Some Surprising Rules of Dinner Etiquette

Last night was the kickoff to our Summer Business Institute program at Villanova. The main event was a dinner with all of the students, the faculty, and our professional staff. The keynote speaker was once again Lauren Katen.

Lauren has her own consulting firm which focuses on providing “business soft skills training”, and she was our guest speaker at last year’s dinner as well. I wrote abou that event last year, and I noted it was one fo the top three presentations I had seen in my 30 years at Villanova, and last night’s presentation was jsut as good. I won’t go over all the dining etiquette lessons that we learned; many of those lessons are noted in my blog post from last year about this event.

However, there were a couple of tips that I picked up that I was not aware of.

The first tip had to do with how to behave when you are toasted at an event. I found a web site that offered the same exact advice as Lauren on this issue:

If the host proposes a toast in your honor, don’t raise your glass or take a drink until everyone has taken a drink and put their glasses back down on the table. Taking a sip during your own toast would be similar to patting yourself on the back.

Not knowing this, I would have taken a sip immediately. Perhaps there’s a link between my not knowing that, and why it’s never been an issue…

The second issue dealt with what to drink when you are out to a business lunch. Lauren offered some basic, but helpful advice about drinking alcohol on such an occasion, but what really struck me was her suggestion to not just drink water at dinner.

Lauren noted that just drinking water may leave an impression that you are kind of bland, not very enthusiastic.

I was disappointed to hear such advice, since it seems to me that drinking just water sends a very positive image.

Maybe it’s because water tends to be what I order when I go out to dinner, and drinking just water could indicate that you are into a healthy lifestyle, and who wouldn’t want to have that be their first impression.

And speaking of first impressions, here’s one final one.

People form an impression about someone in the first seven seconds of having met them.

Seven seconds doesn’t sound like much, but at least it’s longer than the average time people spend reading my blog posts…

When Perception Is Not Reality

Warning, if you’re not a baseball fan, you have my permission to stop reading this post right now, and read any one of my other blog posts which can be found at 

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story the other day about the use of a weighted baseball bat as part of most players’ practice routine.

The idea behind the weighted bat is that if you tae a few practice swings with a heavier bat, and then use a lighter bat when it is actually time to face the opposing pitcher, your bat speed will be faster, leading to a better chance of having a successful at bat.

Baseball players covet a fast bat because the added speed gives them more time to decide whether to swing or take, and on contact, it makes for a more powerful hit. In the “The Physics of Baseball,” a book first published in 1990, Robert Adair reports that an 85 mph fastball hit solidly in the sweet spot by a bat swung 70 mph will travel 400 feet. But if it’s struck by the same bat at 80 mph, it will travel 450 feet. That’s potentially the difference between a routine fly ball and a home run.

So yes, bat speed is critical.

However, research shows that using a weighted bat does not help increase a player’s bat speed, and in some cases, may actually harm it.

While the studies are admittedly not large scale studies involving thousands of athletes (and pro athletes were not used), the evidence at this point seems to support the idea that weighted bats do not help with bat speed, and could actually harm a player’s swing mechanics. So the suggestion is to just warm up with your regular bat.

What is interesting is that despite this line of research, the author of the WSJ article suggests that professional players may likely ignore it. If batters believe swinging a weighted bat makes them faster, even if it doesn’t, then successful professionals are not likely to change their routine.

I understand the importance for professional athletes of having the right mindset and a positive attitude. If a player thinks that keeping a rabbit’s foot next to him on the bench is going to make him a better hitter, that may be just enough to raise his confidence to make him a more effective hitter. Obviously, the rabbit’s foot has no direct impact on his hitting ability, but it may have put him in the right frame of mind, which then led to success as a hitter.

But with the weighted bats, it seems different. It may be true that using the weighted bat gives the player the perception that it helps him to increase bat speed, and if it really doesn’t, it seems to be the same situation as with a lucky rabbit’s foot.

But it’s not. The lucky rabbit foot doesn’t directly affect how a player swings the bat, but going from a weighted bat to an unweighted one has the strong potential to affect your batting mechanics, which could hurt the batter’s performance.

So while the perception may be there that practicing with a weighted bat leads to improved bat speed, it doesn’t mesh with reality. The research shows that using a weighted bat does not help, and could actually harm performance.

So how do you get a player to change a deeply ingrained habit?

To me the first step would be to share the research with the players, have them try it in practice situations first, and track the results. If the results reflect what the research says, then it should be fairly easy to get the players to move away from the use of weighted bats for real games. Once enough players do this, then it should be easy to get everyone else to join in.

But I’m not optimistic that such changes will be made to a player’s routine. If I were to watch a baseball game 50 years from no, I would bet that players would still be using weighted bats.

As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink.

Or in this case, you can show a player a better way of doing something, but you can’t make him use that better way.

And the Winner of the Lois Adams Award Is…

A few days before our youngest son was set to graduate from Middle School, we received a call from the school office. They wanted to know if my wife and I would be at the graduation ceremony, since our son was going to be receiving an award. They did not tell us what the award was going to be, but it didn’t matter. Award or no award, we were going to be at the graduation.

Well the big day arrived, and after some initial remarks, they started announcing the award winners. There were several awards for accomplishments in academics, athletics, school spirit, leadership, and other aspects of middle school life. My wife and I listened intently to the description of each one, thinking maybe this is the one.

Finally they got to the Lois Adams award, which is presented to the eighth grade student who has shown growth and improvement within their middle school career and has demonstrated consistent effort and motivation throughout middle school.

The principal then announced “Patrick Borden”, and my wife and I burst into a fit of clapping. While we were applauding we looked over at our son, who stood up and began walking to the front of the room to receive his award. However, we noticed that he had his head down and he looked quite dejected. His friends were high-fiving him, but he did not seem to share in their excitement. He returned to his seat with the same look of disappointment.

Soon enough, the ceremony was over, and we went up to congratulate Pat on his award, but he did not seem at all proud of his accomplishment.

We asked what was wrong and he said, “It’s embarrassing.”

We asked why he felt embarrassed, and his reply is one that will live in our family lore forever.

“It’s embarrassing to receive the Lowest Average award.”

Like virtually every other kid at the graduation, Pat likely was not paying close attention to the various awards, and thought the award was for Lowest Average, and not Lois Adams.

We explained to him what award he had actually won, and then his mood did a 180, and he was back to his normal self.

We also told him later that a school would never give an award to someone with the lowest average.

It’s now been 12 years since our son received that award, but it’s still one of our favorite stories to reminisce about, and Pat laughs as much as anyone when we tell the story.

But I’ve also wondered over the years what would happen if a school really did give the lowest average award. Would such an award motivate students to work harder, so they don’t receive such an award? Or would some kids actively seek out such an award, just so that they get an award at graduation, since after all, it’s probably a lot easier to win the lowest average than the highest average award. Would the parents of the winner of such an award sue the school for the emotional distress caused by such an award?

I’m sure we will never know the answers to such questions, and such questions probably would have never crossed my mind if it weren’t for Lois Adams.

So thank you Radnor Middle School, and congratulations once again to Patty B!

My Favorite Duets of All Time

The Borden Family was just sitting around tonight playing cards and asking Alexa to play random songs. One of the first ones I thought of was “Islands in the Stream”, by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.

The song got me thinking about other duets I’ve enjoyed over the years, and so I decided to put together a sort of playlist of some of my favorites. So in no particular order:

I Got You Babe, Sonny and Cher

Baby It’s Cold Outside: Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting

Summer Nights: John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John

and another one from Grease, You’re the One That I Want:

You Don’t Bring Me Flowers: Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart Elton John and Kiki Dee

Paradise by the Dashboard Light: Meatloaf and Ellen Foley

You’ve Got a Friend: James Taylor and Carole King:

I’ve Had the Time of My Life: Bill Medley and Jennifer Warren (from Dirty Dancing)

And great duets don’t have to be just boy/girl. Here are some two guys and two gals duets:

Ebony and Ivory: Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder

Under Pressure: Freddie Mercury (Queen) and David Bowie (they actually never performed it together live):

Good Hearted Woman: Waylon Jennings and WIllie Nelson

Tennessee Waltz: Bonnie Raitt and Norah Jones

For Good (from Wicked): Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere: Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett

And some are from animated movies, sort of:

A Whole New World: Aladdin and Jasmine

True Colors: it’s a classic Cyndi Lauper song, but this version is by Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick from the movie Trolls. I just found this song tonight, but it’s already one of my favorites. I’m not sure why…

And this final one I never really heard of until I started searching for classic duets, but I couldn’t resist including it here because of the classic song title:

You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly, Conway Twitter and Loretta Lynn






One of the Keys to a Happy Marriage?

Thank you once again, Dan Ariely, for offering advice that I disagree with; it gives me something to write about.

Today a reader asked Dan the following question:

Before we got married four years ago, my husband and I would give each other amazing, thoughtful birthday gifts. After we got married and set up a joint bank account, our birthday presents stopped being exciting or original—and recently, they stopped altogether. Now we just buy things we need and call them gifts. Is this deterioration because of the shared bank account, or is it just the story of marriage?

Here was Dan’s response:

Some of it, of course, is how marriage changes us once we’ve settled down. But the shared bank account is also important here, and that part is simpler to change. In giving a gift, our main motivation is to show that we know someone and care for them. When we use our own money to do this, we are making a sacrifice for the other’s benefit. When we use shared money, this most basic form of caring is eliminated. We are simply using common resources to buy the other person something for common use—which greatly mutes a gift’s capacity to communicate our caring. The simplest step to restore some excitement to your gifts is to set up a small individual account for each of you for your own discretionary spending. The longer, harder discussion is how to get marriages to sustain passion longer.

What I disagree with is the suggestion that when using shared money, that the most basic form of caring is eliminated. My wife and I have had a joint checking account since the day we were married, and that is the only type of account we have ever had. I’ve always felt that that when either one of us either gave each other a gift, it was always a sign that we cared about each other. The thought never entered our mind that we cared less about each other because the money used to buy the gift came from a joint account. If someone thinks like that when they receive a gift from their spouse, I think the marriage has bigger problems than the joint checking account.

There is research to support the value of joint accounts; the more you pool your money, the happier you are with your marriage. The research does show that these effects seem to peter out at some very high level — if you keep 5 percent of your income to yourself in order to have a little bit of discretionary spending, it won’t make you any less happy than you’d be if you pool 100 percent. But people who pool 80 percent are happier than those who pool 70 percent, and so on. People who keep it all to themselves are the least happy.

I realize Ariely has suggested setting up just a small individual account, but small is a hard number to quantify, so why even bother. That small account could start to become bigger, and the negative affects of such an account might start to creep into the marriage.

So to me, the solution is twofold – just have a joint checking account, and put some thought into the presents you buy your spouse.

I’ll admit I haven’t always bought the perfect gift for my wife (there was that book of poetry), but it certainly wasn’t because I didn’t care for her or because we used a joint checking account.

It’s just a sign that sometimes we make irrational decisions, something Dan Ariely knows all too well.

Wow! I Never Knew That President Obama Read My Blog

I received a lot of nice feedback from yesterday’s post, Michael Bloomberg Delivers Commencement Speech and Father Peter Sings – Just Another Day at Villanova, but one of the comments really caught me by surprise:

Jim, great post.
I wish you continued success with your writing.
Please stop by for a visit when you are in town.
Michelle and I would love to meet you and Mary.

President Obama

My first thought was that it was one of my friends playing a joke, but the message was accompanied with a link to a video of the President delivering the message himself.

You can watch the video by clicking here.

I feel honored and humbled that President Obama actually reads my blog, and even more so that he would take the time to send me a note.

Mary and I are looking forward to visiting him and Michelle sometime this summer.

Michael Bloomberg Delivers Commencement Speech and Father Peter Sings – Just Another Day at Villanova

When I first heard the news a few weeks ago, I couldn’t quite believe it. Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City and founder and CEO of Bloomberg, L.P. was going to be the commencement speaker at this year’s Villanova graduation ceremony.

As I wrote in a previous post, I am a big fan of Bloomberg and his policies, and so I looked forward with great anticipation to his speech.

A couple of days before the ceremony, the thought struck me that maybe I might have a chance to actually meet Bloomberg. So I reached out to the individual who coordinates all of the graduation events, and asked if there was going to be a reception for Bloomberg, and if so, if there was a chance I could be invited to the event. I figured that there was no harm in asking, and lo and behold, the woman wrote back to me and informed me that she had added me to the guest list for the reception!

So I arrived at the reception (a few people did ask me what I was doing there), and in a short while, Bloomberg arrived. I waited my turn (patiently), and finally, the big moment arrived, as shown in the photo above. (One interesting side note – at the moment that picture was snapped, the average wealth of the two of us was over $20 billion…)

After introducing myself, he asked a few questions about our Business School’s No. 1 ranking (from Bloomberg Businessweek, coincidentally), which I was happy to answer. I then told him I was disappointed he had not run for President, and he replied that he realized he did not have a chance as an independent candidate.

Our few moments together were soon over, and it was time for me to stop pretending I was a member of the A-list, and time to head back to the hoi polloi, the faculty.

The ceremony began a few minutes later, and it was incredibly hot, over 90 degrees, and we were sitting in the middle of the football field, with the sun beating down on us.

After some introductory remarks and a great speech by our student speaker, it was time for Bloomberg.

Here is the speech, in case you would like to watch it; it is about 26 minutes long.

If you would prefer to read it, here is the transcript.

I realize I am biased, but I thought he hit it out of the park. He made the speech highly personal by including multiple Villanova references. It was obvious him and his team had done their homework.

I also thought he kept his speech politically neutral, not an easy task. However, there were a few references to our current political climate:

My coming here had nothing to do with Villanova’s undergraduate business school being named number one in the country by the Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. I can assure you: that is not fake news.”

“Personally, I’m tired of politicians running down our country for their own political purposes. No nation offers greater freedoms, or greater opportunities, than the United States of America. Make America great – again? Let’s get real. When you take the full measure of our nation, America has never been greater than it is today. Our economic power has never been stronger. Our standards of living have never been higher. And we remain the only real superpower on the global stage.”

“By following only liberal or conservative news outlets, or by getting trapped in social media’s echo chamber, we become less able to discern fact from spin, truth from lies. And we become less willing to listen to anyone who challenges our beliefs.”

“Patriotism requires all of us to have the courage to do not what is easy, but what is hard. Not what is comfortable, but what is uncomfortable. Not what is safe, but what is right.

“It (patriotism) means having the courage to re-examine our beliefs when data and science contradict them. It means having the courage to stand up to members of your own party when you believe they are wrong – or when their actions put our great American experiment at risk.”

“And it means having the courage to accept the results of an election – even when, and especially when, you deplore the results. Since last November, one of the popular protest slogans has been: ‘Not my president.’ I understand the reasons to protest this president, and I said my piece last summer. So don’t get me wrong: protest is an essential part of patriotism, and I’d encourage all of you to speak up, call your legislators, and get involved in public issues. But at the same time, the fate of our American experiment rests upon the principle that the losing side accepts the legitimacy of the winning side – and works in cooperation with it for the good of the country, rather than fomenting a revolution.”

Bloomberg’s closing words of advice come from Ben Franklin.

“At Independence Hall in 1787, the delegates to the Second Constitutional Convention haggled over everything from the power of states to the status of slaves. Some who did not like the compromises left Philadelphia in protest. Other critics remained, and their opposition threatened to sink the Constitution’s chances for ratification.

“But before the final vote, the delegates heard a speech by an aging Ben Franklin. Franklin acknowledged his own misgivings about the Constitution, but he urged each opponent to ‘doubt a little of his own infallibility.’

Doubt a little of your own infallibility. Seven words of advice that would be hard to improve upon in any commencement address. Those seven words are credited with helping to assure adoption and ratification of what has proven to be a true work of genius.”

And after Bloomberg’s speech, there was one more highlight.

Our President, the wonderful Father Peter, closed the ceremony by singing an Irish Blessing. Granted, Father Peter used to be chairman of our Theater Department, but really, can your college President do this:

Congratulations, class of 2017!

Who Counsels the Counselors?

I guess the allure of opiods must be incredibly powerful, even for those who have committed to helping others overcome the addiction.

Such is the case of two counselors at a halfway house for recovering addicts in Chester County, a suburb of Philadelphia. The two died this past Sunday of drug overdoses. Police found used needles and heroin baggies near the bodies in the bedrooms. Both people tested positive for heroin and fentanyl, according to preliminary toxicology tests. One counselor was 33, the other was found dead on what would have been his 25th birthday.

“If anybody is wondering how bad the opioid epidemic has become, this case is a frightening example,” Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said in a statement. “The staff members in charge of supervising recovering addicts succumbed to their own addiction and died of opioid overdoses.”

Sadly, these overdoses aren’t the first reported deaths of drug counselors trying to help others beat their addiction. Just last week, an advocate for safe injection sites for heroin addicts in Philadelphia and the co-founder of a Bucks County (another Philadelphia suburb) drug treatment program both died from overdoses.

I can’t imagine being addicted to something so badly that even when you think you have beaten it, and are helping others to do the same, there is still the possibility of being drawn back in. And I am sure these counselors all knew the dangers associated with opioid use, yet they still opted to take the drug.

One other item I hd trouble relating to is an editor’s note at the end of the story:

An earlier version of this story identified the baggies of heroin found near the bodies by symbols on the bags. At the request of Drug Enforcement Administration officials, who say addicts will actively seek out heroin that’s reportedly killed others, the photos and identifications have been removed.

Addicts will actively seek out heroin that’s reportedly killed others? I’m not sure if this is because of the allure of a potentially incredible high, or a sign that the addict has given up on life.

I am not sure what the answer might be to the opioid epidemic, but I would think that some combination of providing both education and hope to those most susceptible could do wonders.

There also seems to be a need for a strong support system that includes not only former addicts, but also people who have not suffered from a drug addiction. With such a system, counselors would then have someone to turn to in their moment of need, and perhaps we could avoid the deaths noted above.

Yes! We Have Bananas, Bananas at Amazon Today!

The Wall Street Journal’s A-Hed strikes gold (or should I sat yellow) again today, with a story about Amazon’s Community Banana Stand.

In late 2015, Amazon opened its first Community Banana Stand near its Seattle headquarters. The Stand was brainchild of CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, who believed that Amazon should offer everyone near its headquarters—not just employees—healthy, eco-friendly snacks as a public service. It has since expanded to two stands on its corporate campus, which sprawls across several blocks in downtown Seattle, and says it has given out more than 1.7 million free bananas.

The story immediately made me think of the classic Harry Chapin song, “30,000 Pounds of Bananas”, and the line from that song, “Yes, We Have No Bananas, Bananas in Scranton, PA”

That song was the only reference I knew to the line “Yes, We Have No Bananas”, and so I assumed it was a line Harry made up as part of the song. (By the way, on average, a pound of bananas consists of about three bananas, so Amazon has given away almost 600,000 pounds of bananas, the equivalent of 20 trucks full of bananas.)

Well as part of my hours long research in putting together today’s post, I found out that the line actually comes from a novelty song written by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn from the 1922 Broadway revue Make It Snappy. Sung by Eddie Cantor in the revue, the song became a major hit in 1923 (placing No. 1 for five weeks) when it was recorded by Billy Jones, Arthur Hall, Irving Kaufman, and others.

Here is the Billy Jones version:

and the phrase was also a line in a Simpson’s episode:

Some other fun facts about bananas:

  • bananas were officially introduced to the U.S. public at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, where each banana was wrapped in foil and sold for 10 cents
  • they are the world’s most popular fruit, with 105 million tons produced each year
  • they are the most popular fruit in the U.S., with the average person eating 25 pounds of bananas per year
  • I eat about 5-6 bananas a day, but my son Joey eats about 30 bananas a day
  • a bunch of bananas, about 10-20, is known as a hand, and a single banana is known as a finger
  • bananas are often referred to as the “world’s most perfect food” because of the many nutritional benefits

So cheers to Amazon for offering a free healthy snack to the residents of Seattle.

And maybe my son should move there, think of all the money he’d save…

Chinese Toddler Is an Eating Machine

My favorite part of the Wall Street Journal is the A-Hed, the story that appears every day in the bottom center of the front page. Ranging from the silly to the serious, and from the quirky to the downright bizarre, the A-Hed gives free rein to the reporters’ imagination.

Everyone who works at the Journal is free to write an A-Hed if they think they have found the right kind of story. From what I’ve heard, for a journalist, it’s the most prized piece of real estate in the paper.

Originally developed in 1941 to give harried business readers a diversion from the day’s business and economic news, the A-Hed has evolved into a symbol of American feature writing, judged by readers as their favorite part of the paper. It is certainly my favorite part of the paper, and has been a source for many of my blog posts, including today’s post.

Today’s A-Hed was about Xiaoman, a Chinese toddler who has become an internet sensation in China because of her eating habits.

I’ve written before about Mukbang, a social eating craze in South Korea in which people pay to watch online videos of other people eating. Well apparently watching such videos is big in China as well.

An eating channel launched in China last year by Meipai, an app that hosts Xiaoman’s videos, has received more than 12 billion views. A video posted last month of Xiaoman biting off tender morsels of yellow durian, an Asian fruit with a pungent smell that makes many people recoil, has piled up more than 2.8 million views.

Xiaoman eats methodically with a spoon and fork, sometimes her fingers, and sometimes she just picks up her bowl and the food slides into her mouth. She leaves nothing behind.

As China’s fascination with Xiaoman has grown, so have her opportunities. She recently had a starring role in an online advertisement in China for Pampers diapers, made by U.S. company Procter & Gamble Co. , and has been a guest on popular Chinese variety-TV shows.

Her mom started posting the eating videos a year ago to simply document her daughter’s life and says she isn’t seeking to profit from her toddler daughter’s fame. Besides, the way online fame comes and goes, “I don’t think she’s going to be famous for long,” the mom says.

As I noted in my post about Mukbang, I don’t get the fascination with these eating videos. Yes, it was fun to watch the video of Xiaoman, but that probably had more to do with the fact that she is a cute kid, than with the fact that she is eating. One such video is enough for me.

But speaking of cute kid videos, here’s a classic from Ellen:

I wish Xiaoman and her family the best, but I’d much rather watch videos of kid inventors any time.

Now there’s an A-Hed story.