June 03, 2011
The Magnificence of Utah's Burr Trail
What’s amazing to me is how little a guide book talked about the breathtaking beauty of Utah’s Burr Trail, which starts only a few miles from the town of Boulder, UT. Perhaps its because there isn’t much there, so without the comforts of home where tourists can flock to hang their hat for the night, it likely keeps away a huge flood of tourists. That said, there is a lodge in the area and a couple of nearby motels within 10 or so miles.
Burr Tail is one of those wonders that continues to delight at every turn and just when you feel as if you saw the most amazing rock formation and structure, another one pops up around the corner. Like most of southern Utah, the colors have so much depth and texture that they change by the minute depending on the angle from your car.
Because we were in a convertible, we were able to take more in and I could stand for part of it with binoculars/zoom lens and see the cracks and etchings from relatively far away. We also got out of the car of course and took in a few walks and spent some time close up with the rock. There were also some unusually colored set of sand dunes at the start of the trail which resembled a combination of Buddha sand monster and a spaceship.
There were also a few scenic view points and immediately after the last one which was 13 or so miles into the drive, you could keep going on dirt road and here the scenery changed yet again. Drama after drama, Utah’s Burr Trail couldn’t and shouldn’t be described as anything other than an exquisite natural earth wonder. Yet a couple of guidebooks merely refer to it as breathtaking. All of Utah is breathtaking – the Burr Trail is remarkable in one of those remarkable ways that you remember for a lifetime.
In some places, you could almost feel as if the rock formations were alive and watching you. In other areas, you experienced this sense of silence we very rarely experience in our lives, the last time for me being the African Karoo at dusk in a jeep.
May 31, 2011
Forget Windy Cold Chicago, Come to San Francisco in the Summer
Even though I’ve lived on the west coast for awhile, I still forget just how cold spring and summer is in San Francisco. Starting in May, it’s the time of year to migrate just in the same way northerners go south from January through April.
I recently went to a weekend festival in the South Bay and was so blown around that I had to resort to tying my hair back with a scarf to see through my hair. Had the scarf not been available, I may have packed it up and called it a day.
The following week, I had to move out to the living room couch since the wind that was tearing up my back garden was so loud, I found it hard to sleep. Bear in mind that I live on one of those traditional San Francisco hills, where you can actually have an outside back garden even if you live on a second or third floor. When the wind comes, the potted trees move, the chimes swirl, the hanging plants crash up against each other, the cats go nuts and it feels as if a tornado is about to come through your windows.
Sometimes I’ll throw on a Bose headset, turn on the meditation music, dim the lights and try to read to see if I can ignore the wild wind “swoons” which clearly want to be noticed in the middle of the night. Just like everything else, I have faith my body will adjust to it over time, in the same way people who live on top of a train station or next to an airport do.
I grew up on a lake in upstate New York and the sound of the boat motors that would often wake newcomers up in the early mornings. For me, it was nothing more than background noise and something I didn’t even notice because it had become part of my routine and my system “knew” and integrated it. I look forward to the time when my system starts to know the wind in the same way.
May 30, 2011
Utah Canyon Shoot: Testing New Graphic Tripod in the Desert Cold
On a recent trip to Utah, I had not yet tried out my new graphite tripod, the one I spent far too much on but did so because it is a full length one and yet it folds down to 12 inches and weighs a mere two pounds. When the sun started setting, a light jacket was no longer enough, but you forget about these things when you’re a photographer on a mission.
There I was with four other photographers who were clearly already “one” with their tripods and experienced with cold evening “waits” for that precise moment when you snap that killer shot. Freezing cold despite my layers, I observed them as much as I did the canyon before me which was changing color by the minute as we neared 8 pm. Since I was told the magic time was between 5 and 7, I didn’t realize I’d be standing out there for nearly four hours until 9 pm turning into ice.
The good news is that my photographer counterparts (Canadian, French, Swedish and a New Yorker) were great companions and even offered me some of their tools to play with, such as a cool blue filter and different lenses. They were two for two (two Nikons and two Canons) and I had my Canon 7D with me and my new 85 (1.2) lens. We all tried various settings and I found myself going through flash card after flash card since I was shooting raw. I seem to go through more cards driving through Utah than my last shoot in Paris somehow.
I found myself cursing how long the sun was taking to deliver the optimal moment given how cold it was, but alas it came and it really didn’t arrive until close to 8:30 pm. Once you’ve committed to waiting, you learn a helluva lot about your camera and about the way other photographers think and work.
What I realized is that I’m not really a wide angle landscape fan even though I always take those shots when the opportunity arises. I really love close ups of rocks, landscapes, fauna and earth; it’s the textures and depth of the land that turns me on rather than the expansive aspect of a horizon.
Perhaps it’s because I like getting my hands dirty; I like being “in” a situation creating from within rather than observing from the outside. Not sure if that makes me a producer, director, artist or just high maintenance or a variation of all three, but although I left completely satisfied, I was thinking on my drive back to my hotel, how much I was looking forward to using the tripod for model shots more so than mountain ones.
March 28, 2011
WOMEX for International Music Scene in Copenhagen
WOMEX is a very cool music event being held in Copenhagen, Denmark this October. The event highlights the most important international professional market of world music of every kind.
Think of it as an international fair, which brings together professionals from the worlds of folk, roots, ethnic and traditional music and also includes concerts, conferences and documentary films. It contributes to networking as an effective means of promoting music and culture of all kinds across frontiers.
Since it started, there have been significant milestones including its current state:
- 2,440 delegates and 1,360 companies from 94 countries.
- 850 concert and festival bookers.
- 600 labels, publishers and distributors.
- 700 managers and 350 producers.
- 350 national and international journalists, incl. 170 radio broadcasters.
- A bustling Trade Fair with 260 stands and 650 exhibiting companies.
- 59 Showcase acts with 300 artists from 38 countries on 6 stages.
- More than 60 speakers in 20 Conference Sessions; a Mentoring programme; a new Matchmaking service for publishers and Country Speed-Dating.
- A festive Opening Concert – The Chaosmos of Korean Music: Heaven, Earth and Human – presenting three of the finest bands on the contemporary Korean music scene.
It will be held from October 26-30, 2011 in Copenhagen although check out information on Virtual WOMEX as well.
February 24, 2011
Swerve Connects People to Great Things To Do
At the LAUNCH Conference in San Francisco this past week, I interviewed Swerve's John Magdziarz about their iPhone app. Swerve connects people to great things to do. Serving up thousands of events in cities across the U.S., Swerve is for anyone who wants to get out and do something – a couple planning a date night, a group of friends looking for a club party, or a businessperson attending a conference or networking event.
Swerve offers listings for Music & Nightlife; Food & Drink; Speakers & Networking; Art & Museums; Get-togethers; Deals; and Facebook public events. Swerve also makes it easy to share event details and gather friends through social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, all while on-the-go from your mobile device. John explains in the video below and shows us a demo on an iPad.
February 24, 2011 in America The Free, Arts & Creative Stuff, Entertainment/Media, Europe, Events, On Mobile & Wireless, Social Media, Travel, Videos, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
November 14, 2010
Ireland: Things I Forgot, New Things Learned
22 years later, give or take, I recently returned to Ireland, but this time, Dublin was the first and only stop. Unlike the last tour which took in the southern countryside, this adventure centered around Dublin and was jam packed with meetings, coffees, lunches, dinners, and more coffees. And of course, a few pints of Guinness along the way.
Having Irish friends in the states, England or any other country for that matter, doesn't really give you an authentic snapshot of Irish soil, largely because so much about the culture and experience IS the soil.....the soil and the rain, the wind and the air.
Some of my most vivid memories of my first trip to Ireland were of massive breakfasts and the charming albeit cold B&Bs. Twenty years ago, there wasn't a stop off that had central heating and your bones felt every bit of the result.
THINGS I FORGOT:
1. How incredibly witty the Irish are, and not just occasionally, but all the time.
2. The Irish live for a good story - telling one and taking one in. And, there are always interesting historical tidbits and mythical legends thrown in for good measure.
3. How much I resonate with Irish culture because of their zest for life AND their ability to pull something from a hat even when there isn't one.
4. If they don't know an answer, they'll make one up, and even if its wrong, it's almost always interesting.
6. Hospitality. Not only do they understand the word, but they're efficient at it. Ask for something and it'll be waiting for you with a smile, followed by a grin, not necessarily in that order.
7. When they say they're going to do something, they deliver. Their word means something as does the word Honor.
8. For the record, #5 is worth repeating.
9. How much many of the town layouts reminded me of some of the English rural towns, always marked with a pub in the center.
The difference is that the bartenders always seem to be happy, or if they're not when you first sit down, it doesn't take long to get a smile out of them.
10. The Irish are laid back; they left uptight behavior somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.
11. Guinness is not just an Irish brand, it's an institution. Pubs wear the name on their seats, towels, banners, coasters and glasses and people drink a lot of it. A helluva lot of it.
12. Just how damp the air is, not unlike my memories of England. The dampness not just hugs your bones but it goes through them.
14. History is a big deal. They all know a lot of it and you won't leave without a lesson or two.
15. Abortion is illegal. I forgot that it was and was shocked to learn that it still is.
16. How different the north and south is and how loyal the people are to their county, towns, villages, cities and pubs.
17. How entertaining any pub visit can be regardless of which one you walk into.
18. How gorgeous the pubs are -- inside and out, from the drapes and windows to the old wood, brass and textiles.
NEW THINGS LEARNED:
1. Sadly, American beers like Budweiser and Miller seem to have made a successful entry into Ireland despite the fact that they brew their own beer which is 10x better.
3. There's a growing technology scene in Dublin, Galway and other pockets of the country.....and a lot of innovative ideas and people are emerging.
4. You can find a great selection of boots and shoes and they're on par with what I found in France, Italy and Germany, but in more cases than not, for about the same price as Paris.
5. More people than not thought I was Irish and apparently it wasn't just because of my auburn hair and pale white skin. There's something in a walk I'm told and it looks like I have "it" whatever "it" is.
6. There are enough fabulous restaurants with great food and ambiance that you could eat out every night of the week in Dublin and never get bored or have a bad meal.
7. You can easily meet 5 Paddy's, 5 Connors, and 5 Iains in one afternoon.
8. Wine is heavily taxed, so much so that you can easily pay more for a bottle or glass of wine than you would in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of America's most expensive cities. And, for 6-8 Euros a glass, you may only end up with a mediocre French Bordeaux. It's considered a luxury I'm told whereas beer is not. Moral of the story is: drink beer. There's a ton of it and it's really good.
9. More people still read books, magazines and newspapers in their hard copy form, not on their iPads or laptops - even on a park bench in the rain.
10. People text a lot more than they do in the states.
11. Entrepreneurs I met are more interested in building a business than flipping one.
12. Radio still flies. I ran into one start-up CEO who met his $20K angel investor because of a local radio interview.
13. Google has their European headquarters in Dublin. The rest of Silicon Valley may already know this, but I didn't. I also learned that they're not easily "accessible."
14. Art in Dublin is pricey compared to what I've seen in other European cities. That said, there IS a scene.....from poets, painters, photographers and designers, to illustrators, architects, fiddlers and film producers.
15. The architecture industry is suffering; the decline being hit by a reduction in building because of the economic downturn. That said, there's more "church" architecture gigs than you'd find in the states because of the volume of them. And, projects could easily take a year or more.
17. Pub crawls in Dublin are not just for tourists. What else is cool and may not be well known, is that they have literary and music pub crawls too.
18. Festivals are quite possibly as common as pubs, and....they're scattered throughout the year. And, all of them look interesting and worth attending.
19. People may be having fewer kids but 3 is certainly not uncommon and more the norm than it is the states, particularly in cities.
Lastly, and most of all, the charm and yesteryear culture of Ireland remains. Misty gray skies are part of its unpredictable weather, regardless of the time of year, but with it comes a stronger tolerance for things and a heartier stock of folks who are a joy to meet and get to know.
Passion and creativity also reign as much as they always did, which will be enough of a reason alone to bring me back to Irish shores and valleys again and again.
November 12, 2010
10.5 Hour Flights Cattle Style
In fact, there have been times when a dozen hours have gone by and I've taken not much more than a five minute break to put the tea kettle on.
Flying used to whiz by for me -- just like it does in front of the addictive PC screen. After all, you can "endure" anything for a day. Enduring of course, is a choice, isn't it? You can opt to do two things:
1-change what we perceive as something to endure to a different experience, i.e., an educational journey for example.
2-simply choose to opt out of the experience altogether.Opting out of flying is not really an option when it's an integral part of your life work. Flying for those who have spent a lifetime doing it know it has only gotten worse, not better. Flights are cramped and often overbooked, service is in the toilet and you're charged for every incremental whether it's worth it or not. To top it off, most of the food is processed, overpriced and not worth eating. And, that's just the beginning.
Let's visit international travel today.
1) Three-four hours of research -- flight times, changes, connections, all to avoid 5 am take-offs and two changes along the way.
2) Research various destinations (time varies depending on the trip but it's not an exaggeration to say that this process can exceed 20 hours)
3) Accommodation research. Don't get me started - you want wifi? Even when they say they have it, more often than not, they don't or it doesn't work the "day" you arrive.
4) Seat in advance? You actually want to book your seat in advance?
5) See above. Call airline. On hold. Call drops. On hold again. Agent is following rule book so we go round and round the bureaucracy circle. They don't understand or pretend they don't. Frustration increases. They transfer you. Call drops. Call again. Throw phone across room.
6) Check in online 24 hours in advance. Find that you're stuck in the back of the airplane in a middle seat and can't change it. Call airline. Repeat #5.
7) At airport with online boarding pass yet you still have to stand in line for bag drop off (note, line is longer than check-in line). What's wrong with this picture exactly?
8) Elevated leg room for an extra $50 she says to me without a smile. That buys you 3 inches she says, again without a smile. OR, you can pay $180 more for "premium economy." What does that mean exactly? More leg room she says, without a smile. How much more? She doesn't know. It's the in-person equivalent of #5.
On my latest flight to Heathrow, I learned that they had overbooked the plane, which btw, happens 9 times out of 10 flights in my more recent experiences.
Instead of having a spare seat next to me, the entire row is full as is every row behind and in front of me. Instead of looking for ways to make the travel experience less stressful, more comfortable and relaxing, airlines are creating new stress points to a trip that never existed before.
It's as if the COOs have fired all the CMOs, hired a 22 year old social media director straight out of college to manage their Facebook and Twitter page and think that that'd do the 'ole marketing and customer service trick. WTF?
Airlines look for every conceivable way to milk another dollar out of their customers while decreasing the value of the travel experience. Stewards don't listen to needs, they follow rules. Rather than serve the customer, they serve an operational system that dehumanizes the travel experience. Even Virgin has moved in that direction.
More and more, I feel like I'm one in a herd of cattle getting moved through an operational system so airlines can make more money. The net result is that travel becomes something to 'endure' not enjoy. Despite the fact that quality goes down and customers complain, nothing changes. For the airlines that are active on Twitter and Facebook, you may get a response if you shout loud enough, and while it may make you feel 'heard' for a moment or two, it doesn't change your last or next travel experience.
It's not just the service that continues to decline, it's the products too. If you haven't noticed, the headsets have gotten cheaper - I had two break on me on one flight in the first 30 minutes and another break on a flight two weeks later. (different airlines).
What used to be blankets are now oversized golf towels with a logo on them and let's remember, most now charge you for the terrycloth lap coverage. American recently charged me $8 for a "very" cheap mini bottle of wine and $10 for processed crackers and cheese.
On a London to Florida flight, British Airways charged $24 for a box of food (return flight). WTF?
On another flight across the Atlantic with Virgin recently, the guy to my left was impressed that Virgin didn't charge for food for the transatlantic flight. It's a 10.5 hours flight I said to him in disbelief. WTF? He shouldn't be impressed, he should be outraged that it isn't the norm. He was not, btw, a frequent traveler.
Acceptance of crap means we get crap. Rewind the clocks for those who are old enough to do so. I remember looking forward to flights - the service, the food, the movies, the wine. Hell, when I was a kid, I got crayons and American Airlines cards on every flight. (for FREE and we took them home with us). Imagine.
As I squirmed around in my jammed packed "cattle class" row listening to the crying babies in front of me, and the angry man behind me who kept elbowing my seat in hopes I wouldn't recline my seat, I desperately tried to re-frame my experience and turn "enduring the flight" to something I might be able to learn from.
Sadly, I couldn't think of anything I could learn from repeated airplane discomfort except for perhaps motivation to get more women in senior management in the airline industry so we can put the "human touch" back into travel.
So, I closed my eyes and imagined what I WOULD DO if I were running marketing and operations for a major airline. My goal would be for the airline to own the phrase "airline love" on every platform out there - on and offline. Hire different people. Train them on what customer service really means. Put them through the "cattle experience" and ask them for ways to make the experience better. And, identify other revenue streams so the customer doesn't "feel" like they ARE the revenue stream.
It's time. It's so time.
Cattle call be gone!
November 10, 2010
The Magic of Family Businesses & the Stories that Keep Them Alive
Occasionally you come across an old shop, creamery, pub, restaurant, chemist or cafe that......simply speaks to you and feels so damn authentic that you go back in time simply through its walls, floors and ceilings.
Having grown up in New England on Richard Russo's soil, I gravitate to places like that or they simply find me. It even shows in the banner of Down the Avenue, which is a modified version of the upstate New York main street small town where I grew up.
Jack Carvill & Sons along Dublin's Camden Street (renown for thrift stores) dates back to 1905. Online, someone referred to it the Rolls Royce of off-licenses.
Not everything in the place is still original, yet many of it remains in its antiquated authentic form, including the door behind the counter, the tills, the back hutch and the gorgeous albeit "dinged up" wooden counter.
Jack Carvill's apparently even got a mention in "Ulysses" although the real story is in its history, which I learned through the young man running it during my recent trip to Dublin. (Jim Bourke is the current owner btw).
In the early 1900s, it was called Delahunt and run by the Delahunt family through the mid-thirties when they sold it to the Cavey family, who ran the place for another thirty years until they sold it in the mid-sixties to Jack Carvill. It was Jack who renovated it (we think in 1968) and for nearly another thirty years, Carvill and his two sons ran it. Carvill died in 1993 but their sons still managed the store until their mother died in the late nineties (she apparently lived upstairs over the shop).
Take a look at this. He showed us the daily revenue book from the mid-thirties. Fascinating. While it may be hard to read, they took in 252 pounds (16 shillings and 4.5 pence) on Christmas Eve in 1936, which was higher than their typical take, which ranged from 80 to 185 pounds.
All I can say is thank God places like this still exist and thank God there are people on the planet who still care enough to restore history and remember the stories which keep the wonderful characters from distant times still alive.
Camara Educates African Communities With Reburbished PCs
Camara's John Fitzsimons tells me about their latest work in Africa during a recent trip to Dublin.
We have both spent time in Africa volunteering and teaching so had some common ground; the difference is John is still committed to making a difference there through his day-to-day working as General Manager of Camara.
It has nothing to do with photography despite the a/e slip in the word that could fool you if you read too quickly.
All about giving back, Carama is a volunteer organization dedicated to using technology to deliver education more effectively to disadvantaged communities in Africa and Ireland.They operate as a social enterprise in two distinct business lines: ‘Education Delivery’ and ‘Computer Reuse’. The connection between these two, seemingly disparate activities is technology.
Essentially they bring in in used computers from Irish companies and individuals, wipe their hard drives of data (in line with US Department of Defense standards), refurbish and load them with educational software before setting them up as Learning Centres in schools in Africa and Ireland. How cool is that?
What's with the name I ask him? It's the Bantu name for one who teachers with experience John says. They currently do most of their work in Lesotho, Zambia, Tanzanaire, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia.
"Camara is not the typical NGO," John says. "I'm not an international specialist. The return on investment for us is a social return, not a financial return. We want to be a 'social enterprise.'" They train teachers to use these computers as tools to improve the delivery of education to their students. And, they produce computer training and educational multimedia materials for use by teachers and children.
When Camara was established in 2005, they had two core beliefs: 1) Education is the key for people to break the cycle of poverty they find themselves in; and 2) properly used, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can be harnessed to revolutionize the way world class education is delivered to disadvantaged communities.
"The Internet is such a great leveler, creating so many equal opportunities with education and distant learning," says John. More on their program and how they operate below.
October 22, 2010
Gourmex: Taste the Flavors of Mexico
The Friends of Mexico and the Mexican Consulate have announced the launch of Gourmex, a gala event hosted at the Bently Reserve, San Francisco, on October 25th, 2010 from 6:00pm – 8:30pm.
Gourmex will showcase the some of the best culinary talent in San Francisco, the Bay Area and Mexico while highlighting upscale and boutique food and beverage product exported from Mexico to the United States. There will be a number of diverse offerings prepared by some of the most well-regarded local Mexican Restaurants in the San Francisco/greater Bay area.
Gourmex will also highlight upscale and boutique culinary product exported from Mexico, including samples of some of the highest quality chiles, spices and chocolate. For beverages, Don Julio will be offering tastes as will some of the wineries.