January 14, 2017
Lifestyle, Technology, Home & Health: My Top Picks from CES 2017Let's face it --- the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) which is held every year in Las Vegas, can be a dizzying experience. I've been going for about 25 years, almost always repping a product and sometimes more than one, from kids education software and the world's best speech recognition system in my younger days to a myriad of startup innovations ever since. I tend to find the product recaps predominantly male; in other words, most of the top picks tend to center around early adopter products and they tend to fall in the following categories: video, cars, audio, and big screen TV's. While these categories impact all of us, especially car technology, I tend to look at unique designs, products and services which also appeal to women and solutions that help travelers on the road, either be more productive, or have more fun. I've curated a list of 25 products in several categories and some of the factors that I looked at when making the cut include originality, innovation, design, and whether it is or can look at the bigger picture and solve a need beyond what it is doing today. I include wellness, because that matters to me a lot, so much so that we've expanded the Wellness category. In this piece, you'll find the following: Toyota's futuristic car that thinks for you, the easiest to learn electronic guitar you'll ever use, a smart suitcase cover, a smart bed, a personal connected wine bar, a companion robot, the world's smartest air purifier, a fashionable wrist wearable that pairs with headphones, vibrating jeans and swim suits that alert you when to apply more sunscreen, a stylish panoramic camera with 17 lenses, smart dumbbells, a smart skateboard, the world's first electric violin made from a 3D printer, a genetic measuring kit, a smart assistant, a Titanium folding bike, a wireless speaker with a wool covering to integrate with your living room, a wireless antenna so you can cut those ties to Comcast and others, intelligent thermal clothing, a device that helps women increase their readiness and interest in sex, an AI-based smart home hub, a voice operated kitchen assistant, a pocket flying camera that all travelers will love and smart aromatherapy to improve your well-being. I also shot some video of this year's CES, which runs around five minutes but it includes product shots and some on-site experiences, so be sure to tune in.
The Toyota Concept-iCars are always fun to see at CES since it allows you to get away from large TV screens, audio and video devices, and in this year's case, Virtual Reality and Connected Home promised life changing innovations everywhere. The new Toyota Concept-i is focused on utilitarian autonomous transport. This car is so futuristic looking that it may be hard to imagine driving, at least if you're a woman that is. It has scissor doors and edgy styling and while it's not available to purchase just yet, it is setting the bar for other manufacturers to meet in this category. Calty Design Research center have dreamed up a new concept of automotive UX for Toyota -- intelligent cars that continually learn, and, in turn, keep getting smarter. They idea was to build a brilliant car that gets to know you and your needs, and then starts to anticipate them for you. Yui, in tandem with Artificial Intelligence (AI), anticipates your needs and informs the car so that Concept-i can consider and execute that next action accordingly.
It may sound all too futuristic, right? The key is that you're still in charge of the car however, through biometric sensors throughout the car, Concept-i can detect what you're feeling. That information then gets analyzed by the car's AI after which, automated features kick in. If you're feeling sad, the AI will analyze your emotion, make a recommendation and if necessary, take over and drive you safely to your destination. Yes, really! One of these days, it would be great to test drive this sleek device -- in the meantime, she's beautiful to look at for those into modern and future design.
D-Vine Connect, Your Personal Connected Wine BarAt the Sands in Eureka Park, it seemed as if French startups were dominating the aisles. You couldn't turn around and not hear a French accent or French being spoke. Enter French start-up who apparently launched at last CES but came back with more innovation. Keurig for wine on steroids and beyond? Sort of. Their D-Vine Connect is a 10-Vins’ wine-centric appliance, which allows you to taste a whole lotta wine at home without having to head to a restaurant or a vineyard. Given that we're big foodies here at We Blog the World and have a whole section dedicated to Food/Wine and Restaurant Reviews, we love this innovation. Their product features an interactive built-in touchscreen, which allows you to get top notch information instantly, kinda like having your own sommelier in your own kitchen. Imagine having wine transform into even better wine immediately. In other words, it actually changes the QUALITY of the wine. Additionally, D-Vine Connect helps you pair wine as well. For example, say you'd like to grill a steak with a salad and string beans for dinner. Or alternatively, you're in the mood for a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon or a Chardonnay -- D-Vine Connect will deliver suggestions on dishes, food pairings and so on that will go best with your preferred wine for the evening. This can be incredibly useful when you have guests over or simply don't want to think about it. Given my background in Artificial Intelligence (AI), I was impressed by the AI integration. Yes, this machine learns your tastes over time, so it can even make recommendations to you in the future based on your preferences. Simple, easy and oh so wonderful for wine lovers like me. Bravo! We liked the user interface as well, which makes it easy for anyone to browse through a myriad of wines and learn in the process. It's great for discovery and for making meals that much better. We also love the fact that the D-Vine Connect sets the right temperature for each chosen wine. The machine decants it for you from a dispenser after you make a selection and approve, automatically. Their assistant plays movies with views of the vineyards and explanations from 10-Vins’ oenologist about the wine you’re tasting -- how cool is that? Apparently, it will also analyze data on wine consumption and share it with the wine industry. The D-Vine will be shipping later this year and apparently is planning to open a wine lounge bar in California before the end of the year - we hope that they let us know when they launch this so we can check it out.
Sleep Number 360 BedWhile we're talking lifestyle and home, we should also mention the Sleep Number 360 Bed, which was getting a bit of attention at the show. Imagine being tired after a long day and you're ready to head to bed, but before you do, the Sleep Number 360 automates a process that will keep you toasty warm before you dive under the sheets. Yes, really. The bed will heat up the foot of the bed, which is such a great feature for those who live in cold climates -- oh so lovely right? Photo: BusinessInsider What else is cool is that the bed also adjusts the actual angle as well as the firmness of the mattress as the user moves in his or her sleep, making it a more comfortable and relaxing sleep overall. For example, if you move from your back to your side, it will adjust accordingly. And, this feature will be a godsend for so many -- et hem, but can it work? I call it the Reduce Snoring Feature. In other words, if it senses you or your partner snoring, it will automatically adjust one of the individual headrests to make it stop. Wow, right? Could potentially save a lot of marriages. The bed also has a feature that will alert you to wake up, adjusting your alarm to your own preferences. The Sleep Number 360 smart bed uses SleepIQ technology and intelligent biometrics to sense everything you need so it can customize a sleep experience for you. Yup, the bed is kinda like a smart bed in that it knows how you're sleeping and comes with a mobile app so you can track it. In the morning, you’ll both learn how the Sleep Number 360 smart bed is adjusting to your individual comfort and the effects the bed has on your sleep quality through something they refer to as a SleepIQ score.
My Buddy RobotThis adorable robot is being pimped as the Companion Robot, a new innovation from San Francisco and Paris-based Blue Frog Robotics. My Buddy Robot has a number of fun and useful features that enhance your home, making it smarter I suppose one could say. On the edutainment side, you can participate in interactive games, math and language learning, which is great if you have kids of the right age. There's also a security component as well. You can use My Buddy to patrol, detect, alert and notify you remotely of any issues at home, including a potential burglar. It can also act as a smart baby monitor, another great family feature in a device that does look like a friendly 'companion.'
He's adorable right? On the smart home side, My Buddy can act as a hub and connector to IoT and home automation appliances -- think thermostat, smart TV, door locks, motorized curtains, lights, a HiFi station and more. You may not want to enable all of those features depending on your needs and interests, but from climate control to the kitchen, there are useful benefits. Imagine it also acting as a photographer, a concierge, a messenger of daily weather, news, recipes and more.
I also think the elder care piece of it is also a wonderful feature. For example, you can use the robot to detect any falls from an aging parent, and it can maintain social links as well as act as an agenda posology. Cool stuff and.....the design is incredible cute. See a few second video clip of him buzzing around in Vegas in early January.
Helix CuffThey were pitching the Helix Cuff as the world's first fashion wearable with smart wireless headphones -- on your wrist. Helix Cuff is the flagship product of Ashley Chloe, which caters to fashion-forward consumers who crave sleek digital wearables that are modern and elegant. Helix Cuff aims to bridge the gap between high fashion and functional form, they say. It comes in six fun colors and is paired with a smart app.
Magic Instruments Guitar
Spinali Design ClothingSpinali Design produces smart clothes which are designed to integrate with your smartphone with a goal of helping to fight the "burnout" factor in your life. French designed and owned, they manufacture smart clothes (they had their jeans and swim suits at CES) and smart accessories. Their "smart bikini" line Neviano, embeds a device that alerts you when to apply more sunscreen. Cool, right?
A range of 70 swimsuits numbered from 01 to 06 (from the most covering to the least covering), combine design, sensuality, innovation and technology. The Neviano UV Protect has "suntanning tips" and as noted above, a "sunscreen alert", which integrates the function "Valentine" which makes sure you apply more sunscreen when necessary. The Neviano UV Protect also manages the UV index, the Distance function and the Multisensor function.
Their vibrating jeans (yes, really -- and we hope to review them soon) comes with two vibrating sensors on the belt which is connected to your smartphone via Bluetooth. The geo-location feature allows you to make it easier to find your car or your meeting place. A feature called “Ping” will allow people to interact with their surroundings through a vibration that can be customized by duration, frequency and intensity. They tout this feature for those who want to discreetly attract someone’s attention, for people communicating in open offices, or for students. The system can also be programmed to inform you if you are running late. With its integrated push button, this smart clothing has a variety of uses, from security alerts, home support, geo-location of your children, isolated workers, and more.
The Hair Coach by KerastaseYou'd expect a hair coach product to come out of a French company wouldn't you? Powered by Withings, I had a chance to see the new hair coach at CES in early January. Totally personalized, they tout this as the world’s first smart hairbrush that empowers you to track and improve hair health over time. This product results from a collaboration between Kérastase, L’Oréal and Withings, which brings state of the art sensors and app connectivity to everyday products. The resulting innovation is a brush that syncs seamlessly to your smartphone to provide valuable insights that can help revolutionize the home beauty routine. I had a chance to chat with someone about their new innovation in their booth, so while the sound isn't great, my short video will give you an idea of the jist of it from a spokesperson at the show. You simply brush and the technology does the rest. For dry hair, you can follow hair elasticity to learn how to avoid dry hair and measure your cuticle damage to help ensure moisture retention. It also helps with breakage and the ability to optimize sebum distribution to avoid tangles. The smart app will measure all of this and provide insight into how to avoid damaging hair. I love this since this so called gesture analysis helps you understand and improve brushing habits. The handle is sleek and lightweight and boasts high density of professional-grade boar and nylon bristles and the brush seamlessly integrates with a mobile app. The brush detects when it is being used and begins data collection automatically. As soon as you complete your brushing session, all data will be sent automatically to your phone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. They tell me it should be available sometime in Q3 of this year.
STARO: Panoramic CameraI love the design of this very cool panoramic camera, STARO, not yet out and only shown as a prototype, at least that was my understanding. This 360 panoramic camera claims to have the highest resolution at 136 mp which avid travelers will love. It's also small,easy to pack and beautiful to look at as well. Of course, I only saw it at their booth so didn't have a chance to test it out though we'd love to sometime this year on a trip where we can catch the best drama of course. The stitching of photos is decent but may require software to make it all come together.
See a sample shot of the Great Wall below, where you can see that the camera was able to capture most of the highlight detail in the clouds, while also showing detail in the wall itself. As noted above, the camera has quite a few lenses -- 17 in total (multi-lense simultanous imaging), which makes shooting sports easy. All lenses can simultaneously photograph and stitch 17 photos into a single panoramic photo with 136 million pixels.
They also boast one touch shoots, all of which can be managed within the Staro mobile app. Three photos in different EV levels automatically do HDR-merge, which is what provides the higher dynamic range they tout as a notable feature. Auto 3D modeling makes scene roaming more fluent and smooth and it is compatible with computers/tablets/smartphones and VR equipment. They offer wifi synchronization as well which makes it easy for travelers on the road to post to social media and share with friends/family at home. Total weight is sweet at only .4 pounds.
This is a standalone device that can supplement other camera devices you may already be using, unlike the Insta360 Nano which I reviewed recently and included in both our Holiday Gift Guide as well as my top picks for 2016. The Insta360 Nano churns out a few different 360 effects and note that the below shot was a selfie I took from inside a balloon on my most recent trip to the Dominican Republic. Here's another shot taken on a boat from the same trip.
Helko's Smart DumbbellsSince we're huge fans of wellness and holistic lifestyles here, I was drawn to the smart dumbbells at the show, which bring games to fitness from Helko. It seems to be early days from these guys so I don't have a lot of details on the product itself, except that its goal is to combine universal fitness equipment with multi-functionality of a biotracker and gamepad. These dumbbells are most definitely futuristic in every way with a modern sleek design that is sure to attract women and hipster millennials. They weave games and entertainment together to motivate your workouts -- cool idea and I'm looking forward to hearing more as they get closer to shipping.
SPECTRA: Most Portable & Intelligent Personal Vehicle
While we're talking about transportation, let's visit something smaller but also elegantly looking. Enter the SPECTRA, the most portable and intelligent personal vehicle. Like the Segway, you need to be aware of your posture and stance but it has a lot of great features to help you along the way. Unlike the Segway, it's portable, electric and they say, you're up and running after only five or so minutes of learning.
While this may be a little male dominated (it seems to be a theme for my post, right?), I love what these guys are doing. As a kid, I was a big skateboarder, so this chic innovation really resonated with me. As someone who has always had good balance, the Segway was a natural for me the moment I stepped on one so the SPECTRA in a natural progression, only smaller and cheaper.
Its length is around 19.4 inches, its range can go 11.2 miles at a 12.5 mile (top speed) and it only weighs in at around 12 pounds -- there are heavier laptops than this if you get all of the bells and whistles. The device boasts a 2D posture sensing module which has a series of pressure sensors and an intelligent algorithm, meaning you can control it simply by shifting your weight. Even though I gravitated to it because I'm a former skateboarder, you don't need any skateboarding experience to be able to use it -- they're designing this for everyone.
With the same stable structure as a skateboard, SPECTRA is mechanically robust (they say) and adaptive to all kinds of commuting needs. With the dual-hubmotor design in the front, it has the ability to climb up a 20 degree ramp and recharge when decelerating or going down ramp (nice feature!!). It comes with an app, which has a speed mode selection, digital control keys, a battery status and odometer screen, lock mode and sharing economy feature and a path post and SNS. There's also flashing brake lights in both the front and the back and in addition to the brakes on the bub motors, SPECTRA has dual protection with its extra electromagnetic drums. The company is Walnutt Technology and they're planning to do a Kickstarter campaign this spring, with shipping planned for sometime in the late spring or early summer.
Varius, World's First Electronic Violin (from 3D Printing)
3D printing is growing in popularity and is becoming more known among the masses. There seems to be no shortage of new products that can be created from a 3D printer, but an instrument? If you're a serious music guru regardless of what instrument you play (or teach), you may have a hard time thinking that an instrument created through a printer can deliver the same quality of sound as a traditional one. This will largely be a personal opinion of course, but the bottom line is that a 3D printed violin is now possible. Varius claims they're first to market with a 3D printed concert electric violin. Have a listen to a very short video I shot on the CES show floor of someone actually playing it.
Printed as a single piece, the 3D Varius violin departs from traditional musical instrument production technology. This particularity ensures a perfect accuracy of the audio spectrum and a total respect of the musician’s emotion, they say. It was designed to facilitate the transition for all violinists from a classical violin to the 3Dvarius. Its dimensions can be customized and adapted to any morphology. The instrument was also designed to offer a maximal playing comfort as the weight distribution was optimized to re-create the comfort of a classical violin. Its sound sensors, located under each string, were carefully selected to accurately translate the sound frequencies.
Join the genetic movement if you haven't already. I love this stuff -- bottom line, the more you know about your personal temple, the more proactive you can be to take better care of it. A very cool genetic assessment kit by Orig2n measures a bunch of things, including food sensitivities, fitcode (exercise, recovery, endurance, etc), your skin and whether you have genes or not for super strength, speed or intelligence (yes, really!).
I actually did this test with their team on the show floor so am still waiting for my results and whether I'm a SUPER WOMAN or not. It's a simple and quick process that merely requires you to take a swap of the inside of your cheeks (left and right) and send it in. Genetic assessments can empower you with information about your body so you can make more informed decisions about your fitness, diet and skin health. The company behind this cool test is ORIG3N, which is involved in stem cell research and regenerative medicine and apparently has established the world's largest cell repository in the world - how cool is that?
Based in my former hood and stomping ground -- Boston -- these guys are at the forefront of genetic testing in ways that can directly help consumers. After I get my results back in a month or so, I'll post an update on my experience including using their app.
Lenovo's Alexa Smart AssistantTruth be told, I'm a Lenovo fan and no, I am not a Lenovo ambassador nor have they ever been a client. I've owned a few of their laptops over the years and long for one today after several years of glitches with my MacBook Pro. I don't want to hear it from Mac fan boys -- there are issues despite your love with the simplicity and beauty of a Mac's design and I don't just mean compatibility ones. The Lenovo at CES I'm referring to is not one of their latest laptops however but a speaker...something they refer to as the Alex Smart Assistant, which many in the press room compared to the Amazon Echo although it's a tad cheaper. They call it a smart speaker (of course it has to be smart given the trend at CES in the last couple of years) and it employs Amazon Alexa. The speaker is available in two models and a variety of colors. I cringed when I saw a male writer talk about how he gravitated toward the black edition, which apparently sports Harman Kardon speakers. If you read WBTW often enough, you know that I applaud vendors who think about women buyers and offer a variety of fun colors and I don't mean masculine red, orange and bright blue. Lenovo gives us choices in elegant soft colors - bravo!! I've yet to test them out and would love to review a set, so check back for more when we get our paws on a pair. The basic Lenovo Smart Assistant is priced at only around $129. The Amazon Echo has 7 microphones whereas the Alexa has 8so in addition to their beautiful design, the sound should be top notch as well. The more advanced version (aka the Harman Kardon edition) delivers even better audio apparently.
Seattle Cycles' Titanium Folding BikeThis beautiful prize isn't an option for those on a budget. Starting at around $10K, the gorgeous titanium folding bike on the CES show floor was a stunner. Seattle Cycles tout their latest as the worlds lightest e-bike -- it folds up, is airline 'legal at only 16 inches and weighs about 18 pounds.
Designed for taking on travels by plane, boat or train, the Burke 20 can be folded and packed into a 28"x22"x12" suitcase in one minute, without disassembly of wheels, handlebar or use of tools. Unfolded, the 20-inch wheels, wide gear range, and a full titanium frame with an extended cockpit give a fast and reassuring ride. It apparently 'fits' like a full-size bike, has adjustable seatpots and handlebars and will work well for any rider from 5' tall to 6'+. It has a leather saddle, foam grip and MKS pedals. They may be targeting men, but I love the design and let's just say, wish I had one in my garage.Photo credit: Seattle-Cycles.
Beoplay M5 SpeakerNot quite as attractive as the Alexa Smart Assistant, but a speaker that touts itself as a piece of furniture, the Beoplay M5 is a wireless connected speaker that can function as a standalone or be connected to other speakers across multiple rooms. It is covered in wool so I applaud them for getting away from ugly black and gray, and the material is soft, covering is soft and can integrate well into a living room. Photo: BeoPlay Beoplay's music systems and speakers feature the Bang & Olufsen Signature Sound, sound which they say is honest, clean and with passion. We haven't tested these out yet either, but hope to sometime this year, so stay tuned. All their products are made from premium crafted materials and offer a palette of colors and placement options to match your style and interior. (YAY -- thanks guys!) For technical geeks, you may want to know that it's actually Bang & Olufsen’s sub-brand which is a bit more affordable than some of their higher end solutions. To get your music music to the Beoplay M5, simply connect via Bluetooth, Chromecast, AirPlay, Spotify Connect, or Bang & Olufsen’s Beolink Multiroom. It seems like this is going head-to-head (so to speak) with the Sonos Play:5, however unlike the Sonos, you don't need a dedicated app. With the M5, you can play it all via a regular Bluetooth speaker. Many of us want the ability to have Spotify et al to deliver music directly and have a little more flexibility and freedom for how we use the device. The cost is around $599.
The Mohu AirWave Wireless AntennaLet's be honest, I HATE dealing with Comcast and am not alone. We've all been at dinner parties or networking events where there's a hate fest discussion over Comcast and it doesn't seem to be any easier to cut ties with them -- believe me, I tried. The last time I called to nuke my TV to bring my cost down and just use them for wifi access, it cost more, a way to keep you tethered to their God awful expensive plans. Also shown at CES, the Mohu AirWave wireless antenna can go anywhere in your house, and I have to admit, I love the fact that you can avoid those ugly wires which none of my engineer friends seem to mind. This flexible feature allows for optimal positioning, so you can access live, local broadcast channels onto your Fire TV, Apple TV, Android, iOS, Roku, and more. They tout this as the industry’s first-of-its-kind wireless over-the-air (OTA) and over-the-top (OTT) device that integrates live, local broadcast TV with free streaming channels across popular streaming devices as noted above. It is really dedicated to people like me who are looking for smart and creative ways to CUT THOSE CABLE CORDS for good. AirWave was built to give cord cutters open, simple and complete wireless access to the live TV and streaming content they enjoy, all in one place and with no monthly fees. Photo: Mohu AirWave wirelessly connects to the Mohu TV application (available for free across all compatible devices), so you can channel up and down through live broadcast content and free streaming content in a familiar, cable-like TV guide. You'll be able to view streaming video in a cable-like program guide, complete with program descriptions and select your favorite channels, while also being able to view up to 14 days of upcoming content. You can set up AirWave anywhere in a home where there is an Internet connection and the price point is sweet at only $149. (available this spring). Bravo!! We can't wait to test this out -- if it works, I'll be their loudest voice and biggest fan!
Sprimo, World's Smartest Air PurifierLet’s face it -- indoor Air Pollution is dangerous and climbing at alarming rates. Air pollution in general rise worldwide, killing more than 3.3 million and one study says it could double by 2050. Given that we spend nearly 90% of our time indoors (some research says more) and indoor air pollution is slated to be from 3 to 10 times worse than outdoor air pollution, it’s no wonder that that cases of Asthma and Allergies are climbing and at an all-time high. If you think that all the places where you or your kids spend time is at safe levels, think again. Studies show that 50% of America’s schools have problems linked to indoor air quality and an issue in 6 out of 10 homes worldwide. Purer air is said to improve kid’s productivity and results at school. Bottom line, what we breathe in day after day, can impact the quality of our sleep, energy levels and even life span. Enter Sprimo, the “go-to” product for people who want the best quality air in the personal spaces they work, play or sleep. Unlike traditional air purifiers that focus on large square footage areas to measure success, Sprimo is aimed at improving the quality of life through bursts of clear air instantly. Sprimo’s small, lightweight and nearly silent air purifier is smart and adapts based on people’s issues, from chemicals and dust to seasonal allergens. Anyone who suffers from allergies can benefit from Sprimo as well as those at higher risks, such as children and the aging. The purifier’s low entrainment air flow works as a shield to block contact by reducing the chance of you breathing an airborne virus by up to 60%. Sprimo’s new Personal Air Module (PAM) and cloud-based mobile app delivers real-time data on air quality via your smart phone so you can be alerted wherever you may be. Simply plug it into your iPhone and you’re good to go – you’ll be alerted whether you’re breathing in poor quality air or not. They'll be taking pre-orders starting in March and Sprimo will ship sometime in Q4. See a video of me at their booth - note that the steam you see was made possible by cold ice and merely for the purpose of seeing roughly how large the clean air blanket is around you when using Sprimo.
C-me Pocket Flying Cameras by Hobbico
Truth be told, I didn't have much time to learn about this product at all but I did SEE it briefly and loved the design as well as the fabulous four color options. I've been wanting to test out a drone for awhile now, however the combination of ugly designs, the price and the fact that they seem to cater mostly to men, has held me back. Top all of that with the need to get a certificate, a process of registration that albeit I'm told is easy, is still a barrier. They're also sizeable and I get the feeling there's more of a learning curve then I'm willing to commit to, at least now. And dang, they're noisy.
Travelers will likely be most interested in camera drones, which are typically ready-to-fly quadcopters that have stabilized cameras for shooting both video and stills. Drones with cameras can be used for a variety of things, including video production, search and rescue, agriculture and more. The simplest reason to use one is to simply see the world from above, which is an entirely different perspective than we normally get when we travel. I ran across a small and attractive one that seems to be a great fit for travelers called C-me, which they don't really call a drone, but a pocket flying camera -- they tout it as the smallest micro folding pocket flying camera to be precise. Those who think (like I do) that most drones are ugly, made for geeks and too bulky, take a look at this more consumer-oriented option that comes in fun colors and cloaked in a design that women will love.
Photo: Hobbico.It's small enough to fit in your pocket and provides one-touch instantaneous social media sharing of full HD images and videos including selfies - bravo! So, whether you’re taking high-flying selfies or full HD aerial images and videos of your trip to the Grand Canyon, Hobbico’s C-me makes selfies and video easy. It is the first micro folding drone that fits in your pocket, the first device of its kind with a Full HD 8MP digital camera, and the first to feature touch-of-a-button social media sharing to your favorite social channels. It’s also a snap to use – no previous flight experience necessary – as it comes with an innovative single-thumb control interface that can be mastered in only five minutes plus connectivity to the most popular IOS and Android smartphones via their free-to-download C-me app. When not in flight, the arms and propeller blades uniquely fold completely inside the body cavity for the ultimate protection against accidental snagging or catching that can cause damage or imperfection to the blades or arms resulting a less-than-perfect flight performance. A proprietary chip delivers many of the features of a commercial-grade drone for half the price of other camera drones. The device uses a Full HD 8MP digital camera with resolution equivalent to the iPhone 6 and self-generated WiFi, which all travelers will love. There's also a 360° option for panoramic video, a burst mode that captures up to 15 images sequentially with one touch and a feature which I love, a ten second delay timer, although I wish they offered longer options, i.e., 25 seconds and even up to a minute for those harder to take shots when you're on the road. Nature shots come to mind. And look at this fabulous C-me in PURPLE! Although we haven't tried it yet, they tout one-touch takeoff and landing, which for those who fear the drone learning curve, seems like a godsend. It's not quite available yet (dang) but a spokesperson tells me I may be able to get my paws on one sometime in March to review -- we can't wait! Photo: Hobbico.
Clim8: Intelligent Thermal ClothingThis is a B2B innovation -- in other words, it's not clothing you can go out and buy, but technology that will be built into clothing you already know, a bit like the Intel chip inside for clothing, but rather than speed, it's about warmth, or more accurately -- regulation. They don't think of themselves as a smart wearable but it absolutely is in that it's smart about regulating the temperature in your body. You can receive what they refer to as thermal consistency in order to maintain personalized comfort, no matter what the weather conditions or activities that you do. Their revolutionary (their word, not mine) textile process, integrates tiny sensors into the yarn, leading to optimal temps. Sensors in the garment monitor skin temperature and their app analyzes your surroundings, activities and skin temperature. From this process, heating zones embedded into the garment activate to adjust skin temperature and maintain thermal comfort. Cool, right? The garment then regulates heat exchanges by evaporation as it matches sweating zones on your body.
Fiera: Personal Care Device for WomenSo many online sites cater to the geek in all of us, but let's face it, most of the picks and reads are tailored to men. I read the round-ups and rarely do we find cool innovation picks that's about something a bit more obscure or, hmmm, controversial, like sex. Fiera, which they refer to as a Personal Care Device, is the first hands-free wearable product for women, which is designed to increase interest in and physical readiness for sex, naturally. Fiera is used before sex to help get her mind and body ready for a physical, mental and emotional connection with her partner. Given that the chief 'scientific officer is a woman, I decided to listen for a bit longer when I first heard the pitch at the Showstoppers media event.
WooHoo's Smart Home HubWooHoo is an Artificial Intelligence based Smart Home Hub & Cloud-based platform designed by SmartBeings. They were exhibiting at Showstoppers and at the Sands (Eureka Park), so in the early startup category. They say they're the first device with facial recognition, voice recognition, an Internet of Things (IoT) hub and a 7 inch touchscreen all in one. The world's easiest-to-use cloud based SmartHome software is also baked in, they say. Is it the easiest and most innovative? Hard to say since I only had a quick peak at it, but I like the promise. With a name like WooHoo, it's no surprise that they're Silicon Valley based, the home of some of the silliest names I've ever heard. That said, its easy to remember and I suppose....cute! Think of it as an Amazon Echo combined with a Nest Cam except that it also has a touchscreen. Its motion detection is a useful feature as well, meaning you can use it as a security cam for your home (cool) and you can make video calls on it as well, the connection being via Bluetooth, Z-Wave, Wifi, and more. The extra security comes from a number of ways, but some of it has to do with its smart ability to recognize both your voice and your face, as well as your own personal touch, i,e, customize it with your own commands that you use frequently. Photo: WooHoo Its early days, so it's not shipping yet, but I'll be curious to test it out when it is and not one of the earliest shipping ones either - I'd rather wait until any early version bugs are ironed out, but overall, it seems to be a really comprehensive solution with lots of bells and whistles for the price.
AromaCare, a Wellness Aromatherapy CompanionYou know we're huge fans of mind/body balance here at We Blog the World, so much so that we have an entire section dedicated to wellness, from general wellness travel to wellness stays and health-related products and services. I love Aromatherapy and am a huge believer of its value -- we even included essential oils in our holiday gift guidethis past year. Imagine a smart aromatherapy diffuser and a smart app that allows you to control smells through your smartphone. The AromaCare delivers you a blend of essential oils by a simple and calibrated way to improve your well-being and health. Photo: AromaTherapeutics Their connected diffuser creates a well-being bubble for 20 minutes, which they refer to as a “personal and natural care” session. The company behind it, Aroma Therapeutics, has developed six blends as ready-to-use essential oil capsules: Sleep to help improve falling asleep and improve sleep quality, Calm to destress and calm down, Tonic to stimulate the body and soul, Memory to improve concentration, Breath to liberate the lungs and Pollen which provides seasonal support. AromaCare also plans a White capsule for people wishing to use personalized treatments (by using their own essential oils), a feature that I personally love. It works with a mobile App which allows you to control sessions, get access to the consumption as well as coaching - Boost, Air or Zen - sessions over a one-month period in order to obtain longer lasting health benefits.
Hello EggWhat a name right? Hello Egg seems like it would be an assistant right? Maybe even one that belongs in the kitchen? This smart voice-operated kitchen assistant from a company called RnD64 (seriously??) has a number of useful features, including the ability to plan your weekly meals and order groceries for you. It will also provide easy-to-follow step-by-step recipes via video RnD64, whose name I'll never remember, unveiled it for the first time at this year's CES. Photo: RnD64 Think of it as a smart digital assistant that can automate your meals for you based on dietary preferences and needs and can also adjusts to unplanned surprises, such as a friend stopping by for a bite and you have very little in the fridge. Hello Egg can also overlook your kitchen pantry, orchestrates your shopping list priorities, and if you want, handles the delivery of your groceries, a godsend for so many single men I know. The device will also answer cooking-related questions and backs you up with 24/7 support of a real cooking experts team -- who couldn't use that? I know I could. Give or take, it will be priced around $350 and available sometime in Q2. My video recap of the show:
January 09, 2017
Improve Your Personal Air with Sprimo
Let’s face it -- indoor Air Pollution is dangerous and climbing at alarming rates. Air pollution in general rise worldwide, killing more than 3.3 million and one study says it could double by 2050. Given that we spend nearly 90% of our time indoors (some research says more) and indoor air pollution is slated to be from 3 to 10 times worse than outdoor air pollution, it’s no wonder that that cases of Asthma and Allergies are climbing and at an all-time high. In addition to seasonal allergens, many also suffer from dust and chemicals from cleaning products, paints and other residues at home, work and school.
Photo credit: Air Filters for Clean Air
Think Your Indoor Air is Safe? Think Again!
When we think of air pollution, we tend to think of outdoor air pollution and that we're safe inside where we spend most of our time. If you think that all the places where you OR your kids spend time is at safe levels, think again. Studies show that 50% of America’s schools have problems linked to indoor air quality and an issue in 6 out of 10 homes worldwide. Indoor air may contain lead from the old paints which have been connected to early brain development in children. Not only does research show that clean air helps people be more focused and efficient at work and can reduce sick leave time, but shows that purer air improves kid’s productivity and results at school as well. Bottom line, what we breathe in day after day, can impact the quality of our sleep, energy levels and even life span.
Photo credit: The Climate Chief Indoor air you breathe can be hazardous to your health without any telltale signs, so having a personal air purifier by your side can improve your health and your life. Enter Sprimo, the “go-to” product for people who want the best quality air in the personal spaces they work, play or sleep. Unlike traditional air purifiers that focus on large square footage areas to measure success, Sprimo is aimed at improving the quality of life through bursts of clear air instantly. Sprimo’s small, lightweight and nearly silent air purifier is smart and adapts based on people’s issues, from chemicals and dust to seasonal allergens.
Anyone who suffers from allergies can benefit from Sprimo as well as those at higher risks, such as children and the aging. Parents who want to ensure their children are breathing in fresh air while they sleep can place a Sprimo on their bedside table at night. Because Sprimo is light, easily portable and nearly silent, you can bring it to work to improve the quality of air you breathe at your desk every day. Its convenient size also makes it a godsend for travelers who can use it on the road at hotels, gyms, spas, cafes and more. The purifier’s low entrainment air flow works as a shield to block contact by reducing the chance of you breathing an airborne virus by up to 60%. With Sprimo, you can take charge of your health wherever you go. Sprimo’s new Personal Air Module (PAM) and cloud-based mobile app delivers real-time data on air quality via your smart phone so you can be alerted wherever you may be. Simply plug it into your iPhone and you’re good to go – you’ll be alerted whether you’re breathing in poor quality air or not.
Sprimo showed its latest at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this last week in the health and wellness section at Sand's Eureka Park. They will be kicking off a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in March where they'll be taking pre-orders. More information can be found at www.sprimo.com and via their social media channels @SprimoLabs where you can sign up for their newsletter and be alerted when product is available among other useful tips on improving your lifestyle through healthier air. Disclosure Note: I provide consulting to Sprimo Labs however all opinions expressed are my own.
May 10, 2016
uHoo, Most Advanced Indoor Air Quality Sensor Now Available for Pre-orders
When I was approached by a company that is trying to transform how we all think about the air we breathe, I was intrigued. After I learned that it wasn't an outdoor environmental play, but indoor air, I was even more intrigued. After all, how bad could indoor air be? It turns out, pretty bad.
After I did some of my own digging, I wanted to be involved. There are some alarming stats of why you should care and why what they're doing matters.
Meet uHoo, the most advanced indoor air quality on the market, which is now open for pre-orders over on IndieGoGo starting today.
More than any other product in the market, uHoo provides real-time alerts on unhealthy air, going deeper and broader than other products. What sets uHoo apart is its eight dedicated sensors, detecting Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Ozone, Air Pressure, Volatile Organic Compounds, which are found in paint and home cleaning products, Temperature, Dust and Humidity and all sensors are dedicated, which is not the case with most other solutions.
With concerns on indoor air quality at an all-time high and the fact that we spend nearly 90% of our time indoors (some studies say more), uHoo aims to transform people’s health by providing an affordable solution for asthma and allergy sufferers, for people with toddlers at home and for anyone who genuinely cares about their health.
Couple that with unhealthy indoor air being linked to cancer and heart disease, 6 in 10 homes being hazardous to their owner’s health and half (yup, that's 50%) of America’s schools having problems linked to indoor air quality, a product that detects the particles and chemicals we breathe in real-time can be transformative to our day-to-day lives.
What Don’t We Know?
Given the tragic news reports on poor air quality in schools and drinking water in Michigan, it’s more important than ever to be proactive and know whether you’re in a healthy environment before it’s too late. With uHoo, you can know first-hand what the quality of air is like in any room or building where you live or work. uHoo is only 3.3 inches in diameter, 6.2 inches high and weighs less than a pound, so it can easily sit unnoticed at home, in gyms, churches, spas, community centers, basements, your office or kid’s bedroom. The list is endless as to where uHoo can be used.
According to the American Lung Association, “it’s hard to know when air in your home needs cleaning; the indoor air you breathe can be hazardous to your health without any telltale signs.” In other words, we can’t manage what we don’t know or can’t measure. Their site includes other useful information worth checking out as well, like identifying what makes indoor air unhealthy and how pollution can hurt your body. They also have a useful list of what all of them are so you know exactly what could be in the air you breathe at home or work.
Revolutionary For Businesses Too
You can have multiple devices on one account, so you can monitor different locations around the clock. This is not just a great feature for businesses that are looking to ensure the quality of the air is healthy for employee’s optimal well-being and productivity, but can significantly reduce operating and health-related costs by knowing how to regulate the air more effectively.
Here's How It Works
Simply plug uHoo in to a power outlet and connect it to the WiFi network – uHoo does the rest. The quality of air is detected instantly and shows up on your smartphone via a free app (support for both iOS and Android).
All of this data is securely and safely stored in the cloud for easy access from anywhere in the world and can be shared with loved ones and/or health practitioners. The ability to share data and devices means that you can stay on top of other family member’s indoor air quality, such as an aging parent or grandparent, or your child when you are away. What else is cool is that it shows the history of your rooms over time. You'll also get notifications so you can track what's going on in real time.
Or, you can simply get a glimpse of your day, knowing which rooms performed well and which ones didn't. uHoo even recommends things you can do to improve your air depending on what the reading is. Imagine being able to track your kid's school remotely -- if the air is unhealthy, you can know about it right away. Same goes for your own home, office or wherever you spend a significant chunk of your time.
There's also a very cool Health Diary, which allows you to track how you're feeling and when. It will record symptoms or issues in the room you happen to be in, all of which correlates back to the data uHoo is picking up.
You can also see results in chart form, which will lay out the results by VOCs, ozone, temperature, humidity, CO2 and so on.
uHoo comes in two versions: Classic and Premium, the main difference being the number of dedicated sensors that the device will detect. The device comes with a power adapter, and a micro-USB cable.
Details on how to pre-order a uHoo from only $99 for a limited time can be found on https://www.indiegogo.com/at/uhooair. I love this - questions on any of it, let me know. Since I'm working the company, I already have a uHoo and absolutely love knowing when I'm breathing healthy air or not. This is particularly useful for travelers as well who stay in hotel rooms on a regular basis -- you might be surprised by the results, even from high end hotels.
They'll be shipping in Q4 of this year and availability is worldwide.
March 30, 2016
DENT 2016: From the Morality of Sex Robots & AI to Free Diving & Mental Health
Putting a dent in the future -- isn't that a compelling idea? And, what's even more compelling is that it means such different things to different people and why the eclectic DENT Conference in Sun Valley Idaho, is so unique.
From technologists, entrepreneurs and scientists, to artists, astronauts and Olympic Gold medalists, people gather around to hear radical new ideas, learn from the best of the best and share their best practices, all under the roof of the Sun Valley Inn, a stone's throw from Baldy Mountain and incredible skiing, even in the Spring. The brain child of Seattle-based Steve Broback and Jason Preston, DENT is now in its fourth year and my third year of attending, DENT's format is a mix of educational, interactive and thought provoking, with un-conference break-out sessions, fireside chats and general talks.
Since the backbone of the conference stems from the technology community, it seemed fitting that American futurist and author Amy Webb would speak. As the Founder of the Future Today Institute and an Adjunct Professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, she dabbles in a lot of projects. She asks us wryly: "What happens when we get what we say we want?" On the topic of Emerging Tech Trends and the hot button in Silicon Valley right now: Big Data, she addressed where and how that data will change how we think about the world and how we interact with it. What if an algorithm could predict our news? What if a news story could be written by an algorithm, using curated and scraped data that could get published? If you follow financial and sports news today, you may be surprised to learn that many of these stories are already being written by algorithms. Yet, it's not something we really think about and curation is already there in some industries. What if algorithms designed our real world experiences OR even more radical: what if algorithms could program our people?
Photo credit: www.goldenhourblog.com
I've been seeing this for the last few years -- curation is becoming more and more automated and we are moving towards hyper personalized news. Rather than reading a single news story, data that reaches our desktop or mobile device is becoming more personalized for you....all programmed by an algorithm.
The nugget of news will be personalized based on our own old data and online behavior which means that there’s an infinite number of possible stories that could be distributed. What if in the not too distant future, there will be editors but no journalists. Imagine that you will have your own personalized news feed that is pre-filtered based on your likes and preferences.
Yes, it's happening, but it begs the question: is that what we really want? Because there are so many possible places to get our news, the real value will be super customized and personalized. Sure, it will be content vetted, but isn't there an element of joy when we discover new things outside our comfort zones? If the vetted, curated big data funnel merely delivers me content on travel, photography and food because those are topics of interest I search about the most, will I ever learn about something new I might want to try, like martial arts or sky diving?
And, if I'm a democrat that searches more for Bernie Sanders talks than Ted Cruz, will the articles on Bernie be more favorable than the ones on Ted Cruz, and how does that algorithm decide what bias to let me see -- and more importantly, not see. What gets marshaled to the top and what gets moved to the third page of my search? Machines are learning from human behavior every day, including political views, our income brackets and the ugly biases of racism and homophobia. Truth be told, we are leaving bread crumbs everywhere, every single day. Perhaps in the future, we will PAY to be anonymous and that will be worth more than anything else. I couldn't agree more.
Amy reminds us that the future isn't something that happens to us passively -- – it is something that we are creating proactively and collectively. PATH's CEO Steve Davis addressed Malaria. What does Malaria have to do with technology and innovating the future you ask? A lot when you reflect on the fact that it's 2016 and with all of our advancement, Malaria still remains the number 3 killer in the world.
A child dies every two minutes, and 453,000 people die each year. How is that possible you wonder? It's not just that Malaria is a disease of poverty, but Malaria contributes to poverty.
If you're not familiar with PATH, they work on vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, service and system innovation and they partner with organizations to drive down these diseases that affect so many and so unfairly. With so many creative and bright minds in the room, Davis asked people to think about how to effectively design new issue and systems over the next 10-15 years around products, around operational management and logistics and around financing, all of which could accelerate the progress they make in Africa and beyond.
Currently, Malaria is not being solved by the private sector but he suggests that the real solution is a complex level of collaborations between private sector and governments and that cost and affordability is critical to solving this. Says Davis, "In regular technology innovation, we think about the cost later.
With Malaria, we need to think about the ultimate cost first and then design around that to get to that price, otherwise it won't work." They work in endemic conditions, where there’s not proper education systems and the environment is harsh which means that their work comes with enormous constraints. It should be no surprise that the health systems they work in, especially in Asia and Africa, are incredibly complicated from years of aid and development agency and colonialism mixed with new agencies pouring money into the system.
They are tracking index cases through droids and an app and using this model alone, they are attempting to check and treat every household to better figure out where people may have gotten infected. With a bunch of new data models, knowing where the reservoir is and where the mosquitoes are, is critical to their long term success.
They've been working with Tableau to see where transmission is coming from and to give the data back to the health workers in the front line. To make malaria history, they need to deploy resources faster than the disease can spread, so it's an aggressive but important mission. There's a huge sea change in global demographics. The faster we can get people in these countries to move into lower and middle working class, the faster we can eradicate diseases that are impacting so many.
DENT is a dazzling and mind-expanding experience where people join forces for various collaborative efforts to move the needle and dent the future.
This my friends is how community forms and how the magic and power of one mind + one mind = ten minds gets started. It happened in Silicon Valley and it happens around the world, including once a year in beautiful Sun Valley, where people with a genuine desire in helping good ideas grow and spread, all come together with overlapping interests and empathetic hearts. Those interested in additional photos, below is a collection of networking and after hour shots....
Greg Kisor, Renee Blodgett, Michael Grabham -- photo courtesy of Russell Sparkman
Kris Krug with Jason Nunnelley
Above, Matthew F. Reyes of GoPro and Scott Jordan of ScotteVest
Above, Jason Preston interviews Buick's Dan Kinney who leads User Experience for their Global Connected Customer Experience Group. See journalist Myriam Joire's video interview with Dan at DENT.
Speaking of Buick, how's this for stunning? T'was nice getting picked up from the airport in a gorgeous Regal, especially with backdrops like these.
Larry Brown plays magical tunes...
Marsha Collier, Phil Colley, Buick, Renee Blodgett
Simon Winthrop performs
Steve Broback, Co-Producer of DENT and Phil Colley of Buick's OnStar team
Renee Blodgett, Greg Kisor, Maryam Scoble
Food and wine is also an integral part of the event, so a great choice for foodies who also love tech and innovation...below are some shots taken at the delicious Vintage Restaurant, where Buick held a thought provoking dinner. See my write-up on two foodie gems in the heart of Ketchum.
There's also delicious dining at the Warfield Distillery & Brewery in the center of town...
And, a delicious spread at the home of Scott Jordan, CEO of ScotteVest
Did I mention that Sun Valley also has superb skiing, even in mid-March?
March 30, 2016 in America The Free, Conference Highlights, Events, Magic Sauce Media, On Innovation, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, Science, Travel, TravelingGeeks | Permalink | Comments (0)
March 07, 2016
Watermark Conference for Women Hits Bay Area on April 21
I love conferences and events solely dedicated to women, especially those where mentorship is part of the value-add, whether that be from listening to inspiring powerful women's talks throughout the course of the day or networking with women going through similar issues you might be facing at home or at work. I'm new to learning about the Watermark Conference for women in the Silicon Valley Bay Area and plan to attend this year. At last year event, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who's now in the race for the White House, delivered a keynote address to thousands of attendees.
Keynotes this year include Glamour's editor-in-chief Cindi Leive, TV personality, comedian and author Mindy Kaling, Sama and Laxmi founder Leila Janah, Soccer Superstar Abby Wambach and Entrepreneur John Jacobs. The conference has networking, professional development, inspirational panels and keynotes. More details can be found on their site, including speakers, sessions and bios on the keynotes: https://www.watermarkconferenceforwomen.org. This year's event will be held in San Jose on April 21, 2016.
Watermark offers Community & Connection, Info & Inspiration, Motivation & Momentum....so you can Discover What You Want & Achieve It!
The event brings together acclaimed women who share their wisdom and expertise on a wide range of personal and professional development topics, to help you find clarity on your goals and what you need to accomplish them.
Topics include managing your money, reinventing your career, dealing with change, how to market yourself and network effectively, how to help your community, finding funding for your business, managing your health, attitude and more.
The event is targeting non-profits, community leaders, entrepreneurs, self-employed women, job seekers, students, or frankly anyone looking for some motivation and inspiration.
They will also have an Exhibit Hall which will feature organizations showcasing a wide variety of products and services as well. What else is cool is that the conference advocates for the advancement of women in the workplace by offering regular leadership development programs and networking opportunities and promoting gender diversity and equality initiatives.
Watermark also supports girls’ leadership programs, as well, to help build a well-qualified workforce for the future. The Watermark Conference for Women is generously underwritten by presenting sponsor Juniper Networks and supported by the following sponsors: Cisco, EMC, Amazon, Gilead, Akamai, Johnson & Johnson, Mercer, riverbed, and Oracle. Media partners include: KFOG-FM, KGO 810 and NASH FM. You can follow them on Twitter @wtrmrk as well to join in an ongoing discussion.
January 25, 2016
Find X With Thought Leaders & Visionaries at TEDxBerkeley on Feb 6
From innovative surgery and extraterrestrial intelligence to reporting from war zones and Grammy-Award winning music, this year’s theme for TEDxBerkeley 2016 -- Finding X, which will be held at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley CA on February 6, will look to solutions to our world's imperfections. Sixteen riveting speakers will address how we identify these problems and make sense of them in the larger systems where they belong.
Whether it be voyaging into uncharted technological or scientific territory, reconciling our diverse perspectives of the human condition, or unearthing the parts of ourselves that give our lives direction and meaning, we all hope to make an impact on this world by Finding X.
Now in its 7th year, this prestigious TEDx event will bring together thought leaders, visionaries, innovators and 54 performers who will enlighten and inspire more than 2,000 attendees across core disciplines impacting the world, from medicine and education to technology and diversity.
TEDxBerkeley strives to curate an outstanding group of inventive and provocative speakers who can shift global conversations in a way that makes the world a better place, central and core to TED's mission. The goal is to get us all to re-think conventional ideas and the status quo so that we can all make a positive difference in our own communities. Tickets for TEDxBerkeley 2016 are on sale through Friday, February 5 or until they sell out.
Attendees or those viewing via Live Stream at http://www.tedxberkeley.org starting at 10 am PST/1 pm EST, can also participate in the conversation on social media by using #TEDxBerkeley on Twitter, Facebook and other popular social networks.
This year’s line-up includes:
- Christopher Ategeka: Award-Winning Social Entrepreneur & Nano-Technology Inventor that identifies early detection and monitoring of chronic diseases.
- Celli@Berkeley: a cellist quartet made up of undergraduate and graduate students united by the passion to express the uniquely rich possibilities of the cello.
- Kathy Calvin: As President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation, Kathy works to connect people, ideas, and resources to the United Nations to help solve global problems.
- Jacob Corn: Scientific Director of the Innovative Genomics Initiative & on faculty at UC Berkeley in the Molecular and Cell Biology Department, Jacob focuses on neurobiology, infectious disease, and oncology.
- Stephanie Freid: An International Conflicts Journalist, TV correspondent for CCTV (China) and Turkish TV International networks, Stephanie reports from some of the world’s toughest conflict and war zones.
- Rose Gelfand, Molly Gardner & Isa Ansari: this trio from Oakland School for the Arts Literary Arts Department, are performance artists who specialize in the spoken word and poetry on stage.
- Rob Hotchkiss: Grammy Award-winning Musician for the Best Rock Song for five-time nominated “Drops of Jupiter”, and was the musical force behind hits such as Meet Virginia, Free, I Am and Get To Me.
- Naveen Jain: An Entrepreneur & Philanthropist, Naveen is the founder of Moon Express, World Innovation Institute, inome, Talent Wise, Intelius, and InfoSpace.
- Jeromy Johnson: An EMF Expert, Jeromy is dedicated to mitigating the negative impacts of Electromagnetic Field (EMF) exposure, helping to implement solutions that reduce and eliminate EMF pollution around the globe.
- Reverend Deborah L. Johnson: Minister, Author & Diversity Expert, Deborah teaches practical applications of Universal Spiritual Principles and is founder of The Motivational Institute, which specializes in diversity.
- Aran Khanna: As Computer Scientist & Security Researcher on personal privacy, he builds tools that empower users to discover the consequences of the digital footprint they’re leaving.
- John Koenig: Creator & Author of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, which fills gaps in language with new terms for emotions, some of which (‘sonder’) have entered the language outright.
- Ellen Leanse: As Apple’s first User Evangelist, she brought Apple online in 1985 and has since helped more than 40 companies and policy makers increase their innovation and impact.
- Susan Lim: As Surgeon and Entrepreneur, Susan broke through the gender glass ceiling in transplantation surgery by becoming the first in Asia, and the second woman in the world to have performed a successful liver transplant.
- OSA Chamber Choir: the largest audition-only high school Vocal ensemble at the Oakland School for the Arts, this ensemble has performed for Governor Jerry Brown’s inauguration, Obama’s campaign tour and many other notable events.
- Sonia Rao: A BMI Spotlight artist, Sonia is a singer and songwriter whose latest album Meet Them At the Door is a collection of heart-felt pop songs that showcase her piano skills and soulful voice.
- Amandine Roche: A Human Rights Expert, Amandine’s focus is on civic education, democratization, gender and youth empowerment.
- Sriram Shamasunder: Sriram aims to deliver comprehensive healthcare in resource poor areas of the world through his work at UCSF and as co-founder of the HEAL initiative.
- Andrew Siemon: Andrew is an Astrophysicist, Director of the UC Berkeley Center for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Research & lead scientist for the “Breakthrough Listen Initiative”, a $100 million effort that is conducting one of the most sensitive searches for advanced extraterrestrial life in history.
- Joshua Toch: After being bullied because of Cerebral Palsy, Joshua founded Mind Before Mouth, which equips students to better deal with social aspects of life and get through times of hardship.
- UC Berkeley Azaad: UCB Azaad is a competitive Hindi Film Dance team which motivates audiences to connect with Bollywood culture.
This year’s partners include Repertoire Productions, Vÿykn Water, Zola, Peet’s Coffee, Fast Imaging, 18 Rabbits, Larabar, Victor Hugo Winery and EthiCal.
I am proud to be a co-curator again this year, joining Chris Lew as TEDxBerkeley’s 2016 curator and co-curator R. Jennifer Barr together with an incredible team behind us, including Leilani Gutierrez-Palominos, Max Wolffe, Melody Jung, Aaron Chelliah, Mehdi Kazi, Sean Kelly, Krupa Modi, Aashna Patel, Andrew Veenstra, Alvin Wan and Joe West.
January 25, 2016 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Conference Highlights, Entertainment/Media, Events, Magic Sauce Media, On Education, On Technology, San Francisco, TravelingGeeks, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0)
January 17, 2016
New York Times Travel Show Round-Up, Much More Fun Than CES!
I missed last year's New York Times Travel Show since we were about to embark on a 5 week long journey cross country -- our hashtag for the tour was #WBTWxAmerica for those interested in seeing photos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We left New York the week before the event, and only a day before the city got hit with a snowstorm.
This year, we were proud media partners of the event since it remains one of my favorite travel shows in the industry. I love the fact that the show is a great mix of trade and consumer content and brings together some of my favorite destinations in the world all under one roof.
Despite the fact that is an American East Coast event, countries as far away as Taiwan and Japan showed up, there were wellness offerings from gems like Tahiti, St. Lucia and Bali, plenty of South American representation, and it took me nearly a day to make my way through the Africa aisle alone. From learning cool facts about specific destinations and exploring the latest from African safari tour companies, which we'll be expanding in 2016, I could have easily spent a full day in discovery mode.
Below, Arthur Frommer, from the infamous Frommer's Guides, opened the official consumer day of the event, which included a formal ribbon cutting at the entrance on Saturday morning, January 9. Some of my personal highlights are outlined below - as always, questions or comments, leave them in the comment section or feel free to tweet or email me @weblogtheworld.
I was thrilled to see my pals from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia on-site; we went on a press trip with them a few years back and loved it -- see my coverage of Estonia and Lithuania. They also served scrumptious cheese from the region which I dared not say no to -- food is such an integral part of travel for me, that I can't separate the two. Speaking of food, Dubrovnik is having a Good Food Festival from October 20-23, 2016, where you'll get dinner with a famous chef, taste traditional and not so traditional dishes, take part in gastro tours, entertainment and live musical performances and have an opportunity to attend workshops and presentations. More details at www.tzdubrovnik.hr.
Croatia was promoting Wellness Travel among other things, which was exciting for us since we are not only expanding our Wellness coverage significantly in 2016, but it's a personal passion of mine and has been for years. Be sure to read my Wellness Travel Round-up of the show, which is going live next week.
I also got enticed by some of Adriatic's tours, which does land tours to Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Albania and Macedonia and charter cruises of the area. They specialize in excursions to Croatia and the Balkins, including island hopping, which had me at "hello." Niche Touring offers fully guided travel for small groups, which makes for a much more intimate setting, something we applaud.
They too focus on Croatia, but to off-the-beaten-path hidden places often not found on a typical tourist itinerary. Their tours emphasize the history, local food, and culture of each region, shared by the Croatian people you meet along the way. We're keen on reviewing one of their tours as I was impressed by their big heart and personalized approach to tours of the area, which include both water and land experiences.
I didn't have time to visit the Hungary or Czech Republic booths, although I have been in recent years and they remain on my fabulous destination list, so if you haven't been, be sure to read our coverage (Hungary and Prague specifically). Our content on Russia isn't deep but it's worth a meander as the content is full of rich photographs and history. And, my last trip to Berlin Germany this past year included more time in East Berlin than West, so be sure to read through our coverage over the past year.
I've lived in Europe, traveled through the continent extensively and have had long stints in Amsterdam, Corfu, Innsbruck and London, where I studied for many years. In fact, I've been to every country except for Norway which is very much calling to me -- seeing new images of northern fjords makes it hard to resist. If you're eager to see what I'm referring to, there's no better place to start than Instagram - do a search for #Norway and you'll be blown away.
This past year, I went to Germany and Austria, so be sure to browse through my articles of Berlin, Vienna and Salzburg, including a fabulous one on Salzburg's 50th Anniversary of the Sound of Music and the previous fall, I went to Normandy and Brittany, where I took so many enticing photos, you'll be booking your flight to France tomorrow. High on my "return list" over the next two years are Greece, Italy, Switzerland and Spain. Who knows -- maybe one will even be a winter trip. It was great running into Michael Gigl from the Austrian Tourism Board aka @AustriaTravel at the show.
I didn't spend time with destinations at the show because of my strong familiarity of the countries, however I did talk to a few tour companies and river cruise companies who are offering some interesting itineraries in Europe today. I'm far from a cruise expert although hope to experience a few of the higher end cruise lines so we can do a unique comparison based on "physical/experiential", "fine touches" and "wellness" in 2016 and 2017.
On my hot list right now are RIVER CRUISES. Watch for more from us in that area as we begin to explore what some of the leaders in river cruising are doing in Europe and Asia. For example, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises operate a fleet of 21 river cruising cruise ships along the rivers of Europe, Russia, Egypt, and China.
All inclusive Scenic offers unlimited drinks and butler service for guests and Viking River Cruises apparently has six new Viking Longships making debuts in 2016 across Europe. Avalon operates 15 ships in Europe and eight more in the Galapagos, Mekong Delta, China and Egypt and AmaWaterways has an impressive list of options through European rivers as well. Itineraries across river cruise companies range from major cities like Amsterdam, Budapest, and Vienna to delightful, small towns and villages like Austria's Durnstein and Germany's Breisach.
Africa, in particular, South Africa has always had an emotional hold on me, largely because I spent an exchange student year abroad in South Africa during my most formative years, lived there again just as Apartheid was lifted and led a blogging tour there roughly a decade later.
I also taught English in Kenya, saw some of the most surreal desert scenery on the edge of Somalia, slept on beaches in Lamu, Pemba and Zanzibar and saw gorillas up close in Uganda and Zaire before the western world had an opportunity to. I have gone on life changing safaris in Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa where I watched elephant trunks swaying in unison over a river for hours and was transformed by a tree standing alone in silence along the Namibian Border.
I was swept away by the hospitality and insights of the people of Zimbabwe and it's majestic Victoria Falls, ate so many avocados and bananas on Dizzy and Wally's farm in Zambia that I could barely walk, and I was brought to tears by the generosity and warmth of the Malawi people where we camped on a beach for more than a month. In the nineties, I marveled at ancient tombs in Egypt and fell in love with the markets of Morocco -- the list goes on. It's clear that I have a bias but with good reason. Africa is a magical continent and it boasts far more than safaris and Stellenbosch boasts some of the best wine you'll ever taste.
The girls from Zambia were a hoot and I could have talked to them for hours and after seeing stunning photos of Botswana, my heart cried out to be there with nothing more than me, a tripod and my Canon 7D. I've been wanting to go to Madagascar for years as well as to some of Mozambique's more remote islands where they boast luxury experiences worth having. And, if I got an invitation to Mauritius, I'd be packing my bags tonight. Morocco and Egypt had plenty to take in (Egypt handed out fun t-shirts) and I learned about luxury properties in Casablanca I didn't know existed.
African tour companies were in full force, from offering a variety of options, whether it be glamping in the bush, safaris, photo tours, luxury resorts and spas to cruises departing from Cape Town. Uber Luxe Safaris were offering unique itineraries, from chimpanzee trekking, a canopy walk in the Nyungwe Forest National Park, Birding, Water Fall Trails, tea tours and hanging with monkeys. Uber Luxe Safaris is based in Rwanda and specializes in authentic luxury experiences in East Africa.
The Zulu Nyala Private Game Reserve looked compelling. Nestled between the wilderness reserves of Mkuze, Hluhluwe, St. Lucia and South Africa's Sodwana Bay, the reserve boasts elephant, rhino, buffalo, hippo, giraffe, leopard, cheetah, antelope and more. The privately owned reserve is home to over 40 different species of animal and bird life and on-site, they have 50 ethnic-styled suites and panoramic views from common areas in the Lodge.
They also have a tennis court, craft and curio center, a games room, which is great if you're traveling with kids in tow, a pool, a bar and reading lounges. I chatted with the guys from Eyes on Africa for awhile who offer tours to Namibia's Etosha National Park, Sossusvlei red sand dunes, South Africa's Kruger National Park, Livingstone and Vic Falls, River rafting and helicopter flights in Zimbabwe and Zambia, canoe rides along the Lower Zambezi River, Mount Kenya, Amboseli National Park, Zamzibar, Selous, Africa's largest wildlife reserve, the Serengeti for the Great Migration, Kilimanjaro and the Ngorongoro Crater, island hopping in the Seychelles and swimming with whale sharks in Mozambique among other experiences.
I was also enticed by Bush Butlers, who I might add were the only ones who served Biltong at their booth - two thumbs up! They offer tailor-made safaris and tours to a number of intoxicating locations, from Tanzania, Kenya and Bostwana to Uganda, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.
They cater to your needs, which include family style safaris, luxury safaris, or beaten track adventure style trips. Some of the highlights include seeing hippos in Gabon, viewing gorillas in Uganda, ballooning in Namibia, taking in Madagascar's Baobabs, seeing the world's largest land migration in Tanzania's Serengeti, scuba diving with whale sharks and manta rays, and catching tiger fish on the mighty Zambezi River. I can assure you that going through the Namibian Desert in a 4x4 Explorer will transform the way you look at the world.
While I still haven't been to Antarctica, we have a bunch of coverage on We Blog the World from other writers, so be sure to read through them and take in the photos.
The images are breathtaking and before seeing them, it wasn't a big priority on the list, but today, it's in the top 10. Hurtigruten is one company I discovered at the show that encompasses all things Antarctica. They're known as a leader in polar exploration and offer new Discovery Style Voyages, which is great for people with a true spirit for exploration and learning, but without the rigors of a full expedition.
MS Midnatsol is the ship, which holds a maximum of 500 travelers, and they start and end in Punta Arenas at the tip of Chile where I visited a few years ago. I'd encourage you to take the time to explore Chilean Patagonia including Torres del Paine if you venture that far south. The ship explores some of Chile's deep fjords before making it's way to the more wild and beautiful Antarctica. Remember how I said that Norway was calling to me earlier on? Note to self: Hurtigruten also sails to Norway, visiting 34 small ports, most of which big ships simply can't enter.
Truth be told, I didn't spend as much time in the Asia section as I had hoped, but did visit Japan, Taiwan who always has a big booth at the show, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. There were some great dance and music performances on-site all weekend and many countries were giving out bites, with all the spices from home. Oh so delish!
Malaysia had a colorful area with cultural backdrops where you could dress up in a traditional costume and have your photo taken - my favorite was this little girl who was eager to pose in front of the camera. Adorable!
While China can be overwhelming given the country's size, I find that it's worth spending time with locals who specialize in tourism since they have detailed maps, which you often can't find online and can elaborate on some of the gems outside traditional hot spots like Shanghai and the Great Wall.
I spent time with the rep from the region of Henan, which is central and to the north of the country, which touts a number of unique excursions and adventures. We may explore this region in more depth and consider a trip in the future.
Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan Airlines was holding a fun promotion at the show, which involved social media; simply engage your audience with a photo and hashtag #SriLankanUSA2016 for an opportunity to win a trip. Here, I learned a lot more about Sri Lanka than I expected and it's risen to the Must Visit List, so stand by as we do a little more research and plan for a future trip.
Central America and the Caribbean
Panama has been getting more visibility lately as has El Salvador so I spent time gathering information on eco-friendly lodges, resorts and wellness getaway ideas for both countries.
The Dominican Republic was handing out a salted cod concoction!
Cooking demonstrations were part of the agenda on both days for a variety of destinations including Latin America. On Saturday, they had a Taste of the World Kid's Kitchen where Robert "Chef Bobo" Surlves and Spoons Across America engaged children in hands-on tasting and cooking classes. There were number of other cooking presentations as well, from Taiwan and South Africa to upstate New York and Lebanon.
Anguilla presented me the biggest surprise from the Caribbean Region. A place I knew so little about before the New York Times Travel Show, I left with a burning desire to visit -- after doing a little digging, it seems like an ideal location for a romantic getaway or a wellness retreat.
We love Canada and there's a ton of coverage on We Blog the World so be sure to read through the articles, which cover a variety of regions from the west to the east coast and everything in between.
We also have coverage of some of the southern Arctic region as well. As for the U.S., remember that we drove across country earlier this year, so in 2015 alone, we hit around 20 states between our trip and other side trips on both coasts separate from our journey. It's hard to say what my favorite memory was, but rest assured, there was no state that didn't hold a precious gem of some kind, whether it be blues music, food, culture, dancing, fashion, theater, thermal baths or nature.
There is a ton of coverage on our trip, which includes New York, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, New Mexico, Arizona, California. If you've never done the drive, I strongly encourage it and feel free to hit us up for tips. Below, a shot of a break we took at dusk on the way from Oklahoma to Texas.
This year, hot on the list is New Hampshire, Vermont, more Upstate New York (we're biased remember) and Long Island (I've yet to really explore), Pennsylvania and North Carolina. A trip to New Orleans would also be a nice plus if there's time between our international travel.
As lame as it sounds, I only visited one booth in South America - Argentina, a country I've been wanting to visit for years.....of course, they were pouring fabulous wine wine from Mendoza on Sunday and serving cheese, crackers and salami to accompany. I love the Argentina Tourism PR and marketing team as well as the guys from Aerolineas Argentinas. One of these days, you'll find a wealth of rich photography taken on my Canon 7D from an extended stay in Argentina, so stand by.
Above, I refer to Ines Segarra as the Head of Fun for Argentina, although her official role is the Director of Tourism based out of New York. That doesn't mean I'm not paying attention to other countries on the continent.
Also high on my wish list is Peru and Colombia, although we have plenty of coverage on We Blog the World on both from other writers. At the show, I talked to a few tour operators about some of the excursions they offer to the region. I loved my time in Chile and Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands, so be sure to read our coverage of both countries, where there are plenty of engaging stories and photography from other writers as well.
At some juncture, I want to see and experience Bolivia's Salt Flats or Salar de Uyuni in Spanish. It is located in the Daniel Campos Province in Potosí in southwest Bolivia near the crest of the Andes and they were formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is apparently covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness and is beyond surreal. While this photo is sure to blow you away, you'll find plenty of other breathtaking images on the web and on Instagram.
Photo credit: Huffington Post Below, saying YES to GLOBAL WELLNESS in the Wellness Pavilion, a new section of the show this year. (see my write-up for the specifics). Also in the Wellness Pavilion, I attended a light experience with the folks from Color Spa -- more details in the wellness travel post.
There was an entire section dedicated to fun things for kids to experience across cultures and tons of music and traditional culture.
Trade Day is simply what it says it is....the day those of us who are in the travel trade come together to learn from each other and network. It is typically held the day before the official show opens, and tourism boards, government officials, cruise lines, safari companies, hotels and resorts, chefs, authors, journalists and others in the travel biz, partake in conversations centered around marketing, sales, operations, logistics and best practices.
To give you a snapshot, I attended panels on Travel Media in the Digital Age with Facebook's Mike Rooney, PhocusWright's Lorraine Sileo, and TripIt's Lauren Moreno, a session on Wellness Travel with Anne Dimon of Travel to Wellness, Brian Povinelli of the Westin and Bonnie Levengood of MSC Cruises, and a Culinary Tourism discussion with TravelSommelier's Darren Humphreys, Parla Food's Tim Ries, Friends of the High Line Stephanie Schneiderman, and Tia Stephanie of Tours Cultural Journeys to Mexico and Colombia.
The cruise lines showed up in force and we heard from Cruise Planner's Michelle Fee, Celebrity Cruises Michelle Homoky, Wendy Whitener of Carnival, Ken Muskat of MSC, Lisa Falango of Royal Caribbean, Anthony Viviano from Princess & Cunard Line, and river cruising specialists, Cindy Christen from CroisiEurope, Cindy Sullivan from Globus, Susan Shultz from American Cruise Lines, John Restuccia from Uniworld, Chris Greco from Rauck and Kirsten Karst from AmaWaterways. Other sessions included a focus on Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, Latin America, Hawaii, Florida and National Parks.
Speaking of Florida, they had a great chef at their booth who was preparing delicious popcorn, shrimp and papaya - YUM!
I'll end with a visual of where this piece began -- below is a shot of Arthur Frommer doing the ribbon cutting on Saturday morning. Bravo and kudos to the New York Times Travel Show team. If you haven't been before, it's a must attend, so be sure to watch for announcements on next January's date and the details.
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!!!
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