Category Archives: travel

Why I Opt Out Of TSA Body Scans At The Airport

delta flight instagram

No one likes dealing with TSA at the airport. TSA screeners are seen as rude and uncaring; they are an obstacle to boarding your flight.  Travelers often share their TSA experiences on blogs, social media and travel forums.  For example, there are over 130,000 Google search results on the FlyerTalk forums about TSA.  Some passengers object to the body scans based on personal freedom or are uncomfortable with the invasive images generated by the TSA scanners. Others consider a machine with variable amounts of radiation to be a health risk.

Sometimes life is all about perspective. This morning I had another good experience going through TSA opt out and received something extra special. The TSA agent used consistent pressure while patting me down and I was able to disengage and imagine myself somewhere else…not at the SFO airport being patted but instead I was at a hipster spa for a 360 body massage:

The difference about this massage is that it was totally free didn’t require a Groupon.

Two years ago (2012) I started opting on a consistently from TSA body scans.  A good friend and a co-worker were both strongly against the scans and upon listening to their reasons, I decided adding a few extra minutes to my travel day was worth it.  The opt out process is straightforward: you put your items in the bins and notify a TSA agent that you’d like to opt out. They announce the opt out on their shoulder mounted walkie talkie and begin sourcing a TSA agent based on gender.

Each time I went through the opt out process in 2012, I tweeted about it to raise awareness that it was an option for travelers:

Once a TSA agent is found, they go over logistics with you — the location of your items you sent through for screening and how the opt out process works. Once in “opt out” mode, you cannot touch your things until the screening is over. The TSA agent picks up your things and walks you to a screening station. They explain the process for patting you down — Where they will pat, which side of their hand they will use, how they will inspect inside your waistband and afterwards test their gloves (for gun power residue). They will also ask if you’d like a private screening area.

At first I was self conscious about the TSA opt out screening process because other people could see what was going on. Had I done something to get in trouble? Why was I not going through the scanner like everyone else?

After a few times I was able to shed those thoughts and make the best of the situation. I’d warmly greet the TSA agent and make small talk. Many of the TSA agents welcomed a quick chat about travel, the weather, technology, curly hair and their memories about visiting major metropolitan areas. The feeling of public scrutiny was replaced with a friendly chat leaving both myself and the TSA agent in better spirits.

A female friend who co-founded a startup in Las Vegas told me about the one time she had decided to opt out and saw a man looking at her with googly eyes while she was being pat down, like he was getting off on it. Being the fixer that I am, I suggested she face away from the other passengers waiting to pass through screening. I always think of her when I opt out.

Nearly all my experiences have been positive with the exception of a few times when I waited more than five minutes for an agent. Sometimes I’ve worried about my personal items and tech hardware sitting on the conveyer belt after passing through TSA but thankfully have never had anything go missing.

My friend from Australia often would complain about the treatment he got from TSA staff while traveling in the US and he would heckle them to challenge his personal freedoms being cast aside for compliance usually expected from cattle.

The other way through a TSA security gate is through the metal detector. Airline personnel, pregnant women, adults with children and pets can go through the metal detector. If you opt out and then ask to go through the metal detector, you will be declined. When I traveled overseas for work, I expected other countries to have similar screening processes but instead I found that in both London and Germany, they still used regular metal detectors. I felt resent towards American airports for the hassle myself and millions of travelers experience every year due to the TSA screening processes. At the Tegal airport in Berlin, Germany, the process of checked baggage was much more streamlined than in the United States.  There you loaded up your checked baggage at the gate through a luggage conveyer belt.  Much shorter trip for your bags.

I will continue to opt out at airports but I look forward to the day where we focus on doing what is effective vs what looks like it’s effective.

the london palace

Three Countries In Three Weeks: Part 1 London

I’m sitting here at my desk in San Francisco’s Soma district thinking how I’ve just traversed Europe through London, Berlin and Glasgow seeking to absorb, explore and learn about startups and technology innovation overseas.

In the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of traveling since joining as developer evangelist for SendGrid.  I’ve been to Startup Weekend events, hackathons and conferences all over the US in cities like Atlanta, Las Vegas, Virginia, Omaha and Philadelphia.  It’s been an amazing journey to meet and talk with developers and entrepreneurs who are striving to gain traction.

In mid-June, I set out to complete a trip that would have me to attend, meet, sponsor and judge startups from all over the world.

Here’s part one of my recap of the London and Berlin conferences plus the networking and meetups in London.  The next part will cover the networking and meetups in Berlin and Scotland.

LeWeb – London, England

My first stop was the LeWeb conference held June 19th and 20th in the central London known as Westminster.  The conference is focused on the latest innovations on the web and while it’s been held in Paris for nearly ten years, due to demand (and the Olympics?), it was held for the first time in England.  The stage welcomed well known tech pundits like Robert Scoble and Mike Arrington plus CEO’s from hot tech startups like Klout, Pinterest and Instagram.  There were celebrities like Jamie Oliver, known for his passionate TED presentation on the state of food in schools and data scientist Dr. DJ Patil.   There were also new companies on the grid like Hailo, Summly and Pebble Technology.  Eric Migicovsky is the founder and lead designer of Pebble, the Kickstart project that raised over $10 million dollars to build a smartwatch that interacts with your iPhone / Android with support for third party app development.

The most entertaining sessions included verbal battles like Alexia Tsotsis of TechCrunch tearing into Joe Fernandez of Klout for their ranking and algorithms.  The expo hall had booths representing SoftLayer (A SendGrid hosting partner), Buddy Media (recently acquired by Salesforce, Automattic (parent company of WordPress), HP, Evernote and several others.  There were approximately 1,500 attendees and a LeWeb mobile app for networking was available to view the schedule and connect with attendees.  In the startup contest Hojoki, which offers an aggregated feed of your cloud service notifications, came in 2nd.

You can catch the conference sessions that via YouTube’s recently introduced live streaming service LeWeb On YouTube

MLOVE – Berlin, Germany

My next stop was to Germany to check out MLOVE, a mobile tech conference. My friend Beverly Jackson (@bevjack), Director of social media for the Grammys, told me I had to get involved with this conference for the amazing content and people involved.  In case you’re wondering who that guy is in the bunny ears, it’s Harald Neidhardt, founder of the MLOVE conference.  For the last three years, it’s been held in the center of the country, MLOVE has also expanded it’s reach this year and had a spring session in Monterey, California which I attended and they’re planning for a fall session in Kamakura, Japan.  It’s been described as “TED for Mobile” and draws attendees from all over the world.  One thing that sets this conference apart is that the location in German is held at a beautiful, historic castle known as Castle Beesenstedt.

I must also mention that the food was amazing!  Most of the dishes were created from locally sourced ingredients and prepared on site.  Check out this plate of skewered chicken, pesto feta cheese with tomatoes, grilled mushrooms and a dill cucumber salad.  It was absolutely fantastic!

This crowed was very international.  While a majority of attendees were from Germany,  several came from Japan, Belgium, Canada and of course the US.  The conference is kept fairly small to ensure attendees have the opportunity to network with each other during hands-on workshops.

The speakers present a healthy mix of mobile focused topics in twenty minute sessions cover things like mobile commerce, education, advertising, culture, music and more.  Singularity and music were hot topics this year in Berlin.  In the Open Space workshop, I participated in the group discussions focused on how to condense the massive amounts of information we’re bombarded with on a daily basis into a curated, relevant and timely delivery solution.   MLOVE also had a mobile networking app for the conference called Bizzabo and I really liked the interface and simplicity of the app.

Startup Weekend London

I wrote a pre post over on the SendGrid blog about attending Startup Weekend London.  We’re a global sponsor of Startup Weekend and we also added support to this event by doing a local sponsorship.

The event was held at Campus by Google and organized by Deborah Deborah Rippol and Eric Brotto.  They were did an outstanding job and kept things on schedule, answered any and all questions by attendees and made sure everyone could do what they came there for: to build awesome!

It was well worth it as the event unfolded seeing the teams hard at work building and creating new apps and companies.  This was again an international group of developers, designers and business people from all over including France, Poland, Denmark, Spain and Italy.

One team I met, ISIT game, hailed from Poland and had traveled to Startup Weekend London together as a group to participate in the hackathon.  Nina the CEO, Jakob the front end developer and Marcin the back end developer worked throughout the weekend to build a mobile guessing game with photos and tiles, similar to Draw Something.  They ended up coming in second place and had an amazing stage presence.  Turns out Nina used to be an attorney now turned startup founder.

There was a surprise at the Startup Weekend London.  I was going on the judging panel!  I joined Philipp Moehring (@pmoe) from Seedcamp, Paul Miller (@rellimluap) of Bethnal Green Ventures and Roxanne Varza of Shopcade and cofounder of @girlsintech_uk @gitparis & @failcon paris.

Meetups and Networking Events

In between the conferences, I went to a variety of events to connect with local developers, startups and entrepreneurs.

London Pub Summit

This was an event Baratunde, one of the speakers at LeWeb, told me about.  It was a part of a tour through over 20 cities through the summer with a web summit in Dublin, Ireland this fall. (photo credit Web Summit)


I stumbled (haha, joke) onto this meetup while was hanging out with a friend in the Camden area of London.  I met a lot of enthusiastic Reddit users and found out there’s an active social group in London for tech geeks called LSC (London Social Club).

Wayra Accelerator

I stopped in to visit this new program, Wayra, which is backed by the global telecom Telefonica.  On the day I went to visit, the 16 teams had just moved in that week and the paint was still drying in the newly built-out space.  There was a presentation for 50+ executives from mobile supplier groups like Motorola and Blackberry so they could learn about the initiative, the startups and Wyra’s efforts to build an environment to drive innovation.  Pretty amazing to see so many well dressed professionals sitting where developers usually hang out.

After the presentation, they were encouraged to go around and talk with the teams to find out about their apps and possible hardware needs.  I met the Night Zookeeper team that day who were also at Startup Weekend London.

Visit to White Bear Yard

Met with Chris the evangelist of GoSquared and James CEO and co-founder and treated the team to ice cream while we discussed the future of web analytics, the need for dashboards and of course, transactional email.

Summary And Next Adventures

Now that I’m back, I’m looking forward to going to local events and networking with customers and partners.

On my upcoming schedule I have events like the Developer Advocates Meetup event tonight where we’ll practice our API pitches to developers and a stealth event tomorrow night.  Then it’s back on the road next week to DEF CON to attend, BlogHer to speak and then I’m taking a Ruby and Rails training in Atlanta.

For the next few blog posts I’ll be following up with my experience in Berlin and Lodon on both a professional and personal level.  Overall this trip was an amazing experience and I’m excited to finally travel overseas plus keep it geek and learn so much about the technology and startup scene in other countries.  It certainly gives you perspective.

One takeaway is that there is a worldwide developer shortage.  It’s not just a problem in the US.  I met a new friend in London who is a business analyst and it turns out her entire development team is from somewhere else.  Her head of tech is French, their senior developer is from Lithuania, their front end developer is from Latvia and their web dev/support guy is Russian.

Learning this and hearing about the struggle companies are going through to find good developers has inspired the SXSW panel submission I’m working on and I hope you’ll vote for it once I announce it.  Very exciting list of confirmed panelist for my topic!  Also, don’t forget the SXSW due date to submit your Interactive topic is Friday July 20th, 2012 – Submit your SXSW session!

reverse jet lag sleepy

Jet Lag After Traveling Overseas

You’re tired when everyone else is wide awake.  You’re bouncing with energy while everyone else is winding down. Traveling more than  5 timezones away can cause you to experience jet lag – a conflict between your body’s internal clock and the new time zone.

Known as circadian rhythms, your body is used to going to bed when it’s dark and waking up when it’s light outside.

I’ve just returned from a three week trip to London and Berlin (with an overnight to Scotland) and now back in San Francisco, 8 hours behind London.  It’s just a bit after 6pm on Wednesday and I’m starting to feel the effects of jet lag – drowsy, disorientated, slow thinking/talking/moving, headache.

According to wikipedia, it takes a few days for it to hit you.  Flying West to East is like staying up all night and then going to bed at 2pm while East to West is like staying up all night but then going to bed at 6pm, according the the article.  This means that I’ll have to adjust even more now that I’m back in San Francisco.  Once I got to London, I found myself staying up late until 3am without feeling tired and then dozing off in the afternoons between 2pm and 6pm (which was 6am – 10am Pacific time).  The first week I stayed up using sheer adrenaline and coffee to avoid the drowsy feeling but the second week it hit me hard and I was napping like an 80 year old grandma in a rocking chair except I had my laptop in my lap as if I was working.  Thankfully I didn’t fall asleep on public transportation.

My coworker Brandon (@Brandonmwest) at SendGrid is an advocate of controlling your jet lag with sleep patterns and food.  I followed his advice to adapt my sleep schedule based on where I landed (staying up if it was daytime and going to sleep if it was the evening) but I ate whenever, sometimes had late night cravings for protein and fat laden foods (which I readily gave into!).

For each timezone you pass through around the globe, be prepared to take time out of your schedule to rest.

Have you tried sitting in the sun, fasting or exercise to reset your internal clock?

It may take me a few days to recover but I’m glad I made the trip and have arrived in one piece after my first trip overseas – a bit of jet lag isn’t so bad overall for the experience in Europe!