January 16, 2016
Will VoLTE Eliminate VoIP in 2016?
Will VoLTE do away with VoIP in 2016? With major carriers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless in the United States now offering VoLTE services, will this voice technology become the new standard by 2016?
At the moment, many of us choose to use VoIP services, which seem on the surface to be quite similar to VoLTE. Both transmit voice calls using packetized data. However, there are some key differences to be aware of which leads some to believe that VoLTE is the superior technology. Here’s a look at these differences, and whether or not VoLTE will be able to overtake VoIP by the end of next year.
The Differences between VoLTE and VoIP Although VoLTE and VoIP may share common acronyms, they do work a bit differently. This also translates into differences in performance. If you’ve ever used an app like Google Voice, Skype, or WhatsApp, you already know how VoIP generally works. It allows you to make voice calls over an IP network, transmitting the voice data in packets. VoIP can be used over any sort of network, whether you’re connecting with 3G, 4G or local wireless.
VoLTE can only be used over a high-speed LTE network. It still breaks your call down into smaller data packets, but it offers a faster speed and does away with the need for a third-party app in order to function. In terms of performance, VoLTE can be clearer and more reliable, simply because it relies on that 4G connection. At their best, VoIP calls can be great.
Bear in mind that they do depend on the connection you’re using – as anyone who’s had a Skype session suddenly interrupted knows! Because VoLTE doesn’t use third-party apps, it also is less of a battery drain on your smartphone than a VoIP service like Skype. Predictions for 2016 At the moment, VoIP is still far more available than VoLTE because it can be used over any IP connection, whereas LTE still needs to be rolled out in many areas. Will this facet of the technology be reversed in 2016?
Some like to think so, while others see VoLTE as a real wild card. One big factor that could lead to it eventually overturning VoIP is the fact that VoLTE is more efficient for network operators like Nokia Networks and Verizon Wireless. This gives them added incentive to work on pushing it as a mainstream form of technology. '
In large markets like India, where dropped calls and poor reception are a major issue, there is a huge push at the moment to work on widespread 4G networks and VoLTE services. The Bottom Line As 4G becomes more ubiquitous worldwide throughout the next year, it’s likely that worldwide carriers will follow in the footsteps of operators who already provide VoLTE as a standard service. Whether or not 2016 will be the year that it breaks into the mainstream and overtakes VoIP remains to be seen, however.
There is still the challenge of creating a uniform experience for telco customers, so the service needs to be interchangeable between carriers for it become more widespread. Most of us are already quite comfortable using our VoIP services, but if VoLTE is built into new devices and contracts we may make the switch over time. This will most likely take place over the next few years rather than something that happens all at once in 2016, but at some point VoLTE will be the new standard in voice calling.
Contributed by Rachel MacDonald, Nokia Networks
November 26, 2015
Turn Back To The Land That Shaped You This Thanksgiving
Happy Thanksgiving! On the morning of another Turkey Day, I reflect on the things I am grateful for, and there are plenty despite it being a rocky year.
I salute this day to the people in my life who stood by me during the rocky and the joyous and to a place which shaped who I am today – the Adirondacks.
In a world where we look at miniature screens more than we talk to or perhaps even touch people or a tree, I think we all too often forget about the importance of nature – the land that originally fed Americans when they first landed in New England so many moons ago…..my and your ancestors. It was about Communion. Harvest. Sharing. Being Thankful. Joyous for making it to a New Land, a land which was so ripe for harvesting and planting, they did.
When I was a child, our nourishment still came from this land. In our home, we didn’t eat chemically modified food. I was lucky to be raised by my grandparents who held values from the turn of the last century, led by a misfit grandfather who showed me how to tend a garden and even more importantly why knowing how had so much value. Some of the things we grew in that garden we ate on the holidays. My grandmother canned everything, from jams and jellies to blueberries to make pies and tomatoes, which we used for sauce in the winter.
I challenge you to two things on this Thanksgiving day as we gear up for a month long holiday season of commercialism and even more technology being thrown our way as an important “must have” in our lives.
First, return to the land that raised you….the hood you call home and really look at the earth where you played, first learned how to ride a bike and perhaps where you first swam in a natural body of water such as a lake, pond or ocean. Be with it. Understand it. Feel it. Be grateful for it in a way you may never have. Teach your kids how to be with it and feel it.
Secondly, think about everything you put in your body and…your children’s bodies. If it’s modified and not natural, don’t do it. Really think twice about supporting a horribly “gone-wrong” food system in this country that can only change if everyone stands tall and says NO MORE to fructose corn syrup, GMOs and processed boxes of crap.
Eat healthy and wisely today and every day moving forward. Be thankful for the earth that raised you and the fact that you can make choices every day about how you treat people and what you eat.
If we don’t give time and energy to our land (and to how food is planted on our land), there may be a time where that choice is no longer ours!
November 09, 2015
Happy 50 Years to The Sound of Music
If you're over the age of 30, chances are you've not only heard of The Sound of Music, but likely grown up watching it with your family. While the birthplace of all it was in and around Salzburg Austria, oddly enough Austrians and Germans didn't grow up watching it nor did it create such a groundswell effect locally like it did in other countries.
In October, I was invited to Austria celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music, which was originally released in 1965, a pivotal year for so many cultural and historical events.
Truth be told, I figured the movie (and musical) was more of a phenomena in the U.S. given its picture perfect Hollywood movie style with Julie Andrews at the helm, however on the ground in Salzburg, I learned that it was a huge hit in places you'd least expect it to be, like Australia and China.
We watched The Sound of Music every year as a family for as long as I remember and no doubt, as a child, I watched it more than once some years.
As a little girl, who can't relate to the "You are Sixteen" scene? Here, Liesl and Rolf sing this "coming of age" song in the romantic Gazebo setting as she looks to him for guidance at the start of womanhood.
While some women may roll their eyes at a scene that depicts a teenage girl being so wooed by a boy that she is putting all hopes in the notion of him "taking care of her," suggesting that she can't figure it out on her own, there's an inherent and natural softness and innocence that is so beautifully portrayed in the scene and so many of us can resonate with it regardless of where we hail.
Perhaps reliving the scene as I did in Salzburg this year, holds the same romantic and tender memory as it did over 40 years ago because of the fact that traditional role models defined by sex are falling away. All we're left with when the definitions of who does what is gone is the purity of another human being you fall in love with, sitting across from you each day.
And, getting support from the other isn't an act of weakness, but an act of strength especially when polar opposite energies (masculine/feminine) play their part in the story we call life, even if its not quite the fairy tale life Hollywood is so known for projecting.
Below, I return to childhood in the original gazebo, which we visited at night -- one of the many original filming sites of The Sound of Music movie.
The lovely calling of romance and the innocence of childhood is so compelling in this scene, particularly given the context and that it happens on the heals of Hitler and political turbulence during a volatile time for Austria.
"A bell is no bell 'til you ring it, A song is no song 'til you sing it, And love in your heart Wasn’t put there to stay - Love isn’t love 'Til you give it away."
You'll no doubt recognize the shot above as another memorable scene from the movie -- Schloss Leopoldskron and the façade facing the lake which represented the von Trapp residence.
It was in this majestic and historical building where they held the official press conference celebrating 50 years.
Speakers included four actors who played the von Trapp children -- Debbie Turner as Marta, Duane Chase who played Kurt, Heather Menzies played Louisa, Nicholas Hammond who played Friedrich, Johannes von Trapp, the youngest son of the von Trapp family in real life who lives in Vermont today, Governor Wilfried Haslauer, Mayor Heinz Schaden and the head of Salzburg Tourism Bert Brugger.
They held court upstairs in the Schloss Leopoldskron Palace's library, which dates back to 1736 and its ever so encompassing architectural details only added to the historical impact the movie has had on the world. Inside, while broadcast media set up cameras to film the event, I couldn't help but to be drawn in by Kleber's stucco work on the ceilings which has been described as “the best example of rococo stucco the land can offer”.
Below is a short video of Johannes von Trapp addressing attendees at the official press conference.
Johannes von Trapp, now 76, was incredibly charming as he sat at the helm in an Austrian uniform, recounting his memories and sharing tales of his own life, noting what was similar to the movie and what differed. For example, his family didn't really climb over the hills and trek across the border, but took a train and nor did Maria and the Colonel marry at St. Stephen's Cathedral in nearby Mondsee, which was where the famous church scene was shot towards the end of the film.
Afterwards, we hung out with the actors in front of the lake, the very same one with the gold statues we all remember so well from the von Trapp estate scenes.
Below, I'm gloriously positioned in between Johannes von Trapp and Nicholas Hammond, who continues to act and lives in the states. I did ask Nicholas to dance at the gala later a few times, but he politely turned me down, offering a stateside rain check, something that would no doubt be fun to take him up on someday.
With Heather Menzies at the Kulisse Salzburg (Festive Halls) cocktail reception gala, which preceded the grand finale event they held on Saturday October 17, 2015 in the Felsenreitschule.
With Nicholas Hammond at the Kulisse Salzburg terrace bar, which boasted incredible views of historical Salzburg beyond and below.
If all of this isn't nostalgic enough, group shots in front of the glorious Salzburg poster at the evening VIP reception was sure to give any attendee a melancholy moment or two.
Below, together with the other American journalists who flew in to cover the event. In total, there were 50 of us from 12 different countries.
While not a household name in the states, Uwe Kroger (below) is a known performer in Salzburg and plays Captain von Trapp in the most recent musical performance.
On-Stage Performance Brings Me Back in Time
This intoxicating gala brought me back in time, reliving all of those memorable Sound of Music moments I had as a child. Producer Carl Philip von Maldeghem and directors Andreas Gergen and Peter Ewaldt were behind the event, as was the Mozarteum Orchestra. The Mozarteum Orchestra provided the music, while soloists and the choir of the Landestheater stood alongside the original actors from the 1965 film.
Listen to Edelweiss from the main stage...
Climb Every Mountain
And now for my favorite, Do-Re-Mi (the lighting is terrible in the video, but the sound is captured well considering the size of the hall)
Together with Uwe Kroger, German-Serban singer Milica Jovanovic played Maria von Trapp which she has been doing since the 2012/2013 season.
At the end of the performance, original actors joined the stage, including Johannes von Trapp and his family (below). And, together, we sang. If I were to say participating and watching this extravaganza was moving, it would be a grave understatement. Bravo!
The Hills Are Alive: The Salzburgerland Road to Memory Lane
The tour of Sound of Music sites is definitely worth doing and Salzburg Panorama Tours are the most notable ones doing it.
Film locations include Mirabell Palace and Gardens, where Maria and the children dance and sing Do-Re-Mi, the Observation Terrace on the Monchsbert, where they sing a verse of Do-Re-Mi, Residenz Square where Maria sings "I have confidence in me," Summer Riding School (Festival Hall), where Captain von Trapp sings Edelweiss before fleeing to America and St. Peter's Cemetery where the family hides behind the tombstones.
Then there was Leopoldskron Palace which was used as the von Trapp villa as noted above, Frohnburg Palace, which is used as the garden gate, courtyard and facade of their villa, Untersberg, which is the opening and fleeing scene, Hellbrunn, which houses the original gazebo, Anif Palace, which can be seen in the opening scene, Hohenwerfen Castle, which is the backdrop for Do-Re-Mi, Mondsee and Mondsee Church (pictured below), where Maria runs to the convent and marries the captain, and Fuschl -- St. Gilgen -- St. Wolfgang, which are aerial shots you see at the beginning of the move.
Below, granddaughter of Maria and Captain Von Trapp, Elisabeth Von Trapp, joined our bus as we were ready to depart for the official Sound of Music tour to sing for us. Born and raised in Vermont, she has been singing since childhood and her voice has apparently enthralled audiences from European cathedrals to Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center.
Below, you can catch a glimpse of it live -- be prepared to have your heart melt...
We hit all the sites, including those out of town, such as the charming town of Mondsee, a 30 or so minute drive from Salzburg. Below is St. Stephen's Cathedral where the wedding scene of Captain and Maria took place in the movie as noted above.
New Sound of Music Trail in Werfen
We were fortunate enough to visit the new Sound of Music Trail in Werfen, a day before it officially opened on October 18, 2015. Here, you see the stunning shooting location where the picnic scene with Julie Andrews was filmed, teaching the children to sing.
This area on the outskirts of Werfen is known as the Gschwandtanger. The Sound of Music Trail is 1.4 kilometers long, with 12 information stations along the way, many of which are interactive.
What's astonishing about these locations are not just the outstanding views (we were lucky to have a clear day when we reached the top), but the fact that it has been viewed via this famous movie by over one billion people from around the world.
Here, you also have an opportunity to discover the beauty of Salzburgerland's mountains and alpine pastures. There were children on-site also, which made for incredible photos against such a picturesque backdrop. Quite simply put, it was magical!
AHHH yes Salzburg, glorious Salzburg, thanks for the nostalgic moments and for allowing the rare opportunity to celebrate with the actors and producers who created a musical explosion that changed so many people's lives.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SOUND OF MUSIC!!!
October 29, 2015
Deepak Chopra & Rupert Spira on Motionless Consciousness
His solo talk explores consciousness, awareness and happiness. When we think of the word happiness, do we think of the word seeking? Or does true happiness come from no seeking at all -- it happens in the moment and when not labeled, it becomes pure joy.
Happiness is not at the end of seeking, its at the source of seeking. As the finite mind plunges, the consciousness mind shines. Says Deepak, "the Human Universe is the only universe that is rooted in consciousness.” In other words, I am the universe. Science is consciousness. God is consciousness, we are consciousness.
He asserts that the Quantum Universe has led to too many mathematical guessing games, all leading to the uncertain universe."
Below, a video I took on-site, he also explores the "awakening of bacterial consciousness." He refers to studies they've done that attribute a purposeful consciousness life to healing around many conditions including leaky gut syndrome.Other leading consciousness guru Rupert Spira (below) says, “the fulfillment of the longing is never at the #destiny of attention, its at the source of attention. Once we have clearly seen that, the happiness lives in the origin of desire.Relationship is a natural essence of love not as a bargain of love which is an impossible state.” Above, Rupert Spira who has a dialogue with Deepak (below for their dialogue via video coverage at the event). The below interview between Rupert Spira and Deepak Chopra requires you to think upside down (or not at all). I shot this at the SAND Conference last weekend (see my full coverage of the event here) which had these two consciousness gurus on stage in a fireside chat. Deepak talks about human suffering and identifying with the false self (aka the ego) and Rupert compares a Mac screen saver to deep sleep (yes really). In other words, consciousness doesn't go through any state; it's motionless. Enjoy being turned upside down!
September 17, 2015
The Magic of Mirror Lake's Reflections at Dawn
The loons are echoing in the background and I can hear their call much louder than I can on Caroga Lake’s waters for some reason, my old stomping ground.
I’m not sure if part of it is the fact that I’m a hundred feet higher than I normally am when the loons call to me or the fact that we’re further north in the Adirondacks – either way, as I sit here reflecting on Mirror Lake’s serenity and magic, the loons are part of it all and its a beautiful thing.
Small as it is, Mirror Lake is large enough to tire your arms as you paddle from one end to the other. The loons are in the middle and along the edge. Frogs too.
I never tire of lily pads and their slimy underpinnings that keep them connected to the lake’s murky black bottom. As I slide by them in my canoe, I hear nothing but the soft sound of the paddle jolting the still waters. I bring my paddle inside the canoe and then the real magic starts….I wait a moment or two and then....nothing but silence.
Silence gives more to humanity than almost anything else I know and yet so few of us have ever been shown the beauty that lies within its oh so solo echo chamber. Within that echo chamber is a kind of fearfulness; it’s about as tangible as it gets. When all the sound and clutter disappears, we are left with nothing but ourselves and that can be a frightening thing at times.
I bring my hand under the lily pad so I can scoop one up as I did as a child and in doing so, it brings a smile. It flops down onto the bottom of the canoe as I scoop up one more. As I do, I can’t help but notice that the sky is changing.
The sun isn't quite up yet but it is fighting to make its way through the mist, through the fog, through the clouds, through the murk of dusk before the sun finally breaks. As the minutes go by, the skylight changes, and as I look around, no one has yet joined me on this mysterious and blissful journey that brings in the tranquil Adirondack dawn.
Finally, the sun emerges as naturally as water flows down a river, falling into its rightful place at 6:25 am, and then to its new rightful place at 6:45 am, 7 am, 7:21 am and so on until the lake slowly but surely wakes up to a new day. Gratitude sweeps over my body for I realize there's simply nothing more perfect than this -- and, more importantly, no time and no other place I'd rather be.
On the other side of the lake, there's no color in the sky at all. Pure mist flows left to right evenly as I spot another couple on the lake paddling as quietly as I had been doing for the past hour. It's clear that morning has broken however and I think about what the afternoon will have in store.
Even when it's a clear day, the clouds are not as bouncy and fluffy as they are in America’s mid-west, the mountains are not as luminous as they are in the Rockies or as blue as they are in the Carolina's, but they are genuinely calm in that knowing sort of way that only natives truly appreciate and understand.
We all have a knowing of the soil that enriched our earliest days on this earth and for me, it was the Adirondacks. While my hood is further south than Mirror Lake and Lake Placid, which almost border each other, and were apparently even connected 5,000 years ago, I know them both as if there were my own native waters.
The lakes on the Adirondacks share so many of the same nuances, including the crunchiness of empty snail and clam shells below your feet as you walk in shallow waters, the endless lily pads, the glow that hits the lake as dusk approaches 7 pm on a late summer evening and of course, the magic of early morning dawn on the lake when you alone take her in and she you.
If you haven’t grown up on a lake or spent a significant amount of time on one, you may not realize that every voice echoes and you can hear conversations across the water. It was one of the ways we learned about our neighbor's lives and their neighbor's lives, just as we did on the Timberlane Blueberry Farm where our family picked cans of berries religiously every late August.
It is here where you learn not just about the community around you (your brethren) but nature’s wonders, which is what ultimately opens you up to life’s happiest moments. The key is to listen carefully and be present when the paddle is moving and more importantly to the silence when it’s not. And of course, the textures beneath that silence...
The dog’s fastidious bark.
The loon’s melodious call.
The eagle’s rustling nest.
The purring motor in the fisherman’s cove.
The child’s precious and innocent laugh.
The waves crashing upon shore after a boat passes.
The woman’s call to her loved ones as dinner is near.
The snore of the old woman who fell asleep in the chair across the way.
The hum in the background that becomes so familiar, we never question what is….
The little girl who asks ‘where’s Peter?’ curious about her brother’s whereabouts five minutes after he pokes fun of her for nothing at all.
The chatter of the boys at the fire with beers in their hands before the family arrives.
The sound of a soft splash as a small child jumps off a float nearby.
It’s the sound of pure Adirondacks but if you listen to what isn't being "played", you begin to experience the sound of silence for it is here where nature rules. Nature is honored. Nature is adorned. And, nature dictates the order of the day. It is a smooth order, like following the tune of a river and the direction it is naturally designed to flow. No fighting, no conflict, no friction…..just going. Just being. Just silence.
Then, a stirring. I was becoming aware that morning was emerging and faster than I wanted it to. The sky was beginning to grace us with her precious blues and the sun was shining upon the trees so their green could truly be seen as green.
Reflections on the lake remained as perfect as they were, but the mist had given way to a bright sun that would warm our bodies while we splashed and played on the lake for the day.
I turned the boat around, back to civilization, back to where camps, a couple of hotels and homes lie scattered around her edge.
Ducks, Adirondack chairs, canoes, the transition of trees, lily pads, loons echoing off in the distance and the soft sound of waves crashing upon the shore. Pure Adirondacks.
Dusk...another muted time of day worth observing - mist turns to a soft Victorian blue, but never luminous, always calming, at least to those who know these mountains and embrace these waters.
And, just when you think that the Adirondacks is all about pine trees and furs, you're blessed with the vibrancy of local summer flowers along the side of the road or in front of someone's camp and remember that nature is not just an integral part of her glory, it IS her glory!
Dear Mirror Lake, don't forget that you are an incredible part of an Adirondack treasure. In gratitude to the luscious days you gave us.
Be sure to read some of my other articles on the Adirondacks, including a loop we took last fall (Fall of 2014), a reflective piece on Caroga Lake, a trip to Lake George, the lure of an Adirondack summer, the heart of the Adirondacks (farmlands), the Adirondacks Trap Dike Hike, Timberlane Blueberry Farm, this year's Lake Placid to reference a few.
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