Saturday, December 03, 2016

Maryland's stupid anti-Uber Proposal

Here's the letter I just wrote to the Maryland "Public Service" Commission about a proposal to kick Uber out of the entire state. See article in WashPost article

If you want to email them, here's a google doc with everyone's email address.


Please tell me this WashPost article is a joke.

Maryland has absolutely crappy cab service. Horrific.  

And now, the taxi industry, which can't compete with Uber, is giving you the bogeyman of security to do their dirty work.

In the end, we all pay higher fares, for dirtier cars, with less punctuality, and worse service.

And let's not forget the thousands of Marylanders who actually make a living (and other connections) with Uber and Lyft.

Until now, I haven't cared one iota about your commission (my bad), but if you go through with this, you can be sure that at least one taxpayer in Maryland is going to have an additional goal in life and try to figure out how to get you all removed from your jobs because you don't really care about doing them and serving the public.

The real "public service" is not to make us all pay a tax so that old, bad, poorly run cab companies stay profitable because they have the ears of politicians and regulators.

Jeremy Epstein
Silver Spring, MD

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Virtual Reality and Real Boxes

It's not a big secret that Virtual Reality is another of the truly transformative technology trends that will impact us.

The other day, my friend, Aaron, brought over a VR set-up for a new venture and he let the kids and me try it out.

There's a full album of videos here and you see how immersive it is for the wearer, but this one is the best.

If you really want a vision of the Virtual Reality-enabled future, check out this article from Singularity Hub.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How to Add Meaning to Thanksgiving

For years, my parents' Thanksgiving table has been graced by a homemade "Thanksgiving Haggadah."

[A 'haggadah' is the book used during the Passover Seder that provides the order of the ceremony and it is full of stories and songs.]

The document is full of classic American songs and poetry and help us connect and give Thanks for all of the wonderful things that we cherish about this country.

Particularly this year, it seems, many families may benefit from having such a document to use at their Thanksgiving table.

Thanks to my friends, the Kelseys, who asked for it and inspired this blog post.

You can download it here.





Monday, November 21, 2016

The Knowledge Loop

I often blog about educational systems (and their challenges) and the changing dynamics of work.

I'd like to call your attention to this post and video, where one person I really admire (Albert Wenger) talks about the age we are living in and what it means for jobs, society and more.

15 minutes...but far better use of time than scrolling through Facebook.




Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Future of Work, a Strong Perspective

For a while, I've expressed my concern about the American education system and, in particular, how higher education is not preparing our youth for the future of work.

"By 2040, I’m pretty confident that every skilled worker will have their own signpost. You will be your own enterprise, in a much more meaningful way than the lip service of today."

In this article, a forward-thinking CEO with a long history in the technology industry shares his perspective on what work will look like in the future.

It is a relatively long article, but if you care about your own career future and that of your children, I think it is worth it.


Meanwhile, college students study stuff like this.



Friday, November 18, 2016

Tony Romo: A Class Act

Growing up a fan of the Washington football team, Dallas was the enemy.

So, it almost pains me as much to say this as the pain that Tony Romo expressed in his press conference the other day. Just kidding.

The guy is a class act.

What he said and HOW he said it has demonstrated total class and grace...something America has been lacking for the last few months (as we all know).

So, it's befitting that a QB on "America's Team" (ugh, also difficult to say) should show the young kids of today how to be a professional. How to want something so bad on an individual level, but also respect your role on the team, in society, and as a human.

I'm not ready to say "better than Gehrig's," but this is one of the great sports speeches I've seen.

NFL.com (no surprise) won't let me embed, so click through.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Exogenous Shocks to the System


This is my friend, Jeremiah Owyang. On the left, a few years ago. On the right, today. 

Notice anything different?

Of course you do.

Like many middle-aged men, Jeremiah realized he wasn't a teenager anymore and he needed to get in shape.

But unlike many middle-aged men, he didn't say, 'ok, I'm going to start by reducing the glasses of wine I drink from 2 to 1 (or whatever)."

Instead, he forced a change on his entire outlook by signing up for Tough Mudder.

That goal forced him to re-orient his entire way of being.  But it was a goal that he realized that, if he could do it, it would institutionalize an entirely new way of living.

And that's exactly what happened.

In the wake of the election, we're all thinking about Change.

Obviously, the Democratic party, America, (and the world) were subjected to a completely unexpected exogenous shock to the system.

It should serve as a major wake-up call to Democrats, Americans, and the World about what's important (and I think, for many, it has).

Now, when it comes to investments of a business kind or DECIDING if you'd like to pursue a given path or not, I subscribe to the "Little Bets" theory.

But, when you KNOW you have to make a big change, I wonder if the exogenous shock to the system is the way to go?

One thing I like to say: "Better to force the change upon yourself than have the change forced upon you."




Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Innovative Finland and 21st Century Education

Much like the political concept of "coattails," companies look at increase the perceived value of their brand, by associating with bigger, more prestigious brands.

So, if I tell you I have a partnership with Nike, that's more impressive than Joe's Auto Shop (sorry, Joe).

That's why I am feeling good that my kids and I are so closely associated with Finland (and Estonia).  ;-)

Finland has long been recognized for its world-class and world-leading education system and now, they are taking the next step to get their students ready for a globalized world...by abolishing classes based on a specific subject.

You can read more here.

This goes hand-in-hand with my long-standing concern about the American education system (college and K-12), so it is good to see the leader doing something innovative.

That...combined with their emoji-driven marketing campaign (I downloaded the app- Apple + Android)....Go Suomi!




Kuwaiti-Finnish Orthodox Jewish Wedding in Israel

One of the more remarkable stories I heard on our recent trip to Israel was of an Orthodox Jew who was born a Muslim in Kuwait and married a Finnish woman whose father was a Lutheran minister.

It sounds like a joke, but it's not.

My pal, Gil, wrote the story for the Jerusalem Post. Re-printed below with his permission.

And, obviously, given our family's unique relationship with Finland, this was icing on the cake ;-)

Wedding season underway as Kuwait- and Finland-born Jews tie the knot
 
by Gil Zohar

With Tisha b’Av over, the summer’s wedding season began this week. And one of the most festive weddings this writer has ever attended was the nuptials of Kuwait-born Mark (Mordechai) Halawa and Finland-born Linda Brunell that took place Wednesday at Nes Harim in the Judean Hills.
 
Officiating was Rabbi Israel Weisel of Bnai Brak. Among the hundreds of guests were streimel-wearing Belzer Hassidim, sun-burned Swedish Lutherans who had flown in from Scandinavia in a demonstration of Zionist support and family ties, and friends from Abu Dhabi.
 
Halawa, in his mid-30s, spoke about the divinely-ordained path that brought him back to Judaism.
 
His grandmother, Ruwaida née Mizrachi, was born in Jerusalem during the British Mandate of Palestine. She married Muhammad al-Masri. a Jordanian soldier from Nablus, and the couple ended up stationed at Zarqa, Jordan. Following the 1970 Black September uprising, al-Masri – who was a high-ranking officer in Jordan’s Arab Legion - was cashiered when King Hussein purged his army of Palestinians. The family relocated to Kuwait.
 
Thus Halawa’s mother, whose name Mark prefers not to cite, moved as a teenager to Kuwait. There she met and married her husband, whose name Halawa similarly declines to mention. Opening an engineering and contracting business, the family grew wealthy on government contracts from Kuwait’s ruling as-Sabah clan. But the good times came crashing down in 1990 when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein occupied the tiny Gulf emirate,
 
Halawa’s family, which was on vacation in Spain when the invasion of Kuwait took place, became exiles. They ended up in London, Canada, where Mark studied psychology and business at the University of Western Ontario. There in a fateful meeting at the school’s library he fell into a conversation with a long-bearded professor of philosophy named Yitzchok Block. After considerable probing, the Chabad rabbi pronounced Halawa halachically Jewish by virtue of his being the descendant of a Jewish woman. Halawa protested that his is a Muslim.
 
But the truth won out. After much soul-searching, including years at Jerusalem’s Aish ha-Torah Yeshiva, he returned to the fold of Jewish life.
 
Linda Brunell’s family story is equally extraordinary. Her father Ole Brunell was born in a Swedish-speaking village on the west coast of Finland. Growing up in an insular community, he attended seminary and university in Turku, Finland, and was ordained as a Lutheran minister. After leading several congregations across Finland, he and his family relocated to sunny Australia to minister to a Finnish-speaking church in Brisbane,
 
But Brunell and his wife Runa began to question the theological underpinnings of Christianity. Finally in 1991 he renounced Christianity and left his job as a minister, along with its car, vicarage and status. After a long and difficult path, the family converted to Judaism and made aliya in 1996. Ole and Runa became Shlomo and Ruth. All four of the Brunell daughters have married Israelis.
 
Linda Brunell works as a patent paralegal with a major Tel Aviv law firm. Mark Halawa is a businessman with extensive contacts and dealings across the Middle East. He also is a speaker on the Chabad circuit in North America and Europe.
 
“This is the happiest day of my whole life,” Brunell said. “Mark and I share the same goals, despite our different backgrounds, of building a family in Israel. I’m very grateful to my parents for bring my sisters and I on this path. And I’m sure they’re happy to have their last daughter married off.”
 
“Many people asked Linda and me, ‘Where are you going to get married?’ Is there a better place than the land of my ancestors? I’m only sorry that my immediate family isn’t here, but I’ve gained a whole new family – the whole Jewish people is now my family,” said Halawa. “My dream of marrying a Jew and establishing a Jewish home has become a reality. Baruch ha-Shem.”

Gil Zohar is a Jerusalem-based journalist and tour guide and can be reached at gilzohar@rogers.com

Friday, November 11, 2016

Post Election Thoughts

I've been very impressed by how some people have responded to this election.

Here are a few of my favorites




Ryan Shea's Twitter storm...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Job Dignity

My friend and I were talking about the future and how more and more jobs will be automated, further creating the chasm between high- and low-paying jobs.

My friend was saying, "look at that security guard. Must be so boring. What kind of job is that?"

I understood what he meant and said that, yes, part of the challenge is the economics, but part of the challenge is a societal one.

I shared a story with him of my experience in Japan.

When the Shinkansen ('bullet train") pulls into Tokyo station, the cleaning crew gets on and does their work.

Then, they disembark, line up in front of the train and bow to customers.

While they are bowing an announcement comes over the loudspeaker. It says something like "dear customers, we are honored to have prepared this train for you. Please enjoy your ride."

It infuses the job of the cleaning crew with such dignity. Some things Japan just does right.

I thought of this the other day when I received a card int he mail quoting

MLK

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” 


Wednesday, November 09, 2016

A 2000+ Year Tradition of Nicknames

Longtime readers know of my penchant and love for nicknames.

So, I took a  (very, very, very) small amount of joy at the top of Masada when we visited the section of the "lots." 

This was where the last few standing people (who had to do the terrible job of killing everyone else before the Romans arrived) drew straws ("lots") to determine who would be the final person--and thus have to commit suicide-which is forbidden in Judaism.

The sign said that the pottery shards were inscribed with both names and "nicknames."

Knowing that I am upholding a 2,000+ year old tradition gives additional meaning to my nicknaming and my efforts to instill it in the next generation.


Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Please, Please, Please....VOTE

For the American readers:

I know many people have already. And I know that many (including myself) are beyond demoralized by the choice we have in front of us.

Regardless, I implore you to go out and vote.

I've been in too many countries where people don't have the rights and freedoms we so often take for granted.

People would die (and have) to get this amazing opportunity.

Please appreciate what you have.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Understanding the Trump Voter... Hillbilly Elegy (Book Review)

I finally caught up with the coastal elites raving about Hillbilly Elegy and plowed through the 270 page book in under 18 hours.

I get it.

I'll admit that using Trump in the blog post title is a bit of click bait as this book goes much, much deeper than that, throwing the reader headfirst into the white working class world that spans much of Appalachia and the industrial Midwest/Rust Belt.

It's powerful and, for me, at least created empathy for the plight of many of these people in a way I had never felt before.

It also made me grateful for the opportunities and education I've had, starting with the basics of how to eat properly using the right silverware and going from there.

The book was equally castigating to the Liberal nanny-state as it was supportive of it.

Simultaneously, it highlighted the merits of the Conservative demands for individual accountability and problems associated with dis-incentivizing work compared to welfare while also chiding the lack of compassion for serious problems.

It was depressing. So many of the challenges are deeply ingrained and can't be "dealt with" by sweeping policy changes.

And it was uplifting. Here was a man who somehow was able to get himself out of a terrible predicament of drug abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and neglect and get himself to Yale Law School.  He's living the American Dream.

But he didn't do it by himself. There were special people along the way that helped him.

And, one of the key factors in his life was the US Marine Corps.

That part really resonated with me as I recalled my visit to the USS Carl Vinson, where I met sailors who came from equally challenging backgrounds and who, thanks to the Navy, had turned their lives and worldviews around.

It was inspiring and I have never felt better about my tax dollars than I did then...and when I read J.D. Vance's account of the impact that the Corps had on him.

When you read this book (and you should), you have a newfound appreciation for a whole class of people that inhabit America.

It's easy to just label them as "racist," or "ignorant," but Vance helps you understand that there's a lot more there.  There's a way of life, a code, and a culture.  In many ways, it's been turned completely on its head in the span of a generation and people are in a tailspin.

This election cycle has caused a lot of pain for many people and understanding of "the other" has suffered.

I think Vance's book, Hillbilly Elegy, can help build understanding and empathy, which is a critical first step to healing.



Saturday, November 05, 2016

Meaningful Talk on Real Problems

In an election cycle devoid of real meaningful policy discussion, I take a small amount of comfort in Tony Blair's reflections on (and willingness to name) the challenge that "World leaders must stand up on Islamist extremism."

Friday, November 04, 2016

Israel 2016- Reflections On A Spiritual Friday

Anyone who has visited the Western Wall (aka the Kotel) which is regarded as Judaism's holiest place knows that it is almost always a bustling sea of humanity full of all kinds of noise.

The sounds of the muezzin from the Dome of the Rock/Al-Aqsa complex will, on occasion, also punctuate the air.

So, when my friend Jeremy (no, not talking about myself) Lustman suggested that we get up at 5am to go to the early morning service on Friday for a different type of spiritual experience, I was up for it (literally and figuratively).

The purpose of this service is to say the morning prayer at the exact first possible moment.  The particular prayer is a silent meditation and can be said roughly at the morning's first light.

As we arrived, there were probably 150+ men praying in groups of 10-15. There was a din of noise as each group moved through the introductory prayers at their own pace.

However, when the moment arrived, the entire place fell silent. All we heard was chirping of the birds.

Utter and complete silence otherwise.

It was surreal and powerful. To be in the holiest place and have total quiet.

If you ever get the chance, you should go.

On our way out of Jerusalem, we stopped at the Mahane Yehuda (central market). Another place that is usually chock full of people, noise, and smells.

Since it was so early, we were able to experience the market coming to life. Vendors setting up their stalls and being able to walk unimpeded, appreciating the world of commerce coming to life, much as we had so appreciated the spiritual world awakening only moments before.

That afternoon, we experienced another side of humankind's spiritual existence.

We learned on Thursday night that the uncle of a close friend of ours was to be buried in Israel (after flying from the US) on Friday afternoon at 2pm.

Due to flight delays, the funeral didn't begin until close to 4 and with the arrival of the Sabbath imminent, there wasn't much time for a long ceremony.

In fact, it was short. Very short. And informal. Some were wearing jeans and t-shirts.

But, as opposed to some American funerals, there was an authenticity to it due to its fast pace and, more interestingly, the fact that people aren't buried in coffins. They are buried wrapped in a simple white shroud, an act which I think makes the process even more real due to its rawness.

Obviously, when you attend a funeral, you can't help but think about mortality and ask yourself questions about how to make the time you have on earth as rich as possible.

Thanks to Jeremy Lustman, I had a day I won't soon forget and may never experience again.




Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Israel 2016 - Day 5: Working the Land for a Good Cause

The history of Zionism is full of many different philosophies.  Political, Social, and Labor.

Labor's idea was that the working of the land in agriculture was critical to Jewish self-sufficiency. When I lived in Israel for 4 months as an 18 year old, I spent 2 months working on a Moshav and much of that time was in the fields, doing all kinds of work.

It was tiring and hot, but it connects you to the land in a unique way.

Now, many years later, we volunteered to spend about an hour working for an organization called Leket Israel.  [Check them out and donate!]

It was started when Joseph Gitler attended a wedding in Israel and noticed how much food was going to waste after the event was over.

He resolved to connect the leftover food with those who were needy.

From that simple act, it has grown to a nationwide organization that not only takes food that would otherwise be wasted to the poor, but also takes crops from specified fields or where the value is too low and donates it to people in need.

After only 1 hour in the sun, I couldn't help but think about the people who do this type of work all day every day, whether Arabs in Israel or Mexicans in California and I found a new sense of appreciation for their efforts.

I was also reconnected with the land of Israel, which has a special meaning for me.

But the most powerful moment of the day was when we were done and our host for the day told us, "you just picked enough peppers to feed 300 families."

That made us feel like our work had meaning.

If you go to Israel, please take some time to donate your labor. It will inspire you in ways that writing a check alone (though you should do that as well) never could.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Will Election 2016 Mean the End of the Primary System?

I've never really liked the primary system we have relatively recently adopted in the US.  I think it doesn't end up with the best candidates (this year being no exception).

Given what we've seen transpire, it makes me wonder if it is time to abolish it?

For example....

I have a great deal of respect for the principled position of pro-life/anti-abortion voters.  I don't agree with them, but I admire their principled position.

However, I've never really understood why they tend to prefer to vote for people like Rick Santorum who have exactly ZERO chance of winning a general election.

In my mind, the calculus for them would be that it is far better to have 50% of what you want in a Republican president than 0% of what you want in a Democratic president.

Yet, they persisted in voting for the social conservatives.

This year, however, we've seen the test of the model...would they support a Republican candidate who is basically pro-choice (or whatever he stands for-who knows) over a Democrat?

The answer seems to be yes.

So...why not do away with the whole thing and have the party elite just draft the best player available?

The primary system we currently have essentially is like having the most rabid fans of a football team select the draft pick instead of the General Manager and Coach. Too much emotion...not enough calculus.

Alternatively, they could just do what the Dems do and just "rig" the whole process for their preferred candidate, right? ;-)

Either way....I wonder if we should just go back to the "smoke-filled" rooms?


Monday, October 31, 2016

Israel 2016: "Raining Cats and Dogs"

Travelers to Israel know of the omni-presence of cats.

What's relatively new is the increase in the number of dogs. Tel Aviv is apparently the world's most dog-friendly city.

One answer I heard is that there's a perception that Arabs fear dogs and that during the most recent spate of "lone wolf" attacks about a year ago, there was an increase in dog ownership (as well as gun permits).

Another theory I heard was that the increased dog ownership is actually a proxy for increased wealth.

As my friend Gil said, "when you have food and housing security, you feel like you can get a dog."

Friday, October 28, 2016

Autonomous Vehicles Displacing Jobs

When my dad and I were in Nebraska, we stopped at a truck stop for bathroom, etc.

As I looked around at the showers, supplies, and more, I said to him, "in the future, this entire industry won't exist...once autonomous trucks become commonplace."

And so that disruption is now underway as Otto delivered 50,000 bottles of Budweiser.