3 Fabulous Days In London: Hacking at 33,000 feet & Meeting Prime Minister David Cameron

In early May, one of Enplug’s investors, Ben Parr, reached out to me and asked if I was interested in a free trip to London. I said, Of course! Ben was asked to nominate people to be part of the inaugural UnGrounded Initiative trip. I am extremely grateful that he nominated me as this was one of the most rewarding “vacations” I have ever been on. During the 11-hour flight, our goal was to propose new global innovations such as new programs to expand STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education. After we land, everyone attends the United Nations G8 Innovation Summit together and the winning ideas from the flight are presented.

British Airways sponsored this UnGrounded trip for 100 entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers, techies to fly together on one plane for 11 hours from San Francisco to London. They covered our roundtrip flights, 5-star hotel stay in London, food, etc…Thanks BA!

The caliber of people I was with during UnGrounded was phenomenal. I got to hang out and meet everyone from California’s Lieutenant Governor to the founder of Craigslist to Virgin’s founder Richard Branson to the person who created iTunes. Here’s a glimpse of our agenda during these 3 days:

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Day 1: Wednesday, June 12. The Flight Adventure

My day started at 5am since I had to fly from LA to SF in time for the 10am. I was quite exhausted since I had just flown in from Japan (was there for a few days) the day before. Registration started at 10am at the shwanky Clift Hotel in San Francisco. British Airways flight attendants were there to greet us at the hotel door and handed us a bag of goodies including an eco-friendly tote bag, snacks, UnGrounded booklet with everyone’s bios, and British mementors (magnets, pens, notebook). Then, we were all shuffled into a banquet room to hear talks from the organizers.

Opening remarks from the Executive VP of British Airways at Clift Hotel.

Opening remarks from the Executive VP of British Airways to introduce us to UnGrounded.

After remarks from the UnGrounded organizers, we also heard a short talk from California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. After about an hour of talks, we all left for a buffet on the other side of the hotel. During lunch, we split up into four groups. Each group works on one specific “challenge”. My group of 25 people was given the challenge of finding way to expand STEM education.

UnGrounded had a 8-feet poster board with the participants listed on the side. Our group of 25 was asked to find new ways to expand STEM education.

UnGrounded had a 8-feet poster board with the participants listed on the side. Our group of 25 was asked to find new ways to expand STEM education.

We spent the next hour and half with our group of 25 to brainstorm projects or initiatives that can expand STEM education. Some ideas we came up with include:

  • Building a chain of cafes where engineers, entrepreneurs, designers go to hang out
  • Starting an online course that combines games to teach STEM to elementary school kids
  • A music video to inspire STEM learning

Just when things we getting heated and people were getting defensive about their ideas, it was time for us to board the shuttle to the airport. On the shuttle ride alone, I met amazing people such as a math genius woman who started a design firm, a London Business School professor, and a guy who has started half a dozen successful tech companies. When we arrived at San Francisco International Airport, there were welcome banners and dedicated British Airways flight attendants to greet us.

Standing by one of the UnGrounded welcome posters next to our flight check-in counters at San Francisco International Airport.

Standing by one of the UnGrounded welcome posters next to our flight check-in counters at San Francisco International Airport.

British Airways dedicated one full 747 double decker plane for the 130 people participating in the UnGrounded flight. They split the plane into the four Challenge groups (I was in the Expanding STEM group). Luckily, our group occupied the business first class area of the plane. This meant that I also got to do the priority line during security (I love enjoying the little perks we get in life). We still had a few hours before our plane took off so that of course meant one thing: chilling in the British Airways executive airport lounge. There, they had lots of food and an open bar for us to test our limits. During this mingling session, we met our British Airways flight crew, which we learned were hand picked by the airline as the best crew members to assist us during the 11 hours up in the air. After the flight, my standard for what flight attendants are like will never be achieved again-these flight crew were indeed top of the line.

5pm quickly rolled around and we began boarding this historical flight. I was seated in their business class, where the seat extends into a bed and they give you a nice little toiletry bag with socks, eyemask, lotions, and toothbrush kit. Now, what happens when you put 130 of the most techie people you can find onto a flight together? Well, you certainly don’t expect them to turn off their smartphones, laptops, or iPads. In fact, we were all standing up, walking around talking with one another, when the plane began moving towards the runway. At takeoff, I look to my neighbor who is CEO of a mobile-ad tech company and he is typing away on his laptop. Rules clearly do not apply today.

Maximizing our time on the flight, the UnGrounded organizers immediately had us working on the first challenge on the flight: a tech crossword puzzle/trivia game. We were to form groups of 3 and race against the other 40 teams in completing the crossword puzzle. This geeky crossword included trivia like: 1) The state that you can type on one line of a QWERTY keyboard. Answer: Alaska. 2) ______-pi : desktop : laptop : computer Answer: raspberry. (I was proud to get that one for my team). 3) The most STEM focused country. Answer: South Korea. My team consisted of a partner at Google Ventures and the head of Google Campus. Together, we placed in the top 5 in the crossword challenge. I’m still waiting to receive our prize though :P

Next on the agenda for the flight is the main challenge. We were told to form groups based on ideas. I sat next to my friend Brian Wong, CEO of Kiip. He already had an idea that I thought was great. We formed a team of 6 by just getting the people sitting around us. While everyone else was pitching ideas to each other and trying to finalize the idea to work on, our team got right down to business in drafting a business plan around our idea. I love designing things so I proposed drawing a series of mini-posters and then printing them out (most people on the flight didn’t know that there were printers. We made sure to know all the resources we had and maximized it.).

Our proposal is called INIT (like In It). INIT is a label that reveals the STEM technologies that live in products from clothes to consumer electronics; acts as a “nutritional panel” for what’s inside. By celebrating these less visible aspects of the product, INIT piques curiosity about STEM, teaches about the technology under the hood, and attracts more STEM participation. You can see more about it here: http://ungroundedthinking.com/post/53138240006/overview-init-is-a-label-that-reveals-the-stem

Some additional articles pulished about INIT:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kay-koplovitz/ungrounded-unleashes-dynamic-innovation_b_3455636.html?utm_hp_ref=girls-in-stem

http://www.dailycomet.com/article/20130620/WIRE/130629988/1214?p=3&tc=pg

Our INIT printed out presentation that we hung from the overhead bins

Our INIT printed out presentation that we hung from the overhead bins

The 6 people of INIT: Chris Redlitz (Partner at Transmedia Capital), Brian Wong (CEO of Kiip), Peter Hinssen (Chairman of London Business School), Tom Serres (CEo of Rally.org), and Bettina Warburg-Johnson (Program Manager at Institute of the Future)

The 6 people of INIT: Chris Redlitz (Partner at Transmedia Capital), Brian Wong (CEO of Kiip), Peter Hinssen (Chairman of London Business School), Tom Serres (CEo of Rally.org), and Bettina Warburg-Johnson (Program Manager at Institute of the Future)

My private area on the plane in business first class

My private area on the plane in business first class

 

Our slogan was “INIT to Win It.” The prize for the winning team is Gold Status on British Airways, which includes perks like:

  • Complimentary spa treatments
  • First class lounge access
  • Automatic upgrades
  • Priority check-in

The crew handed out five red stickers for each person. We get to vote on the ideas. The winning idea from each four category will get Gold Status. Our team was probably the loundest-yelling “Are you INIT?? Cuz we’re INIT!! INIT to Win It!!” Thank you everyone for putting up with our cheesy lines. Everyone walked up and down the aisles to hear the 25 teams pitch their ideas. Even during strong turbulence, we were never asked to sit in our seat and “buckle up.” As I said before, the usual flight rules did not apply.

After an hour or so of harassing people for stickers, it was time for our 2.5 hour nap. The crew lowered the lights and suddenly, the inside of the plane (still splattered with posters, red stickers, and post-it notes), felt like a normal international flight. I was starving for sleep so I knocked out quickly.

We were awaken by the sweet smell of bread. The crew was serving our breakfast. More exciting than the food was the announcement of the four winners. Yup, we got Gold Status :)

Following our landing, we were shuttled to the famous Langham Hotel. It looks like a gorgeous castle. The 5-star hotel was decadently decorated and felt like I was walking in a palace.

My hotel room in the Langham

My hotel room in the Langham

That night, we visited the House of Lords and met British politicians. I just wanted to sleep. But no, I can’t. This is my first time in London. Must-Make-The-Most-Out-Of-It.

I met up with a friend working in London and we went out for dinner, drinks, and sight-seeing in the middle of the night. The Langham is in City Center so we were walking distance from many famous streets. I was impressed by how many people were walking around at night. The streets were as lively as ever.

Can't go to London without taking a picture with one of these!

Can’t go to London without taking a picture with one of these!

Love the architecture here!

Love the architecture here!

Arriving back at my hotel at 2am-ish, I had about 5 hours to crash. No time to waste! Finally, the 1st day was over. Technically, it was 2 days because sometime on the plane, we crossed over to Thursday, but it all merged into one day.

Day 2: Friday, June 14. The G8 Innovation Summit. Prime Minister David Cameron. Partying.

Today was filled with networking, attending the G8 Innovation Summit where the winning ideas of the flight would be presented, and meeting tech celebrities. The hotel room came with free breakfast so of course I was going to take full advantage of free food at this luxurious hotel. The elite dining room had a buffet style breakfast and the server gave me options to have basically anything I wanted to be cooked to order. Well, in that case, I ordered: two eggs sunny-side up, bacon, more bacon, sausage, toast, and some more bacon.

Embarrassingly, I missed the shuttle to the main event. I asked the concierge if they knew where the conference was being held. The response: No, sorry Madam. The agenda we were given also didn’t say where the conference was being held. A search online didn’t reveal the location either-probably because they didn’t want people to crash it. Well, what to do? I vaguely remembered that British Airways gave us a magazine during the trip and one of the articles talked about the G8 Innovation Summit. I dashed up to my room, dug through my suitcase, and flipped through the magazine until I found the article. Aha! It said the event was held at “The Crystal.” I immediately Googled “The Crystal London.” Apparently, there are a lot of crystals in London. There was one that stood out: it was a beautiful center by Siemens. It looks like this:

The Crystal by Siemens

The Crystal by Siemens

I suppose if they’re going to host the G8 Innovation Summit, they’d find the most beautiful and modern venue. This certainly fit the bill, but who knows if it was THE Crystal. I took the chance and called a cab. He said it would be a 40-minute long trip. That means it would probably cost 50 or so pounds = $75. To lessen the disappointment that I might be spending $75 and not get to the right place, I reasoned with myself that if this wasn’t the right place, I would be taking a nice little tour of London.

When I arrived, there were a lot of security. Score! This must be the right place. And so the conference begins. The architecture and design of The Crystal is just as distinct as from the outside. I’d like my future house to look like this…

The coolest thing about this conference is that it was tiny. There were maybe 200 people there-all distinguished folks that I would die to meet. All of whom were now sitting next to me. I got to meet so many inspiration people.

I'm named in the magazine they handed out at the conference!

I’m named in the magazine they handed out at the conference!

The conference agenda. Amazing speakers!

The conference agenda. Amazing speakers!

Prime Minister David Cameron speaking

Prime Minister David Cameron speaking. He’s very charismatic. 

The Secretary-General of United Nations ITU talked about INIT!

The Secretary-General of United Nations ITU talked about INIT!

McLaren is a sponsor of the summit so they had a nice McLaren showcased in the lobby

McLaren is a sponsor of the summit so they had a nice McLaren showcased in the lobby

After meeting everyone from Olympic gold medalists to Nobel Prize winners, we went to hang out some more at the Royal Academy of Arts. There, we met many members of the UK Trade and Investment Department. After less than an hour, people were a little networked-out, including myself. I left for the hotel to head to dinner and for another night out!

Myself and about half a dozen other conference attendees went to find a place to eat. We walked through the “Red light district” and hung out a very cool restaurant/bar called Sketch. It was extremely interesting. The entire restaurant is like an artshow. When you first enter, there are the red sniper dots moving around every where (thus the name, Sketch, I think). The bathrooms are probably the coolest stalls I have ever seen. Each individual stall is a big egg and you have to walk in the egg for the toilet. Inside, there is an electronic voice that talks to you.

The egg bathroom stall

The egg bathroom stall

Next on the lineup is eating. Many restaurants were closed and we didn’t want any bar food so we ate at the first place we found a thai restaurant called Tum Tum in the SoHo district. It’ actually quite well known in the area. The food was great and very affordable (average entree was about $8). I met up with some more of my friends later. We went to a few bars before ending the night dancing at a club called Verve. 3am return to the hotel. Day 2 complete.

Day 3: Saturday, June 15. Being a homebody.

I literally spent the entire day being a homebody: emails, work, reading. In the evening, my friend from South Africa, who is working in London, hosted a dinner for me. I got to meet 5 other awesome South Africans who he went to school with. They were extremely kind and a lot of fun to eat with. It was certainly a wonderful way to conclude my trip in London: in the company of good food and great friends.

Presented at the World Digital Expo in Las Vegas

Enplug got selected as one of the startups presenting at the World Digital Expo hosted at the Palms Resort in Las Vegas. It was a great time. We stayed in Palms Place on day 1, the Rio on day 2, and the Wynn on day 3.

The third day was where we had some fun. Enplug’s co-founder, David, was a professional poker player so it was incredibly entertaining watching him totally own it on the casino floor. Watching him play Blackjack was insane-I’ve never seen anyone play that fast!

We watched the show, Bite, which is at the Stratosphere. It’s a sexy show about vampires. It’s a fun show to attend with friends. They feature singing, dancing, and aerial acrobatics (my favorite).

 

My First Piano Recording!

This is my very very first time recording myself on the piano! Super excited to share music with everyone! A wonderful lady gave me a brand new AMAZING keyboard piano for my birthday a few months ago. The great thing about this keyboard is that you can directly record music on it so I thought I’d take full advantage of that feature :)

The song I decided to play is called The Moon Represents My Heart. It’s a famous old Chinese classic that was originally sung by Teresa Teng. It’s a beautiful piece so I wanted to share it with everyone :) I will post the direct audio download here soon (I need to upgrade my WordPress account to do this.)

Youtube version of the recording: 

7 Fabulous Days in Hawaii

Over the winter holiday season, my family and I went to Hawaii for a week. We planned our trip carefully to maximize the experience in Oahu. If you are interested in going to Hawaii, I hope this post helps you organize your itinerary!

As a disclaimer, vacationing in Hawaii is very expensive! We had to save a lot of money to afford all these activities, but we decided it was worth it. What’s the purpose of making money if you don’t spend it to enjoy life, right?

Day 1: Arrival in Honolulu

We arrived in the evening at Honolulu airport and checked in at the Waikiki Gateway Hotel. The hotel was about a 25 minute taxi ride from the airport. We had not booked a rental car before our arrival. When we discovered that the cheapest rentals for cars were $100/day because it was peak season, we opted out of a rental car. Make sure to book a car ahead of time! The taxi ride was about $35 + tip.

We chose to spend our time in Waikiki Beach in Oahu. Waikiki is an area in Honolulu. Our hotel was situated right by the shopping area that lines the streets of Waikiki. We took a walk in the area and chose to eat dinner at Ezogiku, a ramen house. I recommend the seafood ramen or ramen with wonton.

We took it easy on the first night we got there because of the tiring 9-hour flight from Colorado.

Day 2: Expedia Activity Booking, Waikiki Beach Chilling, Surfing, Paddle Boarding 

In the morning, we attended a workshop hosted by Expedia Activities. We booked our hotel and flight package with Expedia so they sent us an invitation to their activity center. There are activity/vacation specialists there that give you a list of activities available in Hawaii ranging from day trips to see the volcanoes on the Big Island to whale watching to swimming with dolphins. We chose to use this service because it is very convenient. We had our entire week planned during this two-hour long session. They booked our activity ticket and transportation for each activity so we didn’t have to worry about it for the rest of the week. The activity prices were the same (and some at a discount) as if you were to book it individually with the company hosting the activity.

For lunch, we went to Shore Bird. The restaurant is right on the beach so the view was a perfect compliment to our Maui Maui Burgers. The price per entree is about $15-$20. The restaurant has no windows so don’t be surprised when a seagull hops around next to your feet.

In the afternoon, I signed up for a group surfing lesson ($50 for 1.5 hours) at the activity tent on Waikiki beach. They provide the surf board and wetsuit. I highly encourage taking a surf lesson for first-timers. The instructor was excellent so I was able to surf on the first wave I caught.

Picture my dad took on the beach of me paddling out to the waves

Afterwards, I went paddle boarding with my sister and dad. Paddle boarding is where you stand on a surf-board like platform and have a paddle to move yourself around! The paddle board rental was $30/hour.

A picture my dad took of me paddle boarding

For dinner, we went to Keo’s, a Thai restaurant near our hotel. The entrees are from $15-$45. Their desserts are a must-have. I recommend their Mud Pie ($9), a chocolate lover’s favorite. The main dishes was pretty good, but the ambiance of the restaurant is what makes it a worthwhile dining experience.

Day 3: Polynesian Cultural Center

If you ever go to Honolulu, the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) is a destination you should certainly make time for. I encourage the full-day activity package, which includes the entrance fee into the park, buffet dinner, and post-dinner theatrical show. We purchased the “ambassador package”, which is one of the upgrades, because it includes a tour guide, upgraded buffet menu, and front-row seats during the performances. The package is about $145/person. Our transportation came to pick us up at 10am to take us to the PCC, which is on the north side of the island (Waikiki is on the south side). It was about an 1.5 hour drive. The PCC is like a theme park featuring six different areas, each representing a different Polynesian island. There are hands on activities such as basket weaving (in the Samoa area), hula dance workshop (in the Hawaii area), and dance performances in each. There is a mini-river that snakes around the park and you will get to row in a canoe in it.

A unique element of the PCC is that it is run by Brigham Young University. Many of the tour guides and performers are students at the BYU Hawaii campus. They work at PCC in return for tuition payments. Thus, the ticket costs all proceed to providing for the university.

The park closes at 5pm, but that only concludes the first half of the PCC experience. The dinner is hosted at PCC and it is in a high ceiling, island-themed dining hall. The hosts and waiters are all in costume. We chose the Prime Buffet diner menu, which includes a sushi bar, unlimited crab legs, salad bar, and dozens of other options.

Following dinner, we explored the mini-shopping area, which featured island souvenirs. Then, we entered the amphitheater for the nightly, award-winning, theatrical performance called “Ha: Breath of Life.” The show has extraordinary visuals, exciting performances, and a touching story. During the intermission, they served us dessert, which came with our tickets. My sister’s favorite part of the show was at the end with the fire dancers.

This picture was taken in the Polynesian Cultural Center. Notice the temporary tattoo on my left arm? That was one of the fun activities we did at one of the tribes.

Day 3: Pearl Harbor

Our tour bus came to pick us up at an inglorious time: 6am. We arrived at Pearl Harbor around 7am because the bus makes multiple pickup locations. We bought the multi-tour package ($70/person, kids are free). This includes visiting the Battleship Missouri and the famous Arizona Memorial. The entire activity lasted until at 2pm. In between the tours, we also visited the Pearl Harbor museum on-site, which features a gallery of video interviews of Pearl Harbor survivors.

My dad and I on the USS Missouri

Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial: Picture is one I took from the room with the names of those who lost their lives on the USS Arizona

For dinner, we went to Roy’s, an Asian-fusion restaurant. This is one of the highest rated restaurants on Yelp in Honolulu. The atmosphere is fantastic, service is great, and food is delicious. We ordered the 3-course prix fixe menu ($50/person), which included your choice of appetizer, main course, and dessert. I chose the salmon with rice for my main entree.

I ordered the salmon with rice at Roy's Restaurant in Waikiki

Day 4: Chilling on the beach and swimming with dolphins

We spent the morning relaxing on Waikiki Beach. The water is cold, but because of the sunny weather, you will quickly get adjusted to the ocean temperature.

My sister and I building a sandcastle. It has a tunnel through it too!

Around noon, our transportation came to take us to Sealife Park, a marine-life activity park that was on the North side of the island so it took about an hour to get there. The general entrance of the park is $30/person, which gives you access to the sea animal petting area, sea lion show, and dolphin show. The dolphin show is spectacular and demonstrates the extraordinary intelligence of the animal. However, we went there specifically to swim with the dolphins.The swimming with dolphins costs about $100/person. You are in the water with the dolphin for about 30 minutes, but the actual individual interaction with the dolphin is only a few minutes since you are in a big group with people taking turns playing with the dolphin.

Here I am dancing with a dolphin!

For dinner tonight, we went to Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin, a highly-rated Japanese tempura restaurant on Yelp. Each entree is about $20-$25. The entrees come with miso soup and salad. I enjoyed the lively environment of the restaurant. The food was good, but I haven’t eaten a lot of katsu before so it’s hard for me to judge.

Day 6: Submarine Underwater Tour and Catamaran Dinner Cruise

We took a two hour submarine tour with Atlantis Submarines. There is a catamaran that takes us to the submarine that is floating near the surface about half a mile from the beach. The submarine has individual seats and large windows for each passenger so we all get a clear view of the underwater scenery. We saw turtles, a plethora of exotic fishes, a sunken ship, and a sunken airplane. One of the interesting things I learned is that the company, Atlantis Submarines, purchases old planes to sink into the ocean for the specific purpose of allowing people to see a sunken airplane during their tour. The tour was about $100 per person and children have about a 50% discount.

50 feet underwater next to a sunken ship

After the submarine ride, we headed for our Ali’i Kai Catamaran dinner cruise. It was about $75/person. The catamaran sails around the Waikiki beach area from 5-8pm. The dinner is an Asian fusion buffet featuring dishes such tofu chicken, mashed potatoes, salads, and curry. Shortly after dinner, performers showcased dances from various Polynesian countries. The performers then invited audience members to join them in the jovial dances. At 8pm, we headed for the top of the catamaran to admire the weekly Friday fireworks show on the Waikiki beach.

Picture of the fireworks show taken from the catamaran

Day 7: Return home!