Craft Beer, Fine Wine, Artisan Spirits, and Mouthgasmic Food.

Monday, March 25, 2013

SXSW 2013 Eats

Over the last two years, the food scene has really taken over SXSW.  Here's some random photos of food.  How could I NOT eat, right?

Here I am with a Crave Bar: chocolate covered ice cream bar on a caramel pretzel stick. 

One of our fabulous clients also threw a party with a whole roasted pig from Walton's Fancy and Staple.  I didn't know that Walton's did catering like this, and I was impressed.  With both my clients and Walton's. 

Dessert trays from Walton's doesn't disappoint either.  Lovely. 

When someone brings fire to the party, you know it is a good time.

At the Exact Target Brunch at Walton's, Geof Manthrone from Charm City Cakes decorates a beautiful cake with sparkles!

I participated in this year's Food Experiment with a Balcones Brimstone Smoked Whisky Bars.  It is a shortbread layered with a Balcones Smoked Whisky caramel, dark chocolate ganache, and smoked salt on top. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pecan Street Project: A Research Lab in Austin

As part of our #ChevySXSW tour, we visited the Pecan Street Project located in the Mueller neighborhood.  For a geek and researcher, this was a playground.  With data coming out of the houses (quite literally) combined with human behavior, I could spend all day testing scenarios. 
Most people don't know what the Pecan Street Project is all about, and neither did I.  Essentially, it is a research site called the Pikes Powers Lab (currently undergoing construction shown above) with real subjects.  It was stressed that the residents of Mueller (subjects), where not typical or representative of the normal population.  Residents were typically early adopters of technology.  They are also the perfect people to have test out new products before investing more and to work out the bugs.  The idea is that if early adopters won't use it, then normal people probably won't!
Each of the participating homes in Mueller sends 11 data points on energy usages to a central server.  Residents can log in and monitor exactly what is eating up all their energy. 
Other interesting points:
  • Non-profit research consortium headquartered at the University of Texas at Austin.  Approximately a dozen staff.
  • Squarely focused on customer benefit of smart grid and new energy technology.
  • Incorporated in 2009, since then has contributed more than $6 million to research funding to the University of Texas. 
  • Conducting real-world consumer energy research in Austin's Mueller community and surrounding neighborhoods.
  •  500 homes participating (250 in the Mueller community), all are volunteers.
  • Currently building a $1.5 million commercialization lab in the Mueller community to provide testing facilities to UT researchers, member companies, and technology start-ups.
  • Research has spurred installation of solar on more than 200 homes in Mueller (out of a total of approx 600 homes)
  • Research has spurred the purchase/lease of 60 EVs in the Mueller community -- less than one square mile -- making it the most densely installed EV market in the US (perhaps the world).
  • Consortium includes more than a dozen member companies, including: Freescale, Green Mountain Energy, Intel, Landis+Gyr, LG Electronics, Lockheed Martin, Oncor, Onstar, Oracle, Sony, SunEdison, Texas Gas Service, and Whirlpool.
  • Participating homes have access to energy monitoring systems such as eGauge, which allows real-time web access to energy use, smart thermostats and remote access.
Nick tells us about the future plans for the Pecan Street Project

Tiny trees are kind of cute.

Homes with solar.  Yep, that's popular in this hood. 

And a quick view of the Pikes Lab, still under construction. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Industry Shifts in Customer Service: We're important again

From a consumer's perspective, it has been interesting to watch industries change over time to meet changing expectations.  With social media coming into the mainstream, companies have had to think about customer service on multiple levels.  Gone are the days where customer complaints are ignored.  These days, top companies need to be proactive, open to feedback, and transparent.
Chevy is no stranger to this.  After having launched their social media campaign just 18 months prior, I am seriously impressed.  Not only do they hang out on mainstream social media channels, but they also monitor and participate in over 100 freestanding communities.  I used to be a member of several of those car communities, and brands used to never participate.   Communities and brands didn't live together in harmony; rather, they lived in their own worlds.  It is very refreshing to see that Chevy is making efforts into being an active member in the community in a non-salesy fashion.
As Jim Maloney, GM General Director of Customer and Relationships, put it, "We'd be ignorant to ignore customer needs."  When it boils down to it, we're all customers.  As a customer, do I want to spend my money with a brand that takes care of me or do I want to spend it on a brand that doesn't value my business. 

Chevy is driving internal culture change through talent acquisition.  They've hired a team of support specialists to provide customer support.  Getting support isn't talk to a 1800 number, rather it is a living breathing human being that is trained to brighten your day.  They can be likened to customer services at the Apple Genius bar, even going as far as meeting customers at their workplace to provide technical assistance.  Their teams even go to training at Disney.  I kind of want to go to Disney. 

One of additions to their call center is the "Infotainment" center, which is where you would call in if you had some issues with your Volt or other technical issues.  See photo above.  There is a console/dash replica for each vehicle along with a plethora of gadgets that can be used to recreate problems customers are having when it call in.  

Providing this level customer support is no easy feat.  We're also told that this level of customer service also helps tighten the feedback loop in implementing fixes and bugs.  Congrats to Chevy for jumping in headfirst into customer support. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hacking the #ChevyVolt

Post 2: Hacking the Chevy Volt

While it is pretty public, not many people know that I had a life in efficient driving.  I’ve tested a number of vehicles, with a record of usually getting 150% over EPA in most cars.  Sometimes I can double EPA if I really tried hard.  

When I had the Chevy Volt for a week (big thanks to Chevy!), I was pretty stoked that by day two, I was able to do something pretty difficult.  I drove from home to downtown, circled around a few miles, and parked without depleting any electric or gasoline in the process.  Not using gas is pretty easy if you’re charged up, but you’re using electric.  

You might be wondering how on Earth I managed to do that.  To say that I didn’t use any electricity is not truly accurate.  What I did was use electric to get the car moving, but then I used regeneration (regen) to charge the battery.  I’ll reiterate that this was not an easy process.  Hacking a vehicle requires a large amount of brain power and planning.  

The following observations I made in the Chevy Volt only pertain to the Volt.  While there are some generalities when driving efficiently, cars will behave differently.  What works in the Volt may or may not work in the Leaf, Prius, or other vehicles with an electric component. One thing that does work in every single vehicle is to quit idling.  If you’re not going anywhere, turn off your car.  I’ve watched people idle their cars in their own driveways for 15 minutes at a time.  It seems rather obvious to turn off the car if you aren't using it, but I digress. 

The motto in efficient driving is: Don’t be on the gas or brake!  However, with the Volt, I can enjoy braking.  Usually, coasting is one of the best ways to be efficient.  However, if you can get some electric regeneration while you are "coasting" and maintain speed, all the better.  See diagram above for how to interpret the fancy interface.
After a few days in the car, I had a pretty good idea of how to *hack* the Volt, meaning how to drive it to its most efficient. Before you move on, always remember that safety comes first.  I usually leave at least 6-10 car lengths' buffer in front of me, and I check my rearview when braking as well.  Those are just some good overall habits to develop.  The chart below is based on my experience in maximizing regeneration. 

Using these techniques, I was able to drive from my home to downtown, make a few laps downtown to look for parking, and I used zero gas and zero electric.  In other words, whatever electric I used to get into downtown, I also regenerated it.  I was pretty pleased.  This style of driving is very different from traditional efficient driving in a conventional gas vehicle.  It is much more liberal with the braking as this leads to regeneration.  Below is a short trip in the vehicle just to show an example of one of the displays.  Enjoy and happy driving!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

An Affair with the @ChevyVolt

I admit.  My feelings are changing.  I’ve been flirting with Chevy for the last three years or so, not long after I returned from my 48 states drive for the best fuel economy.  We started with a date in several different vehicles, and a blind date with the Chevy Volt in 2010.  I got a preview, but I didn't get a great sense of it back then as my preview was rather short.  

When I received an email about participating with Chevy for SXSW 2013, I was definitely interested in seeing how the Volt changed over the last few years.  A big thanks goes out to Chevy for providing me with a super slick ride during SXSW.  This year, Chevy was kind enough to loan me a 2013 Volt for a week and provide a badge for SXSW Interactive. I have test driven many vehicles before, and this one is by car one of the sexiest rides of all time.

The particular model I received was just beautiful.  With a sleek deep blue exterior, the striking black leather and white leather trim was reminiscent of a spaceship.  I’ve never had a sexy car before, and now I’ve been spoiled.  

For a car that gets a relatively high EPA mileage, the hatchback makes it very roomy.  With the seats folded down, a windsurfing mast and surfboard easily fit into the back.  Also, the folded down platform can easily accommodate two large Swissies with no crate. I’d probably get some custom made barriers to fit the slope of the hatchback for having dogs in the back.  

Oh SEXY Chevy!

During our time with the Chevy folks, we learned that the 2015 Volt was supposed to have WIFI!!!  It would be its own mobile hotspot, and it would likely be a monthly subscription model much like a 3g iPad.  With hands free Siri (because we don’t want you to text and drive), you can get stuff done without every having your hands leave the wheel or eyes off the road.  

Dear Volt,  I’m glad we got to spend some quality time together.  I feel like I really got to know you (See Hacking the Chevy Volt), and I can’t wait to have another affair.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Frank's Noodle House in Portland, OR

On a recent trip to Portland (paid by a client), I stumbled across Frank's Noodle House.  I was intrigued by handmade noodles, and decided to give it a try.  Frank's Noodle House is located on 822 NE Broadway Street, Portland, OR 97232.

My meal started off with a bold hot and sour soup.  This soup isn't for wimps.  It is perfect for those who aren't afraid of a little kick. 

I wound up ordering several dishes - handmade noodles with Shrimp and Squid.  Each dish was only $7.95.  The spicy sauce was reminiscent of dishes my mother made, and the texture of the handmade noodles was fantastic.  The noodles were not perfectly uniform in size, and the texture had structure and bite.  It was the same texture of dumplings that my mother made. 

Speaking of which, I couldn't pass up the handmade dumplings!  These were oh so good and hit my comfort food needs right on the spot. 

There's a beautiful shrimp, lightly coated in a spicy envelope of goodness.