issues, we can reverse their onslaught through shifts in our lifestyle and diet.
Dean thinks that we'll see a future where the placebo effect will be more important not less. Why? Because, it works.
Vinod doesn't disagree with Dean although he wants to see data behind it, proving that it's real. In his view, the math is the math of networks, but agrees with Dean that diet is important and that symptoms are the wrong way to look at a disease.
Given that we live in an information age and are drowning in so much data we don't know what to do with it, I agree with Dean that while data may be important and there's no doubt having access to what our bodies are doing and why is useful, its only part of the equation. Plenty of people have data but even if you know that smoking cigarettes can kill you, if you're suffering from deep anxiety and depression, you're not going to quit smoking anytime soon.
Anxiety and depression are very real, particularly in the states. The stats are going up and pharma companies are making millions on drugs, some of which cover up the real issues that lay behind what is making them depressed in the first place.
Dean asserts that what is even more vital is the mantra I keep beating people over the head with every day: the more so called connected we are, the more disconnected we are....I mean physically and emotionally disconnected, not the fact that we can now communicate with people instantaneously on Facebook or Skype from our cell phones in real time.
What's really missing is the deeper sense of meaning you get from being physically and emotionally connected to others. There's no doubt that people need to rediscover inner peace, joy and purpose in their lives.
Bottom line, it's all about changing the raw materials we give to people and place as a priority. I'll end with this note and thought to reflect on: if we can take this "ground level" low-tech approach seriously by beginning with the things that provide deeper purpose and meaning, then we can really begin to accelerate healing. While data can continue to feed the bigger picture, if we don't get back to the fundamental basics of what feeds the soul, we'll remain a far cry from a truly sustainable solution to holistic health, happiness and well-being. A big high five to Dean Ornish!
For more information on Arc Fusion, check out their site at http://arcprograms.net/ where you'll also learn about their upcoming Arc Fusion Summit being held in southern California September 1-2, 2015. What David has created is a truly innovative, future thinking and leading-edge organization and he has managed to bring together some of the smartest minds to address what both plagues and interests us most today.
April 29, 2015 in America The Free, Conference Highlights, Events, Magic Sauce Media, On Health, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, Reflections, San Francisco, TravelingGeeks, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 20, 2015
Reflections on the East Coast West Coast Thing...
Preparing oneself mentally for leaving America's East Coast and its way of viewing the world is something I've done six times now, the first transition was to America's south, followed by Arizona and southern California and then, a few overseas stints where I lived in a variety of luxury, shacks and working class suburbs. In between, I hung my hat in villages, on a kibbutz, along the coast and amidst urban decay and sprawl.....I did it all.
Above, rural Virginia in all its glory, on a cold and brisk winter day.
Then, after many years doing what I was told in the Boston corporate world, I stored a three bedroom house in some warehouse in New Jersey and drove west in a silver Honda Accord named Hamilton with a kayak rack on its top. That was a decade ago. He's still with me btw and purring along.
Above, Boston's Charles River at dusk in the days when I lived there, not long before I moved west.
When you're born and bred in New England, East Coast roots are what you understand, what you know and connect to and the soil you want to touch when the tides are down, at least that's how it is for most people. I cried as I drove north on Route 128, for what I thought would be the last time, in a very long time. The car was packed, oozing with stuff I later would never need but couldn't part with at the time, and I looked like a young and modern version of a Beverly Hillbilly daughter, except with more miles under her belt.
I was bound for Canada since I was always one for choosing the path less taken and certainly zigzagging north and south over borders was one such way to do just that.
I could have taken Route 66 of course but I figured I had decades to tackle that one. Perhaps when I was old and gray and could whiz across in a slick purple aerodynamic RV just because I could?
En route, I was open to landing somewhere else other than San Francisco if another place spoke to me with more clarity, Portland and Seattle being on the top of my list, mainly for its access to some of the most beautiful mountains and scenery on America's west coast. My alternative route brought me into Canada, where I lost my radar detector during a police stop (who knew they were no no's in the Maple Leaf country?), before I then ventured south again through Wisconsin and Minnesota, both of which I loved.
It was summer, so fishing and camping were the order of the day, all of which I resonated with growing up in the Adirondack Mountains. (below a shot taken from this past fall of a trip through the Adirondacks - sunset at Caroga Lake).
I headed north again before making a central b-line through parts of Kansas, both Dakotas, Idaho and Montana. There I spent time in the land of the free where I discovered the solitude of America's western lands -- the nothingness of the plains where you could hear a pin drop and the air was quiet one minute and menacing the next. Ahhh yes, a decade ago.
I was younger then. I had visions of wearing a cowboy hat and boots with faded torn jean shorts and a stylish checked shirt that fit tightly but appropriately across my chest. Silver cuffs hung from my right wrist and a funky leather watch with an antiquated plate hung from my left. My visions included sitting at the counter of some $1 a coffee midwest diner with a girlfriend who was similarly dressed so we didn't look too out of place in a town we knew nothing about.
Later, we'd tackle some dive bar where Harley Davidson addicts would play pool around us while we drank $3 tequila shots and listened to Rock from our time on some worn out juke box. All of this, in a place where no one knew our names. Pure bliss.
I was alone for part of this trip and with random friends on other parts - they'd fly into a designated city and I'd pick them up until I dropped them off at an airport in a different state and continue on my journey. I learned oddball things about the country all the way across this big vast land.
I drank wine in Idaho by night and hiked by day, chowed down on hamburgers in small towns, tried local brew beer, picked blueberries, and wrote poetry with Craters of the Moon as my backdrop. I sat on haystacks in Wisconsin and laid my head among tall grass while one hung between my teeth as I looked up to a clear blue sky. I had a solo picnic behind a church steeple in a deserted ghost town that has barely changed a wink since it was first built in 1880.
I dreamed of a movie script I'd write one day as I laid my eyes on the magical never-ending Badlands for the first time.
I pissed on South Dakota soil, listened to youthful rock bands play in pubs till 2, tried karaoke against my better judgment, sampled whiskey during a bowling match in a place I can't remember the name of, and went bareback horseback riding in Washington State. I discovered Blodgett Oregon and sat in its library doing family research before landing in Portland where my first stop was the city's finest chocolate shop. Clearly, I had my priorities in tow on that trip.
This trip would surely be different. Not only was it winter this time around, but my perspective on life had changed after spending so many years on the untamed risk-taking west coast. That trip so many moons ago, felt more youthful somehow, but the fact that I was ten years younger was only part of the equation. The goal was to move states and to one about as far as I could go to from Massachusetts. As a crow flies, it was roughly 2,700 miles although I took so many detours, I probably added another 1,000 to the trip in the end.
Portland or Seattle didn't call loud enough and San Francisco was where I ultimately landed. Ahhh yes, a decade ago.
Over the past year and a half, I spent more time on the East Coast than not and my heritage and all of the memories that go with it, wrapped its way around me like a little girl's arms do to an adult leg during the shyest of moments. It wasn't a bad thing. It's not as if it called me back for good, but in all the most beautiful ways, my time there reminded me of the things I love about the Atlantic side of this Yankee land and just how different its people are from those I've been working and playing with for so many years of late.
Truth be told, I love the East Coast. I love the way people talk, their philosophical canter, their humor and wit, their directness, the way they look into your eyes rather than past them when they talk to you and their authentic honesty when you need it most. Some of you will disagree with the last one since New Englanders are known for being more discreet and conservative than West Coasters.
But, somehow I always managed to draw the truth out of my East Coast friends and when I needed raw honesty and perspective, I asked for it - hard and direct, the way we do in New York. And so, on a very cold but clear day in mid-January of this year, I set off on another drive across country to help another "life" move. We had a small apartment to clear out and despite its size, it still involved packing dozens of boxes and stacking a car full of more, not to mention loading up a large Yakima cargo box that sat on the top of a five year old gray Chevy Pontiac we named Vinny that was set to make the long journey.
Oddly enough, I felt somewhat melancholy about the departure, not unlike I did a decade ago even though my place was still on the west coast. There was something nostaglic about it and familiar - I had gone through this before and while last time, it was leaving a home behind, this time, it was leaving months of a different life behind, a life filled with diners who proudly served homemade chicken noodle and matzo ball soup, bagel and pizza shops on every corner and crisp cool evenings where we'd take late afternoon walks past the Long Island Sound.
The sunsets at times were even glorious. The below shot was taken in the Bronx, crossing the bridge to City Island at sunset this past fall.
Yet, it's a much harder life in New York, something I had forgotten since living in San Francisco for a myriad of reasons those who have left it behind, well know.
People tend to harder. There's always an edge. Traffic is busier. Prices are higher. The pace is faster. Houses are smaller. Jobs are more hectic. The demand is more intense. Schools are more crowded. Climate is harsher. Getting things done takes longer. And so on. But...it was a way of life I knew so well because it was part of my DNA - after all, I first learned how to walk on New York soil.
Nostalgic as it was, we were eager to drive towards warmer pastures, calmer waters, gentler voices....and skies where serenity is the order of the day. To a place where priorities are not about doing but about being. With that frame of mind, we made our way out of the Bronx after one final stop that had to be made -- Dunkin Donuts on Bruckner Boulevard. Sipping our piping hot coffees quietly, we made our way across the George Washington Bridge for the last time in our as unpretentious as they get Pontiac.
It was a bitter cold, but clear day. Snow, sleet or rain didn't get in our way and we missed a New York City blizzard by less than a week. 104.3 played on the radio in the background and we stirred gently as we made our way across the New Jersey border - moving in the car was a bit of a challenge given how packed it was and it wasn't until we hit Virginia that we were able to shuffle things around to make for more comfortable living quarters, for that is precisely what Vinny would become for the next month on the road.
We passed smokestacks in Newark, and made our way south to Pennsylvania taking in its like-winter skies along the way.
Covington Virginia too had smokestacks, a not-so-common sight in the industrial East Coast where manufacturing plants still thrive.
When we reached Maryland, we were greeted with yellow and soft peach skies set against bare winter trees.
West Virginia skies at dusk were similar, as were its trees and hills. Misty. Dreamy. Cold. Clear. Soft.
Through the car window en route.
The skies would get even more dramatic before night's end.
Our first stop was the Omni Homestead in Hot Springs Virginia and yes, it was rural and yes, it was surrounded by thermal hot springs, a perfect healing remedy after a long tiring drive from an urban sprawl. Read my extensive write-up on We Blog the World on the oh so traditional Omni property, the stunning wildlife and acreage surrounding it and the infamous Warm Springs Baths and Pools where Thomas Jefferson himself soaked to heal his aching body.
While still brisk in the evening, arriving in Virginia was a lovely reality check that the Bronx was no longer in our rear view mirror and the bitter cold New York winter was behind us. Alas, we hadn't seen a Dunkin Donuts since morning. Our drive from Virginia would mostly be rural. It was the first of many rural drives to come on our long journey through middle America.
The eastern part of the country with its wide open spaces and hills, would soon open up to glorious trees and peaks when we hit the edge of the renowned Shenandoah mountain range.
For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of greeting Virginia's stunning Shenandoah mountains, it spans 73 miles long across Virginia and West Virginia. The steep, narrow, sandstone-capped ridge extends from northern Bath County in Virginia to southern Hardy County in West Virginia.
The stretch serves as a haven for both family vacations and romantic getaways alike. There's plenty of hiking as you'd expect, but what you may not expect to find are vineyards, breweries and of course the nearby hot springs. The Blue Ridge Whiskey-Wine Loop is a self-guided tour of some of the loveliest vineyards in several counties in Virginia's central Valley. And, of course, the drive is breathtaking with plenty of views along Route 40 as well as numerous side roads you can take for a variation to the main road.
Reflections aside, we were well on our way to a month long journey that would forever transform our lives, as all trips of this nature tend to do. And, most importantly, we were ready. It was time and we couldn't wait to embrace the wide open road ahead of us.
This is the first post of many that covers our cross country trip -- while we crossed 15 states, our coverage can be found on the following We Blog the World state pages where we spent time: Virginia, Tennessee (Nashville, Memphis), Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico (Santa Fe) Arizona and California. The coverage will span from late March through June 2015. Also be sure to read our extensive write-up on Massachusetts from last summer which includes the North Coast, Boston and Cape Cod. Don't ask us for our favorite state because they were all truly magical and each place has its own known -- and unknown -- gems.
Photos: Renee Blodgett
February 27, 2015
Immerse Yourself in Wisdom, Compassion & Connection at TEDxBerkeley 2015
The sixth annual TEDxBerkeley, which will fill Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley CA tomorrow, February 28, will focus on Wisdom, Compassion and Connection. On stage in front of over 2,000 attendees, 57 speakers and performers will share riveting insights on these important and pivotal themes.
From Indian & Japanese Performers to Renowned Leaders, Professors & Apple’s Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, don't miss the Live Stream at www.tedxberkeley.org.
This year’s inspiring line-up aims to transform the way we think about ideas that can re-shape the world’s priorities in education, science, the environment, healthcare and beyond, all of which is center to the core of TED.
Apple co-founder and philanthropist Steve Wozniak will close this year’s sold out event. Those interested in hearing the 2015 speakers and performers can tune into the live stream at http://www.tedxberkeley.org starting at 10:00 am PST. The social media hashtag for the event is #TEDxBerkeley.
The complete line-up this year includes the following performers, thought leaders and visionaries, listed under the “theme” they will present.
UC Men’s Octet: UC Berkeley A Capella Group
Prasad Kaipa: CEO of Kaipa Group, Business and Leadership Coach
Adora Svitak: Activist for Feminism & Youth Causes
Marc Gopin: Director, Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution
Carolyn Gable: CEO and Founder, Expect a Miracle!
Eric Holt-Gimenez: Executive Director, Food First
Dan Garcia: UC Berkeley Computer Science Professor
Valerie Joi: Musical Minister
Cal Raijin Taiko: UC Berkeley Japanese Performance Drum Group
Suzanne Ackerman-Berman: Transformation Director, Pick-N-Pay, South Africa
Dr. Victoria Kisyombe: Innovator in Women Empowerment
Alison Meyer: Leadership Coach, UC Berkeley Assistant Professor
Mike Robbins: Life Coach & Author
Meera Shenoy: Founder, Youth4Jobs
Dan Viederman: CEO of Verite
New Orleans Manifesto: New Orleans Jazz Band
Cal Bhangra: UC Berkeley Punjabi Dance Group
Richmond Sarpong: UC Berkeley Chemistry Professor
Emily Levine: Producer and Comedian
Dr. Eric Rasmussen: CEO of Infinitum Humanitarian Systems
Viviana Guzman: Flutist who has performed in over 100 countries
Steve Wozniak: Apple Computer Co-Founder and Philanthropist
I am thrilled to be a co-curator again this year, together with co-curator R. Jennifer Barr and curator Erin Roberts. Also a huge hats off to platinum sponsor Fetzer Institute for helping us make the event more global than ever. Other sponsors include Food Should Taste Good, Positive Energy, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, 18 Rabbits, Victor Hugo Winery, OneSquigglyLine, Noah’s Bagels, Ben & Jerry’s, Livestream, Hootsuite and MailChimp.
January 12, 2015
CES 2015 Wrap Up: From 3D Printing & Connected Devices to 4K TVs & Infrared CamerasThere was no shortage of companies jumping on the "we must be connected to everything, or else.." trend that was central to most announcements coming out of this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week, an event that I've been going to for a couple of decades.
It was even the heart of Samsung's keynote address this year. At the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), the main building for CES's heftiest exhibitors, it was Samsung (not Apple) who stole the show with its ever so impressive 360 screens that circled around its booth, showing flashy and compelling videos of cars racing and more.
It was all about their 4K TVs, which are bendable, flat and curved although Samsung had plenty to offer in the mobile, audio and home automation space as well. Samsung JS9500 series is a new concept in UHD (4K technology), which they tout as eco-friendly. It uses nano-crystal technology and an intelligent SUHD re-mastering picture quality engine, which gives vast improvements in contrast, brightness, color reproduction, and detail.
People seemed to be raving about FLIR at my evening networking events, a new infrared camera that connects to smartphones at around a $250 price point. As crazy as this sounds, the camera can spot pets and animals in the dark, as well as detect cold air drafts and leaking pipes in walls. FLIR ONE translates thermal energy into dynamic color images for personal safety, home repairs, outdoor adventures, and even artistic expression.
The "all things connected world" seemed to proliferate the Sands Convention Center, located just off the strip a stone's throw from the Wynn Hotel, where I demoing and singing Kolibree's praises, the world's first connected electric toothbrush with truly interactive feedback, gamification and 3D motion sensors. The toothbrush tells you how you've brushed, where you've brushed and where you haven't.
We had a dentist on-site who is also an advisor to the company explaining why this is important and how knowing where you're not brushing well empowers you to brush better next time around. In the old world, you'd only get that feedback from your dentist once a year, a far cry from the world we live in today where nearly everything can be connected thanks to Bluetooth technology.
A bit like Fitbit for your teeth, who also had a massive presence on the show floor not far from we hung our hats for the week, Kolibree differs from other connected brushes on the market, thanks to its proprietary technology, in that it provides an interactive map telling you exactly where you've missed, as well as where you've over-brushed and under-brushed.
All that data can be kept private or shared with your dentist, which is the first time that the dental industry will have access to this kind of data, all of which can be incredibly useful for both dentists and users.
Kolibree has teamed up with Dentegra who also had a presence at CES this year -- the combined forces will offer incentives and discounts on dental care, as well as 25% off the Kolibree toothbrush through the new Dentegra Smile Club to be launched early this quarter.
While healthcare is an obvious win for the connected market (think measurement of your sugar levels in real time if you're diabetic, feedback on your sleeping patterns so you can rectify through diet, exercise and other things, heart monitoring and reminders to take drugs), there were a host of other connected devices trying to prove that they were truly useful too.
The truth is - some were and some were....well, not so much.
New connected devices on the market seem to come in all types and sizes -- from blingy necklaces that vibrate when your husband sends you a text and baby diapers that let you know when your kid has pooped to washing machines, interactive cameras and Raticator, a rodent detectors that notify you when it has caught a rodent -- yes really (see the rat trap, a rat trap that uses a wifi chip to alert you when it electrocutes the rat).
Connected devices can truly be useful but quite honestly, only when the connection is used to solve a problem we have or make our lives easier in ways that matter. I understand the value of connected watches within reason, but when I asked one vendor what the default was on the completely flat shiny silver faced watch, he told me it was how many steps I took and I'd only get the time after a second tap.
Huh? That's like telling me that my smartphone's default is digital games and a list of recommendations on restaurants before being able to make a call. I want a watch to first and foremost give me the time and my phone to first and foremost allow me to make calls.
When the watch becomes stylish and adorns me with a l'il luxury I might not have had otherwise, it gets a little more interesting however, at least for a woman. So far, all of these connected gadgets seem to be designed by men for men -- big, bulky, black, silver and red seems to be the order of the day.
The gold and sparkling diamonds of Burg's blingy smart watch drew me over to their booth. It works via a SIM card on an Android 4.4 operating system, and is activated. The price point for this stainless steel and Swarovski crystal device is between $500-600. They also offer a range of fun colored sportier watches that track your activities.
Swarovski also had their own presence on the show floor and while I'm not much of a bling girl, I loved the designs of their soon to be released smart watches, most of which come with accompanying narrow glittery bracelets.
Glitter, diamonds and also black, white and midnight blue. They were my favorites of the connected watches and jewelry and I can't wait to test them out when they hit the market.
Misfit is also working with Swarovski on a new line called Shine. The Shine Collection includes the Swarovski Shine Activity Tracking Crystal and accompanying accessories.
Additionally, I loved the latest watches from Guess at the show, touting rich colors and elegant design. You can get scrolling alerts across a Led screen or be alerted via a vibration and it uses voice commands to communicate with your cell phone.
The watch is water resistant, and comes in midnight blue (for men only -- a shame since it's my favorite one of all the options), brown and rose for men, white and black for women and white with a bit of bling. The watches use Martian technology, which I wrote about in mid-2014. The line, which supports both iPhone and Android, is slated for a September or October launch of this year and will retail for around $350.
One of my favorite companies making tracking watches is Withings -- they had me at "hello" last year when they showed off their Activite watch in a beautiful and elegant soft brown leather. We can't wait to test it out in the next few months.
This year, they were showcasing Activite Pop, a line of watches that is focused on the more adventurous. Pop comes in lots of fun colors and like their other watches, you have easy access to both the time and notification of your activity so you know where you stand throughout the day and can decide what your next move should be.
Also showing off fun jewelry was FashionTEQ. Their Zazzi bracelet offers an elegant and more discreet way for women to receive messages and reminders when you have your cell phone in your pocket or purse. Why would I even consider the geekier options designed by men for men when I could wear something that looked like this? I'd love to test it out in my daily life in the not too distant future.
Speaking of jewelry, the connected vendors weren't the only ones fed up with the fact that techy products don't cater to women enough. Meet GemPhones.
I fell in love with these elegant ear buds disguised as a functional but beautiful necklace you can wear around your neck. A dressier option is one that resembles pearls whereas the funkier hipper brown and black motif is a nice everyday option for the younger hipster and frankly, for a woman in her forties. I'm game and can't wait to test these out.
Another mobile accessory I discovered solves a real problem -- LOST ear buds. I don't know about you but I'm constantly misplacing them, leaving them in the wrong bag or getting them tangled when I need them most. Sound Pockets has come up with a way around that by creating a plastic pocket that attaches itself to the bottom of your cell phone case and they're available in lots of fun colors.
A perfect solution for the college student and for the forgetful and busy among us who need a handy way to keep track of them.
Also for the active enthusiast, meet the ever so cool Rocketskates. They had a massive booth in the center of the Sands, where you could watch demos of people using the skates or even try them out yourself, which I did of course.
Blissfully happy at the end of my try....they're a bit like a cross between a segway and rollerskates.
Below is a little video of my experience with them so you can get an idea of how they work.
3D printing was another hot trend at this year's show. In the Sands alone, it seemed like the aisles of vendors touting their latest 3D printing solutions was never going to end. At one point, I found it a little dizzying and frankly, confusing.
While in no way yet mainstream, 3D printing, despite its hefty price point, is now a feasible possibility in today's world. Take a look at some of the objects these vendors were showing off in their booths -- from fashion and leather cell phone cases to sailboats, toys, dolls, objects and even food.
I had an incredible experience inside the massive 3D Systems booth (note that the funky leather smartphone cases above were made from one of their machines). Sense is a portable 3D scanner that can capture objects (including people) at 10 by 10 feet and its claim in addition to high quality scanning is that its price is much more reasonable than its competitive counterparts.
Below is a shot of me holding the captured image of "me" after they scanned me on the show floor.
The Sense is the only 3D scanner to deliver precise instant physical photography, so everyone can capture his or her scanable moments. Sense has flexible scan size and can capture everything from a picture-perfect cupcake to a full-body selfie, processing data in seconds for an instantly 3D printable file. Sense comes with an intuitive user interface with easy and automated zoom, track, focus, crop, enhance and share tools. Below is a video of my experience.
The 2015 CES Innovation Awards had its own section at the show, where they highlighted companies making cool and leading edge products.
Most of the products were displayed behind glass cabinets so you see but not touch and the range of solutions were vast.
In the Connected Home area, I discovered Edyn Garden who has a solar-powered Edyn smart garden system that takes the guess work out of gardening with their Wi-Fi enabled Edyn Garden Sensor.
The sensor monitors environmental conditions to make smart recommendations about what to plant and when to fertilize. This unique sensor works alongside the Edyn Water Valve and Edyn app to provide automatic watering options that deliver water when, and only when, plants need it, helping to conserve water and other precious resources.
The Fitness Section, where Activity Meets Tech, was bustling and this year, it seems as if there are now countless FitBit-like solutions that take fitness tracking and feedback to an entirely new level.
Lighting has been making a lot of new advances lately for both larger enterprises and new solutions consumers can use in their home -- from improving efficiency to controlling your room's colors and mood. Meet ilumi whose vibrant booth ambiance drew me over to learn more.
You simply download the free ilumi App from the App Store or Google Play, screw in your ilumi lightbulb and turn them on. You can control and customize each individual ilumi or groups of them - you can also program an ilumi light or set of lights to sync with certain music to affect a room's mood, make them change colors or diffuse them in some rooms and not others.
It is all done through a simple-to-use mobile dashboard, allowing you to take control of your home or office's lighting in just a few swipes or clicks. I think the idea is great, loved the team and can't wait to put them to the test - we hope to review them in the coming months ahead.
The Digital Health section was exploding with solutions that ranged from sugar tracking as mentioned above and activity trackers to tools to rest the mind. Muse has an interesting approach to settling your over active mind and had an experiential chair set up so you could put it to the test. And, so I did....
I sat inside a comfy chair while the brain sensing headband was place around my head with the goal at putting my mind at ease. As eerie as this sound, the headband essentially reads your brainwaves read while giving you simple activities and games to reduce stress, strengthen your brain and help you relax via its EEG sensors, all of which are constantly detecting and measuring your brain activity.
Below is a video someone from their team shot as I went through the process on-site.
I found CES this year to be more interesting than last although I wished I had time to really explore the LVCC in depth. I was living and breathing the Kolibree toothbrush and Dentegra's Smile Club for the week so amidst the buzz of home automation, fitness, 3D, cameras, audio devices and TV sets, it was rewarding to see Kolibree shine at CES for its second year in a row.
Last year, we only had a prototype to show and this year, Kolibree could demo two new mobile apps and talk about the compelling collaboration with Dentegra to help make dental care more affordable. Kolibree could also tout that its most advanced connected toothbrush will by shipping by the end of January. From gadget press and mom bloggers to Associated Press TV, NBC News, and even Sears Television, the team demoed to the world.
Kudos to Kolibree's team in Paris for getting the toothbrush ready for this very important show and for market and to the Dentegra team for coming up with an innovative way for uninsured consumers to receive affordable dental care through its Smile Club. Alas, with another CES behind us, it's now time to transform how Americans view dental care.
Photo credits: Top photo by Duke Chung from venitism.blogspot.com, Raticator from epestsupply.com, Flir One photo from their website, Samsung photo from Samsung website. Dentegra Smile Club mobile screen shot from the Dentegra Smile Club.com website and second ilumi photo of the mobile app from justelementary.com. Videos and all other photos courtesy of Renee Blodgett.
January 12, 2015 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Conference Highlights, Events, Magic Sauce Media, On Health, On Innovation, On Mobile & Wireless, On Science, On Technology, TravelingGeeks, Videos, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
January 11, 2015
Kolibree Connected Electric Toothbrush at CES 2015, First of its Kind with 3D Motion Sensors & Interactive Feedback
Kolibree was in full force last week at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. It is the only connected electric toothbrush on the market that gives you real-time feedback using its 3D sensors (9 axis), and built in accelerometer, gyrometer and magnetometer. Kolibree’s proprietary technology knows whether you’ve effectively reached every zone of your mouth and statistically what areas you have missed.
Once you brush your teeth, feedback on how well you’ve brushed goes directly to your smartphone via Bluetooth and the data is stored in an individual profile – you can also store countless people’s brushing habits on one smartphone, making it motivating for the whole family.
The data can be kept private or shared with your dentist. “What’s great about the Kolibree toothbrush, for a dentist who focuses on children’s dental care, is that I can see how well they’re doing and can coach them on where to improve. For patients who have just had dental surgery, I can even recommend which vibration is the most effective one based on the condition of their mouth,” said Holly Hasegawa, DDS, MS, Co-Founder and Advisor of Kolibree. Below, Holly demos Kolibree to an eager-to-learn consumer.
The toothbrush has built in sophisticated sensors and spatial analysis which not only records where the brush is in your mouth but also understands how to collect and decipher that data so that it becomes truly useful for both users and dentists.
Pirates is the answer to the biggest challenge parents and dentists have – motivating their kids to brush for two minutes without getting bored. The game, which was developed using the open Kolibree SDK, rewards kids with coins when they brush correctly and spend enough time at each location of their mouth. After a series of brushings, parents and dentists have access to an interactive map showing the over and under brushed areas, data that can be used to help kids improve.
Kolibree Coach is a brushing app that tracks brushing movement and location and alerts you of your brushing accuracy in real time using a green or red halo, all while allowing your favorite music to play in the background. It makes the once boring two minute brushing time fun and engaging.
The app is the first of its kind to not only analyze the movement like many 3D motion sensors can but detect the location of the brush in your mouth. It can be customized by dentists who can coach their patients where to spend more time in neglected areas and program a lighter vibration after surgery...and, rewards are given for progress.
Kolibree also announced a collaboration with Dentegra Insurance Company, which focuses on providing affordable dental care for individuals and groups. Users who sign up for the Dentegra Smile Club have the opportunity to earn rewards and incentives for brushing properly. Once certain brushing milestones are met, users can earn points redeemable for a cleaning and checkup from a Dentegra network dentist. The Dentegra discount plan will not be an insurance program.
Kolibree also offers an open API for iPhone and Android, which means that developers now have access to the most advanced dental tracking device on the market. The SDK also offers access to the Kolibree dental professional platform linking dentists to patients and to the rewards system, which further enhances the brushing experience.
The Kolibree connected electric toothbrush will start shipping in the U.S. this month and in Europe later in Q1 2015 and is priced at $199 retail.
Those who sign up for the Dentegra Smile Club will receive a discount on the toothbrush and can receive discounts from Dentegra network dentists. The Dentegra Smile Club is slated for launch in San Francisco and Austin in Q1 2015. For more information, visit dentegrasmileclub.com.
The companies received some great media buzz at the show, including interviews with NBC News, Associated Press TV, New York 1, Sears Television, VentureBeat, Ubergizmo, Washington Times and a host of others.
Disclosure: I provide consulting services to both Kolibree and Dentegra. Photo credits: Pirates screen shot courtesy of Kolibree, Dentegra mobile shot courtesy of Dentegra and all other photos courtesy of Renee Blodgett.
Kolibree & Dentegra Announce Collaboration at CES 2015
Kolibree and Dentegra Insurance Company announced plans at this year's CES show in Las Vegas, to offer innovative Kolibree Connected Electric Toothbrush, dental discounts and rewards through new Dentegra Smile Club, slated to go live early this quarter.
Dentegra offers innovative and affordable dental insurance plans to individuals and groups in 38 states and is one of the nation’s leading stand-alone dental issuers on the public health exchanges of the Affordable Care Act. The new Dentegra dental discount plan will not be an insurance program, but rather a part of Dentegra’s new “Smile Club” connecting members to advances in dental health care, pricing transparency, reviews and discounts on dental products and services.
The Kolibree Connected Electric Toothbrush is the first of its kind that offers 3D sensors and real-time interactive feedback to users in an innovative way. The toothbrush includes a free mobile app that keeps people of all ages engaged and motivated to brush better and for longer. Basically, it registers both brushstrokes and location in toothbrushing. A fun way to connect to their phones and mobile devices while improving their brushing techniques, the Kolibree toothbrush will also allow parents to see how well their kids are brushing on a daily basis as well as store the entire family’s brushing behavior data on one smart phone. That data can be kept private or users can share that data with their dentist if they choose.
Dentegra’s collaboration with Kolibree will give consumers access to the connected electric toothbrush at a significant discount, complete with interactive games. The combination of real-time dental discounts from Dentegra with Kolibree’s real-time data on brushing behavior will empower users to take better care of their teeth while changing the traditional paradigm of how people think of dental care.
The announcement marks another step in Dentegra’s recent growth and expansion. Last year, Dentegra launched PPO dental insurance plans in 24 public health care exchanges, and this year won approval to enter another 14, with insurance products that give children and families affordable, no-nonsense, easy-to-understand access to dental care.
Dentegra is working to pilot “Dentegra Smile Club,” initially in San Francisco, CA, and Austin, TX, starting in Q1 2015.
The Dentegra dentist network - 22,000 strong across the nation and growing – will help Smile Club members obtain discounts on dental care including the cost of cleanings and a significant number of the most common dental care services.
Along with discounts on dental care, members will be able to purchase at a substantial discount the Kolibree Connected Electric Toothbrush, the first of its kind in the world with 3D motion sensors. Members who purchase and use the toothbrush can earn points redeemable for a cleaning and checkup from a Dentegra network dentist once certain milestones are met.
Rewards will be based upon information automatically collected by the Kolibree toothbrush. More details about the pilot discount plan and how it works will be available soon at www.dentegrasmileclub.com.
December 23, 2014
Nicoise & Liquid Nitrogen Cooking at the International Culinary Institute in New York
You don't even have to read this site that often to know that I'm a huge fan of French culture, art and food/wine.
We Blog the World has a ton of content on France in general and I've written about the food in Paris numerous times, the most recent being my trip this summer and fall (yes, I graced Paris with my presence twice this year -- be sure to read my write-up on Michelin star La Cuisine) and Normandy and Brittany in September. Also learn more about Calvados and the foodie scene from my trip. So, whenever there is an opportunity to go deeper into the world of French food, you don't need to twist my arm very hard to say yes. This month at the International Culinary Institute in New York City, Anthony and I attended a food event dedicated to southern French cooking, specifically Nice. What was so magical about it was how it started....in a fog of smoke you wonder? No, not quite, but in a fog of smoking cold and scary looking frozen air so to speak. Yup -- the very cool effect of cooking with liquid nitrogen.
Cooking with liquid nitrogen isn't new but it's certainly not common and you don't get the experience of eating a dish immediately after the process in too many places. Apparently as far back as the 1800's, ice cream was made with liquid nitrogen, but today, it's really only used by the more innovative and cutting-edge chefs. The mayor of Nice (pictured below) and the head of the Nice Tourism board flew over for the event, as did some of the best chefs in Nice.
Below, the head of Nice's tourism board gives liquid nitrogen a try :-)
As does one of the chefs....
The result? Well, it looks a bit like smoke comes out of your nostrils after you take a bite. Below, Anthony and I play around and experiment, after all....we were there to learn, cook and of course eat and liquid nitrogen was part of it.
You might be wondering by now, is liquid nitrogen safe? Apparently so, except for its extreme temperature. It will cause any metal it comes in contact with to become freezing cold, but wearing dry gloves is enough to protect your hands from creating a tongue stuck to the flagpole scenario. Oh joy! And, what about the next question that may be on your mind? WHY cook with liquid nitrogen?
Here is a link to a video showing a chef cooking with liquid nitrogen from 2008 at the Tang Restaurant in Dubai, the only restaurant of its kind in the Middle East that employs molecular gastronomy. And, here's one from the Molecular gastronomy school in Paris, where they taught students how to use liquid nitrogen to make cocktails, instant ice cream and smoky meringues in 2011.
You'll learn a bit more about the process there. Whether you consider it a novelty or more than a novelty, we had a blast with the experience as did our fellow chefs.
The liquid nitrogen experiment seemed to go on for quite sometime (below), which is another great thing about a French culinary experience....no one is ever in a hurry.
What was interesting was the fact that they prepared each dish two ways. Below is the non liquid nitrogen version of the Provencal Onion Tart, prepared by Chef David Faure.
Afterwards, it was time for our cooking class, which was all about pastry. We were given access to a variety of ingredients, showed how to cut the dough and sent to work. I rounded up ingredients from other teams of course since the chef encouraged it.....
The result was a plate of pastries that included a mishmash of berries, spices and chocolate.
Our team below.
All the teams actually fit into the International Culinary Institute's kitchen, the very same kitchen where you can take classes in culinary arts, pastry arts and international bread baking.
Additionally, they do Italian Culinary Experience and Spanish Studies programs, Sommelier Training, cake techniques and design, advanced chef training and entrepreneurship. They also offer unique farm-to-table courses, which include fun field trips in New York and California.
Its hard for yours truly to put her phone away and so I was in fact, Instagramming my foodie shots throughout the evening.
Then, when we were done with so called "class time", the Nice chefs got to work, which was remarkable to see. No doubt, they were having a blast on the other side of the Atlantic, where they had a unique opportunity to work together to prepare a delicious array of dishes for a hungry crowd.
The result? Traditional Niçoise fish soup from Chef Gilles Ballestra, Ratatouille Nicoise (fish and chips) with stewed vegetables thanks to Chef Jose Orsini, Beef braised in wine, vegetables, garlic and herbs of Provence from Chef Frederic Galland and Niçoise doughnut pastry with fried sorbet.
The main wine that was served with the dinner was a Cotes de Provence from Chateau La Gordonne.
Did we learn a lot? Bien sur, but we had a lot more fun than shall we say, studied....We left as happy campers and a cool French chef apron to boot.