CVS Health: Taking a Stand Again

Three years ago CVS stopped selling tobacco products, which I thought was a perfect move for a company that promotes itself as part of the health care industry.

The loss of tobacco sales cost CVS $2 billion in annual revenue, out of total revenue of about $150 billion in annual revenue. I’m sure it was a difficult decision, and they knew they would be criticized by investors because of the negative financial impact, and by others who would accuse CVS of being a nanny.

So I admired their decision back then to stick to their beliefs, despite the backlash.

Well it is happening again.

CVS just announced that it will be moving most junk food away from the storefront, banning sales of low-protection sunscreens, and eliminating foods containing artificial trans-fats.

And I congratulate them for such a move.

But as before, there are those who criticize the decision.

I think moving candy away from the front counter is beneficial for reducing those impulse buys that we are all guilty of. The retails stores know exactly what they are doing when they place such goods right near the checkout. So to those who criticize CVS for being a nanny for removing the candy from the front counter, you can either walk a few feet to where the candy aisle is, or you can realize that you are being “manipulated” when the candy is up front. If you succumb to the impulse buy, the store’s ploy has worked; if such merchandise is moved to a different part of the store and you decide to buy it, you are the one in control.

I think many people feel guilty after they realize they have fallen victim to an impulse buy, because they feel a loss of self-control. So why would you be bothered by the fact that CVS is reducing the likelihood of such a feeling?

And like I said, if you really want that candy, it’s just a few steps away. And you now have complete control over the decision.

So kudos to CVS.

Next step, stop the alcohol sales. Not sure how that’s any different than the tobacco sales. Leave the alcohol sales to “non-health” companies.

How Do You Compare to the Average American?

I’ll warn you up front; the link to where I found this story takes you to the quiz section of the web site HowStuffWorks, which seems like it is one of those annoying sites where there is just a little bit of info on each page, and you have to keep clicking “next” to get to the following page.

Now that you’ve been warned, I thought you might find it interesting to look at some average statistics for Americans on a variety  of measures, such as weight, height, salary, spending habits, marriage, pregnancy, TV watching, level of debt, investing savvy, and items like level of trust in Congress and belief in astrology.

There are 35 questions, and I was able to guess the correct “average” for 25 of them.

Here is the link to the quiz.

Some of the answers I found surprising, such as the percentage of Americans who believe in God, and disappointing, like the percentage of Americans who are in support of the death penalty.

If you want to know what the answers are, you’re going to have to take the quiz.

It’s a nice way to waste 10-15 minutes of your day, and according to the averages, there’s probably a good chance you’ll be watching TV and eating a snack while taking the quiz.


Here’s to All Those Working Full-Time and Taking Classes at Night

As I was leaving school tonight, I ended up chatting with someone who had just come from an information session on our part-time MBA program.

He was asking me a few questions about the program, and a few minutes later we were joined by a woman and her young son who had also been at the session. We talked for a few moments, and I tried to answer their questions as best I could.

As we went our separate ways, I started to think about what a major commitment it was going to be on their part if they enrolled in the program.

A commitment of both time and money.

I thought of all the long nights they had ahead of them; working all day, then driving to school for a three hour class, and finally getting back home, well past dinner time.

Then there’s the homework at night and on weekends, the group projects that require everyone to try and manage their schedules to find a common time to get together, and the pressure of studying for tests.

The times when all of your colleagues are going out after work, but you are going to school for class or home to study. The family obligations that need to be juggled along with your job and school work.

It’s not easy, so why do they do it? And not just MBA students, but all those people who work full-time and take classes at night.

While it’s hard to know the specific reasons for any individual, I think a common thread running in the backs of the minds of all these students is that they want to give themselves more opportunities for a better life, and it’s not always just for themselves, but in many cases it’s for their family as well.

I was fortunate to always attend school as a full-time student, and I remember how busy I would get when the schoolwork started piling up. I can’t imagine what it would be look to work full-time and take classes at night, especially if you have other responsibilities such as family obligations.

So I just wanted to take a moment and recognize these part-time students and let them know that I have tremendous admiration for what you are doing, and I wish you the best with your work and with your classes. I hope you find that the return on investment of your time and money is the best investment you will ever make.

Cursing My Way Through the Daily Crossword Puzzle

For the past month or so I’ve become somewhat addicted to crossword puzzles. Prior to that, I never really bothered with them; I would look at a couple of the clues, have no idea what the answers were, and decide that I didn’t have the skill set to complete a crossword puzzle.

I’m not sure what triggered the change. I’ve always loved other types of puzzles, especially logic-type puzzles and sudoku puzzles.

Anyway, I started trying crossword puzzles, and I found that the ones I was doing (from the Philadelphia Inquirer) weren’t impossible, and that it was an enjoyable way to spend a few minutes. I also have learned to appreciate the humor and clever play on words that seems to be a common theme in crossword puzzles. And it’s a nice feeling of accomplishment when I can complete one without having to look up some of the clues.

I became so addicted to doing the puzzles that I even signed up for a home delivery subscription to the Inquirer. Before that I would pick up a free paper at school, but I couldn’t always count on getting one of the free copies, plus the papers are only available during the regular academic year.

I think at this point I’ve tried about 30-40 crossword puzzles, and I’ve completed maybe 2-3 of them without having to look up any of the clues.

But that may be about to change.

There was a story on today about how to retrieve words that are “on the tip of your tongue.” We’ve all experienced such a feeling, and know how frustrating it can be.

The article offered some interesting tips for improving your ability to recall such words:

  • Research by Deborah Burke and colleagues suggests that the more you use words, the less susceptible they’ll be to word-finding problems. Interestingly, even using a word’s sounds in the context of other words can help: For example, saying the words “abbey” and “circus” regularly makes it less likely that you forget the word “abacus” anytime soon.
  • Preliminary finding by Lisa Abrams, a researcher at the University of Florida (and the author of the Quartz article) suggests that saying a bad word—like a swear word—out loud makes you less likely to have a tip-of-the-tongue moment for another word immediately after, relative to saying a neutral word.
  • Abrams’s research has also found that gaining access to a word’s initial syllable is the key to retrieving it. When you encounter the tip-of-the-tongue’s first syllable, even within another word, it helps you to recall the elusive word. So, when you’re grappling for a word, instead of searching for words with the same first letter, which is what people commonly try, generate words with the first letter plus another sound. For example, if you can’t think of the word “rosary” but think the word you are thinking of starts with the letter r, generate words beginning with ra, re, ri, ro, and ru, in hopes of coming across the right syllable that will then trigger recall of “rosary.”

I am going to try some of these tips when I work on my next crossword puzzle, but I will need to do so somewhere where there are no other people around. It could get ugly as I start spewing forth a stream of curse words in hopes of trying to remember a word that is right on the tip of my tongue.

Looking back on today’s puzzle (I was so close; I got every clue except 1 down and 1 across, and I was only missing the first letter of each word), I was curious if there were some of the clues that cursing may have helped with. Part of the beauty of solving a crossword puzzle is that you may not know an answer (or at least it doesn’t come to you right away), but as you solve clues that are connected to the one you can’t solve, it gets easier to solve the clue that was stumping you.

For example, one of the clue’s was “dogs with stubby noses”. I could picture the dog they were referring to, but I couldn’t come up with the name. I only figured it ; out after I had the first two letters. But I wonder what would have happened if when I first saw the clue, I said out loud “dogs with stubby noses, F*CK!

Would I have been able to guess “dante” right away when I saw the clue “‘Inferno’ writer” and said it out loud like this “‘Inferno’ writer. SH*T!“. As it was, this was another clue that I solved with the help of adjoining clues. But as soon as I saw the answer, it dawned on me. I knew the answer, I just wasn’t able to retrieve it on a timely basis.

As I noted, I’ll try this with my next crossword puzzle, and I’ll let you know if it helped at all.

And if it helps there, I might have to start watching TV and movies by myself as well. “What’s that guy’s name, A**HOLE!”

Is This The Future of Recruiting and Hiring?

The Wall Street Journal had a story about the hiring practices at Unilever, the global consumer products firm.

Here are some excerpts from the article, to give you a sense of how the program operates and what the results have been like so far for Unilever.

To diversify its candidate pool for early-career roles that are a fast track to management, Unilever has ditched resumes and traditional campus recruiting. Its new process relies on algorithms to sort applicants and targets young potential hires where they spend much of their time: their smartphones.

Since young people live their lives online, Unilever decided to use the internet to recruit beyond the eight or so schools where recruiters had traditionally sought hires. 

To get the word out about jobs, Unilever placed targeted advertisements on Facebook and career-advice sites such as WayUp and the Muse. Those who clicked on the ads were directed to a career site where they could apply for entry-level jobs and internships in just a few clicks, since Unilever pulls information from the candidate’s LinkedIn profile to fill out the application. An algorithm scans those applications—275,400 in all so far—to surface candidates who meet a given role’s requirements. The software weeds out more than half of the pool. 

Candidates are then asked to play a set of 12 short online games designed to assess skills like concentration under pressure and short-term memory. The top third of those students or fewer are invited to submit video interviews on HireVue, through a website or app, answering questions about how they would respond to business challenges encountered on the job.

At both steps, artificial-intelligence can filter anywhere from 60% to 80% of candidates. To determine which candidates are most likely to be successful at Unilever, the AI uses data points such as how quickly they respond to questions, their facial expressions and vocabulary.

The first step involving direct human judgment is the last step, a final in-person interview with Unilever human-resources executives and managers. Last fall across the U.S. and Canada, around 300 candidates interviewed in person for 200 positions.

Unilever says hiring has become faster and more accurate—80% of applicants who make it to the final round now get job offers, and a similar number accept—and saved on recruiting costs, too, though Unilver wouldn’t say how much. Applicants hailed from more than 2,600 colleges for positions in the U.S. and Canada, tripling the numbers of schools in its previous applicant pool.

Unilever spokeswoman Ms. Hutcheon said it’s too early to say whether the new hiring practices correlate with stronger employees, adding that the company is closely tracking those hires’ success.

I like some aspects of the program, particularly the fact hat it opens up opportunities to work at Unilever to a  much wider range of students.

I graduated from a small college where there seemed to be just a handful of firms recruiting. I contrast that with where I am now, where it seems every day of the week there are several firms out pitching to our students. So this Unilever program seems to offer opportunities to students from a wider range of schools, as evidenced by the fact it received applications from schools at over 2,600 schools, triple the number from the year before.

I also like the fact that the program lends itself to lots of data analysis to measure its effectiveness. More traditional approaches to recruiting were not likely as data-driven.

However, I also saw some problems with this approach to hiring.

I think recruits are going to learn how to game the system, particularly students from schools that can offer strategies on how to succeed in such a recruiting model.

I also didn’t like some of the implications about how recruits were being judged in the video interviews. Criteria like facial expressions and how fast a recruit responds to a question would seem to favor those who have been coached, and/or those who are good on camera because of their looks and ability answer questions quickly. I would hope that some of the questions are a bit challenging, and thus would require a little bit of time and thought before they could be answered. Personally, I would prefer someone who is a bit more contemplative as compared to someone that “shoots from the hip”. My sense from the article is that  the algorithms favor the fast respondents, even if the answer does not seem to include any critical thinking.

And while the article starts off by saying Unilever is using the algorithms to increase diversity, there is little mention of if and how that is being accomplished. The story also notes that the program can help to reduce bias in the hiring process. That may be true to some extent, but it is still a human that creates the criteria and the filters for narrowing down the list of possible recruits.

There’s no doubt that technology can play a key role in the hiring process. n process much more quickly an initial round of interviews by first making sure the candidate has the right skills for the job.

Whether algorithms can aver fully replace humans in the process remains to be seen. My guess is no…

I Spend the First Two Hours of My Day as a Robot

My wife said something last Thursday morning as we were getting ready to leave for work, and my reply made me realize that perhaps not everybody follows such a set routine as I do.

She said, “Can you believe it’s Thursday already?”, and I said, “I know. It messed up my routine. I thought it was Wednesday, and Thursday is the day I usually use conditioner on my hair. So now my schedule is off for the rest of the week.”

To me it was just a normal response, but my wife burst into laughter and said she didn’t know that Thursday was my hair conditioning day.

I then went on to explain my whole showering process – Mondays and Thursdays are shampoo and condition, Wednesdays and Saturdays are just shampoo, and the other days are just body soap.

She seemed fascinated by this routine of mine, and then she asked if I had other routines that she was not aware of.

She knows of my morning green smoothie routine, which I wrote about before, and she knows that I exercise every day, but she probably wasn’t aware of how structured it is. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Monday – 45 minutes on a recumbent bike, doing intervals guided by heart rate monitoring
  • Tuesday – 45 minutes on a rowing machine, at a heart rate slightly above the (180-age) guideline
  • Wednesday – 45 minutes on the bike, using the (180-age) rule for heart monitoring
  • Thursday – 45 minutes on rowing machine, doing intervals guided by heart rate monitoring
  • Friday – 45 minutes on the bike, at a heart rate slightly above the (180-age) guideline
  • Saturday – extended time on rowing machine, using the (180-age) rule for heart monitoring; yesterday was 80 minutes

I do the above cardio first thing in the morning, right after I wake up.

Afterwards, I make my smoothie, then take my shower (per the schedule shown above), and then head to the gym (well, Planet Fitness).

My first 10 minutes at the gym are spent stretching, and then on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I do an additional 20-30 minutes of strength training, always performing the same exercises in the same order (unless someone is using the machine that I was planning to use – which is mildly annoying. I manage to adapt, but not happily.)

Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays at the gym are my easy days, since I only do the stretching.

So if you haven’t fallen asleep yet, there you have it.

My Groundhog Day-like daily routine.

When I put the routine in writing, I know it makes me look a bit anal retentive, and maybe I am. But as I noted in my post about my green smoothie routine, knowing in advance what I am going to do means that there is one less thing to think about, and I think it makes it much easier for me to stick to the routine.

There are days, for a variety of reasons, that my routine might be a little different, but such days are few and far between.

Now if I could just routinize the other 15 hours a day that I am awake, then I wouldn’t have to think about anything at all all day…

P.S. Apparently I’m not the only person who enjoys a daily routine; here’s an article that looks at the daily routines of seven famous entrepreneurs. The story features Barack Obama, Winston Churchill, Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams (of Twitter), Tim Ferriss, Leo Babauta, and Ben Franklin. Not a bad group to emulate…

And How Much Did You Pay for Your Wedding?

I was going through some old documents today, and I came across a couple of the bills from our wedding.

Our reception was at the Shawnee Mountain Ski Lodge in the Poconos. We were actually the first couple to have a wedding reception at the lodge, and it was a perfect venue.

Here’s the first one, which shows the total food bill as well as the cost of one night of lodging. I’m struck by the formality of the receipt; it’s written on a little yellow piece of notepad paper:


The dinner seems like a bargain compared to what weddings cost today; 204 guests @ just $7.95 per guest! And my wife payed the entire bill herself – needless to say I was quite impressed. (My parents picked up the bar bill. I guess you could call me a freeloader…)

We also had hired a band, Adrian, Priest, and Grimes to play at the wedding, and I found their contract as well:


It was a three piece band, and their total bill was $380 (which my wife also paid), with each band member getting $126.66 (except for the head of the band, who got $126.68). This detail is all shown on the bottom half of the contract, along with their social security numbers! My how the times have changed.

I did check to see if the band is still around, but it looks like they broke up in the 1990s. They do have a Facebook page, and this is where I came across a picture of the band from the early 1980s:


Looking at those food, lodging, and band bills (total $2,500) brought back memories of a great day. I’m sure I wasn’t looking too far into the future on that day, but if I had, I never would have imagined a life as wonderful as the one we have had for the past 36 years.

By the way, today is not our anniversary; when I found those papers, I just had to write about them. And in case you didn’t realize it, that is not a picture of my wife and I at the top of the post, it’s the best picture I could find online of a wedding at Shawnee…


How to Have a Really Unpleasant Dinner with Your Spouse

It’s Dan Ariely time again.

Here is one of the letters he received, and his response:

I go out to dinner with my husband once a week, and every time, we promise to order something healthy—but when we see the menu, we get tempted and order something less virtuous but tasty. Any advice on how to show more resolve? —Aimee

You are describing a classical case of temptation. Before you get to the restaurant, you’ve settled on a certain idea of how you want to behave—then you get tempted, and afterward, you regret your indulgences. So how can you override temptation? Just order for each other. When we order for our significant other, we aren’t tempted by taste and can instead think about their health—which is also what our spouse would want a few hours later.

I can’t imagine that going so well.

It seems to me that going out for dinner should be a special occasion, and the chance to maybe indulge a little bit. If you’re eating healthy the other six nights a week, then you can probably afford to eat something “less virtuous but tasty.”

I can envision going out to dinner, and following Dan’s advice, ordering just a kale salad with no dressing for your significant other, and water to drink.

I’m thinking that would turn out to be a pretty quiet dinner, especially if the restaurant you went to had something “less virtuous but tasty” that you know your partner would really enjoy.

While your partner might be grateful several hours later for having eaten the kale salad, I’m not sure it would be worth it. I think I’d rather deal with the regret later than sit through a tension-filled dinner.

I think if you really want to go out for a healthy meal, then choose a restaurant that only offers such options. That way each person can order for themselves, and you won’t have to deal with the stress of ordering for your partner or the silent treatment that might follow.

Bon Appétit…


Arnold Could be Talking about Me

There are many aspects of my life where I consider myself disciplined – watching what I eat, exercising, getting up early, and writing my blog are a few that come to mind – but there are other parts of my life where I know I could do better.

For example, I know I should drink more water. I rarely have a cup of just water; the water I do drink is usually part of something else, a smoothie or a coffee, for example. And even then, I know it’s still probably only half of how much I should be drinking.

Another area of my life that could be improved is the amount of time I spend constantly checking the stats on my blog – how many people read it, how many people liked it, how many people commented on it, how do the numbers this year compare to the numbers this time last year, etc. A conservative estimate is that I probably check the stats 20-30 times a day, which I know is about 20-30 times more than I need.

I’m not really sure what I’m hoping to discover when I check the stats; perhaps I’m using the stats as some type of confirmation of the value of the various blog posts.

I know Seth Godin would scold me for caring about my stats:

Good blogs aren’t focused on the vapid race for clicks that other forms of social media encourage. Instead, they patiently inform and challenge, using your time with respect.

I know I shouldn’t be so concerned with my blog stats, but I can’t seem to stop myself from seeing how many people read my latest blog in the past hour.

And it’s not like I have millions, or thousands, or even hundreds (well, occasionally) of people reading my blog each day. The numbers are usually in a pretty tight interval of about 50-80 views per day, so there’s rarely anything that jumps out at me when I view the stats.

Given that there’s little benefit to constantly checking my stats, the problem must be, as Arnold notes, a lack of discipline.

So I’m going to see if I can control my stat viewing habits by going a full weekend without checking my stats, starting now. My goal is to not check my blog stats until Monday morning.

I’ll let you know if I found the discipline to do so.

In the meantime, if you’re looking to put some discipline into your life, why not make it a goal to read my blog every day. I can’t promise to patiently inform and challenge, using your time with respect, as Seth notes above, but at least you’ll know Arnold isn’t talking about you.

Happy First Day of Summer, from Mungo Jerry

To me, it’s one of the all-time classic songs.

And to think that someone made a music video back in 1970 so that future generations can share in the joy of such music.

Some of the lyrics might be considered a bit questionable or a bit dated:

Have a drink, have a drive
Go out and see what you can find

I don’t think you would find such lyrics in music written today. In fact,  the song was used in a UK advert for the campaign Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives.

If her daddy’s rich take her out for a meal
If her daddy’s poor just do what you feel

Hmmmm…. not sure if those two lines would go over so well today either, and I’m not sure if it did back in the 70s either.

Speed along the lane
Do a ton or a ton an’ twenty-five

From what I can tell by researching it online, do a ton or ton an’ twenty five is referring to driving 100-125 miles per hour. Again, not sure if the NHTSA would be happy with such a line today, When combined with the drinking noted above, these recommendations tart to have a dangerous feel to them.

My guess is that back in the 70s, people didn’t think too much about these sorts of issues, but fortunately society has evolved in a good way.

Despite these problems with some of the lyrics, it does nothing to detract from how great the song is.

Best wishes for a happy summer, and keep these words of Mungo Jerry in mind:

We’re always happy
Life’s for livin’ yeah, that’s our philosophy

Couldn’t agree more…