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!