5/30/11

On a Greyhound to Joplin

After 27 hours on Greyhound, with abrupt stops and half-asleep transfers, I arrived in Joplin with little rest, rancid body odor but lots of pent-up enthusiasm.

The crowd on the bus were the usual suspects. A lady named Bella who drank four glasses of wine in Pittsburgh and told vulgar stories throughout the entire 4 hours to Columbus. The lady bus driver who threatened to leave anyone who dared to stroll over to McDonald's behind.  Finally, there was my new good  friend, Danielle, who sang "Love" by Keisha Cole for me on camera in Pittsburgh, with bus-riders staring in disbelief.

Then in St Louis, my bus driver didn't want to drop off me in Joplin, no matter what the reason.  She gave me a hard time about not letting me offload my bike and told me that I would have to pick it up in Los Angeles.  That all got cleared up after explaining to the station manager and pleading the bus driver after she ripped me a new one.

Photo by Sean Kerr (Americorps)
Eventually, we were smack dab in the middle of the America.  Unlike a last visit to Haiti, there was no one to greet me, not even a soul on the street.  A lonely greyhound station in a very big town, some parts showing virtually no sign that a deadly EF-5 Twister had rolled through only a week ago.

President Obama and his entourage had just visited and spoke in front of hundreds with Governor Nixon.  Flags were flying in half mast.   Emergency response vehicles and TV trucks filled up a parking lot at a mall.  A National Guard hummer drove through the picturesque downtown.

Joplin is no small town.  There are malls here that rival Tyson's Corner.  Starbucks, Target, Sushi bars -- all the amenities you expect to see in metropolis America.  And unlike Haiti, I would have electricity and internet.  But would I have a shower?  It appears I would be reaching two days without one.

Once on Main Street, I was so relieved that I purchased a Dahon foldable bike just prior to leaving on the trip. This was a life saver and would be my only medium of getting around.

The campus of Missouri Southern State University was four miles away and the temps were touching near 90.   I loaded all my luggage on the bike (Macbook Pro, Nikon 5100, sleeping bag, and yes only a few pieces of clothing) and pedaled my way to the Volunteer relief center.

My timing was flawless -- I arrived just in time to listen to the final part of the St Louis Americorps meeting -- you have to watch this -- on YouTube.

Now as I type this letter, I am attempting to build a mock website that will aggregate tornado relief items.

So what is next?  God only knows.  Tomorrow, I will definitely visit the site ravaged by the tornado.  Tomorrow, I will definitely visit victims.  Tomorrow is another 24 hours whirlwind tour in what has already been a very long journey to aid the victims of the deadliest single tornado in America.



5/22/11

Back on my Feet Champions run w/ DC Capital Striders

Here 

Apollo's First 8k

Busy Saturday.  After cultural Fiesta Asia and working on getting my contractor prepped to install a new concrete floor for my bathroom, I was all pumped up to support DC Capital Striders, Back on My Feet and High Cloud with their annual 8K.  Since Apollo wanted to get some fresh air, I decided to bring him along.  Little did I expect him to be the star of the show.
Apollo loves children
Adriana (High Cloud) with Apollo
Apollo w/ Hudson
I came to volunteer, but after due to the great attendance and plethora of volunteers, I decided to take Apollo out for his first 8K.  I knew he would enjoy it since Apollo loves to go out on a spin on my road bike.
Rick Amernick with Apollo


Autumn w/ Apollo

Flash Mob: Fiesta Asia

5/20/11

Bike to Work Day

by Charles Hagman

Thank God for sunny skies.  No precipitation.  Only partly cloudy.
Kanita's first bike to work
Freedom Plaza


My roommates get ready to head out
Today is the one day not to ride Metro.  Bike to Work Everybody!  Ok, Kanita, we've been begging you to bike to work for the last six months.  We are so glad you've finally doing this thing!

Sing a Song @ Royal Thai Embassy

After a very successful production last week with the EU Embassies, I was ready to take on Passport DC.  Except this time, I didn't have a song.  That's when Karen Carpenter stepped in.

After the rain had subsided, I headed out to the Royal Thai Embassy @ Georgetown to "Sing a Song" with a 100 new international friends and my sidekick parrot, Apollo, and yes once again on my trusty Cannondale  road bike.

After a dozen takes of Sing a Song, I left the Embassy feeling grateful for an amazingly productive day.  When I returned to my car, I was aghast to see that my Nikon D5100 was no where to be found.  Was I that forgetful?  Did I get overcome by events? Worse, Apollo, my trusty assistant,  didn't even remind me.

I rushed back to the Embassy, only to find out that no one had seen it and the Embassy was getting ready to close.  I was feeling dejected.  I had set it down on the wall by the flagpole.  Likely someone had grabbed it and ran off with a $1,000 camera.

5/14/11

Capital Connection '11: New Venture in DC

A relevant question was asked at Capital Connection '11:  "Is the startup world in a bubble?"  Recently President Obama appointed Steve Case to chair the Startup America Partnership as part of an effort to to increase private sector investment in new business ventures.

Big companies have an infusion of cash and are looking for places to invest them in.  The Administration believes that investing in startups will help grow the economy and create jobs.

 The short answer: No, but we're watching. But this shouldn't be our concern.  If entrepreneurs have a great idea, a solid team and a airtight business model, then that should be their focus.  Smart entrepreneurs should take advantage of the market expansion that we are experiencing.  They did not give up during the down market , but continued to press on developing Web 2.0.

Today, the business model is more clear than it was in the late 90's.  Co-Founders have more experience and strong, established cities like Baltimore and DC have built strong launching points for start-ups in the federal region.

Aaron Batalion, CTO and Co-Founder of Living Social said it well:

"If you aren't nervous, then you aren't trying hard enough."
Here is the first part of his presentation at Capital Connection 11.

If you allow yourself to make mistakes, you'll learn something important and move on.



5/11/11

EU Embassy Open House: "Rockin' Robin"




EU Embassy Open House, 2011. While last year, was Beatle mania, this year, we decided to sing an old school favorite "Rockin' Robin" by Bobby Day and of course, the Jackson 5. This year, embassies from Austria, Ireland, Finland, Slovakia, Portugal, Estonia, Austria, and Latvia participated. While on the way to NYC, I was also able to get a couple new friends from Spain and Brazil to sing along. I was also blessed to meet a group from World Harmony Run who sang their tune for me. What was challenging was the fact, that I had to script, direct, produce and edit by myself, and with the illustrious help of my best friend, Apollo.


Special credits also to Jackson 5 and Megan Joy Cochran.  My sincere gratitude to the EU Delegation and all the Embassies who actively participated (again at the very last minute).

5/2/11

A Historic Moment for Freedom




Photo by Michelle Rattinger
Almost ten years ago on Sept 11, 2001 USS John C. Stennis was  conducting routine flight operations off the balmy coast of Southern California when our lives were instantly shattered.

On that gray September day, I woke up like any other, switched on the remote to see whether my Braves still remained on top of the Major Leagues and whether the Chargers would start Drew Brees or Doug Flutie as quarterback. 



Strange, I thought, as I started my morning ritual of shaving, brushing and dressing.  One of the twin towers was hit by an errant airplane.  What kind of idiot would do that?

In the wardroom, I polished up my eggs and bacon while participating in the obligatory morning gossip with friends.  How were the Padres doing?
Jubilant GWU students. By Michelle Rattinger






Then I grabbed a mug of steaming java and leisurely strolled across the hangar bay to my office on the second level to start the day's work.  Another normal day perhaps, or would there be some excitement? 





When I arrived, my entire division of three journalists and a Senior Chief were horrified by what was on the news.  The second tower was now ablaze and the sky all around southern Manhattan was filled with a huge plume of smoke.  For the first time in a while, I started to cry.  As expected, we would not be heading home that day.  Our ship was assigned to watch over the skies of Southern California as part of  Operation Noble Eagle. 


Less than two months later, the 5,000 plus Sailors and Marines as part of the USS Stennis, Carrier Air Wing 9 and the Destroyer Squadron battle group would be heading towards the epicenter to hunt for Bin Laden and to destroy the Taliban.

We came really close to getting him.  We believed that he was hiding in the rugged mountains of Tora Bora.  F-14 and F/A-18 jets from Carrier Air Wing 9 attacked the Taliban stronghold in Tora Bora -- the Taliban forces was obliterated, but Bin Laden was no where to be found -- he had gotten away.





That is why, when I got home tonight after studying hard with classmates at George Washington University, I was shocked beyond words.  What happened? Did DC finally win a professional championship?




It all started with jubilant students from George Washington, Georgetown, AU, George Mason, Maryland, Howard et al., who flocked to the White House to celebrate the good news.  Despite it being finals week, no exam was as significant as real world events happening literally in front of us. Broadcast TV aired the amazing footage and social media gave it the spark to go viral.

Fiesta Asia Festival at Silver Spring





Today was a beautiful day and a wonderful way to kick off Fiesta Asia in the heart of downtown Silver Spring.

There was much to savor and appreciate -- the Asian culture, arts, crafts, martial arts, food, fashion and of course song and dance from the beautiful children.

Little did we know the historic news that lay ahead of us.


Zipsters on a Party Bus

Zipsters meeting up in a party bus?  Say what?  What a a novel idea, actually.  As long as I don't have to make a reservation or worry about bringing it back with more than a quarter tank of gas.
Trusty's DC: courtesy of brightyoungthings.com
Actually, Zipcar DC' loves us Zipsters so much, that they hosted a member's only party for us in cozy and eclectic Trusty's.   It would be a prime opportunity to thank the Zip staff personally and to shake hands with fellow zipsters, you know the frugal types who love sharing and boasting about their critical world in saving the world.

I happen to be one of the few but growing community of Zipsters who own a car, but like to zip around on the weekends running errands in something speedier.  Hey, it's more fun driving a newer, sporty car, the price of gas has skyrocketed to the point of break-even and other drivers on the road give you a wide berth when they see the infamous speedy logo on the side of the car -- they know that time is crucial, and I have to gun it or else Zipcar will charge me a hefty penalty, even if I'm running a minute over.


Zipcar's ingenous business model rests on the fact that there is no opportunity loss.  Airlines, hotels, even rental cars require customers to make reservations and can expect a certain percentage of  people to not show -- hey, that's the fact of life.  Normally on an average flight of 150 passengers, the airlines can expect up two people not to show.  The companies account for this and try to maximize profit by overbooking.  If they try to be be more risky and project three or more no shows, the losses would be greater if they are wrong.  The downside of overbooking is what if they were wrong -- they end up losing money and customer's trust.

Overbooking is not an issue for Zipcar. If a customer doesn't show, Zipcar will charge them. And if the Zipster gets caught in traffic and is even a minute late, the penalty is a whopping $50 -- Ouch!  I hope I never run into any police escorts or even worse, Charlie Sheen running late for an engagement.  So Zipcar has a zippy business model -- they operate with no opportunity losses and capitalize on the mistakes of their customers.

You see on an average week, loads of customers inevitably are late -- that's just the fact of life, even more so in traffic-congested, seat of the nation's government, DC.  

Examples of customer inefficiency are: Being late to pick up the car,  Being late returning,  Underestimating the time required to run errands, not leaving the car with enough gas -- all of these facets results in penalties and charges.


To be honest, I am guilty of just about everyone of these.  I can barely get to school on time -- why do you think I can return my Zipcar on time, as I zoom down 295 at 70 miles an hour hoping my Toyota Prius gets parked in her own tidy spot with enough gas for the next guy.


Frankly, Zipcar has got it down to a science -- they are so efficient that they try to maximize service capacity by booking customers back-to-back so that the Prius can be gone from her spot throughout much of the day.


But still, despite the great demand and burgeoning popularity, Zipcar is not yet profitable -- so what is the fix -- go public of course.


So as I sat on the roof patio enjoying my John Daley, sipping from my mason jar, I was taken back by the cozy, vintage decor.  What a great spot to just chill, enjoy a warm sandwich and meet fellow Zipsters.


I even got lucky -- made some new friends, won a pair of tickets to Sunday's Sweetlife Festival at the Merriweather  Post Pavilion and made it home with a souvenir Ball Mason Jar, now sitting proudly on my my mantle.

4/25/11

"Rio" and My Newfound Love for Birds

Seldom does an animated feature film impact me so deeply that I leave wiping away tears.  I look at my son, Colin.  He sits at the edge of his seat, intrigued -- kept the 3-D glasses on, the entire 90 mins.  Yes, the visual effects were splendid, the avian characters cute, and most importantly, you feel attached to a geeky blue macaw that can't even fly.

The storyline goes like this: Somewhere in a small town in Minnesota a timid macaw, Blu, lives with Linda, his owner for the last 10 years.  When they discover that there is only one other female blue macaw remaining, the two set for Brazil so that Blu can mate with Jewel (Anne Hathaway).

Interestingly, Rio is Fox, not Pixar, you couldn't tell.  The plot is solid, the music enchanting, the characters lovable.

As you stay gripped by the excitement, your compassion for the underdog leads you to root for Blu, to survive and ultimately to win over Jewel's heart.  But there is another bittersweet relationship with Linda who is perilously attached to Blu.  The story ends sweetly, albeit surprisingly.  You will have a difficult time staying still, your heart just wants to take a flying leap.

Barn Swallow
Seldom do I leave the movie theater, my mind spinning during my entire drive home from Herndon to DC -- seldom do I feel compelled to take action.  A movie is just a movie, unless it causes you to do something that you would normally just dismiss.

I was put to the test the very next day.  As my roommate and I were getting ready to head out for a 25 mile spin along the DMV loop, I noticed an injured bird in front of my house.  Her left wing was torn at the ligament, perhaps an attack by a hawk.  The swallow was completely black with an orange belly and a narrow yellow beak.

Normally, I would have  just walked away, not even noticing the bird in distress.  But I couldn't help but think of those laughing, lovable birds in "Rio."

The swallow tried to hop away from me, but my roommate and I quickly caught her and put her inside a cage in our and stocked her with plenty of food and water.

As frightened as the swallow was, we knew she wouldn't survive the night.  There were too many predators out here: stray cats, raccoons, hawks.  We had to take her in and nurse her back to health.  Tomorrow I will call the Maryland Ornithological Society to see if they can fix her wing.

Thanks to the geeky blue Macaw in "Rio",  my awareness for birds, their environment and hazards have been greatly heightened.  Thanks to "Rio," I've decided to get a female mate for my sun conure.

Update: DC Wild Animal control came and picked up our injured swallow the very next afternoon.  She was traumatized but well fed and rested.







4/18/11

Startup Weekend Baltimore -- Demo Day!


Photo by Jeff Tong (Keadworks)
The whole weekend Sat through Sun was spent writing code and developing the algorithm to make RUNIN Out real!


The only thing I stopped to do was get my car window replaced, buy a new Macbook and of course go for a short run to gather my thoughts.  Other than that, it was all backend work and all through the night. Thank goodness it was raining outside.

Senodja swung my house at 11:00 AM Sunday as I putting the final touches to our site.  We then jumped in her car and raced up I-95 towards Charm City, rehearsing our presentation on the fly.


Photo by Jeff Tong




All the teams at Bio Park  (Univ of Maryland) in Baltimore were very busy putting things together.  I had never seen so many people so focused on a project -- most of which were birthed on Friday night.


It's also amazing how Baltimore has evolved as a serious startup city over the last few years.


The One-Minute Pitch

So I arrived at the Emerging Technology Center, Baltimore's Technology Incubator at 8:00 pm just in time for the pitches and a quick drink of something. I  chugged an Amstel Light down as I glanced around the burgeoning crowd of 150 plus of Type-A people.  Many developers and entrepreneurs had used the time wisely over the last two hours to get to know each other and to sell their ideas.   Not knowing anyone, I was already at a serious disadvantage -- and I needed people to vote for my idea, or else I wouldn't make the cut.

We made our one-minute pitches in a large hallway with no chairs and barely room to crawl -- just the floor to sit on and the person next to you to lean on.  There were over 75 pitches that night (more than half of the people attended had ideas), but only about 20 would be asked to demo during startup weekend.

Most of the people there were Business, marketing types with less than half being developers -- me being an MBA communications type and designer, finding a developer was the one critical skillset needed to make RUNIN Out functional by Sunday evening.

Emancipation Day Break-in

I woke up Friday morning and I was really happy. That's because sitting in my inbox was a Living Social Dollar Lunch to dozens of restaurants all over the city.  I was more than happy -- I was stoked!

I was on my way to Baltimore, heading to Startup Weekend, so just prior to leaving the city, I conveniently stopped at a very nice restaurant in Dupont Circle.

The restaurant was cozy with a nice ambience.  But because I wanted to arrive in Baltimore before the rush hour traffic, I grabbed something to go and quickly returned to my car, only to find window glass all over the sidewalk and my backpack with my Macbook Pro and videocamera was conveniently lifted from my car seat.

I would have screamed if it wasn't for the pleasant demeanor of a young lady who was already on the phone with the police.  Tinoi  was having lunch in a restaurant directly across the street.  She had seen the whole thing -- a vagrant thug was walking up and down 17th Street NW looking into cars.

A moment later, glass shatters and the thug is seeing running down 17th with a backpack in tow.

View Larger Map

By the time I arrived, a mere five minutes had escaped.  I was livid. Tinoi's presence was reassuring.

It took nearly an hour for the police to arrive.  Incidentally, we found out that DC was celebrating Emancipation Day
(to celebrate the freeing of the enslaved people of DC, nine months before Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation).  A DC holiday while everyone else works means still lots of people downtown with less patrol and police operations.

When the officer arrived he explained to me that there has been a rash of break-ins lately.  If I had taken the time to look at SpotCrime, I would have found this out, but who does have the time.

Furthermore, I didn't really enjoy the lunch downtown.  I didn't have a chance to read consumer reviews like Yelp because, well, I didn't have the time.
Parked along 17th Street


The first thing I did after Tinoi called the police was update on Facebook that my car was broken into and my laptop and Canon Videocamera stolen.  Mike Brenner from Startup Weekend Baltimore immediately contacted me and informed me that they could easily refund my money.

I thanked Mike for the offer but told him no.  Come hell or high water I was heading to Baltimore.  I had an idea to pitch and I wasn't quitting until I made it.