July 13, 2014
Meet the 2014 Travel & Leisure Smitty Award Winners
This year's Travel + Leisure Smitty Awards recently announced their winners for 2014, an Awards Program which recognizes the companies in the travel and tourism industry showcasing the best and most innovative uses of social media.
I am proud to announce that I was a judge this year, together with Skift's Jason Clampet, Twitter's Mike De Jesus, Gogobot's Travis Katz, BuzzFeed's Ashley Perez, travel photographer Cole Rise, NBC Today Show's Al Roker, Google's Rob Torres and travel social media strategist Ann Tran. We reviewed hundreds of submissions and named winners and runners-up in 30 categories.
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts took home the most awards with four wins and Virgin Atlantic and The Hertz Corporation received two wins in two categories each. The winners and their campaigns can be seen on travelandleisure.com/smittys, with additional information available by searching #TLSMITTY on social media. The SMITTY Awards is also featured in the Travel + Leisure July 2014 issue which went on stands in mid-June. To celebrate the SMITTY Awards, Travel + Leisure hosted an event on July 9, 2014 at the Refinery Hotel rooftop in Manhattan. Below are a handful of fun shots I took at the event.
Travel + Leisure's Editor-in-Chief, Nancy Novogrod, Renee Blodgett, and Rich Beattie, Travel + Leisure's Executive Digital Editor
Above, Four Seasons' Laura Fairweather
Above, Tadashi Matsushita from ANA (All Nippon Airways), Renee Blodgett and Athanasios "Tommy" Sikolas of ANA (All Nippon Airways)
Above, Rich Beattie
Above and below, kudos to the Hyatt team & a few others :-)
Above, Travel + Leisure reps from social media, digital and design!
Above, Ruth Moran (left) from Tourism Ireland even made a showing :-)
Below are the Winners:
Best Use of Twitter: Virgin Atlantic; Runner-Up: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company Best Use of Pinterest: VisitBritain; Runner-Up: Explore Georgia Best Use of Instagram: Tahiti Tourisme North America Best Use of Facebook: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Best Use of Tumblr: VisitSweden; Runner-Up: Sofitel Luxury Hotels Best Chat/Hangout: Residence Inn by Marriott Best Long-Form Video: Virgin American; WestJet (tie) Best Use of Foursquare or Other Location-Based Services: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts; Hilton Hotels & Resorts; The Hertz Corporation (tie) Best App or Technology: Roaming Hunger; Runner-Up: Oberoi, Mumbai Best Blog: Butterfield & Robinson; GrandLife Hotels (tie) Best Use of Social Media for Public Service: Montage Hotels & Resorts; Runner-Up: Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Best Contest/Giveaway: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel; Runner-Up: South African Tourism Best Use of and Emerging Platform: Iceland Travel; Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts (tie) Best Customer Service: Hyatt Hotels & Resorts; Runner-Up: Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau Best Use of Social Media: Independent Travel Journalist/Blogger: Amateur Traveler Best Use of Social Media: Independent Travel Photo Journalist/Videographer: Bohemian Trails; Runner-Up: Let's Get Lost
Best Overall Use of Social Media:
Airline: Virgin Atlantic; Runner-Up: All Nippon Airways Airport: Singapore Changi Airport; Runner-Up: San Francisco International Airport Attraction: Vail Resorts; Runner-Up: Rocky Mountaineer Car Rental Agency: The Hertz Corporation Cruise Line: Princess Cruises; Runner-Up: MSC Cruises USA Tourism Board/DMO/Marketing Association: Pure Michigan; Runner-Up: Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board Global Hotel or Resort Chain: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts; Runner-Up: Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Individual Hotel or Resort, U.S.: Beverly Wilshire, a Four Seasons Hotel Individual Hotel or Resort, Global: The Westin Bund Center, Shanghai; Runner-Up: Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel Outfitter: Big 5 Tours & Expeditions; Runner-Up: G Adventures Travel Agency/OTA: Expedia Travel Resource: Fathom; Peek (tie) Restaurant/Food Truck/Market: Sam’s Chowder House Non-Travel-Industry Company: Cubavera/Perry Ellis
The Travel + Leisure SMITTY Awards 2014 Jury
- Renee Blodgett, Founder and Editor, We Blog the World; CEO, Magic Sauce Media
- Jason Clampet, Co-Founder and Head of Content, Skift
- Mike De Jesus, Head of Travel and Tourism, Twitter
- Travis Katz, Co-Founder and CEO, Gogobot
- Ashley Perez, Senior Editor, BuzzFeed
- Cole Rise, Travel Photographer
- Al Roker, Co-Host and Weatherman, NBC’s TODAY Show
- Rob Torres, Managing Director of Travel, Google
- Ann Tran, Travel Social-Marketing Strategist
Below is a very short video snippet shot at the event of Rich Beattie congratulating winners and giving kudos to his team. They did an incredible job pulling together yet another year's Awards event. Kudos to Rich and his team!
October 03, 2013
VatorSplash, Where VCs, Entrepreneurs With Cool Apps & An Industry Ecosystem Meet
I haven't had a chance to attend a VatorSplash event in awhile because of so much travel however I was in town for the latest one, held this week at San Francisco's Cafe Du Nord on Market Street.
The event, as always, was packed full of interesting speakers, including renowned investors Jed Katz, Lars Leckie, Charles Moldow, Rory O'Driscoll, Keith McCurdy, Erin Hakansson, Alan Chiu, Dave Samuel, Rick Moss, Charles Hudson, Rob Coneybeer, Howard Hartenbaum, Tony Conrad, and others.
Docusign's CEO Keith Krach keynoted on best practices and Jared Simon talked about lessons learned from their work at HotelTonight. In traditional VatorSplash style, the band Coverflow played in the basement at Cafe Du Nord following the event. With a new sound that has leapfrogged from their more well known 1980s standards, Raj Kapoor, Phil Kaplan, Ethan Beard, Prashant Fuloria, Tim Chang, Kristian Segerstrale and The Mule played through the night while the die hards danced.
Above, HotelTonight's Co-Founder and COO Jared Simon on the VatorSplash stage.
Of the companies who presented, a few call outs include The Orange Chef Company, a great new product for foodies, which focuses on the notion that eating well starts at home. With the Prep Pad and accompanying iOS app, Countertop, you’ll have insight beyond your plate. Quickly assemble meals on Prep Pad and watch as Countertop presents you real time nutritional information on your iPad or iPhone. Set your own goals, discover more about your food and gain confidence in making the right choices. They're taking pre-orders now.
SweatGuru was founded by two women and is based in San Francisco. SweatGuru is the first marketplace that brings people together around fitness classes and experiences. By allowing anyone to organize, discover, book and share fitness classes online, SweatGuru takes the work out of working out. They also help small and medium-sized fitness businesses get online and be more successful.
By offering easy-to-use tools for marketing, scheduling, payments and staying in touch with clients, SweatGuru allows fitness professionals to spend more time teaching and less time behind a desk.
TravelingSpoon is an online marketplace that connects travelers with vetted, local, and authentic food experiences -- from cooking classes to homemade meals -- in people's homes around the world.
TravelingSpoon creates an alternative to traditional restaurant experiences that allows travelers to experience local culture and cuisine on the road, providing travelers with meaningful experiences and cultural exchange. It has launched its beta in India, Thailand and Vietnam but they hope to expand to other regions later on.
In addition, they also offer in-home cooking classes as well as market tours as an extra add-on to many of the meal experiences. They say that all of their hosts have been vetted to ensure a safe and delightful culinary experience.
Kudos to Bambi and her team for always pulling off such an amazing event.
September 24, 2013
The Chile Connection: Why South America Took So Long...
Chile has long been on my bucket list and for a long time traveler who started hearing tales of this diverse country since childhood, it’s astonishing that it took me so long to get there. Something has always gotten in the way of me spending time in South America.
First, it was because Europe and Africa were on my first ‘must stops.’ Europe, well because my heritage is there and I had to see if the French were really as snobby as everyone said they’d be and the Italians were as gorgeous as I’d imagined. Africa was next because somehow I feel as if I was African in a past life since the beating of the drums calls to me in the same way blueberry picking does in the Adirondacks in this life.
Southeast Asia happened first by chance since an ex-flame dragged me there with a backpack in my early twenties and two years later after countless stops with bouts with dysentery, hepatitis and numerous other third world-like bugs, we returned to call England home. Not getting to South America is an easy excuse when you live in Europe since it’s simply so far away and after returning to the states and set up shop in New England, I had more excuses – there was more of Europe to do, more of Africa to do, more of New England to do. You get the point. And so, there South America was in nearly last place as a continent.Chile, Peru and Argentina have always been my top three destinations. In other words, these were the three countries I always wanted to break my South America virginity, not necessarily in that order. Peru has the views, the mountains, faces with unique features that left me in awe and I imagined the best photo opportunities, Argentina has more mountains, great skiing, and Buenos Aires, where I could eat fabulous steak, tango through the streets and buy fabulous leather bags and boots.
And Chile….well, I had all the stories from my childhood and those photos of sexy looking boys from my host sister’s homeroom class (we were both AFS exchange students - she went to Chile and a year after she returned, I lived with her family in South Africa). It also had Patagonia of course and was the skinniest piece of land I had ever seen on a map, one which stretches for 2,700 miles north to south. Of course, I didn't know that it would have breathtaking glaciers that would have me at "hello."
Having that knowledge didn’t seem to stop me from being far more ignorant about the country than I had hoped before landing on her gracious soil for the first time. Truth be told, I’m an Isabel Allende fan and have read every single one of her novels, save one.
When I heard about the opportunity to join the 4th annual Chile EXPOCOM that would gather some of the top tour operators, vendors and sellers in the world and roughly ten or so travel writers, I realized I had to say yes, even though I didn’t have time to read the fine print about where in Chile it was going to be held or what we were going to do.
After I filled out the form confirming my attendance, I looked over at my visualization mirror which had Chile and Argentina at the tippy top of a list of a dozen or so countries I had to visit in the next 18 months. And alas, I was to be off to Chile in less than a week.
With so little time to plan, the truth is, I didn’t plan….anything. That means, no research, no pre-reading of our trip details until the two days before I left, when I made a few Google searches, which included two hotels, a little history on Puerto Arenas (my first stop) and photos of the region which left me breathless.
Despite the fact that it was nearly 20 hours of flying time and four flights, I realized I had just signed up for pure heaven and couldn’t wait to board the first plane.
Nature once again knocked on my door and I answered.
You see, I’m a true believer that nature calls to us when we’ve abandoned her for too long. In my case, it was abandoned to technology and when I didn’t give her enough time, she decided to take it back and remind me of the important things in life.
In less than two years, I was thrown into polar bear country in Canada’s Churchill Wild, returned to Maine’s seaside in the magical New England Fall, driven through the romantic countryside of Lithuania and Estonia in Spring, escorted out to an ancient graveyard in southern Ireland on a drizzly cold day, drove through the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York where I had my best childhood memories, flew above Greenland’s icy waters, brought out to the cold and windy cliffs of Western Iceland to watch Puffins at 3 am and now, flown to the heart of Chile's Patagonia where I’d be face-to-face with guanacos and black necked swans.
Despite my love of warmer climates and walking along a beach in a saucy colorful mini skirt barefoot on a balmy humid night, the universe seems to think I need to spend time in cold countries at the moment.
Sometimes I wonder whether it’s because California has started to make me ‘soft,’ and my New England roots doesn’t want to wait until I’m too far gone before it reclaims my soul to its rightful place.
Alas, on the night before my trip, my MacBook Pro started misbehaving again for the umpteenth time and I hadn’t yet finished packing. It was late and I was too cranky and fatigued to figure out how I was going to pack light when I had to fit warm sweaters, hats, mittens, boots, hiking boots, long johns and a down parka into the same suitcase I used for most of my longer trips that didn’t call for such bulky items.
Cranky as I was, I wore a smile, because deep down, I knew it was the time for my South American adventures to begin. It was time for me to master Spanish and Salsa, time for me to devour Pisco Sours instead of Cabernet Sauvignon for awhile and time for me to flirt with Latin culture and all that it means. I had no doubt I would be reignited by Chile’s fire, her charm and her spirit.
Security was a breeze. Since I had to clear customs, immigration and pay a whopping $160 entry fee (the U.S. is the highest of the countries which have to still pay one upon entry, although the requirement is supposed to disappear in 2014), the transition from Santiago to the third floor where all national flights departed was long.
That said, once I did reclaim my luggage and head towards the security gates, the guy before me shook his head as I started taking my belt off. “No need,” he said with a thick accent. I then proceeded to take my MacBook Pro out of my bag and he shook his head again. “No need,” he said again. I went for my boots and as I unzipped one of them, I looked up at him and saw his nod. “No need, right?” I said with a smile. It turns out I didn’t have to dump my two water bottles either or take my silver cuff off.
Patricio or rather Dr. Patricio, an orthodontist happened to live in Punta Arenas, which was where I was due to catch my connecting flight to meet the Expo organizers. You know you have ‘arrived’ when you’ve met the local orthodontist and as you’d expect him to, he had a great set of white teeth and a warm smile. In Spanish, he said to me, “slow down, no rush.” He quickly translated into English although I somehow knew that was exactly what he said. “You’re in Chile now,” he added with another warm smile.
He had just returned from Seattle and goes to the states each year for an annual conference and it was just the dose of medicine I needed to hear. Always rushing, even when I travel, I am often reminded that traveling DOES slow me down but if often takes a few days of being on the road for me to get out of my American skin. For the most part, the rest of the world travels at a slower pace than Americans and it’s the thing I crave more than anything else once I leave my hood.
Yes, slow down I thought and took a deep breathe. I had time – quite honestly, there was plenty of time to make it to the gate and it was time to get onto Chilean time and I don’t mean the numbers on a watch.
We chatted at the gate while he asked about my agenda which I scoured for in my black leather bag that happened to house everything a girl might need on the road, from toothpaste and napkins to a video camera, lipstick, a bottle of water and sunglasses. He scanned the document, nodding every now and then like a professor does as he’s looking at the paper he’s about to grade. Sometimes the nod was one of approval and other times ambiguous. Ahhh yes, this is beautiful he said as he pointed to a line on the page and this restaurant, it’s okay, it used to be much better nut has lost some of its lustre. And oh yes, you are going to Torres Del Paine National Park…THIS is the most beautiful and he gave me that warm smile again.
It was the first of many warm smiles I was going to experience in Chile. And as it shone, our flight was called to board. Since I slept through breakfast on the longest of my flights, I was starting to get hungry and so I asked the first LAN Airlines flight crew whether there was food on board. “Yes,” he said with a warm smile. “Good,” I replied, “because I’m hungry.” Soon, as I sat there quivering from the cold air blowing through the vents, Pablo showed up with a blanket three times the thickness of the ones we get on airlines in the states.
Less than thirty minutes later, there was Pablo again pouring me tea with his beaming and addictive warm smile. Then, after handing my neighbors a box each which housed our morning crackers and a cranberry chocolate cookie, he handed me two boxes, gave me a smile and then finished off with a wink. Oh, those dark eyes. Oh, that warm smile.
We hadn’t even landed in Punta Arenas yet and I knew Chile was going to steal my heart. It already had!
All photo credits: Renee Blodgett.
July 15, 2013
When the Clouds Ask You to Dance Under an Icelandic Sky
She picked me up from "the nautical hotel", the one that wooed me with the red balcony that faced the blue and abandoned ship in Reykjavik's Harbor. I could have written sad and happy things for days on end facing that crazy abandoned ship whose gaze continued to dazzle me outside my bedroom window.
Suddenly, she made a sharp right and headed east into the countryside, some 40 kilometers outside the city. There's a point when all pretenses fall loose and it was one of those moments. My first trip out of Reykjavik a few days into my trip, it was as I feared, rainy and drizzly as the weather report indicated. And yet, sometimes, blue sky and white clouds made their appearance because perhaps they wanted to dazzle an overworked brunette from a far away American land.
"Wow, this is pretty," I said and felt. It was such a meek and ridiculous attempt at what should have been, "this blows," or "this is outrageous"...Or perhaps nothing at all and just breathe into one aha and joyous moment after another had I been from somewhere in this world that didn't need a phrase to qualify such a beautiful existence.
It was as if I was witnessing a place where Ireland just married the Moon and then tossed with some magical dust from Scotland, Norway, Antarctica and New Zealand and I didn't know what to do with it.
The area is called Nesjavellir, a great launching pad for trips in the south of the country. I was on my way to new resort and was in a rare place of accepting the forthcoming indulgence.
Nesjavellir is set in the Icelandic countryside where there are very few frills - it's all about the air, the sights, the smells and the tastes from nearby lava fields, the thermal steam and vapor and an ever so stunning early summer Icelandic sky.
As a frequent solo traveler, I arrive somewhere I am reviewing, often a hotel, resort, activity, adventure, spa or tour and 95% of the time, people around me are couples, 4% are very young travelers and 1% are in that other category, the one I guess I would fall into -- the misfit category. And so from the category of the misfits, I hold a perspective which is unique and muddled and distinct and reflective and beautiful and blessed and pure and often....complex.
Holding that mindset, imagine my dinner, which started off mid-way to great until a fairly lame Chilean red arrived since the options by the glass were slim. Suddenly, a Viking who says he's a blend of bartender, waiter and fix it guy, showed up with a bottle of 1991 Bordeaux. Classy, I think as I watch the lame glass of red leave my table.
As I slowly sipped my Bordeaux, I dove into the Icelandic sky since it seemed to be so gracious with its time, energy and beauty in a way that the best food and wine can never begin to offer.
While the wait staff started out a little reserved and quiet, they slowly picked up steam. Liquors that solely belonged to Iceland suddenly began to appear. New to me, crowberries and einiberja soon graced me with their presence.
A local doctor who was out for dinner with his wife popped over to say hello and shared a few photos with me after I offered to take a shot of both of them at their table.
"It is usually a photo of just one of us," she said with a smile as I snapped away. My God, I thought as I looked them, they're whiter than the Irish. Later, when he approached my table as I was nearing my coffee, I realized that his eyelashes were whiter and lighter than blonde - I could barely see them as he stood to my side slightly bending over me, his 70 year old fingers sliding left and left again, so I could see all the shots he took on his phone over the previous two weeks.
It was an Iceland I had not yet seen since my days in the country were still so few. That moment in time was special if not rare...a retired doctor confiding in me even if it was for a few brief moments and showing his endearing and reflective self. The tenderness and vulnerability came through and it was a treasured and elegant memory to say the least. Iceland isn't just unique or pretty or inviting, it's dramatic, spiritual, intense, volatile and ever so engulfing. And, most importantly, the people are what make it so...
After the doctor leaves and a glass of Bordeaux has warmed my soul, a blonde Icelander returns to my table to inform me that they'll open up the 10 meter hot tub pool for me and me alone, half of which extends into the open air and half of which is covered. It is typically closed after ten, about the time my second wind is re-ignited and so, this news brought on a huge smile.
As I made my way into the shallow hot pool with temperature of 95 degrees or so, I realized there were no jets or chlorine and the bottom of the pool was both murky and slippery because it was coated with green algae...natural green algae. Surreal, peaceful and tranquil Eastern instrumental music played in the background and like I am so often these days, I was alone. It was just me and an Icelandic sky.
Gratitude won. Presence won. The hot natural waters won. The thermal steam won. The Midnight Sun won.
A couple hours later, I slowly removed myself from the pool, the one with the slimy green and black bottom. Ahhh, the pure naturalness of it all I thought.
As I made my way down the hallway, I listened to a group of Norweigans and Icelanders laughing in the lounge only two doors away from me...reserved but after much alcohol, no longer quiet. The women would frequently gasp under their breath when they spoke as if they lost their breath somehow for a moment and were fighting to get it back and in a so not so sensual way. A friend claims the women (and men) do this in Norway too. It was something I never did get to the bottom of or understand.
Two girls continued to drink and as they did, their boyfriends started to howl...once quiet reserved Nordic types now in a different place of mind.
I returned to my room and as I shut my door and turned the lock to the left, I could hear people's laughter, the same 20 or so who were in the resort restaurant some hour or two before. There was still plenty of Bordeaux left but I poured some Earl Grey tea instead and faced my open window which looked out onto a brightly lit 2 am sky.
Clear Blue sky turned to white fluffy clouds every twenty minutes or so, at times, turning into tenuous or threatening clouds. Just when they just seemed to be settling down, you suddenly felt them dancing in front of you asking you for a hand in a delicate or perhaps a not so delicate dance. You see, Iceland is this way - forever changing and you never can be sure where it's going to take you. In the midst of my volatile dancing clouds, there were rolling meadows and luscious hills.
To my left was a view of Icelandic tundra and flowing landscape and to my right was a painted white horse against a concrete wall, hazy at best against a later than midnight sky. A juxtaposition in time or was it really all one in the same?
I wanted to shut down my laptop, yet there were photos to process, more hot water for my tea to fetch, emails and tweets to respond to and a life size photo of a horse's head to say hello to. Breathing into my beautiful Icelandic horse on my wall...stage right, and the meadows to my left with the three shades of brown drapes covering a third of my view, I breathed deeper than I had in awhile, and as I did, I acknowledged it was okay that I didn't say hello to anyone else but me and that I didn't have to be someone else other than me for a moment or an hour or as Iceland would remind me, a lifetime.
In my white robe and bare feet, I "okayed" my wet bathing suit that lay on the concrete floor. I also acknowledged that it was okay not to pick it up, hang it up or dry it before my day's end. I let it be. I let me be. I let the Iceland sky be. I let the laughs of the all Nordic guests at the end of my wing just be. And then, and only then, did I hit save and toss my computer off my lap without packing it away. It fell into a bundle of pillows to my left and then I gently moved it to the floor as the pillows followed without rhythm, without choice and without a plan.
Suddenly, pure joy. With feet up in the air behind me, dangling as a ten year old would dangle them, I looked out into my Iceland sky and its draping, green luscious hills which stretched to my south and smiled. Thank you for that gift you Nesjavellir wonder I thought. Thank you for that gift!
July 12, 2013
Reflecting Under Iceland's Midnight Sun
It's a late June evening as I take another spoonful of my Blueberry Skyr, a creamy substance that looks and feels like yoghurt, only Icelanders make it better. While looking out my hotel window that faces Reykjavik's harbor, I can't imagine another place I'd rather be or anything else I'd rather be doing.
I had just come from an environment where they talked about start-ups and new business ventures at an event hosted at HARPA and was suddenly thrown into one where they talked about fish, thermal baths and spiritual retreats in the countryside and hikes in the north that would soon would leave me both speechless and breathless. Taking in the weathered ship in all its ancient glory, I smile in quiet knowingness and nothingness all in the same breath.
My Skyr cup is now empty and using an underhand maneuver, I toss it in the bin. Score! Slowly I lick the rest of what’s left on my spoon and put it on my sailor themed table eager for any action at all since I hadn’t yet given “it” or my laptop any attention. Iceland’s Midnight Sun is happy about this decision and so am I.
Hands empty, I grab my camera, hotel key and nothing else and head out the door.
Wandering through Reykjavik's streets on a not so warm summer night, you're quickly reminded that you're about as far from Kansas as you can be. And so, I take in the nautical-ness around me for a couple more hours. Midnight had long passed and yet the skies glowed above me, egged me to explore textures and colors. It was then that I realized my Icelandic journey had really begun and I knew there was something magical awaiting though I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time.
I walk and walk for what feels like hours and hours – is it 5 am yet? There's a truck clearly ready to head into far more rustic areas than Reykjavik's city center and yet, I haven't begun to dive deep into Iceland's nature wonderland, so in that moment in time, I only imagine what hills, valleys and rivers those wheels have crossed.
I still didn't know what Iceland had to offer you see, since I did no research before I left home. The good news about this fact is that I allowed locals to lead me by the hand and tell me where to go, what to do and often, who to meet. It's a small country and it's astonishing who knows who. Incestuous almost. That said, there's an endearing and magical quality to its intimate size, where an energy, spirit and energy I forgot existed. It was the same one I grew up with in the Adirondack Mountains.
But it was too early to know all of that. For now, Reykjavik at night was my playground and I "it." I wandered through the streets taking it all in and didn’t get back to my hotel room till after 5 am. Alone – all night long – was so the right way to "take her."
I retired to my bed to only see a similar view out my window from the one I left six or so hours ago. Welcome to an Icelandic night, the one which never sleeps and where the sun never sets.
Those first few nights were the start of something transformative, but I just didn't know it at the time. Soon, Iceland was about to bring me back home, not to the Adirondacks, but back to myself.
May 05, 2013
Reflections: A Walk Into a Past & Present Estonia...
I'm lost as I navigate my way through the outskirts of Tallinn, but purposely so, as I know that magic lies in the unknown and what a better way to discover that unknown than to get lost. I flash back to my grandfather who would never hold my hand as we walked through the woods in the dense Adirondack mountains when we embarked on our summer hikes.
I know now that I never left his vision although at the time, he made me believe I was on my own after he purposely disappeared out of sight and watched me from behind a tree as panic entered my small face, those youthful child-like eyes searching for his familiar red and blue flannel shirt. Bringing me out of my comfort zone again and again was something my grandfather sought and it was less of a 'thing' he did from time-to-time, and more the way he lived his life.
It wasn't until I had long passed my twenties that I realized what a gift he had given me so many years ago despite the fact that to this day, anxiety still swallows me when I lose my way.
That anxiety occasionally moves to a "fight or flight" place and yet there's an excitement in that kind of anxiety, for I know that in that unknown place, I'm bound to make some rare encounter or learn some bizarre lesson about some bizarre piece of life I never deemed important before.
I reflect in that memory as I turn another corner, realizing that I left no trace of where I had been nor did I have a clue about where I was going. Having moved beyond the boundaries of the old town at least thirty minutes before, I stopped looking for landmarks I may have read about in some brochure or guidebook, and began to notice what was around me.
It was one of those off-blueish colored moments, where I realized I was pretty far from Kansas, in a part of town where people lived and didn't deal with tourists as part of their day...not unlike the small town and world where I grew up, they too didn't fit the storybook culture up until know, I had only read about.
I was struggling with the notion that Eastern Europe could become as modern and western as the rest of Europe even after over 20 years of independence. The last time I had been this close to Russia was the mid-eighties when I didn't have permission to have free-flowing conversations with locals nor did they with me, there was a thriving black market, our hotel rooms were bugged, shops were stark and restaurant menu offerings were slim.
Even my return visit to Budapest and Prague a couple of summers ago didn't convince me that everything had transformed even though I could rent a segway, buy a t-shirt with the city plastered on it and order fine wine.
If that wasn't enough, every newspaper, history book and photograph proved that it was all very real and we were now living in very different times. And yet, like the abolishment of slavery didn't transform America's attitudes about how blacks should be treated after 20 years, you can't remove the impact of more than a century of tyrant rule and communist life in one generation.
Like many cultures in Eastern Europe, Estonians didn't always rule their own land. In fact, for over 800 years, the Swedes, the Poles, the Danes, the Germans and the Russians have all invaded the country and put down a stake.
I learned through my visits to Kolga and Sagadi Manors that the Scandinavians and Germans held fort for many years while Estonians served them tea and watered their gardens. While they've enjoyed stints of freedom -- for two short years in the 1200s -- and for 19 years in 1920, not ruling their own land has been more common than ruling it.
Not being given control of your own destiny time and time again must play a toll on one's attitudes, personality & outlook on life I thought as I wandered aimlessly down yet another street, one that didn't seem to have a visible street sign.
I also thought about what else I knew about Estonians aside from the factoid that my fellow travelers were most thrilled about: Estonia is the most connected country in Eastern Europe. Aside from connectivity, the other topic that came up again and again was the one that breaks up countries, marriages, families and cultures: Religion.
You can't go to many places in Europe and not be inundated with churches and people's fixation with them. Yet, Estonia is apparently the least religious country on the planet with Ireland, Poland and Greece being the most religious...at least in Europe. In talking to a few locals in the first few days, the proof was there.
Women in their twenties and thirties both told me they didn't go to church nor did they grow up believing in a God. 80% of the same group of women said that they didn't feel the need to marry their partner even if they wanted to have children.
Like we do when we want evidence of stereotypes to show up in our face, I looked for more irreligious types on my walk, as if they'd somehow show such a trait in their walk or attire.
I remembered the live strip show on Viru Street I had passed on my way out of town, red satin dots across fake diamond studded banners fell in and around the Golden Dolls Gentleman Club, where they hold shows every day from 10 to 6. It was next to a Veta clothing store, Restaurant Cru and a Baltic amber shop, one of the dozens you'll find on any street in Tallinn.
This wasn't quite the evidence I was looking for however, nor did it support my theory that more remnants from pre-Soviet days were still around moreso than tour guides would have you believe. I, for one, would have loved to sit down with an 80 something year old male Estonian and drill him on every decade of his life, from his job, the wars, his military duty, his experience with Russian soldiers, how he provided for his family then and now, what his daughters thought they would become at ten and who they are today, politics, the environment, education and every miniscule detail in between.
Lacking a victim born in 1924 to sip coffee with for the afternoon, I continued walking. Urban shops and signs gave way to more stark buildings, some white washed and gray with weathered textures that wove in soft pinks, oranges and yellows in that antiquated way that old stone buildings display after a century of wear and tear.
Olive green paneling is plastered across the top of a turn of the century stone building and graffiti in more than one language decorates the bottom half. Two smoke stacks protrude into the sky ahead of me, one with a red stripe I can barely make out in my hazy view, one which suddenly feels more surreal than what actually just met the eye.
A woman in a bubble gum pink coat wearing matted gray rubber shoes with furry tops, stands with her son at a bus stop. She has a faux leather bag with keys dangling from a worn-out fringe and she looks away from her son while she takes a puff from her cigarette, as if doing so, will ensure the 36 bus comes that much faster.
While in the country, they spoke of mushroom farms, Juniper forests and limestone gravestones, in Tallinn's greater urban-ness, I learn about relics from the past, savory dishes that are more meaty than not, amber and the the attitude dynamic that exists between a not-so-wide generation gap.
I chalk up a conversation with a man in his forties standing a few feet away from my pink-clad woman with the cigarette dangling from her mouth, now on her third and there are still no signs of the bus. His English isn't fluent, yet we can communicate and his blue sparkling eyes which exuded generosity and authenticity in double doses, were enough to make up for whatever word or phrase that might present a communications challenge.
Not knowing what bus he was waiting for if he was waiting for one at all, I figured that I didn't have much time to start the conversation with trivial chit chat and work my way up to what I was really wanting to know.
And so, rather than begin with "Is it always this cold in Estonia in April?" especially since I had already heard countless times that this was an unusually cold year, I dove right into a question about his life as a teenager and oh btw, what were your twenties like while we're heading down that path? Luckily, he didn't think I was some American stalker or loopy redhead hitting on him on a random Thursday afternoon.
Andrus used to drive a military truck and spent time as a night sniper, oddly not the first one I had met since I arrived in Estonia. The Soviet army brought him to Moscow for training when he was just 18 and as he drifted off into memory lane, I learn that he was brought to the "KGB House" twice during his 2 and a half year stint with the Russians.
Afterwards, he was given an offer to stay where he'd receive a one room apartment and a black Volga or return home to a small town an hour or so from Tallinn. He chose the latter wondering if that choice might land him in Siberia instead, for who knows how much was required to demonstrate one's loyalty to the Party way back when?
As he shares his stories with me, I take in the volume of graffiti adorned on two century-old buildings across the street, while the structure next to it meets me with a mixture of urban decay and remnants from a Soviet past. Signs in a language that look as unfamiliar as Klingon might; Mustikas, Karamika, Infoveva, Euro Vaistine line up next to brightly colored plastic bubbles, where I think locals might dump their recyclables.
I move on and lose myself for awhile until the word Turg presents itself, a sign that is next to or part of a long blocked off area with a plastic cover draped over its top.
The ceiling has ripples of sorts, a flimsy covering that barely seems as if it could give the people below it shelter if the sky should open up. I can see that it's a market of sorts.....flowers, fruit and vegetable stalls face me mostly in open air, yet the stall tellers don't flinch despite the beckoning of rain.
Cars lined up on sidewalks in front of the shops without any logical reason given the volume of open parking spots scattered nearby. Bright colored clothing with over the top costume jewelry is the fashion order of the day, their glitter too much for the eye to bear against its otherwise stark background...I can see the glare from the shine echoing through the windows. Most of the shops appear to be closed yet the cars linger....another mystery in a mysterious land.
In these near suburbs of Tallinn, I don't see architectural evidence of the Gothic, Baroque and Rococo styles that swept through the centuries and still remain in tact at some of the country manors and estates.
I see a Tallinn struggling with its past and its present, trying to figure out its future, one where East not just meets the West, but embraces it with fortitude.
I continually met welcoming hospitable people, inside the city and out, eager to protect their heritage and history even if that history didn't include a religion or two that mattered.
They are if anything resilient. Moving. Intriguing. Reserved and yet warm. Authentic. It was an Estonia I wanted to return to and as I decided it was time to navigate my way back to more familiar streets as the light began to fade, I bid farewell to the part of town where locals lived not worked, smiling into the distance and thinking: this was a trip worth taking.
Note: I didn't take many photos as I ventured out of the old town center, so these are selected shots taken in and around Tallinn's old town.
May 02, 2013
Lithuanian Start-Up Demos Cool GooGPS Travel App on Tablet PC
I discovered (and used) an interesting new GPS app from a Lithuanian company when I was in Vilnius Lithuania recently.
They call it GooGPS, and the model is data for travel and tourism for visitors. Imagine a Samsung like tablet PC that is loaded with all the best of a city - main attractions, festivals, events, museums, churches, restaurants and hotels, that is light enough to hang around your neck while you meander through a new city.
Then, imagine along side of that data, you have access to all your social apps like Foursquare, Twitter and Instagram, a video camera for easy capturing and a browser to check email....all on a device that is connected 24/7 and limited for E10 a day.
UAB is a global pioneer that is successfully developing a new business model – rent of tablet PCs for travelers. These guys have created a set of programs called “interactive travel guide” that works with a modified Android operational system.
In the system which is within a portable 7-inch tablet, you have 3D navigational maps, connected to their controlled interactive guide with places of interest, routes and audio content.
It is currently available for visitors to Lithuania and Latvia with plans to expand to other regions in the future.
I tested it out for the day, which included site seeing in Vilnius, the main city and the outskirts. The only glitch I had was limited battery life, so the tablet died half way through my day but when it was up and running, it worked like a charm and was fun to use. Below is a video of me chatting to the product manager.
March 05, 2013
TEDActive 2013: Bubble Guns & Global Conversations on Lawns & Haystacks
As a long time TEDster, I had never been to its offshoot, an event that happens simultaneously every year called TedActive. It's essentially TED, but less expensive and less bells and whistles.
Since it is held a couple of hours from the main event, the speakers are obviously not on-site, however you do experience them through a satellite feed, which includes views of the audience, the main stage and the impact the speakers have on that audience in real time.
For years, TED has something called the 'simulcast' room, which is where you can view the talks in a separate room on a 'screen' not far from the main room.
Why some people love hanging out in the 'simulcast room' rather than the main room is that it allows them to quietly chat in the back, or type away on their keyboard if they have work to get done.
OR, if you're an A++ type who is simply too digitally connected to sit still with nothing but an old fashioned notebook among 1,000 of your "closest" friends, simulcast is the way to go.
All of TEDActive is a bit like that, except that the main room resembles TED's main simulcast room and TEDActive's additional simulcast rooms, which are even more casual, feel like a cross between a silent and creative experiment at a progressive university and an adult's playground.
In some of the rooms, there were tables with paper cut outs and magic markers if you wanted to jot down your ideas in "color" using "scraps". This year, they also had a 'banana' theme and while I still don't know what was behind it, it was oddly amusing to continuously bump into two guys who didn't know each other, yet both of their lives depended on bananas.
From bananas and spirited drinks to cut outs and designs, we moved to species and the Internet in a nano-second.
An idea was thrown out there by four respected illumaries in different fields: Diana Reiss, Peter Gabriel, Neil Gershefeld and Vint Cerf. The question was: could the internet also connect us with dolphins, apes, elephants and other highly intelligent species?
In a bold talk, the four of them came together to launch the idea of the interspecies Internet.
There was a 'creative' lab' where Andy Cavatorta set up an exhibit that combined technology, robotics and music.
In that same space, a few of us were inspired to get creative at two am, not long after a martini sipping session where we ate blueberries with M&M's and talked science fiction to young MIT types.
Did I mention that I'm a sucker for fur vests, colored lights and 3D science fiction glasses? And in case you're wondering, yes we were posing.
There was creative energy at the final pool party as well, which included wild hats, squirt guns, funky pants, and bananas of course, all set on a whole lotta grass against a beautiful mountainous desert in a place called LaQuinta you may never have heard of unless a TED Conference happened to be breezing through. Here we consumed some R&R, sunscreen and bubbly whatever.
Speaking of grass, we also had a little lawn time with TED 2013 Prize Winner Sugata Mitra. Known for his work in education research, Mitra won $1 million TED Prize to build his School in the Cloud.
He invited the world to embrace child-driven learning by setting up something he refers to as Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs) and asked the TED audience for help designing a learning lab in India, where children can “embark on intellectual adventures.”
While people were expanding their creative "juices" in whatever way they could, creative "things" were in place at the lab for people to play with and take in...
Below is a fabulous woman I met by the "so done right" coffee and tea bar set up in an area called the Quad, where we gathered on haystacks and picnic tables for lunch most days. She 'wore' her commitment to eco-living and seemed to have a different name each day. If I recall, she was Cool Carol the day we exchanged TEDities.
One of the things I loved about TedActive was its combination of youthful and international energy. Below, I'm with the curator of TEDx Bordeaux Emmanuelle Roques.
With 72 countries on-site, I had 'curious' conversations, all of which had global perspectives, with folks from India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Kenya, South Africa, Australia, England, Holland, Switzerland, Japan, Korea, China, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, Chile, Colombia, Canada, Malta, Lebanon, Palestine, UAE, Turkey, Germany, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Ireland, Israel, Belgium and Uganda.
And, those are only the ones that immediately popped into my head without diving into my business cards or the TED mobile app.
If that's not your thing, then the Active experience is a more laid back way to experience TED where you can still stretch your brain, discover new ideas, be inspired, get your creative juices flowing, get off the grid for five days and have 'unique' conversations that make you think differently, then give it a shot.
Personally, there is always someone I know on the main TED stage every year, often more than one, and many more people I have known, worked, played and cried with for years attend the main event. The other thing you're more likely to get at the main TED event is an overdose of "intellectual high."
Comedian Julia Sweeney had the audience in stitches as she made references to her peeps, you know, the Nobel Prize Winners, Scientists, Authors & Inventors that were part (so not) of her everyday world from TED.
Accolades and titles aside, I've never been one for labels and titles: none of them -- celeb labels, CEO labels, soup labels, hair product labels or shoe labels.
Whether you're into them or not, labels and titles are in abundance at TED, all there to expand their mind, gather new ideas, and many later find a way to contribute to something they were exposed to at the event. I must admit, if I were only a little more "label, title and accolade savvy", it would certainly make the Oscars easier to understand.
While we're on the topic of labels and great design, I'd be remiss if I didn't include a shot of some of Yu Jordy Fu's fabulous design work. I found her fascinating.
Later, a random encounter led to an interview with Upstart Business Journal's Teresa Novellino, a TED virgin, over lunch. See her article here, which takes an entrepreneurship angle. I wouldn't call myself a groupie, but I am most certainly a fan of what TED represents: spreading great ideas, innovation, inspiration and helping the world become a better place through a collective effort.
I'm also a huge fan of the in the between stuff that happens before and after all the organized formalities that events "do," to throw people together. When there's space and time and the 'tossing' is cast aside, real magic happens. Incredible dialogues happen. Life changing observations form. Relationships emerge. New initiatives are created.
And, as a result, 'collective' conversations away from your 'collective' and 'individual' conversations in your daily worlds, make you think about the world differently.
In that moment, an idea sizzles, or more importantly, an old way of thinking gets shattered which brings me to an oldie but a goodie, one of my favorite Helen Keller quotes:
"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don't see the one opening before us." -Helen Keller
Conversations like these remind you that there are always opportunities in front of us but so often, we're asleep and miss the silent intro.
I had another observation from hanging out with such a 'global 'tribe' over the course of five days. The early American "drive" seems to be getting replaced by more of a laissez faire attitude that no longer induces self ignition. See my write-up on Rescue America, a book released last year by Chris Salamone, that fixates on this shift.
Full of historical and philosophical references, he creates clear and specific connections between the loss of our founding values and the current challenges facing our nation. What is necessary, he suggests, is a fundamental shift back toward a national embodiment of the three primary leadership qualities that sustain all lasting human institutions: gratitude, personal responsibility, and sacrifice.
What I noticed at TedActive was how many people showed up from other parts of the world embracing all three.
The notion that the "west" knows how to lead is something Americans do incredibly well. Many are good at doing it and even more are really good at giving the perception that they're good at doing it. My grandparents and parents generations learned that there were less boundaries than the countries they left behind, and were taught that hard work and education pays off.
In other parts of the world, boundaries are overcome through great sacrifice and taking personal responsibility to change the status quo, which can come in the form of political oppression, rapes that are brushed under the table, or worse.
TED speakers and attendees from other parts of the world are great examples of where and how they embrace gratitude, personal responsibility and sacrifice in their daily lives.
Take a look at this year's Yu Jordy Fu, who is not afraid to push boundaries, incorporating "raw beauty" and "love" into her design, art and architecture.
OR, how violinist Ji-Hae Park uses her music to reach people’s hearts. "There are no boundaries,” says Ji-Hae Park on the TED2013 stage. While TED may be a lofty place to perform, she also plays at prisons, hospitals and restricted facilities. She talks about her time when she was depressed and how changing your perspective through music transformed how she viewed music but life itself.
OR, how Lakshmy Pratury with tears in her eyes, talked about the importance of keeping the Delhi rape alive, also reminding us that theres a new kind of revolution happening in India where the youth is breaking down the concept of a leader.
OR, how Hyeonseo Lee made sacrifices to get her family out of North Korea. As a woman who saw her first public execution at age 7, she endured a famine in the 1990s, one which killing an estimated million people. At the time, she didn’t have the frame of reference to understand the government repression going on around her but was later caught by the Chinese police.
Someone had accused her of being North Korean, and she was subjected to brutal tests of her ability to speak Chinese. Every year, countless North Koreans are caught in China, sent back, tortured, imprisoned, publicly executed, and now she is in Long Beach talking to thousands of people who can make a difference with their voices, blogs, connections, social media call outs and their wallets.
Then, there's the Ugandan artist & teacher Ruganzu Bruno Tusingwire, who I hung out with at TedActive. He became the first City 2.0 Award recipient of 2012 in Doha Qatar, at the TEDxSummit, which I attended last April.
Tusingwire's big idea is to use waste materials to create a movable amusement park for children living in slums of Kampala.
He is using his award to grow his community, grow an woman eco-artist loan program already supporting 15 women to develop their business ideas, and expand the amusement park from a single plane-shaped sculpture made of recycled plastic bottles into a permanent park. I loved his energy, not to mention his visible sense of sacrifice, personal responsibility and gratitude.
A few of my tweets from the week:
- Humans have made a huge hole in nature! We CAN bring back species we have killed &must repair the damage says Stewart Brand@longnow #TED2013
- .@rodneyabrooks shows off his latest #robot Baxter on the #TEDstage - http://ow.ly/i/1Ayqz #robotics #factories #China #education
- .@bonovox_ shares updates from his activist work & latest #HIVstats:Child mortality down w/7256 kids being saved each day#health #TED2013
- #Education is not about filling buckets, it's about lighting fires says Stuart Firestein! http://ow.ly/i/1ABun #TED2013 #TedActive
- Edith Widder shows #squid video: We've only explored 5% of our#oceans! http://ow.ly/i4Scx + http://ow.ly/i/1ABE1 #TED2013 #TedActive
- Brazilian @SalgadoSebasti shows his strongest B/W images at#TED2013 http://ow.ly/i/1ABSF #photography #rainforests #TedActive#eco
- Cities are living systems but #technology has always been part of "the city" asserts @SaskiaSassen at #TED2013 - #TedActive
- #Kenyan Richard Turere (13 yr old inventor) & LionLights 2save his familys cattle on TED2013 stage 2day http://bit.ly/KybBhL #TedActive
- Its not about making learning happen,its about letting it happen@sugatamitra who subscribes2 self organizing learning #educator#TED2013
- Creative ideas from @ideasandaction @mabuzeinab@justwardah @tedxyouthTbird in #PalmSprings this AM:http://ow.ly/i/1AW5L #TED2013
- Bowmaker @dongwooJANG uses bows 2explore his cultural heritage & create a metaphor for his perfect world #TED2013#TEDActive #design #Korea
- #Music is what restored my soul, changed my perspective & set me free says #violinist. Let music #heal your heart says Ji-Hai Park#TED2013
- Martin Villeneuve aka #MarsEtAvril designs the instruments inspired by a woman's body & the #photographer they both love. #TED2013
Another interesting international 'observation' was what was absent and what was wasn't. A latin band played on one of the nights and I was astonished that my partners on the dance floor were not Brazilian, Argentinian, Chilean or Peruvian, but German, French, Middle Eastern and Italian.
In fact, the Best Dancer Award for TEDActive from a 'partner perspective' goes to Mohammed Abu Zeinab from Qatar who is apparently half Palestinian and half Lebanese. Go figure...and he rocked it to Latin music of all things.
P.S. he even wore funky clothing the rest of the week.
TED reminds you that nothing in your world is really aligned the way you 'think it should be.'
It made me wonder what Wallace Stegner, Oscar Wilde, Tolstoy and Doris Lessing would make of TED talks. Would they be overwhelmed? Would they be able to make sense of the over digitized, over connected world we have created?
Someone who can make sense of it is AutoDesk's Jonathan Knowles who showed up for half of TedActive, wearing fabulous, fun and bright colored socks.
Having just migrated from PC to Mac, I was somewhat sad and somewhat ecstatic that our conversation would end up being largely tech support in nature. Two hours later, I was fully equipped with Mac tricks and tips, though I'm still far less efficient on a Mac than I was on my old trusty Lenovo.
I couldn't help but get a chuckle over one of his tweets shortly after he arrive in Palm Springs.
Lunch at #TED2013 versus Lunch at #TEDActive #maybeExaggerateAbit: pic.twitter.com/IV3PoVIG8J
Although excessive, I must admit, we did in fact have a lawn party with picnic baskets, sandwiches and cookies in 80 degree sunshine, the last time we'll likely do such a thing given that TED's new location is in Canadian Vancouver and Whistler next year.
Occasionally, you hang out with people you know and work with: below with Andrew Carton of HAPILABS.
And as always, they had a TED gift bag, which was a backpack made by Target this year. I went for the Explorer bag, which seemed appropriate given that one of my many hats is a travel editor. This of course included a stuffed elephant from World Wildlife Fund, which I named Gambia, and a gift card from Inventables (thx Zach), among umpteen other things. My pals over at TripIt also included a free year subscription and there was a GoToob Bottle from HumanGear I couldn't quite make sense of since the top didn't seem to stay on, which is a disaster for a traveler.
On the last night of TED, I headed back to Long Beach to have drinks and dinner with old friends and musician Amanda Palmer who performed this year, showed up and shared a few tunes with our intimate group, something which has become tradition for as long as I can remember. (the dinner part, not the Amanda part)
And at the end of the evening, there's always room for a little girl bonding or whatever it is we do that makes us feel feminine and human and connected and just fabulous being together. Below: former TEDPrize winner Jehane Noujaim, who is working on The Square, a film about the Egyptian Revolution, Amanda Palmer, Lakshmi Pratury, Renee Blodgett and Amy Robinson.
International flavors came out once again as Reggie Watts killed it on stage at the end of Ted Active with new sounds I hadn't heard before from him. I remain a fan!
Suddenly I found myself lifted up into the crowd and then over it, my body being passed from hands to hands....a remarkable experience especially when you realize that each set of hands are likely from a different continent.
How cool I thought as I looked beyond the crowds below me as people bumped together, swaying to the hypnotic music that extended beyond us into the lofty palms that give Palm Springs its name.
Behind me were the non-swayers sipping drinks and networking in their respective courtyard corners. In the foreground, I spotted Jill Sobule not far from the stage, and then there was Reggie performing in all his eclectic glory, surrounded by a fusion of pinks and hazy midnight hues and I wondered for a moment if it was all just a dream.
Also see some of my individual blog posts from TED 2013 this year, including:
- Four Ted Speakers Who Appeal To Our Sensory Selves
- TED2013 Prize Winner Sugata Mitra's Wish for Education: "School in the Cloud"
- Ugandan Ruganzu Bruno Tusingwire Empowers & Engages Children Through PLAY
- Jordy Fu, Creator & Artist: Create Love Through Design
- Brazilian Photographer Sebastiao Salgado Shares His Story at TED2013
- Rad Hip Gardener Ron Finley Wants to Greenify Inner City Neighborhoods
- Saskia Sassen on the Value of Imperfect & Incomplete Cities at TED2013
- Inspiration at TED2013: From Music & Healing to Endangered Species & Mobile Electric Vehicles
- Dan Pallotta: Think About a Charity's Deams, Not Their Overhead
Photo Credits: All visibly on-stage photos of speakers from the Ted Blog, the shot of Renee and Emmanuelle taken by Teresa Novellino, Yu Jordy Fu with her artwork shot from her site, all other shots by Renee Blodgett.
January 24, 2013
My Top 12 Picks for CES 2013: From Speakers & Robots to Accessories & Backpacks
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month was once again a flurry of new products and as always, I felt as if I was constantly surrounded by pitches of TV flat screens, new speaker designs, casing, docking stations, chargers, dancing robots, iPhone accessories, surround sound substitutes, and more. What stood out was the increasing number of vendors participating in the Digital Health pavilion this year.
Clearly, the marriage of technology and health is increasing at alarming speeds, with products and solutions aimed at helping consumers take charge of their health by collecting and analyzing their own personal data, something that wasn't available to us even ten years ago.
It was no surprise that Fitbit won a Best of CES award, a product which tracks your fitness and has been on the market for awhile now. It's inevitable that the health and wellness category is primed to explode in the coming year.
As for other categories? Sure, I'm a geek, but I'm a female geek who loves great design and rich colors. I'm always a sucker for products in luscious colors - the problem with so many of these products is that they're created and designed by men, so often our choices are limited to neon green, bright girly blues and pinks, or red, black and white.
If women designers were behind more products, I'd imagine we might actually see a high end stereo system in an eggplant purple, burgundy or an olive green, something that wouldn't clash with our sofas, curtains and painted walls. I spoke to four speaker companies about this conflict and guess what? Weaving a color design into a living room hadn't even occurred to them.
As a traveler and writer, most of my top picks were focused on products that would be useful for the mobile warrior, often lightweight, reasonably priced and compact.
Degauss Labs Earphones
The SPKRS Series is a line of earphones by Degauss Labs that is focused on top notch sound quality. They tout that the bass is amazing (I haven't received them yet but did see them purr on the show floor). In its price range, SPKRS are durable and comfortable.The all aluminum housing absorbs vibrations and preserves the sound quality. The housing is coated with a special technique making the housing as matte and clean looking as the rest of the earphone, rarely found on metal housed earphones. They feature an enhanced acoustic design that helps music sound smoother.
SPKRS comes in a variety of carefully selected AND fun colors. SPKRS is UNIVERSAL and works with Apple iPhone, and the latest version of Android phones from Samsung, HTC and Sony. Windows phone by Nokia is also supported.
Ranipak Backpacks & iPad Cases
I loved the slick design of Ranipak's new Y.U.M.C. Series. Great for travelers on the go, there are tons of pockets and great colors (particularly liked the eggplant).
All products are done in a great European design with a global appeal.
HyperJuice External Batteries
One of the funkiest designed products I accidentally came across were the HyperJuice external batteries for Apple MacBook, iPhone, iPad, iPod and USB products. Behind the products is Sanho Designs, which design, manufacture and market IT accessories with a focus on Apple accessories, portable power and storage.
Their product brands include: HyperJuice - External batteries for Apple MacBook, iPhone, iPad, iPod, USB products, HyperDrive - Portable digital data storage products for Apple devices, digital cameras, memory cards, HyperShield - Cases, stylus pens and other accessories for Apple devices, and HyperThin - World's thinnest most flexible HDMI cables.
For travelers, their products are a Godsend, particularly for those who carry more than one digital product with them like me. Let's just say I can't wait to test out the HyperJuice Mini, Micro and PLUG and I have a feeling, I'll be a prolific user. The company also is smart about design...and they offer a number of rich and fun colors.
SwitchEasy offers some stylin' products for the iPad and iPhone as well as great compact keyboards, ideal for the digital traveler. They offer iPad cases and iPod Touch cases in a number of designs and rich colors.
Their mission is to provide more reasons for PC users to "Switch" to a better digital lifestyle through our innovative little add-ons.
See below for the Safekey Keyboards Protection, which I plan to try out soon on the road. To the left of the keyboards is one of many beautifully styled iPad cases they offer.
Edifer offers a few speaker options that are perfect for those on-the-go.
Sound To Go PLUS is all about portability - they do an all-in-one micro speaker with re-chargeable Lithium battery. Encased in a brushed aluminum chassis, it features 2 channel stereo with 2 full range 1.25" drivers on each channel (magnetically shielded). It also features a built-in 'Class D' amplifier and a 3" x 1.25" oval passive radiator, which means someting to those in the audio world.
GeoPalz, creators of the first decorative pedometer for kids, introduced the ibitz PowerKey for children and ibitz Unity for parents to its suite of products. With ibitz, a family’s electronics are powered by physical activity. Each ibitz connects wirelessly to select Bluetooth 4.0 phones, tablets and laptops to track physical activity. For kids, the ibitz PowerKey converts physical activity into “keys” that unlock rewards, while the ibitz Unity for parents tracks the overall progress of family health goals.
The ibitz PowerKey for kids not only unlocks access to games and apps, but also allows each user to maintain the health of their own GeoBotz virtual pet character within their app.
Foldable Rubber Keyboards by Chin Fai
Chin Fai has a host of incredibly useful rubber roll up keyboards which are bluetooth enabled, a seriously must-have companion for any traveler.
They also have a host of brightly colorful rubber products which encase iPhones, iPads and other devices to help protect them against wear and tear - you can even drop your product encased by one of these and it protects the outer layer and edges of the device.
HAPIfork, the world's first connected fork that slows down how fast you eat received a substantial amount of attention, so much so that the booth was always full of broadcast cameras, producers, doctors, health afficiandos and people who have lost weight or were looking to...among other eager enthusiasts.
While (full disclosure), I am involved in the company, it is on my picks list because it is a product I was excited about even before their launch and a reason I decided to jump on board. There is no other product like it on the market and for someone like me, who travels incessantly and never seems to have time for a 'slow' meal, it makes for a perfect "throw-it-in-your-bag" utensil which not only will help me slow down how fast I eat on the road, but track it on my desktop and mobile phone as well.
HAPIfork received so much buzz, we had to turn away opportunities knocking on our doorstep because we were limited with only 3 prototypes on the show floor.
I think the "smart" HAPIfork struck a chord with people because it's such a device that can modify your behavior, prompting you to slow things down, thereby eating less, which is better for your overall health and well-being in the short and long term.
Action Camcorders by Astak
For under $300, you can get one of Astak's action camcorders, which comes with a 170 ultra-wide angle lens that supports 1080p HD video recording. You can shoot 8 megapixel photos hands-free and there's a built-in LCD screen, which includes real time display and video playback. The nice thing for adventure travelers, is that there's waterproof housing which goes down to 197 feet or 60 meters. I could have used this handy device when I was swimming with baluga whales this summer in northern Canada.
It also comes with a rechargeable lithium battery and has four recording modes: 1080p 30fps, 720P 60fps, 720P 30fps or WVGA 60fps. It connects via a USB 2.0 and has a built-in microphone. Additional sports accessories are also available. I haven't tested it yet but hope to do a more extensive review if and when I get product in hand.
House of Marley Headphones
I was running to get to an appointment and House of Marley's booth stopped me dead in my tracks. Creative, compelling, and loaded with well-designed noise-canceling headphones in fabulous colors with a deep, rich sound. Their headsets are the culmination of natural materials and technology coming together to make beautiful music.
Stainless steel, leather and high-quality recycled aluminum blend to create a striking, sophisticated look. And the performance meets that look. With battery powered noise-canceling headphones, it reproduces an intimate, authentic sound that lets you truly feel the music.
I can't wait to test these out!
Mizco's iPad, iPod, iPhone Accessories
From Mizco, I came across the iEssentials products. For around $30, they have a 2-in-1 Car and Wall Charger that lets you charge two devices simultaneously, whether you're on the road, in your office or at your home.
I also loved their Diamond Cases for iPhone 5. Their cases are form fitting, so they fit snugly around your phone and includes embedded rhinestones for additional style. Unlike so many products of this ilk, they come in richer non-pastel colors. What I loved most was how durable they felt in my hands.
Moneual Robot Cleaner
Another product I'd love to test out and use is the Robot Cleaner by Moneual, which I saw a demo of on the show floor. A high performance BLDC Motor outputs stronger suction, and is powered by the latest long lasting Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery.
Great for both hard floor and carpeted floor surfaces, the vacuum's mop attachment can be attached for hard floors, allowing for vacuuming and mopping to function at the same time. Twin side brushes allow for a wider, effective cleaning width to brush debris towards the main brush for collecting.
The vacuum can cover up to 1,200 square feet on one charge, depending on clutter, as maneuvering around clutter may impact cleaning time. Additional specialized cleaning modes include corner, shadow, and scheduled cleaning. It even has the ability to return to the charging dock after a cleaning session!
January 24, 2013 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Client Media Kudos, Conference Highlights, Events, On Health, On Innovation, On Mobile & Wireless, On Technology, Travel, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 06, 2012
Paris: Absorbing the Many Sides & Moods of Her
Paris has a funny way about her and yes, I'm sure she's a her. She's all the things a her can be: beautiful, moody, complex, dynamic, essential, turbulent, pensive, fashionable, delicious and vivacious.
I've been meandering through her alleys, eating her crepes and sipping her coffee every December for years now. I've never shied away from her nor have I ever rejected her....she has that way about her of pulling you in like gravity, the force of which is so powerful you find yourself agreeing with her even if she toys with your patience from time-to-time.
This year, as I thought about her brittle wet days and nights, as she is every December, I realized I was hesitant to go. She wasn't egging me on and part of me feared: Am I done with Paris? Is she done with me? I contemplated the thought but only briefly as I realized my dismissal of her was only because I was so preoccupied with the year 2012 and seeing it come to an end.
Far too many heady reflective messages this year....the ones that call you to challenge things you once believed were crystal clear only to discover they were muddier and murkier than a pond on Detroit's south side during a lightening storm.
It's not as if I needed a 'soulful' place to visit...not that Paris doesn't have its fair share of soul. More than a soulful city however, Paris is an invigorating one, one which re-ignites lost creativity and inspires the artist within. Who doesn't need a creative light and inspiration regardless of what stage in life they're in I thought? And yet, I reflected on one insightful early December night before I boarded the plane, I want silence, not noise, warm balmy nights, not icy windy ones, clear blue skies that hurt my eyes from their brightness, not gray cloudy ones, and warm brothy soups, not sizzling duck with a glass of Bordeaux.
But then I remembered all the drizzly rainy cold days and nights with Paris below my feet and how many of them I spent with her alone. Ahhh yes, Paris alone. Most people don't think about her that way - they head there when they want to propose to a loved one, take in a romantic weekend away, surprise someone with an anniversary present, or simply to experience the allure of her magnificence, the allure Hemingway and other greats have written novels about since anyone could.
Alone is when Paris really shines, I thought to myself and I've more often had her to myself than not, so why would this year be any different? She'll surprise me in a different way like she always does, I told myself. It will rain since she's rarely given me sunshine and I will hover under some broken umbrella on a corner somewhere savoring a piece of dark chocolate that was beautifully wrapped in 3 colored foil with a golden blue ribbon.
I knew the shop, the many shops I could go to for such a delight and marvel in its decadence the moment I stepped back out onto the wet pavement. I knew Paris would be good for that or for a plate of mussels near Saint Germain des Pres. Or for her lights. Her beauty. Her mystery. Her endless cafes where you could sit for hours over a dark roasted coffee in a cup the size of a thumb nail or one large enough to be a soup cup.
I wondered about the latest boot and shoe fashion and what St. Paul's window displays would bring me, or the beer I'd have with a journalist friend who always insists on meeting near the Republique and I always say yes even though I'd take grapes over hops any day. I considered a couple business colleagues who would roll their eyes when I pleaded for old world charm when they simply wanted to take in a modern brasserie or cafe. Then, there is my friend who has lived there for nearly thirty years, who remains as enthusiastic and endearing about life itself as he was when I first met him on that Eastern African island where we were stuck for weeks because there was no boat, rig or plane that could bring us back to the mainland.
I remembered one year where I had more time than most and walked ten miles of her wet cold streets every day for two weeks. At the end of each day after I had killed two or three of those $5 umbrellas because the wind blew them apart, I'd trek back to the apartment where I was staying, which had an unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower from its kitchen. Every night, the Tower was magnificent and looked like it was close enough to touch from my balcony, the vibrancy of its lights rightfully overpowering anything else near it. Waiting for me was either a graceful or complex Bordeaux (I never knew which one I'd get) and some dark chocolate.
On the way, I'd stop at a corner near La Motte Picquet Grenelle's metro station and order a crepe with ham and mushrooms and because I was there so often, I didn't have to explain daily why I didn't want cheese, something that confuses anyone who lives in Paris, French or not. I wondered if the same man was there, the same man who'd smile every time I ordered the same thing night after night.
"Poivre?" he asked the first time. "Beaucoup, beaucoup," I responded. As he was about to fold the crepe from the piping hot skillet and scoop into a paper plate, I stopped him and said, "plus de poivre s'il vous plait." He looked at me in disbelief as if to say that any more pepper atop his perfectly crafted crepe would destroy the flavors inside. Perhaps he thought, "damn yank, she doesn't have a clue," on that one cold December night, the first time I bought a crepe from him. Over time, the smiles increased and he even helped me navigate a very long walking route one day on my crumpled damp paper map and although he kept reinforcing that it was too far to walk and why wouldn't I take the metro, he gave me advice anyway. And, we never had to talk about "poivre" again for he sprinkled the perfect amount on my ham and mushroom crepe with no cheese every day until I left.
Why was I fighting her I thought? Reflection time aside, doesn't Paris always take me in whether I am in a state of chaos, glory, beauty or solitude? Doesn't she always give back even if there are some cuts and bruises along the way? You know, the side that many foreigners complain about. The French "attitude," they receive because they aren't sophisticated enough, cultured enough, educated enough, polished enough, fashionable enough, French enough or French at all.
We've all been there and yet, a variation of it exists in many cultures, albeit more common in cosmopolitan cities. Yet, with the exception of Buenos Aires and Tokyo, I've been to all the other major cities around the world and truth be told, Paris does have more attitude. It's France's New York, posing the same directness and attitude but with more charm unless of course if you happen to be British or American.
New Yorkers feel the same way about their city, as if there is no other city greater in the world and why would you go anywhere else, even for a weekend for crying out loud?
I was no longer worried about why I brushed Paris aside this year. Once my flight was booked, the hesitation went away and even after looking at the 70% rain weather report, I moved forward packing warm socks, waterproof boots, mittens, hats and scarves and one of those many mini $5 umbrellas I was due to destroy in the coming days ahead. I wondered as I thought about the cloudy gray skies that would meet my gaze when I landed at Charles De Gaulle, what she had in store for me at the end of this very long year.