Sunday, March 24, 2013

“They’re not telling anyone.”

I heard some bad news a few weeks ago. Actually, I discovered it by accident, when a friend of mine let it slip that a mutual friend from college had recently been diagnosed with cancer.

“But,” he said, “they’re not telling anyone. In fact, his mom thinks it should be a total secret.”

Now, it’s pretty well known that I don’t mind sharing my medical condition publicly (see here for thyroid cancer story), but I need some of my introvert friends to explain this approach to me.

Assuming that the medical condition is not because of something you did like shoot up heroin with drug addicts in Thailand or whatever and it’s not your fault at all, why keep it a secret?

If it’s not a secret, your friends (whose help you need), can help you.

What’s more, when it’s a secret, people actually talk about it MORE.

When everyone knows, it’s not news anymore.

So, the “we’re not talking about it,” seems like it defeats the purpose of secrecy since everyone kind of knows anyway.

What am I missing here?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ordinary Dad Day

I came home from a long road trip thinking “I need to recalibrate and focus on the kids.”

So, when they got home from school, I made a point to go outside and just toss the football with Paco, to listen to Tonka as she relayed in extreme detail how she fulfilled her duty as class representative, helped them with some math challenges on the iPad, and read Amelia Bedelia with Nadia (who is making fantastic strides).

After showers, Paco and I played an improvised basketball game which had me rolling on the floor laughing, my stomach and cheeks were hurting.

I stared in wonderment as Nadia sounded at the words and I took a “mental snapshot,” thinking that this was the time I should be cherishing.

And I did.

Later that night, I watched this emotional video that my own mom sent me and it all felt right.

It’s not easy-daily-to do this, which is why these reminders are so poignant.

I blog about them because it helps make me remember to focus and cherish.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A flight from Dallas and a BIG lesson about pre-judging

On my way back to DC from Austin (via Dallas), I found myself in my preferred aisle seat, but with 2 passengers to my right.

Once the doors were closed, I noticed that the seat one row in front of me, across aisle (and still on the aisle) was open, with no one in the middle seat.

Needless to say, I immediately grabbed it.

I was doing my work and when the flight attendant came by to ask for drinks, I started chatting with the gentleman in my row, seated next to the window.

It’s probably not a big surprise to you, but I tend to be one of those “plane talkers” and have many a good friend made on various flights.

As we chatted, I learned that this guy was also in technology, his company develops some cool mapping/data software for school buses, but-and I’m a bit scared to admit this-when he told me that he had programmers/development teams in Karachi and Abu Dhabi, I did start doing the calculation of “ok, what is my Jewish/Israel strategy for this conversation?”

I’d be lying if my first thought wasn’t, “this guy probably is anti-Israel at the least and at the worst, pro-Hamas or something like that,” and well, after a really long day, I wasn’t up for a fight. (And yes, that HAS happened to me before.)

Now, I am quite embarrassed and ashamed to admit that I fell into this trap because I could not have been more wrong.

Not only was Amir ridiculously nice, engaging, smart, etc., but it turns out that he had spent a few years working for an Israeli company (which, let’s be honest, would be enough to make even some Jews anti-Israeli), and came out with not only some admiration for their approach (well, not all of it), but recognition that some of what he had learned as a child in Pakistan (he emigrated to the US when he was 18), wasn’t so accurate.

Our conversation was enhanced at one point because I demonstrated a bit of that age old Jewish gift of chutzpah by asking the flight attendant, “hey, don’t you guys have any peanuts or pretzels back there?”

Her response was “what planet are you living on honey?” (but in a humorous way.)

Amir was skeptical, but I said, “hey, if you don’t ask, you never get.”

And, wouldn’t you know it, but a few minutes later, the flight attendant, Jan, shows up with a basket of nuts which were from the First Class cabin.

Amir was pretty surprised to say the least. I was riding the high that comes from being rewarded from chutzpah (something that doesn’t always happen, that’s for sure) and feeling validated.

At that point, Jan and I struck up a deeper conversation and I got a nice chunk of her life story, as well as promised to send a note to the American Airlines customer service team (which I have).  What can I say? I was feeling chatty.

A bit later, Jan returns, bringing 2 meals from the First Class cabin and asking “what kind of wine does your wife drink?”

Amir being Muslim and I being married to the NFO who is, well, the NFO, both said “my wife doesn’t drink wine,” which made Jan happy because she could then take it to her hotel room (she’d had a long day, so good for her!)

The only downside of our lengthy chat was that I neglected some of my planned work on the plane, but hey, I made it up in the cab and it was mega-worth it. In addition to our common technology-world lives, we both have 3 kids which are (sort of) the same age and we’re only 1 year apart in age.

Just a solid guy.

The conversation was fruitful, enlightening, and memorable. I learned a lot about Pakistan, Geo-location technology, and, most of all, the importance of not rushing to judgment.

For that, I feel very, very bad and mildly ashamed and I intend to carry this lesson with me for a long time.
We can call it the “Amir Principle.”

The corollary to that is the “Jan Principle.” Be nice to flight attendants and don’t be afraid of a bit of chutzpah (Amir’s newest Yiddish/Hebrew word, btw.)….You never know what might show up on your tray table.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Epstein Top 5 (or 10) Tips for Just About Everything

As part of my 40th birthday celebrations, the NFO asked my family to submit their TOP 5 OR 10 LIST for various things they either experienced with me, learned from me, taught me, or just had for me.  Herewith, the amassed knowledge of the Epstein family.
Jeremy’s Rule for Entrepreneurs
  1. 1. Never stop marketing
  2. 2. Never forget rule number 1
  3. 3. Leave it all on the field everyday
  4. 4. Be remarkable (positive when possible)
  5. 5. Nurture the network
  1. 1) Immerse yourself in the culture.
  2. 2) Talk to anyone, at anytime, about anything.
  3. 3) Study.
  4. 4) Believe that you can do it. This is a test of will.
  5. 5) Love the process.
Lessons from Living with Jeremy:
1) Passion is key. If it is not present, manufacture it.
2) Adventure exists in the mind.
3) Never give up.
4) You will always win the game if you make the rules.
5) If you are not in a position to make the rules, charm the hell out of your adversaries.
6) If you cannot charm your adversaries, give up and move on, or change.
7) If you cannot change, find someone who will make you.
8) If you cannot find such a person, find an offbeat adventure to re-energize yourself.
9) Never give up.
10) Even if you live life with unusual seriousness, be the guy who laughs loudest at the dumbest, most sophomoric movies around.


Top 5 ways to make a lasting, unique and positive impression
  1. 1. Every interaction is a chance to make a positive impression. Take the extra few minutes to draft a vivid, detail-filled email, note, or speech and use imagery in your language to help people remember you and your message ("there I was, standing in the rain, teeth chattering and mascara dripping down my face when I came up with the idea to invent the umbrella" is much more memorable than "Rainy days are wet. That's why I invented the umbrella.").
  2. Don't be afraid to add some of your own personality to interactions. Related to this: If you don't have any personality, try to get some pronto.
  3. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Being genuine builds trust and goes farther than being "impressive" but phony. For example, I can't drive stick shift but I'm great at parallel parking.
  4. Visualize your best, most confident, most relaxed self before entering any new situation; use that energy to help you make a positive first impression. In other words, imagine what you would do if you were Joe Biden, not Woody Allen.
  5. Never ask a woman when the baby is due.
  1. 1. Trust that you are working on their behalf and confidence you can do it
  2. 2. Knowledge about the market/their needs/their wants and even those they don't think about (if they are pregnant they don't want a walk up, but may not occur to them. Point it out, but they may not care.)
  3. 3. Referral from a friend they trust
  4. 4. Respond to all emails and calls in a timely fashion
  5. 5. Make the feel like they are the only client you have and arent too busy for them, but casually let them know you have others without bragging.

Top 10 Travel Tips
David Epstein
March 2013
  1. “Norway of the Mind.” The phrase I invented while in Oslo and traveling with an adult child to express the concept that what you know about the history and culture of your destination country is a key to understanding what you will see and the people with whom you will talk. Therefore, read books, e.g., history, literature, fiction written by indigenous authors about their society, and ask questions of its inhabitants initially extending on what you are learning by reading. Focus your reading throughout the trip on where you are, not elsewhere.
  2. Have one or several broad themes for your trip, e.g., Italy, the Roman Empire or the Renaissance; Australia, European colonization and interaction with Aboriginals; Soviet Union and the late, unlamented German Democratic Republic, totalitarian societies and those based on individual freedom; South Africa, new South Africa after the collapse of apartheid; Hong Kong, for the handover from the United Kingdom to China in 1997; Northern Ireland for its post-agreement elections in 1998.
  3. Let the trip unfold so you are flexible as to where you go and when. If you arrive at a capital city, stay overnight at a pre-reserved hotel, and then immediately leave the capital city to travel around the country, making choices as to what to visit and where you stay as you travel, saving your exploration of the capital city to the end. Use organized package tours only where conditions require.
  1. Do not have expectations or a long list of “must see,” so that you will not be disappointed. On the other hand, do not say, “I will avoid that site because that is where the tourists go.” There is a reason the site attracts visitors.
  1. Do not obsess about minor setbacks, e.g., lost luggage, bad meals, closed museums, or being overcharged.
  1. If traveling with an adolescent child, make visits to museum no longer than an hour or so. You are teaching curiosity, not overwhelming the child with content.
  1. If traveling with an employed adult child, he or she pays for the airfare to the destination. Thus, the adult child has a financial investment in the trip and is also discouraged from hoarding frequent flyer points. Parent can pay for ground expenses, defined as those expenses directly related to food, lodging, attraction tickets, guides, most but not all internal travel. This view will lead to delicious discussions in setting the boundaries.
  1. In a new city, first take a bus tour for the overview. Hire a good personal guide at an important site who knows the subject matter and does not tell lame jokes.
  1. All family travel is good, but your choices will be challenged within the group, as different interests are expressed. One-on-one travel for a parent with a teen age or adult child is the best, as you are then companions facing the challenges and joys of travel without the need to referee disputes.
  1. Use the trip as the opportunity for long and searching conversations. Have an ongoing dialogue with your traveling companion (s) both on what you are learning as well as on any other topic, personal or general.
5. Never do ONE thing when you can do three or four things simultaneously.
4. Remember the acronym F.A.T: FILE It; ACT on it; TRASH it. Only touch a piece of paper once.
3. Label your cables: (Jeremy knows all of this already)
Organize, store and buy computer cables wisely
by David Caolo on Jan 24, 2013
Step one: know your cables
1. USB to mini USB You’ll notice one end is a flat rectangle shape and the other is a small trapezoid shape. These are often used with digital cameras and often short, in the 1–3 foot range.
2. FireWire 800 These feature a squared-off end with a plastic“bit” in the center. FireWire 800 cables are typically used on high-end external hard drives and some video equipment. They transfer large files between machines and drives quickly.
3. Standard USB One end features a flat rectangle and the other a square with once side slightly rounded. Many printers uses these cables, as well as some external hard drives.
4. FireWire 400 Which, is also called “1394 cable” in some circles. Also used for storage peripherals like hard drives and some older video cameras. Transfer speed is slightly slower than that of its sibling FireWire 800.
5. DVI These cables end with a wide terminator with many pins and two screws to hold it in place. You’ll find that many computer monitors and projectors use these. Length can vary greatly, but most are around 3 feet long.
2. Get rid of Paper (Jeremy is almost Paperless!)
The latest model in the ScanSnap desktop line is the iX500 and it’s an impressive machine. I’ve been test driving one the past two weeks (thank you, ScanSnap!) and it’s amazing — it doesn’t require a desktop computer to launch, it will scan straight to a mobile device or an online storage location over Wifi (so I can save straight to Dropbox), it’s noticeably faster than the S1500M model we own, and I’ve been able to customize it to send scans automatically to whatever program I want, so items like photographs now import straight into iPhoto. I won’t upgrade permanently from the S1500M we already have, but if we didn’t have a scanner I would save up for this one. If you’re in the market for one, the list price is $495. They’re expensive, but they’re really nice. (Full iX500 product details.)
As far as shredders go, I’d recommend the Fellowes PowerShred 79Ci now. The thing is a monster at chewing up stuff you want to shred. And, as I referenced earlier, it’s on wheels, which makes it convenient to use and store. It’s also expensive, but the thing will last you a decade or more if you treat it well. OurPowerShred PS-77Cs is still rocking after seven years of service, and we use it daily. Unlike less expensive shredders, the PowerShred line is built to last.
The list of things to shred and not to shred is still accurate, though a lot of people greatly dislike my advice to destroy old passports. I probably should have written more clearly about waiting to shred the old passport until after you get a new one. Submitting your old one does speed up the renewal process. However, once you get the old one back, if you don’t need it for any legal reason, it’s safe to shred (just be sure to pop out the RFID chip first). My last passport, though used many times, didn’t even have a single stamp in it because so many countries have stopped stamping and my old visa had to be relinquished when I left the country that required me to have the visa. If you want to keep old passports, especially if they have stamps in them, do it but please keep it in a safe or safe-deposit box so it doesn’t end up in the hands of identity thieves.
Even with all of these products and systems, paper continues to be something we have to deal with daily in our home. We’ve unsubscribed from as much junk mail as possible, yet we still get some from businesses and services we use. The shredder, trash can, and recycling bin by our main entrance are essential in dealing with the junk immediately and not letting it come deep inside the house. But, the stuff we let in voluntarily —the bank statements, the receipts, the pay stubs, the contracts — still feels overwhelming at times. We’ve gone so far as to unsubscribe from all print magazines and now subscribe to these publications digitally over Zinio. The only way we’ve been able to keep from being overwhelmed by paper is to clear our desks each day as part of our end-of-day work routines. All papers filed, junk shred, receipts reconciled, documents scanned, etc. It only takes five or ten minutes, but it’s still a chore. I’m looking forward to the day when I only have to spend five or ten minutes a week (or less) dealing with paper clutter.
1. Hair is clutter (Jeremy also knows this!)
Eschew the trappings of our vain and materialistic culture by shaving your head. Did you know that you can replace the following items with a single razor and a can of shaving cream?
  1. 1. Combs
  2. 2. Brushes
  3. 3. Shampoo
  4. 4. Conditioner
  5. 5. “Product” (Gels, Mousses, Waxes)
  6. 6. Scrunchies (N/A to Jeremy!)
  7. 7. Barrettes (Ditto!)
  8. 8. Hairdryer
It’s a practical and stylish approach that is surprising versatile–it works whether you look like Natalie Portman or Telly Savalas. And with all the money you save on haircuts you’ll be able to buy cool white clothing lifestyle that most minimalists only dream of.
Here are my tips that got lost. Please enjoy them!!
Love, MOM

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fleeting Moments

The other day, our youngest (aka Nadia), went for her "interview" at kindergarten.

Normally, the two older ones (Tonka & Paco) leave at 7.30 and Nadia leaves around 9.  That extra 90 minutes is sometimes easy, but often times filled with drama as we fight w/Nadia about what clothes she is going to wear.  It's usually my least favorite part of the day.

Some days, she's great and it's no big deal, but some days, I wish it was over.

So, when she left at 7.30 for her "interview," I got a taste of what it would be like when it was over. The house was quest at 7.40am...the NFO had driven carpool...and I took a moment to recognize that, as my mom accurately says, "the days are long, but the years are short."

Indeed they are.

Just like that, our littlest girl is going to be a kindergartner.

Sunrise, sunset.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Is a 529 Plan Worth It?

I’ve had this discussion recently with 3 people.

And not about “oh, is it a good investment” kind of discussion, but a different chat that goes at the fundamental underlying assumption:

Is COLLEGE really worth it anymore? In its current incarnation, that is.

That’s not to say that education and credentials aren’t worth it, they certainly are, but are colleges actually preparing our kids for the future?

I don’t believe they are and, right now, I am in the minority, but it is growing.

At least, I am starting to see more and more smart people start to ask the right/tough questions.

Here is one of my favorite VC’s (Fred Wilson) talking about it. Worth the watch about the potential future of online higher education.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

40 Years Old: Getting ready for the 2nd half...

Not looking to grab any birthday wishes, but today I turn 40 years old.  
I am not dreading it or anything. In fact, I'm embracing it.  My theme for the past 2-3 months has been "Getting Ready for the 2nd Half."
Now, no one knows the time of his birth or death, so this may be wishful thinking, but it's more slogan than fact.

The pending birthday provided a catalyst for focusing on 
  • health (staying the course on exercise, after all, prepping for Tough Mudder II)
  • wellness (Lasik-video here + dental surgery)
  • career (what exactly do I want to be when I grow up?)
  • friends (am I being a good friend?)
  • and, most importantly, family (am I the kind of husband/father I want to be?)
It's not like I went to a sweat lodge or anything (though I think that would be fun--unless I died of dehydration, which would not be), but I have been contemplating these questions a lot more.

Frankly, I've enjoyed it.

Jewish tradition says that at 40 years of age, people achieve wisdom. I'm not sure I'm there yet (late bloomer?), but I know that often times, the 2nd half can be even more exciting than the first.

Thank you for being part of the game of life with me.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Must Read Book: How to Crush Your Bad Habits

My newest “Must Read” Book is Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

It’s been out for a while but I finally got around to reading it recently and all I can say is that I am sorry that it took me this long.

We all have habits. Habits are what make us, in many ways. Some good, some bad.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but what Charles Duhigg tells us ARE things we don’t know. I love books that help you think about how you think and that’s exactly what happens in this one.

Duhigg identifies that each of us possess a “Habit Loop” consisting of

  1. a Cue—something that triggers an action
  2. a Routine-how we respond to that due
  3. a Reward-how we feel as a result

The key to changing habits is to break it down into those three elements and then work to consciously replace one routine with another.

So, if your cue is “I get stressed out at work” and your routine is “I get a cookie or a sugary snack,” so that I get a reward of “I feel better,” and the consequence is weight gain…you need to be able to remove “sugary snack” for “go for a walk.”

The critical element, however, is recognizing the parts of the loop since for many of us, they are intertwined to the point that we don’t see the pieces.

One of the things that I’ve used is the food journal…just keeping track of caloric intake, to help identify cues, routines, and rewards.

We have these habits all over our lives and willpower isn’t enough.

The Power of Habit provides you the background and the roadmap for helping you build/establish the kind of habits you want.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Meet Shoulder Bursitis…

In my never-ending quest to provide high-quality personal medical entertainment, herewith is a recent sonogram of my injured rotator cuff muscle.

For the non-physicians, it’s pretty neat…you get to see bursitis up close and personal.

Unfortunately, I can’t mention when it got injured (hem, hem), but suffice it to say, it hasn’t knocked me out.

Monday, March 04, 2013

3 Coolest Technologies recently...

My friend asked me the other day “what are the 3 coolest technologies you’ve seen recently?”

Number 1, far and away for me, is Google Wallet. More on that here. Mostly because it’s cool and ridiculously useful.

Number 2, for mega-coolness, is Aurasma. It allows you to connect digital content to physical items to create an augmented reality. I learned about it via this TED talk.

Number 3, Wunderlist.
If you are a list person, you’ll love this. It’s like Evernote or Dropbox for lists. You can make a to-do list by category (home, work, shopping, etc.) and then have it sync across devices (Android, iOS, web, etc.). You can even share lists with others. So, for example, I now have created lists for my kids which I share to the iPad that they use. It says “practice piano” and “do homework.”  Now, I don’t have to ask them if they did it. When they finish it, the check it off on the iPad/Wunderlist and it syncs to mine. I get a notification (if I want it) so I know they did it. You can set up recurring tasks (clean room every Sunday morning, for example) as well. Oh yeah, free.

On the mobile payment front, I did try out Square Wallet the other day at Starbucks. It was easy, but not as good as G Wallet. On Square, you have one credit card. On Google, you can pick any number of them. Also, you get a receipt, which you can forward (good for expense reporting).

Friday, March 01, 2013

Are you a fox, hedgehog, or turkey? On Resilience.

I value people and situations that help me think about how I think.

One of my all-time favorite people (and perhaps the smartest guy I know period) is Venkatesh Rao.

He gave an informative talk at LIFT this year which is 18 minutes long, worth it, and will help you think about how you approach the world.

It’s all about Resilience. I call it “leave it all on the field,” but same idea.