Notes from a Train

You’re riding through the countryside…

Some of my best and first memories are riding the commuter train into downtown Philadelphia with my Dad so that I could go see where he worked and so we could have lunch at a real restaurant (and maybe borrow some pens from the office supply cabinet.) Now that I have a travel schedule, I still like to take trains when I get the chance to go to a city. I’m not sure whether they appeal to my love of large-scale systems, the customer service challenges of organizing many people in one place according to a schedule, or if I just like riding on trains.

And as a commuter, you see different things…

I haven’t taken very many trains in California, so today I jumped at the chance to take the CalTrain “Baby Bullet” from San Francisco to Palo Alto. This train is a hybrid between the traditional commuter trains I grew up riding and the direct trains more common in city to city routes. From San Francisco south doesn’t seem like such a long distance, until you try to drive it at rush hour. The train is a great alternative, even if there’s no wifi.

But that’s probably a good thing. Trains are great because they give you a perspective on the landscape that you don’t see when you’re driving. There is also a distinct rhythm and sound and cadence to train travel that transports me instantly back in time. Even though people are looking at their iPads or Smartphones and doing their daily commute, there are also many people who spend their time gazing out the window at the reflected shapes and cars that pass by at train speed.

That change your perspective…

Trains are also great because they force you to decide where you’re going and when, and to bend to the whims of someone’s schedule. You can learn a lot about the people who ride the train just by glancing at their body language, their reading material, and perhaps even catching a smile when someone makes eye contact. I should point out though that as a society I think we’ve lost something by always having our heads in our phones or tablets or laptops. There’s a great big world out there if you’re willing to “leave the city” – metaphorically and literally – and open yourself to new experiences.

And finally, I feel refreshed when I’m on a train – it doesn’t feel like a chore to ride but rather like a temporary sanctuary where I can take a few minutes to gather my thoughts, review the day, and think about what’s next.

Travel opens your mind

What do you do when you travel?

My best thinking time is in airports or on planes. Even with the advent of airport and onboard wi-fi, I find my best ideas come from reading (from a book) and writing (longhand, in a notebook.) When I spend time away and disconnect from the “always-on” world that we live in, I come back feeling refreshed.

Taking stock of what needs to be done.

When traveling, I try to accomplish a few different things:

  • Review the most important things that need to get done – I keep several lists (in evernote and elsewhere) and I use my travel time to recap those lists by hand and write out the important ones. Anything else can wait.
  • Build crazy ideas I haven’t thought of yet – when you’re in-between places physically, it’s great to think about the mental and physical travel path you need to take to accomplish some ideas that aren’t yet done (or started.)
  • Do some drawing – sketching random things opens up new ideas, refreshes old ones, and generally leaves me feeling creative.
A successful trip leaves me with four or five things that I can do when I have down time, and reminds me of the critical path items I need to do before then.

And executing the next set of goals.

It’s not enough to think of the goals that I’ll be doing – it’s also necessary to detail the steps to take to get to those goals. And that’s what I’ll be doing on my next trip. What do you do on yours?

Be a Tourist in Your Own Town (Even if Lord Vader Doesn’t Allow Parade Photos)

HOW TO: Be a Tourist in Your Own Town

I went to the Redmond Derby Days parade today and realized something important. Not only do I love parades (they are fun because you see things like the scene above, and you definitely don’t see Stormtroopers most days around Seattle), but they also remind you of the importance of being a tourist in your own town.

We are all quite busy, and it’s easy with the multi-screen temptations of mobile, social, and cable to forget how fun and important it is to go to a shared place, have a shared experience (In Real Life) and have a reference point to life in a small(er) town. And that town need not be Redmond, WA. It can be wherever you are.

The Challenge: Find One Thing You Ought To Visit

When someone comes to visit your town, don’t you usually go into overdrive mentally to find the one thing that they ought to do, eat, or visit so that they can have an authentic experience? In Seattle, that might be go to a baseball game, visit the Pike Place Market, walk the streets of Queen Anne, enjoy the Japanese Garden at the University of Washington, or any one of a hundred different things. So why don’t you do any of these more often?

Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to pretend that you’re coming to visit town. And I’m going to make a mental list of the places we should go sightseeing. Then, I’m going to visit some of them (maybe one a week.) Once I do, I’m going to try to look at them with new eyes and see if there’s something I missed.

Every Day Is Not A Parade

It’s true that annual events can be boring – I’m not suggesting they are always as exciting as seeing Lord Vader striding down your street – but there is always something new that you could be finding. So go find it. And then tell someone about it. Because in the act of sharing that “familiar” thing with a friend, there’s the opportunity to discover something new. And try not to take too many pictures of Mr. Skywalker. There’s that Force thing to contend with if he gets upset.

Brantford, Ontario – Why You Need to Get Out of Your Bubble And Visit Places

A road trip to Ontario, and new peeps

A couple of weeks ago, I went to go visit Waterloo, Ontario – I was there to take my first visit to Research In Motion as an employee and to go visit some of my new peeps like Alex Kinsella (pictured above representing …)

A funny thing happened when I was there. Alex and I had some extra time and he invited me to Ignite Waterloo where I enjoyed some lightning-style speeches and finally got myself to an Ignite event (cool stuff.) I also was completely captivated by one of the speeches at the event, by Kevin A. Magee. Take a look for yourself – it’s a worthwhile 5 minutes of your life.

Great speech, funny, a little bit controversial – it’s everything that makes an Ignite talk special. When I was talking to Kevin after his talk, he shared with me another event called Tweetstock in Brantford, ON, CN. If you’re not familiar with how to find Brantford, don’t worry (I wasn’t familiar with it either.),+Ontario,+Canada&daddr=Brantford,+ON,+Canada&hl=en&geocode=FV53lwIdwBcz-ykrZ_5fVvEriDGQHSPHKHsDBQ%3BFWd2kgIdtkU3-ykPc-p44mUsiDHg-WakpaU9NQ&gl=us&mra=ls&sll=43.152999,-80.263754&sspn=0.15679,0.363579&g=Brantford,+ON,+Canada&ie=UTF8&z=10&output=embed
View Larger Map

Um. Let’s Immediately Go To Brantford

I’ll admit it. Even though I was really impressed with Kevin’s speech my first reaction was not “Let’s go to Brantford!” but something more like “that’s nice” or similar cocktail party noise.

Then I met Matt Scobel in person. Matt reminded me that he had promised me a drink if I ever made it to Waterloo (Matt’s a big Gist fan), and so proceeded to deliver on that promise, and then told me about how he was speaking at Tweetstock the next night and that he had an extra ticket. Could I go?

I had no plans, I’d been asked by someone who was speaking, and many of my new friends were going to be there too (including @kevinamagee, @cateringfungi, and of course @mattscobel.)

Ok, I’m going

My first impressions of Brantford were of a failed industrial town trying to reinvent itself. But I think this narrative’s a bit too simple – when I looked around at the development projects in process, some of the old buildings and newer buildings, and some of the vibrant city feel of the place, I got the feeling that this wasn’t much different than Philadelphia, Boston, or Seattle. The key difference, I found, is that people really love their town. (Even if the town’s not loving them back right now.)

The Entrepreneurs in Brantford are as dynamic as anywhere else.

My other key observation having seen some of the presenters and speakers at Tweetstock (Matt, your speech was also really good – thanks for inviting me) is that these are people who would thrive in any entrepreneurial community anywhere.

Take the example of Deborah Lowther (@kidsgummymum), who in a year has launched a line of kids’ vitamins that are now available all around the world – she’s proof that “mompreneurs” or any entrepreneurs can exist anywhere (which is truly what I love about the internet.

What did I learn?

I learned a few very important things when I got out of my bubble, including:

  1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere – you just need to find them
  2. The same sorts of people who are cool on Twitter are cool in person, whether they live in San Francisco, Chicago, or Brantford, Ontario, Home of Telephones, Tractors, and Wayne Gretsky (The Great One.)
  3. We should all get out of our comfort zones more often and go visit places we don’t know, just because.

And Thanks

Thank you to my newfound friends in Brantford and Waterloo (and Toronto, too), whom I otherwise wouldn’t have met without Alex and Josh helping me to get there. You are @cateringfungi, @kevinamagee, @mattscobel, @alexkinsella, @jasondyk, @those2girls, @octopusred, @remarkk, @artsblock, @davecarrol, @marclaferriere, @kidsgummymum, @daejin_v2, @secretagentlist, @madamconnect, @tweetstockca, @joshbean, @bigdaddykreativ, @rossannawyatt, @ymcbookalicious, @michellekostya, and many more who I’ve missed. And a special hello to @unmarketing, who was mentioned everywhere I went. (And who I got the pleasure of meeting in person – thanks Scott.)

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: