Over our half way point and leaving Canada

I’ve been MIA on this blog for some time, mainly because I’ve been exhausted from the days’ events and the last thing I wanted to do was open the laptop and write. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had downtime and some nice quiet evenings, but the way I’ve preferred to spend that time is in front of a fire with a glass of wine, or tucked up in bed watching a movie, or playing Drop7 (very addictive game that does not require the internet). Also, Tovah has been doing such an amazing job writing about our adventure on her blog, that it’s given me an excuse to go dark on my blog.

My last post was about reconnecting with my family on this adventure; that’s still the case 6 weeks later and I’m still loving it. I sense Tovah wondering if I’ll go back to work, and we’ve talked at times about what I want to do next. It’s hard to describe why, but I’ve been avoiding thinking about it. I certainly have a world of options and some very exciting opportunities with a few companies I’ve briefly talked to already. I guess I’m not ready to plug back in yet; my time frame to jump back in the game is the end of the year once we get back to Atlanta. For now I just want to experience these moments, live without a worry, without knowing where my future will take me and my family. When the time comes, I’ll know what’s right and what feels right.

So, as we leave Canada and begin our Pacific NW segment, here is a quick summary of what’s felt right over the last 6 weeks:

Looking down on the clouds as we drive through glacier national park (US side, going to the sun road) and my daughter saying “It looks like the sky fell down”.
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Watching Deer roam around our camp site without a worry, even if our dogs wanted to chase them.
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The kids love Canada, but what they love even more is their grandparents visiting for 10 days. It was great to have Dee and Joel join our adventure, and our bridge playing skills improved too.

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Celebrating our 10 year anniversary with a pretty adventurous hike in Glacier Park (Canada) and then staying at Chateau Lake Louise without the kids (thanks to Dee and Joel). OK, they visited the first and last day- I think London liked the room. Oh bliss, did I mention how much I love room service and how much I miss fast internet connections.

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London loves trains.What’s even more sweet is that he wants to hug you or hold your hand when he hears a big train. I think he gets a little scared at first and then can’t stop yelling “choo choo” with a smile. And I love London Hugs.

Look at Tovah’s face, she so loves being on a horse. What’s even better is when the horses are all around your camp site. Checkout Tovah’s latest post about an awesome ranch we stayed at.

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Finding remote 4X4 roads with amazing views that are hard to capture in a video or photo.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a few panoramic photos of the stunning landscapes we’ve seen in the past 6 weeks.

One month on the road and a new Jeep!

I’m in Missoula, MT as I write this post; it’s been a month since we left Atlanta on our adventure with our two kids (Nina & London) and our two dogs (Stella & Chai). My wife, Tovah, has been doing an amazing job writing about every segment of our trip on her blog (www.gypsyspirit.net) and I encourage you to check it out – she is a much better writer than I am!

So what can I tell you after being on the road in an RV for a month with kids and dogs? Well, for starters, I can tell you I don’t miss work at all, and in-fact, I haven’t given it much thought. To be honest, I haven’t thought about work because this trip has consumed our lives and every waking moment we have. It’s fun, but it’s hard work, especially with young kids and dogs. Driving 4 – 6 hours in an RV (that’s now 55 foot with the new Jeep we are towing, read Tovah’s post on how we ended up with a Jeep) requires a decent amount of concentration, not to mention entertaining a 3 year old and a 1 year old during the drive (Tovah has been a rockstar entertaining them while I drive). At this stage I can listen to the words of Frozen, Bolt, and Dora the Explorer and envision the movie or the scene. Once we get to a new camp site, we need to level the RV, extend the slides, hookup the RV to power, water, sewer, cable (not that we’ve been able to watch any TV), and battle trying to get a decent WiFi connection (thank god for our MiFi and Verizon LTE). I’ve also gotten pretty good at un-hooking the Jeep tow bar, moving the child seats back and forth between the RV and the Jeep, and figuring out how to use the new braking system. So yeah, how could I have time to miss work – all I do is work!

Driving days can be hard for sure, but I wouldn’t trade it in for anything because from the RV, we have an amazing view (huge glass wind shield and high up), and we’ve seen some amazing landscapes as we’ve travelled though several states. From the rolling hills of Tennessee, to the surprisingly beautiful landscape of Kansas, to the jaw dropping beauty of the rockies, and rugged wilderness of Wyoming and Montana, it’s rarely boring.
IMG_0029 Along the way we’ve winded along breathtaking canyons, rivers and lakes with farms and ranches bordering them, we’ve seen cows, moose, elk, bison, deer, and countless of our personal favorite, horses (especially when they are running along side us). We’ve tried to use smaller roads rather than big highways, and this has worked great for us as we get to see more of the rural side of America (good and bad) and I think enriches the overall experience. Of course my trusted navigator (Tovah) has also had to check to make sure these routes don’t have any bridges under 13 foot and since towing a Jeep, our RV (named Gypsy) has found some of the country hills and winding roads a little tough. It would have probably been easier and faster on a major highway, but that’s less fun!

We haven’t stayed at any camp sites that I could drop everything to live on; this has been somewhat of a disappointment as a lot of the camp sites are glorified parking lots. Having said that, there have been a few that are off-the beaten track (typically ranches or state parks) that have been nice and I expect we’ll stay in some amazing places as we head into Glacier national park, and then into some remote areas of Alberta, BC, Washington State, and Oregon.

What has been particularly amazing on this trip is seeing my kids experience new things and grow in front of my eyes. The smile on Nina’s face (my 3½ year old daughter) as she rode a horse for the first time,
London’s excitement (my 1½ year old son) on a train through a ranch to see Bison, the kids on their first carousel ride, going to a rodeo and eating Pie with ice-cream for the first time, riding our bikes with them in the chariot behind us, finding bumps in the Jeep and hearing London’s squeals, getting sweet hugs and hearing Nina whisper each night, “I have a secret to tell you- I love you the mostest to the moon and back“, watching London learn how to climb, say new words every day, and find new ways to make my heart melt as I watch him grow…so many moments and memories to treasure.

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What’s crazy is that in the last month, I’ve spent more time with my wife Tovah and the kids, than the last two years. The last two years have been crazy for me with work (lots of traveling) and an EMBA (weekend classes and studying in the evenings). I’ve also had to adjust to being around the kids 24/7 which is not the easiest sometime, especially during bath and sleep time (keep in mind we are living in 300 sqft RV). Tovah had taken on so much with the kids over the last 2 years to allow me to work and pursue my EMBA, I really don’t know how she did it. She’s also helped me ease into this, knowing I wasn’t used to being around the kids for long stretches. This trip is a crazy concentration of parenting, we both have little to no breaks, no in-laws to help (Very grateful Joel and Dee), baby sitters (except one night in Bozeman, thanks Katy Walker Osterloth), pre-school, no nights out with friends, etc. Tovah and I have always been a good team, this trip has really showed how well we can handle stress, parenting, and backing each other up instinctively. We both have our strengths and weaknesses and have found ways of complimenting each other, I forgot how naturally this is for us. That’s not to say that living in 300 sqft doesn’t have it’s challenges, we both need a little break from each other and the kids sometimes. Taking the dogs for a walk or going for a bike ride with the kids has helped the other person get a little break or a much needed shower. Tovah has and continues to be the core of our family, she is my love and my life and I’m so glad she’s my partner on this adventure.

Yes, we bought a 38 foot RV for a epic trip across the NW and Canada

Eight weeks ago l parted ways from my corporate gig as CEO of BLiNQ Media and have been planning an epic summer trip with my family. My wife (Tovah) and I decided we wanted to see some of the great National Parks in the Northwest US as well as Western Canada (Alberta and British Columbia). We started off thinking we could just rent Airbnb’s and travel with a rented minivan, but soon realized traveling with our daughter Nina (3½), son London (1½) and our two dogs (40 lb and 80 lb) wasn’t going to be easy. So we then had the brilliant idea of doing this in an RV and it solved a lot of the space issues and gave us a lot of freedom to travel. We looked at renting a 22 foot RV but we needed to get something bigger and it was more cost effective to just buy something, especially for a 3+ month trip. Within 10 days we went from renting to buying a brand new 2016 Forest River Georgetown 364TS. IMG_2476It’s an amazing RV that gives us a floor-plan and features that’s perfect for our little adventure. Prior to this experience, Tovah and I knew nothing about RV’s; I can tell you I learnt so much in that 10 days and buying one was an interesting process, especially as its a new model and we’d never seen or test driven one (did all our research online). I can also guarantee that this is the first RV of it’s size (38 foot, with our bike racks it’s 42 foot) to enter the Sherwood Forest neighborhood in Midtown Atlanta. And yes, I was able to back it into our backyard.

We worked with a local RV dealer called National Indoor RV Center (who have been amazing and i’d recommend highly) to special order the RV from the manufacture. It took around 3 weeks to deliver and since then we’ve been doing some test runs to make sure we know how to operate it and get used to living in a smaller moving house on wheels. We’ve also added some safety features and made some tech modifications that will make things easier. As I’m a tech geek, I figured i’d share some of these if anyone was thinking of doing what we are about to do.

Safety Additions

  • Tire On – The Georgetown 364tS has six 22.5 inch wheels (which are big). in the event of a blowout on the front wheels the tires can come off quickly resulting in a horrific RV flipping (see this video). This product prevents the tire from coming off in an event of a blowout and reduce the risk of flipping the RV.
  • Tire monitor sensors – My landscaper, Stan, asked his sister (experienced RV’er) for some advice for us before we take off on our long trip and one of the items she mentioned was a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). I bought the (TireMinder A1A) and installed it before we left on a test run to Cape San Blas (beach vacation that’s a 6+ hour drive). The normal pressure on the RV tires are 90 PSI but the monitor alerted me that the rear inside right tire (dually tires) was only 45 PSI; I would have never noticed the inside rear tire was low otherwise. I bought a portable air compressor called Porter-cable (highly recommended) and got the tire back to 90 PSI. However, by the next morning the TPMS system showed the the same tire had gone down to 79 PSI. We’d planned to leave for the beach in the RV that afternoon, so I called the dealership who arranged for someone to come to our house and fix the tire (again National Indoor RV Center have been amazing). Turns out the issue was a valve stem extender that had a slow leak and the tire was OK. I check the TPMS system before we leave any stop and it can alert me to any issue with any of the tire pressure or temperature issues while driving.
  • Child seat harness – RV’s don’t have the same safety requirements as cars, and although the Georgetown 364TS has seat belts, they are not designed for kids’ car seats. So, we had the dealership make some modifications so we could safely lock down the car seats to a secure anchor point.
  • Bunk Bed Guards – A big reason we bought the Georgetown 364TS was the bunkbeds for the kids. We didn’t want to setup the sofa-bed or dinette every night so the kids could sleep; the built in bunkbeds give the kids a permanent place to call there own. However, the bunkbeds are designed for adults or older kids); i.e. you can easily fall out if you roll over, and that’s very likely for our 3½ and a 1 ½ year olds. I solved this pretty easily by wrapping some MDF wood in nice fabric and wedging it in to act as a guard. Problem solved – kids are not falling out of bed and can still get it to the bed by crawling through the rungs in the ladder.

Some tech I added

  • WiFi Ranger – Because we are constantly moving from one location to another, signing up for WiFi at each location or determining if the WiFi signal/strength is any good can/will be problematic on many levels. For one, entering a new WiFi code for every device (iPhones, iPads, laptops, Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick, etc.) will get old fast, and with some camp grounds having WiFi only near the registration office, it’s unlikely we’ll get good signals. Lastly, I could use my MiFi, but cellular bandwidth can cost a lot (or not exist in remote areas), especially if we are streaming a bunch of shows (Game of Throne’s season finale anyone? this Sunday! I can’t wait). I found a solution to all my worries. It’s called WiFi Ranger, and it’s perfect for RV’s. I bought the mini pack that includes an Antenna called WiFi Ranger Sky2. The Sky2 mounts on the roof of the RV and can extend your range up to 2500 feet, boosting a weak signal from a distance. Sky2 connects via PoE to a pretty smart router called the WiFi Ranger Mini. The Mini integrates with the Sky2 (but can also find it’s own short distance repeaters) and will tether to my Verizon LTE MiFi via USB (and power the MiFi). The Mini will prioritize a WiFi signal (from the Sky2 or itself) based on signal strength, security, etc. If it can’t find a good WiFi signal it will then go to the MiFi, but will continue to prioritize a free WiFi signal if it becomes available in order to save my MiFi cellular bandwidth. Additionally, the Mini also has a multi-WAN feature that can blend multiple signals together and create hot standby’s incase one WiFi or cellular signal goes down and load balance them all. I also configure it to shut down the MiFi based on the amount of bandwidth my Verizon plan has. If that wasn’t enough, the Mini creates a signal private SSID (called Choudhury-RV) that all our devices connect to (regardless of the WiFi source) and creates an internal network the internal devices can use regardless if you have an internet connection or not (see Plex Server below). The Mini will also attempt to say yes to T&C on WiFi splash pages automatically or if it requires you to enter something, you just have to do it once through the WiFi Ranger control panel and all devices get instant internet without having to check a box or see splash screen. Pretty sweet.
  • Plex Media Server – A big thank you to Marc Kagan for this awesome suggestion. I’m running Plex on my laptop and have my movies, music, and photos mapped so the Plex server can make those available through any device. If your are not familiar with Plex, you need to check it out; the interface is kick ass on desktop, iOS, Android and on other devices. Additionally, Plex just reads your files, determines what they are and downloads additional information such as movie thumbnails, trailer, and meta data of the movie, actors, directors, etc. Because the Plex server just runs on an internal network (the WiFi Ranger Mini), i don’t have to go out to the internet to stream anything to any of my devices. I can use a browser to play any of the content Plex is mapped to, but in most cases I find a Plex app on mobile devices, smart TV’s, Blue-ray players, etc. As an example, in order to view movies on the TV’s on the RV (we have 5, btw, which is crazy), I bought several Amazon Fire Stick that can run the Plex app, so now any TV, even a stand-alone TV not connected to the internet or internal network, can easily stream content from the Plex server (different content per connection). As a side-note, I chose the Fire Stick over chromeCast, Roku, and Apple TV (although i also have an Apple TV in the RV, as I’m a die hard Apple guy) because it’s generally faster, ties easily to my Amazon prime account (free Movies, TV shows, Music, and storage) unlike the Apple TV, has Netflix, Sling TV, HBO, PBS kids, and a whole lot more for $39.
  • Automatic – Again, my friend Marc Kagan hooked me up; he gave me a beta version of Automatic he’d been testing out before they released a general release product. Automatic connects to my vehicle computer system via a standard connector (the one used by your mechanic to figure out why the check engine light is on). It connects to your phone via bluetooth to the Automatic app and can give you all sorts of info, such as the shit gas millage I get from the Ford V10, or that I applied the brakes hard one time today. It can also notify folks if i get in an accident (including the police) and of course I can get notifications on the engine light vaults and clear them myself if I want to:-)

Our journey began Thursday June 11th and I hope to share some stories on this blog as well as Tovah’s blog www.gypsyspirit.net. In fact here is Tovah’s latest blog post; so follow us both and let’s see where this journey takes our family.

Goodbye Promenade Building

Yesterday was my last day as CEO of BLiNQ as we moved forward with the merger of PointRoll, Shoplocal, and BLiNQ Media. I fully support this move as I believe it will make all three companies much stronger in the market place as a combined company and properly leveraging the strong content and data assets owned by Gannett. At the same time, it was hard to make the decision to part ways with the people at BLiNQ and G/O Digital; I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a number of them, and I’ll miss working with them and wish them all the very best as the units come together in the coming months.

I was originally hired into BLiNQ to access the business, re-stabilize the unit, and determine a new vision for the company in a post acquisition era. I’ll leave it to my peers in the industry and to Gannett to determine if I accomplished my objectives.  From my stand-point, I’m extremely proud of what my team was able to accomplish in less than a year; what’s most gratifying to me is that the product strategies and vertical focused pivot I put in place at BLiNQ will be used as the blueprint of the new combined company.

Reflecting back, what’s amazing is that I’ve been at the Promenade building in Midtown, Atlanta since 2004.  First we moved Spunlogic into the 17th floor (from Zonolite Road), then sold Spunlogic (2008) which become Engauge and moved up to the 22nd floor (2010), then sold Engauge to become Moxie (2013) still on the 22nd floor (2015 Razorfish moved into the 22nd floor, space looks great Patricia Camden-Peterson), and lastly, I moved down to the 12th floor as the new CEO of BLiNQ Media (2014). That’s 11 years of great memories and experiences I just said goodbye to.

So what’s next for me? No idea yet, but what I do know is that I’d like to take a little time off. The last 19 months has been pretty crazy for me. Selling Engauge, helping integrate Engauge into Moxie, undertaking an Executive MBA and finishing it a few months ago with an awesome international residency in Vietnam and Thailand, moving from Publicis and taking on the BLiNQ role as CEO, having our second child (who is awesome), and generally traveling a lot and missing out on family time. Wow, pretty crazy when I think back.

Before I jump into the next work adventure, Tovah and I will be heading to the beach for a few weeks and then we are planning an RV trip across the US, Pacific NW, through British Columbia, Yukon, and Alberta. Yes, you read it right, an RV, and no, I’ve never been in an RV before. As we plan more I’ll write about it, but that’s the plan for now.