Sunday, September 23, 2018

When a random birthday call becomes a random reunion

As you may know, I have a daily custom of calling people on their birthdays.  It's fun for me as I get to talk to people with whom I haven't spoken with in a year (or more).

Today, I was making the day's worth of calls and called Josh Duncan.

Josh and I met about 10 years or so ago (we can't remember exactly how), but we have chatted a few times, met up once, done a podcast together, and since we both are in marketing and tech, will exchange ideas on occasion.

So, anyway, Josh answers the phone and says, "oh, I saw the 202 area code and figured it was either you or Trump calling me. And, by the way, I am in your neck of the woods?"

Josh had lived, until very recently, in Austin and now lives in Chicago, so I was intrigued.

"Really?" I asked. "What brings you to town?"

"Well, my mother-in-law lives here now and my son and are on our way to the Packers-Redskins game at FedEx field."

"You're a Packers fan?" I asked.

"I grew up in Wisconsin," he replied.

"That's really interesting because I am in the car right now with my son and we are ALSO on the way to the Packers-Redskins game."

We met up at halftime.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

When kids throw up and your travel plans are turned upside down...

As if a combined 12 hours of flight delays, an unexpected night in a hotel in Toronto (sans luggage) and 48 hours of total door-to-door travel time wasn't enough (full story here), we are now delayed a full day coming home because of 2 of our kids vomiting last night.

Monday was rough for the NFO and the kids from the outset.

Yesterday was the one day of the entire trip that the NFO gave me for "blockchain day."  I took the train from Modi'in (near Hashmonaim where the NFO's brother and family live and where the Bar Mitzvah-our purpose for the trip- took place).

I spent the day in Tel Aviv meeting with Israelis in the blockchain scene.  For me, it was a home run.

Meanwhile, the NFO and Team Finland left the house of our dear friends, the Lustmans (who live around the corner from the NFO's brother) at 8:45.

Waze said that the drive to their volunteer day destination (Leket) would take about 50 minutes. They were due there at 10.

Unfortunately, the NFO's Verizon data plan hasn't been working all trip. Mine has (I use Google Fi).  However, since this would be the first day I wasn't driving with them, we printed out Google Maps directions for them to take in the car.

Of course, printed out directions don't automatically update as traffic conditions change or if you miss a turn.

Bottom line, the NFO and Team Finland didn't get to their destination until nearly 12:30pm.

What's worse is that when they called or asked for help, it became clear that no one really knows street names or directions any more.  Our phones have made us locationally blind and directionally challenged (or at least many people).

So, between that and a few other challenges, it was a rough day.

When I walked through the door at 8:30pm after my power day (I was pretty wired because I'd had so much coffee since I'd been up since 4am), I was expecting to relax, hear what was going on, and just hang out on the night before we left.

Instead, I walked into a scene straight out of ER. The first thing I heard was, "Jeremy, [name redacted] just threw up all over the bathroom and [name redacted feel nauseous.]"


I walked over to the bathroom and when he said, "Threw up all over the bathroom," he meant it. It was everywhere.

The NFO and I were in full on crisis management mode.

Over the next 5 hours, child #2 threw up, got them cleaned up, cleaned up the bathroom, threw away vomit-covered clothes, got restocked on clothes from the Lustman's house and discussed how we would make a go/no-go decision on our scheduled flight the next day (11.45am departure).

We packed and prepared, got people hydrated, got towels and plastic bags ready for the overnight, shifted sleeping arrangements and went to bed hoping for an uneventful night.

I was the last one down, finally able to take a shower at 1:45am. Alarm was set for 6:30am.

Actually 3 alarms were set. I didn't want to take the chance on oversleeping when we were targeting an 8am departure for the airport.

I got up with the first of the 3 alarms and saw the texts from the NFO (she was sleeping on the 3rd floor with the 2 sick kids. I was in the basement with the one healthy one).

Both of them had thrown up multiple times over the course of the night. They were unable to fly.

I got on the phone with United and prepared for the worst.

As a 1k status member (nearly the highest), I was hoping that I would get some extra care. Plus, given the fact that they had promised me a hotel voucher when we arrived late in Toronto the previous week, but there was no United agent available anywhere in the airport when we did arrive, I thought I could use that as leverage. 

I had planned on dealing with it when I got back. By my estimation, we were down about $600 btw hotels/meals/clothes/Lyft from our 20 hours in Toronto-we got the last room at a hotel 8 miles away.

Also, they had sent 4 of us travel vouches worth $150 each for the delay (good start), but there were 5 of us. Down one voucher.

Anyway, I call the United Premier 1k desk and.... I HIT THE JACKPOT.

I spent nearly 90 minutes on the phone with Sonja (she's from Macedonia) and she was the most empathic, thoughtful, caring, patient customer service rep you could ever ask for. 

She was able to rebook us from Tues to Wed, change us from Air Canada (via Toronto to Dulles) to United (via Newark to Dulles), get us all Economy Plus tickets (part of my 1k status) and do it all for $0 in change fees.

We got kosher meals ordered. We did about as well as we could possibly hope for with seat assignments.

We even looked at using some of my miles for business class upgrades, but it didn't make sense.

She was incredible.

I know airlines and United, in particular, take a lot of flak for their customer service. Sometimes deserved. Many times unfair, in my opinion.

If you talk to flight attendants, they will tell you that the people who are the most difficult are those who only fly once or twice a year.  There are exceptions, but it's usually the people with the most miles who are the most understanding.

In this case though, Sonja was a rock star.  I was so grateful to here and thought to myself "if every United customer service rep was like Sonja, people would be lining up to sing United's praises."

Having put that worry aside, we were able to rest easy.

We are so fortunate to be in a place where we are surrounded by family and friends who are more than willing to help us and make us so comfortable during a pretty inconvenient and potentially stressful time.

It's probably the best possible environment given the situation we are dealing with.

Anyway, I am very proud of Team Finland for having behaved so admirably, displaying great resilience and adaptability on a trip that, both at the beginning and towards the end (as well as some in the middle) has really challenged us to learn how to respond to adversity.

I am grateful to our friends and family who are an amazing source of support.

I'm appreciative to Sonja @ United who helped us get through the challenging time with minimal financial impact.

It's not fun to be in this situation, particularly on both sides of a trip, but I told the team, "in 30 years, we will be talking about this trip. This is what life and family are about."

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Israel: A Dialogue with Time

Yesterday, we visited the Holon Children's Museum and participated in a fascinating, interactive exhibit called "A Dialogue with Time."

The exhibit is a powerful experience, designed to help kids (and adults) understand what it is like to grow older.

There are simulations for how it feels to have your eyesight, hearing, memory, and muscle mass weaken. There are interactive trivia games that help dispel some myths about aging and build a deeper understanding. There are powerful stories about living with regret as well as maintaining an optimistic eye towards the future.

When you arrive, your picture is taken (you are asked to not smile) and then, later in the exhibit, an age simulator shows you what you might look like as you get older, hence the picture of me on this post.

We had a guide, Rena, who was fantastic and told us her life story in reverse chronological order, helping us (and our kids) see who she was today and how she got there.

It was humbling and also a great tool to build empathy.

It occurred to me that the idea of a "Dialogue with Time" also sums up the very experience of being with Israel.

Within in the course of minutes or an hour, you can go from the most ancient of places, the Western Wall (Kotel) [where we had a small ceremony as part of Paco's Bar Mitzvah celebration] to Tel Aviv, which is just booming in terms of construction, energy, and activity. The skyline rivals that of many world cities now. It's very impressive.

On one drive, we were diverted through the West Bank by Waze (safety wasn't really an issue), but we did have to go through an army checkpoint.  It was the end of the working day and we saw many Palestinian day laborers going back in the other direction to their homes and families, a powerful reminder of the impact of decisions made 50 years ago that reverberate today.

And, of course, our nephew's Bar Mitzvah is all about a dialogue with time in and of itself.

We were able to visit with friends whom we have known for years and relatives and hear their perspectives on how the country changes with time.

For me, that is the best part of traveling to any place, but particularly one that you have visited multiple times, where you get to hear how people's perceptions have changed (or remained constant) over time.

I've been on a bit of a time kick recently, trying to reconnect with the innate knowledge that all time is precious, limited, and of unknown quantity...which is why it should not be squandered.

The exhibit, like the country of Israel itself, was a great tool to help me do that.

Our dear friends, Jeremy and Tamar Lustman
(yes, same name, just more popular)

Inside a fish tank at the new Israel Aquarium in Jerusalem

Team Finland in the surf on the Tel Aviv beach

With our great family friends, Sue and Max Singer plus my cousin, Caroline Mendelsohn

Monday, August 13, 2018

The first rule of airline travel...

is don't get on the plane if you can't handle delays.

We were supposed to leave Dulles at 12:30pm on Monday for a flight to Toronto.
From there, we were going to catch a 4:50 flight to Tel Aviv.

Well, our 12:30 flight didn't leave Washington until 7pm.

This was after 2 weather delays, 3 different captains and 3 different first officers (they "timed out"), a missing passenger after we deplaned and reboarded, a few refueling incidents, and a few other false starts.

By the time we got to Toronto, our bags were not available to us (they were checked through and apparently in some warehouse at the airport), pretty much every hotel was filled up (due to storms), United's supposed 1k Premier service team was unavailable to help or offer vouchers, and the 5 of us ended up in a Marriott 8 miles away in a room meant for 4, having done our dinner shopping at Walmart.

We were *this* close to sleeping on the floor of the airport, but we made it and (hopefully), will be on our way to Israel tomorrow.

I will say that I was thrilled at how Team Finland responded to the adversity, with a great attitude.

And now, we get to hang out in Toronto for 17 hours.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Why can't local government outsource?

A few years ago, I suggested that it would be cheaper for state governments to outsource backoffice operations to other countries.  It seems like Montgomery County outsources to Pennsylvania. 

The money isn't kept local anyway, so what's the difference?

Sunday, July 29, 2018

On being the father of the Bar Mitzvah Boy

We're coming to the close of one of the most meaningful weekends of my life.

Yesterday was my only son's Bar Mitzvah and I doubt that I can ever put into words how I felt at the moment where I knew he was coming through like a champ.

My friend Ari Goldberg made eye contact with me during the service, when I stood next to Paco who was reading the Torah, as I was just trying to take it all in. Afterwards, he made a perfect comment.

"The best part for me," he said, "was seeing the pride on your face."

He was right. I felt so much pride FOR Paco.

I  knew he was prepared going in.  In my house, I have the LeBron James of Bar Mitzvah tutors (the NFO) so I was pretty confident in our game plan. But, as we all know, game plan is one thing. Execution is another.

Well, and I don't think I'm just saying this because I'm the proud papa, the boy (sorry, man) delivered big time.

Over the course of the day, Paco and I used a number of sports metaphors to get ourselves ready.

Before heading over to synagogue that morning, I said, "pal, I know you are ready, but remember this... 'big time players show up in big time games.'

The pressure didn't faze him.

As he was about to "go on," he turned to me and said "Ok, Abba, One Shining Moment."

Then, he began to chant his portion of the Torah to perfection. At about the halfway mark, I said to him, "man, I knew you were ready, but you are killing it. It's like one of those SportsCenter home runs that they track for 450 feet to the upper deck."

I heard comments such as "Grand Slam" and my favorite one, from my brother, who after listening to the 2nd aliya (section) which was ridiculously long, said:

"you know, I wasn't really dialed in, but then I kept saying to myself, 'whoa, is this one still going on?

By the time it finished, I had that feeling of when you're at a baseball game and you look up in the 6th inning and you realize you are watching a no-hitter in progress."

Yep, that was pretty much it.

I realize that this may seem boastful and if it is excessive, I apologize, but I think all parents want to know that their kids are going to "be ok" and while there are no guarantees, one of the things you look for, and which is valued most of all in life, is "can the person get the job done?"

What I saw yesterday is that Paco, when he puts his mind to it, got it done.

In fact, right before his speech, the NFO pulled him aside and said, "ok, now remember, you need to go slow, be loud, and be clear."

Paco looked at her and said simply, "Ima, I've got this."

And he did.

I'm not the most emotional person in the world, but I couldn't help but tear up on multiple occasions over the course of the day as I thought about the passage of time and what I saw him do.

I was particularly emotional because I was thinking about my grandfather, Stanley Robinson who, 13 years earlier, in the exact same place in the same building had served as the "sandak" (godfather) during Paco's bris (ritual circumcision).

Now, 13 years later, my grandfather wasn't there, but I knew he would have been exceedingly proud of what his great-grandson had done, how hard he had worked and how he did it with style and grace.

It was a magical feeling that I didn't want to end, even though I knew it would.

As my friend Dave said, "today was his day and he seized it.   He'll graduate from high school, but share that with friends. He'll get married and share that with someone else, but today was about him and he made the most of it."

Of course, there are no guarantees of the future and hopes don't always become reality, so it makes it even more special that the hope we had 13 years ago when he had his bris that he would make it to his Bar Mitzvah and do us proud was realized.

I feel so blessed and grateful and thankful, particularly for my wife, the NFO, who has been the best mother possible for all 3 of my kids and did, no joke, 99.4% of the work in making the day possible. 

She is the one who taught him how to read Torah, Haftarah, how to lead the Musaf service, and wrote his speech with him (on top of pretty much everything else).

When my kids look back at their lives, I hope they will think of the things that I did for them, but what they really need to realize is how much of their identity is shaped by the woman who has spent every minute of every day for their entire lives thinking only about their welfare and growth.

I am fairly confident they will.

It's late and I'm pretty wiped out and tomorrow, sort of sadly, we start to get back to our normal routine. I'm going to do what I can to hold onto this feeling for the rest of my life because it is one of the best.

When Tonka had her Bat Mitzvah, I was incredibly proud of her as well, for all the same reasons. She crushed it, too, but I think I was less present because, it being our first event, I was probably too focused on the mechanics and not enough on the meaning. That's my fault.  (Sorry, Tonka. I owe you one!)

My kids keep me grounded and help me grow as well. That may be one of the best parts of the job.

With that, I'll sign off and leave you (if you're still reading) with the speech I gave yesterday to Paco.

Paco Bar Mitzvah Speech

I am told that, at my bris, my dad said something along the lines of “now I have my kaddish.” 

With a son, at least according to Jewish tradition, there would be someone who could commemorate him with the traditional memorial prayer during the year of mourning following someone’s passing.

Fortunately, I haven’t had to do that yet and G-d willing, it will be a long time before I have to.

But I have never looked at Erez, aka Paco, aka Jokinen, aka Maximus, aka Spencer in that way.

Instead, I have looked at him as a ‘mini me’ at times and a sports playmate as others.

I will admit that there were times when I have enjoyed watching him and just knowing that he said something for the sole reason to get under his sisters’ skin or to poke fun at his mother (not that I approve of this behavior, of course).

But what I have really discovered is that my son is actually, in many ways, already a better version of me than I could ever hope to be.

Probably because he has [name redacted] NFO as a mother, right?

It’s always been there, I suppose, but within the past year I have really come to appreciate how special my boy, sorry young man, is.

I want to share two anecdotes that I think represent two of his sides. One quite sensitive and one quite pragmatic.

A few months ago, I think it was in January, we were all watching the afternoon news on a Friday before Shabbat. We typically end up doing this after the family viewing of the crowd favorite, the Ellen DeGeneres show.

The lead story was about a fire somewhere in Prince George’s County or something like that.  I said something like, ‘ok guys, let’s turn the channel, this isn’t so interesting.”

Paco turned to me and said, “Abba! What is wrong with you? These people just lost their homes and they are outside in the freezing cold. Where is your compassion and empathy?”

Yep. That’s my boy.

Not afraid of confrontation, regardless of the challenge and with a huge heart to boot. 

It was at that moment that I realized that Paco is far more sensitive than I am now and maybe ever will be. 

And it was in that moment that I realized how much I have to learn about life by listening to him.

Soon thereafter, we were walking to shul together. It was around February since we were talking about Nitzahn’s birthday. Actually, that’s not really a good indicator since we talk about Nitzahn’s birthday in our house for 11.95 months out of the year, but I’m pretty sure it was early February.

We had just discussed her birthday party and Paco said something to me like “hey, how come you don’t make birthday parties for me anymore?”

To which I said, “I’m making a huge birthday party for you, man, it’s called your Bar Mitzvah…and then I’m done.”

Paco then said, “yeah, I guess that makes sense. Becoming a man means you pay for your own birthday parties.”

That’s one of the things I really admire about Paco. He’s pragmatic and logical as well. When you explain something to him, he’s of sound enough mind to say, “yep, I see that. Ok, I’ll change my mind.” 

I think that is a great aspect to him.

Another wonderful aspect to him is his immense sense of curiosity.

For as long as I live, one of the phrases of his that I will most cherish is this….

“Abba, I have a question.”

He says that to me, at least a few times a week, and they are never simple, surface level questions.  He likes to probe issues deeply and does not accept them at face value.

(Admittedly, there are times at school where not every teacher has loved this attribute, but that’s ok).

Paco has internalized the saying from Pirkei Avot, “eizehu Chacham, Ha Lomed mi kol adam.” 

“Who is wise? He who learns from everyone.”

As a result, he’s learned some critical maxims about sports, politics, and much of life… “follow the money.”

He’s learned that heart, passion, and grit can do more for you on the basketball court and in life than pure talent alone.

He’s learned that it’s not about making mistakes, but how you respond to adversity.

He understands that “game awareness” and sensitivity to context is critical for success.

He respects time. He respects organization. He respects pragmatism.

And he respects relationships.

A few months ago, a friend of mine was visiting from Switzerland and the two of us had made a deal where he purchased some of my airline miles for cash.  But, as is my style (and my friend’s as well), we began an entire analysis of the transaction that sought to account for as many variables as possible such as opportunity cost and asset liquidity.

We went on, Seinfeld/Curb Your Enthusiasm-like for about 8 minutes when Paco interjected and said,

“Abba, what about the fact that you guys are just friends?”

That’s my boy.

In the past year, he’s demonstrated an incredible willingness to look at himself deeply and be self-critical, but not just for the purpose of beating himself down, but rather for the purpose of raising himself up.

He realizes that versatility, flexibility, and agility are traits that will help a person throughout life which is why, I think, he has so many friends.

He also has perspective that belies his years.

There are occasions when I will, admittedly with a bit of fanfare, bemoan something like how much time the kids spend on devices or watching TV and I’ll say something like “I’m a failure as a father.”

Back in May, he said to me, “Abba, you know how you say sometimes that you are a failure as a father? Well, I just want you to know that I have already learned so much from you that I can tell you for certain that you are not a failure.”

He just says stuff like that out of the blue.

And he is grateful for what he has, something that is atypical for teenagers certainly and people, in general.

After we took a 14-mile roundtrip bikeride to my parents’ house one time, he told me, “Abba, this one of the best days of my life. Thank you for making it possible.”

What I am trying to say is that, although I may have my kaddish in Erez, what I now have is a young man to whom I can look up. I have a role model as well and I am very, very grateful for that.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

When did America's divisiveness start?

I've been thinking a lot about the recent state of affairs in the US.

This came to a head the other day when I felt like I was unfairly attacked for an opinion I shared on Facebook, though the topic doesn't matter so much.

I was thinking about Trump who, in some respects, I view as a reaction to Obama....who was a reaction to Bush and so on.

I went all the way back to 1991.

End of the Cold War.

I have a friend in Israel, Anat, who said to me once "the big joke here for the Arabs is that they don't realize that if they just left us all alone, we would kill each other."

There is something about having an external enemy that unites people. 

With the end of the Soviet Union, the USA became the "sole superpower" as we here so often.

But, I wonder if that lack of an external enemy led the country down a path where people started turning against each other?

First, gradually, then, accelerated by the Internet and Social Media, in greater swings.

Just a thought.

Probably a lot more here, but that's all for now.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Mini- Empty Nesters

It's one of those days that you know is a milestone which, I suspect, in hindsight may be even more momentous.

Today, for the first time ever, we shipped off all 3 members of Team Finland (ages 14, 12, and 10) to sleepaway camp for a month.

The consequence is that the NFO and I have the house to ourselves.

The practical benefits are many...fewer dishwasher cycles, loads of laundry, less hassle in the evenings and mornings. Certainly, the workload will decrease.  I, for one, am ok with that.

At the same time, it's a pretty strong reminder of how fleeting, in aggregate, the parenting experience is.  With Paco's Bar Mitzvah on the horizon later this summer, I can't help but have a series of "Sunrise, Sunset" moments flashing back to their birth and early childhood.  In an instant, we are here and they are all off for a month. Soon, I realize, they will be off for a longer period of time.

As my mom has said from the beginning, "the days are long, but the years are short" and I guess this is one of those mornings where it really dawns on you just how true that is.

It's really, really tough (though I feel like I am getting better at it) to savor the moments as they happen during the normal hustle and bustle of life.

It's particularly challenging for me because of my inclination towards Type A, achievement oriented behaviors. Sometimes, I am quite guilty of losing the forest for the trees.

Then, you see all three of your children board a camp bus (where you know they are going to have an amazing time) and you are jolted back into the most present of presents. 

Last week, I was in Israel and was talking with one of my cab drivers about children and family.  He was saying, "remember, the most important thing, at all times, is to make sure that your children know you love them."

Though my kids are well aware of my overarching paternal doctrine of "I am not here to make you happy," I think they are also aware of how I feel about them even if, at times, I don't express it so well or, worse, my other emotions such as anger or frustration get the better of me.

Last week was also Father's Day. I was only home for a few hours before leaving for Israel but before I did, I got 3 beautiful cards from Tikkanen, Jokinen, and Lakkanen.  What I particularly loved about them is that their words told me that, the things I was trying to teach them (consciously and unconsciously) are getting through.

I suppose that is really all you can ask for as a Dad.  I often say that, like technology, part of my job is to "make myself obsolete," to give them the tools so that they can survive and thrive- on their own- in the world because, aside from taxes (of course), we all know the other certainty of life.

It is my job to prepare them to live in the world without me and that means that, even though it is sad, not giving them experiences of being on their own and learning to deal with situations where the NFO and I aren't there, would be dereliction of duty.

I don't know if there is ever a point that you reach as a father where you think, "ok, it seems like my mission as it relates to my children is done."  But I do know that you have to continue to loosen the grip.

Today was a grip loosening day

Friday, June 08, 2018

What the Capitals Stanley Cup Victory Really Means to DC

For the last 10 years or so, when I would talk with people around the world the sports teams in Washington, DC, I would say the following:

"The sports teams in DC are just as competent and uplifting as the politicians in DC.  You can draw your own conclusions."

For years, the teams were either bad (Washington football team) or continually raising hopes and then crushing them in heartbreaking fashion in the playoffs.

Last night, however, the Washington Capitals changed that and won the Stanley Cup.

It was more than a victory that gave the franchise its first championship in 44 years.

To me, it represented something much more and I think it was something that was felt by many others in the area.

Especially since Trump was elected, when people would ask me, "where do you live?"  I would say:  "Oh, I live at Ground Zero for the Twilight the Washington, DC area."

The animosity, the marches, the protests, the all emanates from here and the discord and anger is felt and viewed globally.  In that respect, DC is unlike every other city in the world.  What happens here is on newspapers in Budapest and Seoul. I know this because I've seen newspapers in those places.

The same is not true in reverse.

So, it was really uplifting to see an entire sea of red jerseys that represented not "red states" or "Republicans" but represented an entire city, regardless of political orientation, socio-economic class, race, or religion rally around the team.

The pictures from the heart of Chinatown (where the arena is) reminded me of the pictures they show of viewing parties in European capitals during the World Cup.

Everyone was unified about and excited for the team.

For a city where unity is pretty much the last thing we feel or witness on a daily basis and is the epicenter of so much stress, anger, hostility, and division, it was special (for me, at least) to feel like we could all rally around something in common.

Yes, it's only a hockey game, team, and championship and soon enough, the emotion of the victory will fade, but (and this is perhaps why we love sports), for a brief moment, most of us could just feel great and connected to each other as part of a larger experience.

For the long-time Capitals fans, particularly those who showed dedication to the team through thick and thin, it was an even more special night. They earned it.

But for the rest of the city, even those who joined in later and later in the playoffs, I think the victory helped us all remember that, even when there is so many things that divide us, the feeling of being unified around something larger than ourselves is something that is worth fighting for and believing in.

Let's hope the politicians a few Metro stops away from the heart of the celebration took notice. And maybe, even, notice that it was the team's Russian Captain who made it all possible ;-)

Congratulations to the Caps, the fans, and the city.  #ALLCAPS

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

On ObamaCare, business creation, and investment

If you are a small business owner or a solo entrepreneur, I am curious how you feel about ObamaCare? (If you are not in that category, you are welcome to offer your comments, but please make it clear to others that you are not in a "buck stops here" position) Does it affect your business decisions (or not)? I am concerned that it is stifling new business creation and business growth. This is topical b/c our COBRA is expiring (yes, have had it for 18 months now). Now I need to buy a group plan (even though I don't want any employees), hire someone as an employee, pay payroll and social security taxes and a payroll service provider. So, I am incurring a bunch of unnecessary costs because I have to get a group plan instead of an individual plan because of the vast differences in costs of the two plans. And that's for the high deductible Bronze. We need to set aside more than $30,000 per year to afford premiums and budget for deductibles. What pains me more than all of that (and it really hurts) is this. I imagine that there are people working at companies with employer-sponsored plans who dream of starting their own businesses and achieving financial freedom, having a shot at the American Dream and creating jobs. But, because many people are not in a position to have $30k of free cash flow forecasted for the year right off the bat, they can't "go for it." That means businesses are not getting started and jobs aren't getting created. That saddens me. And that's on top of the deadweight loss associated with this. I blame ObamaCare for having caused the increase in premiums at astronomical rates over the past few years...something my cousin Lee, for example, who has spent his entire life in the health insurance industry predicted would happen. I don't want uninsured people to not have healthcare, but I believe the way to get the money to pay for that is by making it easier for people to start businesses that create jobs and growth.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Waking up at 4am

I can't say that I enjoy the process of getting up at 4am, but I have to say that I do like the results.

I read an article in the WSJ a year or so ago about people who get up early. It seemed crazy, but I figured I'd give it a shot.

I'm kind of a believer now.

It's not easy and I'm far from perfect at it, but I'll get up, meditate for 10 minutes or so and then, the key is, DO NOT LOOK AT PHONE. 

I sit down with my laptop and that is when I do my Never Stop Marketing blog writing.  I close all email tabs and messaging apps and just write for about an hour.

It helps me think about what I am seeing in the industry.

Then, around 5:30 or so, I'll check email, various social media sites, messaging apps, maybe ESPN to see what happened the night before, etc.

Around 6, I go to workout for 30 minutes. Then, take a shower and by 6:45, it's time to wake up the kids.

The downside, of course, is you get pretty tired around 9pm, but I found that the time after 9:30 at night (for me) was not particularly productive.

There are trade-offs and I know it's kind of intense, but I have to say, every day I do it, (and there are days when I really struggle), I am glad I did.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Hearing Holocaust Survivors Speak...Before You Can't

Last night, as part of a local Holocaust Remembrance event, my family and I had the privilege of hearing the horrific, painful story of Mrs. Miriam Ingber.

Her story, like that of every other survivor, was heart-wrenching and painful.

After all this time, the pain she feels is still with her. It was obvious.  The story, like all other stories, still defies comprehension. No matter how many testimonials you hear, videos/movies you watch, museums you attend, or concentration/extermination camps you visit, it never makes sense.

I think the sadness I felt last night was even greater because of the eerie sensation that everyone in the room felt and the anticipated arrival of a moment that all of us knew would come one day, but is clearly getting closer.

That is, of course, the day when there are no more living survivors. 

It's been 73 years since WWII ended. That would make even the youngest survivors in their mid-late 70s.

I remember, while living in Germany as a 22 year old, that one of the questions I would ask my contemporaries and of myself is "what will happen when there are no more living survivors?"

And I worried that my kids would never have the chance to hear a survivor's story personally.  At least, on that front, the NFO and I have ensured that they have, but it's clear that time is running out.

And because the Holocaust is so difficult to comprehend, it becomes easy for people to dismiss or diminish or question.  Obviously that has happened and, more worrisome, will continue to happen as the survivor population ages out.

There is no easy answer and it's clear that many of the lessons of the Holocaust have, sadly, not been learned. Anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry/hatred still exist and, in some cases, seem to have been strengthened.

There are many things to do to honor and preserve the memory of the 6 million Jews and millions of others who were murdered by the Nazis. The fight is clearly not over, as if their sacrifice weren't enough.

However, I think that one of the things we all can do is to make sure that as many people as possible get to hear a survivor personally tell his/her story before they can't.

It's a regret that I think anyone who cares about justice and humanity should avoid having.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

2 Days in Seoul, South Korea

The last time I was in Seoul was 1997. I knew the city would be different when I got here (I was speaking at a conference), but even I was impressed by how much has changed.

Granted, when I was here last time I was a student and it was the middle of December and freezing. Still, a few things jumped out.

The infrastructure is first-rate. The airport (Olympics related) is immaculate and efficient. I was out of the plane and in the taxi in about 20 minutes, including immigration.

The subway works really well. I love the glass doors (I've seen this in other places) that keep people away from tracks and tell you where the train is going to open.

But I also love how they number each stop according to the line. So, for example, subway line #2 has 201, 202, 203, etc.  So, instead of having to remember a station name, you just say, "go to 214" or "403". Makes moving around easy.

Oh...and my favorite part? There are multiple wi-fi routers on every single car in the subway and the Internet connectivity is blazing fast. 

Speaking of subways, one thing that stood out were the emergency smoke masks that were available. A reminder that North Korea is about 25 miles away.

My sense is that Koreans, kind of like Israelis, have just gotten use to living under the pressure of being in a constant state of war.  Also, like Israelis, military service is mandatory for men (about 18-20 months, if I am not mistaken).

So, while it's a pressure point, it doesn't seem to be (nor should it be) a constant source of pressure.

I will say that it was a strange sensation for me to watch CNN in the hotel with so much news about the Korean peninsula...and to be on the peninsula while it was all happening.

In some respects, Seoul reminds me of Tokyo...but actually cleaner. The one thing that got to me, however, was that there was a strong, pervasive smell of fish in many parts of the city. Maybe I'm just over sensitive to it.

The roads were really impressive and the high-rises were gleaming.

All of that wealth, however, hasn't seem to be evenly distributed as there is clearly a pretty big divide between rich and poor.

I walked through the Namdeamun market and you still see a fair number of people who have much more of a day to day struggle. Also, not a huge number, but more homelessness than I would have expected. 

My basis of comparison for Korea is probably Japan (right or wrong) since I lived there for 2 years and have been back a few times.

I have only two regrets from the trip. The first is that I wasn't able to achieve K-pop superstardom (though I did hit Gangnam-with style, I hope).

The second is that I did not make it to PyongYang to talk with Kim Jong Un and try to defuse things before Trump gets here.

All in all, however, I think the South Koreans have a lot of which to be proud. 60 years ago, it was a rural, poor country and now they are an economic powerhouse with a highly educated society.

They've taken much of modern, Western civilization, but done it in their own unique way and it's exciting to see.

Friday, March 09, 2018

A $500 Cab Ride to New York

The other night, I was supposed to go to New York on an 8:57 pm train, but when I got to the train station, it was a 2 hour delay.

I was supposed to keynote a large industry event at 8am the next morning with 150+ and, with this delay, I would not be getting into my hotel and to sleep until 3am. Not an option.

Plus, the Amtrak station at BWI (where I leave from) was going to close at 9:45pm so I had no place to even sit without going to the airport.

After discounting the idea of driving myself to NYC (too tired and too many things to do) and exploring the possibility of flying from BWI to Newark or La Guardia (no flights), I ended up negotiating with Nidal.

As a side note, Nidal is Palestinian and we had a great side conversation about the Middle East. At the end, he agreed with my point that it's the fault of the Arabs that the Israelis are so strong and the primary problems with Palestinian leadership are because of their corrupt leadership.

Ok, back to the story....bottom line, by 9:05 pm, I was in the back of cab heading up to NYC on I-95. We stopped once for bathroom/gas and I was at my hotel by 12:30am.

Fare plus tip $500. Graciously, my host picked up the tab. Yay!

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Adapting to Life with Parkinson's

My first cousin describes her incredible attitude and living with Parkinson's in this video.  Watch it at 1.5 speed and it will take you 6 minutes.

You will be inspired.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Watching the Women's Hockey Gold Medal Game in a room of Canadians

I am in Alberta now and I had the opportunity to watch the thrilling US-Canada women's gold medal game in the 2018 Olympics in a room that was 95% Canadian.

I took a video because it was fascinating to watch and listen to their reactions as good and bad things happened over the course of the shootout.

Here you go.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A New Understanding of Bi-Polar Disorder

I will admit that, for many years, I had zero understanding of what bi-polar disorder is.

If I am being completely honest here, I will say that, when I was younger, I basically viewed it as a personality flaw/weakness.

Over the years, I have become more sensitized to it, but I didn't really understand it until my coffee companion from this morning, Charles Blackwell, explained it to me as succinctly as anyone ever has.

It's the difference between feeling down and worthless and KNOWING you are worthless.

The difference between feeling invincible and KNOWING you are invincible.

Read his fantastic post here.

It will, hopefully, shed some light on it for you. I know it did for me and I am grateful to Charles for his openness.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Answering my Door ....from Switzerland

Last week I was in Crypto Valley as part of the Crypto Explorers trip that I co-lead.

After the event one night, around 10pm Zurich time, I get a notification from the Ring doorbell app on my Mac laptop. I open it up and see a door-to-door salesman standing in front of my Maryland.

I proceed to have an entire conversation with him, tell him we're not interested, and see him walk away.

It was fantastic.

I generally like the Ring. I have an issue with the app on my Android, but I think that's my phone, not them.  

I don't have it wired, it's battery charged and, if you don't have motion sensor on, it can last for a few weeks. Just make sure not to lose the special screwdriver. I did and I had to replace it. I got it for free from Ring's customer service (which is EXCELLENT, btw).

This story, however, is why I bought it, so I'm happy.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

How to Get Paid to Read Emails

I have already earned $110.36 just answering unsolicited emails that would otherwise be spam.

This is the future of email marketing. You get paid to read emails.

Join here.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Gratitude Journal- Day 65: Ambien

I'm in Switzerland now for our next Crypto Explorers event.  Trans-Atlantic fights can be brutal if you don't get any sleep.

However, a few years ago, I discovered Ambien...knocks me out and I can basically function.

Today, grateful for this aid in making international travel just a bit easier.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Gratitude Journal- Day 64: scented candles

I have them in my home office and burn them almost every day. Creates a great environment for thinking and working.

Today, I am grateful for scented candles.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Gratitude Journal- Day 63: vegan cheese

Of all the things I gave up when I went vegan, I think cheese was the most difficult. That's why I am grateful for vegan cheese. It tastes just like the real thing.