Seven Fat Cows, Seven Ears of Corn, but Joseph for the Eighth Time

  1. This marks the third time I’ve written about my favorite play, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and hopefully it won’t be the last.

Last night, we had the chance to watch the North Penn High School production of the play, and it was phenomenal.

I believe it was our (my wife and I) eighth time to see the play, and we have now seen it at every level imaginable – grade school (St. Thomas Good Counsel), middle school (Keith Valley), college (Villanova), church school (St. Davids), summer theater school (Raleigh), regional theater (Media Theater), and national tours (two separate tours in Philadelphia, 2006 and 2015). This doesn’t count the movie version of the play, starring Donny Osmond, which we’ve also watched. (I also just found out that Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the original creators of the play, and Elton John are teaming up to create an animated, big screen version of the movie.)

One of my favorite things about the play is that it includes multiple musical genres, including parodies of French ballads (“Those Canaan Days”), Elvis-inspired rock and roll (“Song of the King”), western (“One More Angel In Heaven”), 1920s Charleston (“Potiphar”), and Calypso (“Benjamin Calypso”).

It’s also just a great story (although there is virtually no dialogue, the entire play is essentially sung) about believing in your dreams, forgiveness, redemption, and the powerful bonds that unite families.

I also like the fact that each time we see it is a little different, with the director and the actors adding their own little tweaks to the performance. Last night, for example, was the first time I saw the role of narrator split among three singers, each of whom had beautiful voices. Last night’s show also featured some amazing choreography, among the best I have seen.

So congratulations to the members of the North Penn High School Theater Group for an outstanding performance.

In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for wherever the next performance will be.

Hey New York or London – any plans for Joseph over the next year?

What If We No Longer Died of “Natural Causes”? Gun Control Laws Might Finally Pass…

Polstats had an interesting graphic on its site today.

It created a simulation that looked at how long humans would live if all diseases were cured, meaning that we only died of “unnatural causes, like car accidents or a gun shooting.

Using data the from the Insurance Information Institute, which based its figures on the National Center for Health Statistics’ 2013 report, the average life expectancy in the United States would increase from the current 78 years — to a much more impressive 8,938 years.

You can then run a simulation that shows what type of “unnatural event” would be the cause of death for a sample of 100 people, and how long it would take for all 100 people to eventually die.

Since it is a simulation, you get slightly different results every time you run it.

However, what doesn’t change too much is the percentage of deaths caused by certain types of accidents.

The number one cause of death would be a car accident, responsible for about 60% of the deaths. Second was guns, at 27%. After that, there’s a big drop off to the third cause of unnatural, fire, at 6%.

The simulation takes just a couple of minutes to run it all the way through, until all 100 people have died.

The first time I ran it, the final six causes of death were either a car accident or a gun. When there were only two people left, the next person died of a car accident in 26,733 years. It then took more than 20,000 years for the final person to die, from a gunshot. Obviously, the person had to shoot himself; maybe he or she just got bored of living by themselves for 20,000 years.

In another simulation, cars were the final four causes of death.

And in the most recent one I ran, car accidents were responsible for the final two deaths. The last person lived over 10,000 years by himself. How do you get in a car accident if there is no one else on the road, and you are in perfect health?

The people who created the poll made an interesting observation that perhaps with the advent of self-driving cars, the number of deaths caused by car accidents may drop significantly.

Maybe then guns will become the number one cause of death – and maybe that’s what is needed to get common sense gun control measures in place.

Here is the link to the simulation if you wold like to try it: Pollstat

If I Only Knew Then What I’m Learning Now

I think when I was an undergrad 40 years ago, I may have studied at the college library once, maybe twice, in four years.

This semester alone, I’ve used Villanova’s library three times as a place to study before my Calc tests.

It seems like the ideal place to study. I can spread all of my stuff out on a table – textbook, notebooks, laptop, calculator – and study with no distractions. I’ve even found “my spot”. It’s at a table on the third floor, in one of the corners, and I sit facing the wall. There’s an outlet for my laptop and a window looking at on campus. Really, life doesn’t get much better than that…

I’ve also been amazed at how popular the library seems to be as a place to study. Maybe it was that way when I was in college as well, I just never bothered to find out. And as a faculty member I haven’t found much need to physically visit the library, as most of what I need can be found online.

The libraries of today are also quite different from the libraries of the 1970s. Beyond the obvious impact that technology has had on libraries, it seems as if colleges have added coffee bars and lounges as a way to draw students in.

If that’s what it takes to get students in, then so be it. Perhaps students will realize, like I am just doing now, 40 years later, what a wonderful place the library is for studying.

And I think the sooner they realize that, the more successful they will be in their classes. After all, that is what college is supposed to be about.

 

Someday, Perhaps, No One Will See the Humor in my 2017 April Fools’ Day Prank

I realize the headline above makes a big assumption, and probably an invalid one. It assumes that people actually did see humor in my April Fools’ Day prank from a few weeks ago.

This year’s prank, which I wrote about earlier, involved using the web site Nextdoor.com to ask my neighbors if anyone knew a good helipad contractor. Here’s what I posted to Nextdoor:

I have the opportunity to teach a class at NYU in the Fall, but unfortunately it meets the same two days I teach my classes at Villanova. However, NYU has told me that it would be willing to send a helicopter to pick me up each day so that I could make it to NYU in time, and to make it even easier, would even split the cost of putting a helipad in my backyard.

I was hoping that some outraged neighbors would start complaining about my decision to build a helipad in our neighborhood, where the houses are very close together. While one reader complained “no wonder college costs are so high”, and another reader actually gave me the name of a contractor, a few people did tell me that they enjoyed my attempt at humor.

Well now as it turns out, perhaps having your own personal helipad may not be such a crazy idea after all.

Uber announced today that it intends to test flying cars within three years near Dallas and Dubai.

However, as the web site Verge pointed out, perhaps calling these vehicles “flying cars” is not quite accurate and a bit misleading, but it certainly captures the imagination. After all, who doesn’t remember how awesome the Jetsons were with their flying car?

jetsons

What Uber is actually planning is for a network of on-demand, electrically powered, multi-rotor vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicles. (Now you can see why people simply refer to these kind of vehicles as flying cars).

Here’s a picture which shows the concept, at least at this stage:

uberflyingcar

Uber has stated that the first of these aircraft could be ready within five years with its initial network in place by 2026. The “flying cars” could travel up to 150 miles an hour and shuttle several passengers and take off and land on repurposed parking garages and existing helipads.

So there you go; perhaps having a helipad in your own backyard may not be such a far-fetched idea after all. I was just a few years ahead of my time.

Which means I probably won’t be able to recycle this year’s April Fools’ Day joke 10 years from now; if I did, I might actually get bombarded by a bunch of helipad contractors, and the joke would be on me…

P.S. When I think of jokes that may not stand the test of time, the one that always come to mind is from “Take the Money and Run”. In one scene, Woody is interviewing for a job, and is asked if he has any experience running a high-speed digital electronic computer. His response, back when the movie was made in 1969, was hilarious. Now, maybe not so much.

Are Liberal Arts Colleges in Danger?

The Wall Street Journal had a story today that looked at how some traditional liberal arts colleges are starting to offer programs that focus on helping students to acquire skills that get the students ready for the job market.

Programs in computer-science, data analysis, and business are now available to students at schools that would have perhaps shunned such programs 10 years ago.

The reason for the change of heart is obvious – the high cost of education is forcing many students, and their parents, to focus on the return from such an investment. This in turn leads students to pursue majors that have them job-ready on the day they graduate.

A look at the graphic below, also from the Wall Street Journal, shows that there is a bit of a mismatch between what employers are looking for in graduates, and what students are studying.

jobs2017b

But I don’t think there is a need to say good-bye to the liberal arts. I just came across two books at Barnes&Noble that look at the value of a liberal arts background: The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World and Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm.

I also think there are creative ways for schools to provide opportunities for students to have the best of both worlds, a liberal arts background coupled with a career oriented program.

I will share Villanova’s Summer Business Institute as an example.

This program is geared towards non-business majors, and enables the students to earn a business minor in one intense summer (nine weeks, five days a week, six hours a day in class, plus homework). The program not only has a strong academic component, it also offers seminars in professional development skills, such as interviewing, resume writing, and networking.

Such a program allows students to pursue a major in a subject that they may be passionate about, while at the same time giving them some basic skills that will get them ready for the world of work.

I’m surprised there aren’t more schools providing such programs, and not just in business. I would think that a summer program that offers students the opportunity to earn a minor in data analytics or computer science, for example, would be popular for both students and potential employers.

Innovative programs like this could potentially breathe new life into liberal arts colleges., and perhaps not a moment too soon.

A Welcome Distraction from Blogging

When trying to think of something to write about each day, I tend to turn to the same sources:

  • The Wall Street Journal
  • The New York Times
  • The (Philadelphia) Inquirer
  • USA Today
  • the Daily Alert from Harvard Business Review
  • Crain’s Philadelphia
  • Seth Godin
  • Fred Wilson
  • David Kanigan
  • Adam Grant
  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • my personal life

Unfortunately, it seems as if on some days none of those sources have anything of interest to write about (especially my personal life).

So on days like that I start pacing around the first floor of my house, with way too many stops at the kitchen cabinet to get “just one more” handful of something unhealthy, hoping to unleash my inner muse.

Fortunately, something has come to me every day for the past couple of years, and I manage to sit down and churn out a few hundred words about something that’s most likely nonsensical.

But over the past couple of weeks I’ve discovered a new way to procrastinate.

The ground floor of the business school at Villanova has several free copies of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and USA Today available each morning. I would pick up the papers with good intentions, and then end up recycling them the next morning without having ever opened them up. Since I do most of that type of reading online, I didn’t think I was missing anything.

But then one day when I had some free time I decided to sit down and just go through each paper, looking for blog material. It was then that I came across the Puzzles section of each of the papers.

I immediately skipped the crossword puzzles in each paper, since I usually only get about one word per puzzle. I then discovered that some of the puzzles were relatively easy, but still provided a sense of accomplishment upon completion.

For example, USA Today has Quickcross, which entails giving clues for four-letter words, four of which are laid out horizontally and four are laid out vertically, with the eight words forming a four by four square of interlocking words, Usually the clues are pretty easy; for example, one of the clues in today’s puzzle was: 2014 film: “____ for Speed” and another was “Superman’s alter ego”. USA Today also offers two sudoku puzzles, one is a nine by nine grid, the other in a six by six grid. I’ve learned that Mondays are quite easy, with a difficulty rating of just one star (out of a possible five). Talk about your sense of accomplishment!

The Philadelphia Inquirer also has a nine by nine Sudoku, as well as a Jumble puzzle. This entails trying to unscramble four separate words in which the letters are out of order, and then using certain of those letters from each word to solve a little riddle. Again, it’s a nice 5-10 minute distraction.

Finally, The New York Times offers two KenKen puzzles, one a 4×4 grid and the other a 6×6 grid. KenKen is also a number-based puzzle, like Sudoku. However, certain boxes have a number along with a math operation symbol such as add, subtract, multiply or divide. Some of the boxes are also heavily outlined, indicating that the boxes go together. So for example, if a block had 40+ in it, and was part of a group of three heavily outlined boxes, then you need to find three number that when multiplied together, result in 40. In the 4×4 grid, the possible numbers to use are just 1-4, and none of those numbers can be used more than once in a given row and a given column. The 6×6 grid uses the numbers 1-6. Again, it’s a nice distraction and a nice change of pace from Sudoku.

I find that doing these puzzles clears my mind, since I am focused on trying to solve the puzzles. I then think I can go back to what I was doing, such as trying to think of a blog post, with renewed energy.

And who knows, maybe just writing about these puzzles could be a blog post…

Follow-up to “A New Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel”

About a week and a half ago I wrote a blog post about a research study that concluded:

the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction…

In that post I noted that I was going to take a few days off from Facebook and see if I detected any differences in my overall well-being.

So I stayed off Facebook for a total of four days (I know, it’s not much of a break), and while I did not notice any change in my well-being, I did notice that I didn’t really miss Facebook that much. I would get pop-up notices on my phone that someone had liked or commented on one of my posts, but I did not check to see what the actual comment was.

(I still posted my blogs to Facebook during my hiatus, but I did so automatically using a WordPress plug-in. As soon as I hit publish in WordPress, it would also send the post to Facebook and Twitter.)

I did notice during my break that I would occasionally think about Facebook, but I wasn’t overly tempted to open up the app on my phone or browser.

I probably would need a longer break, maybe a month or two, to actually see if I noticed any change in my physical or mental health, or my life satisfaction.

But I don’t think I need to do so. I think I was able to prove to myself that I am not addicted to Facebook, but I do enjoy using it.

I find Facebook to be an efficient way of keeping up with what is going on with friends and family, but at this point I don’t think it has replaced my desire for also maintaining my real-world social networks.

I’m also sure Mark Zuckerberg was relieved when I came back.

I’m one more person that gets to see a Facebook ad or sponsored post, one more person helping Zuckerberg get closer to being worth a trillion dollars someday…

“Follow the Money” Was Never This Easy

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story about a suspect’s motive behind the recent bombing of Borussia Dortmund, a popular German soccer team.

At first, authorities investigated whether or not Islamist terrorists were behind the attack. That was in part because the suspect apparently left notes to throw investigators off his trail.  German police investigated an Iraqi man who was initially a suspect. Prosecutors quickly concluded that the 26-year-old man didn’t take part in the bombing but arrested him for being a member of Islamic State.

So how did the authorities find the suspect?

Prosecutors said suspicious financial transactions led investigators to Sergej M. 15,000 “put options” had been purchased the day of the attack from an internet address in the same Dortmund hotel where both Sergej M. and the Borussia Dortmund soccer team were staying.

The suspect invested €79,000 ($85,000) in the stock options, which could have brought him a profit of more than €1 million if the team’s share price had plummeted. As prosecutor noted that, “a significant fall in the stock price would have been expected if players were seriously injured or even killed in the attack.”

Fortunately that did not happen. It appears as if the most serious injury a player received from the bombing was a broken wrist. The stock price did initially drop slightly after the attack, but actually ended the day up 1.7%.

The story reminded me of the classic line from All the President’s Men, “Just follow the money.”

Only in this case it seems as if investigators didn’t have to do nearly as much work as Woodward and Bernstein to discover who was behind the crime.

I am not sure if anyone knows if there was any other motive at work here besides pure greed. It’s a sad state of affairs when someone is willing to kill multiple people just for money.,

From the break-in at Watergate to the bombing in Dortmund, one would certainly be hard pressed to argue that money is not the root of all evil.

*photo is from happier times for Borussia Dortmund, celebrating with their fans

We Can Do Better – A Sad Day for the U.S.

Arkansas executed Ledell Lee on Thursday night after the Supreme Court voted to deny a stay request.

This post is not about Lee’s innocence or guilt; it’s about our inhumane use of the death penalty.

I don’t understand how a juror could ever vote to have someone executed; if you think taking another person’s life is such a horrible crime (and it certainly is), then how is what you are thinking about doing any different. Who gave you the right to make decisions on who should live and who should die?

I don’t understand how a prosecuting lawyer can stand in front of a camera and say, “This person deserves to die.” I don’t know how you can sleep at night, knowing that you are proactively arguing for the taking of another person’s life.

I don’t know how the people who carry out the execution have the stomach to do so. Don’t you realize you are taking the life of a fellow human being?

I don’t understand how five men in black robes, allegedly some of the best legal minds in our country, couldn’t stop to think beyond the law, and to think about what is right. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the three women on the Supreme Court have stated that they would have stayed the execution. I think men sometimes feel the need to act “tough on crime” as a sign of their masculinity. Please stop doing that, you’re talking about someone’s life.

How can we risk the chance that an innocent person is executed under the death penalty? A 2014 report by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 1 in every 25 people given a death sentence are in fact innocent of the crime for which they are sentenced.

How does it make any sense that 18 states have abolished the death penalty, while 32 have not? Why should where a crime took place determine if a person is to be executed? Why should such a random event, such as where you were born (over which you had no control), have such potentially dire consequences?

Pennsylvania is not yet one of the states that have abolished the death penalty, but a recent poll found 54 percent of respondents preferred life in prison with no chance of parole or a chance of parole after at least 20 years or 40 years while 42 percent said the death penalty was their preferred sentence for convicted murderers.

And for the first time in almost half a century, support for the death penalty has dipped below 50 percent in the United States.

Again, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be punished when they commit a crime, I’m just saying that the death penalty should NEVER be one of the forms of punishment.

Many people in support of the death penalty claim that it helps to deter crime. However, the research on the issue seems to be mixed, with some studies showing a deterrent effect, while others show no impact. If there’s the slightest bit of doubt on the deterrent effect of the death penalty, it seems like such an argument can’t be used to support the death penalty.

Another argument made is the notion of an eye for an eye. If someone takes the life of another, then that person should die also. That sounds like the way things may have been done hundreds of years ago, but I like to think we’ve become a bit more enlightened over the years.

The death penalty has been abolished in the European Union and 101 countries around the world. It’s time for the U.S. to join these other nations in abolishing the death penalty.

How can we claim to be the leader of the civilized world when we still allow such a barbaric punishment?

Learning Under the Influence

Tonight was week seven of Radnor’s Citizen Police Academy, which my son and I are participating in. Next week will be our final class, followed by a graduation ceremony the following week. I plan to write a reflection on the experience after all is said and done, but I wanted to briefly write about one particular aspect of tonight’s class.

One of the topics tonight was DUI. After providing an overview of what is DUI, how someone is tested for DUI, and what the consequences are if found guilty. Needless to say, the legal and financial consequences if found guilty can be significant. In addition, there is the possibility of having to live with the consequences of having harmed or killed someone while under the influence.

At the end of the presentation, the police officers had each of us individually perform the field sobriety tests. One of those tests involves walking heel-to-toe down a straight line. Since no one had been drinking, or at least I assumed that no one would come to police academy under the influence, the officers had us don a pair of goggles that would replicate what it would be like to have a blood alcohol content of about 15%. The goggles are known as Fatal Vision goggles and are made by Innocorp.

As I watched other people struggle with trying to walk a straight line while wearing the goggles (and a couple of people almost toppled over), I thought how bad can it be.

Well I found out soon enough. As soon as I put on the goggles, the yellow tape straight line that had been put on the floor now seemed oddly distorted, and I had trouble understanding where one foot was relative to my other foot.

None of us passed the test, and one of the police officers asked us if we could imagine driving while wearing such goggles. It was a scary thought; there is little doubt that all of us would have gotten into an accident.

It really brought home the message of the dangers of driving under the influence.

As the slogan says, “DUI, It’s Just Not Worth It.”

Here’s a video demonstration of what it’s like to wear these special goggles: