Thank You for Another Happy Birthday!

Well today was the big 60, and it was a great day, thanks to family, friends, colleagues, students, and former students.

The day started off with some cardio, followed by a big green smoothie (nothing unusual there – every day starts like that).

I then went into school, and my first three sections all sang happy birthday to me, and my fourth and final section presented me with a vegan brownie (which was delicious by the way). It certainly made the day memorable.

I also got back my first math test of the semester, and was pleasantly surprised with the grade.

So the day was definitely off to a good start.

When I got home, my wife and son gave me some birthday presents, and I  thought I’d share a couple of them with you.

My wife got me a new wallet; I think she was tired off the old one, which had seen better days:

oldwallet

and here is the new one, with a $60 gift card to my favorite grocery store, Mom’s Organics:

newwallet1

The challenge will be trying to figure out what stuff from my old wallet makes the cut when I transition to the new one. I keep way too much stuff in my wallet:

walletstuff

As you might have guessed from the picture at the top of the post, I also the 23andMe Health + Ancestry testing kit, from my three sons. I’ve always secretly wanted to have this testing done, but probably would have never done anything about it myself.

So I am quite excited to see what the results of the test will be in terms of my genetic health risks, my ancestry, my wellness, my carrier status, and my traits. Once I get the results, you can be sure that there will be a blog post about it. I am predicting that I am at least 85% Irish.

In addition to all the wonderful presents from my family, I had birthday rewards from Wawa for a free coffee, from Panera Bread for a free pastry, a free cupcake (all vegan) from Sweet Freedom Bakery, and a $10 gift card to put towards my favorite charity, DonorsChoose.org. I also got birthday wishes from my insurance agent and my dentist!

So it was a great 60th birthday, and I still have a couple little gatherings to look forward to tomorrow night and Saturday night.

So to all of you who wrote to me today, thank you. I appreciate your taking time to wish me a happy birthday, it meant a great deal. I am lucky to have such a loving family, a wonderful group of friends and colleagues, and the best students one could hope for.

I am excited about the year ahead, including 365 more days of blogging until the next one!

My Most Courageous (or Foolish) Blog Post Yet

While browsing through my news feed today, I came across this story about a political ad that some people are referring to as potentially the worst campaign ad ever.

The ad features Dan Helmer, a Democratic hopeful from Virginia who is running for the U.S. House. In the ad, Helmer does a parody of the bar scene from “Top Gun.” In the film, Maverick (Tom Cruise) sings “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” to Charlie (Kelly McGillis) and the entire bar joins in.

In the ad, Helmer sings “You’ve Lost That Centrist Feelin’,” supposedly to Republican incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock.

Helmer is certainly no Tom Cruise, but then who is. But as I watched the video I thought it must have taken a lot of nerve to make such an ad, since I’m sure it involved Helmer going out of his comfort zone.

So I thought, if Helmer can do it, so can I.

One of my biggest fears is singing solo in public, and as far as I can recall, I’ve never done it.

So on my last night of being 59 years old, I thought “what the hell”. If they are giving out awards for the worst videos of the year, why not throw my hat in the ring.

My favorite song of all time is “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen, so I decided to record myself singing just the first verse.

So without further ado, here it is:

My first hope, for all of you fellow fans of Thunder Road, is that I didn’t ruin it for you to the point that you can never listen to the song again. Aren’t you glad I only sang the first verse? (see the end for a cure)

My second hope is that you weren’t drinking anything while watching the video, and ended up spitting it out all over your computer or phone. (Or maybe it would have been better if you were drinking something that might make video a distant memory when you wake up in the morning.)

But now it’s out there for all the world to see (well, at least 28 people), and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be (not the singing, that is bad, but actually posting a video of me singing). That’s of course before anyone has had a chance to see it, but I think I’ll be able to walk around tomorrow with my head held high, no matter what happens.

I also want to use this video as a challenge to my fellow daily bloggers. David Kanigan, Seth Godin, Fred Wilson – I don’t think I’ve seen any videos of you guys singing. Now would be the time to do it, since you know it won’t be the worst one out there – I think I’ve got that award all to myself.

By the way, if you’d like to see the original scene from Top Gun, here it is, followed by Bruce singing Thunder Road – it doesn’t get better than that. Make sure this is the last version you listen to before you go to sleep…

 

It’s How You Nap That Matters…

I’ve written before about the benefits of napping, and many research studies have shown that there are benefits to taking a daytime nap. Humans are biologically programmed to sleep at night, and to take a nap in the midafternoon, though scientists aren’t sure why.

So when Heidi Mitchell wrote a story about napping in today’s Wall Street Journal, I was curious to see if there was anything new on the subject.

The story features David Dinges, the chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Dinges offers advice on what is the most effective way to reap the benefits of napping.

According to Dr. Dinges, there are two types of naps, voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary (or intentional) naps are those where an individual makes a conscious decision to take a nap. Involuntary naps are those where an individual just dozes off without having planned to do so. (I’ve done a lot of involuntary napping while in the act of writing this blog over the past three years. I’ve also seen my students do a lot of involuntary napping (at least I hope that’s the kind of nap they’re taking) over the years).

Dr. Dinges notes that voluntary naps are the far better of the two types of naps. Intentional naps are the best way to fill up a person’ sleep tank. “So if you live on a schedule where you only get six hours of sleep a night and you get 45 minutes of intentional naps a day, you don’t develop much of a sleep debt,” he says.

The problem with involuntary naps is that often times a person’s head falls over, triggering the part of your brain that feels you’re falling, which wakes you up. These involuntary sleep episodes don’t provide much benefit, because “the brain doesn’t progress into sleep far enough for recovery, so it’s more like a disturbed night of sleep,” Dr. Dinges says.

A couple of helpful ways to avoid involuntary naps is to drink some caffeine, or to plan for a voluntary nap.

Here are some steps to take to get the most out of your nap:

  • Find a cool, dark, quiet place
  • Put all your electronics away
  • Limit your nap to 15-60 minutes
  • Set an alarm so you don’t oversleep
  • Have some caffeine after the nap to alleviate the post-nap sleep inertia

So apparently just dozing off while in the middle of something is not the way to achieve the benefits associated with napping. Like most things in life, the best results are had when there is a little bit of planning.

But as I noted in my previous article about napping, this is something I have trouble with, napping seems like an act of laziness.

But now that I’m armed with all of this research, who would dare to question me when I say, “I’l be back; it’s time for my nap.”

 

Maybe We Should Place Limits on How Much a President Can Golf

In Dan Ariely’s column this week, a reader posted the following question:

Many CEOs claim to use golf to informally “get things done.” How much are they really accomplishing on the links?

And here was Dan’s answer:

I used to believe in the popular notion that golfing is an important business tool, but a paper published last year in the journal Management Science changed my view. Lee Biggerstaff, David Cicero and Andy Puckett collected golfing records for more than 300 CEOs from S&P 1500 firms from 2008 to 2012 and found that the more golf a CEO played, the more a firm’s performance and value decreased. When CEOs played at least 22 rounds in a year, they found, the mean return on assets was more than 100 basis points lower than for firms whose CEOs played golf less frequently. I’m inclined to think that the idea of golf as a business tool is a self-serving tale that CEOs tell themselves and us to justify spending time and money at play.

So if playing more golf leads to worse corporate performance, then it seems to reason that perhaps CEOs should play less golf.

And if we think of our President as the CEO of our country, then perhaps there should be a legal limit placed on how many rounds of golf he (or she, this blogger wistfully writes) should be allowed to play per year. Otherwise, having no limit could lead to a situation of the President playing too many rounds, to the point where it hurts the performance of our country.

As part of such a law, each time the President plays a round of golf would need to be disclosed, to ensure that he or she stays within the legal limits.

But I’m not sure if golf is being unfairly picked on here, since I have not had a chance to read the original research article.

What if a President didn’t golf, but instead bowled 50 games a week. Is that too much? Or what if a President liked to read mystery novels? Should there be a limit on how many such books he can read per week?

If the article is just using golf as a proxy of how much time a CEO spends on leisure time activities, then the law might need to be broader, encompassing how much time the President is allowed to spend on non-work related activities.

But what if the problem is with golf itself? What if the actual act of playing too much golf made a CEO worse at his or her job?

Perhaps we can use President Trump as a guinea pig, and compare what he accomplishes in the months where he golfs at least one round versus his performance as President in the months where he plays no golf.

I know there would be a lot of noise in the data from such a study, but it seems like the job is important enough to figure out what’s the best way to get things done.

And if the results show that President Trump is more effective when he plays golf, then let him play as much golf as he wants. But if the results show that he accomplishes more when he does not play, then perhaps he should be banned from playing golf altogether.

Of course, my fear is that if has to cut out golf, he will use that time sending out tweets.

Fore!

Asking the Right Questions

Many of you may have already seen this, but earlier this week Paris Hilton tweeted the following:

As you can see, the tweet has close to 3,500 responses, and some are classics. I’d thought I’d share some of my favorites. I’m sure I’m missing many other good ones, but I don’t have the time to look through all 3,500 replies (well, maybe I do, but I have to at least pretend that I’ve got better things to do…)

Imagine if the power of asking a question on Twitter could be used for good, like asking, “How can we end world hunger?”, or “How can we all live in peace”, or “How can Jim Borden get more followers for his blog?”

If 3,500 people responded to those sorts of questions, you never know what kind of answers you may get.

And one of them might be the “right” answer.

Paris, the ball is in your court…

*image from Huff Post

Who Knew That Math Could Give Me Nightmares

Today in my math class, we were learning about a type of population growth model known as the Doomsday Model.

The Doomsday Model refers to a situation where there is a population explosion, one in which the population becomes unbounded (infinite) in a finite period of time.

Here’s the example he used in class:

The time rate of change of an alligator population P in a swamp is proportional to the square of P. The swamp contained a dozen alligators in 1988, and two dozen in 1998. When will there be four dozen alligators in the swamp? What happens thereafter?

I’ve written before about my unhealthy phobia about alligators, so I didn’t really want to imagine a situation where alligators were growing at an alarming rate.

Anyway, for those of you who may be interested, here is an image of the solution:

solution ally problem2

(DE stands for differential equation, which is the course I am taking.)

Written in plain English, here’s how one can interpret the results. It took 10 years for the alligator population to go from 12 to 24. It then just took 5 more years to go from 24 to 48. And then, just 5 years later again, the population of alligators has reached infinity.

Let me say that again, the population of alligators has reached infinity.

If that isn’t enough to keep you awake at night, and if and when you do fall asleep, to have the worst nightmares imaginable, I don’t know what would.

I’ve actually incorporated the possibility of seeing an alligator into my retirement planning. I’ve always thought one of the worst things that could happen to me is to be out for a walk somewhere and come within 20 yards of an alligator. If there are cities where there is a good likelihood of that happening, it’s not going to be high on my list as a retirement choice.

But now that I’ve just learned about a scenario where the alligator population can reach infinity, then no place on Earth would be safe. Hopefully they will have colonized by Mars before such a scenario plays out.

I should point out that there is one potential bright spot.

At the end of class, the teacher mentioned something about an Extinction Model being covered in the next class.

Maybe if he uses an alligator example for that one, the nightmares will end…

P.S. If you’d like to know more about the Doomsday Model, here’s a brief excerpt from Wikipedia:

The Doomsday Model came out of a 1960 article in Science magazine written by Heinz von Foerster and his colleagues P. M. Mora and L. W. Amiot. The article looked at the growth of the human population, and predicted that population growth would become infinite by Friday, November 13, 2026 – which just so happened to be von Foerster’s 115th birthday anniversary. Many viewed the predication as being made tongue-in-cheek.

And while an infinite population of humans would certainly not be an ideal situation, I wouldn’t consider it in the same league as the Doomsday associated with an infinite population of alligators…

 

Watch Out Corporate America, Here Comes Generation Z!

The Millennials are so yesterday.

Generation Z, which includes those individuals born between 1996 and 2015, have started to enter the workforce. Gen Z makes up about 25% of the U.S. population, more than Baby Boomers or Millennials.

According to Wikipedia, “a significant aspect of this generation is the widespread usage of the Internet from a young age; members of Generation Z are typically thought of as being comfortable with technology, and interacting on social media websites for a significant portion of their socializing.”

But that is not their only defining trait.  A Wall Street Journal article shares the results of two large surveys of this large demographic.

Here are some of the highlights from a survey conducted by IEY at the International Intern Leadership Conference, the business consultancy’s annual gathering of interns.

  • Gen Z places a priority on building something better and leaving something better for future generations.
  • They want to have a purpose in their work.
  • More than three-quarters of those surveyed said their ability to work well with people from different backgrounds and cultures set them apart from older workers.
  • Generation Z is excited about artificial intelligence and robotics, with three-quarters of respondents saying they think new technology will spur an evolution of human work. Two-thirds think it will increase their productivity, and more than half think it will allow them to focus on more valuable work.
  • 27% of respondents assign priority to devoting time to their communities when looking for an employer, suggesting that employers provide these young workers with the opportunity to give back to their communities and use their skills in a philanthropic way.
 Goldman Sachs Group Inc. surveyed 1,700 of its summer interns and found:
  • the vast majority planned to get married or form domestic partnerships and have children.
  • Some 83% also expected to buy a house by the time they were 40 and
  • 63% planned to buy a car by age 30.

The survey results do not surprise me. Based on my daily interactions with Generation Z, they seem to be a group of individuals who are ambitious, who want to make a difference, and who want to have balance in their lives.

And if my students are any indication, we have a bright future ahead of us.

*image courtesy of Voices of Youth

Will I Be Giving My Last Lecture before I Am Ready to Retire?

Amy X. Wang and Allison Schrager recently wrote a fascinating article that looked at the future of the delivery of higher education courses.

The article is titled The college lecture is dying. Good riddance., and looks at what is taking place in the introductory microeconomics course at Texas A&M.

Jon Meer and Steve Wiggins, two economics professors, will teach the course to thousands of students, none of whom will physically attend a class.

Professor Meer has already drawn up and pre-recorded all the lessons, engineered an interactive video platform, prepared all the homework and reading materials, and uploaded everything digitally, painstakingly mapping every last moment of the semester out before it actually starts.

One of the technologies used is a transparent whiteboard, which the camera later flips—a method that allows Meer to stay engaged and face-to-face with students. I have never seen such a whiteboard, but it looks pretty cool:

Here’s a key paragraph from the article:

Now that the prep is all out of the way, Meer can refocus on individual students who’re genuinely interested in a deeper pursuit of economics. Meet with them. Speak to them. Inspire them. As far as he is concerned, the traditional lecture setting in a massive hall is dead. 

This approach to teaching is not without its critics. Some people claim that the socialization aspect of learning will be lost, of particular concern given how much time students already spend online.

Also missing is the chance for classroom discussion, often a key part of the learning process.

Meer himself states, “Do I think [this new course] is better than 30 students and the Socratic method, Dead Poets Society-style? Probably not,” Meer admits. But, he counters, given the fact that A&M has to educate 50,000 undergrads, 3,000 of which need to take the microeconomics class for their major, “it’s still vastly superior to delivering a lecture to 300 students at 8 a.m. on a Friday morning.”

Meer and Wiggins’ class will offer online segments, quizzes, problem sets, virtual study groups, forums—arguably much more interaction than you’d ever find from an ordinary in-person course.

The online course will also offer better monitoring of student progress, not letting a student get too far ahead, or more importantly, too far behind.

Online courses also offer instant feedback to the students, something which is highly beneficial in the learning process.

Meer also hopes moving large introductory lectures online will free up resources to start an honors section, which would be more teaching-intensive.

I love how Wang and Schrager close the article:

Like most technology, online learning has the potential to be disruptive—in the most negative, chaotic sense of the word. But what we get in exchange for the chaos may be an industry-altering improvement, and education is one of America’s fields that’s most sorely in need.

Online education in its utopian form—effective, immersive, engaging, yet cheap to produce and able to reach audiences of millions—has too many advantages to discount. A university, however prestigious or well-staffed, can only physically educate so many students at a time. That university on the internet? It’s an entire multiverse of unexplored possibility.

I’ve been telling my students for a few years that teachers are always impressing upon their students the disruptive nature of technology, but have been slow, and perhaps even loathe, to embrace educational technology themselves.

I think the Intro to Business course I teach is one possible model of the future of education. Using educational tech tools from McGraw Hill (the Connect platform), my students teach themselves the chapter through an interactive program known as LearnSmart. LearnSmart will customize each student’s learning path through the material. Students complete the LearnSmart before class; this allows me to skip over basic terminology in class, and use that time to talk about the application of the material, and to take a look at the Wall Street Journal each day.

Some people may call this a “flipped” or “hybrid” classroom. I think the online tools are is an effective way to ensure that students are mastering the basics, while still offering the in-class experience. It seems like it is the best of both worlds.

I’m not sure if some day there will be no need for a teacher and students to meet face to face.

But who would have thought that you could get money out of a machine or listen to any song you wanted to, immediately, without ever leaving your house.

 

How Can a Commercial Have Me Crying in Less Than Three Minutes?

Today in class I had the opportunity to show the classic TV commercial, “Think Different”, by Apple.

I told my students that I am a big fan of commercials; the creators typically have less than a minute to create a memorable high quality video that tells a compelling story meant to emotionally impact the viewer, possibly to the point of taking action.

It’s a tall order, and over the past couple of years I’ve shared what I considered some of the my favorite commercials that seemed to meet all the criteria to be a classic.

Showing the Apple commercial put me in the mood to do some searching to see if there are any current commercials that have the potential to be a classic.

Well it didn’t take me too long to come across the following commercial from HP that seems to have all the right ingredients for success. A great story, some great music, a great ending, and effective product promotion.

It had me in tears by the end.

If you would like to read more about he background of the commercial, Adweek has written a great story about it.

The song is an old Donovan tune, Catch the Wind, which seems perfect for the commercial. If you would like to listen to the song accompanied by the lyrics, here is a video:

I just watched the HP commercial a second time, and it brought on a fresh batch of tears.

Well done, HP!

P.S. Just showed it to my wife, we were both in tears…