The last two weekends we have escaped to Colorado mountain towns and they have lived up to the hype!
Two weekends ago we visited some dear friends in Beaver Creek. We found Beaver Creek to be a small, secluded town with a real feeling of getting away. The architecture was very Swiss-inspired, which took us back to our time en suisse many years ago. This was a quiet weekend for us, spending time with our friends, watching the Olympics, and hiking and eating our way through charming Beaver Creek.
Last weekend we traveled to Breckenridge, which in many ways was the opposite of Beaver Creek: big, very commercial, and very American-feeling (in contrast to Beaver Creek’s more European feel). This was a more extended vacation for us and we spent the time hiking, biking, and participating in summer mountain activities (gondola rides, roller coasters, alpine slides). I even bumped into a beach volleyball teammate of mine from Houston – what a small world!
Although we are still largely keeping to ourselves during this COVID resurgence, it has felt very liberating to begin exploring our environs. We moved to Boulder more than a year ago and only recently are we starting to access the rest of Colorado. Suffice it to say that Colorado offers a lot of natural beauty; driving to/from is almost as breathtaking as the destinations themselves. Many aspects of this state remind me of my time in Switzerland – which is a very good thing! We are very much looking forward to continuing our adventures here!
The USA was the clear victor in medal scores, winning in every category: golds, silvers, bronzes, total medals, and weighted medal score. The top performers by weighted medal score were: 351 – USA 304 – China 207 – ROC (Russia) 195 – Great Britain 194 – Japan Japan went from a weighted medal count of 37 in 2008 to displace Germany in the top 5 this year for the first time – how gratifying for the host country! Meanwhile Russia continues to hold a top spot despite technically being banned from competition this year for doping . . . it’s kind of hard to take any of their athletes seriously as clean competitors at this point.
The leaders in these summer Olympics are all large countries; the leaderboard changes quite a bit when normalized by population (or by GDP). The top performers by weighted medal score per million citizens were: 12.00 – New Zealand 9.50 – Slovenia 9.00 – Jamaica 6.50 – Croatia 5.88 – Netherlands Kudos to these countries for high performance despite having small athletic talent pools.
It was a fun Olympics to watch this year – full of surprises, records, and inspiring performances. Moreover, it was the first Olympics I have been able to watch with my kid, which made it all the more fun! Due to the COVID delay, the Winter Olympics are now only months away and the next Summer Olympics just around the corner – we can’t wait!
I spent the back half of June in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. This was the first trip I’ve taken since moving to Colorado a year ago in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Although the trip was for business, my family managed to join for part of it and the change of scenery was beneficial for all of us.
We drove up on a Wednesday evening to give our 3yo a chance to fall asleep in the car and just transfer into our hotel. The Basalt Mountain Inn, where we stayed, turned out to be more of a motel – pretty bare bones but just fine for our purposes. It was walking distance from everything in Basalt – including the RMI office – so we were very glad for the location, location, location.
Thursday morning we woke up and had breakfast at Two Rivers Cafe – the only place in Basalt open before 8:00! I was initially very excited about the menu, which featured lots of Southwestern fare – eggs with enchiladas, tamales, etc. – but none of it was very spicy at all. That’s all right, though; it was good diner food and available when we needed it!
After breakfast, I met up with the Third Derivative team and we kicked off our two-day strategy retreat with a hike above the beautiful Roaring Fork Valley. It was amazing to meet in person people I had hired, led, and collaborated with virtually for more than a year. We are enormously privileged to have access to vaccines and we took full advantage.
After our hike, we settled into RMI’s headquarters and innovation center in Basalt. The building itself is amazing and it had been set up for extra airflow plus lots of event space outside to minimize risk of any COVID transmission. We were well catered, including a little sign advising RMI staff who were not part of our event that the food was for us – it felt very much like my IMD MBA experience except that now I was in the group for which the food was meant, not the mooch coming to clean up afterward!
We spent the afternoon talking strategy, sharing out the results of the integrated strategic planning we had done over the prior two months, and soliciting further feedback/refinement from the entire team. Then it was time to kick back with dinner and drinks on the patio right along the Frying Pan River at the Tipsy Trout. It was wonderful social time with people I had been craving time with since we launched Third Derivative!
Toward the end, Katie came out so I split off from the group and Katie and I got a little date night for the first time in . . . ever? That’s how it felt!
On Friday I returned to the RMI office for a day of team exercises, working together to define how we would execute on our grand ambitions. After we wrapped up, we went to take a tour of Amory Lovins‘s groundbreaking energy efficient house in Snowmass, which was an inspiring experience.
While most of the Third Derivative team went to Aspen and Carbondale for dinner, I helped Katie put our 3yo down to bed. By the time they were asleep I couldn’t pin down the team so . . . Katie and I had our second date night in a row! We had a lovely outdoor dinner at Cafe Bernard (The elk tenderloin was wonderful!) and turned in early.
Saturday most of the Third Derivative team returned home so Katie, our 3yo, and my mom went to explore Aspen. We hiked Hunter Creek Trail and then walked around the town center, frequented the farmer’s market, and grabbed brunch with the remaining Third Derivative team members.
Honestly I didn’t love Aspen. It seemed pretty superficial and didn’t seem to offer a whole lot I couldn’t get in any number of other Colorado mountain towns. I was only there for a few hours, though, and not during the winter so maybe my opinion will change in future.
Saturday evening we had an early goodbye dinner for the last of the Third Derivative team and then . . . Katie and I had a third date night!
Sunday was technically Fathers Day but for me it was a working day. My family returned home in the morning and I spent the day preparing for the intense week ahead. I didn’t mind at all, though; for me, every day is Fathers Day!
Monday we held Third Derivative’s Board meeting, at which we aligned on the strategic and operating plan. We’re looking to more than double our activity over the next year so the Board pushed us a bit on our execution risk. At the end of the day, though, we all agreed to pursue an ambitious path – after all, it’s what the climate needs.
I spent most of Tuesday prepping for RMI’s leadership strategy retreat. In classic Bryan fashion, all of my materials came in right at the deadline. It’s a good thing they did too, because, by Tuesday afternoon, colleagues were arriving from all corners of the world. Just as with the Third Derivative team, it was amazing to see them and spend time with them in person. This was capped off by happy hour at a colleague’s place in Carbondale and dinner nearby at Phat Thai.
Wednesday we held RMI program reviews, meaning every program – including Third Derivative – shared out our strategic self assessment and received feedback from all of the other program leads. This was exhausting but also incredibly useful; I learned more about what else is happening at RMI in that one day than I had learned in my prior 15 months. We wrapped up with dinner at Tempranillo and all crashed pretty early to secure adequate recovery before the next day.
Thursday we worked in breakout groups to ideate ways that all of RMI’s programs might better collaborate together. Right now we are relatively silo’ed but there is an opportunity for the RMI whole to be greater than the sum of its parts if we can better coordinate between/among us. I think the content of these sessions was productive but the best part was spending time with these smart, motivated, diverse colleagues for the first time. We wrapped up with a “social” dinner where all we talked about was work at Free Range.
Because my family had already returned home with our car, I had no ride back to Boulder so I decided to test out Colorado’s mass transit. Friday morning I took the VelociRFTA bus from Basalt to Glenwood Springs. There I picked up the Bustang to Denver Union Station. Brant, Third Derivative’s dynamic COO, lives at Union Station so I grabbed lunch with him before taking a Lyft to my house in Boulder. It was quite an odyssey!
Later Friday evening I bumped into one of my RMI colleagues – with whom I had just spent two full days in Basalt – at our mailboxes. It turns out that he has been my nextdoor neighbor the entire time we have lived here and I never knew! #onlyduringcovid could we be on weekly Zoom calls together and never notice that we were physically only a few meters a part!
It was an exhausting, energizing, exhilarating trip to Basalt and I am so grateful for the privilege to have been able to meet safely in person. I’m a technologist and tech tools make it easier than ever to collaborate virtually – but, as the saying goes, ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby!
So, I’m recovering from massively invasive spinal surgery . . . Wait, wait, wait, OK, let’s back up!
2020-11 In November of last year, I woke up one morning with debilitating back pain. The pain level itself wasn’t incredibly high, but it was so uncomfortable that I basically couldn’t sleep for a week until I finally discovered Aleve PM and melatonin. I had had unexplained pain in this particular spot before but never this significant or this persistent.
Over the next few weeks the pain migrated from my upper back to my left shoulder down my arm, eventually to settle as numbness in my fingers and weakness in my left triceps and pec. Indeed I had had some numbness in my left fingers off and on over the years but it had always resolved itself. Because this wasn’t going away, I asked my doctor for some help; he referred me to an orthopedist and a physiatrist. The ortho took x-rays and couldn’t find anything wrong so it seemed most likely that this was a nerve issue.
2020-12 I met with the physiatrist shortly after Christmas and demonstrated how this fit athlete could barely do a pushup due to the left arm weakness. She ordered her own x-rays and an MRI, hypothesizing that we would see some nerve impingement in the lower cervical spine.
When the MRI came back it did indeed show a slight herniation (bulge) in one of the cervical discs on the left side that was likely causing my symptoms. However, much more worrying was a diagnosis of “critical spinal stenosis” around my C5-C7 vertebrae. That means that my spinal column was being massively compressed there, which my physiatrist found very worrying.
In addition to the compression potentially causing nerve damage itself, it put me at much greater risk of much more catastrophic damage, like paralysis, if I experienced jarring movement, like an auto accident. I assumed this compression must be the result of my football playing days but the doctors told me it was likely congenital. Given that 20 years ago my mom experienced sudden and unexpected paralysis, maybe it is even hereditary.
2021-02 My physiatrist agreed that I could pursue conservative treatment for a little while to see if conditions would improve. I did physical therapy on my neck and spine twice a week for the better part of two months but unfortunately didn’t see much improvement.
2021-03 At this point my physiatrist became more insistent that I should pursue surgery with due haste. The longer my spinal cord remained compressed, the higher the likelihood of permanent nerve damage.
I met with neuro and orthopedic surgeons. They reviewed my imaging and mostly gave me two options: 1. fusion, 2. disc replacement. In both cases they would go in through the front of the neck and reduce pressure on my nerve root. These were pretty routine procedures with rapid recovery and low likelihood of complications. Everyone seemed to agree that these were my only options.
My last visit was with Dr. Patrick Curry of Boulder Centre for Orthopedics. Although he thought it likely that surgery would be the ultimate answer, he engaged with me much more openly rather than the “You must have surgery right now and here are your options” approach I had received from others – which I appreciated.
He noted the disparity between the worrisome spinal cord compression evident in my MRI and my symptoms which were much more related to pressure on the nerve root. He presented the same fusion and disc replacement options that I had been presented previously – but he was concerned that they wouldn’t adequately solve my issue since not just the discs but the c6 vertebra as well were providing pressure on the spinal canal. As such, he presented two additional surgical options: 1. c6 corpectomy – which he didn’t recommend for someone my age (One of the unexpected benefits about spinal surgery in your 40s is being constantly told how young you are – I guess it’s all relative!) – 2. posterior laminoplasty.
In posterior laminoplasty, he would go in the through the back and peel back tissue to create more space/room in the spinal canal. While he was in there, he would go around the spinal cord to clean up the anterior disc herniation as well. This would have a longer recovery than other options (having to cut through my muscular back and neck) but he believed it would more comprehensively address my issue(s) – with a lower likelihood of leading to more and more surgeries in future.
In the spirit of informing a decision with more data, we agreed to do a CT scan immediately and another MRI at higher resolution before finalizing a decision of which surgical option to pursue. After reviewing the new imaging together, we decided on the posterior laminoplasty.
2021-05 Unfortunately it took months for insurance to approve all of the imaging and the procedure – not very comforting when I had been told that the longer I waited the higher the likelihood of permanent nerve damage would be!
Finally we set a surgery date – May 20 – and then I began to get scared. I had never had surgery before and this would be really invasive, risky stuff – cutting open my neck and back and messing with my spinal cord! What if something went wrong and I turned into a vegetable? What if I went under anesthesia and never woke up? What if these were the last beautiful moments I would ever spend with my darling 3yo or amazing partner? What if I hadn’t prepared my work team to keep going in my absence?
The closer we got to May 20, the faster time seemed to go, such that all my ability to prepare for what was to come – practically and psychologically – seemed to fly out the window. Multiple pre-op appointments came and went but I always seemed to leave with more questions than answers. Suddenly, the morning of the procedure arrived and there was no looking back.
2021-05-20 Katie and I woke up very early the morning of May 20 and drove to Porter Adventist Hospital just south of Denver. The surgery prep team was amazing! Everyone introduced themself and told me exactly what they were doing before or during the operation. They all gave Katie (who was in constant communication with my brother, Nick) an opportunity to ask questions too.
They asked me 100 times who I was and what I was there for so I was pretty confident they wouldn’t get me mixed up with another patient. The anesthesiologist even turned out to be a close colleague of one of my friends from college! All this to say, as I was wheeled to the operating room, while I was still scared, my anxiety was much reduced. In the operating room, as the drugs kicked in, I remember making jokes about the funny looking x-ray protective gear and then . . . that’s it.
2021-05-20 I came to propped up in a hospital bed with a neck brace on and Katie right beside me. The surgery had lasted ~4 hours and everything had gone as expected.
Now I was hopped up on drugs for pain management, had a drain inserted into my trapezius, a foley catheter inserted into my bladder, and a big incision stitched up on the back of my neck!
I would need to remain at the hospital until I could meet a few pre-defined milestones. For the time being, though, it was time to rest. Katie returned home and video called me with our 3yo, which made everything feel much better.
It wasn’t a restful night per se as nurses were coming in and out of the room all the time, taking vital signs, giving me medication, and asking lots of questions. Between my inability to move, the catheter, and a numb finger (where the oxygen sensor was on tightly), it wasn’t terribly comfortable, but I managed to piece together some sleep in preparation for the following day’s work.
2021-05-21 By the time Katie rejoined me next morning, I was already checking off milestones. The catheter was out (Hallelujah!). The physical therapist came and helped me sit up, then stand up, then go for a short walk. The occupational therapist came and helped me go to the bathroom, brush teeth, and take a shower. It was funny how jubilantly the nurses would celebrate each of these milestones – it felt a lot like us at home celebrating the same milestones with our 3yo!
This all seemed relatively straight forward until I had a chance to sit down and catch my breath. Only then did I realize how exhausted I was; I had to take an hour-long nap immediately! And that’s how the rest of my day went: getting up to push the boundaries of longer and longer walks, eating a little bit, and then napping to recover.
After Katie left for the evening, Mom came to visit me and we had some good walks and talks along the hospital floor. The night came and went and suddenly it was Saturday, the first day I was eligible for discharge!
2021-05-22 Saturday proceeded like the day before, with routine functions like walking becoming more, well, routine. Finally the nurse checked my drain and declared that the small amount of discharge being produced meant that I had met my final discharge milestone. They pulled the drain out (which felt like someone was flossing my insides) and I was free to go!
Katie drove me home and I was elated to be rejoined with my pack. I made it home in time for our bath and bedtime routine then turned in very early myself.
Now I’ve been home for a week and every day keeps getting better and better. I’m blessed to have an amazing support team around me: my mom, my sister-in-law (who flew in for the week), and especially my partner. Katie has suddenly found herself a single parent with one wild 3yo and one wild puppy – and now a spinal recovery patient as well! She’s phenomenal, though, and is always making sure I’m nourished, comfortable, and have the right medication at the right time.
I’m still in a neck brace (which makes many things uncomfortable – including sleeping!), still on medication (a little less every day), and still on supplemental oxygen at night (meant to counteract the effects of some of the medication). I’m regaining physical capacity daily, though. Walking is the only form of exercise I’m currently allowed (which makes sense as my HRV is still incredibly low) and up to 11,000 steps / day.
Candidly, this is all very hard for me. As someone who is used to feeling invincible, suddenly I feel very vulnerable. And it will be a long road to full recovery . . . but so far the slope of the curve seems to be positive and pretty steep. With this great team around me, I’m very optimistic and looking forward to this as my next great adventure!
With a heavy heart I’m sharing that former Rice Owl, Courtney Hall, died unexpectedly Thursday, apparently of a heart condition.
Graduating from high school as a National Merit semifinalist at age 16, Courtney was an all-conference center at Rice (starting every one of Rice’s 44 games during his four years). Drafted into the NFL at age 19, Courtney was an All-Pro center for the San Diego Chargers while completing his Rice degree in 1990 and captaining them to Super Bowl XXIX (the 1994 season).
Since his playing days he had an illustrious career in finance and public service. While serving on the Association of Rice Alumni board of directors (where I first met him) he earned a joint JD/MBA from U Chicago and was recently named to Rice Board of Trustees. Like me, he married way, way up and, although he built a sizeable family of his own, I would say that he saw every classmate, teammate, business partner, or other human as a family member. Someone of his prominence always had many people asking for something but I never once saw him refuse to lend a helping hand to a fellow in need.
I was proud to call Courtney a friend and mentor and I will always call him an inspiration. If you didn’t have the great fortune to know Courtney, please take a moment to read the articles below (hat tip to former ARA board member, George Webb, for curating them). You will see what an extraordinary life he led and that the impact of his legacy will endure long after he has left this mortal world. We have lost a true titan, but, after all, Rice fight never dies.
Almost one year to the day since we lost our sweet Max, we are elated to have added Genève to our family!
Genève is a Great Bernese, a Bernese Mountain Dog / Great Pyranees mix. Ever since we fell in love with Berners in Switzerland, we have wanted to bring one into our family but never felt that hot climates like Houston would be appropriate for such a big, furry dog. Now that we’re in Colorado, though, this seems like a great place for such a breed!
Everyone else seems to think so too. We have been on the Berner rescue list for months and are frequently told that we may never be able to adopt one. Accordingly, we put down a deposit last month for a puppy from a breeder that was recommended by the rescue organization and were told that it would probably be a year before one was available.
Late last week, though, we received a call from the breeder, letting us know that two people had backed out of this particular puppy, who might be on the small side – would we be interested? Yes! We drove out Saturday to meet her and drove back with her in tow. During the car ride, we discussed mountains and places near mountains that could inspire a name for her. When we arrived at Genève, the conversation was over because our 2yo insisted that that had to be her name. I agreed as long as her middle name would be Aéroport!
We’ve had her now for 24 hours and she is a little fluffy ball of joy. She has spent a lot of the daytime sleeping – tuckered out from these big changes – and a lot of the nighttime keeping me awake because she wants to go out and play in the yard! At eight weeks old, she still has a lot of growing, developing, and learning to do but so far she has pottied exclusively outdoors so we consider that a good first step.
Our 2yo loves her, except when she is trying to chew on their toys. Katie and I are overjoyed to have a furry companion back in our lives again; it feels like a hole in our family has been filled.
Happy Easter, everyone; we have extra motivation to rejoice this year!
Looking through my blog history, there are many references to the Washington Football Team, which was – until recently – called the Washington Redskins. I grew up in the DC metro area at a time when this was a magical team that frequently won the Super Bowl and I developed a strong affinity for the franchise.
For many years there was a controversy about the Redskins name. Was it racist? Was it offensive? It took me a long time to establish a position for several reasons. First was that most of the people arguing about it seemed to be privileged white folks like me, not the people to whom the name actually referred. Within Indigenous communities, there were arguments on both sides of the debate, which meant I couldn’t simply defer to a unified position.
Also I had never (and still have never) heard anyone use the term “redskin” as a racial epithet. I had heard it used exclusively to refer to the Washington NFL team – and even then, usually abbreviated to “‘Skins.” These are reminders that issues like these are often more complex than the cut and dry arguments people like to make about them.
What eventually convinced me that the Redskins name was wrong actually had less to do with the specific name itself and more to do with the broad fetishization of Indigenous peoples. As I underwent my [still in process] learning journey about equity, inclusion, and justice, I found it increasingly indefensible for a bunch of wealthy, mostly White people to profit from the name and likeness of people who suffered displacement and genocide at the hands of . . . a bunch of wealthy, mostly White people. At best this was unintentionally in poor taste and at worst this was deliberately White supremacist.
I stopped using the term myself a few years ago and I was glad to see when the NFL team officially stopped using the name as well last year. I would go further, though, and suggest that no teams – Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, etc. – should be using Indigenous names and iconography without significant representation of Indigenous people determining how they are used and sharing in the profits of their likenesses being sold on jerseys, TV broadcasts, video games, etc.
This is a continuous learning journey for me so my perspective might change, in which case I will share my learnings here. In the meantime, in the spirit of learning, rather than erasing my past use of “Redskins” on this blog, I will leave those instances intact but with a note expressing regret and pointing to this post for context.
What do the rest of you think about this approach? All opinions welcome but opinions from Indigenous people weighted most heavily.
Having consumed the Harry Potter stories almost exclusively in audio fashion until recently, I always assumed that Fleur Delacour’s last name was a reference to “the heart.” It would seem to be in keeping with her portrayal as commanding the hearts of many would-be suitors at Hogwarts. Now that I have seen it in writing, though, I wonder if that is the case.
“Heart” in French is “coEur,” whereas “cour” actually translates to “court.” I wonder if JKR’s reference with her last name actually refers to a court then – perhaps a royal court (vs a court of law) thus indicating she is adept at using her wiles to gain favor.
Or another translation of “cour” is “yard” or “garden,” which would be very much in keeping with her first name, Fleur (“flower”). So perhaps JKR actually wanted her name to be “flower of the garden.”
I had never considered any of this before. What do you think, did JKR intend “heart” but just change the spelling a bit based on preference? Or did she intend “court?” Or did she intend “garden?” Or did she simply think it sounded cool?
I never thought about this before but we are told here that Moody placed enchantments at the Order HQ. Now that Moody is dead, should the enchantments persist? When Dumbledore died, the petrificus totalus (or similar) spell he had placed on Harry died with him. Perhaps there are some types of spells that persist after the caster dies and some that don’t?
The more I think about it, the more I think there must be some kinds of magic that persist after the caster dies. Let’s take Hogwarts, for example. From the bewitched ceiling of the Great Hall to the singing suits of armor, magic abounds there. Do we really think all of those magical properties have been cast by living wizards?
There are three possibilities:
The spells end when the caster dies. Then another wizard must recast the spells to ensure minimum disruption. I think that unlikely and, if it were the case, probably lots of stuff would have gone haywire at the moment of Dumbledore’s death as I am certain that he cast quite a few ongoing spells there.
There is some sort of group spell casting thingy going on. It’s possible, I suppose, but we don’t have any indication of anything like that in the text.
There is a type of magic that does persist after the caster dies.
Let’s go even more specific and examine the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. It was created hundreds of years ago by now-deceased Salazar Slytherin yet maintains its magic. This seems to rule out possibilities 1 and 2 as they would have required others to perpetuate the magic of the Chamber yet we are told that the Chamber has never been discovered by anyone since Slytherin’s death. Or possibly there has been a secret order at Hogwarts of Slytherin followers keeping up the magic of the Chamber continuously for hundreds of years – sounds like cool fan fic but I find it unlikely!
So I’m forced to conclude that 3 is the right possibility, that some forms of magic persist. I’m not sure of the exact taxonomy but perhaps these forms of persistent magic are called “enchantments” (vs spells, charms, hexes, jinxes, etc).
P.S. why are they so concerned with the timing of portkeys here? We know from the Triwizard Cup in Goblet of Fire that portkeys can be made without any temporal component.
Here we deal with Harry’s flight from Privet Drive and narrow escape from the Death Eaters. There are several head scratchers here: Why not sneak Harry out with the invisibility cloak? Why not have Hedwig fly to Burrow? Why not cast protego on the back of Hagrid’s motorbike? That said, if you can suspend disbelief, it’s a pretty riveting action sequence regardless.
The most heart wrenching outcome is the death of Hedwig. It had never occurred to me until my book club leader, Becca, pointed it out but Hedwig’s recently deceased body was still in the sidecar when Harry cast confringo upon it. That makes the subsequent explosion Hedwig’s version of a Viking funeral – I love it!
And I especially love it, given that this takes place in a universe that prominently features birds that rise from the ashes. And I especially especially love it, given that a feather from one of those rising-from-the-ashes-birds is the core of the very wand that casts the confringo spell on Hedwig!
Yes, I’m sure of it. If this were a Dungeons and Dragons item description, the small print next to “Phoenix Core Wand” would read “When casting fire spells, any affected birds in the area of effect gain vitality from the magical fire and gain phoenix powers.” New head canon established!