Thursday, December 29, 2011

Should Kids Skip College?

I’ve long wondered if the idea of “everyone should go to college” is becoming doctrine and no longer based in reality.
Sure, the credential has value, but is that based on a paradigm that is becoming outdated?
Are the “skills” taught in college really the ones that will be most valuable in the next innovation economy?
I have doubts.
Add to that the college marketing problem. Namely, the colleges, because there are too many of them (leftover from the Baby Boomers) have a marketing problem, so they-out of necessity-make us all believe that a college education is the KEY.
Of course, as we all know, there are ample sets of evidence showing that college doesn’t always turn out to job security or wealth.
All of this came to mind, because of these two articles which came across my desk.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tech Vocabulary of a 3.5 Year Old

Recent things said by Nadia (3.5)

“Remember when you were in China and we Skyped you on the iPad.”

Upon getting in the car and hearing the radio, “I don’t want this. Please turn on Pandora.”

Upon hearing that I was packing my Kindle for a trip, “Are you taking the Kindle or the Kindle Fire?”

“Hey, I want to see my avatar on the Xbox!”

“Can we play Kinect?”

And when I asked her, ‘do you want to play with the iPad now?” she responded, “no, I want the iPhone.”

Friday, December 23, 2011

Love Letter from my Son…

This one brought me to tears.

I went to NYC…just for one day. Nothing compared to most trips.

But, when I came back, Paco handed me this.

“I miss you a lot Abba (dad). I reely want you to come back. Abba please please please come back.”

Man, this life balancing thing is tough.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Installing Solar Panels…

So, we (well, I Smile) went ahead with the installation of solar panels on the roof. It took about 3 days when all was said and done.

If you are interested, here's the link to get an estimate.
(full disclosure...if you do sign up via this link, we both get some $).

Some FAQ’s:

  1. I went with "lease" instead of "buy" option.
  2. Put $1k down and have committed to $68/month. At current electricity consumption rates, this covers about 25% of our monthly usage at a FIXED rate.
  3. Payback period…approximately 7 years.
  4. Green value is something I am factoring in.
  5. Best argument, in my mind, came from Gary of Clean Currents who positioned it as a “hedge against future energy price increases.” (If there’s one thing I have a high degree of confidence in-sure, I could be wrong—it’s that energy prices will go up)
  6. It helps to have a new or mostly new roof
  7. The company guarantees 95% of their estimates.
  8. I’ll be sharing the results of this experiment in the months to come…

To be CLEAR...I'm not advocating just yet since I don't know how it will go, but figured I'd share it for now.

To understand some of the technical components, check out this interview with one of the installers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How Perspective Shapes Experience…in Freising, Germany

IMAG0275Sometimes adhering to my travel philosophy of “do something unique to that location” can be a challenge.

I arrived in Munich on a Monday morning, having had basically NO sleep on the plane. It was 7 am.

Tuesday was a full work day and the plan was to leave on Wed. AM, so Monday afternoon was the only time.IMAG0274

Thing is…I was exhausted. What’s more, I wasn’t IN Munich, but a suburb called Freising about 50 minutes away from the city by subway.

Originally, I had envisioned a trip to one of the city’s top art museums, the Alte Pinakhotek, but after a 5 hour nap (I was wiped out!), that dissipated. Just not practical.

It was getting late and going to be dark soon, so at 4pm, I went for a walk in Freising and, as I did, I was reminded (yet again) that “anything can be an experience/adventure if you view it that way.”

As luck would have it, I was a 5 minute walk away from the center of Freising and if there’s a stereotypical German winter scene, it’s that each town has a “WinterMarkt” where daily, various vendors come out to sell their stuff for Xmas. There’s all kinds of food and drinks, as well, obviously, but it’s a fun, joyous, festive scene and nothing like an overcrowded target or retail mall.

So, I lucked out and found Freising’s version of this event that happens all over Germany at this time of year.

I had an espresso, bought some socks (why not), and chatted up the vendors, both to practice my German and to get a feel for what is going on in the country at the moment.

On the way to/from, I got to see some of the typical German architecture, street design, and sidewalk patterns.

I thought to myself…”victory declared.”

Just a reminder that so often, it’s a matter of perspective that shapes what you experience.

(Note: those “tools” in the picture are all made out of chocolate.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Express Trip Down Memory Lane

Before moving to the DC area, I lived in three places: Germany, Japan, and New York City.

Over the course of December, in three successive weeks, I had the chance to visit Japan, New York City, and Germany.

Kind of a mini-summary of my pre-fatherhood life.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cautious Kindle Purchases...

I love my Kindle, but I find that I'm actually MORE cautious about buying books now b/c of it.

In the past, if I bought a book and didn't like it, at least I could give it away to someone who, I'm stuck with it. I read reviews (all stars) with much more skepticism (since I know that authors get their friends to pad their reviews).

This is why "social search" will be important. I think we'll only want to read reviews from people we trust and/or we'll want to see HOW we're connected to them...and how the reviewers are connected to the authors.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Witness to History at the MLK, Jr. Memorial


The kids had read some books, seen a movie, and the NFO and I had discussed MLK’s impact on America, but I knew there was no way I could do it justice myself.

So, the other day, in our most recent excursion in DC, which took us to the new MLK, Jr. Memorial, I saw an older African-American man sitting on the side.

I went up to him and said, “Sir, I don’t mean to assume here, but it looks as if you were alive and remember Dr. King. If you are comfortable, would you mind sharing with my kids what it was like to live during that time?”

We lucked out. Mr.Osborne Willey, 69 years old, from Danville, VA provided my kids with an eyewitness to history account of the era.

He told them how he had to walk to school, while the white kids got to ride on the bus; how they taunted him and his classmates verbally (“using words I won’t share now with your kids”) and threw things at them.

He discussed what it was like to have to sit in the back of the bus, drink from a separate water fountain, and not be able to eat at the same tables (“we wondered about it, but that was just how it was.”)

He explained how MLK had inspired him (and a nation) to look at the world differently. He talked about how far he believes we have come as a nation (“we’ve done a good job, but we’re not at the mountaintop”) and, surprisingly to me, how he felt that many African-Americans today, in his mind, have not taken advantage of the opportunities for which King fought, particularly around education.

The two older ones did a great job of listening and Mr. Willey really did a nice job.

I think perhaps because of my time in Germany studying the Holocaust and thinking about the time when there will be no survivors around anymore (sooner than we realize), I was attuned to the fact that, someday soon, there won’t be too many people around who remember segregation/Jim Crow and I wanted my kids to hear it directly.

On the way down, I had given them a crash course in Civil Rights history.

We talked about the slave trade, the Civil War, Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation, Poll Taxes, Jim Crow, Brown vs. the Board of Education, the Little Rock 9, Rosa Parks, the Selma-Montgomery march, Bull Connor, water cannons, dogs, lunch counter sit-ins, the “I have a dream” speech (which we watched, in part, at the memorial via YouTube on the Kindle Fire), and James Earl Ray.

It was as if I was compacting an entire lifetime of learning into a 15 minute kid-friendly interactive seminar. They actually retained a huge amount and were able to put that into context with some of the quotes at the memorial.

BTW, I LOVED the actual memorial. It was a beautiful day. The water was shining. The location is fantastic and I found it to be of a really manageable and meaningful dimension. image

I highly recommend it.

And, of course, best of all was that I unlocked the “Black History” badge on Foursquare!

Ok, I am joking about that.

The reason we do these outings is to give my kids an appreciation of America, Washington DC, and history so they build curiosity and understanding. On this particular day, it was accomplished.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Don’t Prepare the Path for the Kids…

The other day at synagogue, my soon-to-be 8 year old daughter came to me and asked for help in getting some of the food from reception table.

I was chatting with my friends and said to her, “I think an almost 8 year old can get her own food from the table. Solve the problem.”

She walked away.

I’m sure the NFO would have handled it differently, but I believe that parenthood is about planned obsolescence.

Ephraim, with whom I was chatting, was supportive.

He said, (and I don’t think it’s his original quote, but it’s a good one and I heard it from him first):

“Our job is to help prepare them for the path, not prepare the path for them.”

Spot on.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sharpening the Saw—HTML 5

The last of Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Successful People” is Sharpen the Saw.

It’s something I advocate a lot when I teach marketing classes and something that I also struggle with working into my schedule.

Every now and then though, I wake up in the middle of the night having a mild innovation panic attack where I think to myself, “there’s a big wave of change coming and I feel like I am behind.”

In this case, the technology on which I didn’t feel like I have a good enough grip was HTML 5.

In hindsight, it was a combination of factors pushed me to set aside an entire morning to investigate and play around with it using the W3 tutorial.

First off, I read Fred Wilson’s post on “Program or Be Programmed.”

Coming on the heels of my trips to China and India, it really struck a chord with me.

It’s one thing to know how to use the technology (here are my guides on how I use software and hardware), but it’s another thing ENTIRELY to understand how it all works.

Fred’s link to Code Academy set me off and I spent a few hours improving my JavaScript. I’m far from an expert, but I did get a bit better. (here’s my profile)

Then, I saw a fantastic presentation by Roger McNamee from TEDxSantaCruz on “Disruption and Engagement.” He had 6 big trends…the last, and most important of which, was HTML 5.

So, am I an expert in HTML5?

Not by any stretch. You can take a look at my little, simplistic effort here. In fact, at the time of this post, the video wasn’t working, but that doesn’t matter. That page is nothing earth shattering, but that’s not the point. (note: not all browsers support HTML5 yet).

The point isn’t to become an expert in HTML5 (or any other technology).

The point is that at least a decent understanding of how it works and what it can do will (I hope) allow me to discover innovative solutions to business (and other) problems.

Remember, if the question is “How do you do…?” The answer is “Google” or “Bing” (hey, got to show the love to MS Smile).

All of us can do it…it’s just a question of making it a priority.

And with China and India raising the stakes in terms of the need for personal and national competitiveness, it must be.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A few things I love about Japan…

I love how they tell you where the train car doors are going to be.

I love how they have lines for people to stand in, waiting for the trains…and how people do exactly that.

And I love just how punctual the trains are. Down to the second. A thing of beauty.

And how they tell you exactly how many minutes there are until your subway stop.

And, if you want to get a feel for how fast the bullet trains go. Check out this video.





Friday, December 09, 2011

The Dignity of Work…


Image via Wikipedia

The Japanese have a great culture of pride in your work. No matter what kind of job.

There may be lower level “McJobs,” but the people who perform them are not dissuaded and demoralized.

There are a ton of examples, but one was when I took the bullet train the other day from Tokyo station.

The cleaning crew had just finished from the previous journey.

They all exited the train in a line.

Then, they stood on the platform with the train at their back (all wearing uniforms), facing the customers (who were also waiting in a nice line to get on board.).

There was a short announcement (unfortunately, my Japanese isn’t what it once was, so I only got part of it) and the entire cleaning crew BOWED to the customers.

Just a great moment where they said, in effect, “we have cleaned this train so that you can board it and have a comfortable ride and we are proud of having done that.”

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Japan Earthquake as 9/11

OTSUCHI, JAPAN - MARCH 14:  In this handout im...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

One theme that emerged in my conversations in Japan that surprised me was the serious impact on the Japanese psyche that the earthquake/Fukushima reactor/tsunami had.

Obviously, we knew it was a big deal, but like 9/11 for many in the US (and the world, of course), it has become THE defining event of a generation.

An increase in marriages (and divorces, actually) as people started asking themselves the bigger questions. Also, at least according to some, a questioning of the longstanding Japanese work ethic of “work like a crazy person.”

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Remembering Pearl Harbor….

I don’t know how many people are alive who still remember the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor…but I do know that it’s fewer than last year.

70 years is A LOT of time for people and I think that now, at a time when the identity of America is being challenged in other ways, it’s important to reflect back on that time and what it meant for the country.

It was a stark wake-up call.

Today, the wake-up call may not be as stark or violent, but I believe it is as stark for Americans to come together and pursue a goal of reinventing and reinvigorating the country.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Travel and the Everyday…

Sometimes it is easy to forget that one of the best experiences when travel is not to go to tourist sites, but just to partake and observe in the day-to-day activities with the people who live there.

But, it’s critical to do it with purpose.

When you fly to Asia for 2.5 days and have 2 presentations, you don’t necessarily have a lot of time for “sightseeing,” but you do have a lot of time for heightened awareness of the little things.

For example, how

  • the seats in taxicabs are covered with white linen
  • the driver can automatically open and close the doors
  • you get pushed, shoved, jostled, and crammed into subway cars
  • everyone lines up for subways and buses
  • you can get cans of coffee from vending machines…that are HOT
  • the cleaning staff of the bullet train all come out, line up in front of the train and then bow to the boarding customers
  • the conductor on the train bows when he enters and leaves your car
  • annoying it is that your credit card doesn’t work everywhere (ok, that’s not a good thing)
  • darn fast the bullet train is (stay tuned for video)
  • smart it is to show a map of the subway system with arrival times for EACH station in every car
  • did I mention the HOT cans of coffee?

I believe (hope) that by raising my awareness while I’m here, I can raise my own awareness of these things while at home…which I hope will lead to an overall sense of greater mindfulness.

At the very least, it will make me yearn for hot cans of coffee dispensed from vending machines.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Appreciating Japanese Culture…

Not long after boarding the flight to Tokyo, I was reminded of some of the things I really admire about Japan.

This was further reinforced when I got to the airport.

I love

  • the deep respect for others (as symbolized by bowing and frequent statements of gratitude)
  • the cleanliness
  • the punctuality (even the buses at the airport-traffic notwithstanding, were right on time)
  • the dignity of each job. You can tell that even the guy taking bags off the carousel has a deep appreciation for the role he plays…and takes pride in it.

A lot to learn, particularly from a country that is struggling to find itself in this new era of globalization and dealing with the challenges of an aging population. Kind of like a sneak preview of the US in 20 years…potentially.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Japan as Symbol…

One thing that dawned on me when I deplaned in Tokyo was just how significant Japan has been for me as a symbol.

It’s more than a country where I spent some formative, post-college years.

You see, back in 9th grade, I took Japanese for a year at a graduate level (after school) and it represented the opening of the world to me.

What’s more, in 11th grade, I applied for (and won) something called a Japan-US Senate scholarship which would have given me a summer’s long worth of activity in Japan. Unfortunately, because of my allergy to sesame seeds, the program refused to allow me to participate (stating that too many foods in Japan have sesame in them.)

Obviously, (and if you know me, this is no surprise), this intensified my desire to go!

But that’s sort of beside the point.

Japan just happens to be the country that, in my mind, represents “the other.”

Maybe it’s because of the wholesale personality difference between myself and traditional Japanese culture (and it’s pretty stark), I don’t know, but I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to return and reflect.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Kindle Fire Review…

Have had it for a few days now and here’s my take on it.

I like the size. I was walking around the National Gallery of Art and it fit in the pocket of my jeans. It also fits in the inside pocket of a jacket or neatly in a purse (I would think).

Battery life is fine. Not spectacular, but it works.

Screen is nice. Colors are great/vivid and the integration with Amazon stuff (of course) is first-rate. Videos and their cloud music service plus books, of course.

It is a bit heavier than I would have expected, but manageable and you can hold it with one hand.

For pure reading, I prefer the regular Kindle.

The downside?

The system, on occasion, does get a bit choppy and it’s frozen on me twice so far. No camera, no bluetooth. You also can’t get every Android app that you can get on a smartphone.

So, I guess the ultimate question is: Kindle Fire or iPad2?

Obviously, it comes down to budget and whether you’ll get $300 worth of extra value from the iPad. Personally, I would say yes, you would, but then again, it’s your money, not mine.

If, however, you are saying “I’d like a tablet like reader/viewer on which to purely consume content when I have a wi-fi connection,” then the Fire will do the trick for you.

It’s a solid first effort by Amazon, but it’s the first effort and will certainly improve down the road.

Return to Japan….

In September 1996, I boarded ANA flight 001 from Dulles to Tokyo to begin a two-year adventure in Japan.

The plan was to get a a Masters in International Relations from the International University of Japan.

Well, you know what they say about plans, right?

Anyway, on Sunday Nov. 27th, I once again boarded ANA flight 001 from Dulles to Tokyo. This time I was only going for 3 days, but it afforded me the opportunity to look at the last 15 years of my life as “bookended” by the same ANA flight.

On a 14 hour journey, you have much time for reflection Smile,  but some concepts flashed through my head.

Some of the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the changes to my life, the way that the world, economics, and technology have all been transformed in unforeseeable manners.

There’s no point going through the litany of them and I know I’m not unique in having these “bookend” experiences, but because of the formative role that the 2 year Japan adventure played in my development (as well as Germany where, ironically, I am headed in 2 weeks), it kicked off a unique set of ruminations.