Almost Carless In Houston

“What, you don’t have a car?!”  I’m in Houston, Houston’s a car town, everyone in Houston has a car, right?  Well, not everyone.  I had been using public transit for many years, so was already used to it, but it really became pressing 3 years ago when my son moved off to college. Do I buy him a car, or wait, why not give him my car, do I really need it?!  I examined my own transportation habits, and realized I could easily do without a car, and in fact even enjoyed being without a car.  Technology and service improvements have made it much easier these days, so give him the car I did, and couldn’t justify the expense of buying another one.

So, these days, I get around in Houston without a car.  Well, almost – my wife still has a car.  It’s a cherished classic car, though, a 1985 Mercedes, we give it a limited range, used mostly on weekends when we venture outside the loop to Chinatown. Beyond that, we use alternate transportation.

I am not exclusively a public transit user.  These days, my modes of transportation are:

  • rail/bus
  • bike
  • share bike (Houston bCycle)
  • walk
  • Lyft/Uber
  • ZipCar

Each have their utility for different transportation needs. Continue reading Almost Carless In Houston

The 3 P’s of Social Media Marketing


Over the past year or so, I have been helping a small cafe in Houston, a tea house, enter into the world of social media marketing, mostly employing Twitter, and recently making use of Facebook. In fact, we were perhaps the first retail establishment in Houston to enter the brave new world of Twitter, and now boast over 1500 followers, making it the 2nd largest restaurant following in Houston. This cafe’s experience with social media has been quite successful, with results far better than advertising in traditional newspapers or magazines, and will continue to be a major participant in social networking space.

Follower count was never the strategy when we entered the Twitter world. I did have a strategy in mind when I first participated, and it was been refined through customer feedback and a few lessons-learned. I think our experiences can be useful to other retail stores, so just wanted to take some time here to share my insights. They can be organized as the 3 Ps of Social Media Marketing:

Passion Personality Place

Continue reading The 3 P’s of Social Media Marketing

The Hottest Summer in Houston

1980 remains the hottest summer in Houston: 14 consecutive 100+ degree days, a high of 107, and 32 days altogether at 100 or above.

Yep, I remember that summer well: I was a lifeguard that year – and by the end of the summer, a coach, swim teacher, a pool cleaner, and a front-desk clerk as well.  I ended up with all the jobs at this local community pool, because workers were dropping like flies!  Seriously, by mid-summer every local kid had quit, and I kept picking up additional job duties; by the end of summer, I was working 12-14 hours a day.

Continue reading The Hottest Summer in Houston

Cultural Recreation

The Houston International Festival has for a long time been one of our favorite family events to attend. Even before we had kids it was a great weekend of fun, food, and music. We’ve attended most every year that we’ve lived here in Houston. We even slugged it through the years it was held at Reliant Park. Vast parking lots have absolutely no character, so we were very happy when it moved back to downtown!

2005 was an especially good year for iFest – that was the year we participated as a vendor! Connie and Alyson started planning their business venture, Té House of Tea, in 2004, and by January 2005 started searching for a suitable location for the tea house. This took longer than expected – so many locations just didn’t have the right amount of parking, the right rent, or just the right feel for a peaceful, contemporary tea house. Then we noticed the featured country for iFest this was was India, and since Connie had developed an authentic Indian chai recipe (with the help of our dear friend Hema), we decided to throw up a booth at the festival.

Luckily, we got a booth in the India Food Court.

These were the early days of our business planning, and we didn’t have a lot of extra cash for extracurricular adventures, so we made do with hand-painted signs and logos. We were very proud, though, of the final result for our sign, which was pitched above our booth. I hand cut some graceful, Indian architecture-like curves with my trustworthy jigsaw, and Alyson and Hema laid on the paint and paisley patterns. It was gorgeous!

We only had enough time and energy for one weekend, so a boba-tea shop took our booth location the weekend. The weekend we set up was sunny and humid. The crowds were still there, though, and our teas were an instant hit – especially with all the Indian-Americans! All the neighboring Indian restaurants were pitching our chai to their customers, as “fresh and authentic”. Come 5 pm, and suddenly the Indian crowd was in line eight-deep at our booth – Tea Time! It may have been a hot day, but they still wanted hot chai – it’s only right.

We completely ran out of all that we had prepared in the morning, so Alyson and Connie stayed in the back to boil some fresh brew. Mmmm, it was good, the aroma of boiling milk, black tea, and fresh spices filling the air around our little tent.

We completely ran out of our two days worth of tea supplies in just one day, so on Saturday midnight I was at Fiesta buying fresh spices – cardamon, cloves, ginger, etc. – so we could be prepared for the Sunday crowds.

Sunday was just as busy for us, but we are able to keep ahead of demand this time. 5 pm was still a rush, and we were ready.

We were very proud of our success, and our acceptance by the local Indian community. We had recreated a bit of their own culture in the form of local food and afternoon tea traditions, and it fit the general atmosphere of Indian dance and music all around us.

Last weekend, I had the honor of being invited by iFest for a sneak peek of one of their own cultural recreations: a model of a 13th century underground church in Ethiopia. This in preparation for the coming International Festival’s focus on Africa.

I visited iFest art director’s Kati Ozanic-Lemberger home and studio on a recent Saturday, along with a lot of other excited bloggers.  We got a see a bit of cultural recreation in action: the construction of the underground caves leading to the church (the church itself had already been carted away).  With paint and plaster, Kati and team are bringing a touch of this exotic African history right here to Houston, for visitors to see and touch.

It’s not the real thing, but that’s not the purpose.  Visitors get to see and read a bit about something they probably knew very little about before, learn a little history, and ponder.    That is, by crawling in a cave, they’ll get to leave their own little cave.  And that’s good.

Should be a good two weekends: everyone get out and enjoy iFest this year!

First thoughts on presentation at HTC

This Wednesday I did a short presentation at the Houston Technology Center’s “Starting a Web-Based Business” lunch series.  My presentation was on “Open Source Tools for Software Development”, and I highlighted several tools that my development team uses regularly.

I’ll post that presentation shortly, but here I just wanted to jot down a few notes from reactions to the presentation – feedback I got after the talk.

  •  One manager, owner of a well-established software firm here in Houston, liked the idea of wikis for organizing his team; but he’s still looking for a better project management tool, something “larger” than Poi, the issue-tracker I demonstrated.  Something that could track milestones, and keep the team on track.

    Yes, I’d like to see better tools for PM too.  Traditionally, we’ve used MS Project.  Problem is, it’s not easy to share – at Interliant, we tried the Lotus Notes-based Project Gateway, but ultimately found it awkward to use.  Basecamp, an online service, looks attractive – not sure yet how well it scales, and compels your team to use it.

    One thing we do, though, when a project gets hot and heavy, is that we fix the milestone dates at regular intervals: once a week or once every two weeks there’s going to be a build.  That stays fixed; what adjusts, though, are which features that make it into the build.  Our only rule is that the feature must be a tangible end-user benefit – we can’t “deliver” just background architecture or design in the next release, and expect that to be considered progress by our client.  Managing at this point becomes simpler, as the project schedule just shows a set of period milestones; ts in the status meetings we discuss which features will make it into the next build – the customer, of course, sets priorities, and there’s some give-and-take on features that may slip because of their complexity, or unexpected problems.

    Still need a tool, though, to capture and display these milestones and feature deliverables!  Must search more …

  • One manager of IT at the Houston Chronicle mentioned they use Capistrano for deployment, instead of Ant.  It’s Ruby-based, but you can use it for automating all sorts of things.  It looks very promising, so I’ll have to check it out.  Ant is cool, is built into Eclipse, and does the job, but it’s XML.  Rather a yicky way to write out deployment scripts!
  • Another fellow approached me after the talk and said his friend is involved in a large-scale application that uses, of all things, Smalltalk!  It does heuristics, and I think it was oil field-related.  I’m hoping I’ll get to meet this guy, and learn more.  I still love Smalltalk … just can’t find any projects where it’s a winner here in town  🙁

Cultural Awareness

OK, I guess I won’t really fault the local tech community for sponsoring not one, but TWO events, both falling on the first day of Chinese New Years. Did anyone check their calendars?! Yeah, yeah, I know … you can’t pick any date without landing on some sort of holiday, be it National Pickle Day or International I-Miss-My-Mommy Month. But, this one day is perhaps a bit more important than others – it’s at least a day where you can expect a lot of family commitments if you happen to be Asian.

So, I’ll be missing the Up Experience, though I’ll likely make it for a short while to the Houston Startup Happy Hour – the latter is always a great chance to catch up with my business friends, in our often very busy schedules. After that though, it’s off to a grand ballroom for a big New Years feast with other friends and family. I think we have booked 3 large tables so far. Should be fun, and filling too!

Thoughts on GSM

My thoughts on the first Got Social Media Conference:

Erica O’Grady and Kelsey Rutger put on an excellent conference yesterday at the Houston Technology Center. Got Social Media was an advanced introduction to social media today. Many thoughtful presentations. Here’s a few insightful remarks I took away from the conference:

  • “Markets As Conversation” – yes, something I’ve always advocated, and is a sub-text of the “Austrian School” approach to economics. Sorely lacking, though, in mainstream economics.
  • “Customers like having a voice”. Echos of above
  • non-profits online (in social media space) are spending a lot of time saying “thank you”. This is a nice lesson that I think the non-profits I work with will love to emphasize.
  • “Women are motivated by respect, being listened to” – Laura Mayes. Yes, there are gender differences in markets, and marketing. I’ve often stated that shopping is the ultimate expression of capitalism, and women are, stereotypically, the ultimate shoppers … so, by extension, women are the ultimate capitalists! Recognizing this, I think we will see, in the long run, a “softening” of markets and businesses – there will be more listening, more give-and-take … and hopefully less exploitation, fraud, and con games in the marketplace. But, that takes me to: Continue reading Thoughts on GSM

Got Social Media?

“It’s the event of the year!”. “You can’t miss this one!!”. “This is a must-do event!!!”

OK, I don’t subscribe to hype … and there’s never a “must-do” social event in my book. But, if you want to go to a really cool seminar, to learn and be inspired, let me recommend the upcoming “Got Social Media?” event, January 24. Hosted by my friend Erica O’Grady and the uber-cool Kelsey Rutger, the event will also feature talks by the personable Ed Schipul and the sultry smart Laura Mayes, co-founder of Sk*rt, among others.

Yeah, this will be a cool event – I hope to see you there 🙂


Well, no wonder my friend Luigi Bai has been so circumspect about his software development activities — his company has been in stealth mode! But now they’re out and about, and visible too. StashCast Media has just launched their website, and they’re promising to be a great new entry in the social media space.

Congratulations, Luigi, on your new venture, and best of luck to you!!


I’ll be presenting at the Houston NetSquared meeting tomorrow.  The topic is Ten Thousand Villages, Fair Trade, and Social Media.  I don’t know much about the 3rd subject — that’s why I’m presenting, as I hope to learn something from the audience!