What’s 19,000 – 10,000 ?


Here’s another one: what’s 50 times 0.5?

If you were able to answer these questions without having to resort to using a calculator, then my guess is that you are most likely over 45 years old. If you are less than 30, my guess is that you opened up the calculator app on your smartphone in order to find the answer.

Over my 29 years of teaching, it seems to me that more and more college students either can’t do basic math calculations in their head or don’t have the confidence to trust such an approach. The result, either way, is an over-reliance on a calculator.

And I know my students are bright, as evidenced by strong SAT scores (both math and verbal) and stellar high school transcripts.

So I’m not sure if I should be concerned or not.

It seems like everyone has a smartphone these days, at least everyone under 30), and a calculator is a basic app on all smartphones. So if that’s the case, do they really need to know how to do basic math calculations in their head?

Perhaps it’s my age showing, but I still think it’s important to be able to do basic math problems either in your head or with just a paper and pencil. If nothing else, it allows you to verify the answer that the calculator has given you.

I am certainly not anti-calculator; in fact I downloaded and frequently use an amazing financial calculator app for my iPhone that emulates the TI BA II Plus Professional, allowing me to do all sorts of financial calculations such as present value, future value, NPV, etc. (It’s one of the few apps I’ve ever paid for.)

I no longer do such calculations by hand, so I see the value in using such tools.

But at what point do such tools become a crutch, or actually start to eat away at the knowledge you once had of how to solve a problem by hand.

I realize people have different strengths. So while perhaps one of my strengths is math, my students have shown great strengths in areas such as writing, singing, playing basketball, critical thinking, leadership, or empathy.

So I guess at the end of the day, if someone needs to use a calculator to solve (19,0000 – 10,000), as long as they get the right answer, I guess I should be OK with that. (Would Dan Pink call this an example of a ROWE – Results Only Work Environment?)

But it still probably won’t stop me from wanting to scream the answer out while students are busy typing such problems into their smartphone.

By the way, (19,0000 – 10,000) equals 9,000 and 50 times 0.5 is 25.

And not to brag, but I didn’t even use a calculator.

P.S. Don’t get me started on spelling…

How Important Are You?


This is the 15th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. The link to the original ad is at the end of this post.

In this ad, Gray makes the point that we all depend on each other. You need someone and someone needs you. The ad reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:

To the world you may be one person but to one person you may be the world.

And that makes you very important indeed.

Here is the original United Technologies ad that inspired this post.

Sunday Drive


My youngest son Pat and I like to go for car rides with no particular destination in mind.

Tonight we drove along the banks of the Schuylkill River, and were looking at the houses that were right along the edge of the river and wondering what it must be like when there is a significant rainfall and the river rises. While I am sure that flooding is a recurring issue, I guess that’s just part of life on the river. The people who live there must think of the flooding as a minor inconvenience when compared to the view and the peace of living along the river.

While we were driving along, we saw houses on the other side of the river and we decided to try and find the road that those houses were on. Well an hour of driving went by and we still hadn’t found that road, but it was fun just driving around on roads I don’t think I’ve ever been on before.

When we finally decided it was time to go home, I got out my faithful Google Maps app, since I had no idea where I was, and was stunned to find out that we were less than 20 minutes from our house!

I had always assumed that I knew just about everything that was within 20 minutes of our house, since I’ve lived in this area my entire life. Yet here was this completely unfamiliar place to me, so close to home. Within about 5 minutes we knew where we were at, and we were home just about 10 minuets later.

But the idea that there are places so close to home that are are completely unknown made me realize that my son and I can do a lot of our future exploring without even having to wander too far from our house.

But first we’ve got to find those river houses…

I think Jack Kerouac would approve…

An Extraordinary Week for President Obama, and America


It was a week that could define President Obama’s legacy, and a week that made me proud to be an American.

Here’s a brief summary highlighting the events of the week:

  • On Thursday, the Affordable Care Act was upheld by the Supreme Court, awarding a major victory to President Obama and validating his most prized domestic achievement.
  • That same day, the Supreme Court also voted in support of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, ruling that the law allows plaintiffs to challenge government or private policies that have a discriminatory effect, without having to show evidence of intentional discrimination.
  • The very next day the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage a nationwide right.
  • The Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, recommended the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol grounds.
  • The U.S. House voted in favor of President Obama’s package of trade-related legislation, granting: 1) enhanced trade negotiation powers to the president, 2) aid for displaced workers, 3) trade incentives for sub-Saharan Africa, and 4) clearing a path to completing the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.
  • And then perhaps the most powerful event of the week took place when President Obama delivered a powerful eulogy at the memorial for Clementa Pinckney, a victim of the Charleston shootings. I think the video below says it all:

Thank you President Obama for your leadership, your compassion, and the courage you have displayed in the face of all the adversity you have encountered over the past seven years.

I wish you, and our country, continued success.

Yes We Can.

No Power, Blogging by Phone; Thoreau and his iPad


We just lost our power a couple of hours ago, and we’re not expected to get it back until tomorrow afternoon. But I didn’t want to skip my blog, so I am writing this on my iPhone.

Fortunately the local pizzeria had power, and we were able to keep our Friday night tradition of having pizza at my Mom and Aunt’s house, even though they had no power either.

We’ve been having pizza on Friday night at my Mom and Aunt’s house for probably 10-15 years, and I enjoy the ritual.

We get there about 6:00, and eat our pizza while watching Action News, a local TV news station. After that, it’s World News Tonight, followed by Jeopardy and then Wheel of Fortune. It’s usually around that time that we leave for our quarter mile commute home.

So tonight was a little bit of a break with tradition, since we were not able to watch TV. But it was a nice change of pace, just sitting around chatting, with candles glowing in the kitchen.

It certainly wasn’t Walden Pond, but it did make me ponder what life must have been like before electricity.

I certainly enjoy all the benefits associated with today’s technological wonders. And there’s no doubt that we are more productive today as a society than we were before electricity. And that we are more connected with each other than ever before.

But we’ve also become highly dependent on technology, making us quite vulnerable to when we lose access to those tools. And there’s always the concern with any technology development whether it will be used for good or bad.

But the big question, and one I don’t have an answer for, is whether these amazing technologies have made us any happier than we were before electricity. Tonight was kind of peaceful, and that feeling required no electricity, and perhaps was even brought on by the lack of it.

So I wonder what Thoreau would do today. Would he still want to escape to Walden Pond, and if so, would he bring an iPad with him?

And speaking of feeling peaceful, here’s one of my all-time favorite songs by The Eagles:

(Full disclosure – the power came back on while I was in the midst of writing this blog. But since it’s hard coming up with ideas for the blog, once I have one, I’m going to run with it.)

Grade School Memories

8th grade pic 1

I was going through my closet the other day, and I came across this memento from 1971, right around the time of my graduation from 8th grade. (I’m not sure why I would have written the wrong dates on my memory book, but the years listed are the four years I spent in high school.)

I also realize my line for the School Yell hasn’t stood the test of time, but I’m guessing it was somewhat funny back then (at least that’s what I probably told myself).

As I paged through this book of memories, I came across this page, which listed my hobbies:

8th grade photo 4

There’s a few things to note about this list of hobbies.

  • While I never really did magic, I’ve always enjoyed watching others perform it, particularly street performers. A couple of years after this list was put together I discovered juggling, which might fall into the same broad category of magic, and that is something I certainly still enjoy doing.
  • I still enjoy bowling, and I even wrote about the role it played in my pathetic dating life in high school.
  • I continued competitive swimming all through college, and it is probably still my favorite sport; it’s a shame that it only gets publicity every four years.
  • I’ve always enjoyed brain teasers, particularly if they involved math. Four years later I did start college as a math major, but ended up with a degree in economics. I still enjoy numbers (I teach Accounting), and i usually do the Sudoku puzzle in the Sunday newspaper.
  • And what can I say about reading; it’s probably my favorite leisure time activity.

I find it amazing that I am still interested in the same things today that I was interested in 44 years ago. And I’ve read that if you are trying to find your passion (which I am), you should go back to what interested you when you were much younger, and you’ll find your passion among those interests. So perhaps I’ll have to consider these “hobbies” a little more carefully…

Anyway, the rest of the memory book is filled with notes from each of my classmates (there were only 17 of us in 8th grade). As you can imagine, such notes were filled with sayings such as “Don’t ever change” and “RMA” for Remember Me Always.

But going through the memory book has triggered a few memories that relate to this list of hobbies.

The first memory actually involves combing two of the hobbies, magic and juggling. I remember going to the local library when I was probably about 12 or 13 years old and taking out about 10 books on magic. As I was checking out, the librarian had one of the greatest one-liners I’ll ever remember, “Maybe when you are finished reading these you can make the library disappear.” To me, the line was funny on two levels; the first was just the idea of using magic to make the library disappear. The second, and perhaps more subtle humor, was of an adult complaining about her job. Perhaps I was proud of myself for picking up on the double entendre at such a young age…

The second memory was triggered when I came across the following page in my memory book:

8th grade photo 2

First, note the classic RMA. Second, note that Mary used the word “Love”; I probably obsessed on that one word for days, if not weeks, trying to read much more into it than Mary intended. But the real memory this triggers happened about four years before Mary signed my memory book. It was Valentine’s Day in fourth grade, and at least back then, the guys just gave the other guys Valentines Day cards, and it would be highly unusual to give one to a girl. Well I decided to be brave, and give a card to not only all the boys, but also to one girl, Mary. Naturally I wanted to keep this a secret, and I thought once Mary got the card, she would keep our secret. Well as it turned out, I hadn’t thought things through completely. Everyone put all of the cards in a big box, and then the teacher took them all out, read the person’s name on the envelope, and the person came up and took the card. At some point, the teacher eventually pulled my card for Mary out of the box, and lo and behold, there were two Marys in our class. So the teacher had to ask who wrote the card, and which Mary it was for. After a few seconds of awkward silence, during which I could feel my face turning bright red (Lobster Man!), I sheepishly raised my hand and said it was from me, and meant for Mary S. Now the whole class knew that I had sent a card to Mary, and that she was the only girl I had sent one to. If only I knew some magic and could have made myself disappear for a while…

The final memory deals with this page of the book:

8th grade photo 5

I’ve covered the name to protect the innocent. Anyway, seeing that page triggered memory of an event that happened about three years later. I was a junior in high school, and it was getting close to the time for the junior prom. A friend of mine asked me if I was going, and I replied that I was not going, since I did not have a date (if you are wondering why that was the case, just refer back to my list of hobbies at the top of this post). He suggested that perhaps I should ask someone to go out on a date first, and if it went well, then I could ask that girl to the prom. He even said he would help out by making it a double date. So somehow I got the courage to ask out the girl who wrote the note shown above in my memory book, and surprisingly she said yes. The big night arrived, and we went to see the movie Shampoo.

After the movie, as the four of us got into my friend’s car, my friend suggested that he would drop my date off first off at her house. He told me that when I walked her to her front door and said good night, that it would be the perfect time to ask her to the prom. So on the 10 minute drive home I kept replaying in my mind what I was going to say when we got to her house.

Well, we got to her house, my date opened her car door, and she ran into her house. I never even had a chance to get out of my seat. At least I didn’t have go through the pain of having her say “no” to my face…

So I ended up not going to my junior prom (or my senior prom for that matter), but somehow I think everything has still worked out pretty well.

Forty years later I’m able to look back on these events and see the humor.

But I still have no desire to ever see Shampoo again…

Five-year old Presidential Expert from The Ellen Show


I’ll admit it; I love The Ellen Show. I love Ellen’s humor (especially her pranks), her kindness, her vegan lifestyle, and her generosity.

One of my favorite parts is when she invites children with special talents on to the show as guests. While there have been many such guests, I think I have to pick one as my all-time favorite, Macey Hensley.

Macey is a five-year old girl who has an amazing knowledge of presidents. She knows all of them, in the right order (she even made up a song to help her with this); she knows the Vice Presidents; she knows fun facts about each one.

Here is the video of her first appearance:

What makes Macey even more impressive is the obvious love she has for this Presidential knowledge, and the joy she has in sharing it with others. Plus she seems to be quite well-mannered, and her voice is just perfect. When Ellen asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up, you can guess what her answer was.

Given what a hit she was on the show, Ellen has asked her back on the show a couple more times. Here are the clips from those appearances (this is probably the main benefit of writing this post, all of these clips in one easy to find place).

Macey goes to the White House:

A Present for Macey:

Macey playing Presidential trivia game against Kevin Spacey:

Macey at the Reagan Library:

Macey playing President trivia game against Luke Bryan:

I hope Macey appears on the show again; perhaps a trivia game against President Obama or Clinton? My money’s on Macey.

And I hope I live long enough to see her as President.


Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast


I just read a great article in Philadelphia Magazine today about Chip Kelly, the enigmatic coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

The article noted that last year a sideline microphone at an Eagles game caught Kelly saying to his players:

Culture wins football. Culture will beat scheme every day.”

That’s the second time I’ve seen that phrase used in the past couple of months.

In Bill McDermott’s (CEO of software giant SAP) book, “Winners Dream: A Journey from Corner Store to Corner Office“, he uses the more popular version of the phrase when he states “Cultures eats strategies for breakfast.”

Before I get too far, I want to give proper credit for the origin of this phrase. It is attributed to management guru Peter Drucker, who is alleged to have said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

So what is culture, and why is it so important?

Fast Company, one of my favorite magazines, had an article a few years ago, “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch” that discussed the importance of culture.

The author, Shawn Parr, offered a great description of culture:

Culture is a balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions, and beliefs that combined create either pleasure or pain, serious momentum or miserable stagnation. A strong culture flourishes with a clear set of values and norms that actively guide the way a company operates. Employees are actively and passionately engaged in the business, operating from a sense of confidence and empowerment rather than navigating their days through miserably extensive procedures and mind-numbing bureaucracy. Performance-oriented cultures possess statistically better financial growth, with high employee involvement, strong internal communication, and an acceptance of a healthy level of risk-taking in order to achieve new levels of innovation. 

Parr then goes on to say that “It’s (culture) one of the most important drivers that has to be set or adjusted to push long-term, sustainable success. It’s not good enough just to have an amazing product and a healthy bank balance. Long-term success is dependent on a culture that is nurtured and alive… Think about it like a nurturing habitat for success. Culture cannot be manufactured. It has to be genuinely nurtured by everyone from the CEO down.”

According to Parr, the advantages of a strong culture include better focus, greater motivation, more connection, more cohesion, and greater spirit.

Parr offers the following as the building blocks to a strong culture:

  • Dynamic and engaged leadership
  • Living values
  • Responsibility and accountability
  • Celebrate success and failure

Harvard Business Review had an article from 2005 that also talked about culture, “Culture Matters Most“.

Authors Thomas Kell and Gregory Carrott wrote that “Corporate cultures—and not just the strong ones—influence employees’ leadership styles more than any other aspect of their jobs, according to our recent analysis of thousands of executive assessments for more than 100 corporations.”

For example, the competencies of an American engineer employed by Honda will probably more closely resemble those of a Japanese comptroller at Honda than those of an American engineer at Ford.

The authors note that it is possible to change a company’s culture—or at least to prod it a bit in one direction or another. That is best achieved by continually hiring people who represent the direction in which you are headed.

And when you read about Chip Kelly, that seems to be what he is doing. He has let go of some highly talented players, and the reasoning seems to be that those players did not fit into the culture he was trying to create.

Kelly is one of the most innovative coaches to come along in quite some time. He reads books like Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by a Stanford professor, and Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. It’s all about building culture, creating the atmosphere to win.

He reminds me of my other favorite coach in the NFL, Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks. Carroll also stresses the importance of culture, and in fact has developed a philosophy known as  Win Forever. Created in conjunction with psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais, Win Forever is an applied mindset training program for high performing organizations that is science-based and success proven. Its aim is to help organizations develop a culture of high performance in a relentless pursuit of a competitive edge – for individuals and teams to become the very best they can possibly become. The pyramid below provides an overview of the Win Forever program.


In a story on SBNation, Carroll is praised for his leadership style — by standing with his players through the crucible of criticism, shouldering much of it himself, even, and instead of trying to change or manipulate his players, he encouraged them to be themselves.

Said Carroll: “I told them (the players), we don’t let them be themselves. We celebrate them being themselves, and we cheerlead them being themselves.”

“We’re trying to find guys that have unique ways about them and qualities, and try to allow them to demonstrate that in the way we perform. We’ll go to no end to figure that out.”

This is where Carroll’s and Kelly’s philosophies seem to differ. Kelly seems to be building a team that fits into a certain type of culture, while Carroll seems to take all types of players, and then preaches and teaches his Win Forever philosophy.

It obviously worked for Carroll; I hope Kelly meets with the same success.


Hold the Phone


This is the 14th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. The link to the original ad is at the end of this post.

Gray used this ad as a chance to vent his frustrations with the lack of telephone etiquette. He was not complaining about phones themselves, but more how people treated each other while on the phone.

It’s useful to recall that this ad was written around 1980, just about the time that voicemail systems were starting to be used. Since he doesn’t mention it at all, my guess is he had not had any experience with such systems, for he surely would have found something to complain about when confronted with voicemail.

And I can’t imagine what his reaction was when he experienced “Press 1 for sales, …” for the first time.

Gray noted that the telephone is one of life’s miracles, and with a little thoughtfulness, it could be one of life’s blessings.

There have been all sorts of incredible developments in the field of communications technology, email, texting, videoconferencing to name a few.

I view my iPhone as a miracle; it is an amazing device that allows the user to do so many things besides just making a phone call.

But many people simply do not have good etiquette when it comes to using such tools.

We see people holding a conversation on their cell phone in the middle of a restaurant; texting while driving (or walking); taking inappropriate selfies (somewhat redundant phrase); robocalling and spamming; checking their phone constantly for email, messages and notifications; the list goes on and on.

So once again, the more things change, the more things stay the same. It’s not technology that’s causing the problems noted above, it’s people.

But as Gray points out, with a little thoughtfulness, we could make such technologies one of life’s blessings.

Here is the original United Technologies ad that inspired this post.

To My Dad


The following is the eulogy I gave at my Dad’s funeral in 1993. It’s been a while since I’ve read this, and it brings back both happy and sad memories.

I would just like to say a few words about my Dad on behalf of his family and friends. First off, I would like to thank Monsignor Carroll and Father Kane for being here today. It’s been a long time since I have seen them.

My Dad was a big man, both in physical stature and in the size of his heart. In his lifetime, he took on many roles.

The first was that of devoted son, which he proved by supporting his family after the death of his father at an early age.

I remember him in the role of a Daddy, coaching me in little league, supporting my pathetic attempt at football, and driving my sisters and me all over the country for swim meets.

I remember Saturday night sing-a-longs with Mitch Miller, shining our shoes together on Sunday morning before church, and Sunday night pinochle games.

I also remember little things like driving in the front seat beside him when we stopped suddenly. I then instantly felt a strong arm reach out to protect me.

I remember all the trips we made together. Disneyland, Niagara Falls, and Ireland. I remember the souvenirs that he and my Mom would bring back from their trips together, like a shillelagh from Ireland or a deck of playing cards from their cruise to the Bahamas.

I remember him as a Dad, teaching all of his children to drive in the parking lot at King of Prussia Plaza. I remember the time I thought I had finally learned to drive a stick shift, until coming home one night in tears because I had backed into a car while trying to get started on a little hill. Dad came into my room, put his hand on my knee and told me everything would be alright.

I remember the sacrifices he made, like working two full-time jobs while we were growing up.

I remember him as a father, offering his children advice about education and careers, and I will never forget the time he sold his beloved coin collection to help pay graduate school tuition bills.

I remember him as a teacher, teaching his children the value of hard work, honesty, love, and enjoying life.

What I best remember about him, and which was one of his favorite roles, was as Pop-Pop. He had an unending supply of love and patience and pride and a knack for being the only one some of his grandchildren allowed to change their diaper. I am so grateful that my children had the opportunity to know him, play with him, and love him.

I also remember the pleasure he found in ordinary things, like cutting the lawn, painting, fixing things, running errands, and going to breakfast at Burger King.

I also remember how he loved visiting my sister’s farm, going out to lunch with his friends from TV Guide, and going out to dinner with his brother and sisters.

The past few days, while they have been difficult, have also allowed me to learn more about my Dad. Our home has been busy with visitors sharing in our sorrow. I learned that he was a loyal friend, and the person relatives turned to when they needed advice.

I know my Dad was proud of his children and grandchildren. He had the chance to see all of his children complete their education and follow in his footsteps of raising a family and pursuing a career.

I was also amazed at the interest my Dad took in our lives. Not only did he know our friends’ names, but their children’s’ names as well.

My sister Patricia, somehow managed to earn a degree in nursing while raising four children, thanks to the support of my Mom and Dad. My sister would like everyone here today to remember a happy moment they have shared with our Dad, since he so enjoyed life and those who were part of it.

My sister Peggy, a teacher, wanted me to relate a conversation she had with her children this past week. When she told her children that Pop-Pop had died, her oldest son said that meant he was now in heaven. Her next oldest son then said it wouldn’t take him long to get there because he was so tall. She could not be here today because she just gave birth to her fourth son on Tuesday.

Another special person in my Dad’s life was his sister-in-law, my Aunt Eileen. he enjoyed her friendship and all the love she gave to us.

Last but not least was my Dad’s favorite role, that of husband. The most important person in my Dad’s life was his wife Peg, my Mom. They recently celebrated their 40th anniversary, and she told me that she has many pleasant memories to see her through this difficult, but glorious, time.

In closing, I would like to express a thought which I believe is shared by everyone here, “Dad, I love you.”

In the days afterward, many other memories came back to me: Friday nights watching the Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the Odd Couple while eating pizza from Franzone’s; Dad walking to the P&W station when the roads were too icy to drive on so that he would not miss work; working on his cars every weekend with his neighbor; Dad sitting at the end of the aisle at church on Sunday mornings with his arms folded (no one was going to ask him to move in); breakfast at Harvest House restaurant after church; putting his tie around me when he got home from work and putting his cold hands against my face in the winter.

He was a great man, and I was lucky to have him as my Dad. Thanks for being such a great role model; I love you and miss you.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.