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Digital Diversity: New Orleans Gets Technical

New Orleans isn’t the first place you think of when you hear the word: technology. Competing with other well-known tech hubs like Silicon Valley and Research Triangle, this southern city has rightfully earned its place among these technology centers. Forbes calls it the “#1 Brainpower City in the U.S.A.” and SmartAsset ranks it #1 for growth in tech jobs in the U.S. It’s no wonder that the Collision team chose NOLA as its home again this year.

I first heard of Collision through their expansive outreach effort to recruit more women to their annual technology conference. I’m not a techie myself. The most tech savvy things I do are this website and my Instagram account. But I took at look at their agenda, the speakers, and the sponsors and was intrigued.  Where else could I meet the first astronaut to tweet from space, a world-renowned DJ, and an Olympic medalist swimmer, all while learning about the latest developments with virtual reality, green-tech, and the latest shopping app?

All of this and more was under the same roof at the New Orleans Convention Center in May. A three-day conference sandwiched in between Jazz Fest, Collision Conference is the place to be to learn about cutting-edge technology that is changing the way we think about our relationships with those devices we all cling to – and upgrade every 18 months!

When deciding where to stay, my choice was easy – Windsor Court. Rated “Top Business Hotel” by Forbes, Windsor Court has every amenity a business traveler could want. And the accolades don’t stop there. In 2017, U.S. News declared Windsor Court one of the Best Hotels in the U.S.A., Best Hotel in New Orleans, and Best Louisiana Hotel, while Travel + Leisure readers named the property one of the Top 50 Large City Hotels in the U.S. and Canada.

Well, if its ideal location in the Central Business District isn’t enough, you’re also nearby the French Quarter and iconic Bourbon Street with its lively jazz clubs, Royal Street’s antique shops and art galleries, and steps away from NOLA’s emerging Arts District. But once inside their lush, green courtyard that leads you up to their lobby, you’ll feel a world away from the colorful scene of the city. Fresh roses, stunning artwork, and live piano music coming from the lobby bar all provide a warm southern welcome to Windsor Court.

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Arriving in my room, a premium suite with a desk ready for all of my chargers, cameras, and electronic devices, I couldn’t help but be swept away by the panoramic views of the Mississippi River below. Recharging in my plush surroundings, I made some adjustments to my schedule, courtesy of the user-friendly Collision app, and headed out the door to the first event.

So you may not think tech when you hear New Orleans, but you definitely think music. It’s everywhere. And it’s good. The Collison party at the Blue Nile with the Brassaholics had the crowd jumping, myself included. My colleague and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “We’re staying for Jazz Fest next year.”

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You should, too. During our mid-day break at the pool, fellow guests shared stories of the different acts they saw, while I shared some of the latest and greatest apps that people from all over the world were showcasing at Collision. One of my favorites: what I’ll call Shazam for bird sounds. I told the founders how I desperately needed this during my trip to Iguaçu Falls in March where I was amongst wildlife and nature in a way that was truly magical. I would have loved to learn more about these little creatures that sang to me at every turn!

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One of the highlights at Collision was meeting Olympic medalist, Allison Wagner. Cheated out of her opportunity to win a gold medal, Allison shared her experience in a raw and revealing on-stage interview about her life after the Olympics, the resulting depression she suffered, and her current efforts to prevent doping in sports.

“I’m choosing to speak up about it and because of my accomplishments, I’m in a position of leadership.” Her accomplishments are many: besides her silver at the Olympics in 1996, Allison was named American Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World magazine, SEC Female Swimmer of the Year, gold medalist at the FINA Short Course World Championships, and held the world record for over 14 years for the 200 IM short course meters during those same years surrounding her disappointing experience at the Olympics.

During my interview with Allison, we talked more about her ordeal after the Olympics, and we agreed that in sports, as in technology, there needs to be more diversity and attention to gender issues to combat doping. “With swimming, the definition of what makes you successful is your race time. I’ve competed with men and I felt like I was proving myself in a different way; it was a satisfying accomplishment. Doping could be viewed as a gender issue because women tend to be doped more often in systematic doping regimes as compared to men.”

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Of course, being at a tech conference, we chatted about the next phase for the intersection of sports and tech. “When it comes to tech, we need more advanced testing internationally, and doping regulations and violations enforced. There are great options, but we need better ones. Another interesting aspect of sport is that of intuition which is often not talked about, and in sports, especially in swimming, an athlete is continually adapting to their environment. If you’re stuck on old data, you’re potentially limiting yourself.”

Flashing back to her competing days, which were before the advent of social media and live feeds, Allison feels that she might have been able to gain back those gold medals that she lost. “Connectivity would have been helpful on a variety of levels. I might have talked and shared on social media when my scholarships were taken away. There’s more accountability today for people who dope and for abuses of power.”

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Shifting gears, Allison talked about her other passion – art. She’s a founding member of the International Olympic organization called Art of the Olympians, and as a painter, she hopes that the organization can help return the Olympics to its original intentions. “An Olympian is someone who is pursuing excellence with integrity. Not just in sports, but in a variety of arenas. Valuing art as much as we value sports in our community is vital.”

So what’s next for this Renaissance woman? Her focus right now is on being an advocate for anti-doping around the world. “I’m speaking up as a catalyst for change. I’m not elected or affiliated with any organization, but I want to play some role that is helpful for current athletes who are willing to be active on this topic. Many of them are nervous about the ramifications of being vocal. But the ramifications of cheating are far worse. We need leaders who talk about their commitment to integrity and ethics, and governing bodies of sport need to stop limiting athletes’ voices.”Collision17

Her voice is poised to be a powerful one in the years to come. Agreeing that women’s voices need to be heard in all sectors, not just tech, Allison imparted, “As women, we have so much ability, and a natural inclination to be resilient. Advocating for each other is important.”

And one of the most powerful advocates was the team at Collision who made an effort to improve diversity numbers at this groundbreaking conference. Vibing off of the amazing accomplishments of so many female entrepreneurs, I worked with the team at Windsor Court to host a women’s networking event at their Polo Club Lounge.

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Spacious, yet private, the Polo Club lounge was the perfect setting for our Women in Tech mixer. The newly remodeled space features European antiques and period reproductions from the 17th and 18th century, all accented with saddle-tan wood, marble details, and of course an impressive bar menu with more than 600 labels, and one of the largest Cognac collections in New Orleans! Networking with enthusiastic entrepreneurs from all over the world in this decadent, yet inviting setting, was a great way to end another night at Collision.

After a quick breakfast of the quintessential beignets, it was back to the conference for another day of tech awesomeness. The highlight for today – hearing Natalie Monbiot of SVP Futures talking about experiential advertising and the role of Virtual Reality in Marketing. Her most valuable piece of advice: brands need to think about who they are when there’s no screen to hide behind. In an era of fake news, bots, and impersonal transactions, her advice couldn’t be more timely.

Between mixers, interviews, and seminars, I managed to squeeze in a dinner at Compère Lapin. The stellar concierge team at Windsor Court was able to get us a coveted reservation at this top-ranked restaurant. Although I have no pictures to prove it, my meal started with the most divine buttermilk biscuits. It’s no wonder they disappeared so quickly!

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Compère Lapin’s philosophy of “the complexity of simplicity, and the power of pure flavors” was evident in every bite of our meal. A starter of Hamachi tuna dressed in “leche de tigre” was followed by delectable Wagyu short ribs, so soft and tender. Chef Nina Compton’s playful menu draws inspiration from a childhood Carribean folktale about a rabbit named Compère Lapin. But her menu is no child’s play – come hungry to experience indigenous Caribbean ingredients blended with the rich culinary heritage of New Orleans. And of course save room for dessert – the most unique presentation of strawberry shortcake I’ve ever seen! A perfect ending to a perfect meal.

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Back at the hotel, I was able to indulge in some more of the hotel amenities that Windsor Court offers its lucky guests. An art lover, I knew the walking tour of the hotel’s gallery would be a favorite. Listening to the audio tour on my phone, I viewed their museum-worthy collection, with pieces displayed throughout the property. Many of the artworks are of British origin with an emphasis on works that depict the Windsor Castle and life of British royalty. Valued at more than $8 million, the Windsor Court collection includes original works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Huysman. Among my favorite pieces were the hand-finished chromolithographs of Windsor Castle’s private and State apartments by Sir Joseph Nash which were commissioned by Queen Victoria in the mid-nineteenth century. So much history along these walls!

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Although my visit to Windsor Court was short, I did manage to squeeze in a spa treatment. Voted #1 by USA Today 10 Best Spas in New Orleans, this top ranked spa earned its place in my book. My back facial (yes, they have these here!) included a soothing foot massage, and was followed by a difficult choice of cucumber water, green wheatgrass juice, or champagne. Lounging in the relaxation area, I somehow managed to indulge in all three! The only thing to tear me away from this oasis of relaxation was a hungry belly. Luckily the afternoon tea service at Windsor Court was still being offered in the Club Lounge, an added amenity which offers true VIP service to its guests.

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My last event of this busy day was a Stanford alumni mixer, hosted in the Polo Club Lounge. Right in line with Collision’s mission of diversity and inclusion, our group had quite the international mix, every racial background was represented, and a wide range of industries including venture capitalists, pro football players, and of course, someone launching the latest, greatest app were all there to mix and mingle, sharing highlights from the conference. Trying to choose just one highlight was difficult, but I’m already looking forward to next year’s Collision Conference and seeing where technology takes us next!

To book your stay at Windsor Court for next year’s conference, contact me today!

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Homecoming 2.0

I’ll never forget waiting for the mailman that spring. Looking in the mailbox and seeing a large envelope meant only one thing: I had gotten in. Envelope in hand, I whirled about in a screaming frenzy throughout my living room, accidentally tearing the letter welcoming me into the Stanford family. What I did know is that I’d be joining the ranks of students from all over the world seeking out an educational experience beyond their wildest dreams. What I didn’t know is that I would be thrust into a Cardinal-colored ecosystem of all things that defined change and revolution.

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“Relic” at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View

On a recent visit to Stanford, and the surrounding area that is now known as Silicon Valley, I’m reminded of a story that highlights the transformative nature of this time in my life, and in the rest of the world. During my freshman year, one of my fellow dorm mates burst into our study room, only to surprise a few of us sleep-deprived students cramming for exams, and dramatically informed us, “There’s this thing called the ‘world wide web’… the ‘information superhighway’…and it’s gonna change the world!” He went on to explain on a little about what he meant, while most of us just brushed him off, thinking he was probably more sleep-deprived than the rest of us.

Whatever the impetus for his technological manifesto, he was right. And who knows, he may have gone on to create one of the hundreds of companies founded by Stanford alumni. Back on campus, which recently appeared at the top of Travel & Leisure’s Most Beautiful College Campuses list, I slowly wandered through the picture-perfect arches and architecture, dodging students on bikes and awestruck tourists.

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Hoover Tower at dusk

After making my way through the Quad, I had the opportunity to meet with our alumni president, Howard Wolf. Sitting in his office, which is adorned with Stanford memorabilia and inspirational books, we talked about some of our unforgettable travel moments, our favorite Palo Alto eateries, and of course, what makes Stanford special. “To truly understand what makes Stanford unique, you have to go back to the beginning. At its core, it has that pioneer stock. It’s in the DNA and mindset of the University,” shared Howard.

As I listened to Howard talk about the foundation of this “University of the West”, I thought about my alumni network of friends and colleagues, all who exemplify this pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit. Whether it’s starting their own award-winning interior design firm, founding a fitness boot camp for children, or launching a non-profit designed to bring American democracy to life through jazz music, Stanford alumni pave the way for the world around them.

“One of Jane Stanford’s directives for the Stanford community was to yield ‘useful people’. There was an institutional emphasis on utility and action. And this spirit is alive in the student body and alumni today,” he revealed. “Stanford students want to change the world. Impact it and create a new way of thinking.” Of course, the world is now familiar with famous Stanford duos who founded companies like Google, Yahoo, Instagram, and one of the forefathers, Hewlett Packard. There’s no doubt that these companies impacted the world and created a new way of thinking, communicating, and living.

But beyond the impact on modern enterprise and the fabric of Silicon Valley, Howard and I agreed that what makes Stanford unique is that “zany and quirky spirit” best exemplified by Stanford traditions such as the Wacky Walk at graduation, the student-driven moniker, “Nerd Nation”, and really any performance by the Stanford Band.

As we chatted, Howard reminisced on Italy, one of his favorite travel destinations after studying abroad at Stanford’s campus, once known as Villa il Salviatino. And of course, no conversation with an alumni president would be complete without a nudge to volunteer for my upcoming reunion. But as with all of my past volunteer work for Stanford, I am looking forward to connecting with my fellow pioneers, and exchanging stories of challenge, growth, and success since our days on the Farm.

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Walking by the Class of ’97 time capsule

Leaving Howard’s office, I charted my course through the rest of campus. Eager to see the Bing Wing of Green Library that was closed while I was an undergrad, I met up with Associate Director for Development of the Stanford Libraries, Sonia Lee. I first met Sonia while volunteering with the Saroyan Prize for Writing a few years ago, and was thrilled as she offered some insight into campus’ largest library. As she led me through Green’s hallways, lined with mementos of student life from Stanford’s 125 year history, she talked about the current exhibition Stanford Stories, which is an effort to capture alumni anecdotes for the University archives. There will be several exhibits on display, one being at the Arrillaga Alumni Center beginning homecoming weekend through January 2017.

Touring the endless series of throwbacks, the highlight of my library visit was the David Rumsey Map Center. Just the walk up the stairwell was a sight to see, the walls lined with massive maps, one of my favorites being a 1666 depiction of “California as an Island”. A tech-savvy space, the Rumsey Map center holds original cartographic materials, some fact, some fiction, including “The Land of Make Believe”, which is used in teaching Professor Grant Parker’s course Memorials, Museums, and Memory. I could have stayed in there for hours and was thankful that my visitor pass was good for seven more days.

We ended at the Bender Room, which encases what Sonia calls the “greatest hits of literature”. This room, filled with loads of natural light, looks over a fountain below, and beyond to the Quad. The room’s renovation, made possible by the generous donation of Peter and Helen Bing, included framed prints of some of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Walking along this wall, I thought back to my tour of the National Library in Rio de Janeiro, and added a few new places to my travel bucket list.

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Cooling off near Shumway Fountain

Sitting in front of a nearby fountain, I decided to head down to the Computer History Museum. A visit to Silicon Valley is not complete without a trip to this Mountain View multimedia experience, whose Revolution exhibit spans from early computing with an abacus to modern day smartphones. A word of caution: plan to spend at least two hours at the museum. You’ll want to absorb the wonder of our technical advances as a human race. And if you’re a not a computer science major, you’ll want(need) to reread some of the dense information posted around the exhibits.

For me, the highlights of this multimedia exhibition were reading about the life of Ada Lovelace, who is said to have written the first computer program, seeing the live demo of the IBM 1401, which transformed data processing and changed the world, and seeing my childhood toys like Speak & Spell and Gameboy behind museum glass. Talk about a flashback!

Pacing slowly through the museum and seeing how far we’ve come with computing, even in my own lifetime, I wondered what was next. Some people warn of becoming too dependent on technology, but after visiting the Computer History Museum, I wondered if it has always been that way. Maybe what we consider a “computer” today will be just another exhibit at the museum a few decades from now.

Eager for my dinner at Evvia Estiatorio, I headed back to Palo Alto. Talking with Panos Gogonas, the restaurant’s general manager who’s been with Evvia since the beginning, I learned a little more about this neighborhood gem. “There’s a word in Greek – filoxenia – and it means ‘to make a stranger your friend’. That’s what we do here at Evvia; it’s the essence of our restaurant.”

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Eagerly anticipating my meal, Panos shared what’s contributed to their success over the years, making it difficult to get a last minute reservation. “The experience at Evvia really touches the five senses, not just taste. And of course, we have all of the things that make any restaurant successful: great food, good service, and consistency. But among our staff, we have low turnover. It’s like a family here. And when we have that love within, we want to share it with our guests.”

Ah yes, the five senses. From the amber-glow that envelops you when you walk in, to the aroma of herbs like thyme, dill, and oregano mingling with succulent cuts of meat, your senses will definitely feel the love from Evvia. This sensory symphony is led by Executive Chef, Mario Ortega, who came to the Palo Alto restaurant after a breadth of experience that includes Executive Chef at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley managed by Bernardus Lodge, Scala’s in San Francisco, in addition to orchestrating the annual Greek Independence Day dinner at the White House with his boss and Chef Partner, Erik Cosselmon of Kokkari in San Francisco.

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While sharing some of the steps to one of his favorite dishes, youvetsi katsiki, Mario talked about the restaurant’s menu. “Many of these recipes are family recipes from the restaurant’s founders. Through my technique, I am paying respect to their traditions. It’s an homage to the Greek culture.” Mario starts the stew, featuring goat that is sourced from Don Watson in Napa Valley, and braises the tender meat with lamb stock, eventually baking it with a medley of orzo, green beans, scallions, baby heirloom tomatoes, and Spanish pimentón. Dutifully enjoying my lamb chops, one of Evvia’s signature dishes, I was already thinking about when I could return for a taste of this sumptuous stew.

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As I finished my meal, Mario and I talked about some of the menu’s changing dishes, like the rotisserie chicken, pork chops, and ravioli. Satisfied with my choices of the lamb chops and pesto ricotta ravioli, I made a mental note to order the lavraki, Evvia’s signature grilled sea bass on my next visit. Listening to the crackling embers beneath the lamb roasting behind us, I scooped up the last of my meal, down to the last drop of flavorful broth from my ravioli. Sitting back, I watched other patrons and staff play a part in this symphony of sensory delight, all of which bring the Greek cuisine, with a Mediterranean influence, to Palo Alto.

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Library lobby at Rosewood Sand Hill

The perfect end to a busy day in the Silicon Valley is settling into the picturesque surroundings at Rosewood Sand Hill. Nestled behind the Stanford Hills with sweeping views of the lush Santa Cruz Mountains, this luxury hotel is a welcome retreat. The only Forbes Five Star hotel on the peninsula, Rosewood Sand Hill enfolds guests in California Ranch style rooms, all which open to terraces where you can soak in those evergreen vistas.

But don’t stay tucked away in your suite for too long. There’s the Sense Spa, where you can indulge in the Gold Rush Renewal body treatment, while 24 karat gold infused scrubs nourish and revitalize your skin, leaving you literally glowing from head to toe. Adorn yourself with artfully repurposed jewelry from Verve, sold in the spa’s boutique, or head up to the bar, adjacent to award-winning restaurant Madera, where plenty of business people meet, hoping to strike gold with their latest ventures.

Speaking of latest ventures, Rosewood Sand Hill recently welcomed Colin Cowie, celebrity party planner, to his new event studio which sits right off of the hotel’s impressive, yet rustic lobby. Bringing his keen eye for all things style and fashion, Colin will help guests tailor a unique Silicon Valley soiree, ensuring that it’s more than “just a party.” Back in my room, I sank into my bed and soaked in the stunning views, while nibbling on my bonbons, part of Rosewood’s signature turn down service, knowing I’d be working them off the next morning at the Dish.

In addition to Hoover Tower and Memorial Church, the Dish is one of those campus landmarks that signal Stanford territory. During my visit, I had the incredible opportunity to do an exercise session at the Dish with friend and fellow alumna, Shauna Harrison, Ph.D. A brand ambassador for Under Armour and the creator of Instagram community #SweatADay, Shauna is a fitness maven and health expert who embodies that entrepreneurial Stanford spirit with everything she does.

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Shauna shooting straight to the top

“Social media by itself is such an incredible means of getting messages out. My goal going into the public health field is that I wanted to help people make better decisions – healthier decisions.” And that she definitely has. Her Instagram community, homegrown through her #sweataday challenge, is proof that her doctorate in Public Health wasn’t just another degree to add to her accomplishments. “As I was posting on Instagram, I realized that I was one, educating people, and two, getting the message across. I never imagined it would become a community where people were supporting each other. At one point, I thought ‘I am doing Public Health’. It’s just in a very different way than I had imagined.”

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And her thousands of followers are glad she did. When traveling, I often turn to Shauna’s Instagram for a quick supplement to my hotel room workouts, revved up by her awesome choice of music and clear instructional videos. But as fate would have it, we were able to meet to do a workout session overlooking the Stanford campus, where no filters are needed. dishpanorama

As we walked in between push-ups, planks, and grueling lunges, we talked about some of our cherished Stanford memories, and the sacrifices we made to achieve our academic dreams. “I knew I wanted to go to Stanford from an early age. My mom tells the story of how I saw someone wearing a Stanford sweatshirt on TV, and asked about the school. Then I basically did everything I had to do to get in.” She went on to tell me about how, ironically enough, she was doing poorly in her physical fitness class, which was based on the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, and worked hard to complete a bunch of extra credit to bring her grade to an ‘A’. A testament to her dedication, and possibly a turning point for her career path.pushups

A double major in Latin American Studies and Spanish, Shauna had the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica, doing research on women, health, and body image, which informs much of what she does today. “The beauty of my posts comes from the movement. It’s not just aesthetics; it’s about being healthy.” When I asked what she does to stay healthy while traveling with her busy schedule, she exclaimed running, saying “it’s a great way to learn about a new place.”

Exhausted, but exhilarated from my session with Shauna, I headed back towards campus to the Cantor Arts Center. As I strolled through sun-soaked Rodin sculptures, I was reminded of a photo that my dad and I took in front of The Thinker when it used to sit near Meyer Library. Sitting there waiting for the self-timer to take our picture, a student sped by on his bike, stopped, and shouted, “Are you Steve Jobs?” Laughing, we continued along our walk through campus, talking about what it must be like to be Mr. Jobs.

Entering the exhibit, California: The Art of Water, whose pieces are set against a somber shade of slate blue, I walked along images reminding me of the scarcity of one of our most precious resources. Eventually drawn to a video titled Tilapia Jetty, showing dead fish flopping in a polluted pool of runoff, I watching the scene unfold as a solemn soundtrack hummed in the background. It was then that the emotion that had welled up inside of me came streaming down my cheeks. Sad for the loss of my father only a month before, sad for the way we’ve destroyed our earth, sad for the water situation in places like Flint, São Paulo, and Kenya, I felt like my tears could make up for all the water we’ve collectively wasted.

Wiping my face, I walked through the rest of the moving exhibit that illuminated California history and thought back to the map of “California as an Island” that I had seen at Green Library. Grateful for the gift of museums that provide lifelong learning opportunities, I headed next door to the Anderson Collection. The collection, built by the Andersons over the last 50 years, houses modern and contemporary art, strengthening Stanford’s support of the arts.

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Sitting in a room surrounded by Nick Cave’s Soundsuits, I marveled at his use of movement and color, thoroughly enjoying the behind the scenes footage showing how his pieces were made. While watching a video of two figures masked with abacus faces, I thought of the abacus behind glass at the Computer History Museum: our earliest form of computing. As I observed these figures, fighting and fidgeting with themselves, it made me think of our relationship with technology. So dependent on it. For seeing each other. Seeing ourselves.

Walking back towards campus, I sat in front the building where I spent much of my time as a psychology major and research assistant, thinking about all of the hours I logged watching research subjects behind two-way mirrors. It’s no wonder that I missed much of the magnificence and marvel around campus. But luckily I have my reunion as an excuse to come back and visit Stanford. Which is a good thing. Because it always feels like home.

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