English Country Side

Sands of the Sahara – Erg Chebbi, Morocco

An Erg is a sand dune made from wind blow sand that collects naturally against another geological barrier- in this case it was the Atlas Mountains of Morocco that acted as the receptical for copious deposits of soft white Saharan sand.   Erg Chebbi isn’t formally part of the Sahara.  Some people call it the pre-Sahara.  But after an 1-hour long camel ride into these dunes that sore up to 450 feet high, it really didn’t matter.  I was in another world.

The dunes are a photographer’s dream:  Azure blue skies, wind carved curves, parabolic shadows, and sand in every direction.  Snow white sand in the morning turn yellow as the sun rises, and then minutes later as the sun breaks the horizon, the sands burst into a vivid orange.

Men of Morocco


THE FACES of Moroccan men staring back at me in my camera viewfinder wore the effects of the raw North African environs, a hearty Moroccan lifestyle, and a confluence of ancient Arab, European, and North African lineage.   Men here lived long and full lives as was evident in their weathered and richly earth hued faces.  We were there during the Fall when the climate was brisk during the day and cold enough to see your own breath in the evenings and mornings so these men still wore the Djelleba, a traditional  hooded full body robe.  Few people of other world cultures are as as photogenic as these Men of Morocco.

Dallas or Bust?

The cast of the hit TV Show “Dallas”

I used to work at Travelocity which is based in Southlake, an affluent suburb of the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex.  Travelocity recently shut down their San Francisco and New York offices.  Fortunately or unfortunately, some of the Gnomies who were located there were given the opportunity to relocate to Dallas.   You can imagine all the disdain and haughty comments about the thought of moving to DFW from these two great and  proud American cities.  One San Fran resident who I am friends with on Facebook asked the question,

“Dear Dallas Friends — I need help with my decision! Please tell me what you love about Dallas, (and DON’T say cost of living or weather!) Needing more items in the “pro” column.”

I never thought I’d be a Pro-Dallas fanboy.  I spent a large part of my life in Houston where we are raised to hate our Texan Brethren up I-45.  I worked in a number of cities in the US and Canada and grew up abroad as part of a expat family (elementary school in Thailand and Saudi Arabia and high school in Switzerland). I would have laughed at the thought of living anywhere for more than 10 years straight, let alone Dallas – the largest city in the US not on a major body of water.  An arid high plains city with no geographical or geological reason for existing.   But low and behold, Dallas has grown on me and I have been a proud resident of this great American City for a full cycle of the Chinese lunar calendar.  So why Dallas?  Here are my top 5 reasons.

1) Low cost of living.  Okay, this is a big deal.  Cheap homes, no state income taxes, lower prices in the grocery stories,restaurants, and at the gas pump, affordable State Universities, etc.  So you can either save that money or do like most Dallasites do: add more square feet to your home, buy an luxury SUV, put in a swimming pool, drop some coin at the many great malls around town, hire a housekeeper or take a great vacation twice a year.

2) Nice people.  Okay, New Yorkers are rude.  San Franciscans are weird.  In Dallas people are just good warm people.  Truly middle of the road with most people leaning a little more to the right.  I’d say progressive conservatives with a sprinkling of zealots and radicals on both sides to keep things interesting.  People smile a lot,  respect basic social norms, and are more likely to be friendly and helpful than indifferent or rude.  In fact, I would say coming to Dallas may actually make you nicer!

3) Frictionless living.  You never have to fight for parking.  Tons of nationally ranked public and private schools.  There are great supermarkets on every corner.  Dallas is a car culture so traffic can be bad at times, but nothing compared to the grid lock of LA.  No shoveling snow during the winter.  And two major airports allows you to get anywhere in the US in less than 4 hours.

4) Burgeoning re-urbanization movement.  The suburban sprawl is starting to contract and re-concentrate around the Dallas central core.  With this re-urbanization Dallas is building a great arts district, great pockets of dining, entertainment and shopping, more public parks, and pedestrian friendly areas.

5) Great sports.  Okay, this one might not be important to everyone but a great sports culture is part of any world class city.  Where do we start?  Dallas Mavs, 2011 NBA champs; Texas Rangers, 2010 AL Champs;  The Cowboys – America’s Team.  The Stars have even put together a championship season in the NHL.  We have great team owners: Jerry built a $1 billion stadium in Arlington.  Cuban . . . well he’s just awesome.  I wish he would run for Mayor if not the Presidency.  Also throw in an MLS team, a minor league baseball team, an NBA D-League franchise and don’t forget our amazingly exciting and competitive local High School football and basketball teams.

These five reasons plus tons of jobs, a thriving economic climate, and 6 months out of the year of very temperate weather has made Dallas the fastest growing US city the first 10 years of the 21st Century.  I’ve had many new and old friends move from NYC, SF, Boston, and Chi-town.  Those that thought, like me, that Dallas was just temporary, that the soul of this city was manufactured and artificial and that we could never call the Big D home.   But we stayed for many reasons, some listed above.  But in the end I think we stayed because we realized that Dallas is inhabited and more than ever is attracting the people we wanted to live amongst.

By the way, my friend who was contemplating the move from San Fran to DFW?  Well she’s here now, but misses her old home.  But like a homesick kid at summer camp on the first night, once they make a few friends and get use to the new surroundings, they won’t want to go home at the end of the week.

Are you a Dallasite?  What do you think?  Love or Hate the Big D, please share your thoughts below.

Angel investing one hand at a time

Last week I attended a small gathering of Dallas based web hackers and start up guys for a friendly game of poker.  The stakes were small and the crowd (most of whom I just met for the first time) was made up of almost all dudes in their mid to late 20’s.  The game was played on an oversized conference table at a local hacker / co-working space in Mockingbird Station.  I busted out early but not before I “invested” a few dollars to the eventual winner’s fund raising efforts.

It was good to meet more smart folks trying to build community around start-up activity in DFW.  The start-up community has become more vibrant since my business partner and I started Traxo in 2008 and I can say that it is a great time to be building a company in DFW.  However, growing a company in Dallas is a different story that I will save for later.  If you are new to the DFW start up scene, here are a few organizations and grassroots efforts that you should know about:

The Cohabitat – is a coworking and gathering space for entrepreneurs, creatives and developers.  It’s a funky turn of the century house that is home for a number of early stage companies and where meet-ups, user groups, VC roadshows, and networking events take place.  Ask for Blake who is the tall skinny guy who runs the place.

Start Up Happy Hour 2.0 – Hosted by Alex Muse (and his crew at Architel).  The drinks are free and the networking is fantastic.  You will find founders, co-founders, developers looking for gigs, Angels Investors, VC’s, lawyers, and even an occasional celebrachan sighting.

Tech Wildcatters – DFW’s version of a micro seed incubator like Y-Combinator or TechStars.  Congrats to Gabriella and team who just graduated their inaugural class of companies.  It’s a tough model to get started and it takes tons support from local investors and advisers.  Our city definitely needs one of these.

LauchDFW – here’s a good online resource to read about what’s going on in the DFW start-up scene.  Bradley does a great job keeping a pulse on promising start-ups in the Metroplex and big events that are happening in the community.