Thank You Banfield Pet Hospital

banfieldcard2

This past week we had to put our dog Butters to sleep, and the love and care offered by the people at Banfield Pet Hospital could not have been more generous.

Everyone, from the cashier, to the vet, to the assistants, expressed their sympathy for our loss. While the vet was explaining the process to us, she actually started to cry herself, saying that she feels bad during times like this. Could you ask for anything more from a vet – someone who is as emotionally invested as you are in your pet?

And then, to top it all off, we received a sympathy card (shown above) just a few days later, signed by all those who work there. That’s more concern than some places show when there is loss of a human life.

Our oldest son and his roommates got Butters from a dog shelter when they were juniors in college, and when they graduated two years later, our son, and Butters, moved in with us. When our son moved out, the dog stayed with us, and was a member of our family for almost 12 years.

Butters was a great dog, fiercely loyal and lovable to those he knew, initially wary of anyone who came into our house (for all of 30 seconds), and went berserk whenever the mailman came to the door.

He was in good health until about three weeks ago, at which time he seemed to lose all of his energy and interest in eating. When we took him to the Banfield vet, she ran some tests and concluded that he likely had cancer, and that we should just try to keep him comfortable. As his health deteriorated dramatically, his quality of life suffered, and we felt it was best to put him to sleep.

It was not an easy decision, but the vet and her staff at Banfield could not have been more kind to us during that difficult time, and for that we will be forever grateful.

So thank you to the staff at Banfield Hospital, we can’t recommend you highly enough.

Using Technology to Master the Tower of Babel

babel

Imagine being at a dinner party with eight people at the table speaking eight different languages, and the voice in your ear will always be whispering the one language you want to hear.

Alec Ross, the author of “The Industries of the Future”, predicts that everyone will soon be able to converse in dozens of foreign languages, eliminating the very concept of a language barrier.

Along with more powerful translation tools, there will be significant developments with respect to the human interface. Instead of using Google Translate on your smartphone, in 10 years a small earpiece will whisper what is being said to you in your native language nearly simultaneously as a foreign language is being spoken. The lag time will be the speed of sound.

Nor will the voice in your ear be a computer voice, a la Siri, but  will re-create the voice of the speaker, but speaking your native language. When you respond, your language will be translated into the language of your counterpart, either through his or her own earpiece or amplified by a speaker on your phone, watch or whatever the personal device of 2025 is.

Researchers are also working on innovations that will help the speaking and hearing impaired. Ross notes that while traveling recently in Ukraine, a group of engineering students showed him a shiny black-and-blue robot glove called Enable Talk that uses flex sensors in the fingers to recognize sign language and to translate it to text on a smartphone via Bluetooth. The text is then converted to speech, allowing the deaf and mute person to “speak” and be heard in real time. Before long, the language spoken could be one of dozens chosen from a drop-down menu on the phone.

There seems to be many possible repercussions to such advances in technology.

  • Will students still need to take courses in a foreign language, or can such courses be replaced with ones that focus on the culture and history of various countries?
  • Will the U.S. lose some of its influence and prestige since English will no longer need to be the standard language of the world?
  • Will there be significant growth in international business as a result of the breakdown of the language barrier?
  • Will I stop being paranoid when I walk past two people speaking a foreign language and then laughing?

No matter the repercussions, it is a development that I look forward to with great anticipation. Any technology that offers the promise of helping people from all parts of the world better understand each other seems to be a movement in the right direction.

Once we understand each other, hopefully peace and justice will not be far behind.

Have a good night.

And to my friends around the world:

‘atamanna lak laylat hania

祝你晚安

hav en god aften

bonne nuit

gute Nacht

Καλή σου νύχτα

go mbeadh oíche mhaith

Buonanotte

良い夜を

dobrej nocy

спокойной ночи

tenga una buena noche

har en god natt

Selamat malam

좋은 밤 이

testimonium habere bonum nocte

chúc một đêm ngon giấc

 

 

Facebook Announces That the Average BMI of Its Employees Is 30; Stock Drops by 8%

fb_bmi

The above headline is fictional, but we could start to see such announcements in the future.

A coalition of employers and insurers, dubbed the Health Metrics Working Group, has been meeting for more than a year to figure out how to collect, interpret and report the health of their workforce. Such a report could give a variety of stakeholders – investors, managers, employees, and consumers, insight into a company’s commitment to employee health. While poor health can certainly drive up a company’s medical costs, a growing body of research suggests it can also affect employee productivity and performance.

The working group aims to develop a standard measure of employee health, one which could be verified by outside auditors, similar to what is done financial accounting reports.

A parallel could be drawn with corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports which have grown in popularity over the years. From Wikipedia:

A sustainability report is an organizational report that gives information about economic, environmental, social and governance performance… Many companies now produce an annual sustainability report and there are a wide array of ratings and standards around. There are a variety of reasons that companies choose to produce these reports, but at their core they are intended to be “vessels of transparency and accountability”. Often they also intended to improve internal processes, engage stakeholders and persuade investors.

While there is quite a bit of diversity in how these reports are currently prepared, there have been initiatives to standardize what is measured, how it is measured, and how it is reported.

This appears to be what is taking place with the Health Metrics Working Group.

Derek Yach, the chair of the working group, want this to be a serious management tool that goes alongside financial management tools. He believes that the level of obesity in the workforce, stress and depression is material to the business performance of a company. Any health information would be presented in the aggregate, to conform with health-privacy laws.

To give you a sense of what sort of metrics the group is suggesting, and how the overall score would be aggregated, here is a sample scorecard from the Group’s report:

samplescorecardhealth

As noted earlier, firms that rate high on employee health may reap financial benefits, too. A trio of studies on the link between stock performance and corporate wellness, published in this month’s Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that companies with high-performing health programs for employees outperformed the Standard & Poor’s index by as much as 16% a year.

I’m a fan of such a metric. Intuitively it makes sense to me that a healthier workforce is a more productive workforce. In addition, I think a healthier workforce is an indication that management cares about such a metric, and not just a focus on the bottom line profits.

In many ways it is an extension of the Balanced Scorecard, a management tool that has been used successfully by firms for close to 30 years as a way to get an organization to focus on both financial and non-financial measures of performance.

And who knows, someday in the not so distant future, Apple may issue a press release stating that its entire global workforce is 100% smoke free, and the stock market will react as if the company just announced that sales increased 10% more than expected.

Dear Diary

mywdays

I started keeping a daily “journal” on my iPhone (using the great app My Wonderful Days) a little over two years ago. I use it primarily to simply record what I did for exercise that day, if I had a smoothie that day, if we went to a movie, if it snowed that day, or any other random thought I felt would be interesting to look back on a year or two later.

For example, here are my diary entries from January 28, 2014:

45 minutes on bike
weight: 159.8
went to Dentist
had Smoothie
Went to planet fitness with Pat
Took Pat to work
Mary went to see One Book speaker at Villanova

And here are the entries I made a year ago on this date:

Had a smoothie
Had cardiologist appointment
Mary worked at library
Pat and I went to Anthony’s for dinner then watched Green Mile

So it’s pretty basic stuff, and yes, my life is as exciting as these entries make it appear.

What motivated me to write about my diary was an article in the Wall Street Journal this week, “The Power of Daily Writing in a Journal“, that featured 78 year old Charley Kempthorne. Here is the opening paragraph:

Charley Kempthorne wakes each morning before sunrise, pours a cup of black coffee, opens his computer and writes in a private journal that he began in 1964. These days, he logs between 1,000 and 3,000 words a day. By his rough calculations, his journal is about 10 million words long… No one, including his wife of 41 years, has read it.

Charley believes that keeping the daily journal helps him to better understand his life, or it just makes him feel better and get started on the day in a better mood.

Research supports such beliefs.

James Pennebaker, a psychology professor, notes that taking 15 or 20 minutes to write freely about emotions, secrets or upheaval can be a powerful tonic. He adds that writing privately about traumatic experiences, even for as few as four consecutive days, can reduce stress, help people sleep and improve their immune systems.

While I don’t consider my diary to be a journal like the one kept by Charley, but I have often read about the power of keeping a daily journal, and that is one of the reasons why I started this blog. A key difference between my blog and Charley’s journal is that mine is posted to social media while Charlie keeps his entries private (although he has posted a few items to Facebook).

Charley believes that when you post your writing online, you tend to pick your words more carefully when writing for the world to see, worrying about being judged or hurting someone’s feelings. I would agree with such a belief, at least in my own case. There are certainly some thoughts and opinions I have had that I would not feel comfortable posting online. The tradeoff is that I think posting online is a great way to keep me accountable for posting something everyday.

If personal journaling is something you have thought about trying, I certainly would encourage you to do so. If you want some guidance, here is some advice from Charley’s ‘Narrative Journaling: 28 days to writing more or less happily for the rest of your life,’ a workbook by Charley Kempthorne

  • Write 500 words every day for 28 consecutive days, preferably at the same time and same place, to create a routine.
  • Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation. Be willing to write badly. Authenticity is more important than excellence.
  • Use prompts to get you going. Make a list of six of the stories you commonly tell. Get a photo and tell the story of that picture.
  • Keep it private. If you show it to others, you might worry about what they will say and never start.
  • If you can’t think of what to write, describe the room you are in, what you are wearing, or a room from your childhood home, or what it felt like to brush your teeth.
  • Carry a notebook to jot down ideas or a recollection, a conversation or image.

Happy journaling.

(and by the way, I didn’t spend this January 28 this year visiting a medical professional…)

 

Happy Birthday Patty B!

pattyb

Today is our youngest son’s 26th birthday.

I’ve written about Pat before, when he received an award. It turned out to be one of the most popular posts I’ve written.

He is an amazing young man with a great sense of humor, and today him and his brother Joey made a video to celebrate his birthday.

Bakers Gonna Bake

It's my birthday and I've got a gift for you! Learn how to bake my favorite treat in this special video…

Posted by Patty Borden on Wednesday, January 27, 2016

If you liked that, here are a couple of other short videos that the two of them have collaborated on.

Happy birthday Pat, and thanks for all the joy and laughter that you bring in to our lives! Love you!

Animals Have Feelings, and Rights

QuitNow_coloured_rotwebseite1

Somebody posted this beautiful piece of art by Katharina Rot on Facebook yesterday, along with the following quote:

“Hunting and fishing involve killing animals with devices (such as guns) for which the animals have not evolved natural defenses. No animal on earth has adequate defense against a human armed with a gun, a bow and arrow, a trap that can maim, a snare that can strangle, or a fishing lure designed for the sole purpose of fooling fish into thinking they have found something to eat.”

The quote comes from the book, “Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect“, by Marc Bekoff.

I was reminded of the quote again when I came across the following headline in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Chinese Scientists Created Monkeys Carrying Autism-Related Gene“.

The article notes that the Chinese lab study is the latest experiment in which researchers altered monkeys by adding human genes, to make them better laboratory models than mice for probing brain-related disorders.

I am not a supporter of animal experimentation, because of situations such as the following that was reported in the article:

The altered monkeys express the new gene in their brain tissue, pass it to their offspring, and so far, two generations of the monkeys have shown “similar behavior to human autism patients,” Dr. Qui said. The monkeys are in most ways normal, but are more anxious than their unaltered kin, run repetitively in circles inside their cages, and are less likely to interact with others.

Why would you treat any animal that way, human or non-human? It’s bad enough that the monkeys are kept in a a cage (certainly not their natural environment), but now that their genes have been altered, they have higher stress levels, and run around in circles (and I’m sure those are very small circles since they are caged).

If the reason for using monkeys is because their genetic makeup is close to that of a human, why would you treat an animal that is “almost human” like that?

Marc Bekoff has written a brief, yet thoughtful Statement on Animal Experimentation. Here is an excerpt:

While people might disagree about whether or not to use nonhuman animals in invasive research that is designed solely to help human animals (or, for that matter, to use animals in any sorts of research) and whether or not sentience is the key criterion that should be used in making such decisions, there is no doubt that some of the treatment to which innumerable (uncountable) animals are subjected cause deep and enduring pain and suffering and often death (as in terminal experiments). It’s “bad biology” to rob animals of their cognitive and emotional capacities.

… Wherever animals are used it is necessary to have constant inspection of what is happening behind closed doors by those who have no vested interest in the research project. Detailed reports must be compiled and made available so that people can see what is happening so that scientists realize that they cannot operate under the guise that what they’re doing is “in the name of science” and that nonscientists simply won’t or can’t understand “how science is done.” This sort of arrogance is unacceptable.

Bekoff also wrote an article that called for a ban on using chimpanzees in medical research. Here are some of the highlights from that article:

  • A recent report by the Institute of Medicine examined the necessity of using chimpanzees in biomedical research. The report did not identify any current research field in which the use of chimpanzees was definitely necessary. However, the report did not ban chimpanzee research in the future. This conclusion fails to take into account the moral significance of the emotional and physical suffering of the animals. Most advanced nations have banned the use of chimpanzees in medical research, and the United States should do so as well.
  • In his recent book The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments, Australian veterinarian Andrew Knight draws on more than a decade of research and over 500 scientific publications to rigorously test common assumptions about animal experimentation. He offers revealing insights into the true contributions of such research to human healthcare, as well as the nature, severity and prevalence of the impacts experienced by laboratory animals.
  • Only some 15% of chimpanzee studies are cited by papers describing medical interventions potentially effective in humans. So what is the alternative?
  • (Knight’s) detailed examination of such medical papers reveal that in vitro (cell-based) studies, human clinical and population studies, molecular methods and tests, and genome studies, are by far the most important sources of knowledge. Most chimpanzee studies are, at best, of peripheral importance, and none of those studied by Knight and his colleagues made an essential contribution, or, in most cases, a significant contribution of any kind, to the development of the medical methods studied.

In another article in the Huffington Post, Bekoff and co-author Hope Ferdowsian point out that,

In the past several years, one story after another has revealed the failures in translating animal experiments to human health benefits. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses have shown that findings in animals are not reliably replicated in human cardiovascular, neurological, and infectious disease clinical research.”

Even former National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias Zerhouni, a prominent physician and researcher, commented on the problem of relying on animal experiments:

We have moved away from studying human disease in humans…We all drank the Kool-Aid on that one, me included…The problem is that it hasn’t worked, and it’s time we stopped dancing around the problem…We need to refocus and adapt new methodologies for use in humans to understand disease biology in humans.”

Findings like these have led to a shift in the practice of toxicology, toward a more evidence-based standard that relies on human data, in vitro studies, and computational methods that more accurately predict toxic effects in humans.

The Huffington Post article also points out that attitudes toward animals are also changing. As per a recent nonpartisan Pew Research Poll, a solid 50 percent of people surveyed now oppose the use of animals in laboratory experimentation — an all-time high in the public opinion research literature.

Andrew Knight, whose comprehensive reviews on animal use  within life and health sciences education allows him to provide, in polished style, one of the most definitive answers yet published to a question with implications for animal ethics, biomedical research, and society at large, namely,

“Is animal experimentation ethically justifiable?”

And, the answer is a resounding “no”.

 

To the Kid on the End of the Bench

playeronbench

This is the 44th 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.


Champions once sat where you’re sitting, kid.
The Football Hall of Fame (and every other Hall of Fame) is filled with names of people who sat, week after week, without getting a spot of mud on their well-laundered uniforms.
Generals, senators, surgeons, prize-winning novelists, professors, business executives started on the end of the bench, too.
Don’t sit and study your shoe tops.
Keep your eye on the game.
Watch for defensive lapses.
Look for offensive opportunities.
If you don’t think you’re in a great spot,
wait until you see how many would like to take it away from you at next spring’s practice.
What you do from the bench this season could put you on the field next season as a player, or back in the grandstand as a spectator.


When I first started reading this, I thought that Mr. Gray was making the point that many successful people in medicine, academia, and business may not have fared as well in the world of sports, but that they still learned many valuable lessons such as how to be a part of a team, how to work hard in order to accomplish a goal, how to win gracefully, and how to handle defeat.

But as I keep reading, I realized that this was geared towards those athletes who are struggling to succeed at their sport. Gray’s reference to the doctors and business executives was to show that these people at one time had also likely struggled to achieve success in their particular occupation.

There are certainly hundreds of stories, real-life and Hollywood, that have depicted such situations. The basketball player who didn’t make his high school team and then goes on to an amazing career in the NBA (Michael Jordan); the football player who was drafted in one of the last rounds, and goes on to have a Hall of Fame career (Tom Brady); the down and out boxer who goes on to become world champion (Rocky); and the kid who only got in for the last two plays of his one and only 95-pound football game and went on to become a world-famous blogger (yours truly).

So there’s certainly enough motivation out there for the struggling athlete to stick with it through those tough times, and even when he or she may not make the team or become a superstar, the lessons picked up along the way will last a lifetime.

I’ll Never Wash My Hands Again…

cultural valley asparagus

I must admit that I don’t watch too many NBA games, unless the Sixers are in the playoffs (cue the canned laughter).

But the NBA has put together a great commercial featuring Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors.

I’ll let the video speak for itself:

The video has humor, a dunk by Iguodala, a great ending, and a clear message about NBA Saturday Primetime on ABC. What more could you ask for in 30 seconds?

I think the biggest celebrity I’ve had a chance to meet was Penn Jillette, when he, along with Teller and Wier Chrisemer, was part of a trio known as Asparagus Valley Cultural Society, and the group was doing a college tour in the mid 70s. I’ve written about the experience before, and suffice it to say, it did not go as well as the young NBA fan’s experience.

Perhaps if it had gone better, who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have washed my hands either, at least until the next swim team practice.

Well done NBA, and thank you Penn for a memory that will last a lifetime (and congrats on the weight loss and adopting a healthy lifestyle).

Random Thoughts and Thanks from the Blizzard of 2016

blizzard2016

We got our first snowstorm of the year, and it was a doozy. It led to a sort of do-nothing day (well, not sort of), and so I just thought I’d share some random thoughts I’ve had during the day.

  • I learned a new word today, graupel, thanks to Adam Joseph of 6 ABC Action News in Philadelphia. Here’s the definition from Wikipedia: also called soft hail, snow pellets or “Grail” is precipitation that forms when supercooled droplets of water are collected and freeze on a falling snowflake, forming a 2–5 mm (0.079–0.197 in) ball of rime. My goal is to now slip the word into my conversation within the next 48 hours.
  • I realized I could watch storm weather-related news all day long (and I did). Thanks again to 6ABC.
  • Today gave further validation to our goal of moving to Florida in eight years. Sarasota here we come!
  • I wish I had pursued what the Kuder Occupational Career Interest survey had ranked as my top career choice when I took the test back in high school – Meteorology. I must admit I am a bit jealous of all the meteorologists on TV. I was an Economics major in college, but there was an elective course in Meteorology, so I thought it would be the perfect elective. Well, as it turned out, it was the only “C” I got in college. I’m not sure I would have even gotten accepted into a meteorology program – it seems like a head shot must be part of the application. I’ve yet to see an unattractive weatherperson on TV, and I’m not sure I would have been able to be the first one to break through such a barrier.
  • You gotta love Wawa. It seems like every TV reporter out in the field was based out of a Wawa parking lot. And it seemed like every Wawa was open, one of the few businesses that was. Thank you to all of those Wawa employees!
  • Thank you also to the snow plow drivers who venture out in this nasty weather and work incredibly long shifts to help clear the roads and parking lots. But I wouldn’t mind it if you forgot about Villanova University for a couple of days…
  • Thank you to Kindle for making it so easy to download a new book in just a matter of seconds, no matter what the weather. I decided to read Tom Sawyer, and then Huckleberry Finn.
  • Thank you to FloBeds for making such a great bed, not only for sleeping, but for reading in on a snowy day.
  • And last, but certainly not least, thank you to my wife for doing all of the shoveling!

WHY CAN’T YOU JUST GET IT THROUGH YOUR HEAD? IT’S A SUNK COST!!

Almost one year ago to the day, I wrote a post about what is known as the sunk cost fallacy.

The term sunk cost fallacy has been used by economists and behavioral scientists to describe the phenomenon where people justify increased investment of money, time, lives, etc. in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment (“sunk costs”), despite new evidence suggesting that the cost, starting today, of continuing the decision outweighs the expected benefit.

In my post from last year I offered some examples of this irrational decision making and suggested ways to avoid getting caught in such traps.

Well it seems as if none of the coaches in the National Football League read my original post.

Research conducted by Quinn A. W. Keefer at California State University San Marcos found that in the NFL, a player’s salary cap value (fixed for a given season, and so a major sunk cost to teams) affects his number of games started, even after controlling for performance. This effect remains even when teams get performance feedback and persists throughout an average player’s entire career, suggesting that the effect of compensation on playing time is being caused by the sunk-cost fallacy, not simply lack of data.

So in other words, coaches are making decisions about which players to put on the field based partially on what a player’s compensation is, and not just what their performance metrics would suggest their playing time should be.

As Keefer’s research notes, such compensation costs are sunk, and a rational decision maker should not include such costs in his decisions.

It’s not pure coincidence that I am writing about sunk costs again on just about the same date as last year, since it is usually about the second week of the semester that I cover such a topic in my class.

That was likely the motivation for last year’s post; the topic was fresh on my mind from having just taught it.

This year, as luck would have it, today’s Daily Stat from the Harvard Business Review was about Keefer’s research. So that gave me a chance to use a timely example of the sunk cost fallacy in a setting most of them could relate to.

It’s unfortunate that people continue to engage in such irrational decision making, but rest assured there are about 100 students per year graduating from Villanova Uuniversity who would never make such a mistake. Slowly but surely, the world is becoming a more rational place.

In the meantime, if any NFL team is looking for a sunk cost guru, I’m for hire.

My contract terms are pretty simple, you pay me a guaranteed annual fee.

If you don’t like my recommendations, I’ll tell you can let me go at any time and not to worry about any remaining fees you owe me, since they’re guaranteed anyway.

It’s a good lesson in sunk costs, and best of all, I get paid no matter what.