Almost Famous: Tim Moore, Singer-Songwriter Extraordinaire

almostfamous

I’m writing this while listening to the music of one of my favorite musicians of all time – Tim Moore.

Now I’m guessing that the vast majority of people reading this post have never heard of Tim Moore, and that’s unfortunate. And rather than shortchanging Tim and his accomplishments, I thought I would just include his relatively brief bio from Wikipedia at the end of this post for those who may be interested.

If you read through the bio, you will notice that Tim has known and worked with some big-time names in the music industry: Todd Rundgren, Frank Zappa, Daryl Hall, Keith Richard and the Rolling Stones. He has also had some of his songs recorded by others, such as Art Garfunkel, the Bay City Rollers, Cher, and Richie Havens.

One item not mentioned in the bio is that Tim won the 1974 American Song Festival (an international songwriting contest) Grand Prize Award for the song “Charmer“.

And here are a couple of blurbs about Tim:

“I LOVE Tim Moore. ‘Second Avenue’ — amazing… first two albums have fantastic stuff on em.” ~ Cameron Crowe, Director of Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky, Say Anything, and ironically, Almost Famous

“The case for the Tim Moore/Behind the Eyes two-fer cannot be stated strongly enough. Tim Moore’s first two albums represent his best work. Both familiar and groundbreaking (his delivery skills and arrangement choices are spectacular), this is the place to discover a true pop master.” Thom Jurek – All Music Guide

I was in high school when I first heard of Tim, and was lucky to see him perform a few times (including at the legendary Main Point in Bryn Mawr, PA). I brought all of his albums with me to college, and was able to introduce his music to my fellow swimmers and dorm-mates.

When I look back on things, I often wonder why he never became a household name; he obviously had the talent and determination.

My guess is that it comes down to the importance of luck/timing, or whatever you want to call it. Being in the right place at the right time or making the right connection at the right time, plays a key role in everyone’s success.

That’s also a key point in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book “Outliers: The Story of Success“, using Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as examples.

So while Tim may not have had the same commercial success as Billy Joel, Hall & Oates, or Simon & Garfunkel, I believe he was just as talented as these individuals.

So this blog is my chance to share his music with more people; I hope you enjoy it. And while I cannot find a good live version of Tim performing from the 1970s, here are videos my two favorite songs, Second Avenue (later covered by Art Garfunkel) and In the Middle. If you want to listen to more of his songs, here is a link to his music page.

After the videos you will find his Wikipedia bio. Enjoy! And let’s hope he performs again in Philly some day soon…

Second Avenue

In the Middle

from Wikipedia:

Tim Moore is an American singer and songwriter who recorded five albums for David Geffen‘s Asylum record label. A self-taught musician, Moore grew up inPhiladelphia where he went to art school and began to play his self-penned songs at local coffee houses. His rock career began as guitarist-singer with DC & the Senators, a cover band opening Philadelphia arena rock shows. During this early period, he also played drums with blues band Woody’s Truck Stop, the first Philadelphia band to feature Todd Rundgren. Producing more and more songs during this time, he and a friend, Jeff Scott, formed The Muffins, the first group to perform and record Moore originals, many of which Scott wrote lyrics for. The Muffins had minor US success on RCA records with a Kinks influenced single, ‘Subway Traveler,’produced by Cameo-Parkway founder Bernie Lowe. The Muffins peaked in the summer of love, opening for Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground for a week at Philadelphia’s Trauma psychedelic club.

After the Muffins disbanded, Frank Zappa heard Moore’s songs, which he found harmonically advanced for the period, and brought him to New York with the intention of signing him to Bizarre Records. Moore declined the signing when tour scheduling kept Zappa from producing the album himself. Moore returned to Philadelphia and worked as a staff writer and session guitarist on sessions with Thom Bell, Gamble and Huff and other Philly Soul producers. During this time, Moore lived next door to Daryl Hall in downtown Philadelphia where they both pulled salaries as staff writers. Hall and Moore co-wrote material for a band they founded, Gulliver, which released one album on the Elektra Records label.

After the breakup of Gulliver, Moore moved to Woodstock, New York, then the hometown of Bob Dylan, The Band, and Van Morrison, seeking a more personal approach to his music. He struck a deal with ABC-Dunhill records that produced the first Moore single, “A Fool Like You” on which Donald Fagen sang backup. (Moore also sang backup on the first Steely Dan single, “Dallas.”) Moore teamed with producer Nick Jameson to record his first solo album, Tim Moore which was released on Gulf + Western’s Famous Music subsidiary label A Small Record Company. Jameson provided him the Beatles-like studio freedom he had long sought. For the first time, Moore assembled his own tracks as a multi-instrumentalist, layering guitar, keyboard and bass parts over drum tracks by Bernard Purdie and Russ Kunkel. Three singles, “A Fool Like You”, “Second Avenue” and “When You Close Your Eyes”, received much airplay in the US and UK. But as “Second Avenue” was headed up the US charts, the album’s distributor (Paramount) abruptly ceased record operations. Because his single was already climbing the charts, the sudden release from contract spurred a Tim Moore bidding war between Clive Davis and David Geffen. By the time the deal went to Geffen, Art Garfunkel had released a competing version of “Second Avenue” which peaked at #34 on the Billboard Hot 100. This ‘cover battle’ effectively defeated both records’ chances for a hit. Moore’s version of “Second Avenue” made #58 on the Billboard charts.

The following year he released Behind the Eyes, featuring what remains his best-known song in the U.S., “Rock and Roll Love Letter“, a hit for the Bay City Rollers a year later. Moore’s guitar work on “Rock’n’Roll Love Letter” drew the attention of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. The two became friends and Moore spent two weeks guesting on guitar with the Stones and Peter Tosh during their rehearsals at Bearsville Studios.

Although Moore was signed to Los Angeles based Asylum Records, he didn’t record in L.A. until his third album White Shadows. This more highly polished collection teamed Moore with Michael McDonald,David Foster, the Eagles Timothy B. Schmit, drummer Jeff Porcaro, Little Feat‘s Bill Payne, and other L.A. based talent. The band he assembled for the American tour in support of “White Shadows” featuredBrian Wilson‘s bassist, Bob Lizik, Philadelphia drummer Steve Shive, Pittsburgh drummer Bennett Carlise, David Livingston on guitar and a Bob Lizik compadre from Chicago, John Melnick on keyboards. Lizik and drummer Steve Shive were featured players on his next album, High Contrast on Asylum Records, produced by legendary producer/engineer, Ken Scott who previously had produced albums by David Bowie, Supertramp, Dixie Dregs, Stanley Clarke and was the second engineer to Geoff Emerick on the Beatles White Album.

Moore’s albums were highly praised by critics. Other acts continued to mine his new releases for songs, but neither of these achievements brought Moore wider public attention in his homeland. Instead, he found success outside the US while promoting his fifth album, Flash Forward, produced by Blondie engineer, Rob Freeman. In 1986 Moore spent 75 days touring Brazil after his romantic beat-ballad “Yes” fromFlash Forward went to number one and held that position for 10 weeks. “Yes” enjoyed a similar run of success in Portugal in 1988.

Performers who have recorded Moore’s songs include Art Garfunkel (“Second Avenue”), Cher (“Love Enough”), Richie Havens (“That’s the Way I See You”/ “Yes”/ “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over”), Bay City Rollers(“Rock’n’Roll Love Letter”), Etta James (“Charmer”), The Records (another version of “Rock’n’Roll Love Letter”), Maxine Nightingale (“I Think I Want to Possess You”), Ian Matthews (“A Fool Like You”), Colin Blunstone (“I Can Almost See The Light”, “When You Close Your Eyes”, “Second Avenue”), Eric Andersen (“A Fool Like You”), Cliff Richard (“Love Enough”), Clifford T. Ward (“I Got Lost Tonight”), Jimmy Witherspoon (“Aviation Man”) and others.

Farmers’ Market Shoppers Beware

hilofarmersmarket

Researchers at the University of Minnesota found a positive relationship between the number of farmers markets per capita in a given state and the number of reported incidences of certain food-borne illnesses in that state.

The authors are careful to point out that it would be a mistake to interpret the results as saying that the foods purchased at farmers markets are somehow worse (i.e., more likely to make consumers ill) than the foods purchased at grocery stores because of the results. This is especially important given that even if what they have identified is a causal relationship rather than a correlation, the results do not allow studying the precise causal mechanisms through which farmers markets may increase the number of cases and outbreaks of food-borne illness. Indeed, most food safety problems come from the mishandling of foods by consumers or by restaurant staff who prepare those foods for consumers. As such, it is easy to imagine cases where consumers are more or less neglectful with foods purchased from farmers markets (e.g., by being less likely to wash produce from the farmers market, or by cooking eggs from the farmers market more thoroughly than eggs from the grocery store), which could explain the results. In other words, although the presence of farmers markets in a given state might well lead to more cases and outbreaks of food-borne illness, this research cannot pinpoint the precise causal mechanisms through which this occurs.

The researchers thus note that from a policy perspective, it would be a mistake to take the results in their paper and discourage or encourage people to purchase food from farmers markets on the basis of their results. The authors point out that even if their estimated relationships between farmers markets and food-borne illness were causal beyond all reasonable doubt, they cannot determine the precise mechanisms through which those relationships operate. This suggests further research for those interested in studying the relationship between farmers markets and food-borne illness should go—that is, the mechanisms whereby farmers markets might cause food-borne illness.

My thoughts are (and the authors point this out in another part of their paper) that farmers markets often sell foods from producers who are subject to a less stringent set of regulations than the foods sold at convenience stores, grocery stores, super markets, and big-box stores.

The typically remotely produced and procured foods sold at such stores are produced in the context of agricultural value chains by large, often multinational firms who face serious scrutiny from food-safety authorities. As a result, those firms have serious incentives to apply the strictest possible protocols.

I think the combination of less stringent standards for the producers of food that goes to farmers markets, along with the lack of care by consumers in washing such food, is the most likely reason for the results of this study.

It seems that the best solution is to get to know the producers at your local farmers market and to learn about their food-handling procedures. Once you find a producer who seems to take such an issue seriously, then the consumer needs to take some responsibility and wash the food thoroughly before eating it.

While such an approach does not guarantee that you will avoid all food-borne illnesses, I think it will decrease the likelihood of such an event.

As always, buyer beware.

The Deception’s in the Detail

michaelsad

We received this coupon in the mail today, and I’m guessing if you were like me, the first thing that catches your attention is the 50% off ANY regular price item.

Now Michaels is not the type of store that is likely to have anything I would be interested in, but my wife likes going there, and so this seemed like a pretty good deal.

But then I started reading the fine print:

Not valid on: As Seen on TV, Silhouette & Cricut brands; special order custom floral arrangement custom frames & materials; services & package pricing; custom invitations, canvas prints & photo center purchases; Rainbow Loom products, 3Doodler 3D Printing Pen & accessories, Heidi Swapp Minc machine, sewing machines, books, magazines, CD/DVDs, gift cards & debit card products; Buy More, Save More offers; sale, clearance or buy & get items; online only products & specials; class, event, birthday party, shipping, delivery or installation fees… Limited to stock on hand… Exclusions subject to change.

It seems like it may have been easier to just list what IS valid.

The ad bothers me for a couple of reasons.

First, I think the fact that not everything is included in the 50% off sale needs to be noted in the same font size as the 50% text. My guess is that Michaels is hoping that many people will see the 50% off message and not bother to read the fine print, and then come to the store looking for a bargain. My guess is that some customers are going to be disappointed when they find out that something they have chosen to buy is not part of the 50% off deal.

The second thing that bothers me is why not just make it everything in the store that is eligible for the 50% off. This seems easier from an administrative standpoint (no need to put stickers on just certain items), from a customer service standpoint (no questions about whether an item is 50% off or not), and from a public relations standpoint:

50% OFF ANY ONE ITEM – NO EXCLUSIONS

That is a much simpler ad, a simpler message, and a more appealing message; no need for fine print.

I’m sure Michaels knows what it is doing, and it must work.

But it’s the classic situation of whether the ends justify the means. Just because the ad may work in getting paying customers in the store doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do things.

I’ve written about this “Truth in Advertising” type stuff before, and it bothers me, and it influences my purchasing decision.

I would rather do business with a company that is completely upfront with me, and doesn’t use fine print to hide some of the less appealing aspects of an offer.

I guess coming from a financial background where there are rules governing what and how firms must disclose financial information, I wish the same could be done in the marketing and advertising worlds.

I realize financial reporting is not perfect, but at least publicly traded firms are required to have their financial information audited by an independent public accounting firm to determine whether the information is presented fairly.

I wonder how many ads and direct mail pieces could pass such a test.

 

Are We Moving Towards a Gig-based Economy?

amway

Two weeks ago Hillary Clinton gave a talk in which she outlined her economic vision.

Here is one part of that speech:

“… many Americans are making extra money renting out a small room, designing websites, selling products they design themselves at home, or even driving their own car. This on-demand, or so-called gig economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But it is also raising hard questions about work-place protections and what a good job will look like in the future.”

Hillary was talking about companies such as Airbnb, Etsy, and Uber, which have certainly been in the news quite a bit. And all that media coverage may lead one to think that there has been a dramatic shift in the nature of work as the result of such companies.

However, according to an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “Proof of a ‘Gig Economy’ Revolution Is Hard to Find”, there does not appear to be any dramatic shift in the nature of work.

Far from turning into a nation of gig workers, Americans are becoming slightly less likely to be self-employed, and less prone to hold multiple jobs. Official government data shows around 95% of those who report having jobs are accounted for on the formal payroll of U.S. employers, little changed from a decade ago.

If Uber and its ilk were fundamentally undermining the relationship workers have with employers, that shift would be showing up in at least some of the key economic indicators. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, or even a few million, may have dabbled in the gig economy, but in the context of the 157 million-strong U.S. labor force, the trend remains marginal.

“It could be companies like Lyft and Uber look terribly important by their capital market valuation, but the actual economic activity they’re responsible for might not be all that great,” said Gary Burtless, a labor market economist at the centrist Brookings Institution.

So despite the hoopla over these gig-based companies and the sharing economy, data shows that Americans are becoming less likely to be self-employed or hold multiple jobs. But regardless of what the data shows, I am sure this topic will continue to be discussed in the political arena because of the hoopla.

And given the tremendous valuations some of these firms have achieved, I am sure they will continue to receive a good deal of financial press as well. So while I certainly see such firms playing a role in our economy, I have trouble envisioning any of these firms becoming “great” firms along the lines of an IBM, Google, or Apple.

I think great firms require great employees who are committed to the vision and the culture of the firm for which they work. I also think great firms require great leaders who feel they can inspire their employees to achieve the firm’s goals. I don’t see a group of independent contractors ever having that level of commitment, nor management having much influence over such workers.

Of course, there could be exceptions, such as the success and passion of many Amway distributors (now owned by Alticor). As Jonathan Friedman, a partner at LionBird, an early-stage investing fund, perhaps these gig-based firms could learn a few things from a direct sales model.

I wrote about the Fortune 500 yesterday, and how it has changed over the past 60 years; it will be interesting to see if any of these “gig-based” firms make it on to the Fortune 500 in the next 10 years.

Innovate or Abdicate – The Fortune 500, Then and Now

combined_fortune500

This is the 19th 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. Here is the text from that ad.


Next month, Fortune will publish its 1984 list of America’s top industrial companies.
The first list came out in 1955.
Many of the big names that appeared on that first list will be missing from this year’s.
Some not-so-famous names will replace them.
Some companies just sit there and watch their markets dry up.
Others go after new markets and win them.
Resting on past results doesn’t keep you in the 500.
Remember: every day another product goes the way of the buggy whip.
So don’t abdicate.
Innovate.


I thought this ad lends itself to some analysis, comparing the changes over time in the composition of the Fortune 500.

“Fortune”-ately, most of the analysis that I had thought of doing has already been done by others, including Fortune magazine itself.

So let’s take a look at some of the interesting facts.

According to Tom Huddleston, Jr. from Fortune magazine, 57 companies from the original list have made the list for each of the 61 years that the list has been compiled, an impressive feat. His article has many other interesting facts about these 57 companies, but I’ll leave it up to you to click on the link if you would like to read those details.

Erika Fry, also from Fortune magazine, wrote an article last year about what has happened to the top 10 firms from the initial 1955 ranking. Below is a table that shows the original top 10 firms, and the current top 10 firms. Note that while there are many metrics that can be used to rank firms, the one used to rank the Fortune 500 is total sales. If a company went by a different name on the original list, that name is shown in parentheses.

Rank 1955 2015
1 General Motors Walmart
2 Exxon Mobil
(Jersey Standard)
Exxon Mobil
3 U.S. Steel Chevron
4 General Electric Berkshire Hathaway
5 Esmark Apple
6 Chrysler General Motors
7 Armour Phillips 66
8 Gulf Oil General Electric
9 Mobil
(Standard Oil Company of New York)
Ford Motor
10 DuPont CVS Health

Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute analyzed the original list and the 2014 list, the 60th year of the list. He found that only 61 companies that appeared on the 1955 list appeared on the 2014 list. This amounts to just about 12% of the inaugural companies. He notes that the other 88% of the firms have either gone bankrupt, merged, or simply fell from the top 500.

By the way, here is the link to the complete list of the original Fortune 500, and here is a link to the most recent listing.

It is worth noting that in 1995, after 40 years of publishing the list, Fortune decided that its list no longer reflected the top level of American business. As a result, the list, for the first time, included service corporations — banks, life insurance companies, utilities and so on — as well as industrial ones. With the change came 291 new entrants to the famous list including three in the Top 10 (Walmart, Sears, and AT&T).

One final set of facts is that of the current top 10 on the Fortune list, four of the companies did not even exist in 1955 (Walmart, 1962; Berkshire Hathway, 1955; Apple, 1976; CVS Health, 1963).

So while Harry Gray is right in noting that innovation is important if a company wants to stay on the Fortune 500, there are other factors that play into being listed, such as acquisitions, break-ups, privatization, and foreign ownership.

As a side note, the Wall Street Journal had an article today. “The Only Six Stocks That Matter“. Amazon.com Inc., Google Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., Netflix Inc., and Gilead Sciences Inc. have accounted for more than half of the $664 billion in value added this year to the Nasdaq Composite Index, according to data compiled by brokerage firm JonesTrading.

Another similar statistic is that Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook, Gilead, and Walt Disney Co. have accounted for more than all of the $199 billion in market-capitalization gains in the S&P 500.

Despite the current success of these firms, I wonder how many will still be around 50 years.

I’m certainly hoping at least Apple and Google are around for a long time.

Apple so that I can still have an iPhone, and Google so that I can look things up for my blog as well as figure out how to get from Point A to Point B…

My New Favorite Comic

sebastian

As usual, I am a little bit behind the times.

I had never heard of Sebastian Maniscalco until last summer when Netflix began airing his first comedy special, “What’s Wrong With People?“. It was one of the funniest shows I have ever seen.

Apparently Sebastian has been doing stand-up comedy for over 15 years, but really started to hit his stride just a few years ago, and now he performs at sold out shows all around the country.

This past November his brand new Showtime standup special “Aren’t You Embarrassed?” debuted, which was also quite funny.

I’ve included a few clips of Sebastian below.

This first one I should have included when I wrote my blog post about jury duty, but better late than never.

The next is a clip from his first appearance on the Tonight show, with Jay Leno:

and here is a more recent appearance on the Tonight Show, with Jimmy Fallon:

I hope you enjoy him; we are looking forward to seeing him live when he comes to the Philly area this Fall!

Can We Create an Ethical Robot?

pepper_robot

Jerry Kaplan, author of the soon-to-be released book, “Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” wrote an intriguing essay in today’s Wall Street Journal, ‘Can We Create an Ethical Robot?

Mr. Kaplan offered a few interesting examples of how a robot might behave compared to a human in certain situations:

  • Should your self-driving car swerve to save the life of the child who just chased his ball into the street at the risk of killing the elderly couple driving the other way?
  • Should a robot buy the last dozen muffins at Starbucks while a crowd of hungry patrons looks on?
  • Would it be OK to instruct a self-driving car to re-park itself every two hours in an area that restricts parking in one spot to two hours?

There are a few more examples in the essay, and I am sure you could imagine several situations yourself.

Mr. Kaplan points out that it probably is not enough to just program the robot to follow rules, since sometimes the best decision involves breaking a rule.

The essay raises a lot of interesting points, as do the comments at the end of the article. While some people seem to believe the best answer is to delay the development of robots as long as possible, I do not think that is a realistic view, nor the right view.

Robots are already here, and their capabilities will only continue to increase dramatically.

But despite those dramatic developments, I think having a robot think ethically is a long, long, long time off – in fact I’m not sure it will ever happen.

It seems as if Mr. Kaplan is perhaps really asking a broader question – can we get robots to think/act like humans?

I think one of the biggest problems is that we can’t teach humans what the most appropriate decision is in every situation because it’s not always clear -cut. That’s why we have the phrase “ethical dilemma”. If we always knew what the right response was in every situation, it wouldn’t be an ethical dilemma.

I’m sure if you asked a hundred people about the three situations noted above, you would likely get a variety of answers that all seem perfectly rational and ethical.

So if the people given the responsibility to make robots more human and ethical have a diversity of opinions and values and thus on what the right action is in a given situation, then whose ethics do you “teach” to these robots?

Also, humans do not always behave rationally, nor do they always do the right thing.

So if we want the robots to be more like us, do we program randomness into the robot’s decision-making process, so that they occasionally make “bad”, or illogical choices?

Since humans are not perfect decision makers, then it seems impossible to program a robot to make the perfect decision every time, because again, in many situations, there never is “the” answer.

On thing I am sure of – there will be lots of growing pains as we see more widespread use of robots, but I think that has been true of every new technology development.

But I have an inherent trust in the human race that collectively, we will find the best (not perfect) way to take advantage of the power and promise of robots.

But if the robot designers were looking for a starting point to make robots behave in an optimal way, I do have a suggestion.

Perhaps the robots could be programmed to assess a situation by first answering the question, “What would my mom do?”

Getting to Know the Person Behind the Counter

guycounter

I ran a couple of routine errands today, and while the places I went to – a vacuum repair shop and an auto repair shop – may seem pretty mundane, the people I met at each place were anything but mundane.

I went to the vacuum store to just get a replacement belt and filter, and thought I would be in and out in a minute or two. Unfortunately the man behind the counter told me that the store did not stock the filter and he would have to order it. I said that would be fine, and so he began to take my info.

When I gave him my address he asked if that was next to Villanova and I said we lived right down the street from the college and that I taught there.

Well that opened the floodgates.

As it turned out, the guy was a lifelong Villanova basketball fan, as well as a fan of all the Big 5 basketball teams (Penn, Temple, La Salle, St. Joe’s, and Villanova). So we started chatting about not only recent Villanova teams, but teams from 40-50 years ago. He still remembered, as I do, the famous 1971 game where Villanova beat a previously undefeated Penn team 90-47 in the NCAA Eastern regional finals.

We then started talking about all the Philly sports team, but mostly baseball. It seems like we had all the same favorite players growing up, Richie Allen, Johnny Callison, and Cooke Rojas to name a few. He even told me a story about his meeting Juan Marichal. If you don’t know who he is, all I can say is that he was probably the most imitated pitcher of his day back in the 1960s and 1970s.

The two-minute errand turned into a 20 minute trip down memory lane. I’m already looking forward to when I have to go back and pick up the filter!

Later in the day, my wife and I had to go pick up her car from where it was being inspected. I went into the office and told the young guy behind the counter that I was there to pick up the 2003 Rendezvous (only the best cars for the Borden family). As he was writing up the invoice, I noticed that he was wearing  a Fitbit on his wrist.

I asked him how he liked it, and once again I found myself in a fascinating 15-minute conversation with someone behind a counter, this time chatting about exercise, fitness gadgets, fitness apps, and if you know me, Apple products. He even recommended a sleep monitoring app (Sleep Cycle) that I look forward to trying.

As I drove away I realized how great it was to engage in conversations with people about their passions. And that you never know when or where, or with whom such conversations might happen.

But if today was any indication, it seems as if just a little observation and a willingness to either share a bit about yourself (I teach at Villanova) or to ask a leading question (how do you like your Fitbit) increases the odds of such conversations happening.

And the conversations turned what could have been a mundane event into a pleasant experience, certainly for me, and I hope for the two guys behind the counters.

I  know how much I enjoy it when a student comes into my office with an accounting question, and once that has been answered, the student then proceeds to ask me a more personal questions. It might be about what it was like to own a personal training studio, or why I’m a vegan, or why I pursued a career in academia.

I get passionate talking about such topics, it brightens up my day; I hope the two guys I met today felt the same way.

So as I get older I’m starting to realize that everyone has a story to tell, or a passion to share.

And I look forward to taking a more proactive approach to finding out what those stories and passions are.

You never know who is on the other side of the counter.

Now this Is My Kind of Bus Driver

buslemonade

Last Thursday, John Lohan, who has driven a bus for the Massachusetts Transportation Authority for nearly 20 years, asked his passengers if they would mind if he stopped his bus at a kid’s lemonade stand.

When none of the passengers expressed any concern, John pulled his bus over and bought everyone on the bus a cup of lemonade.

“My only thinking was that it’d be a thrill for the children where they’d have a great story to tell for the rest of their lives,” Lohan told ABC News.

I’m sure it was a memorable experience for the kids. As one of the four young girls running the stand said, “Our faces like dropped, it was awesome. The lemonade only costs 50 cents and he bought seven of them and he gave us 10 bucks, so he’s awesome.”

But is wasn’t just the lemonade stand owners who came away impressed. According to Lohan, all of the passengers were “grinning from ear to ear. They all said thank you and a variation of ‘you made my day’ when they got off at each of their stops.”

It was a simple gesture, but look at the positive effects it had on everyone involved. I’m sure all those people told someone else about what happened, and the word spread and eventually the story made the national news.

I’m also sure that many of the individuals directly involved in this act of kindness made a pledge to themselves to somehow pay it forward, to brighten up someone else’s day, just like the bus driver did for them.

I’m a big fan of lemonade stands, and I’ve written before about the promise my wife and I made to ourselves to stop at every lemonade stand we encounter, and we’ve held true to that promise for over 33 years.

So I think of myself and John Lohan as kindred spirits; I’m sure he got as much of a thrill out of his actions as I do when I stop at a lemonade stand.

The story also got me thinking about what I might want to do when I retire from teaching; maybe I can become the next Ralph Cramden and make lemonade stands part of my daily route.

ralphcramden

The story also made me realize that I’ve got to become a better tipper!

So hats off to John Lohan for a job well done.

Can Cartoon Caption Contests Make You a Better Writer?

waldocartoon

Peter Boumgarden, a college marketing professor, uses the weekly New Yorker cartoon caption contest (the cartoon above is his favorite) to generate lively class discussions on language and meaning.

Boumgarden believes that cultivating the discipline of writing is one practice toward clear and creative thinking, and that returning every week to the journey from an image to an idea to a punchy joke is a great way to train playful and disciplined thinking.

I’ve entered a few different cartoon caption contests in the past couple of years, including the The New Yorker as well as the Harvard Business Review. I’ve never made it as a finalist, but I do agree with Boumgarden that trying to write a caption is a great way to focus your attention and to learn to use words effectively and efficiently in order to elicit an emotion from the reader.

So in honor of Steve Jobs line that  “Good artists copy, great artists steal”, I think I’ll steal Professor Boumgarden’s idea and try this with my students in the fall.

If you’re curious, here is the link to this week’s New Yorker contest:

newyorkercontest

 

and here is the current Harvard Business Review contest (although the deadline for entering has already passed):

hbrcartoon

And as Boumgarden notes, “And if, in the end, what results is merely a future of business with a splash of New Yorker humor, then I would venture we still all come out ahead.”

I couldn’t agree more.