2011 Fiesta Bowl 5k Race Report

Sunday I raced in my last 5k of the year, the Fiesta Bowl 5k in Scottsdale, Arizona. I had been nursing a hip flexor injury for ~6 weeks so I hadn't been running much and was a bit out of shape - but of course that wouldn't stop me from going all out in this race! My muscles were also a little sore from mountain trail running and yoga (neither of which I had done in a long, long time) but, again, that was hardly an excuse not to shoot for a PR!

Sunday morning was cold and wet with temperatures around 38F. While it felt cold before the race, I knew I would be dying of stifling heat minutes into the run if I bundled up. Fortunately Katie's father was there cheering us on and was able to hold onto warmup clothes that we took off shortly before start time. Katie and her sister, Kelly, were both running the race too and both of our moms walked it. Kelly's boyfriend, Mike, a much more accomplished endurance athlete than I, ran the race with me even though he could have zoomed ahead - it's always fun to have a buddy!

For this race I experimented with a new race plan. Instead of thinking of the race in terms of five kms, but running the first one faster (due to fast start) and the last one faster (due to fast finish), I divided the race into an initial fast half km, four hopefully consistent base pace kms, and then a fast half km (fast 400m followed by really fast 100m sprint to the finish).

With a previous PR of 20:45, I put together a race plan that would have me coming in at 20:40, using 4:13/km as my base pace.

First 500m: 1:53 (a 3:47 pace out of the gate, gradually slowing to base pace)
Four kms at 4:13 each (The course was pretty flat.)
400m: 1:36 (picking it up to 4:00/km pace)
100m: 20s (kicking it at 3:22/km pace)

In my PR 5k I had been shooting for a base pace of 4:17 but I actually spent most of the race at or below 4:13 until I faded a bit toward the end. Therefore my selection of 4:13 as my base pace was in hopes that I could keep that pace up now. The first and last 500m targets were based on my consistently hitting those numbers in previous races.

Mike and I secured a spot near the front of the pack and - all of a sudden - we were off! We had a nice wide street on which to spread out so I was able run comfortably without hurdling laggards. I hit 500m in 1:54 with an average heart rate of 159 BPM. One second off of pace was fine and my heart rate was in a good place.

We completed the next km in 4:12, right back in line with where I wanted to be. My heart rate averaged 174, which was also just about right. In the second km it was clear that I wasn't going to be able to sustain that pace as we finished in 4:18. My average heart rate had only increased to 175, though.

In the third km we hit some obstacles: a sharp turn, some uphill trail, and lots of muddy puddles to be carefully avoided in my Vibrams. By themselves they didn't seem like much but together they definitely slowed me down. I finished the third km in 4:29 (Yikes!) with an average heart rate of 176. I was 22 seconds off of pace and I could seriously feel the soreness in my quads. Mike looked over and asked, "How are we doing on pace?" My response: "Bad." You know I'm struggling when I use poor grammar!

The fourth km was more of the same: finished in 4:32 with an average heart rate of 176. At least now it was time to pick it up a bit - and pick it up we did! We finished the next 400m in 1:40 (a 4:10/km pace) and average heart rate of 179. As we rounded the last turn, it was a straight away to the finish line. Mike said, "Let's go" and we kicked it hard. There were two runners ahead of us and I just wasn't sure if we were going to be able to catch up to them. Having Mike there was extra motivational, though - we passed one runner and then, just before the finish line, the other one. The final 100m took 16s (2:40/km pace!) with average heart rate of 189 and a max heart rate of 196 (~my max possible heart rate)!

The final race time was 21:21, 41 seconds slower than my target. I was the 45th runner to finish (96th percentile), the 34th male (87th percentile), and 5th male age 30-34 (80th percentile). It was my worst race all year in terms of both time and finish placement. Race conditions were pretty good including cool weather and a running buddy for extra motivation - so what happened?

Well, my heart rate was generally lower than in previous races despite my running more slowly. A few possibilities:

1. This may just have been due to the cold (The warmer it is, the higher my heart rate at the same pace.)
2. My muscle soreness was preventing me from turning over my legs quickly enough to warrant a higher heart rate
3. After several weeks of not running much, my body simply wasn't attuned to increasing heart rate that much
4. I didn't have enough glycogen stored in my muscles

I'm not really sure about any of those but they're my best guesses so far. I'll look forward to my next 5k in February, where I will hope to make a stronger showing.

Enough about me, though; the best part of the race was that we had a whole team of family there! Katie's dad was steward of the clothes and official photographer. Mike and I and Katie and Kelly all ran while our moms walked. Several years ago my mom suffered a major injury that severely impaired her walking. This was probably the first time she has walked 5 continuous kms since then so I was very excited to see her near the finish. I jogged back a little ways to find her and was surprised to find that she wasn't walking - she was really moving along, cane and all! I walked in with her a bit and then, as she rounded the final turn, I could see that she had the eye of the tiger! She really picked it up and hustled through the finish line, passing one of her competitors! Way to go, Mom! I've always been proud of her professional accomplishments, but when she finished that race I may have been beaming even more brightly than I ever have before!

It was a good race, well organized and well run. After some post-race nutrition we packed it up and hopped on our flight back to Houston. Full and exhausted - what an appropriate finish to an already excellent weekend!


Merry Christmas from Arizona

Last weekend Katie and I traveled to Phoenix, Arizona for an early Christmas with her family (after an even earlier Christmas with my extended family over Thanksgiving). As in years past, it was a total blast! The twist was that this year we had a very active holiday.

We arrived Thursday afternoon and were treated to dinner at La Grande Orange Grocery & Pizzeria in Scottsdale, walking distance from Katie's sister's (Kelly) apartment. Awesome! Any place that will add an egg to your pizza at no charge is A-OK in my book! I had the avocado pizza with pesto instead of cheese and I added all the free extras - so good!

Katie found us a nearby house to rent for the weekend which served as an excellent base of operations. It was big enough for us and our extended family to sleep comfortably and close enough to the action as to be convenient.

Friday began with a run up and over one of the mountains. This was just the opportunity to try out my new Vibram FiveFingers KSO Treks. When we were there last year, hiking up and down Camelback Mountain had proved pretty painful in my KSOs but I'm pleased to report that the Treks did their job very well. After an hour or so of jogging up and down rocky paths in the cool, dry air, I was pooped but very happy with the experience.

Friday afternoon we went to Queen Creek Olive Mill, a local organic olive oil producer. Not only did they have a nice tour about the olive growing/pressing/bottling process, they had an attached restaurant with delicious and funky foods. I had the vanilla bean olive oil waffles while others tasted their many oils - including chocolate olive oil and [crowd favorite] meyer lemon olive oil. What a cool excursion!

Dinner was at 5th and Wine, which featured good wine and great food. I had a delicious bison burger and mac & cheese - hey, just because I was carb loading for Sunday's 5k didn't mean I couldn't enjoy some protein and fat too! It was a delectable finish to a great day!

Saturday began with a real treat. Kelly is receiving her certification as an instructor of Ashtanga Yoga, which I used to practice regularly when I was in Switzerland. Kelly took Katie and me through the entire primary series - 90 minutes of stretching, breathing, flowing, and meditating. I've really, really missed this and I clearly need to add it back into my routine. Kelly was the perfect yogi for us as I was just the right amount of sore after our session.

What do we do after a workout? Recovery nutrition! This began at the Scottsdale Farmer's Market, where we also shopped for Christmas Dinner ingredients, and concluded at Orange Table. The Farmer's Market was fantastic - big but not too huge and with plenty of variety. I had a vegetarian pumpkin tamale (Delicious!), which I promptly doused in guava lava hot sauce from the vendor next door. There were many dogs along with their owners, which made the experience even more pleasurable.

Orange Table was something else for breakfast. Not only did they offer delicious omelets (The Greek omelet was the consensus #1.), they also had something else on the menu that I would have been remiss not to try: jalapeno-pecan pancakes! I love spicy-sweet flavor combinations and this one hit it on the head. I'm actually getting hungry as I type just thinking about it again!

With our bellies full, we spent the afternoon and evening prepping for Christmas Dinner. More accurately, everyone else was prepping for Christmas Dinner. While they were slaving away, Mike (Kelly's boyfriend) and I were staying out of the way by occupying ourselves with some early Christmas presents: remote control cars! Once the novelty of racing them around the floor in a makeshift demolition derby wore off, we constructed our own track, using the couches, chairs, coffee table, cardboard boxes, and magazines to create ramps between sections of different heights. The end result wasn't beautiful but it served its purpose. Whether its purpose was to provide a path for the cars or rather to occupy the two of us such that we weren't crowding the kitchen and offering to "quality test" each of the dishes in process is still up for debate.

Dinner turned out to be delicious, as expected. Wild caught Alaskan salmon from the farmer's market along with many, many vegetarian-friendly accouterments ensured that we would all be well nourished for the race the next day. Instead of going to bed early to rest up, though, we opened presents, played games, and laughed a lot late into the night. I'll save the race report for a subsequent post but, suffice to say, the weekend was a huge success! Fun, food, and family - what more does one need in life?

Sonoma Day 3

Our final day in Sonoma began, once again, with exercise. Our friends went for a bike ride while Katie and I went for a run. I was very pleased that this was my first run in weeks during which my hip flexor did not feel injured - now I could get back to training!

After breakfast we set out in our car to explore the wineries around Healdsburg. First stop: Unti Vineyards. Unti's wines didn't jazz me that much but I did like that they produced several Italian varietals, including a sangiovese and barbera.

On the recommendation of one of Katie's coworkers we stopped at Dry Creek General Store for lunch and it did not disappoint. We strongly recommend the eggg salad with smoked salmon sandwich!

Next on the tour was Preston Vineyards, which had been recommended to us by a friend of a friend. While we loved that it was all organic, the wines didn't appeal to any of us and, for the first time, we poured many of ours out into the spit bucket. The olive oil they made there was delicious, though.

A bit disgruntled by that experience, we were looking for something to turn it around - and did we ever find it! As we were driving out of the Preston estate, we saw a sign for barrel tastings at Zichichi, a winery we didn't know but a proposition we clearly couldn't resist. Zichichi's wines were pleasant (Some of their zinfandel vines are 85+ years old!), their office walls were covered with football pictures, and they had an adorable doberman pincher puppy outside - we had our mojo back!

While biking that morning our friend had seen a sign for grilled oysters so we decided to go get some as a mid-afternoon snack. Unfortunately, when we arrived at Lambert Bridge, it was immediately evident that A. the sign had actually advertised wood-fired pizzas (We blame the misreading on the previous day's wine consumption.) and B. they were all out of pizza. Doh! Not to worry, though, their wines were great and they had some great dogs: a great pyranees puppy and a 200 lb saint bernard!

Our final stop of the day was to Christopher Creek Winery, where we tasted all of their award-winning wines. There was a kindly old man telling funny stories and pouring wine, which really enhanced the experience. My favorite there was their port.

Having missed out on our grilled oysters, by this point we were raring for dinner. The restaurant we intended to frequent turned out to be closed Monday so we picked up a late reservation at Cyrus, which was highly acclaimed.

To kill time before Cyrus we stopped into Willi's oyster bar, which had great seafood and good local wines to pair with it. This place was a real pleasure and we were almost sad to leave it for Cyrus.

Our table wasn't quite ready yet at Cyrus, so we had a cocktail in the bar. Their cocktail menu was very innovative and the drinks were great.

You can read our full review of Cyrus at Yelp but the short version is that we were horribly disappointed by our experience there. The food was generally good but not great and some dishes were very over salted. The wine pairings selected for us were mediocre, didn't pair well with our dishes, and were ostentatiously presented by a "wine steward" who knew very little about wine outside of his rehearsed speeches. Perhaps they didn't have the "A" team going because it was Monday night, but a Michelin two-star restaurant should not have "off" nights - especially at the prices they were charging.

Our closing dinner was a bitter disappointment but it couldn't take the shine off of what had been an absolutely wonderful weekend. We fell in love with California wine country and we will clearly need to return frequently to continue exploring!


Sonoma Day 2

After sleeping off our wine of the day before, we woke up to a rainy Sonoma morning. Instead of running we did a weights-free workout inspired by the routine that The SHOP put together for me back when I was house-sitting in Switzerland. This included lots of push-ups, plyometrics, and and other "grass-roots" exercises. During a break in the rain we went outside and I did walks up the hill while carrying Katie across my back. During one set of these a police officer actually rolled up to make sure that everything was OK!

After workout and recovery nutrition we once again set out to taste some wine! Instead of driving ourselves around for small tastings at several wineries, we took a different tack this day. We hired Magnum Wine Tours to drive us around to just two very small wineries where we spent a lot of time doing in-depth tastings with the owners.

Our first stop was Forth Vineyards, a tiny little Dry Creek Valley estate just outside of Healdsburg. The property is absolutely charming with a great deal of variety even for that tiny lot. Rolling hills ensure that some parcels have much greater sun exposure while others get more wind coming through the valley.  Near the house and winery is the most amazing olive tree I've ever seen. It was probably 12m high and spread out so far as to create an imposing presence on the deck. I'm used to short, bushy olive trees but this was the godfather of them all.

We sat down in the wine cellar, where Jann Forth walked us through their five wines: an '09 sauvignon blanc, a '10 rose', an '09 ALL BOYS cabernet sauvignon (with grapes from each of their vineyards named after their boys), an '09 Rebecca cabernet sauvignon (with grapes from the one vineyard named after their girl), and an '09 syrah. The Rebecca cab was very nice but the real winner was the rose'. As we sat around the cellar's tasting table, munching on homemade spicy cheese bread between wines, we learned a lot about the winemakers, their philosophy, and the unique characteristics of their offerings.

What really set this winery apart, though, was their canine "staff!" A golden retriever accompanied us everywhere and there were two huge great pyranees (170 lbs and 130 lbs) in the vineyards protecting the sheep that keep the grass low and organically fertilize. After playing with the dogs a bit we hopped back in our car for the next destination.

Garden Creek Winery in Alexander Valley was up next. As we crossed the eponymous creek to enter the estate, I was surprised by how this looked more like a farm than a winery: a big barn a the entrance, chickens off to the left, an old well in the center. And sure enough, that's how this land began when the current proprietors' father bought it back in the 60s.Today, though, the barn is a winery and almost all the land is planted with vines. While most of their grapes are sold to other wineries, they hold enough back to produce a few hundred cases of their own chardonnay and Bordeaux blend.

We were met at the estate by Justin Miller, who owns and runs the operation alongside his wife. We stayed outside to taste their 2009 chardonnay, which was minerally and crisp - really nice and not at all what I'd expect from a California chard. Then we went into the barn for a candlelight vertical tasting of the red (called  "Tesserae"). The 2005 of this cab sauv/merlot/cab franc blend was nice, but the 2003 was really coming into its own - great balance between the fruit and oak-derivative properties. Interestingly, they are the only winery I have known in the US to use carbonic maceration.

After plowing through several bottles at Garden Creek, we really needed some food! So our last stop of the tour was at nearby Diavola Pizzeria. I'm not sure if this helped or hurt our sobriety because we had plenty more wine there while feasting on hand made brick oven pizzas!

Opting for a day of wine tour instead of just driving ourselves around was a great idea. Not only did we have a designated driver, we found some wonderful tiny wineries that we never would have heard of otherwise. In both cases, we could have tasted these wines anonymously but the real pleasure was spending a couple of hours with the owners and really getting a feel for what makes them - and their wines - tick.

Day 2: another success!


Sonoma Day 1

After a flurry of post-CleanTech-Open meetings Thursday and Friday, Katie and two friends joined me for three days of wine tasting!

Thursday I met up with many Rice and IMD alumni in the San Francisco Bay area while winding my way 90 miles up to Petaluma, where I stayed the night with a friend of mine from TJ. Yes, I made it from San Jose to Palo Alto to San Francisco to Larkspur by way of public transportation - how refreshing, coming from Houston! I did, however, rely on my friend's chauffeur skills to take me the final leg to Petaluma.

My friend, Ashley, who is a full-time mom and mom blogger, has a great house complete with chicken coup, which made for an excellent breakfast! Thursday night she made an awesome welcome dinner for me and one of the neighbors - so welcome after days of hotel food! Friday, after spending the day back in the City, I returned to Petaluma to wait for Katie and our two friends.

This was an excellent decision because, not only did this mean another great dinner, but the same neighbor returned with his wife, who turned out to be AWESOME! Her name is Leslie Sbrocco and she is prominent wine critic in the Bay area - SCORE! Friday night dinner quickly became a vinolicious affair and we were quite happy by the time that Katie and our friends came to pick me up.

Katie had rented us a little two bedroom, two bath house in Healdsburg, which is a charming town. The little house was exactly what we needed: central location, great kitchen, and comfortable beds for sleeping off the wine!

Having never toured/tasted in California before, I deferred to our friend, who had been there several times. He put together a basic program (which still allowed for significant improvization) and Leslie helped us with a few more suggestions and hookups.

Saturday morning we woke up, all went for a run, and then had a great breakfast to prepare us for the day. Our first tasting was at J, which was pretty commercialized. There were many others tasting there and some of the staff weren't terribly knowledgeable. But some of the staff were knowledgeable (and personable!) and that made all the difference. Wine tasting - like most things - is really made or broken by the people involved. We tasted some so-so white wines, some better red wines, and some much better bubbly, which is what I really associate with J anyway.

Afterward we made our way to Kosta Browne, the winery behind 2011's top wine of the year according to Wine Spectator. There we tasted a good chardonnay and lots of pinot. Our favorite by far was the 2009 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir.

We wrapped up the day at Arista, where we had a GREAT pourer behind the counter. She was a grape grower herself so was intensely knowledgeable about the wines, the region, the climate, and everything else. We tasted so many wines that I can't remember them to post them here and we spent so much time tasting and talking with her that we shut the place down.

After a brief nap we rallied and headed into downtown Healdsburg for dinner. We began at Spoon for really innovative cocktails that compete with those from Anvil. Afterward we had a long, intense, and excellent dinner and Dry Creek Kitchen. Once again we shut the place down and the practically had to roll us out of there. Katie's full review is on Yelp. I would say that Sonoma Day 1 was a huge success!


CleanTech Open Finals

Last week I traveled to San Jose, CA for the finals of the CleanTech Open, for which Smart Office Energy Solutions had been selected as a finalist from the South Central region. I and 20 other finalists from the seven regions arrived in San Jose on Monday to begin two exhausting days of competition.

Each finalist was a startup company that has raised less than $1M and that is working on problems that make the world more sustainable. There were five categories of competitors: energy efficiency, smart power, green building, air/waste/water, and renewable energy. Smart OES could have competed in any of the first three categories but ultimately energy efficiency seemed to be most appropriate for us.

Each category had four or five competitors. Over the course of two days, each competitor presented a 15-minute business plan presentation followed by 15 minutes of Q&A from 20+ judges representing the category, the venture capital community, the science/development community, and the government/policy community. Competitors were scored based on their portenital for impact, likelihood of success, sustainability, and presentation quality. After all competitors presented, the winner of each category would then present again and a global winnner would be announced.

I came into the finals with several goals: 1. Win the global competition 2. Win the energy efficiency category 3. Tell a convincing story about product differentiation and competitive barriers (the perceived lack of which had always been our greatest criticism). Of course, those were the goals on which my competitive side focused. Much more meaningful for us, though, was using the competition as a means to connect with influential people, partners, and investors in the cleantech ecosystem - so that was our primary objective.

Tuesday morning featured an investor speed dating event that connected us with five VCs for seven-minute one-on-one discussions. This event by itself was worth the price of admission and I applaud the CleanTech Open for their success in putting it together.

Our scored presentation wasn't until Wednesday morning, so I spent much of Tuesday manning our booth. Interested potential investors, employees, and journalists stopped by all day to hear about what we were up to and to see our prototype products in action. It was really energizing to see how many people were keen to know what was going on on the frontiers of cleantech. I also left the booth unmanned a few times to go support some of the other entrepreneurs as they were presenting in other categories.

Tuesday afternoon I was called up to the main stage for a 3-minute product demo, which received some "oohs and ahhs" as I unveiled some of the behavior-influencing features of our product. My product demo especially caught the attention of one audience member, Jon, a friend of mine from college! He came up to me afterward and it was such a joy to see him there. As I've blogged about before, I'm an extrovert and I love having people "on my team." Having Jon there supporting me lifted my spirits and really gave me a boost going into Wednesday.

Wednesday morning I was joined by another team member, an investor of ours (also named Jon) who lives in the Bay area. Having two Jons cheering me on from the audience, I knew I couldn't be beaten. Add to that my SHOP undershirt and cuff links from my wife as additional talismans and I was ready to go - armored up and ready for battle!

I gave my full presentation and it went very well. I nailed the presentation portion and I believe I had good, previously anticipated answers to the Q&A portion. I received many compliments on the presentation, including one piece of feedback that it was as good as a presentation could get. Additionally, I didn't receive a single question from the judges about product differentiation or competitive barriers. Goal #3: check!

Unfortunately I didn't not achieve Goal #2, which meant that Goal #1 was out of the question. A company called Indow Windows won the energy efficiency category with a cool drop-in product to turn single pane windows into double pane windows. Clearly I was disappointed in the result and I will hope to get some good feedback from the judges. I'm told it was very close and I am still honored to have been chosen among the top energy efficiency startups in the country.

The Jons and I stayed to watch the final five presentations, attend the award ceremony, and then the gala dinner afterward. Throughout the evening it became abundantly clear that we were achieving our primary goal; I was able to line up meeting after meeting after meeting with potential investors for Thursday and Friday, while I would still be in town! This certainly softened the blow of the competition loss!

Looking back on the CleanTech Open experience, I'm really glad we participated. It took a very non-trivial amount of time and money, but it really helped us connect throughout the cleantech ecosystem - which is not very present in Houston. We received some great exposure, met some great people, and - of course - had a great time! I would recommend it for other early-stage cleantech startups and I'll hope to give back a little next year as a mentor.


Is There an Afterlife?

I just had a great discussion with a Rice freshman about whether or not there is an afterlife. As somewhat of an empirical pragmatist, I reasoned through it as follows:

People I know who have died continue to have an effect on me. I think about them, I make decisions based on ways they have influenced me, and sometimes they even show up in my dreams. So, from my perspective (and from the perspective of the many other people whose lives they touched), they all have afterlives.

The only afterlife of which I am not certain is my own. From a practical perspective, though, that point is essentially moot. After my death I will either A. have a conscious afterlife and know it or B. not have a conscious afterlife and not even be able to contemplate the question.

As such, I conclude that there is effectively an afterlife. What do you think?


Houston Great Pumpkin Run 5k Race Report

Saturday I set a new PR at the Houston Great Pumpkin Run 5k. In the week leading up to the run I had a sore throat and even lost my voice (while yelling all night at a Huey Lewis and the News concert, so it's my own fault), so I made a morning-of decision whether or not to run. The good news about this was that I had been planning to taper my running later in the week anyway, so I rested up, got plenty of nutrition, and hoped to be in good form Saturday morning.

Race day came and, while I still had no voice and still had a stuffy nose, I felt pretty good so I decided to go ahead with the run. It would start downtown and proceed along Allen Parkway for an out-and-back course. The course was pretty flat and the weather was great (sunny and ~50 degrees F) so, other than the lingering cold, it was a great situation for a PR.

My race plan - as always - was to start off with a fast launch, finishing the first km in 3:59. I would then settle into a 4:12/km pace for the next 3.65 km, at which point I would kick up to a 4:00 pace for 250 m and an all out sprint for the final 100. This would bring me in at 20:39, 6 seconds under my previous PR of 20:45.

The starting line was close to my office so I camped out and stretched in my building until ~15 minutes before start time. Then I jogged to the starting line, warmed up a bit, and positioned myself near the front. 0.6 seconds after the gun went off, I was across the starting line and tearing off down Walker Street.

The first km went basically as planned. It included a bit of a downward dip, so I found myself speeding along (always trying to flow with the downhill grade rather than resist it) a bit more than anticipated early on. I finished the first km in 3:51 with an average heart rate of 171 - higher than anticipated, especially given the low temperature. By comparison, my first km in my previous three PR 5ks were: June (3:58, 166 BPM), April (3:53, 167 BPM), and February (4:01, 165 BPM). This didn't worry me much, though; I was feeling good.

The second km breezed along too, finishing in 4:06 at 175 BPM. I was then 14 seconds ahead of my target. I was still feeling pretty good but it was starting to feel clear that I wasn't going to keep this speed up forever. I was hoping, though, to stick to my 4:12 target for the remaining kms.

The third km is where things got funky. It turns out that the race organizers had not marked the turnaround point! The runners in front of me turned around at the near side of Montrose (which is where the course map had specified), but there was nothing to indicate whether this was right or wrong. If I had been paying close attention to my GPS, I would have noticed it telling me that I was still 70 m short of 2.5 km, but I wasn't. And, even if I had been, I wouldn't have trusted it since lord knows it has made errors before. It turns out that the correct turnaround point was just beyond Montrose. Some people turned early - as I did - and some kept going all the way to Waugh, which was way too far. Epic fail, race organizers.

I finished the third km in 4:15 with an average heart rate of 177 and the fourth km in 4:23, still at 177 BPM. At this point I was still 2 seconds ahead of target but clearly I was losing steam. I'm not sure if this reflects my fitness level simply not supporting such a fast burn up front or if this is a result of the sickness I had been battling (and possibly still was) - maybe a combination of both.

The next 650 m went by in 2:48, a 4:18 pace. As I began the final ascent I kicked it up a bit but, owing to the shortened turnaround, all of a sudden I could see the finish line rushing toward me. I sprinted the final 100 m, passing a couple of tapped out runners along the way. My official time was 20:02, which would have been a PR by a long shot if it had been for a full 5k. My GPS showed that I had run 4.86 km by the time I crossed the finish line. I estimate that, at this rate, I would have finished around 20:40, which would still have been a PR, but I guess we'll never know.

I feel good about the race, especially given the circumstances. Katie and I have already signed up for a December race so there will be another chance to shoot for a new PR before the year is through. In the meantime I'll work on bringing down the pace of those later kms!

Magical Weekend in Florida

Last weekend we went to Florida to celebrate our nephew's sixth birthday! It's been years since I've been and a great deal has changed since the last time I was there. Katie and I flew in Thursday and were immediately treated to a wonderful dinner of fish tacos at my brother's new house. Both he and his girlfriend are conservation-minded marine biologists so we had high confidence that the fresh fish we were eating were sustainably caught. To add to the enjoyment, we drank some very good Bordeaux and were serenaded by our nephew's burgeoning piano skills!

Friday morning, while our hosts were at work / in school, Katie and I borrowed a car and headed to Orlando for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! I didn't have high expectations for it as I generally find theme parks to be cheesy, poorly detailed, over-commercialized places filled with too-long lines of screaming kids (basically the same way I feel about Vegas). Still, it was clearly something I had to check off my bucket list, especially when so close. Katie was a little more optimistic, caring less about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter's execution and more just about riding roller coasters for the first time in years.

We got a late start, arriving at Universal's Islands of Adventure more than an hour after opening time. At least we had bought our tickets online in advance so we could bypass the entrance lines. We made a bee line for the Harry Potter section and started with the piece de resistance, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This ride takes place in a mock-up of Hogwarts Castle. They did a good job of recreating the castle, but the exterior facade was so small that it kind of ruined the effect.

While waiting in line for the ride we passed through several Hogwarts rooms, which were pretty faithful to the movies. They did a good job with the talking paintings and several other effects. Our wait was probably only half an hour but, on days when it's multiple hours, these extra effects would surely help alleviate the burden of the line.

The ride itself was really cool, a combination of cool chair/arm technology and cooler multisensory A/V effects. Unfortunately it was over after just five minutes, which would be hard to swallow if we had waited much longer!

By the time we exited the ride, the line for The Flight of the Hippogriff was already 60 minutes long. Given that it looked like a kiddie coaster, we opted to skip it. Thank goodness for the digital displays at each ride that estimated the wait time - bravo, Universal, for that!

We moved on directly to the Dragon Challenge, which appeared to be a more serious roller coaster. The wait for this one was only 10 minutes and it did not disappoint! Jam packed with loops, rolls, and drops, it was a 2.5-minute adrenaline rush - lots of fun! If we did one roller coaster over and over (as my brother and I used to do at King's Dominion), this would have been the one!

Having exhausted the Harry Potter rides, we made our way to the re-creation of Hogsmeade Village. Most of this comprised touristy shops that didn't interest us but the effect of snow-covered roofs was well done - even in the Florida heat! We stopped by The Three Broomsticks pub for an early lunch. The food was predictably "meh" but the butterbeer was a very worthwhile bucket list item.

So, as expected, the Harry Potter section of the park was pretty cheesy, but I'm glad we visited it at least once. For my money (and time), though, I'd just as soon play Harry Potter video games if I want to wander around Hogwarts Castle. Or, better yet, re-read the books!

As we didn't need to be back for another few hours, we dallied a bit and checked out some other rides on Marvel Super Hero Island. This began with the Spider Man ride, which was similar to the Forbidden Journey ride we did earlier, and ended with The Incredible Hulk, which was fun but not so much as the Dragon Challenge. Having then satisfied our roller coaster fix, we headed back home.

Friday night we had another great dinner with more great wine - Italian on both accounts! As the girls got sleepy and headed off to bed, my brother and I devoted ourselves to a much worthier cause - EPIC PING PONG! The last time we played ping pong together was probably sometime in high school so this was a fun trip down memory lane.

Saturday began with a morning jog followed by breakfast at the farmers market - what a way to start! The rest of the day was taken up by my nephew's birthday party. It was super hero themed, which meant that the house was decorated with super hero paraphernalia, the kids customized their own super hero capes, and many super hero games were played, including red-light/green-light/kryptonite and tug of war against evil villains (us adults)! The entire ordeal was great fun . . . but exhausting!

Due to an early Sunday obligation we had to hop on a Saturday night flight back to Houston. It was just a quick trip to Florida, but what a blast. It was so great to see my brother and his family settling in and thriving. Add excellent food, wine, company and magic rides to the mix and it was a heck of a weekend!


I Out-Googled Google

Last week a friend, former professor of mine, and leading authority on computer security posted on Google+ a recommendation that people who have Google accounts should enable two-factor authentication. Basically this means that, if Google doesn't recognize your device or location, it asks you for confirmation via another medium (phone or text) in case your account has been hacked, phone has been stolen, etc.

I use Google a LOT: Gmail, Google Voice, Google+, Google Calendar, Google Analytics, etc. etc. Although I wasn't wild about the idea of adding a small hassle to my Google login experience, I figured it was worthwhile to prevent what would be an absolute catastrophe if my Google account were compromised.

So I went to my Google Account page and checked the box for two-factor authentication. The website then walked me through a few steps explaining the process and setting it up. When it came time to enter my phone number, I wavered a bit. Would it be a problem if I used a Google Voice number for my Google Account verification? It wasn't clear to me from the website if it would be or not. I didn't want to use my AT&T mobile number in case I changed it in the future and forgot to come back and update my two-factor authentication.

It was a bit of a quandary. I tested the notification with Google's "test run" tool, though, and it worked fine with my Google Voice number so that gave me confidence to proceed with that number. With a big warning that I was about to be signed out of all my Google accounts, I clicked the final Submit button.

When I tried to log back in, as expected, it said it was sending me a text to confirm my authenticity. The text never came. I waited . . . and the text still never came. When I checked my phone, I had been logged out of all my Google services there too and it was clear that, as I had originally feared, I was in a bit of a Google catch 22.

I searched through Google Help and it turns out that they have a way to let you back into your account if you find yourself locked out - whew! It would take up to 24 hours and would be a huge inconvenience, but not the end of the world. I set it in motion immediately. Then I received something unexpected: a call.

It turns out that, even though I was locked out of Google Voice, Google Voice was still forwarding phone calls to my mobile number. It was probably forwarding text messages too, but I had long since disabled that feature as I preferred to receive the messages just in my Google Voice app. Doh!

Once I discovered this fact, I was able to change my second authentication factor to voice instead of text. This worked like a champ and I was able to log in to my Google account - briefly! Then the Google account reclamation mechanism that I had initiated earlier kicked in and locked me out again for several hours until I finally received an email from them to reset my password.

So in the end it caused me nearly a full day of inconvenience and and no access to my Google accounts. While it was technically my fault, I would have hoped that Google would have anticipated my predicament a bit. At the very least, a warning to proceed carefully if using a Google Voice number would have helped. More helpful yet would have been some automated identification that the number I'd entered was a Google Voice number.

Even though I now have figured out how to get by this catch 22, I have irrationally disabled two-factor authentication anyway. The trauma of what happened has left me craving the safety of the previous status quo. Again, I don't thing Google has done anything technically wrong here, but I hope they'll take this experience as data about their usability and the effect it has on adoption of their features.


Successes and Failures

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks. For some time I have been intensely focused on the CleanTech Open, a nation-wide contest of startups that are working on the challenges of energy, water, and buildings. We were honored to have been selected as semifinalists for the South Central Region back in May. Finally in late September we competed against the other regional semifinalists at the Clean Energy Venture Summit in Austin. Each company presented a 10-minute pitch and answered questions for 5 minutes from a panel of VC judges.

Long story short: Smart Office Energy Solutions placed third. Anyone who knows how competitive I am will realize that anything short of first place will come as a sore disappointment to me. Still, third place is enough (barely!) to advance to the national finals in San Jose, so I am pleased that we will have another shot. Between now and then we will be focused on addressing the areas of our business and our presentation that prevented us from taking home the gold. Hopefully we'll perform better on the national stage in November!

In a similar vein, last week I returned to Third Coast Training to do another metabolic profile. The good news: my resting metabolic rate has increased by more than 200 calories per day! I attribute this to moving from a calorie restrictive diet to one in which I'm eating plenty - just better foods. Also, my aerobic and anaerobic threshold heart rates have moved up, meaning that I am running faster and at higher intensities with lower levels of effort. This is the result of my running training and other anaerobic fitness conditioning.

The bad news: just as I did last time, I quit the running test too early. I felt like I was completely tapped out but, based on the level of lactate in my bloodstream, I probably could have kept going for another several minutes at greater speeds. This comes as a shock to someone who has typically regarded himself as having a high tolerance for pain. I've spent most of my life in short bursts of intensity, though, so now I need to work on sustaining such levels of discomfort for longer durations.

So in both my professional and personal life I am both achieving successes and enduring failures. Clearly my goal is to learn from the failures to increase the magnitude and frequency of the successes. This can be a somewhat frustrating experience, but it sure helps having "secure bases," people who love and support me no matter what, all around.


Austin is Awesome!

I came to Austin to compete in the CleanTech Open and attend the Clean Energy Venture Summit but, as long as I was already going to be here, Katie came up and brought Max and we stayed an extra day for a mini vacation. We've always liked Austin a lot and periodically we discuss whether we should be living there instead of Houston. Having a dog with us has added more points in Austin's favor but the debate is still inconclusive. Following are a few thoughts about how the two cities differ:

Social Culture: Austin has a more laid-back, hippie vibe whereas Houston has more of a formal business-driven culture. Winner: Austin

Active Culture: Austin wins by far when it comes to fitness and outdoor activities. Pedestrian friendly, biker friendly, outdoor activities friendly - Austin is basically everything that Houston isn't in this regard. With a big spring-fed natural open swimming pool right (Barton Springs) and running/walking trails around the lakes, it's positively easy to be outdoor-active. Plus, as we discovered on this trip, both the social and active culture extend to pet owners. Most restaurants with patios are dog-friendly outside and there are many off-leash parks throughout the city. We even took Max for his first swim in the tributary right by Barton Springs! Winner: Austin by a mile

Arts Culture: While Austin does have some of the visual and performing arts, Houston is clearly the heavyweight between the two. Austin has a few indie arts festivals but I would frankly rather be a visitor for those than a local. With world class symphony, opera, ballet, and theater - not to mention acclaimed art and science museums, Houston wins this one by a landslide.

Food: Culture: Austin has more natural/hippie options (It is the HQ of Whole Foods, after all!) while Houston has more options for fine dining. Houston is closer to the coast and offers a wide range of fresh, local seafood. Winner: Houston

Climate: Houston and Austin are pretty close geographically and have very similar climates. Houston has more humidity, rainfall, and then there's that occasional hurricane. Winner: Austin

Scenery: Austin's rolling hill country and lakescapes are absolutely beautiful. Houston, well . . . Winner: Austin

Urban Lifestyle: For both sustainability reasons and personal convenience, I prefer to live an urban lifestyle, living, working, socializing, etc. within the boundaries of a central hub. While Houston still requires a car to get around (Oh how I miss Lausanne!), I do spend 90% of my time within a 3-mile radius. Austin has made some strides in this area recently but I still get the impression that you need to drive all over the spread-out town. Winner: Houston

Internationalization: Although the demographics of the two cities are relatively similar, Houston has a much more international outlook than Austin. With 89 foreign consulates, Houston has the third-largest foreign diplomatic presence after Washington DC and New York City. Many people I meet in Houston are from other places outside of the US; they speak multiple languages and have traveled the world. Most people I meet in Austin are pretty focused on Texas. Having lived and worked abroad I really appreciate the global mindset. Winner: Houston

Travel: Katie and I both enjoy traveling and both Houston and Austin are centrally located, able to reach just about anywhere in the continental US within 4ish hours of flight time. Houston's airport is much, much bigger, though, and has more direct flights throughout the US. For international travel, Houston is the only option. Winner: Houston

School: Austin likes to boast that they don't need pro sports teams because they have the University of Texas. I think that's really cool, especially since I like college sports better than pro sports. However, I don't like UT and I have no desire to build out a wardrobe of burnt orange! Austin has UT; Houston has Rice. Winner: Houston

Network: I have a pretty good network in both cities but I've spent more of my career in Houston so my network is larger there. I'm pretty sure I could build my Austin network up quickly, though, if I were there fulltime so I'm only giving a slight edge to Houston.

Grandeur: I don't know quite how to label this category but here I'm referring to the "importance" of the city. Austin has much more of a small town feel whereas I walk through downtown Houston and I feel the world's largest businesses moving and shaking all around me. Winner: Houston

So, as you can see, I'm somewhat divided on the Houston-Austin question. Perhaps this reflects the dichotomy within me: the tech entrepreneur and the aspiring global business leader. Regardless, I really enjoy both places and, if only we could get high-speed rail lines between them, it wouldn't even matter which one I called home!

Thanks for a great trip, Austin; I always love visiting and I'll be back soon!


School Pride Continued

No sooner had we returned to the US than we traveled to San Antonio for more IMD action - but this time closer to "home" turf! The Academy Of Management's annual meeting was being held there in several venues along the River Walk. The AOM is the preeminent academic organization for scholars in the fields of business and management. As such, many IMD professors, including IMD's president, were in attendance - along with 10,000 other management profs! I had been asked to participate in the session of one of my former IMD professors and jumped at the chance.

Katie and I arrived Saturday and spent the afternoon strolling along the River Walk. Although my brother attended university in San Antonio and I visited quite often, we never really spent much time in this part of town. Katie and I were enchanted by the canopy of trees, the fun restaurants along the river, and - above all - the lower temperature down in the shade! What a fantastic environment they have created!

Sunday morning was my presentation in the San Antonio Convention Center. Our session, led by Maury Peiperl and Suzanne de Janasz, focused on social value creation. Specifically, is it possible for organizations to to embed it in their philosophies/cultures? Or will it always be bare-minimum-box-checking?

We began with research by IMD professor Francisco Szekely, who had been my leadership coach during my MBA year, on Corporate Social Responsibility efforts by large corporations. The conclusion was that generally these have been ineffectual and are not being approached correctly at all.

I then followed up with my case study of Smart Office Energy Solutions, which we have designed from the ground up to have social value creation inextricably embedded in its DNA. It would be absolutely impossible for us to achieve economic success without also doing some good - and the more of one we achieve, the more of the other we achieve. Furthermore we create that same alignment of economic and social value for our clients, suppliers, employees, and investors such that this "good capitalism" spreads virally. My conclusion therefore was quite optimistic: that capitalism can align with social good but we need business leaders to search out business models that feature that alignment.

Our final "practitioner" (as we non-academics are called) was Lynellyn Long, who concluded with a much less optimistic "reality check" based on her experience in human rights activism, working with non-profits, NGOs, and governments. Her conclusion was that yes, perhaps it can be done but that Smart Office Energy Solutions is by far the exception to the rule and that the current landscape for corporate social value creation is actually quite bleak.

Finally we launched a session-wide discussion about not only these topics but also, more pointed for the business school professor crowd: how can social value (or attempts to align it with economic value) be taught to future generations of business leaders? The discussion was quite lively as we had a packed venue and I was encouraged by how much interest there was in the topic. Regarding social value pedagogy, I get the feeling that it may be like entrepreneurship, for which the consensus is that it can't be "taught" theoretically; instead it has to be developed experientially. That corresponds with my own experience; I certainly didn't develop a passion for using business to "do good" in the classroom!

I was really honored to be included in this session and it felt good to dip a toe back into the pool of academia. Who knows, maybe some day in the future I will expand my academic pursuits - in the meantime, though, I'm focused on getting things done! In addition to the session, it was a good chance to catch up with other IMD professors, including the few minutes I spent psychoanalyzing Jack Wood over coffee - I thought I was turning the tables on him but he was probably actually just gaming me the entire time! And on top of it all, it was a lovely 30 hours or so in San Antonio with my beautiful bride - tough to beat that!


School Pride

These last two weeks have been full of involvement with my university (Rice) and MBA (IMD) almae matres. After the Finnish wedding (which was itself an IMD connection), Katie and I spent a few days in Lausanne, Switzerland before returning to the US. Being in Switzerland always brings back memories of times at IMD, partially because Switzerland just doesn't change (Even the ads at the airport are the same!) and partially because Switzerland is just so different than Houston!

On our first afternoon we returned to the park where I proposed and celebrated our one year proposal anniversary / three month wedding anniversary. It was a grand mini-vacation and excellent welcome back to a place we love. Monday evening we had fondue (How Swiss!) with IMD friends at Le Chalet, overlooking Lac Leman. The sun was setting, lighting up the mountain faces with soft rose colors, while the moon was rising - absolutely beautiful!

Goodness, though, if we thought Finland was expensive, it was nothing compared to Switzerland! Switzerland has always been pretty costly but now, with the incredibly strong Swiss Franc (vs. the dollar and the Euro), it is more extreme than ever. Our modest picnic lunch, assembled at the grocery store, cost more than $60!

Tuesday we just kind of hung around Lausanne and caught up with other friends there. In the evening we divided up: the girls had a ladies night at a wine bar in Flon while the guys had male bonding at the Croix d'Ouchy - an old favorite. It was fun to see several classmates I haven't seen for some time.

Wednesday I gave a presentation at IMD on using social media for your own personal branding. I gave the same presentation last year but practically rewrote it from scratch this year due to all the changes/advances in the social media world during the last 12 months. The students seemed receptive and I hope it was valuable for them as they pursue their career searches. This was followed by an incredible dinner at Beau Rivage with our most gracious hosts - also IMD classmates. Beau Rivage was the site of our graduation so the IMD connections continued.

Early Thursday morning we hopped the train to the airport and returned to Texas, where the scholastic links rolled on - but that will be the subject of my next post.


Finnish Wedding Part 3

Saturday also began with a very late start (after briefly waking up for the amazing breakfast buffet). It was raining a bit so we didn't venture too far but we did walk around and see the Church in the rock, which was very cool. Again we bumped into our classmates while we were walking around town and, while we were having lunch, we witnessed a SlutWalk protest - hundreds of Finnish women (and some men) dressed outlandishly made for a "unique" cultural experience!

Saturday evening was the wedding itself, a positively lovely affair. After a short civil ceremony we were treated to more excellent Finnish cuisine for dinner: lots of raw meat and fish, but also delicious vegetarian options. The wine was very well paired with the food too. As we ate there were some toasts, mostly in English but also in Finnish. They were clever and poignant and paid great tribute to the happy couple. When Tuomas delivered his toast in Finnish to Emilia, it reinforced something we all learned at IMD - that only a very small part of communication comes from the actual meaning of words. Even though we couldn't understand his words, the heartfelt homage to his life partner was clearly evident.

Before we transitioned completely from sitting to dancing there was a brief bit of drama. It seems that someone kidnapped the bride! In order to earn her back, Tuomas had to answer trivia questions about her and then dance a traditional Texas line dance! At first his performance was not deemed enthusiastic enough so he gave it another try, pulling out all the stops, and won her back - what a great tradition!

Then the dancing started and it was a LOT of fun! The DJ played everything from 80s staples to contemporary Finnish music, to everything in between - including Finnish covers of classic songs. Despite the cool weather outside, it got very, VERY warm inside so I had to alternate between dancing and cooling off outside. Eventually the best man made an announcement that it was time to stop drinking . . . and start getting wasted - what a great sentiment!

As Katie and I were dancing with one of my Chinese classmates, having a blast, it reminded me of a failure of mine from the IMD year. I was so focused on academic achievement that I missed many opportunities to bond with my classmates, foregoing parties to work, for example. It is so evident to me now, though, that my classmates were IMD's greatest assets, and relationships with them are the greatest benefits that I took from the program. This is now the top piece of advice I give to incoming students: to take time to get to know their peers. In my case I am now finally doing it at, for example, weddings like this one - better late than never!

At 1 AM we had to relinquish our venue so we all hopped on a bus to The Tiger, the self-described classiest club in Helsinki. There we had some tables reserved and kept the dance party going until 4 AM. As the club closed, Katie and I walked back to our hotel under the early sunrise and relished in the denouement of what had been an incredibly fun night.

Sunday began with brunch at an island mansion. Our party was noticeably diminished in size, partially because some people had already departed, but also because many people were still suffering from the previous night. Those of us who made it out were treated to excellent recovery food and a great view of the bay. Afterward Katie and I ferried over to Suomenlinna, the world's largest sea fortress, for some touring and sight seeing.

Sunday evening featured a final, casual dinner with the wedding couple and then Monday morning we were up eaaaaarly to catch our flight to Switzerland. Somehow it is easier to get up at 4 AM, though, when the sun is already rising. As we waited for our airport ride, I breathed in and took one last look at the gray, early lit skies above the train station and savored my most "canonical" view of Finland. It was a short trip but a fantastic introduction to a great country and great people! Many congratulations to Tuomas and Emilia!

Finnish Wedding Part 2

Friday began with an amazing breakfast buffet at our hotel. It was a veritable smorgasbord of Nordic staples: pickled herring, mustard herring, marinated salmon, little pancakes, organic spelt/barley porridge with lingonberries, eggs, freshly baked bread, cheese, pastries, nuts/seeds, and fresh fruit. None of this wimpy continental breakfast for us - these Finns know how to start the day off right!

To be more precise, Friday actually began by waking up at 4:30 AM - my body was still getting used to the new time zone. Normally I might be able to roll back over and go to sleep in the dark. However, it was already very light out! This far north they have very little actual darkness in the summers. While we were there the sun generally set ~11 PM and rose ~4 AM - I can't imagine what it was like back around the summer solstice!

Because of this early morning wakeup, we found ourselves spending the rest of our morning after breakfast napping instead of exploring the town - oops! We roused ourselves in time for the first event of the wedding weekend, though: soccer! We walked down to the south end of the peninsula (Helsinki is incredibly walkable and there is public transportation to take you anywhere that's out of range.) and met the families of the bride and groom in a beautiful green park.

The groom's side would be playing the bride's side in a "friendly" game of soccer in the park. However, it was immediately evident that the bride's side was very sporty and pretty competitive to boot! Having not played soccer since I was ~5, this made me a little nervous. Also, I didn't have any cleats, just the Vibrams Five Fingers that I had brought for walking/jogging, so changing direction might be hard. Oh well, even if I made a fool of myself and totally let Tuomas down, I would at least get some good exercise!

Before the match started we energized with Finnish home cooking and plenty of beer - my kind of pre-game ritual! Then the match began on a [fortunately] shortened field. Long story short: I managed to score three of our five first-half goals - two kicks and one header - so hopefully I acquitted myself well. They were mostly blind beginner's luck, but I'll take them! The highlight for me, though, was a jumping scissor/bicycle kick to clear the ball out of our side. It just went out of bounds but at least it connected and it felt pretty cool! The groom's side had more people than the bride's side so I sat out the second half and got to know some of the other attendees - including two other Houstonians, one of which was a Rice Owl!

Afterward we continued to drink and threw around a REAL football as well. Both the bride's and groom's sides were full of Finns who play American football - both full contact and flag varieties. How awesome is that? Finally we disbanded from the park and several of us went for a late lunch at a cafe overlooking the bay. The weather was beautiful so we were happy just to relax and soak it all in. Walking around in the afternoon we bumped into some other IMD folks. Helsinki is small enough that it isn't uncommon just to bump into people you know--even when you're not from there!

Dinner that evening was organized at The Sea Horse, a traditional restaurant near the wharf that serves classic Finnish fare. We began with cocktails and Katie and I both tried ones that we thought we could never find back home. She had one that was like a kir royale but with rhubarb liqueur. I had a martini-like drink with blueberry liqueur - they were both delicious!

To eat, I tried the traditional Vorschmack  while Katie had a very creamy mushroom soup. Then, for our main courses, we both had freshly caught local fish . . . for the third time that day! Dinner was delicious and was followed by some drinks at a local bar. Once again it was good to catch up with IMD classmates but this time it was also great getting to know some of the Finnish friends and family of the wedding couple. We called it an evening by 1 AM as we needed to rest up and bring our A game the following night!


Finnish Wedding Part 1

Katie and I went to Finland for the first time in our lives for the wedding of two IMD friends and we absolutely loved the place! A cynical MBA friend of mine once advised me that the best benefit of business school was that it provided many travel opportunities for weddings of classmates. As international as IMD is, it really takes that benefit to the extreme! This was our third wedding outside of the US in the last 10 months but the first in a place that was totally new to us.

We arrived Thursday in Helsinki, where we were immediately impressed by the architecture. Many buildings were designed by famous artists and were both unique and beautiful. We were also astounded by how many and how well people spoke English. In fact, not only did they speak English better than many Americans, they were incredibly hospitable, nice, and gracious - which was a good thing, because everything was very expensive there! Still, given the quality of the people, buildings, and open spaces (many parks, plazas, sea views, and tree-lined promenades), you clearly get what you pay for!

Thursday evening we met up with other IMD couples for dinner and it was great to see people from Finland, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, India, China, Hong Kong, Romania, New Zealand, and France. In all there were  eight alumni from the IMD MBA Class of 2008 - nearly 10% of our class - and amazingly I had only worked closely in a group with one of them. Accordingly, in addition to celebrating the wedding of our classmate, Tuomas, and his awesome bride, Emilia, this weekend turned out to be a great chance to bond with other classmates as well. Dinner Thursday evening was a great way to kick that off!

While we were at dinner, we bumped into an older gentleman who had noticed us talking about IMD. It turns out that he was an MBA graduate from 1988. Small world! Or rather, global network!


CleanTech Open National Academy

I've just returned from the National Academy of the Cleantech Open, for which Smart Office Energy Solutions was selected as a Regional Semifinalist, in San Jose, CA. The Academy was a four-day affair of workshops and networking for Cleantech entrepreneurs who had made it into the semi-finals. The jury is still out on whether competing in the Cleantech Open will be worth it, but following are my thoughts so far.

When we were notified of our selection as semifinalists, I was honored of course but I was also skeptical. Attendance at the National Academy was required and the costs were steep. It costs $1,000 to attend. Add airfare, hotel, and other expenses and the total out of pocket is easily up to $2,500+. The greatest expense is time, though, an entrepreneur's most precious resource - what else could I have been doing for the company during these four days? I am immediately leery of organizations that purport to help entrepreneurs yet sap them of precious time and money early on. Perhaps the Cleantech Open is actually more of a scam, swindling entrepreneurs by feeding their vanity.

However, if indeed the competition could deliver on its promises of helping cleantech entrepreneurs advance their companies, raise capital, find clients, and increase profile, it could easily be worth it. I decided to take a risk on it because of two people involved. One is a cleantech private equity fund manager in Boston whose opinion I respect. The other is someone with whom I have worked before in Austin and who is now the Cleantech Open's coordinator for its new South Central region.

Having now attended the four-day Academy, I still have mixed opinions. To start, the event was somewhat disorganized. This wasn't a deal killer but they may have outgrown their ability to run a mostly volunteer organization.

Additionally the "academics" were very basic. The classes on market analyis, financing, IP, etc. were probably extremely beneficial to first-time entrepreneurs or tech people with little business experience but for me they were mostly repitition. I am not by any means claiming that I know everything and I fully appreciate the need to get the 150 semifinalist teams all on the same page. However, if we were hoping to learn something new for our $2,500++, then we were disappointed.

That said, they did line up some amazing speakers, including Randy Komisar (author of The Monk and the Riddle, required reading at IMD), Geoffrey Moore (author of Crossing the Chasm, required reading at Poken), and Steve Blank (author of The Four Steps to the Epiphany, required reading at Smart OES!), as well as several prominent VCs and entrepreneurs. So in this regard, the Academy totally delivered.

The main benefit we were seeking on this trip was networking. Houston doesn't have much of a Cleantech community. Austin has more of one, but still it is clear that the epicenter of Cleantech in the US is the San Francisco Bay area. Therefore I was hoping to meet a slew of great conacts in the Cleantech ecosystem - entrepreneurs, sources of capital, business partners, potential customers, etc. Here again, the event really delivered.

Moreover, I now feel like part of the Cleantech Open community, which I think will be beneficial in the long run. As we undergo the next four months of workshops, events, and judging, I believe we will continue to build this "bond" with the organization that will transcend the value even of winning if we are so able.

Finally there should be PR value to participating in the competition - and especially if we continue to advance. PR for us as a company, for me as an individual, and even for our region, state, and city - which are not known as Cleantech hubs.

So there are known costs and unknown benefits - just like everything else in the startup world! I am looking forwad to the experience, though, and I will post my thoughts as it progresses.

While I was in the Bay area I had a great chance to catch up with other friends and colleagues. Wednesday evening I had dinner with the cofounder of my first two startups. he just finished his MS in computer science at Stanford and is now ready to take on the world again. Friday night I met up with former Rice computer science classmates who are now at Google. One of them is intimately involved in the Google+ rollout so I had a receptive audience to my fanboyness. Saturday I had lunch with a high school classmate who is now a Silicon Valley VC and that evening I had dinner with an IMD alum who is sharing time between San Francisco and Brussels.

There is never enough time to see everyone while I'm in town but each such meetup is a real pleasure. Social networking tools make staying connected much easier than it used to be but there is still no substitute for spending time with people in person!


Ah, Summer in Switzerland

I've just returned from a week in Lausanne, Switzerland that was both productive and refreshing. The original purpose of my trip was to attend IMD's annual meeting for presidents of its global alumni clubs. As the founder and president of the Houston alumni club, I was invited this year for the first time. As this is a great time of year to be in Lausanne and a terrible time of year to be in Houston, I extended my stay a bit to work from a different location.

I flew out Wednesday evening, arriving in Geneva early Thursday morning. Instead of sleeping on the plane, I got on a real roll of catching up on some work, which was great for productivity but less great for feeling rested upon arrival! Still, I knew that I couldn't sleep during the day Thursday if I hoped to synchronize my body clock with the new time zone.

After checking into my "hotel," the exquisite house of a former IMD professor and mentor of mine, I spent the afternoon at IMD, attending a session of OWP. OWP, Orchestrating Winning Performance, is IMD's flagship event every year, featuring a full week of cutting edge research presentations to the 500 execs who come in from around the world to stay up-to-date. It was my first time attending a session and it didn't disappoint!

Thursday evening I had dinner with another IMD professor / mentor and a new colleague of his. The three of us will be presenting together at the Academy of Management's annual conference in August so it was a great chance to coordinate our goals, content, and logistics.

Friday and Saturday I spent at the Alumni Club Presidents meeting. Many of the presidents come from much larger markets than Houston (where we have 500+ alumni) and have been running their organizations much longer than I have. Therefore it was interesting to hear about their challenges, successes, and ideas.

Many of the discussions reminded me of the same discussions we have in Rice University alumni leadership meetings - philosophical questions about the purpose of school-alumni relations, metrics of success, debates about best practices, etc. Hopefully I can bring some of our good ideas from the Rice community to IMD and vice versa!

Sunday was a relaxing day as I met a high school classmate (who now works in Geneva!), showed her around Lausanne, and went out on the lake with one of my IMD classmates and his family. The weather was absolutely perfect, the lake was gorgeous, and the company couldn't be beat - what more could I ask??

Monday we hosted a 4th of July party at the "hotel." They have a great house for entertaining - big yard, nice patio, great pool, amazing view - so we BBQ'ed out, lit up some fireworks, and celebrated American independence. What a blast!

Tuesday and Wednesday I worked from IMD as my "remote office." This afforded me the opportunity of catching up with several contacts for lunch or coffee and it felt good to be back in the setting where I worked very hard not so long ago. It helped, of course, that the food at the restaurant is still AMAZING!

Wednesday evening I attended the Euro Tech Tour Cleantech Summit's gala dinner in Geneva. Well, at least we *met* in Geneva but the dinner itself was on a big boat lake cruise. Meeting other cleantech entrepreneurs to learn about their innovative ideas, networking with European cleantech investors, and fine dining on the beautiful lake - what a fantastic way to wrap up the trip!

This morning I left for the airport WAY too early and the trip was over WAY too soon, but it was a welcome change of scene even if just briefly. Although there are many things I love about being back in Houston, there are many things I miss about Lausanne as well. I feel fortunate to have developed a good network there which makes it still feel like a second home. I hope this will always be the case!


Another weekend at The SHOP

Last weekend I underwent an epic 36 hours of working out at The SHOP in Dallas. As you might recall from my previous post about my first SHOP experience, it is not for the faint of heart. The SHOP is run by Drew Skaggs (S.H.O.P. stands for the Skaggs House Of Pain), a member of Rice's 2003 national championship baseball team. After graduating with degrees in Chemical Engineering and pursuing a career in commercial real estate, Drew finally stopped pursuing a "double life" (working to pay the bills and pursuing his interests in his offtime) and devoted his efforts fulltime to his passions: fitness, nutrition, strength, conditioning. He was already an incredible resource of information about the most cutting edge research in these areas but now that he is living and breathing it fulltime, The SHOP has become a mecca for elite athletes. Drew is more than academic, though; he practices what he preaches and leads by example.

To set the context, I'm in better shape than I was during my first SHOP visit in January. With Drew's help  I've added three pounds of muscle, shed four pounds of fat, taken a minute off of my 5k PR, and taken 80 seconds off of my 10k PR. I was only going to be in Dallas for about 36 hours but Drew promised that we could do plenty of damage in that amount of time. To add to the excitement, we were joined by a mutual acquaintance, a former professional athlete, who is quite a fitness enthusiast himself. He happened to be in Houston so it was easy for him just to drive up to Dallas with me.

We arrived around 8:30 PM Thursday evening, changed clothes and immediately hit The SHOP. As had happened last time, Drew took me way out of my comfort zone with many exercises and movements I had never done - or even heard of - before. We started with Turkish Get-Ups using a dumbbell or kettlebell. I have no idea why the Turks would ever want to get up that way but it was a really intense way to begin a workout! We followed this with heavy dumbbell Farmer's Walks superset with ab wheel rolls. At this point it was clear to me already how out of shape my forearms were because they were completely exhausted already!

We finished off the workout with anaerobic conditioning. Drew set up three stations: battle ropes, mountain climbers, and the airdyne bike. Each us was at one station performing 20 seconds of maximum intensity exercise. Then we rotated stations and rested for 40 seconds. We completed a full circuit three times and I never thought 9 minutes could last so long! My heart rate peaked in the 190s and finally we were done. Drew made his famous SHOP recovery shakes and then we were off to bed for recuperation.

No rest for the weary, though, as we were up at 5 AM for pre-workout nutrition: omelets with plenty of fresh veggies. Some other SHOP regulars joined us at 6:30 for workout #2. We began with heavy deadlifts. I used a trap bar instead of a straight bar just because I'm less accustomed to it. Next up: single arm dumbbell bench press superset with kettlebell swings. Then we wrapped up with overhead press superset with single leg glute bridges. For post workout nutrition we had second breakfast at Company Cafe, where I had a deep bowl of sweet potatoes, eggs, and grass fed buffalo - Mmmmm!

My business meetings took me most of the day Friday, but I made it back to The SHOP in time for workout #3: Wrestlemania! Drew has been studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu so we rolled out the mats and he taught us a few moves. Then we had six two-minute rounds of one-on-one grappling, with one person sitting out to rest each round. The goal was to get the other person to submit without any intentional punching, kicking, or other strikes, just grappling. Just as I remembered from my days wrestling back in school, such an experience is absolutely exhausting. Maybe people with great technique are less exhausted by it but, for me, I basically end up with all muscles flexed all the time.

Because I didn't really know what I was doing, my approach can best be described as a "turtle" strategy. Each round I found myself pretty quickly with my face in the mat so most of my effort was focused on countering my opponent's attempts to manipulate me into a submission hold. While I was mostly "successful" with that - in that I managed to fend off such attempts until the end of the very last round, when I found myself in a choke hold - I wasn't "winning;" I was "not losing." Next time I'll need to take more risks to get more offensive practice. Still, it was a lot of fun and a heck of a workout.

Friday evening we grilled up steaks and salmon that Drew had caught in Alaska. Add some spinach with lots of garlic, tomatoes and avocado, Napa cab, and raw milk white russians (in honor of all the Big Lebowski references we had been making) and it was a heck of a meal. Then back to sleep before the final round.

Saturday morning we woke up early again for sprouted grain english muffins with peanut butter then began workout #4. As most of our muscles were pretty decimated by this point, more crazy lifting would have just led to overtraining. Accordingly we focused on mobility first with lots of PNF stretching. We then superset forearm captains of crush with reverse situps on the incline bench. My torso was already so sore from all of the stability work that I wasn't able to do much on the situps.

We then changed location to a hill near The SHOP. I don't know exactly how long the hill path was (estimate: 200 meters) or how steep (estimate: 10% grade) but we sprinted up it three times and then recovered with SHOP shakes. As we returned to The SHOP it had been almost exactly 36 hours since we had arrived and we had completed four killer workouts.

Looking back, two insights stand out to me:

1. We really didn't do that much. The volume of our work was pretty significant for a 36-hour stretch, but nothing exceptional for four separate workouts. However, the quality of what we did was through the roof: difficult exercises conducted with 100% focus and maximum intensity. This corresponds with my desire to work out smarter, not longer, and it's an aspect of The SHOP that I love: a commitment to results, not simply to tiring you out.

2. Most of what we did was new/different (to me, at least). No matter how optimally you train, there is always benefit to mixing it up and shocking your body out of its adaptation. This is another aspect I love about The SHOP: because Drew is so committed to staying abreast of - and even innovating beyond - the cutting edge of fitness research, I can always count on it for a shock.

I'm back in Houston now and I still hurt. My neck especially (the muscles, not the spine) is reeling from the wrestling. There was a time when I had a 19" neck that would have been ready for it. While my narrower current neck is certainly more practical for finding bow ties that fit, I could have used the extra bulk during Wrestlemania! I am thoroughly convinced that it is no coincidence that "SHOP" has the same number of letters as "EPIC" because that's the only way to describe the 36 hours and 4 workouts we undertook. Now I'm pumped and ready for more - but maybe after a little R&R . . .



Last week was a great week that brought many accomplishments both professionally and personally. First off, I am pleased to announce that Smart Office Energy Solutions closed its second round of funding! While our first round comprised mostly smaller investors with whom I already had a personal relationship, this second, larger round was made up of more professional investors - both as individuals and as companies. Once again it is an honor to have had such faith placed on our shoulders and once again we will do everything within our power to ensure an overwhelmingly positive outcome.

And now, with this round closed, we've wasted no time in launching fundraising efforts for our next, much larger round. I pitched to two VCs last week and have already had very positive feedback/interest from one. As I have expressed before, fundraising is new for me and it is easy to become frustrated with the time and attention it takes. However, each of these small successes re-energizes me and keeps us moving forward.

Another piece of good news came in last week when we were selected as semi-finalists for the Cleantech Open, a prestigious nation-wide contest between cleantech startups. It is an honor to have been selected among such talented companies and we will work hard in the next round to live up to the "hype."

Finally, business meetings took me to Dallas toward the end of the week so I used the opportunity to squeeze in some time at The SHOP while I was there. I will detail that experience in a subsequent post but suffice to say that the incredibly intense workouts were exactly what I was seeking.

It was a great week so now I'm working on making this one even better!


Atlas Shrugged

At long last, after several months, I have finished reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. While reading The Fountainhead back in high school, I fell in love with Rand's school of philosophical thought, Objectivism. I always meant to follow up by reading Atlas Shrugged but between college, startups, and the myriad other distractions in my life I just never quite made time for the 1,000+ page novel. Finally, at long last, I have accomplished this task and it was interesting to read it 14 years after I read The Fountainhead - my perspective has changed a lot since then!

The Good

Rand's advocacy of free market capitalism certainly resonates very strongly with me. I'm not anti-government but I do believe that the government has a pretty focused role to play in the maintenance and advancement of society. Capitalism is an efficient system for fostering innovation, advancing ideas that are worthwhile and discarding those that aren't. The capital and where it flows provides an intrinsic metric of success, incenting businesses to evolve, streamline, and innovate.

When the government gets too involved not only does it lead to wonky results due to decision-making by people with little business experience, it also mucks up the entire capitalist system, blurring the incentives and obfuscating the metrics of success - further compounding the wonky results (I have blogged before about such wonky results.). I'm glad to have read this book now, after 11 years as an entrepreneur and business executive, as the government meddling in business affairs (e.g. the Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule and Directive 10-289) evoked much more significant responses in me than they would have back when I was a student!

That said, in this book Rand argues for an extremely laissez-faire, almost anarchist, form of capitalism, which I do not support. The government does have a role to play in business and that is to set the rules of the system in which the market operates. These rules include fair laws and equitable taxes with frequent review and update. After that, businesses should be left free to optimize their operations around those rules.

I also bought into Rand's theme of Sanction of the Victim, the willingness of the successful to suffer at the hands of the "evil" (In this novel, "evil" is done by mooches and looters who have no capacity to achieve in and of their own right.), feeling guilty for the "sin" of their achievement. This corresponds with Transactional Analysis, specifically with the playing of games. It is easy to blame the "evil" person/company/country/organization but it takes two or more actors to play a game and they all are equally complicit in the result.

Rand's "rational egoism" or "ethical selfishness" still resonates with me in many ways but not nearly as much as it did in high school. If "self" is extended to represent collective units such as "family" or "company," I think this position is a good operating principle. However it must not be followed myopically and it must not be considered absolute. Part of what makes us human is that we have the capacity for love and human empathy, not just for maximizing self interest 24/7/365.

The Bad

Rand's philosophy really falls apart, though, on her premise that rationality is every human  being's highest virtue. Here I disagree completely. Human beings are inherently irrational creatures although we spend an enormous amount of time and energy rationalizing irrational decisions we have already made - consciously or subconsciously. Several times in the novel characters are derided for sharing their feelings or instincts. This is flat-out wrong. We can either ignore / suppress our emotions or we can embrace them, even capitalize on them.

Again, our capacity to feel is a critical element of the human experience and, without it, life is less rich, less meaningful. This shows in Rand's characters who never seem to know joy. She writes that they are joyful when they achieve something great but it isn't very convincing. The moments of greatest joy in my life have been almost entirely irrational and they have involved people, not achievements. By condemning irrationality, Rand really misses the boat.

The Ugly

Because of the dogged focus on rationality, the characters in Atlas Shrugged simply aren't believable. Or, even if one believes that humans like them might exist, it is hard to identify with them. There is some dialogue, of course, but the book feels like one preachy monologue after another. Because of this inability to write "human" characters and because of her insistent commitment to rationality, I wonder what Ayn Rand was like - and I suspect that she repressed a significant amount of her own feelings.

More practically, Atlas Shrugged is too long. The story could have been told in 1/3 the pages and without sacrificing any character development (since, as described above, the characters weren't really developed). A prime example is Galt's radio address, which really is the expression of Rand's philosophy packaged up into one monologue - and what a monologue! After three hours of reading, of Galt repeating himself over and over again, of rhetorical questions and allegories, I finally finished his address. There was a lot of great stuff in there but it was way too long - if it had been a real radio address, he would have bored his audience to tears and no one would have followed. In Atlas Shrugged, however, people around the country are inspired by this message - once again exhibiting Rand's inability to grasp how humans really work.


I'm really glad to have read the book and I would recommend it for others as well. My reaction is very mixed: the businessman in me loves it while the human in me rolls his eyes at it. The fact that it evokes such strong and mixed reactions is a good thing and I'm sure I will have many lively conversations about the book. I just wish that Rand would have understood the latter reaction and found a way to reconcile her philosophy with it.


Houston Heights 5k 2011 Race Report

Saturday I set a new 5k PR at the Houston Heights 5k race. As we are now in the time of year when Houston is murderously hot and humid, I had intended to be done with races until late Fall. However, our Norwegian intern, Anders, who is a much more accomplished runner than I am, pointed out that this would be our last chance to run in the same race before he headed back home - how could I pass up such an opportunity?

My previous 5k PR for a certified course was 20:58, set back in February. In theory I should have been in better shape now, but it would also be much hotter/more humid now so I didn't know exactly what kind of performance to expect. With race-time temperatures expected in the 80s, online calculators were predicting that I would run up to a minute slower than my cool weather potential. Plus, now I'm a married man and I'm sure that sets me back a few minutes too! :-P

I disregarded the weather for my race plan, though, and set a strategy to set a new PR. The course would be very straight and flat so there was no need to worry about adjusting for turns or hills. As usual my intention was to start and finish very strong with a fast, consistent pace in between:

KM 1: 4:04 (Big burst at the start then settling into my pace after 200m)
KM 2: 4:17
KM 3: 4:17
KM 4: 4:17
KM 5: 4:00 (4:17 pace for 650m, cover the next 260m in 60s - 3:51 pace, and sprint the final 90m in 15s - 2:47 pace)
Race goal: 20:55

The morning of the race was definitely pretty sticky. I didn't allow as much time between my big breakfast and the race as I usually do, so my GI was grumbling a bit as I warmed up. My stomach settled down right before the start, though, so all was well. I found Anders, we wished each other luck, and then we were off.

The first km went very well. Heights Blvd is a wide, straight street and there was plenty of room for runners to spread out after the starting line. I had a good start (~3:30 pace) and then eased back, finishing this km in 3:58 with an average heart rate of 166. Heading into the next km I was 6 seconds ahead of my goal and my heart rate was 174 - right on target.

The second km was consistent and felt strong. I finished it in 4:13 with an average heart rate of . . . 174 - my heart rate had stayed steady as well. I was now 10 seconds ahead of my goal and feeling very good.

The third km worried me a bit as it included a 180-degree turn (as we turned around and headed right back up Heights Blvd). I finished it in 4:12 but my heart rate had now begun to climb, averaging 178 throughout the km. 60% through the race I was 15s ahead of my goal with a 180 heart rate and straight, flat road ahead.

The 4th km was once again consistent (My heart rate stayed at 180.) but I struggled to stick to my pace, finishing in 4:18. A woman in green who had been just ahead of me (and who had a coach biking alongside her) began to extend her lead. Still, I was 14s ahead of my goal so I would set a new PR barring any disastrous meltdown.

The next 650m were again a struggle and I completed them at 4:20 pace. My average heart rate for that leg was 183 and my current heart rate was 185. Still, I was 12s ahead of my goal as I kicked it up for my penultimate push.

My pace was good during this push, 3:44, but something unexpected happened before I completed the 260m. Anders, who of course had finished several minutes prior, had come back along the course and was encouraging me on. I was 13s ahead of my goal, my heart rate was now 189 and, with 120m left, I began my final sprint.

I could see the woman in green way up ahead of me and, urged on by Anders, I committed to beating her. I passed several guys along the way but, for whatever reason, she was my focus - my nemesis! I blew by her maybe 5m before the finish line and it felt great! I had completed the final 120m in 23s (2:55 pace) for a final time of 20:44.9, 10s below my goal and a new PR by 13s! Perhaps most interestingly, my hear rate soared to 197 - the highest I have ever recorded - during the sprint.

I cooled down, found Anders, and together we jogged back along the course to find Katie and run her in. By this point it was getting very muggy and we were incredibly thankful for all the tree shade along Heights Blvd. Some others from our office had come out to support us so we all met up - but we runners kept our sweaty distance!

Anders finished 2nd overall with a 16:06 time - very impressive. My 20:45 was 69th of 1,022 runners (93rd percentile), 60th of 495 male runners (88th percentile), and 8th of 71 males 30-34 (89th percentile). It was a good race with decent competition, plenty of room, a nice course, and effective organization - I'll hope to run it again next year.

Also, to make this run more meaningful, I ran it in honor of GIVEWATTS. Some family members sponsored me and I managed to collect enough donations for three watts of clean renewable power to be installed at a school in East Africa. Over 10 years those three watts will create approximately $2,250 of value there, so this aspect of the race was much more impactful than my PR!