Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Living outside yourself…

Every year for the past, goodness, 25 years or so, I’ve played in some sort of “Turkey Bowl” on Thanksgiving.

I’m pretty competitive (no surprise).

This year, however, was the first year that Paco was ready to play.

He understands the game and can catch pretty well.

So, this year, I was more focused on making sure that he got a few chances at the ball than on winning.

It was a strange feeling to have.

But a good one.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

King Corn...

Continuing my fascination with the global food supply chain, I watched a documentary called "King Corn."

I just love this kind of tells a comprehensive story about something that is such a HUGE part of our daily lives (more than we even realize) and sheds a new perspective on it.

Farm subsidies, electoral politics, obesity, diabetes, civilization itself...these things are all connected DEEPLY to corn.

Frankly, for me, it's opened my eyes to nutrition and the idyllic notion of "farm grown" has come crashing down.

It's also made me aware just how much risk we are assuming in some of our eating habits.

I haven't eaten meat or chicken in over a year...and that's not going to change any time soon after seeing what I saw.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Understanding the Food Supply Chain…

Food, Inc.

Food, Inc. (Image via

We’re coming out of Thanksgiving. Appreciating all of the bountiful harvest, right?

However, it seems like those quaint images of Pilgrims that gave way to hearty farmers is nothing but an idyllic image of the past.

You know about big Agri-business and Factory Farms (“CAFOs”) and more.

Fast Food Nation took us into that world.

Now, comes Food, Inc., which was a riveting documentary further peeling the layers back. I watched it on Amazon, but I’m sure it’s on Netflix.

Now, I knew a lot of this stuff happened, but there was an awareness that dawned on me from a society security perspective about what happens when only a few companies control the global food chain…and the danger of the potentially huge external shocks to the system.

Whether you think they have an agenda (they do, of course) and disagree or not, I think you’ll agree that food is pretty important. This is 90 minutes worth the time.

Although, I should add, prepare to get depressed.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Going Back to Where It All Began…

About 15 years ago, I dropped in on a presentation at the business school of the International University of Japan.

I was a graduate student in International Relations, but had a passion for the Internet and marketing at that time.

I had no idea that my life was about to take a HUGE turn.

The speaker that day was Todd Newfield, a Canadian ex-pat who had started a company in Tokyo doing what we now would call “Internet Marketing.”

I was so inspired by his talk that I went up to him afterwards and asked for a summer internship.

“Email me,” he said (that was a sign of a good fit, since most people didn’t use email that day).

Well, I ended up working for Todd that summer.

He gave me the first book on marketing I ever read. Don Peppers and Martha Rodgers, The One to One Future - Building Relationships One Customer at a Time.

I was hooked.

At the end of the summer, Todd said to me, “come on, the future is the Internet. Drop out of school. Come work for me full-time.”

So, I did.

Now, I am going back to Japan and will be a guest speaker at the IUJ business school on November 29th.

Full circle.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bridal Registry...for Married People

Sometimes people come over and ask "what can I bring?"
Now, I just send them a's kind of like a Briday Registry for people who are already married.

And it's catching on. Just got an Amazon Wish List from a friend.

Everyone is better off. You get what you want. Your guest knows he gave you something valuable. Yeah.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sports Night...

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBaseMy friend Jacob suggested that I watch the show "Sports Night" on Netflix. Now, thanks to him, I am hopelessly addicted. The writing is superb and the moral of the stories are first-rate.

Two results of this.
1. I have a lot of animosity towards Jacob now
2. I've recommitted myself to a life of witty, banter-filled conversation
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Why do we still have School Picture Day?

I don't get it.
Saw an article in the WSJ the other day talking about "re-inventing" picture day.

I have about 10,000 pics of my kids. Do I really need a formal one from their school? Do they need to be taken away from education so that they can have their pictures taken?

Maybe once upon a time, camera, film, etc. were scarce and expensive. MAYBE it did make sense.

Not anymore.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Ascent of Money…

The book I successfully borrowed from the library on my Kindle was Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World

I’m about 50% of the way through it and am really enjoying it.

I like to think (don’t we all), that I have an above average understanding of finance, but this book has been eye-opening for me as it has helped provide a framework for how money works (on faith…it’s like belief in God) and the role of finance.

As a history buff, I also enjoy how the story unfolds beginning in Cuzco, Peru (since I’ve been there) and then taking us to other key places in the development of financial tools.

Since we’re all so greatly affected by finance (even more than I think we all realize), I’ve found it helpful to take this step back and think about the macro-forces that toss us around so often.

At least next time it happens, even though you can’t control it, you may be better positioned to weather the storm.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Yeah, I borrowed a book from the library!

I borrowed a library book the other day.

No big deal, you might say.

Thing is, I borrowed it on my Kindle.

And that IS a big deal.

Here’s how you can do it if you live in Maryland.

Since the Great Library of Alexandria, knowledge dissemination through books has been a cornerstone of civilization.

Now, the ability to disseminate knowledge but not be constrained by the actual requirement to have a physical book (sure you need a Kindle, but that’s easier and cheaper for all of us…better to give 1 Kindle to every citizen than buy 10,000 books and put them in a library).

Felt like a watershed moment.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How Southwest Airlines connected me to my grandfather…


Had a pretty special moment at BWI the other night, courtesy of Southwest Airlines.

As I was going through security, I saw about 45 people in wheelchairs going through as well.

On their hats, I saw words such as “WWII vet” and, after going through screening, I inquired.

Turns out it was a Southwest Airlines “Honor Flight” and these guys had gotten up at 4am, flown from Cleveland, taken a bus from BWI down to DC and visited the WWII, Korean, Vietnam Memorials as well as going to Arlington Cemetery (trust me, that’s a lot in 1 day) and were returning home at 7pm.

All thanks to SWA.

As I chatted with these guys about their experiences in WWII (they had been in the south Pacific), I thought of my grandfather, Poppy, who died a few years ago, but had served in China.

I literally got chills thinking of him and these men’s sacrifices on our behalf.

Seriously…it made me appreciate and “LUV” Southwest even more.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Choo Choo Trains and Other Fleeting Moments…

The NFO was away for weekend a few days ago so I was a bit more present in parenting than usual.

I like to think I am generally pretty good, but you know…

Anyway, while on the job (or at least on point), I really took notice of some of the beautiful things that my kids do, particularly in playing with each other.

I know those moments will soon be gone so, as we are encroaching upon Thanksgiving, I figured I’d document them

  • how all three of them can play in the bathtub for as long as we let them
  • how they build forts out of mattresses and pillows
  • how they line up in towels after they get out of the bath and make a Choo Choo train, dropping off each kid in their room to change into pajamas
  • how they can play tea party all together with American Girl dolls…yes, even Paco
  • how they aren’t embarrassed being naked around each other
  • how they love it when I chase them up the stairs
  • how we all get together and read the Berenstain Bears books (or any one of a number of others) and we’re all snugging together, listening intently while we do it
  • how beautifully they sing with each other
  • how they help each other out (most of the time)
  • Yep, I’m tearing up a bit now
  • how they love asking questions
  • how they are so imaginative with the Playmobil sets
  • how they are so thrilled to learn new games like chess and backgammon
  • how excited they get about dessert
  • how much fun I have when they are so excited about things like football cards, Disney princess underwear, and having a butterfly or Dora band-aid
  • and how I never thought I could love or care so much about someone else’s future

This parenting thing is a crazy ride indeed.

I guess that one of the reasons I blog is because, just in case they want to, at least I know they’ll have the chance to go back and find out who I was when they first started to know me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Risk as a muscle…

Yesterday I shared an example of rock-climbing as a way to stretch the “comfort zone” muscle.

Earlier that day, I was on a call with one of my rock star financial advisors and he shared an investment idea with me.

It was risky. Not like 99 to 1, but definitely a bit higher risk.

I like to think I have a good balance on my portfolio (I could be wrong and time will tell), but after hearing him out (I trust his judgment), I was confronted with this moment of nerves and a bit of fear.

It was that feeling of RISK.

Then, I just stepped back from the moment and said, “ok, if I lose ALL this money, will it break me?”

The answer, at this moment, fortunately was no.

Then, I said, “sometimes I have to do things that are risky, just so I keep myself comfortable with taking (SMART) risks.”

So, I did it.

Got to keep the muscles in shape.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I was climbing the walls

My friend Joe (that’s him in the picture) invited me to go rock climbing with him at the Earth Treks Climbing Center, which was something I had never done before.

That was the point.

I find that it’s really easy to stay in our comfort zones and now take on those new adventures as we get older.

To me, risk, adventure, innovation, newness…these are muscles which require exercise, so that was reason enough to go.

Given all the ropes and equipment it’s a relatively safe thing to try (except for the guy who almost fell on me-that was a bit scary), so I figured “go big or go home” and while not quite going up the toughest route (they are color coded), I did intentionally try to push myself.

Like any activity, there’s a pretty healthy sub-culture around rock climbing, as was evidenced by the number of people there and the way they dressed and spoke, for example, but being one of the older ones, I could take a different perspective on it.

It wasn’t the most strenuous workout (I was pretty sore the next day, but more because I think I was using muscles in a new way-good!), but it was a solid one.

A surprising aspect to the experience was the strategic thinking required to navigate the route in the most energy and physically effective way.

I don’t feel the need to go back immediately or buy all the gear, but it was a good chance to get out there (or in this case, in there, since it was inside) and look at life for a different perspective—like 75 feet off the ground.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What Larry David Has Figured Out about Marriage…

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 30:  (L-R) Chairman and C...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Ok, if you are a fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm, you’ll get this.

If not, feel free to come back tomorrow.

Husbands have two choices.

They can devote a huge amount of effort in overcoming their natural desire to be selfish and do whatever they want and constantly think/ask themselves “what can I do to be a helpful husband?”

Let’s call that Strategy A.

On the other hand, they can basically commit to a life of achieving the bare minimums at a low level of expectation.

Let’s call that Strategy B.

Strategy A, of course, is popular and politically correct, but I wonder if, from a Game Theory perspective, it actually yields the optimal output?

It depends, naturally, on how much effort the husband puts out and how satisfied the customer (the wife) is.

Note: It’s important to mention at this point that marriage is similar to marketing (satisfy the customer), but not entirely.

The marketplace is different.

While a husband is not entirely a monopoly provider (and vice versa), there are a lot of “switching costs” and “negative externalities” in changing providers, so it’s not a “highly competitive” marketplace.

In Strategy A, you are 100% guaranteed that, at some point, your wife will be upset with you for some missed moment of sensitivity. I am sorry, but there is no husband on the planet who has a 100% track record.

Now, over time, they may decrease, but you’re still left with a gap.

On the other hand, if you go with Strategy B (especially if you start early), you lower expectations dramatically. There’s some short-term discomfort, but like diet and exercise, it’s worth it in the long run.

Anything you do can’t disappoint, because expectations are so low that, even the slightest positive gesture is a huge victory, thus resulting in a favorable outcome.

What Larry David does, by being such a jerk, is essentially say to his wife (maybe that’s why he’s on his 2nd wife? He went with Strategy A on the first one?) “You can expect nothing supportive or sensitive from me.”

It’s all upside from there.

Of course there are those guys who are the statistical anomalies and would feel intrinsically motivated to help around the house, etc., so we’re only talking in broad generalizations here.

Battle Hymn of Tiger Mother….

Amy Chua at the 2007 Texas Book Festival, Aust...

Image via Wikipedia

My mother-in-law gave the NFO a copy of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, but the NFO never got to read it.

I picked it up and read it first.

Then, as it turned out, I was invited to be the discussion leader for my synagogue’s roving book club about the book.

If you’ve read the book, chime in. If you haven’t, chime in, but at least say “I haven’t read the book, so I don’t have all the facts and am relying on the interpretation and lenses of others to make these comments.”

So, yes, Amy Chua is intense. She’s Type A and unapologetic about it.

I also felt bad for her husband, Jed. It just seems like with all of the focus that Amy had on raising her perfect Chinese daughters, combined with being an author and a Yale Law professor…I just wondered if, you know, he ever had sex with his wife?

(Sorry, but I did actually have that thought.)

Ok, now let’s move on to the meat of it.

Here’s what I admire about Amy and her approach.

  • She instills a reverence for persistence, determination, and a work ethic. I love her for this.
  • I am in awe of her never-ending source of energy. After a long day at work, I have had more than one occasion where I say, “I just need to get the kids to bed.” For her, the day just started and, as they say about some great football players, she “gets stronger in the 4th quarter.” I really admire that.
  • I agree with her focus on discipline and accountability. Sooner or later, we all realize that life isn’t fair, that you have to deal with the fact that you screwed up, and that you are responsible for your actions. I’d rather have my kids learn that when they are in my house than on their own. It’s the difference between rock climbing with ropes and…without them.
  • I also admire her as a marketer…She tells some great stories that get people riled up…and gets them to talk about her (and her book)…which leads to sales.

I think the biggest issue, for me, is how she determines what “success” is.

I get the fact that she wants the girls to have good grades and be the concertmaster, but to what end?

Is it to have a sense of accomplishment?

I doubt it, since you can get that in many ways.

I think (and I don’t know) that she thinks that this is the path to job security and wealth.

And that’s where I don’t agree with her…at least anymore.

20, 30, 40, 50 years ago? Sure.

You got a good degree and you were assured of, at least, a middle class lifestyle.

I don’t believe that’s true anymore as we move into the truly globalized economy.

What’s more, the piano and the violin seem to be (and getting good grades), succeeding within a system of rules and I think that innovation, being the driver, of the future economy/wealth is sometimes about creating your own rules (or at least, vision).

And, of course, there’s the question of “what’s the purpose/meaning of it all anyway?”

Am I a worse-off person because I had a friend sleepover (or vice versa) in 6th grade? Was that an unacceptable trade-off?

I was talking to the Rabbi of my synagogue about the book and one thing he mentioned that seemed ridiculous to him was the notion that there was no “day or rest” in her kids’ repertoire. The human body needs rest/recovery time.

In some respects, I felt bad for her.

She seemed to want to “be Chinese” so badly and felt guilty about being in America that she had to “out Chinese” the Chinese.

Call it China-envy?

Best part of it all is that when my kids are crossing the line now, I say, “you know, I can be the Tiger Mom, if you want.”

That scares them straight Winking smile

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Flag and Story of Ep(p)stein

clip_image004Someone asked me about this the other day…so may as well share why I fly the flag of a small German town in front of my house.

My family had a cousin whose hobby was genealogy. He somehow managed to trace our family tree back to the Beneveniste family of Girona, Spain. During the year I spent in Germany, I traveled to Girona, which is north of Barcelona, and visited the Jewish museum there. The curator confirmed the existence of the Beneveniste family, indicated that they had been a very prominent family and had indeed been expelled from Spain during the Inquisition in 1492.

At some point after the Expulsion from Spain, the wandering tribe which had been known in Girona, Spain as the Benevensites ended up in Germany. They were in the money-lending business and lent money to one Count von Eppstein. As collateral, he offered up a piece of land.

When the time for the loan came due, the Count didn’t have the money and refused to turn over the land, saying that it belonged to his brother, a priest, and Church land couldn’t be given to Jews. Instead, he offered them the use of the distinguished last name of Eppstein. Apparently, the family took him up on his offer and eventually moved on to Lithuania, from whence my paternal grandfather emigrated.


I had never heard of the town of Eppstein until the summer of 1994 when a classmate of mine at the University of Regensburg where I was taking summer courses told me that it existed on the outskirts of Frankfurt.

For the exact location, see here.

During my travels through Europe thereafter, I made a point to take a trip out to Eppstein, a town nestled in wooded hills by a small river with a tiny fort on a hill, with a population of (I’m guessing) 2-3000 people.  At some point during my teenage years, my father had given me a family crest which had the name “Epstein” underneath it and which has three chevrons upon it. Interestingly enough, this same symbol was on all of the official Eppstein municipal items (trash trucks, the city hall, etc.).  I climbed the small hill to the little fort, the museum for the history of the town, and knocked. 

A woman answered. I told her my last name and showed her my passport. She was very excited and let me in for free (I thought the town still owed a lot more than that 1 Deutsche Mark that I saved, you know with interest and everything).  I told her the story and she confirmed the possibility of its veracity saying something to the effect of “the Counts von Eppstein were very dishonest and made a living of robbing travelers and traders on the river next to the fort”. 

During the year I spent in Germany, I went back twice more, once with my father and once with Dina, Asher, and Julie.  At my father’s request, I also made an inquiry to the City Hall to determine the name of the factory where the town flag was made and subsequently ordered one, which to this day flies outside my parents house and another one was recently ordered and is flying outside of our house.  It was also used at the wedding ceremony for Asher/Julie as well as for Tamar and me.

I’ve subsequently relayed this entire story to a German colleague at Microsoft who grew up in Eppstein. He too had heard that the Counts von Eppstein were not such great people. Furthermore, he asked if he could send the story I had sent to him to his friend who works in the City Hall and also to the town of Eppstein’s historian.  He has since done this. He told me that the name Eppstein comes, supposedly, from a knight named Eppo, who built a fort upon a large stone (Stein in German). Hence, Eppo’s Stein or Eppstein.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Cool App: Traffic Report from your friends…and everyone else

I saw this mobile app a few months ago and rediscovered it recently.

It’s called Waze (they have iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Nokia versions) and basically what it allows you to do is get real-time traffic and route information from OTHER drivers on the road.

Meanwhile, your phone (anonymously) is contributing information about your speed as well to the service.

So, in essence, we all benefit because we all are telling the network “here’s how fast the traffic is moving on this road at this time” (thanks to GPS, the phone knows where you are.)

I just think it’s pretty neat and potentially a lot more reliable.

Perfect example of the Mesh, btw.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Job of the Future…

I’ve been blogging/fascinated/focused on the jobs of the future and American innovation.

My marketing guru is Seth Godin. I thought this post of his was spot on.

It’s the skill set we’ll all need in the future as the very nature of organizations change from BIG to small.

Monday, November 07, 2011

How I handle the “Pick Your Brain” Question now…

A while back, I shared that I was feeling a bit conflicted when I get the “Can I pick your brain?” request.
I didn’t want to be a jerk by saying “no,” but I couldn’t say “Yes” to all of them.
So, here’s what I do right now.
I say,
“Sure, I’d be happy to chat about your marketing issue, but before we do, it would be great if you read my three eBooks CDM, Dandelion Marketing, and Grow Your Fans. Then, since you’ll have the background down, we can specifically talk about your issues.”
What I find is that this weeds out the serious from the non-serious.
I kind of feel like “if you’re prepared to ask for my time (in an area where I make my living) and don’t want to do any prep for it whatsoever, then I don’t feel bad about not giving my time to you.”

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Thinking vs. Doing Economies

I was reading an article about the disaffected youth of Europe and their protests (similar to Occupy Wall Street--Occupy Europe: How a generation went from indifferent to indignant) and one part jumped out at me
Wendy Cunningham of the World Bank in Washington says the old social contract that college equals a job is fast disappearing.
The days of "I have a degree in medieval studies, I deserve a job" are over, she says.
I suspect that the “old social contract” was based partially on the notion of “well, you seem to be responsible enough to complete a degree at a university, so we can trust you do to this job where, like college, you just follow the rules and you’ll be set.”
If you think about it, it’s kind of always been “follow the rules and you’ll be set.”
Whether Agrarian, Industrial, or Post-Industrial (the last 30 years or so), most employees weren’t asked to think or innovate on the job. They were given a set of tasks and told to “go do them in this order,” whether in the field, the factory, or in most offices.
Now, however, it’s different.
Now, if you can list the tasks to be done in order, it’s cheaper to either automate or outsource those tasks which means that you either figure out how to create value where it didn’t exist before, you have a low-level job that can’t be outsourced (although those will increasingly shrink due to automation), or you’re unemployed.
A lot of people have noticed this trend in the past, but we’ll highlight Dan Pink’s work “A Whole New Mind” since, well, he’s a client, but the message is the same.
It’s no longer about “following the rules and the recipe,” it’s about “take what you know about this subject area and figure out how to leverage your skills, your network, information, and supply chains to deliver something unique.”
It used to be about doing. Now, it’s about THINKING…then doing.
Big shift.
(HT to Matthew Woodget for the original pointer on the article).
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Friday, November 04, 2011

The Horse Made Me Cry…

Ok, not so much the horse, but the movie about the horse, Secretariat.

I just love stories about people who take risks, never say die, and go BIG.

Sure, I have 3 kids and am 3-4 years behind the times on movies, but eventually I get there. This one, if you haven’t seen it, is worth it.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Dolls and Puppets…Wrestling

In one of those “never thought I’d be there” moments, Nadia and I had a 10 minute play session involving dolls and puppets.

First, the dolls were singing.

Then, dancing.

Then, they had a tea party.

Finally, it got interesting, and the four doll puppets started wrestling and tackling each other.

A perfect hybrid.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Time to Retire “Retirement?”

A friend sent in this question/quandary. Figured I’d put it to the blog readership for input. What would you tell his father?

My dad told me he will retire in Jan. He’s only 59 ½ and would have another 2 ½ years to go at his work place.

He comes from a long line of public servants, was born and raised in a country where “careers” in public office are common, and his hometown basically has two job sectors, public and tourism (which during his life was low paying).

So he’s always been brainwashed into the long, stable career at one place and eventually retiring. From the same culture, retiring is seen as “life is over, now I idly wait for death”. He even brings this up in his email (that retirement does not mean death), so it’s definitely still present in his way of thinking.

I think the word retirement should be banished from the face of the earth. It’s been way too long since my college years of studying Economics, but I know it’s the result of an old system/way of thinking that is just no longer applicable.

The Challenge:

Help me find an alternate word or phrase for this period of life. I’ve always been fond of a period I describe as “Independent with no dependents”, which is usually that moment after college where you have your first job and no worries on your mind.

It’s that entrepreneurial spirit that lets you take risks without care, since you’re in it for the experience and thrills. It seems like “retirement” would be a similar phase.

You’ve done your time, paid your dues to higher ups, presumably saved up and will not worry about bills and finances.

You’re independent – again. You’ve also, in many cases, raised your kids/family and they’re off and on their own.

You’ve got no dependents – again. What a wonderful time to be in – again! Yet “retirement”, yuck.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Burial Society and Perspective…

Following up on yesterday’s post on the burial society, I wrote that one of the things I appreciate about it is:

the serious dose of perspective that it provides you on the ultimate end of your (all of our) lives.

The interesting part about that is the question that it raises for me.

Should you “go all out and, as Thoreau said, ‘dare to live the life you’ve imagined’” or (and they may not be mutually exclusive), do you just slow down and act with even greater humility for the life you have and the responsibilities/obligations you have to others?