Travel points for domestic peace

A former graduate student who will soon be a first-time parent emailed me this week to ask about that system he had heard me talk about for keeping track of travel. I’ve mentioned this system to a few people, and they’ve told others, and every now and then someone sends me an email to ask how exactly it works. So, I’m finally writing it all down so that those who find it useful can read more about it.

I used to travel a fair bit for work, but cut back significantly when my first child was born. By the time I had three kids, I wasn’t traveling much. Once the kids were all in elementary school, my work travel increased. There always were more conferences I wanted to attend, and more speaking engagements I wanted to accept. However, realizing the stress it put on my family when I was out of town, I tried to choose my travel carefully and said, “no” to a lot of it. (As a side point, most academics I know believe they must travel a lot or their careers will suffer. I believe that some travel is required, but that most of us could probably do quite well with significantly less travel. Perhaps I will blog on that some time….)

While I felt that I had settled on a reasonable amount of travel, my husband and kids did not see it that way. Every time I prepared for another out-of-town trip, they complained that I was traveling too much. I should note that my husband does not enjoy travel as much as I do, his job requires less travel, and he usually is able to keep his business travel to 2-4 days per year. On the other hand, I was typically traveling 2-4 days per month, even when trying to travel less.

Somewhere that I no longer recall, I had read about the idea of keeping a budget for travel — not a monetary budget, but a time budget. So I decided to give it a try and devised a “travel points” system. My first thought was to simply to negotiate with my husband and decide on a maximum number of days I would travel each year. But when I suggested this idea to him he told me it was too simplistic. He explained that when I travelled during the week, the kids were in school most of the day and it wasn’t too difficult for him to handle the morning and evening routines himself, with an after school babysitter to help out with transportation to afternoon activities. However, when I travelled on weekends, he had to single-handedly get three kids to all of their weekend activities and make sure they ate three meals per day. After further discussion, I realized that when I arrived and departed also made a difference. Ideally, I would make it home for dinner, but getting back later in the evening was still better than coming home the next day.

Based on my husband’s feedback I came up with the following points system. Each week day away from home costs 3 points. One point for being away for breakfast, one point for being away for dinner, and one point for being away over night. Weekends work the same way except they count double. I applied this formula to past trips to see how much they would have cost, and negotiated a total budget for the year of 84 points.

As we’ve used the system over the past six years we’ve made a few additional adjustments. I get a discount for bringing one of my kids with me on a trip (I’m not able to do that very often because they usually have school, but every now and then it works out). I get a discount for working in a visit to a family member while on a business trip. I also get a discount for travel associated with paid consulting, since my husband appreciates the extra income that brings in. One year I signed up for a training course with three out-of-town sessions that used up 70 of my 84 points. Before I signed up for the course I made sure my husband was on board with the increased level of travel and we negotiated a higher points budget for that year. Last year, when I was traveling to Washington, DC from Pittsburgh for three days every week we suspended the points system completely rather than add up the 400+ points. We all knew that I would be away a lot and the whole family (even my kids) bought into the plan. Now that I’m back, we have reinstated the points system.

The travel points system works pretty well for us. I typically get a handful of out-of-town speaking invitations every month, so calculating the points cost of each potential trip is helpful as I choose which invitations to accept. I try to pace myself, and reserve points for the conferences I like to attend. I also try to shorten trips to shave off a point or two if I can. When possible I leave early in the morning rather than going the night before. I sometimes leave a conference early to make it home for dinner. Whenever possible, I avoid traveling on weekends. While my husband still thinks I travel too much, he is much less grumpy about it when he knows that the amount of travel will be bounded.

The travel points system is a simple application of basic budgeting principles that helps me put limits on my travel and practice moderation. People use similar systems to limit their financial spending or their caloric intake. You can apply this time budgeting concept to other activities besides travel. For example, if you have a time-consuming hobby not enjoyed but other members of your household, allocate points for the hours you spend on that hobby. If it makes sense in your household, you might develop a system that allows you to trade points with other family members, for time, money, or other activities — e.g. if I can travel two extra days, when I get back you can go on a two-day yoga retreat.

What’s most important (and probably most difficult) is negotiating the rules of the system so that the points provide appropriate incentives and all involved are satisfied with the total points budget. Once I agreed to significantly penalize weekend travel, my husband was much more agreeable about the whole system, since weekend travel was what he most wanted reduced. I also would prefer to be home and spend time with my family on weekends, so the weekend penalty adds an extra nudge for me to do what I would like to do anyway. Every family is different and you will have to find the incentives and budget that work best for your family, and be prepared to renegotiate over time as you gain experience with the system or your situation changes.

BSides, Black Hat, and DEFCON

I spent 4 days in Las Vegas this past week attending the back-to-back BSides LV, Black Hat, and DEFCON 24 hacker conferences.  This was my first trip to Vegas and my first time at these events (although I have attended local hacker events, such as ArchC0n in St. Louis last September). Here are some thoughts on my experience and some photos from my trip.

You know you are in Vegas when you get off the plane, because who wants to wait until you leave the airport to start gambling?

Slot machines at Las Vegas airport

Usually I try to stay at a conference hotel, but I had been prohibited from using any of my  government devices in the conference hotels (too much of a security risk), so I opted for the Westin, where I could also get a government rate. BSides was a short walk down the street at the Tuscany. It was nearly 100 degrees in the mid-day sun, but without all the humidity we’ve been having on the East Coast. (And the hotels were heavily air conditioned so I was glad to have a cardigan for inside the hotels!)

Westin hotel in Las VegasTuscany Suites

I gave the Gave opening keynote at BSides LV Tuesday morning in a noisy room with about 1000 people…. a few hundred people were sitting at tables, standing, or sitting on the floor paying attention to my talk. The rest were collecting swag from vendors, talking to each other, learning how to pick locks in the back of the room, or getting a drink at the bar (at 10 am!). Nonetheless, I had good audience participation when I quizzed them on password strength, and an artist captured the key points of my talk pretty well. And my talk got some nice press coverage. I wore my password dress (as requested) and many people asked me to pose for selfies with them throughout the day. After my keynote I spoke on a career panel and attended some of the Passwords talks (kudos to Per Thorsheim for organizing a great event). I also enjoyed Andrea Matwyshyn‘s talk on hacker kids.

Besides LV chill out roomvisual summary of BSides LV keynotes

BSides is the scrappy conference of the week. It doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but it is also the least overwhelming. Volunteer staff (known as “goons”) are mostly polite, but I did have a run-in with one who refused to let me back into a session for the end of the Q&A because I had stepped out into the hall.  The hotel is not so classy and the whole thing smells like cigarettes, but the event is free to attend and not nearly as crowded as the other two events. And bonus points for the visual notes, speaker lunch, and providing a nice women’s cut v-neck speaker t-shirt.

I spent most of Wednesday and Thursday at Black Hat at Mandalay Bay, a 15-minute taxi-ride down the Strip from BSides. This is the classiest, most corporate, and most expensive of the three events. It was also the most traditional conference, the only one that did not require walking through a casino, and the conference badges actually had peoples’ names on them. Some people even wore button down shirts and suit jackets, although black t-shirts, jeans, and hoodies were still totally ok. Everything about Black Hat is big and polished. The breakfast/lunch room (this is the only event that includes meals) was an enormous matrix of banquet tables and professional staff who greeted everyone with a smile and directed people to the open buffet lines politely and efficiently. The plenary room was full of flashing lights and a glass cracking theme for the opening session (I assume the idea is glass cracking as in breaking things, not cracking the glass ceiling, since there wasn’t a whole lot of evidence of glass ceiling cracking here). I got to see Jeff Moss and Dan Kaminsky. Among other things, Dan urged hackers to “break things faster,” encouraged companies to publish their code so that it would be indexed by Google and easier for their own employees to find, and suggested outsourcing more security functions to the cloud.

Black Hat breakfast and lunch roomBlack Hat opening keynoteBlack Hat opening keynote Black Hat opening keynote - Jeff MossBlack Hat opening keynote - Dan Kaminsky

The Black Hat business hall was also enormous, and many vendors were handing out swag. I collected enough t-shirts to clothe my kids for quite a while, plus bags, pens, and light-up balls. I would not come home empty handed. I was excited to visit the Wombat booth. Down the hall from Blackhat, in the same hotel, was the Superzoo show for pet retailers. The carts stacked with dog beds and cat food were an amusing contrast to Black Hat.

Black Hat business hall Black Hat business hall - Wombat boothSuperZoo at Mondalay Bay

I attended several really interesting talks at Black Hat, mostly on the human factors track (including a talk by my former PhD student, Patrick Kelley). There was a fun talk about dropping USB sticks in the parking lot. I was mostly interested in the data about how often they got picked up, although I think many in the audience enjoyed learning about how to make a fake USB stick that would automatically deploy malware when someone sticks it in their computer. One of my favorite talks was on using forensic linguistics to identify signs that a phone call is from a scammer. And of course no hacker conference is complete if you don’t see someone who has brought their own ATM machine.

As with the other hacker conferences, the crowd was not particularly diverse, although I did not find the climate uncomfortable at Black Hat and I was glad to see that all the staff in the business hall booths seemed to be dressed appropriately for the event. The Black Hat organizers had posted their code of conduct all over the place, and there were a couple of sessions focussed on getting more women into the security field (thanks EWF and Equal Respect!). When asked what they could do to attract more women to apply to be speakers I suggested personal invitations (which is the main reason I was at BSides, thanks Per!) and childcare and/or kids track (my kids were not available this week, but had they been I could have brought them to BSides and DEFCON but Black Hat would have been prohibitively expensive).

Patrick presenting at Black Hat ATM machine for Black Hat demo Black Hat code of conduct

I didn’t have much time to sight-see, but did check out some of the other hotels and casinos. I visited Ancient Egypt, where I discovered you can eat sushi. Then on to New York, which was an adorable scaled-down replica of the real thing, but so much more peaceful without honking horns and huge crowds. The Excalibur castle looked like something out of Disneyland.

Inside the Pyramid in Las Vegas New York New York New York New York Excalibar at night

I had to taxi over to DEFCON and back on Thursday mid-day to pick up my speaker badge and was back there in the evening and then all day on Friday. DEFCON is the largest of the three events and uses space in both the Bally’s and Paris hotels. The Paris has a casino at the base of the Eiffel tower and cute Parisian streets lined with over-priced cafes where they require you to show ID when you buy a $3 yogurt with a credit card.

Las Vegas stripParis hotel Paris hotel

DEFCON has something like 15,000 attendees, but you can’t register in advance and you have to pay cash at the door. Badge distribution and crowd control in general is quite a challenge, and there is a lot of waiting in line at DEFCON. Nonetheless, the DEFCON goons were friendly and managed the crowd well. And they looked stylish with their red t-shirts and police-style goon badges. I walked by the DEFCON kids track which looked like it would be fun to check out if I had brought my kids.

Bally's to Paris connection at DEFCONDEFCON at Paris HotelDEFCON at Paris Hotel

I checked out the DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge and saw the Mayhem team with CMU colleagues being interviewed after their victory. I met up with some of my fellow “feds” to prepare for our Meet the Feds panel.

Cyber Grand Challenge Cyber Grand Challenge Cyber Grand Challenge Allan and Jonathan at Cyber Grand Challenge at DEFCON Allan, Jonathan, and Lorrie at Cyber Grand Challenge at DEFCON

We reported to the speakers room 45 minutes before our talk and our goon escorted us to the room we were speaking in, a long walk through the casino and into Bally’s. We had about 800 people for the Meet the Feds panel and it was standing room only. We had some good questions, including from a high school student who wanted to know about careers in government.

DEFCON speaker ready room, with Eric Mill and goonDEFCON, Meet the Feds Allan, Eric, Lorrie, and Jonathan - DEFCON, Meet the FedsAllan, Eric, Lorrie, and Jonathan - DEFCON, Meet the Feds

My second panel was back in the Paris hotel in another large room. Commissioner McSweeney and I talked about the FTC and our research wish list. I discovered that the super cool podium looks great, but is not so good for short people as I could hardly be seen behind it.

DEFCON FTC session DEFCON FTC session - Terrell and Lorrie DEFCON FTC session - Terrell and Lorrie DEFCON FTC session - Terrell and Lorrie

FTC folks all wore the FTC DEFCON t-shirts I designed, complete with secret code (successfully cracked by my son in about 90 minutes).

Joe, Lorrie, Aaron, Terrell at DEFCONFTC DEFCON t-shirt frontFTC DEFCON t-shirt back

The DEFCON vendor room did not have much for free, but lots of fun things to buy like lock picks and hacking tools. Contest rooms and “villages” featured tables full of hackers working on competitions and projects, lots of people soldering (not sure what exactly), cars for car hacking, and phones for social engineering. There were beauticians offering mohawks in any color. Hacker jeopardy was a low point, as interspersed between geeky technical questions were questions full of sexual innuendo, which produced the predictably inappropriate and vulgar responses from contestants. Not classy! While this sort of behavior seemed to be the exception and not the rule at DEFCON this year, it should not be tolerated.

Overall, I did not see too many women at DEFCON. One attendee who saw my speaker badge asked if I was Radia Perlman. Perhaps she was the only female computer scientist he could think of who might be a speaker? There are worse people to be mistaken for, but she is about 20 years older than me and we look nothing alike.

DEFCON Venders DEFCON contest room DEFCON contest room DEFCON contest room DEFCON car hacking Hacker jeopardy DEFCON soldering DEFCON

On the flight home the couple sitting next to me asked if I knew anything about all those people walking around the Strip with skull badges. Yes, indeed, I told them as I pulled my DEFCON badge out of my backpack and showed them how I could press the buttons in the right order and make it light up.


Davos Trip Report

I attended the World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland with a group of faculty from Carnegie Mellon. We were there to be the entertainment — we had earned our (otherwise very expensive) Davos badge by agreeing to present a panel session. I brought my camera (Fujifilm X-T1 with 18 mm lens) and took lots of photos. Here is a selection of photos and some thoughts on the whole Davos experience.

We arrived in Zurich and took the bus (provided by WEF) to Davos. It was about a 2.5 hour drive and the scenery got progressively snowier and more beautiful as we went along. We started meeting our fellow attendees on the bus, including McGill University principal, Suzanne Fortier, who was staying at our hotel, and later invited us to Montreal after return flights to the US were being cancelled.

landing in Zurich, hardly any snow at the airport World Economic Forum Davos bus arriving at the registration center in Davos

We stayed at Club Hotel, a comfortable ski hotel (at high-end luxury hotel prices) at the far end of Davos from the Congress Center. This was the hotel that many of the academic speakers had been assigned to stay at. Across the street was a building with a big sign that said “Bernina.” As an owner of a Bernina sewing machine, I got very excited when I saw it, but it was just an apartment building… no sign of sewing machines. There was a shuttle stop on the corner across from the hotel, and shuttles came by frequently. However, at least once each day I did the 20-minute walk between the Congress Center and the hotel. Most of the daytime events were in and around the Congress Center, but some were in surrounding buildings, and most of the evening events were at hotels around the city.

Club Hotel Davos at Night, WEF 2016DSCF5451Walk the talk sign at WEF 2016

The walk between the hotel and Congress Center took us past the storefronts and fancy hotels on the Promenade. Many companies (and even UC Berkeley) had rented out store fronts for the week. Some had been turned into Cafes where participants could stop in for a free lunch. Facebook had setup a house with a mini-museum that explained that it takes more energy to make a latte than it does to power one person’s Facebook usage for a year. There were police and security guards everywhere, but none seemed to be able to give directions. The best way to navigate was with Google maps, or looking for signposts along the way indicating the direction and walking distance between conference venues.

The Promenade at night, WEF 2016Berkeley storefront on Promenade, WEF 2016Facebook house at night, WEF 2016Facebook house, WEF 2016Signpost outside of the Loft, WEF 2016

The weather was fairly pleasant, all considering. The temperature stayed around the high twenties with no wind. It snowed about every other day. My tall, waterproof leather boots (ECCO Babett 45 GTX) were perfect for the snowy weather, and I could wear them inside all day and was able to avoid carrying shoes around to change into. I was glad I brought a long down coat. With insulated tights, I was able to wear dresses comfortably all week without freezing when I went outside. Inside most buildings it was quite warm. We quickly got used to the process of arriving at a building (on foot or by shuttle); having our badges inspected by armed (but very friendly) guards; loading our bags, laptops, and coats onto the conveyor belt for screening; walking through the metal detector; collecting our bags; sometimes heading outside and then back into another building; scanning our badges; checking our coats (or holding on to them to save time); and finally getting to our destination.

Congress Centre - transportation hub, WEF 2016Lorrie with boots and long coat at transportation hub, WEF 2016Davos WEF middle entryMiddle Entry, WEF 2016Inflated Tunnel into Congress Center Middle Entry, WEF 2016Middle Entry cloak room, WEF 2016Congress Centre with fresh snow, WEF 2016Lorrie at Congress Centre main entrance, WEF 2016

On the first evening I attended the opening ceremony with awards presentations and a concert by Yo-yo Ma and a multi-cultural ensemble. Will.I.Am talked about education and Leonardo DiCaprio discussed global climate change While not exactly an expert in climate change, DiCaprio has apparently contributed a lot of money to the cause, and encouraged others to do likewise. I was surprised to see DiCaprio read his remarks, rarely looking up at the audience (the photo here is the only one I took where he is looking at the audience). Yo-Yo Ma’s performance was amazing, and worth sitting through the speeches to hear.

Hilde Schwab presents Crystal Award to Will.I.Am at WEF 2016 Hilde Schwab presents Crystal Award to Leonardo DiCaprio at WEF 2016 Yo-yo Ma and ensemble performing at WEF 2016 opening session

Following the opening session I found the shuttle to the InterContinental Hotel for the expert reception. Having just arrived, I was still wearing jeans and suddenly felt under dressed. I did not wear jeans again until I left for the airport to go home. Besides learning about Davos fashion, the expert reception was also a good introduction to eating at Davos, where sit down meals are few and far between for those of us not on the VIP lists. Coffee and alcoholic beverages were plentiful, but food required some foraging. We all got very good at spotting and making a bee line for waiters passing tasty, but small, snacks in the Congress Center or at whatever receptions we were attending.

I joined my colleagues, who were talking to John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, and his wife. When I arrived they were having an entertaining conversation about educational videos and it took a while for me to catch on and figure out who he was. John posted a brief video about his Davos experience after he got home.

I spent much of the next day practicing for and being nervous about my own talk. Three colleagues and I had been invited to Davos to do an “Ideas Lab” session, which uses the fun-to-watch but awful to prepare for Pecha Kucha format. We each had five minutes to give a talk with 15 slides (all images, no words), which advanced automatically every 20 seconds. We wrote out scripts weeks in advance and spent hours memorizing the scripts and checking the timing. I give talks and teach classes all the time, so public speaking comes pretty easily to me, but I don’t think I have memorized anything word-for-word since high school. Even the TEDx talk on passwords I gave a couple of years ago was easier to prepare. For my Davos, I made notecards, recorded myself reading my script and listened to myself over and over again, and practiced my talk repeatedly on the plane. The group of us did three rehearsals together before finally doing our session at Davos on Thursday, and again on Saturday. Our session was the Promise and Perils of the Connected Sensors. Two of my colleagues presented upbeat promise talks, one introduced security perils, and I finished out the panel with privacy perils. The talks were recorded and available here. (As you may notice in the video, I had two wireless mics attached to my sleeveless dress. The AV crew was used to putting mics on guys wearing suits, and wasn’t really sure how to attach the mics to me. They didn’t have surgical tape to tape the transmitter to my back so you’ll see one of the transmitters attached to the back of my dress with an antenna sticking up. The other one is in my boot with the wire running up my leg and under my dress.) There was also a scribe who made cool drawings while we talked.

The Ideas Lab session went very well, and we received a lot of positive feedback from attendees. Attendees at our session included a nobel laureate, a Microsoft executive, and Kofi Annan (yes, that’s him in the bottom right photo below). Connected sensors and the Internet of Things were topics that seemed to resonate with a lot of Davos people. Indeed, the toilets near the plenary hall in the Congress Center featured water sprays and dryers that could be controlled wirelessly through tablets mounted on the wall of each stall.

Amy and Lorrie at CMU ideas Lab, WEF 2016Scribe's board at CMU ideas lab, WEF 2016 CMU Ideas Lab session in the Loft, World Economic Forum, Davos 2016 CMU Ideas Lab session in the Loft, World Economic Forum, Davos 2016 CMU Ideas Lab session in the Loft, World Economic Forum, Davos 2016 DSCF5719Congress Centre toilet with remote control, WEF 2016

The CMU President, Subra Suresh, introduced our panel, and the dean of our School of Computer Science, Andrew Moore, participated in another Ideas Lab session that was moderated by NPR correspondent, Joe Palca. Some of our colleagues, including Justine Cassell, got to speak on the big stage in the plenary hall.

Andrew Moore at Nature Ideas Lab session, World Economic Forum, Davos 2016 Andrew Moore at Nature Ideas Lab session, World Economic Forum, Davos 2016Justine, Anthony, Lorrie Amy, Chris, and Andrew after CMU Ideas Lab, WEF 2016Justine Cassell on Staying Human panel at WEF 2016

I attended a lot of sessions in the plenary hall of the Congress Center. This is where most of the heads of state spoke. In four days I saw the following government leaders speak: the Presidents of Switzerland, Cyprus and Mexico; Prime Ministers of Turkey, UK, Israel, and Canada; as well as John Kerry and Joe Biden (who was interesting, but went on much too long). UK Prime Minister David Cameron was the only head of state I saw speak standing in the middle of the stage with no notes, podium, or teleprompter. Benjamin Netanyahu had the funniest comments when he talked about Israel innovation and explained that Jewish Israeli cows make more milk per cow than any other cows and “every moo is computerized.”

DSCF5268 Joe Biden speaking t WEF 2016 DSCF5346 DSCF5349 David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, WEF 2016 DSCF5412 John Kerry, WEF 2016 Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico, WEF 2016

Most thrilling, perhaps, was attending an interactive lunch with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several members of his cabinet. You could sign-up online for interactive lunches and dinners, but many of these events were full by the time academic attendees were allowed to sign up. After seeing that the lunch session I wanted to attend was full I noticed that the Canada lunch still had room so I signed myself up. Lunch was setup at banquet tables for a total of about 60 guests. A member of the cabinet was assigned to each table. When I came into the room I spotted a table that nobody was sitting at, with the name card Trudeau, so I sat down. Prime Minister Trudeau arrived late and when he came in he shook hands with  Naheed Nenshi, the Mayor of Calgary, who was also seated at my table, and then took the microphone and began speaking. Trudeau gave his whole speech standing next to where I was sitting at the table. I snapped several good photos of him against the hotel’s butterfly wallpaper from where I was sitting 2 feet away. He finished his speech and left before I could get a selfie. (I did manage to get a selfie with Nenshi the next day when I ran into him at the Congress Center.) Nenshi was quite entertaining as he MCed the event, inviting the other cabinet members to make brief remarks and asking some pointed questions. I was quite impressed with Trudeau and the other cabinet members, who exhibited an energy and youthfulness that you usually don’t see in American politics. And they are incredibly diverse. Other than Trudeau, the cabinet members joked, they hadn’t brought with them any straight white guys.

DSCF5485 DSCF5497 Lorrie with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi at WEF 2016

My favorite session all week was a panel on “Progress towards Parity” with Melinda Gates,  Sheryl Sandberg, and Justin Trudeau, along with SOHO CEO Zhang Xin and ManpowerGroup CEO Jonas Prising, When asked whether it was difficult to find enough qualified women to make his cabinet 50% women, Trudeau said the only thing difficult was choosing among all the great qualified candidates.


Other highlights included hearing US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker talk about Safe Harbor on a panel with Microsoft President Brad Smith and others, watching Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain moderate a panel on the digital economy, and an interactive dinner for women in science. I took some pictures during Zittrain’s session and went up to talk with him afterwards. One of his panelists, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, was eager to get a photo of herself on the WEF stage, so I told her I would send her the photos I had just taken. At the dinner I chatted with Joe Palca and his wife NIH Deputy Director Kathy Hudson, along with danah boyd.

DSCF5261DSCF5426 DSCF5305

There was a lot of discussion of refugees at Davos, and I attended an interesting simulation session called “A day in the life of a refugee.” As we entered the room, women were handed headscarves and we were told that for the next half an hour we were to obey the guards. A sound track of machine gun fire played, the lights went out, and we were eventually ushered into small, crowded tents. As we lined up for bread and water, guards took our jewelry and cell phones. It was an interesting simulation, but I think some of the power of the experience was lost as I was crawling around in tents with business executives wearing expensive suits. After the simulation concluded, we heard personal stories  from people who had been refugees themselves or had worked at refugee camps. I found that to be the most compelling part of the session. As they returned our phones and jewelry. the session leader handed us postcards for feedback and asked us to list actions we could take to address the refugee problem. However, there had not been much discussion about what we could actually do.

A Day in the Life of a Refugee, WEF 2016A Day in the Life of aRefugee, WEF 2016 - refugee speaking

I was interviewed for the Swiss public radio in a studio in the local public library, which had been turned into a media house.

Reuters house takes over the Davos library + police stand, WEF 2016  Inside Reuters House (Davos Library), WEF 2016DSCF5333

There were not a lot of sessions related to my research interests. I attended an interactive session in which they talked about the growing number of people who were using ad blockers online. They broke us up into small groups, and I joined the group on “trust and user empowerment.” I was amused at this because I was giving talks on this topic as far back as 1997. When the moderator asked us what companies should do to build trust I suggested that companies should actually be trustworthy and actually empower users. This comment did not go over well with the corporate participates in my group. Later I attended a session on privacy that included a lively discussion by panelists who had  somewhat limited expertise in privacy. A number of questions came up that the panelists didn’t have good answers for. During the audience Q&A I answered some of these questions and received a more positive reception. One of the panelists remarked that I should have been on the panel. I noted that most sessions seemed to follow an unwritten rule that there could be at most one woman or one academic on any panel, so this session was already at quota.


Between sessions we explored the Congress Center and the nearby Promenade. We discovered that the Microsoft Cafe served lunch. The lounges were good places for people watching, but it was sometimes difficult to find a seat. A few times I went into the plenary hall just so I could sit down and check my email. You never knew who you would run into in the Congress Center. If there were a lot of people with cameras, there was probably someone famous. Following the cameras led me to the Prime Minister of France, and IMF director Christine Lagarde.

Congress Centre with fresh snow, WEF 2016Anthony having lunch at Microsoft Lounge, WEF 2016Central Lounge, WEF 2016IMG_20160121_082519View of the Congress Centre Plenary Bar and Earth Space, WEF 2016  media scrum surrounding Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France, WEF 2016

The most unexpected celebrity encounter was meeting Yo-Yo Ma and his wife in the hallway of the Congress Center. I was introduced to them, shook hands, and mumbled something about being a computer science professor and having enjoyed his concert. Maybe I pointed to my password dress and said something about passwords. I only regret that I didn’t tell him I co-founded a company called Wombat Security and ask him about the time he was photographed on the floor with a wombat. Yo-Yo Ma was super friendly, and seemed to actually enjoy meeting all the people who were eager to shake his hand.

Mary Suresh with Yo-yo Ma and his wife in Congress Centre, WEF 2016

No Davos experience would be complete without Bono. I didn’t get to meet him, but I did see him on stage from the third row when he appeared briefly to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the (RED) campaign.

Bono  at 10th Anniversary of (RED) campaign, WEF 2016 Bono  at 10th Anniversary of (RED) campaign, WEF 2016

Davos is not a great place for eating or sleeping. Before we arrived we had already received dozens of invitations to evening receptions at hotels around Davos. However, once we arrived we realized that our invitations were to only a small fraction of the parties that were taking place. We were able to talk our way into some of these parties, but many had fairly tight security. There were some interesting breakfast events every day but neither I nor any of my colleagues were able to get up early enough to attend them. CMU sponsored a small party at a local chocolate shop, but big companies and even countries sponsored enormous parties with open bars, food, swag, live music, and robots serving beer. Some hotels had so many parties going on that they posted electronic directories to help people find the parties they were looking for.  Friday night I skipped most of the partying to attend the annual (and somewhat hard to get an invite to) Davos shabbat dinner. Sadly, the celebrities were no shows this year, but I did have an enjoyable evening.

Anthony watching beer robot at Infosys reception, WEF 2016 Chris at PWC party in Belvedere hotel, WEF 2016 Indonesia night, WEF 2016 DSCF5439 DSCF5434 directions to lounges at Belvedere hotel, WEF 2016 KPMG reception, WEF 2016 Shabbat dinner, WEF 2016

The last evening in Davos was a formal soiree with music, a large buffet, and lots of swiss cheese. I wore a floor-length gown and 3-inch heels because I don’t have too many excuses to dress up, and how often do you get to wear a ball gown and pose with two St. Bernards? Unfortunately, we had to leave the ball early to rebook our cancelled flights due to East Coast US snow storm.

Davos Soirée: Jazz and African Rhythms at the InterContinental, WEF 2016 Davos Soirée: Jazz and African Rhythms at the InterContinental, WEF 2016 DSCF5813 BKKL5532

So how was Davos? The event is crazy and amazing, and not like anything I have ever been to before. The closest comparison I can make is South By Southwest. Only Davos is colder and had fewer artists, musicians, hipsters, and free tee shirts. And Southby is a festival and Davos is a place where heads of state go to talk to each other and everyone seems to have an agenda. I didn’t go with an agenda, other than to make it through my talk, take it all in, and help promote Carnegie Mellon. I met some interesting people, heard some interesting talks, saw lots of celebrities, and made a few contacts that may be useful for my research or my career.