Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Taking the foot off the pedal...

So, here's my take on Poppy's last 5 weeks.

His wife dies and he figures, "why go on?"

He rallies for the shiva period, being the social animal he is, wanting to see the love everyone had for his beloved wife.

Then, he says, "That's it, I'm done."

He takes his foot off the gas, but with 87 years of the habit of getting up every morning and wanting to live, his momentum carries him forward.

Eventually, yesterday, he rolls to a complete stop. And that's it.

I think you can probably just give up...and then you do. It's like Victor Frankl writes "you always choose how you respond."

And so Poppy did.

More on Tax Failure...

I feel a bit better, thanks to Bert at the IRS. He says I'm not as big of a failure as I might think.

According to him:

I understand your frustration with the tax code...it is truly overly
complex and is the major cause of the issues you ran into. As for using a
CPA or Tax Professional, do not despair, 62% of all taxpayers choose that
option. You are part of the majority of taxpayers. We just need to
convince your CPA to eFile.

More on Poppy's Funeral...Expectation Management

This is a Public Service Announcement for anyone attending the funeral on Friday.

We met with the Rabbi today. He has stressed in the past that the funeral is for the mourners and we should speak as much as necessary.

I disagree with this policy, but I'm not running a synagogue.

By my estimation, there will be 6-7 speakers at the funeral. Some will invariably be less interesting than others. It's also my experience that people think that 5 minutes or whatever timeframe is longer than it is actually.

My advice: Prepare yourself. Bring a magazine or a Sudoku.

Poppy and Nana wouldn't have and probably would think it rude if you did, but they certainly had no patience for long funeral services with uninteresting speeches so you could have perhaps convinced them that it was ok.

(Note: checking email on a mobile device is permitted at funerals and weddings which go on too long--defined by you)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

An offer I can't refuse...

I’ve got a certificate for 2 unrestricted movie tickets at a Regal/UA/Edwards theater, plus $10 in concessions.

Make me an offer I can’t refuse.

 

I'm looking to cash out, since we never go out :-)

 

Plus, I've got two $25 game cards (aka $50) for Dave and Busters.

Treating Commenters Right..

As you know, I love getting comments from readers on posts. Sometimes, I'll comment back.

Question: what's the best way for you to know that I've responded?

Answer: not sure, but I'm working on it. There are a few things I'm investigating, but obviously, this week isn't the best.

I'll keep you posted.

529 Update...

Ok, thanks to the collective wisdom of the Jer979 Blog community, here's where we stand.

  1. Opened up a MD (not pre-paid) 529
  2. Opened a Vanguard/Nevada 529 (into which I am rolling over the NH-high fees plan)

Thanks for all the advice.

For background context, here.

Funeral Arrangements for Poppy

Funeral Service: Friday, March 2, 2007 at 10 a.m. Washington Hebrew Congregation.

Thoughts on Poppy....

At 8.41pm last night, the following email came in from my dad:

Mom has asked me to inform you that based on Poppy's condition today and the comments of the visiting hospice nurse, it appears that he is now in what is termed an "end stage."

Poppy's condition took a marked turn for the worse around mid-day. The efforts are all directed to various forms of relieving the varioius sources of his discomfort. Poppy no longer recognizes anyone.

At 11:20 am this morning, while at an event, Tamar called me and simply said.

"Poppy just passed away."
At 11:21, the email from my dad, simply:

I just received a telephone call from Ellen that her father died moments ago.

And just like that, I no longer have any living grandparents. Almost 87 years of life came to an end, only 5 weeks after my Nana died. Certainly no one would have predicted this a year or two ago.


If I look at the person I have become today, much of it can be traced back to Poppy.

He was President of the Union Wallpaper and Paint Company and also my first employer. At age 7, I would walk the 2 blocks from JDS to his store after school (alone!) and he would pay me a quarter for whatever service I provided. I think the service was "hanging out with my Poppy."

Poppy was a self-made businessman.

He went to college for 2 years (at U of MD), but had learned about life the hard way when his father died when he was 15. Born in 1920, he was a child of the Depression and a true War Hero. Our friend, Congressman Waxman (D-CA), was kind enough to insert a moving tribute to him on the occasion of his 83rd birthday in the Congressional Record.

His days in the famed "Flying Tigers" shaped him in many ways, most of all with his questionably safe "evasive action maneuver" as he intentionally swerved the car back and forth, throwing us around in the backseat like a roller coaster, driving us home after a long day of watching football at his apartment.

His financial savvy wasn't learned in academic books, it was learned through careful study. He taught us about investments, stocks, smart management, not to be "penny wise but pound foolish" and the value of a dollar.

Another passion of his was gadgets...yes, it's hereditary.

Our outings would frequently end up Radio Shack or some other store as we played with [and often bought] the newest technology. He could fix most anything and loved trying new things out. I remember taking a great deal of pride in the fact that 6 years ago, I could IM and email with my grandfather, and he had a Palm Pilot (which he knew how to use better than most.)

He had a car that talked to him...in 1988, the first CD player most people ever saw, and was debating with me a few years ago whether it was worth it for him to upgrade the Operating System on his Apple Macintosh. Yes, we concluded, an 85 year old man did have a distinct need for OS X with a broadband connection.

He was my "go-to" career advisor and his best advice, simple, but profound is one that is eternal--Remember...it all starts with the sale. Without that, you have nothing.

Many of you have received a call from me on your birthday...know why I do that? Because Poppy had the birthdays of everyone he knew in some sort of organizer (I've just automated it a bit).

As a businessman, his credibility was immaculate and he always stuck by his word. "Your word is your bond."

But, straight-laced, he wasn't. He had a healthy disrespect for some rules and saw the jokes and opportunity for humor in much of life.

At restaurants, he would sign his credit card receipts as "George Washington" and when I was learning how to drive, we went to the parking lot at NIH, saw some orange cones which he thought would make good parallel parking practice and decided that it was our duty to "liberate" them.

My dad made him take them back.

When I do something that one might say "pushes the envelope", I say, "that is something Stanley Robinson would have done," which sends chills down my dad's (and tamar's) spine.

He liked to wager on football, not a lot, but enough to make it interesting. Thanks to Poppy, I know what a point spread is.

I learned Gin, Backgammon, and Connect Four from him, but more than that, I learned generosity and caring for others.

There's a story that he was interviewing a man for a job on the phone once and the man said:

"Mr. Robinson, I have to tell you. I'm colored."
"Oh really, what color are you?" he replied. "I don't care if you are
purple or pink. Can you do the job?"


I guess it comes down to convention...Poppy bought into it, when it made sense to him and laughed at it, healthily, when it didn't.

"Can Stanley come out and play?" is a goal I have set for myself. Youth is a state of mind.

For his 85th birthday, I made a video tribute. You're welcome to view it, but it will only be relevant to those who knew him and his social circle. It's below.

And his social circle was HUGE. He was involved in the Temple, President of the Country Club, volunteered at Sibley (where he was a HIT with the nurses) for many years, and made everyone into a friend.

Well, except for a few :-)

Apparently, there was a Rabbi at his synagogue whom he didn't particularly care for. The Rabbi died and Poppy went to the funeral. Someone said to him:

"Stanley, I thought you didn't like the Rabbi."
"I didn't. I'm just here to make sure he's in the box."

He wasn't afraid to share his opinions (athletes make too much money and they don't do it for the love of the game), but he was willing to listen to yours (even if he had no intention of agreeing) and he respected you for them.

He embraced Tamar when she joined the family and I remember the look on his face at seeing his first great-grandchild. That's because I have a picture of it. They were overjoyed and I felt so happy to have given them this moment (with an assist from Tamar, of course).

I'm kind of spent right now, so I'll take a break.


Here's the video I mentioned...





Movie Review: Dracula

Not to rain on anyone's parade, but this is yet another example of the book being much better than the movie.

Francis Ford Coppola's version of Bram Stoker's Dracula is loosely based on the story.

OK, now I admit to hating when reviewers go on and on saying that they aren't parallel. That's fine, though, because if Stoker wanted it to be a movie, he would have written a screenplay.

That being said, it was a mediocre viewing experience. I can see why it won Academy Awards for make-up, etc. and the cast (Reeves, Hopkins, Ryder) was certainly big time, but it felt a bit forced.

Again, who knows how much was because I really enjoyed the book?

Chalk one up for Vista...

On my Windows XP media center machine, if I wanted to burn a recorded show to a DVD, I couldn't do it w/Windows. I bought a program called DVD Santa, which got the job done. It wasn't the best, but it worked.

Last night, I had to burn some shows of the Backyardigans for my nephew's birthday.

Using Vista, I opened up DVD Santa and while it was sitting there, chugging along, the dialog box comes up for "Windows DVD Maker"

I figure, what the heck...

Not only did it work, and faster than DVD Santa, I could make customizable menus and text. It was VERY slick.

I am impressed.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Single Life...

Calling it a tragedy is melodramatic hogwash, but the fact that I know so many solid people who are single, above the age of 30 and unable to find a soulmate really causes a pit in my stomach.

I obviously enjoy connecting people (and getting the credit for it!), but all personal interest aside, when I talk to our single friends, I have a much deeper appreciation for what I have in my wife...despite her numerous faults :-) [which are dwarfed by mine, of course...compulsive blogging being one of them.]

This post has grown out of a serious of coincidental conversations.

About 4 weeks ago, one of Tamar's colleagues at work indicated that he was ready to start dating again following the break-up of a multi-year relationship. He's Turkish, very open-minded, funny, handsome, smart, multi-lingual, and has a great sense of humor, but he was struggling.

Tired of the bar scene, he didn't know where to turn next.

Given the smaller pool of eligible people, it's obviously more severe within the Jewish community.

I got an email from a long-time acquaintance, Rinny Yourman, who had previously written a great article (contact her at "cek AT rinny.com" for a copy) in the Washington Jewish Week about the importance of introducing your single friends to each other.

She wrote:

On my end, almost all of the single people I know these days are women in their 30s.

A few in the low and late 30s, but most in the mid-30s. Women at this age have a much harder time finding dates (men in their 30s can easily date women in their 20s, but generally not vice versa).

My female friends range in religious level from conservative to frum with most around conservadox. It sounds to me like they're all having trouble finding dates.

Do you have any single male friends in their 30s and 40s who would be willing to date women in their 30s? The women I'm looking out for live in DC, Philadelphia, NYC, and Chicago.

I keep thinking this is a double mitzvah for my friends because dating is so much harder for them than for men and women in their 20s.

And she's right, of course. May be time for Tamar and me to bring out the spreadsheet, but we can't do it alone.

A few days later, I called a friend of ours (orig. Tamar) for her birthday.

Karen lives in NYC, has an MBA, is wicked hot (don't tell Tamar I said that), and "just wants to skip the dating scene and find a guy who is serious." Basically, she wants to ask on the first date, "are you ready to settle down, get married, and have a family?"

She doesn't have time to waste (she's 38, but looks 28), nor should she. It's a crime that a woman like this hasn't found someone.

ENOUGH BULLSHIT! is the cry I am hearing from all angles...why can't people just say exactly what they mean when it comes to arguably the most important decision you'll make (kids may be 1st).

And then, tonight, I get this email:

On another note…I wanted to ask you for some help…I created this website:

www.DateJason.com

and I'd like to get your feeback - constructive criticism - what to do, what to say, how to make it better, what to include, etc.

Maybe you could also give me a quote for a "references" section of the website…examples that I just made up… "I've known Jason for 5 years and he is a really great guy." - Fran D.

"Jason and I were in a hiking club together, I haven't known him so long... But can that guy climb rocks!" - Todd M.

Also - feel free to pass on to any eligible bachlorettes :)

What to do? How to help?

Of course, if you're interested in any of the folks listed here, leave a comment and I'll see about facilitating :-)

[Tamar and I reserve the right to discriminate about potential matches based on perceived 'fit'] This refers to the B-52/Tomahawk Theory of Dating (basically 'carpet bombing' of potential mates vs. 'precision guided' suggestions.]

I may not be a failure...


...but I feel like one. I've thrown in the towel.

IRS: 1, Jeremy:0

After 90 minutes of pulling my hair out on Sunday night, I'm giving up on another one of my quixotic pursuits (at least for me) to do my own taxes this year.

Somewhere between trying to figure out the breakdown of the shares I sold between ESPP and ISO and TurboTax online hanging/crashing on me, I said, "this is enough."

I can make the $700 I'm going to save in the the time I'm devoting to doing my own taxes.

Or at least I tell myself that...

The other justification I am falling back on is by quoting the "Millionaire Mind," where the author cites a key differentiator of millionaires as willing to pay for "education, health, and financial advice."

And the last justification...I struggle with work/life balance to begin with, I don't need the stress of having to spend 15-20 hours of my time at home on something I hate. So I pay for the convenience of having someone else do it. Opportunity cost? Maybe, but life's short, I'd rather hang out w/my kids and wife.

So, Nancy (my accountant), you win, because I am a loser (or at least I feel like one).

I'm not a millionaire, but as I tell Tamar about cooking, laundry, and grocery shopping..."these are not my core competencies, so I have no choice but to outsource them."

I don't mind paying for solid advice.

As a citizen, I mind that I can't get this job done in 2 hours or less. And I sing this song a lot.

I guess I don't do well with life's guarantees (at least when it comes to me). :-)

At the very least, maybe I can get Nancy to do e-filing so I don't feel like I'm not living consistent with my values. And, perhaps I can convince her to give me a discount b/c I sent her a referral! :-)

The value of blogging...

Or perhaps Blog ROI might be better.

Had an intro call with a new business partner. He made my day by telling me that he'd read this blog and it wasn't the "usual PR junk you would expect from Microsoft."

To paraphrase, he found it "entertaining" and he could see that there was a real person at Microsoft who was going to work for his success.

Doubly pleasing because this is the point of the book that Dave Sobel at Evolve sent me called Naked Conversationsco-written by famous Microsoft blogger, Robert Scoble (with Shel Israel), arguing for the power of blogging and the ability to change the ways that companies interact with their customers and partners.

I've gotten some value out of the book (about 40% of the way done) but arguably it's more for the newbie. I'm a believer, so Scoble and Israel are preaching to the choir. However, if you're interested in the power of blogs, this is a good read for you. 

 

Book Review: Around the World in 80 Days...

I'm sure there are those out there who love this, but I couldn't get into it.

Halfway through the first tape, I threw in the towel. Time is too valuable.

Classic Calanit Comments...

Here are a few from the past few days..

  1. "Sarah, you don't like All-Bran?"
    (Calanit, who likes to mix Granola and Cheerios with it, was surprised that her 3 year old friend didn't share her taste for it.)
  2. "If you don't let me snuggle with you, I'm going to be really angry!"
  3. "When you are 34, you are going to be able to touch the ceiling." 
    (not familiar with the concept that people stop growing at some point) 
  4. "You cannot make a pishy or a poopy in your underwear at work, Mommy. Do you understand me?"

Daylight Savings Time Advisory...

Folks...you've probably (hopefully) heard about the change in the Daylight Savings Time. If you're a technology user (and you are, if you're reading this) regardless of product, it will affect you.

If you use Outlook at home (without Exchange Server), here are the instructions, and here is the full article.

For small business, home, or consumer computer users running Windows and Outlook but not Exchange Server:

1. Apply updates to Windows operating systems
on individual machines. Windows operating systems KB article 931836

2. Run Outlook Time Zone Data Update tool.
Microsoft Download Center

NOTE: The tool should be run as soon as possible after updates are applied to ensure consistent application of DST rules.
Outlook Time Zone Update tool

A Purple Cow?

With call out to Seth Godin for the concept, check out this resume

This is how you do it!

Props to Michael Eisenberg's blog.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Fatherhood 15....

Ok, we all know the "Freshman 15"

I'm introducing the Fatherhood 15.

Definition: all of the food that your kids leave on their plates which you either eat because

  1. you can't stand to let it go to waste
  2. you spend most of your life in the kitchen and you can't help yourself
  3. you're always exhausted and you need it for the energy to watch the kids afterwards

Call out to Aton Teitelbaum for the inspiration. 

Jewish Blogography...

I've played the game of Jewish geography hundreds, if not thousands of times, but I've never had the connection be a blog...until last night.

Went to my sister's 28th birthday party at her boyfriend's apartment. Since Dina was born on Feb. 22nd, which George Washington's actual birthday, the theme was Presidential. They did a great job of decorating.
Anyway, I started talking to Sandra (left, obviously) and my sister, Kira, says, "watch what you say, it may end up on his blog."

The conversation, not surprisingly turned to blogs, and after giving them the Jer979.com address, Sandra, said, "hey, do you read Michael Eisenberg's blog? I think I saw a comment you left there."

Further proof of the community building elements of blogs and how we're all connecting through communities of common interest.

It's a nice twist on the original game of "do you know so and so?"

Now, it's "do you read so and so?"

And it was only later that I realized that Tamar and I know Sandra's sister, Susan. Small world, eh?

Bonus Material on the Get Together
And for those who are interested, here are my sisters with their close friend, Yonat, and just to get people riled up, an updated picture of Dina and Eli (here's the earlier one).


Old-School Community...

Two weeks ago, as Calanit and I read the Shabbat Book, we came across an interesting comment.


"It may seem strange that we need laws in order to be free, but we do Laws are much more than a list of do's and don'ts. They create experiences that shape the people who live by them...For example, observant Jews do not drive or ride in their cars on Shabbat. This means that they must live close enough to theirsynagogue to walk to it. The result is that observant Jews end up living in the same neighborhood...so the rule creates a community."
Tamar and I were flabbergasted by the outpouring of generosity following Erez's birth (here) and over time, we've been blessed to have more and more interactions with so many people who share our values.

There's a huge amount of conversation among the Internet digerati (and me) re: online "communities"-what they are, how to create them, how to profit from them.



As big a fan of the online world as I am-and I am a huge one--I have to say that the chance to feel the warmth that emanates from those with whom you are actively building a real-life, physical community, is a great one.

Everyone (well, almost everyone!) cares about the welfare of each other (some more than others :-), of course), so it's particularly nice to have a chance to get together outside of the normal routine and just enjoy each other's company.



No kids, no synagogue duties, no (obvious) pretense...just a casual chance to hang out.
Kudos to Nechuma/Aaron for a great evening (loved the house decor, particularly the color of the dining room walls) and to everyone in our community whose birthday we were celebrating at the February Group B-day party--and to those who came out to join in the fun.

For more observations on community, see here.

Unintentional Feed Congestion...

An apology to those of you using RSS to read the blog.

Why?

I've been using the Flickr stream all wrong. It should be a place to upload interesting pics of universal appeal (like the Tibet one here). Instead, I've been using it as a photo-sharing service.

It clogs up your RSS feed w/irrelevant pics. My bad.

No more. From now on, if it's of universal appeal w/a comment, I'll Flickr it. If it's pics of people you don't know, it won't go there.


Now, if you aren't on the RSS bandwagon yet and want to be, there are a few options.

I use the combination of Internet Explorer 7 and Office 2007 because I can read the feeds in either e-mail or the browser and they are in synch. (Not because I have to!)

Here's my feed.
How to subscribe to an RSS feed in Internet Explorer 7
  1. The site you're visiting must offer RSS feeds. Internet Explorer 7 will notify you of a site that offers RSS by illuminating (in red or orange) the RSS feed button on your toolbar.
  2. Click the red/orange "Feeds" button to see a list of articles that are offered via RSS and subscribe to them by clicking "Subscribe to this feed" in the upper part of the screen.
  3. You can see all the updated content on this site by looking in the Feeds section of your Favorites Center each time you open Internet Explorer 7.
If you'd like to read about a few others and/or try them out, here's one overview article.

Peace = capitulation

A sad, interesting and accurate cometary on the Middle East.

Interesting Times: Peace = capitulation Jerusalem Post

A budding artist in my house...

Since reading "A Whole New Mind," I've had more appreciation for Right-Brained individuals.

We've see what Calanit can do with Digital Art.

Here's a more traditional effort. We really liked it.

And yes, it's in the art gallery.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?

We celebrated Barak and Rebecca's engagement on Sunday night by going around the table and having everyone offer his/her opinion about what makes a great wedding.

I thought my brother Asher did it best when he said, "plan it as if you were a guest."

I've got my own opinions, of course.

Long-term care...and investing

Went to spend some time with Poppy yesterday. He's not doing so well. We're concerned he may be blind. He still has a sense of humor, or at least, he's unintentionally funny.

As I assisted Daisy in moving him from the wheelchair to the bed, I thought back to last Saturday morning when I was talking to Michael Herskovitz about the number of funerals/shivas he's attended recently.

He was quite pensive about this stage in his life and the passage of time. He mentioned, almost in passing, that his company was offering him the opportunity to buy long-term care insurance.

When I looked at Poppy and the amount of care he requires and thought about the coming boomer aging avalanche, you know what I thought?

Is there a mutual fund that tracks long-term care insurance companies?

Let me know.

Treadmill Advice...

We may be in the market for a treadmill. If you have advice/suggestions on how to obtain one, post a comment, please.

 

Thanks!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

NetBank...concluded

Well, it looks like I overreacted (a bit) with the whole NetBank missing check issue.

Let's say the check I deposited was for $180.

Turns out I wrote $18 on the deposit slip, so the first go around was a deposit for that amount. Then, the next person down the line saw the error and credited my account the remaining $162.

So, I was looking for 1 deposit for $180.

Instead there were 2 deposit line items ($18 and $162). Never occurred to me that they would be one and the same.

Anyway, Jeff, the customer service (we still need to talk re: the security measures :-), has been an absolute hero. He's totally taken ownership of this situation and made me feel more love than I would ever feel at any other bank.

So, bottom line, the cash is in the account (my only knock would be...why not go back and change the number to the 1 line item?), NetBank is an AWESOME bank, and the power of the Blog to get your issue noticed is unrivaled.

Book Review: Everyman

"Old age isn't a battle, old age is a massacre."

Philip Roth's "Everyman" is a book about life, but really about death. It's about a guy who is consumed with the idea of death and how it all ends. It was short and the writing was VERY raw, but I really enjoyed it.

Another line that stuck with me: "When you're young, it's the outside that matters. When you're old, it's the inside that matters." 

Showing the customer love..

Went into the T-mobile store to buy a new bluetooth headset.

I said, "Hey, do you have a discount for existing customers?" (it would have been nice if they asked me first, but hey, I'm aggressive.)

The rep, Leo, says, "what's your cell number?" Then, he credits my account $10. Not a huge amount, but a really nice gesture.

Little things, they go a long way to making customers feel appreciated.

Marketing Idea for the Dry Cleaner...

If you've got a stain on a shirt at the dry cleaner, they take one of these stickers and put it on the location of the stain. Makes sense, right?

My idea...give the stickers to their customers.

That way, when I spill something, I put the sticker on myself. I feel better that it won't get missed by the dry cleaners and odds are, I'll go back to the same dry cleaner. (Of course, any dry cleaner can see the "stain" sticker, but only one of them will give me more.)

It was enough of a good idea to get 2 shirts cleaned for free :-)

Snowhenge +1 week...

A time to build....a time to melt.


Here's last week's view.


Free Tibet License Plate...

Never saw this one before...driving a political message approved by a state. Interestnig.

Blog readers have spoken...

The vocal majority have spoken. They hate the "summary/full"format as shown here.

It's gone.

See, I admit when I'm wrong :-)

The unexpected "poop"

Not for the faint of heart....

For 6 months we've been focused on getting Calanit potty-trained. We've encouraged her and we've backed off. She's got a star/heart sticker-based incentive system (you can guess what the hearts and stars are for).

Progress, but slow.

Monday night, Erez gets out of the tub, points to the potty, sits down, and proceeds to go full #2 in his own 'ode to metamucil' :-)

And Tuesday night, a #1.

We were flabbergasted.

At this point in parenting, you kind of expect each kid to follow the same developmental trajectory, so when they don't, it's kind of surprising and eye-opening-like having kids to begin with.

Not prioritized....

When you get home at night, do you focus on the priorities?

Or do you focus on what you'd like to do?

Uh...for the past few nights, I've been in the 2nd group.

On the top of my personal to-do list this week has been taxes and writing my part of the Purim Spiel (I'm working on an Apprentice spoof).

Instead, however, my mental efforts have been consumed around solving the technical challenges arising from the installation of Vista on my primary computer.

I would imagine-hope-that others have similar pursuits. That might make me feel better about the time and obsession I have around solving this problem.

You see, I'm consumed by a few ideas:
  1. i can solve this problem
  2. i don't want to spend a lot of money to solve the problem
  3. I can't rest until I solve the problem
My non-working hours have been focused on the various ways to tackle this challenge. I like the thrill-hanging out there-of conquering it and am willing to put up with hours, yes hours, of frustration.

I feel that those hours of frustration are what build my credibility as the technologist I perceive myself to be. I've "been there" so I can speak with some authority about the issues you might be facing.

At least that's how I justify it to myself.

The good news is that I've overcome the first major hurdle (this is relating to using my Xbox as a DVR) and I'm waiting for my one purchase before going to step 2.

The bad news is that I probably should have done more of the high priorities first.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Appreciating the Jewish Birthright...

An inspiring video about Israel and the Jews...

Appreciation for a job well done...

My father in law is going to be retiring in 1.5 years after more than 30 years of service to Temple Israel in Albany.

Love the grassroots efforts to show the love! Link to THANKRABBISILTON.ORG

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More on Contextual Commerce...

The more I think about it, the more it is becoming clear that blog marketing is going to be a MAJOR driver of commerce as we move forward.

Why?

I look back at last week's interchange between Tom and Kira. Then, I look at the comments around tax season.  Finally, I am looking at my posts around Vista.

My brother Asher challenged me on the Vista posts saying that I was convincing people not to upgrade because of some of the challenges that I was facing.

I told him, "look, I have to be authentic first and foremost." If I am not, people won't read.  I think Vista has a lot to offer and yes, my 4 year old printer won't work, but most peopled don't have the Xbox issue I have, so it's up to them, but they have the facts and they trust me."

If I put my brain on the blog and facilitate commerce (and by the way, you should check out my del.icio.us links, it's like a 2nd part of my brain online) within a trusted environment, we are all better off, aren't we?

Then, the question arises: what about sponsored posts (like this one)? Does that harm my integrity?

Well, I'll leave it up to you to decide if I'm just shilling for a product or actually providing some value-added analysis...and the best part, you can vote with your mouse.

How do I know that blog marketing is taking off?

I can see that the $ value of the offers on PayPerPost (more here) have gone up over time to upwards of $1000. That means that the market is responding because it is paying off.

The value of oral history...

Of my mom's many skills and talents is that of oral historian. In fact, she wrote a book over 20 years ago called Record and Remember designed to help the novice conduct an interview of a family member.

Around that time, she arranged for my Nana to be interviewed. First, it was on tape, then transferred to CD. I copied it to my hard drive and by chance, during the "shuffle" on my music player today, a portion of it came up.

Nana was talking about how her father (aka "Pop Pop" to me) had been interviewed but she (Nana) didn't have the strength to listen to it because it would make her sad that he was gone.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to listen to Nana's voice today and while it made me sad that she was gone, it made me glad that my mom/dad had insisted that she (and Poppy) undertake this initiative.

(BTW, the Amazon reviews of my mom's book are a bit harsh...come on, she wrote it in the pre-PC era!)

Lesson learned: if you have the chance...get your older relatives interviewed on tape/cd/mp3/digital before it's too late.

You can thank me later.

Your name in Hebrew...

Found this site. You type your name in English it gives you a jpg with the way to write it.
Here's mine(although my Hebrew name is not the same as my English one).

Monday, February 19, 2007

New way to read the blog...

New blog reading format. You need to click "Read More" to expand posts. Try it now!

Let me know if you like this new approach or not. The idea is to make it easier for you to quickly skim topics.

It's tax season...

A few weeks ago, I met the guy from the IRS who is in charge of the entire e-file program. According to him, 55% of Americans use e-file...and believe it or not, I am not among them.

Yes, it is true. I, who scan everything, and live the digital lifestyle to the fullest use paper. Or, should I say, my accountant-who doesn't want to use e-file, does.

It's actually caused me sincere emotional pain because not e-filing is completely inconsistent with my world outlook.

A few years ago (3, I think), I bought and tried Tax Cut. I gave up in frustration. As a citizen, I was angry that I couldn't figure out how to do it all by myself.

So, Bert DuMars of the IRS tells me how easy it is, how it's just an interview and how he's been working with all of the companies to make it that much easier.

About 2 weeks later, I was reading the RSS feed from Fred Wilson's blog and there was an ad for TurboTax in it (proving that the online ad model has potential, I suppose, despite what my hero Seth Godin might say). I clicked on it and figured I'd give it a whirl.

It's painful, but then again, so is the whole process. However, there was one part where I was thrilled.

TurboTax asks, "do you have any online brokerage accounts?" I put in my E*Trade info and...WHAM!!! all of the tax info is sucked right in!

I was completely jazzed. [My actual words were "F**k Yeah!"]

But I digress...

So, here's the rub.

On the one hand, the process is an interview, but on the other hand, I can't shake that nagging feeling that by outsourcing to someone whose core competency is tax preparation, I'll come out ahead.

Now, granted, she charged me almost $1000 to prepare the return and TurboTax is $80, so there's some cushion there.

What I am thinking about doing is completing the entire process on TurboTax up to right before the e-filing. Then, sending the exact same data to my CPA, sucking up the cost one more year, and then doing a compare/contrast on the returns (and assessing opportunity cost of my doing it myself, of course)

Thoughts? Do you do your own taxes?

Understanding through kids...

Was talking to Jacob Danyali today about the change in tolerance you have for others after you have children.

Now, if someone says, "I can't make it b/c the kids are sick or I'm sick or childcare fell through," he says..."of course, don't worry about it." And he totally means it.

Before, he says, he didn't fully get it and was less accepting of how "life gets in the way."

Growing Traits..

You gotta wonder where people get their traits/neuroses from. Some are genetic perhaps (meaning environmental...your parents), but where, for example, does Calanit get her beliefs that:
  1. the "Yo, Baby!" yogurt she eats has to have a picture of a girl on it? Erez, then, can only eat the one with the picture of a boy.
  2. she must hang her coat on the pink hangers at synagogue?
  3. the order of breakfast must be yogurt, cereal, then cheese
It's just funny to observe, but I will say this...she continues to be one of the easiest kids to manage.

Yesterday, for example, she came back from a playdate-Erez was sleeping-and I said, "can you play downstairs because I have to finish doing my pullups?"

"Yes. I want to do yoga." [her own Yoga Kids video]. I guess that's a good trait to have, right?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

More on Loyalty and the 529 plan...

The post on how I feel about my financial advisor generated a email from a very close friend (blog reader, Seth) of ours who is also a financial planner...basically asking, jokingly-sort of, 'where's the love?"

I wrote..."Love doesn't get you ROI."

But then I said...

My current advisor’s transition means that I am going to have move my stuff anyway. While I am not making any promises, I am open to the idea that you might be a fit.

As you’ll see on the blog, I’ve gotten some more 529 advice. Attached
is my most recent statement….and I’m not happy.

The performance hasn’t been very solid at all and I’m wondering if I’m missing out by paying these higher fees (my Ameriprise guy says it’s part of the compensation he gets since I don’t pay him anything.) 5% for every contribution seems pretty
stiff.

For example, what am I giving away by not doing the MD one? I know the tax deduction but the argument is that the Fidelity plan gives higher returns…

Being a friend means that you have a foot in the door, but after that, it’s all business. Fair enough?

So, if you want…take a look at the 529 info, ask any questions you want to “discover” what else you want and offer some advice.


I am VERY impressed by his response...take a look at the comments section for it in its entirety.

Let me know if you want his contact info.

What's interesting here is that the fact that my current advisor is making a change is creating an opening for a competitor. While loyalty certainly does play a role, it does give me a chance to get a 2nd opinion...and if there's anything I learned from my thyroid cancer, it's that 2nd opinions can't hurt.

On choosing a President or a toothpaste...

I accidentally sent an email to Pippa who lives in NH (just hit ok for 'auto-recognize' on the To: line) but that prompted a really nice note from her.

She shared how the state is already swarming with presidential hopefuls and how people honestly say, "I can't vote for so-and-so because he didn't come by my house or shake my hand." It sounded hectic and fascinating at the same time.

Made me realize that, although we like to think that it's for complex, sophisticated reasons that we choose a President or a toothpaste, in many cases, we are fooling ourselves.

There's an old adage in sales, 'people buy emotionally and justify logically.'

You are emotionally connected to a candidate and then come up with reasons why you want to vote for him/her.

I was thinking about this because I saw the Romney's on TV this AM. While he's not my candidate, I really liked his wife. She seemed very strong in her own right and possessing a lot of personality, but not overbearing in a Hillary type way.

I wondered...how many people saw this and would start saying to themselves..."Yeah, the Romney's seem like a good couple, maybe I'll give them a chance."

Which leads me to the complex analysis of the Republican slate. Here's the rub (isn't it always), Romney could very well win the nomination and play well in the primaries, but given some of what he said this AM and the general anti-Bush/GOP feeling now (granted it could change, yeah right), I doubt he could win it all.

The only GOP person who could is...IMHO...Rudy.

Obviously his divorce, pro-gay/pro-choice views wouldn't necessarily play well with the right-wing, but Rudy's play is this:
"Vote for me or give the White House to the Democrats. Your choice."
Would conservatives 'stay home' in this scenario and forfeit the White House thinking "I'd rather have a liberal I can defeat later than a liberal GOP who might be there for 8 years?" Is it worse to have nothing or part of something? Either way, you lose the key "values" issues. I'm not sure and since that's not my slate, it's hard for me to know.

Of course, Rudy's problem in the primary is that this may be a more complex, analytical approach, harder to sell, and thus harder to convince. The idea may not be simple, it doesn't spread easily, and it made be hard to get stuck in the voters' minds.

Blog-based communities...

So, Tom reads the post on The Blog as Brain Repository... and makes a few great observations in his comments and raises a key question...how can the Blog facilitate the introduction of people within the Blog community to help each other?

This came after Kira offered her assistance for the problem that he posed...also in the comments section (despite the fact that Jacob won't comment)

In a way, the people who choose to read this blog are part of the "Jer979 Blog Community" and by participating in conversations, posing questions, offering assistance and advice, we can all be better off. For the time being, you share interests with those who, for whatever reason :-), are willing to invest their time to read (thanks, btw).

That's why I joined something called "MyBlogLog". On the right side, you'll see a few icons for pictures of recent readers of this blog. You can join as a member of the community, fill out a profile, indicate your interests, and get introduced to blogs/sites by other readers of this blog. It's a very neat idea and a good way to find out more about those who share your interests.

Whether you join or not isn't the issue, what is neat is that, as this medium develops, we will all belong to 'communities of trust' where there may be one 'organizer' but a lot of members who will naturally want to and eventually will benefit from each other because of shared interests. Very, very powerful.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Vista Install…Part 1

So, I have installed Vista at home…and here's what I've got for you.

(Note: I bought a new hard drive and installed there, keeping my XP intact for the time being).

The good news:

  1. The install was blazing fast, easy, and it worked the first time! 30 mins and I was up and running.
  2. The new UI is sweet!
  3. The same machine moves much faster
  4. I love Office 2007! A big improvement.

The not so good news.

  1. When I installed, Vista didn't recognize my sound card. I downloaded it, but still a hassle.
  2. My printer/scanner doesn't work…with no plans by Lexmark to change that. MAJOR bummer
  3. My Xbox doesn't connect as a media center extender (realize this isn't a huge issue for most), so I face a choice…get an Xbox 360 or keep switching back and forth.

If you are considering an upgrade to Vista, you'll want to use the Upgrade Advisor to identify any potential issues.

BTW…Word 2007 has built-in blog posting capability…which is what I'm using right now.


 

Friday, February 16, 2007

Romantic date...

The other night, I asked Tamar out on a date.

It was 4 minutes in length...(don't get any crazy ideas here :-), we just went into each of the kids' rooms, held hands, and stood there silently, listening to them breathe and watching them sleep.

That's about as romantic as it gets.

"Stay Married..."

Had one of my semi-annual visits to the periodontist, where I get the "royal treatment."

Two reasons for this.

  1. Deb, my rock star hygienist
  2. getting "hooked up" with a nitrous treatment (actually, I need it because I'm a nervous patient.)

What's great about Deb is her insightfulness stemming from her experience as divorcee and mom of two.

Her advice today: STAY MARRIED. (not that I was indicating anything else would happen. It just came up in conversation...well, monologue since I'm at the periodontist, after all).

"It's easy to get caught up in thinking that something is old and needs to be replaced by something that is new. But, remember, whatever is new will one day become old. In marriage, you have a built-in defense against closed-mindedness. You have someone who will change your perspective and encourage you to try new things....and if you give it the 'old college try,' you never know, you just might like it."

Deb-thanks for making me appreciate my mate even more. (more on marriage here)

Targeted advertising...

Now, I know that not every Jew is fully observant of the Sabbath..no surprise there at all.

But in an "only in America" type scenario, would you have Dave and Buster's hosting a Bar/Bat Mitzvah Expo in the middle of the day on Saturday.

Analyzing the 529 Plan

My friend, Ben Gordon (who just called on his way to the hospital for the birth of his 1st child), sent me this analysis:

  • The primary benefit of 529 plans is that you can save money that grows tax-deferred, and withdraw it to pay for college-related expenses tax-free.
  • In addition, a few states also provide state income tax deductions.
  • There is tremendous variation in performance and fee levels.
  • If your state doesn't have a state income tax deduction, generally you are best looking for low-cost plans.
  • The maximum you can fund as a couple on an annual basis is $24,000. However, there is a process whereby you can put in $120,000. Then you would file a gift tax return that states each of you is gifting $12K per year for a 5-year period, but are doing it upfront. Then, just make sure you don't gift any more money to your beneficiary (e.g. presumably your child).
  • The lowest-cost plans are the ones administered by Utah and Nevada. For instance, you can put money into a Utah Vanguard aggressive growth plan (80% US market index; 20% international market index) with an annual cost, inclusive of the fund fees and the 529 fees, of 0.34%. You can buy the Vanguard Windsor fund through Nevada for a cost of 0.65%. This is slightly higher but probably a better investment for a tax-deferred/tax-free vehicle, because it's a value-oriented fund that wouldn't be as tax-efficient as a growth-oriented fund. You are generally best off to put tax-inefficient funds in 529 plans, and hold tax-efficient funds in your regular, taxable accounts.
  • For more information, go to http://www.savingforcollege.com/

And here's a story in Smart Money on the same topic.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Blog as Brain Repository...

So, Tom, a Blog reader sends me a note:

You seem a general font of wisdom. I just withdrew an offer on a house because during inspection I found that under the ugly aluminum siding was even uglier asbestos shingles. It made me feel glad that I had a good engineer. But it also made me realize that I'm a total tyro when it comes to this whole house buying thing. It occurred to me that you might know where to go to learn up myself good on this.

I do appreciate the ego boost, Tom, thanks. I wrote back:

Best bet is to search blog archives around oct/nov/dec 2004

For example… http://jer979.blogspot.com/2004/12/on-preparation.html

Start there and see what you find…

And that's when it dawned on me...pretty much what I know, have learned, or am thinking about is now in a public repository for my friends to search. You want to know what I think about Windows Vista? Middle East politics? a vacation in Colorado?

Search the blog (it's built in)

Where e-mail may be a private repository, the Blog is the public library of my brain.

There are certain things where people may come to me or respect my opinion. There are others where you go to someone else. Everyone has something unique to contribute. Now, instead of pinging you with a question via email (and taking up your time), I search your blog, see what you've written and start from there.

It's a pretty powerful concept...your brain online...and one I used today myself.

I've started to listen to a few podcasts, but I didn't really know how to find a good directory of them or what to do.

So, I went to the blog of one person I know, sort of...I read his blog. Fred Wilson is a VC in New York and I highly respect his opinion on this type of topic. I did a search of his blog, found my answer in a post he wrote a while back, and I was off and running (btw...found a new service www.podzinger.com that lets you search for keywords within a podcast).

Instead of a Google search where I have no context for trusting a website, I now have Fred's stamp of approval, and you have mine. This adds a whole new layer to finding information online. It's about finding information based on the opinions of those you respect...within their areas of expertise.

More on Lowe's

Maybe I should call it "moron Lowe's"

That may be harsh, but today (a week later), I finally got an email response from the form I filled out on their website.

The story begins here.

"Snowhenge"

IMG_2695Big snowday in DC today. Took the opportunity to go outside, shovel the driveway and build the mysterious temple of "Snowhenge" just using recylcing bins and trash cans.

Future generations will stand in awe and wonder at the construction marvel.

One of the "wonders of the post-industrial world" for sure.

 

IMG_2687

Blog Conversations....

One of the things I love most about blogging is the ability to create a conversation with multiple people. 

Blog reader Jacob Licht hates to post comments, but here's where it gets interesting.

Look at the comments and opinions on the Powerpoint post and on the Chutzpah post.

It's enriching to hear what people have to say and to watch how others respond to them.

Jdub, RW, Gadi, Keren, Carol, Bethel, Tjada...thanks for being such vocal contributors to the conversations.

 

Note: anonymous posters do not get call outs. Come on, identify yourselves.

When am I wrong?

I love to read my wife's "O" magazine. One of our favorite columnists is Martha Beck.

This month's article is "Martha Beck's 5 Best Pieces of Advice."

One of them is "It's Good To Be Wrong."

She writes:

"Being open to new information and opinions, inviting people and events to let you know where you're wrong, is the best way I know to open the mind. I try to use the phrase "Tell me where I'm wrong" at least four or five times a day. Try it. You'll see that while insisting that you're right is gratifying, accepting that you're wrong can be transformative."

So, tell me where I'm wrong...

Children's Bedtime Story...and the Internet Era

Calanit has practically memorized the book Where on Earth is my Bagel? We read it every night.

However, there are 2 questions she raises-based on astute observations- for which we don’t have satisfactory answers. We came up with possible suggestions, but I wasn't satisfied, so I went to the source, finding the authors' home page.

I described the issues we were facing (see below) and Frances Park joyfully responded. Gotta love that customer support. So, here's my official recommendation for her book.

Original Email

1. on the page where Yum Yung is reading the note, it says “while baker oh fed the pigeon” but the picture shows the baker oh reading the note. (I think this is less complicated…the pigeon stays on Baker Oh’s shoulder while she studies the recipe)

2. More complicated, is the page when the bagel is being put into the oven….where is Beekeeper Lee?

  • My wife says that Beekeeper Lee is out putting the blanket on the hill
  • My daughter says that Beekeeper Lee isn’t strong enough and thus not involved

Response

Thanks for your note! We're delighted to hear that your daughter is enjoying our book... which all began with my own bagel-craving one morning.... hopefully she's a bagel-lover, too!

To answer her questions:

1) Yes, the picture with the pigeon and the note is illustrating when Baker Oh is actually studying the recipe.

2) your family's guesses sound good to me... or perhaps Beekeeper Lee is in the (unseen) background sneaking a taste of Baker Oh's famous rice cakes!

When we visit schools and read "Where On Earth is My Bagel?" to the youngest students, we make it an interactive experience - so that the children chorus the word "bagel" at the proper time. Each time, their reward is (appropriately!) a mini-bagel... which we either toss out or pile on designated plates (if there's more than one class). It's great fun for all. Again, thank you and happy reading!

Metamucil and Blogpower

metamucilI got some interesting (to say the least) feedback following the Ode to Metamucil post, but in further proof of the power of the Blogosphere, I invite you to read the comments to it.

I wrote back to the brand manager for Metamucil at Procter & Gamble (kudos for finding my post; ding for taking a week to respond).

Here's what I got this AM from him:

My team at Procter & Gamble manages the Metamucil brand and we got a kick out of your blog. I'd love to send you some free product. We're actually launching a new flavor in the coming days (first new flavor for the brand in over 20 years). If you're interested - please provide your address and we can send out a a few samples.

You can rest assured I'll be reviewing the new flavor. :-)

For additional proof on the power of Blogs to reach companies, see this post on NetBank and this one on LinkedIn (read comments).

Are you an A-hole?

One of the Licht's pillars of marriage is "don't be a jerk" or more crassly, "don't be an asshole."

Tamar's given me the same guidelines, particularly in light of Nana's death. "Don't give people a reason to think you are an 'asshole.'"

Fortunately, there's a Asshole Rating Self-Examination (focused on workplace). Now, I'll know how I'm doing. You can too.

Out of 24 (and I was brutally honest to the point where I was giving myself no 'benefit of the doubt at all'--or at least that's what I'm telling myself), I fell into this range:

5 to 15 “True”: You sound like a borderline certified asshole, perhaps the
time has come to start changing your behavior before it gets worse.

...and you can bet I will.

Market Madness, baby!!!

For those of you who like sports and stocks, here's a cool version of "March Madness" from Smart Money.

See: Market Madness

Book Review: Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

A chronicle of the early and nascent days of the American comic book industry, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is blessed with some of the most exquisite prose I've come across in a long time.

You really get a sense for the characters-a Jewish Czech refugee who escapes Prague inside the box with the famous Golem, his cousin in Brooklyn who struggles with admitting his own identity, and the daughter of a Surrealist socialite who...well, I don't want to ruin it.

The book takes you through Europe to New York to Antarctica and then back. WWII and the post-war era are the backdrop. I wasn't clear where the fiction started and the non-fiction ended. It was clear that the author was passionate about the subject.

A long (630 pages), but VERY solid book.

It's funny...my cousins Russ and Shira sent this book to me during my thyroid cancer treatment, but I didn't pick up until I saw a teenager reading it a few weeks ago at our friends' house. He recommended it, so it got pushed up on my priority list.

I'm glad he did...and thanks to Russ and Shira for sending it over!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Possible car scam?

I got this postcard in the mail and my red flags immediately went up.
  1. how did they know my warranty was about to expire?
  2. they are wrong--my warranty isn't about to expire

I called the company (using Skype! so no caller ID) and asked for the website: www.goldkeywarranty.com

Seems like they upload lists of car registrations and just spam everyone after 3 years or 4 years (most warranty lifetimes) and try to get you to pay them to extend it.

Seems a bit shady to me. Just a heads up.

An Aunt....redeemed

My mom has two sisters. The younger of the two will freely admit that she "gets an F as an Aunt." For whatever reason, it wasn't a huge priority for her to establish a strong relationship with her nephews/nieces. When I lived in NYC (where she lives), I would see her on occasion, and though it wasn't quite an obligation, I wouldn't say that I had the warm fuzzies about her.

She's a loyal blog reader and I've cleared this concept with her already...and I daresay she wouldn't be surprised to read this.

However, in the last few months, she has stepped up BIG TIME. She has basically relocated herself to DC and helped care for her mother (Nana) and father (Poppy). The hours she has had to keep and the challenges she's had to face are quite extraordinary.

I wrote to her the other night:

is it ok if I blog about you and your efforts w/Nana and Poppy?

It really is commendable and has gone a LONG way towards changing my perception of you.

It's a great lesson in always keeping your mind open about people...and one of the positive things that has come out of this trying time with Nana and Poppy, it is that my siblings and I (as well as my kids) now feel like we have a much stronger bond with our Aunt.

I guess sometimes tough situations do bring people together.

Appreciating the Moment...

I was sick most of the weekend and on Sundays, Tamar goes into the office.

Warning: not for the faint of heart.

The day started with Erez crying in his bed, covered from knee almost to shoulder in diarrhea. On days like these, the natural inclination is to just go into "survival mode." Keep the kids happy, let them watch DVD's, whatever so that you don't have to exert yourself. Runny nose, headache, slight temperature. It's enough to push anyone to the brink.

But, I was really moved by watching "Click" the night before. The lesson: be present...even for the stuff you'd rather skip.

I didn't always make it, of course, but at one point I was in the den and the kids were in the kitchen. I heard a chair go back and fall forward. (I've had to reprimand Calanit for this in the past.)

"Hey, what happened? I think I heard a chair rocking."

Calanit yelled back: "My chair was rocking by itself..."

3 years old...and these are the priceless moments.

Ex-President for Sale

Dershowitz writes a scathing indictment of Jimmy Carter.

I send it out to my list.

Shai writes back:

I didn't find an original source for the article, so I checked directly with the Dersh, who has confirmed.

Neat.

The Korea Times : Nuclear Arms Race in Mideast

Sobering article on the nuclear future of the Middle East.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Movie Review: Click

I was cautiously optimistic about this movie, but Tamar wasn't looking forward to it.

Normally, Adam Sandler is not her genre and the only other time we watched one of his movies "Punch Drunk Love," it was a train wreck.

However, she started watching with me and soon, we were both enraptured by the story. It's a typical tale of "how to balance work versus family," but the presentation was quite unique and by the end, both of us had tears in our eyes.

In short, don't fast forward your life.

The Netflix description explains the rest. Enjoy.

Are you funding terror?

Check out www.DivestTerror.org to see what you can do to stop it, if you are (even indirectly).

Vista in Yiddish...

If your grandparents ask, here's the description of Windows Vista in Yiddish.

Music Review: Like A Braided Candle: Songs for Havdalah

One of Judaism's most beautiful ceremonies is Havdalah, which marks the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the work week.

It's a ceremony full of spirituality and meaning.

Our friend, Gail Javitt, has put together a tremendous compilation of songs (Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and original) that celebrate this unique and festive moment within the Jewish week.

It is a treat to listen to and, I'm sure, will add to the richness of the transition from Sabbath to weekday, from holy to secular.

You can listen to select tracks and buy her CD (I'm sure she'd love that) by clicking here.

Perspective from the Afghan Front

A friend of mine from college is currently in Afghanistan. His name is Nirvana (no joke!). Sent me this interesting perspective.

Things here have slowed down during periods when it snows a bunch. The temps have been hovering around 0 F for a week at a time.. I guess the Taliban/Al-Queda just come out of their caves and say "Too cold, No Jihad today"

Sunday, February 11, 2007

More Clarity on the Middle East...

Another perspective on the "reality show" of the Israeli-Palestinian "conflict."

I like it b/c since 1991 or so I've said...the "solution" to the problems in the Middle East start by getting the West of off Arab oil.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Career Development...

My boss put me through an interesting exercise designed to help me focus on my goals. It was a multi-page, multi-hour process, but one I enjoyed. The opening section requires you to indicate: "what is your catalyst for developing the next stage of your career?"  Here's mine:

My catalyst for taking my game to the next level is to increase the likelihood that I can provide for my family at the level I desire.

There are a few components to reaching this goal. I want to always be challenged, continue to exercise my passions and talents, and never become irrelevant as someone who can deliver value.

To the extent that I can be, I’d like to have as much control over my professional career as possible. I want to deliver increasing value to whatever customers I have (both internal and external) without sacrificing the work-life balance I desire.

When I was younger, without kids, and single, I could afford to devote a huge amount of my waking hours to actual work activities. Now I am not able-and do not desire- to do so. However, I know that for someone to pay me the wage I desire (either as an employee or an owner), I need to make a significant impact on the bottom line. 

I have spent the last 10 years in a development process that, I believe, has benefited equally from raw talent as from work effort. I believe the next step-to differentiate myself from others and earn the outsized rewards I desire, will require a new approach. One that is based on smart and measured thinking and clear, unambiguous results (in terms of value delivered).

As the world becomes “flatter,” I am acutely aware of the growing challenges to the American worker (or any professional worker, for that matter) and I am looking to benefit from the opportunity of the flat world not to be a victim of its challenges.

I really enjoy working at Microsoft. The people are great, the benefits are phenomenal, and most importantly, it provides me a platform to exercise my two passions of marketing and technology. I am in one of the centers of technology in the world and as I have learned more about myself and talents in a professional capacity, I have gravitated and been placed in marketing capacities which stretch my capabilities—for the better.

The challenge for me as I look down the road is to:

1. Continue to be in a place where my talents and passions are maximized

2. NEVER become irrelevant

3. Find a course of action to build significant wealth and make an impact

These are critical to my family’s long-term goals as well as my own professional fulfillment.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Chutzpah: A definition..

One thing that always brings a smile to my face is when I hear non-Jews use Yiddish words in a colloquial expression. Nana and I talked about this a few times.

Common ones included shtick and tchotchke. Another great one is Chutzpah of which I will now give an example.

On Sunday, as a peace offering, the kids and I stopped by the Super Bowl party which I did not intend to attend.

The youngest child of the family has been dating a guy for about 3 years. I met him 1.5 years ago for 20 minutes...and liked him.

Every time I've seen the girl (or her parents) since then I've asked, "so, what's going on? It's been 3 years already!"

When I saw them around Hannukah time I said to her father, "you know, if you don't sit this boy down and ask his intentions, I'm going to have to do it myself."

I saw them at Nana's shiva and asked again. No progress. "Ok, I've got to do it."

So, when I saw him at the party on Sunday, I had no choice. My credibility was on the line even though it could be argued...I had no business whatsoever injecting myself into the conversation.

He knew what was coming. I turned to him and said, "hey, I need some help moving the car seats."

He accompanied me outside and we had the man-to-man chat I had intended. It was good practice for the day when I need it for Calanit.

Now, as for what happened...well, that's between him and me.

I daresay this is a good definition of chutzpah.

More on Marriage Guidelines...

Ueber-loyal reader, Gadi, suggested after he read "Marriage Basics" that I compile a list of marriage advice similar to the Advice on Fatherhood.

It's a great idea...so if you want to share your advice on "what makes a successful marriage" or just "Advice on Marriage," go ahead and post a comment.

In the meantime, my dad sent the following from the list of most emailed articles in the NY Times.

He writes:

Even after 35 years, Mom and I have never discussed Number 7.  

 

Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying

1) Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?

2) Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?

3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?

4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?

5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?

6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?

7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?

8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?

9) Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?

10) Do we like and respect each other’s friends?

11) Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?

12) What does my family do that annoys you?

13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?

14) If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?

15) Does each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?

And my mom responded later:

I don’t think that is true. We once had a t.v. In the bedroom for a very short time.  I, the NON-TV watcher liked it and you, the TV watcher, wanted it removed.  It went.
Do you now remember this?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Battle of the Blog..update

I've got to say that the challenger is putting on an impressive showing in the Battle of the Blog Commenters.

She's really put her heart into it and Gadi, intimidated I think, hasn't maintained his normally torrid pace.

Stay tuned...

The Israeli Spirit...

Say what you will about the crassness of Israelis (and there is much), but the spirit epitomized in this blog post by Jacob Ner-David, shows the beautiful side of the Sabra.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lowe's Misses the Boat...

I spent 20 minutes on the Lowe's website tonight (and another 30 the other night) looking for the electric cooktop we wanted (our old one blew out).

I found it and went to order it online and pay for someone to come and install it.

Can't do it online.

Then, I called the 800 number to place the order.

They had to transfer me to the store manager...in a store about 20 miles away (closest one) who told me I had to come into the store to sign the contract.

"Can you fax it?"

"No."

"Can you mail it and I'll mail it back?"

"No, sorry."

"You're going to lose the sale because I'm not coming out to the store."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

He was polite and all, but I was shocked. Digital signature? Credit Card deposit? Something like that?

This after the fact that last night I put in a request on the "Contact Us" link asking re: online purchases of Installation Services. No automated response, no follow-up w/in 24 hours.

I'm better off not buying anything there anyway.

Economics 101

A great primer by a Harvard economist and former head of the President's Council of Economic Advisors.

Jews are "Apes"

See this story about a school in England.

On being the chef...

Jeremy's homemade pizza

 

In our home, the division of labor is quite clear about who prepares the meals for the family. Not I.

A few weeks ago, however, I saw a great documentary about the history of pizza in America.

I turned my talents-limited though they may be-loose the other night with this concoction.

  • shredded Mozzarella
  • string cheese
  • yellow peppers
  • those half-size tomatoes (not cherry and not full-size)
  • some various seasonings
  • olive oil

We thought it looked pretty good...and it tasted GREAT.

Developing With Each Other...

Playing in the crib together..._1

I once read a profound-yet simple-observation that--of all the people you know in your life--it is your siblings who will know you the longest.

I thought about my 77 year old uncle Bob-Nana's brother-in this respect during the funeral.

One of the great joys of parenting that I get is seeing how Calanit and Erez are learning from each other and with each other.  Playing in the basement with the tricycle_4

Here, Calanit wanted to get in the crib w/Paco to read with him. Later, Erez helped Tonka out by pushing her around the bike.

Incredible to think that long after Tamar and I are gone, these two will, hopefully, have a great relationship...the beginnings of which I witnessed.

 

 

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Really Bad PowerPoint

If you put together a presentation...ever, you should read this first.

Link to Seth's Blog: Really Bad Powerpoint

I am sick and tired of terrible, boring presentations

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Future of Music...

Since the early days of the Internet, it has been the music industry that I have most enjoyed watching as an indicator of just how turbulent the wake is stemming from this massive societal upheaval.

Today, the next big salvo in the battle was launched by Steve Jobs of Apple. Very interesting to watch.

Availability for Sabbath Invitation...

Normally I wouldn't do this, but based on some comments, I have posted our upcoming availability for receiving an invitation. We have no expectations and my ego appreciates the perception of demand.

See the dates here.

The Loyalty Effect...

What's the value of great customer service and high quality?

Friday, I got a call from Ameriprise HQ telling me that my Financial Advisor was leaving the firm. I was taken aback. I have (or thought) I had a GREAT relationship with him. He and his wife have had dinner at my house and I've referred 4 clients to him.

Ameripise told me they had re-assigned me to an Advisor in Vienna, VA (simply put: not close to where I live). I said, "you need to do better than that" and the woman said she'd call back.

What did I do next? I hung up and called Josh.

"Dude, what is it?

  1. you are getting out of the financial advising business?
  2. you got fired
  3. you don't want me as a client anymore?

I was expecting a call from you."

He replied, "well, there's another option...I am legally forbidden from calling you to tell you. I am moving to another firm and can't reach out for 1 month."

That was all he could say (and on his behalf, I called the people whom I had referred.)

Last night, the new Advisor called to talk with us. "Honestly," I said, "we're probably going wherever Josh goes."

Now, that is loyalty, earned by years of hard work and dilligence.

Reminded me of a great book I read a few years ago called The Loyalty Effect which talks about how companies that foster loyalty are more profitable.

Looks like Josh has that system down. Let me know if you need a GREAT financial advisor and I'll hook you up.

Wedding Plans...

If you think my "Type A" controlling style is a new development, check out the 100 item project plan for my wedding.

My brother, Barak, just got engaged and asked for it, which made me think to post it.

We had 750 people at the ceremony...but only 550 at the reception. :-)