From the Blog

Fire in Mariner's Bay, Marina del Rey

What a crazy start to the day. Around 6:30 this morning I rushed into a burning building when I noticed an apartment fire in the building next to my own in Mariner’s Bay, Marina del Rey. It all started when I heard a series of soft explosions coming from outside my apartment. It sounded like quiet shotgun blasts and echoed off the complex on the other side of the basin.

I opened the front door to investigate and I could see smoke and flames pouring out of the apartment directly across the courtyard from my own. I immediately yelled to Jackie to get the cats ready to travel, triggered an alarm box outside my unit, and started running toward the building.

The way our complex is designed allowed me to approach the burning unit from a walkway behind the back deck and my first instinct was to check it, but I couldn’t get close enough to see inside. The flames were far too hot and the smoke was too thick. Someone or something had broken the bedroom window and sliding glass door…Flames were shooting out of them like a blast furnace.

Nearby some of my neighbors were fumbling with one of those apartment firehoses that was far too short to reach the unit where the fire started, and I surmised the tenants in the most immediate danger were already out. Strangely, the alarm bell was ringing in my building, but not the one that was burning.

I asked one of the would-be firefighters what unit he lived in and he pointed to the one next to the blaze. Then I asked if everybody was out of the building and he looked at me grimly and said “Nobody has come out”. Hardly believing my ears, but realizing there were probably fifty people unaccounted for, I quickly ran to the apartment on the other side of the burning unit and saw people coming out the back slider.

Seeing smoke pour upwards, I ran upstairs to the second floor and began smashing my fist on each door in the long corridor yelling Fire! Fire! Fire! Strangely, this is something I was trained to do 20 years ago but I’ve never been in a situation where I’d have to use that training until now. There was zero thought…I just did exactly what I had been trained to do.

Interesting to note, as people emerged from their apartments, which were filling with acrid smoke, they were all initially quite confused and a couple were even a bit irritated that someone was pounding on their door. Instead of running out of the building, they started milling around, putting on clothes and looking for personal belongings while I yelled to get out and began coughing. I suspect this was because it was so early in the morning and the situation was so confusing to people who were asleep. In almost every case this pause lasted a moment or two but then reality seemed to take hold and they made a beeline for the stairs. Later everyone was incredibly grateful when they talked to me. The units directly above the one where the fire started caught fire as well. Every unit in the building has smoke and water damage.

After clearing the second floor the fire alarm in the building finally triggered and I could hear sirens coming down the street. I ran up to the third floor and repeated the same process. At this point the smoke started to get pretty thick and it began to effect my breathing. I went out onto the roof for a minute, caught my breath, and then ran back down the stairwell to the deck just as LA Country Fire and Sheriffs arrived and took over the scene.

Within minutes there were eleven trucks and about forty firefighters on the scene moving hoses and equipment into place.

Sadly, the fire fighters did pull an older man out of the unit where the fire started. He’s listed in ‘very critical condition’. To be completely honest, I initially felt really, really sad about not trying to get into that unit but it was completely engulfed in flames. After talking to my buddy Mike Lydon, a firefighter in Boston, I know there’s nothing I could have done. Mike told me no firefighter would have gone into a fire that big without the right gear, oxygen, support, and a firehose. Makes sense to me.

In closing, this has been a crazy experience and hours later I’m still having a hard time calming down. Serious props to the men and women with LA County FD and LA City FD who arrived, dragged out the victim, and put out the fire. The fact that this is what they do for a living absolutely blows my mind. I may have been a good neighbor today, but firefighters are the real heroes. Time to check the batteries on my fire alarms…I hope you do too!

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Fire Marina del Rey

Fire trucks lined up on Palawan Way

Marina del Rey Fire


Yesterday I set out to fulfill a goal I set for myself this year, and attempted to summit Mount San Antonio. At 10,068 feet, Mount San Antonio, known as Mount Baldy to most Angelinos, is the highest peak of the San Gabriel Mountains, and the highest point in Los Angeles County, California.

In the end I succumbed to dizziness and shortness of breath about halfway across the Devil’s Backbone where it cuts left around the peak of Mount Hardwood, at 8900 feet according to my GPS, but 9000 feet according to this topographical map. I suspect it was either the altitude, hunger, or possibly vertigo, but most likely the altitude. Since I had to hike about 3000 feet and many miles back down to the car, I figured it made more sense to be conservative and turn back.

My climb started at the Mount Baldy Notch, after taking the lift up from the ski area parking lot in Manker Flat. Max and our old friend Andre hiked all the way up to the notch and met me there. They went on to summit about 45 minutes after I turned back. Not only did they complete the full 4000 feet, Andrew made the entire descent with his boots jury rigged with an old pair of socks and a bungee cord, after his soles literally fell off just before the summit!

Of course, my problem was a lack of proper fitness and conditioning. This painful lesson has me feeling more serious than ever about getting my act together when it comes to personal fitness. Carrying 30 extra pounds doesn’t interfere with my daily life much. I can walk for miles, ride my bike to work, and sail competitively. But when it comes to hiking up mountains, ‘dad bod’ is a real pain in the ass (and legs).

Even though I didn’t make it to the summit it was a great time and I am really looking forward to trying again. Devil’s Backbone was truly incredibly, with breathtaking views on both sides of the San Gabriel Mountains. This narrow trail leaves you one misstep from a life altering fall and the footing is challenging. Not for the feint of heart…And certainly no place for anyone who’s afraid of heights!

Max and I are talking about another attempt in mid November before the snow flies. Hopefully I can get my cardio up to speed by then and next time I’ll have a picture from the summit. In the meantime, here I am taking a selfie from Devil’s Backbone:




Sunset on Venice Beach

Today is the 1 year anniversary of the day my wife and I arrived in Los Angeles to start our new lives as Californians. As seems to be the custom, in a city as transitory in the lives of many of her millions of residents, I believe this officially makes us ‘old-timers’. As such, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on what I’ve learned this year, from our new home.

Yes, it will be this nice out again tomorrow in Los Angeles

It took me a solid 90 days to get used to fact that the weather in Los Angeles was going to be somewhere between perfect and some nameless state beyond perfect every day. As a native New Englander the transition period was difficult. Every minute I could be outside, I tried to be…Because I was so very certain there was no way this weather would hold. But it does. Day in, and day out. Incredibly, the first time I saw rain on a business trip I felt the wonderful excitement of a child on Christmas morning before he knows Santa isn’t real.

Instead of weather, we talk about traffic

Before we moved here I remember thinking: “How bad can the traffic in Los Angeles be, anyways? I grew up in Boston…Our traffic is so bad a 14 Billion dollar civil construction project couldn’t solve it. Well, it’s worse.

I don’t really like to use hyperbole as much as I used to. What I will say is, in Los Angeles, you plan your activities around the traffic. And I now know what it feels like to leave the house with a goal and be unable to accomplish it, simply because I could not reach my destination.

You don’t live in Los Angeles, you live in a neighborhood

In my case, it’s the West Side…And I rarely travel east of the 405 unless I am in a plane. Hell, I try not to travel east of Lincoln Blvd if I can avoid it. If I could wave a magic wand, I think I would build a wall on Centinela Avenue and call it a day.

It’s kind of hard to wrap your head around the size of this place until you’ve been here. LA county covers an area which is roughly the size of Eastern Massachusetts from Worcester to Boston Harbor and from state to state on the North/South axis. And residents of the West Side have about as much in common with folks in the Valley as they have with people in another country.

Sunsets are epic, no matter what

Like the quality of the weather in Los Angeles, the sunsets are always epic. Every night, without fail, the sun slips into the Pacific with the most incredible show of beauty you’ve ever experienced. Night after glorious night. After a while you just get tired of it, which is a shame, but it is what it is. Fortunately, burritos never get old.

No matter how cool your car was back home, here it’s a joke

Unless you’re rolling in a Bugatti, or a Maserati, forget about pretending you have a cool car. Out here people give their housekeepers a Mercedes Benz to run errands and drive the kids to school. A BMW is about as cool in LA as a Toyota Corolla is in Boston. However, that’s not going to stop every jerk in a Honda Accord from trying to race you to the next red light, so get used to it. People drive loose and aggressive here. It’s a way of life.

This city is expensive, but that doesn’t mean it’s all classy

Living in LA works best if you aren’t trying to ‘make it’ as an artist, musician, or actor. I’m not saying these things aren’t important, I’m just saying LA isn’t really set up to support them anymore. Lots has been written on this subject so I’ll spare you the details…The bottom line is any neighborhood you would consider in LA is about as expensive as it gets.

But don’t think living in a fancy neighborhood is going to spare you from seeing or dealing with poverty…Because that’s not how it works here. A low-end two bedroom house in Venice Beach is going to run you around a million dollars. It also very likely comes complete with a family of mentally ill homeless people who use the crawl space under your porch for strange sex parties and other pagan rituals in the middle of the night.

LA at night

*Disclaimer: Results may vary. Greatness may rely heavily on whether or not you are a yuppie (like me).  

Ever wonder how a data analyst and a strategist decide what neighborhoods in Los Angeles they should focus their apartment hunting efforts on? If you guessed ‘by conducting a detailed analysis of traffic patterns around typical commuter travel times’…You’d be right! Ever wonder whether or not Jackie and I are perfect for one another? Silly question.

To be honest, when we started thinking about which neighborhoods we would like to live in, the criteria was really focused on less quantitative measures like quality of life, safety, and walkability. But every time we mention our impending move to LA the universal response is typically something along the lines of: ‘Oh, wow…Have you heard about the traffic in LA…Because I heard…?’. The inquisitor is usually making a bitter face like somebody just kicked them in the shins while asking this question.

Jackie’s one of the only people in the world who is more skeptical of unfounded hyperbole than I am so it wasn’t long before she decided we needed to get to the bottom of this issue. In this analysis she did the heavy lifting around the data collection. My contribution to the project will primarily be bragging about it…But even good research needs to be marketed. I guess I can give myself a little credit because I also generated the neato graphs after Jackie supplied me with the analyzed data. I also contributed to the short list of neighborhoods we were even willing to consider.

Speaking of neighborhoods, sorry this is useless to my friends in the Valley, but let’s be serious: How can a chart quantify the reality of traffic coming from the valley to everywhere cool in Los Angeles? Frankly, after seeing the drive times I didn’t think my data calculations would accept ‘fuck my life’ as an input.

Also, the reason this is all built around traffic times to Downtown and Santa Monica is because that’s where we will be working. If you want to be specific, each row is measured from the center of each neighborhood to the 2600 block of Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica and the 1100 block of South Olive Street in Downtown LA. By the way,

I’d love to to say our deeply analytic thinking ruled the day as this decision was finally made but the truth is we decided to live in Marina del Ray, because…The ocean!

Rolling up all the raw data we can come up with the following measures of average times for each driver, by neighborhood. These charts really tell the whole story:

Average LA drive time in minutes for each driver


Having established the bottom line, here are the charts for all the raw data in case anybody is trying to figure this out for themselves. In each case, the X-Axis is the time spent in the car, in minutes, according to sample drive times taken from Google Maps during a single week in late June, 2014.


Agency Oasis

It’s official: After almost 10 years of pushing projects for some of the world’s best, boutique, digital design and development shops, I’m taking a big, bold step. I’ve been retained by Agency Oasis to begin my career as a full time Digital Strategist in their new Los Angeles office, and I couldn’t be more excited! I begin working with them on June 16th here in Boston while Jackie and I sell our condo and plan the move to LA. We plan to be there by Labor Day.

Leaving the team at ISITE Design was not an easy decision. I’ve never learned or grown as much as I have during my time working with Jeff Cram and Dave Wieneke and my teammates at ISITE are the greatest group of people I’ve ever worked with. That said, this decision was about my career and where I see it going in the long-term and Agency Oasis has given me an opportunity I simply could not pass up.

Outside of work, life is equal parts excitement, anticipation, and terror…Selling our home, changing careers, moving to a new city…Any of these things on their own would be incredibly stressful. Mixing them together all at once? This is not an experience for the faint-of-heart. But I’ve got an incredible partner in Jackie and I’ve done this before…With far less experience, resources, and wisdom than I have at my disposal today.

Leaving Boston…Also not an easy choice. These last ten years have been the best of my life because of the friends and community surrounding Jackie and I here in our hometown. It’s hard to quantify something like community…But you know it when you have it…And we do. But I don’t just have a job waiting for me in LA…My brother Max and some of my best friends in the world are in Southern California. Plus, they’ve got year round sailing in LA…And no snow. Life is good.

So now, as I make the leap from helping people build their digital customer experiences right, to helping people build the right digital customer experiences, I leave you with this…All the wisdom I have on digital project management summed up in a GIF reaction tumblr: