Reading This 5-Minute Post Will Save You from Disappointment and Hours of Reading

I know I’m a sucker for stories with headlines like, “14 things successful people do before breakfast“, or “14 Things Every Successful Person Has In Common“, or “If You Want to Succeed, Here Are 5 Things You Need to Do Differently“, or “25 Simple Things to Give Up If You Want to Succeed“.

After all, who doesn’t want success? And if there is a nice little checklist that one can use to achieve that success, so much the better. (Especially when the list includes things like drinking a glass of water and making your bed).

The problem, however, is that such lists don’t work, and in fact may cause more harm than good.

Emre Soyer and Robin M. Hogarth, in an article at Harvard Business Review, offer several reasons why it may be best to avoid such lists (and I guess by deduction, read more things like my blog, but I digress…).

  • Evidence is anecdotal. Most of the advice these lists contain is based on subjective interpretations of personal accounts, not on systematic, scientific analyses. As a result, you can’t judge its validity. In addition, anecdotal evidence often blurs the lines between cause and consequence.
  • Research doesn’t always transfer to different contexts. Even if such lists do rely on evidence, such evidence is often very context-specific.
  • Failures are silent. Social scientists refer to this as survivorship bias. People who didn’t survive offer “silent evidence.” These are the outcomes that we don’t get to see; their absence leads to a false sense of effectiveness of certain actions. For example, an aspiring athlete may study and emulate the habits of a successful athlete. But what if those habits are the same ones of a less successful athlete. We don’t hear about those less successful athletes, since their “failures” are “silent”, and no one wants is interested in the habits of the unsuccessful.
  • Success is personal. Any given success is specific to a particular person and context, yet these advice lists often treat it as common and constant. Our careers, families, social lives, priorities, and visions may differ significantly from those who are hailed as successful by a particular expert. Given the things they had to do and give up for success, we might not wish to trade places with them.

So there you have it; there is no longer a need to search for and read these “how to be successful lists”, since they apparently don’t really help.

I wonder if this means I can go back to “holding grudges” and “blaming others”.

Appliance Showdown: Toaster vs Freezer

What would happen if you tried to toast a piece of bread inside a freezer?

Which appliance would win – would the toaster be able to toast the bread despite the below freezing temperatures, or would the freezer be able to keep the toast from ever heating up?

I have to admit it wasn’t me who came up with this hypothetical question (I wish it was, since it’s an interesting question), but I found it on the what if web site.

The web site is based on the book What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, and it seems to live up to its title.

Here are some examples of other questions which it has explored:

  • What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?
  • What if everyone who took the SAT guessed on every multiple-choice question? How many perfect scores would there be?
  • What would happen if everyone on earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?

Anyway, getting back to the toaster vs freezer showdown.

For those who can’t wait any longer, the toaster wins, and fairly easily.

As the site points out, we just can’t think of a toaster as something that gets hot, and of a freezer as something that gets cold.

Apparently toasters get a lot hotter than freezers get cold. Toasters reach temperatures of over 6ut t00°C, while a freezer might get as low as minus 15°C .

Of course teh researchers do not recommend trying this experiment. One danger would be that as the toaster is left on, it would begin to melt the ice in the freezer. If this happens, you would have an electrical appliance sitting in a pile of water. Again, I don’t know much, but this sounds like a major problem just waiting to explode.

They do note that one could probably simply try this out in a cold spot, like northern Canada and see what happens.

Just like the outcome above, the toaster wins.

In addition to the knowledge gained about toasters and freezers, I also learned that a fire poses a serious threat to researchers in Antarctica. The place is dry, windy, and doesn’t have a lot of liquid water sitting around to douse a flame with. A perfect storm for a devastating fire.

So today counts as a good day. Not only did I learn something or two, but I potentially have a laundry list of blog ideas.

I look forward to checking out more of their hypotheticals, such as “What if a rainstorm dropped all of its water in a single giant drop?”

Hidden Talents?

In response to yesterday’s blog post that was a tribute to Elvis, Bud Drago, one of my teaching colleagues, commented that on the date of Elvis’ death, he and his bandmates were practicing for an upcoming gig. When they heard the news, the band played a couple Elvis songs in his memory.

40 years later, and Bud is still in a band. His current one is known as Freeze Time, and consists of Bud and his two sons. The band has put out five albums to date, and I believe the sixth one is close to being released. I’ve written about one of Bud’s songs before, “Is This the Best We Can Do?“, a timely song that was released during the recent Presidential election.

As I was thinking about Bud and this not so hidden talent of his, it made me think about all of the other teachers I work with who are also musicians.

Here’s a quick listing:

  • an Economics professor who is part of a duo which performs dozens of times per year
  • another Economics professor who is quite the singer
  • an Operations Management professor who is also quite the singer, and I think is in a Barbershop Quartet
  • a Management professor who sings and plays the guitar
  • another Management professor who has been a long time member of a jug band that plays regularly at the Philadelphia Folk Festival
  • an Accounting professor who plays the clarinet and has his own Big Band that plays jazz and swing
  • another Accounting professor who plays the guitar and has released a CD of his music
  • a Finance professor who produces electronic music, and at one point had a top 100 dance song
  • another Economics professor who was a member of a punk band

Out of only approximately 120 faculty members, that seems like a lot of musical talent.

But it’s not just musical ability that is “hidden” among our faculty. Here’s some others:

  • a Data Analytics professor who was a magician
  • another Data Analytics professor who played professional soccer
  • a Management professor who was a nationally ranked tennis player
  • an Economics professor who was an All America track athlete
  • an Accounting professor who was an All America swimmer
  • a Marketing professor who played D1 basketball

I’m sure there are many more hidden talents among our faculty that I am unaware of (I guess that’s why they are called hidden talents).

It makes me realize how little we often know about our work colleagues and our neighbors. I’m always a little saddened when I go to a funeral and I learn about listen to a eulogy that paints a fascinating picture of someone I wish I had gotten to know a little better.

I think a person’s “hidden talents” are his or her true passion, and in order to really get to know someone, you need to discover those hidden talents.

And I’m sure that once you start looking, you’ll discover that a person’s “hidden talents” really weren’t that hidden, you just had to take the time, and interest, to find them.

P.S. I’m thinking that it would be fun to profile all of the people noted above, not only as a way to share their talents, but as a way for me to get to know them even better.

*image from Hidden Talents

A Tribute to the King – Three Memories

Today is the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, and I thought I’d share a few memories I have of him.

I was lucky enough to have seen Elvis in concert, just a few months before he died. It was at the venerable Spectrum in South Philadelphia, and my friend Joe had somehow managed to get a couple of tickets.

I don’t remember much about the show, but there is one memory that is etched in my mind.

One of the songs Elvis decided to sing was “My Way”, and he told the crowd that he didn’t know all of the words, so he had to read them while he sang! I’d never seen anything like that, before or since. But it was still a great rendition, and he truly did it his way.

(To see if my memory of this was correct, I did a quick search, and I found a review of the concert from that night, and the reviewer talks about Elvis reading the words to My Way.)

Another memory was from back when I was about 12 years old. Elvis had just released the song “In the Ghetto”. I thought it was a great song, and one day I decided to try and call one of the local radio stations and request that the song be played. As luck would have it, the request went through, and the DJ played the song and mentioned me by first name on the radio. Quite exciting for a 12-year old!

One final memory of Elvis is from my freshmen year in college, specifically my first night at college. There was no doubt that I had lived a sheltered, nerd-like life up to that point. My roommate, Steiny, was the exact opposite. He was from Northeast Philly, and he was the quintessential tough guy. The only thing we had in common was that we were both on the swim team, and that is why we were roommates.

Well later that night, as we were falling asleep in the darkened dorm room, for some strange reason I still don’t fully understand, I said to Steiny:

“Let’s each sing our favorite song, and that way we’ll never be embarrassed around each other.” As I said earlier, I have no idea what prompted such a thought, but he agreed, and then launched into an Elvis song. To be honest, I can’t remember what it was, but he sang it all the way threw (without having to read the lyrics).

(I do remember that I sang Bad, Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce.)

Surprisingly, Steiny didn’t try to switch roommates the next day, and we became good friends, and he ended up being one of my groomsmen several years later.

(I also remember at his wedding that the bride and groom song was “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.)

Steiny was obviously a huge Elvis fan, and he turned me into one as well. We were probably one of the few dorm rooms that you would hear Elvis music coming from, but no one was going to question Steiny’s taste in music.

Steiny also turned me onto Elvis the actor, and Viva Las Vegas remains one of my favorite movies.

So thank you Elvis for sharing your gift of music with the world, and thank you Steiny for your friendship. I know you don’t read this blog, so I’ll give you a call; maybe we can do an Elvis duet on the phone…

Imagine all the people living life in peace

It’s my favorite line from one of my all-time favorite songs, Imagine, by John Lennon.

I had been thinking about those words the past couple of days as I reflected on the hate and bigotry that was on display in Charlottesville this past weekend.

Why is peace so hard? Why can’t the world be as one?

Someone else must have also had those words on their mind, because I came across a Facebook post that had a link to a beautiful rendition of Imagine by Pentatonix, the extraordinary a cappella group.

As their video shows, despite our differences, we are all human. A brotherhood of man.

And if that’s the case, again I ask, why is peace so hard?

The past few days have also made me realize how much I miss President Obama. So I thought I’d watch a few of his speeches to help restore my faith and hope in our country and our leaders.

As part of my viewing, I came across this New York Times compilation of some of his greatest speeches, and I thought many of you would enjoy it.

A Solution to the Isolation Epidemic?

in 2016, Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy declared that isolation was the most common disease in the U.S.

Social isolation and loneliness have been associated with major negative health effects in study after study, leading some researchers to consider long-term isolation to be just as bad for longevity as smoking cigarettes. There are also links to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s.

I think it’s a combination of many factors that is causing such an epidemic – a growing, elderly population, social media, and an increased willingness of people to relocate away from where they grew up. While none of these directly causes isolation or loneliness, they serve to create an environment that could foster such isolation.

There are many options for dealing with this isolation crisis, but I just watched a TED video that offered one solution that seemed promising.

The solution is known as cohousing, and here’s the 10-minute talk:

Herer are some excerpts from the talk that give one a good sense of what cohousing is:

Cohousing is an intentional neighborhood where people know each other and look after one another. In cohousing, you have your own home, but you also share significant spaces, both indoors and out.

The thing that makes this building uniquely cohousing are not the homes, but rather, what happens here — the social interactions that happen in and around that central courtyard.

I consider the common house the secret sauce of cohousing. It’s the secret sauce because it’s the place where the social interactions and community life begin, and from there, it radiates out through the rest of the community.

…that’s how cohousing starts: with a shared intention to live collaboratively. And intention is the single most important characteristic that differentiates cohousing from any other housing model.

It’s an interesting concept; but I have mixed feelings about whether it is something I would be interested in pursuing once I retire. While I understand the importance of social connections, I’m not sure if such an intentional approach to knowing your neighbors is necessary, or if the same thing could be accomplished in a traditional housing neighborhood.

I’m also not sure if there tends to be a lack of diversity in cohousing – are most people looking to cohouse with people whoa re quite similar to themselves? Lack of diversity could lead to major problems, or at least a warped perspective on the ways of the world.

Despite these concerns, I would still be interested in trying out cohousing to see if it is for us.

There are several cohousing opportunities in the U.S., and the number seems to be growing rapidly. Here is a link to a full list of existing or planned cohousing communities in the U.S. There’s even one in Philadelphia!

As TED speaker Grace Kim notes, cohousing is not only an antidote to isolation, it can save your life.

Spa Vacations for Men – I’ll Pass

The Wall Street Journal had a story yesterday that looked at how popular spa vacations have become for men.

In an effort to change men’s mindset that a spa retreat is for women, these spas offer activities such as hiking, bootcamps, fitness classes, hand and foot sports conditioning (a mani-pedi), hunting, tree climbing, tennis, and water volleyball (reminds me of Meet the Parents).

These resorts also offer the traditional spa services, such as meditating, massages, facials, and hot tubs.

Maybe if they didn’t call themselves a spa, maybe if they didn’t offer facials, and maybe if they weren’t so expensive (a couple of them cost over $1,500 PER NIGHT), I would consider trying one.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to use the rowing machine in my dining room, my local Planet Fitness, my $5 nail clipper, my foam roller, the nice warm shower in my own house, and my daily homemade green smoothie to get the same benefits.

P.S. If you are interested in which spas are mentioned in the story, here are the links:

*photo from Seattle Post Intelligencer

The Reviews Are In – You’re a Slob

We went to see the  Dunkirk movie today (not one of my favorites), and as we were leaving the theater I looked around and was amazed by how many people just left their food and drinks behind them.

It just seems incredibly inconsiderate to do such a thing; are some people so lazy that they can’t carry their garbage to the nearest trash can? Do they think they are above doing such a thing? Do they think buying a movie ticket includes having someone clean up their mess? (hint – it doesn’t)

I think movie theaters need to add another public service announcement to their pre-movie routine, in addition to the no texting and no talking reminders:

“On your way out, please help keep our theater clean for the next moviegoer by throwing away your food and drink in the trash cans that are located next to the exit door. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.”

In addition, maybe now with all of the theaters that have reserved seats, the theater can track who it is that left behind their trash. And the next time that person goes to buy a ticket, the theater can add a cleaning fee to the price of the ticket.

While some people might object to such a policy, there may be others who appreciate that the theater is putting such an emphasis on cleanliness.

So if you are guilty of this slovenly behavior, know that you get three big thumbs down – Siskel, Ebert, and me.

Onion Story Hits Close to Home

I saw the following headline in The Onion today:

Man Surveys Party For Next Group To Silently Stand In

and I thought, “Hmmm, sounds like me.”

I then read the story, and it was eerie how well it captured my party behavior.

Here’s the brief story:

Determining the time had come to seek out livelier company, local man Thomas Weber reportedly surveyed the party he was attending Thursday for the next group he could silently stand in. “Let’s see, which of these clusters of people do I want to linger in for the next half hour or so without saying a single word?” thought Weber, who sources said had grown bored with the stale conversation of the partygoers he was mutely hovering around. “Those people over by the refrigerator seem interesting. Maybe I’ll wander over to grab a beer and then just sort of loiter around the periphery smiling and nodding my head every so often.” At press time, no one in attendance had realized Weber left the party without saying goodbye to anyone.

I can go to a party and not say more than five words, and then leave without anyone knowing I’ve left (and most people probably not even aware I was at the party).

Apparently I’m not the only person who behaves like this, since I’m sure the Onion reporter must have run across one or two people who served as the inspiration for this story.

So this post is just a shout out to all the Thomas Weber’s out there – you are not alone.

Maybe we should all get together and throw our own party. I can’t promise any scintillating conversation, but there will be quite a competition to be the first person to leave…

Is This Poor Design, or Am I Just a Whiner?

That’s a picture of the front entrance to a local library. It’s a great library, perhaps the best in the area.

I don’t get there as often as I’d like, but it seems like every time I go to check out a book, there’s a fine on my account. Usually it’s a pretty small fine, less than $2.00, and I have no problem paying it, since I know it’s the result of having returned some books past the due date.

Well the last time we were there, I was checking out a couple of books, and I was thinking that maybe this time there would not be any fine, since I had not used the library for quite some time.

So imagine my surprise when the librarian said that I had a $29 fine.

I asked her how could I have incurred such a fine, and she said it was because the last set of books we had returned were destroyed as a result of having been put in a trash compactor. I must have looked confused, because as I was thinking, “we don’t even have a trash compactor, so how could the books have been destroyed”, so she continued by saying that there is a trash compactor right out in front of the library, and we must have put the books in the trash compactor.

If you look at the image at the top of this post, you will see the trash compactor in the bottom right of the photo.

Here is the trash compactor from another angle:


I thought to myself that placing a trash compactor, which has the same design features as a book drop, right outside the entrance to a library doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Here’s what a book drop looks like at another library:


They look pretty similar to me. Plus, the trash compactor in the picture at top is located right next to where cars can pull-up and ideally, drop off their books.

I asked her if other people have made the same mistake, and she said that a few people have done the same thing. I’m not sure if that made me feel better or worse, but it certainly reinforced my belief that the front of a library is a poor location for a trash compactor.

I know that it is obvious once you take a moment and read what is on the outside of the trash compactor. But who would think to stop and read the outside of a box that looks almost identical to a book drop, and is located right where you think a book drop should be?

Anyway, I paid my fine, and then couldn’t wait to get outside and see this trash compactor.

That’s when I decided to take a couple of pictures, as shown above.

And I thought, “well not all is lost, at least this should should be good for a blog post”.

So now I know, beware of trash compactors posing as book drops; it’s going to cost you.

But at least it’s better than the other possibility; dumping out your leftover food and drink into a book drop…