Katie and I had a really, really nice Christmas week. It began with seeing Avatar in IMAX 3D here in Houston. I didn't know much about the film going into it, except that it had been very hyped. All I hoped for was more Terminator and less Titanic. Although the plot wasn't terribly novel, I certainly identified with the eco-friendly themes and, hey, I can always get behind an underdog in a good fight. Besides, the film was visually pretty spectacular and I strongly encourage people to see it in IMAX 3D if available. Overall I'd give it a 4.5 out of 6.
We then attended the annual holiday dinner of the Houston chapter of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, a lovely affair in the private room at Tony's. We were thrilled to see that, during my two-year hiatus, the organization took on many new Rice alumni members so we had many friends at the dinner.
Wednesday we hopped on a flight to DC, where Mom picked us up from the airport. It was a real Winter Wonderland there after 20+ inches of snow! Boy it was great to be back, though. This was a very lazy trip in stark contrast to my usual pack-as-much-in-as-possible-and-try-to-see-everyone-in-just-a-few-days-which-basically-means-spending-all-my-time-stuck-in-DC-traffic. Maybe this was Katie's influence on me? Or maybe I'm just getting old? Either way, I could get used to the R&R!
Christmas Eve our dear, dear friends who have been like parents to me came over for dinner. Mom and Katie put together a veritable feast for us--with healthy, natural ingredients, of course. I tried to help out where I could but I spent most of the day reconnecting with my 8-year-old self and reading through all my old Calvin & Hobbes books. What a blast! Two decades later they are still a delight.
After dinner we exchanged gifts and then dove into the piece de resistance, a homemade Italian cream cake our guests had brought. When we finished it and loosened our belts a little, we were all surprised to realize that it was well past 1 AM--time flies when you are reconnecting with friends who are so close they really are family! We therefore had to call it a night to ensure that Santa would come.
Christmas Day was just as leisurely as we opened more presents and sipped on mimosas. A Christmas Story was watched, delicious leftovers were consumed, and naps were taken. Awesome.
The day after Christmas we hosted a small open house, which was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends and neighbors. Of course it featured even more great food. I did manage to squeeze some cardio in on this trip but that could hardly compete with the onslaught of delectables with which I was confronted every day. I'm not losing any sleep over it, though; the whole trip felt really, really good.
Now we're back in Houston and gathering ourselves for the New Year. We both received some truly outstanding gifts for Christmas but the greatest were the opportunities to spend time with the ones we love. What more can one really ask? I mean, other than wishing for Bill Watterson to come out of retirement to write more Calvin & Hobbes strips! And for Art Monk to come out of retirement to fix the Redskins. It was a very merry Christmas for me, for us, and I hope for everyone else out there as well. Here's to you all!
I spent the last week in the UK on business with meetings in Oxford and Cambridge. Katie had never been to London so we flew over for the preceding weekend just to soak it up a bit. In the security line at the Houston airport we bumped into Mike Unton, another Lovett alum, which was a good way to kick off our trip.
The flight from IAH to LHR was a significant one: for the first time in my life I attained Continental Platinum Elite status! I'm not sure it will change my life much but I have already been upgraded for this week's flight to DC so I'm excited about it. En route I watched Up and GI Joe. The former was pretty good while the latter was about as expected.
We arrived early Saturday morning and met up immediately with Mike Cox, another Rice alum who's currently working on a project in the UK. All last year while I was in Switzerland, Cox and I schemed about what we would do when this project started and we were finally on the same side of the Atlantic again. However, his project was delayed and delayed until it finally started shortly after I returned to the States--doh!
Cox was still recovering from a Christmas party the night before but he rallied quickly and we struck out together for the Texas Embassy. At the Embassy we met up with several IMD alumni, a few of whom are in green businesses--very cool! After lunch we donated a large Rice banner to add to the UT, Texas Tech, TCU, UH, and Baylor banners already present in the Embassy's upstairs bar. The manager humored us with a formal unveiling ceremony--go Rice!
Then we walked around London and Pub crawled a bit. Lisa Piguet, IMD's MBA admissions director, was in town so it was a thrill when she joined us too. Cox, Katie, and I had to duck out early, though, for dinner at a little French restaurant in the theater district. Dinner was delicious and full of fall/winter fare, such as pumpkin risotto, which paired well with the cold London weather.
Such a meal required that we walk around a bit afterward, which was basically an excuse to pub crawl some more. First we set our sights on a place with warm drinks and we found one quickly. There we also bumped into George DeMontrond, another Rice alum, whom I last bumped into at the Jimmy Buffett concert in Paris. Small world!
After our hot drinks it was time to take advantage of our proximity to Ireland so we migrated to an Irish pub for some Guinness. We also tried Guinness Red but quickly returned to our pure roots. Finally the pub closed up so we wound down with cocktails back at our hotel.
Sunday we walked around seeing London's historic sites during the day and then caught up with my IMD classmates, Randy and Ijeoma, for Indian food in the evening. It was great to see those two with whom I shared so much last year and, although they are both facing their own challenges now, it was gratifying to see that they are doing so well.
Katie caught an early Monday morning flight back to the US while I journeyed out to Oxford, where I spent Monday and Tuesday. Our principal supplier is headquartered there and it gave me a great chance to spend time with their CEO. By the end of the trip it was clear that personal relationships matter so much more than spreadsheets, contracts, or technology. We've been working on a deal with this company for months and the in-person time to solidify it was well worth the expense of the trip. Also in Oxford I found something that pairs very well with Guinness: steak, mushroom, and Guinness pie!
Wednesday I departed Oxford early for Cambridge, where I had never been before. One of the world's largest consumer electronics manufacturers was conducting a day-long meeting to determine how best to enter the home energy management market and they asked me to help craft their strategy. I was honored to be invited and excited to participate. After a full day of reviewing data from focus groups, evaluating the existing competitive landscape, and positing possible entry paths, I left feeling extremely energized by the process and excited about their direction. If they can succeed in this market it will do a lot of good--for them, for their consumers, and for the world at large--so I wish them the best with it.
Wednesday evening I returned to London to meet with a new VC--headed by a Rice alum. It was a great meeting and I'm excited about his firm--for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs. This was followed by dinner with Cox and Scotch back at the hotel--where we were joined by another Rice alum living in the area.
At the end of five days I was exhausted and very satisfied with both the professional and personal aspects of this UK trip. What struck me most was that I met up with seven IMD alumni and four Rice alumni during the brief stay. Although the schools are small, I was impressed with the global distribution of their alumni. Next time I'll make sure to hook up with a TJ alum or two as well!
Pics are in my facebook album.
December 8th was the one-year anniversary of my start with Poken. I can't believe it, that really seems lifetimes ago. What a roller coaster ride it was: arriving just as we launched the product commercially, working feverishly to update the product to meet the massive surge of initial demand, building a team quickly to keep up with the scale of growth, and--ultimately--making the heart-wrenching decision to leave Poken to lead a company that is working toward a better energy future. Poken is still doing well, growing and expanding every day. I wish the team all the best there and I look forward to the day when everyone else has a Poken!
Also in the news recently, my high school was selected as the top public school in the nation for the third year in a row. Once again I am humbled by the company I am in and can only strive to live up to such a standard. I feel very, very fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend TJ and I must make the most of it!
Christmas season has officially begun! Last weekend Katie, my mom, and I flew to Arizona for a "pre-Christmas" celebration with Katie's family. I had never been to Arizona before and found it to be pretty nice. The trip started off on a strange note, though: as we left Houston on Friday, it was actually SNOWING! This was the earliest snow on record in Houston and, frankly, I didn't believe that it EVER snowed here until I saw it with my own eyes and felt it on my own eyelashes. Wild! I'm glad we got out of there because I wouldn't trust Houston drivers on snowy roads. I suspect that people would be overconfident in their huge trucks and SUVs and not drive more cautiously.
We arrived in Phoenix in time to meet Katie's family and my mom for dinner. The weather was cold but very dry. Then we all caravaned to the houses we had rented for the weekend in Sedona. Sedona was really beautiful, with big red rock formations in every direction. The terrain was so foreign to that of places I've lived and been before that it seemed almost other-worldly.
Saturday we mostly putzed around Sedona, walking around and seeing the town. While the ladies shopped for arts and crafts, Katie's father and I snuck away to a microbrewery to sample their wares and watch the SEC Championship game. It ended well (Roll Tide!) so I'd call the day a success. In the evening, Katie's sister orchestrated a wonderful vegan dinner for us all and we exchanged gifts.
Sunday morning began with stockings--Santa somehow managed to find us three weeks early in Arizona! Then we drove up to the Grand Canyon, which none of us had visited before. Wow, was it ever impressive! It was very cold and windy, though, so most of our peeks at the Canyon consisted of parking the car as close as possible, sprinting to the overlook, taking pictures, and then sprinting back to the car. One of the overlooks was significantly below the parking area so we had do sprint down to it, then sprint back up afterward. I was excited about the sprint back up as it was a clear Rocky opportunity. However, I found myself completely unable to yell "Adrian!" at the top since the 7,000 feet above sea level rendered me totally breathless.
Monday we returned to the airport but stopped in Phoenix first so I could meet with an IMD alum who is commercializing a really cool wind energy technology for the developing world. Although networking was not a driving factor in my decision to attend IMD, it has been great to see that it really is a significant benefit.
It was a short weekend but a very good one. Getting to know Arizona was interesting, seeing the Grand Canyon was inspiring but, most of all, it was just wonderful to celebrate Christmas in such a warm family environment. Happy Early Holidays to all!
Last week I had the honor and pleasure of presenting at the imagine09 conference of the American Astronautical Society. Breaking from tradition, the AAS followed the lead of TED this year and invited many speakers from across the US and across industries to present topics about which they are passionate. Some of these topics were space related but many were not and the goal was to foster dialog among the AAS membership about how these topics could be used within the context of the space industry. Cool!
One of the organizers is a member of the Rice Engineering Alumni group, of which I used to be president. Over coffee a few months ago, he somehow got the impression that I was passionate about using information technology to address the global energy challenge. I'm not sure how he got that impression . . . ;-) He invited me to join the slate of speakers and I agreed almost before he finished asking!
The guidelines I was given as a speaker were the TED commandments:
Accordingly, I put together a 20-minute talk about information-adaptive human behavior--using technology to "nudge" human behavior by providing the right information at the right time in the right way to the right people. After all, this is exactly what we're doing at Enistic to "nudge" office employees to better energy use behaviors. Instead of putting together a dry lecture about the behavioral science theory, I presented the material as part of the story of my own entrepreneurial journey; the presentation can be found at my slideshare page.
The conference itself took place over two days last week at NASA's Johnson Space Center. As someone who has always been fascinated with and inspired by the space industry, I was thrilled to participate. Given some of the other speakers (Bob Rogers, Richard Garriott, Wayne Hale, T. Boone Pickens III, for example), I was also honored to participate.
The talks were very engaging. For example, Wayne Hale presented a history lesson about China's world-leading shipping and exploration 600 years ago. Abruptly they shifted from exploration to isolationism and stagnated for centuries. This fostered a great deal of dialog about what we could learn from such lessons and how they might be applied to our own exploration policy.
In fact, all of the talks fostered dialog. After a speaker presented, he/she was whisked off to a breakout room. Audience members then had the option to go engage with that speaker for more detailed discussion or stick around in the main auditorium for the next presentation. Tough decisions! When it came time for me to present, I myself was torn as I really wanted to follow the previous speaker (executive director of the X PRIZE Foundation) for dialog!
I'm glad I stuck around and gave my presentation, though. It was well received and many people (including some of the other speakers) joined me in the breakout room to discuss energy savings, human behavior, technology, and how to apply all of these to the space industry. I don't think we solved any great problems during the breakout session but I do hope that the discussion seeded thoughts, ideas, and follow-up discussions that will continue to bear fruit for some time to come.
At the end of the conference I was exhausted from all of the energy, ideas, and discussion with new contacts. Great job, AAS, and I expect great things from the space industry! I'll post a link to the video of my presentation once it's available online.