A Possible New Source for Blog Ideas

theeconomist

As I have mentioned before, some days it is hard to think of something to write about, and I find myself going to the usual suspects for blog ideas – the Wall Street Journal, Seth Godin, Fred Wilson, LinkedIn Pulse, Harvard Business Review, or the New York Times Health and Fitness blog.

While leading an interesting life could certainly be a rich source of blog ideas, such a quest is likely is a bit quixotic, so I thought it may be more productive look elsewhere for source material.

I vaguely recalled that last week Fred Wilson (along with a few others) mentioned in a discussion on his blog how much they enjoyed The Economist, so I decided to check it out.

While I have read a handful of articles from The Economist over the years, it is not a magazine I know much about. But after spending a few minutes browsing through past issues and reading a few articles tonight , I liked what I saw.

While I did not find anything that triggered an idea that I would have enough time to write about at this point in the day, I am confident that this will be a rich source of potential material for my blog.

And even if none of the stories from The Economist makes it way into my writing, I think it will at least make me a more informed citizen of the world.

If anyone has any thoughts about The Economist, I would love to hear them; thanks.

 

Big Data to the Rescue

bigdata

Holman Jenkins wrote an interesting piece in today’s Wall Street Journal about how big data could possibly be useful in preventing mass shootings.

Hitachi, the big Japanese company, began testing its crime-prediction software in several unnamed American cities this month. The project, called Hitachi Visualization Predictive Crime Analytics, culls crime records, map and transit data, weather reports, social media and other sources for patterns that might otherwise go unnoticed by police.

Jenkins notes that privacy wars will have to be fought, but at some point the public has to understand that big data works by employing completely impersonal algorithms. They don’t care about your most embarrassing moments but only about surfacing information that might be useful in dealing with or preventing crime.

I’m all in favor of utilizing such tools; I’ll gladly give up some of my privacy (which I do not consider the same thing as giving up my freedom) in exchange for a kinder, gentler, safer world.

“I’m Quite Certain He’s Earned It”

While watching the news tonight there was a story about President Obama’s trip to Oregon to pay his respect to the families and friends of those who were victims in the shooting that took place at Umpqua Community College.

I was quite surprised to see that there were people protesting the President’s visit because they felt he was politicizing the shooting to help make his case for gun control.

You certainly have the right to express your disagreement with respect to the President’s position on any issue you please, but I think such disagreements need to be done with respect for President Obama himself and the office that he holds.

Unfortunately, this is often not the case, and I have never seen so much disrespect for a President than I have seen with Obama.

It reminds of a clip from “A Few Good Men”. In this clip, Jack Nicholson tells Tom Cruise that he needs to address him as Colonel or Sir because he’s earned it. Nicholson then turns to the Judge and asks him what kind of courtroom he’s running. The judge replies that Nicholson will refer to him as Judge, or Your Honor, because he’s quite certain he’s earned it.

Obama is our President; he was chosen in a fair, democratic election. I am sure it is among the most difficult, stressful jobs in the world, and one that is with him 24/7/365. Over his time in office, he’s had to make some difficult decisions, that’s what he was elected to do.

You are free to disagree with those decisions, but I do not think you have a right to disrespect the person who is our President.

If you only plan to show respect to a President that you supported, then it seems to me that you really don’t believe in the democratic process. Having democratic elections means that there is a chance that your candidate will not win, and if he or she does not, then you need to accept that fact, and show respect for the person that did.

I don’t think that is happening in our country today, and it’s not something you can blame on the President.

So please, call him President Obama and show him some respect; I’m quite certain he’s earned it.

 

“Hello”, the First iPhone TV Ad

jobswtihfirstiphone

In honor of Throwback Thursday and the release tomorrow of the new Steve Jobs movie, I thought I’d share the first TV ad for the original iPhone.

I consider the iPhone perhaps the greatest technology product of all time. There doesn’t seem to be much it can’t do, particularly when you are given the ability to add on devices such as credit card readers (designed by a former student of mine!) and blood pressure monitors.

I’ve written before about my obsession with Apple and Steve Jobs. But there’s obsession, and then there’s obsession.

Someone has created a YouTube playlist of every Apple TV ad that has ever aired; the list now has over 700 videos.

Of course all the classics are there, such as the iconic 1984 ad for the Macintosh, and the Think Different commercial with Richard Dreyfus, or this more recent one with the voices of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.

So if you’re looking for something to do this weekend, here’s the link to the Every Apple Ad YouTube site.

Enjoy…

 

WHAT???!!! 30 Minutes of Exercise a Day Is Not Enough?

sleepingonbike

Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, published a research study this week that concluded that there is an inverse relationship between Physical Activity (PA) and Heart Failure (HF) risk. In particular, it noted that PA in excess of the minimum amount recommended per day may be required for more substantial reductions in HF risk.

Current American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines recommend at least 150 mins/week of moderate intensity aerobic PA. Participants in the study who met the minimum guideline had a 10% lower risk of HF compared to those with no PA. The magnitude of the risk reduction was substantially greater among participants with significantly higher levels of PA. For example, participants who engaged in PA at twice the basic guideline recommended level had a 19% lower risk of HF, while those who engaged in four times the recommended level had a 35% lower risk of HF.

“Walking 30 minutes a day as recommended in the U.S. physical activity guidelines may not be good enough — significantly more physical activity may be necessary to reduce the risk of heart failure,” said senior study author Dr. Jarett Berry. “If you look at the general population, we’ve had tremendous success in reducing coronary heart disease over the last 30 years. But heart failure rates have not declined enough. The findings from the present study suggest that higher levels of physical activity may help combat this growing burden of heart failure.”

A recent government survey indicated that only about 20% of the U.S. population achieves the goal of 150 minutes per week. And so if you fell into that category, you were probably feeling pretty good about yourself.

Now this new research is suggesting that 150 minutes per week is not sufficient, we’ve got to double, or even quadruple, that amount!

If 80% of the population was having trouble with the original guidelines, I don’t think this new study will provide motivation for those individuals to begin exercising more. It could, in fact, have the opposite effect.

People may just see those new guidelines and think “well I don’t have the time to exercise an hour per day, and if I’m not getting much benefit from exercising less than that, then why should I bother doing any exercise at all?”

And such a response is not a healthy one.

I think the media has focused on the study recommendations of one to two hours per day of exercise, that they have failed to point out that exercising for 30 minutes per day, five days per week is beneficial, offering a 10% lower risk of Heart Failure compared to those with no Physical Activity.

What I have found useful is to slowly ease into increasing my exercise time, adding 5 extra minutes every other day, and using one of my weekend days for an extra long session.

In addition, doubling or quadrupling the minimum guideline does not have to be done strictly on the basis of time. For example, increasing a daily workout from 30 to 45 minutes while also increasing the intensity level of the workout, could be the equivalent of doubling the 30 minutes per day guideline.

Once again, however, increasing the intensity, just like increasing the time, should be done gradually.

What you are trying to do is establish life-long habits, and so you should set long-term goals. For example, if you just add five minutes each month to your daily workout, by the end of the year you will have added 60 minutes per day.

And by doing so, you should be able to reap the health and fitness rewards indicated in this newest study.

The key, like in most things, is getting started and staying consistent.

I just hope a study doesn’t come out that says we need to work double the standard 40 hours per week in order to have a fulfilling career. I think I’d rather exercise 16 hours per day…

What Is the Role of a University Today?

humanities

David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote a wonderful editorial in today’s paper reflecting on the current state of today’s colleges and universities.

Brooks notes that “Many American universities were founded as religious institutions, explicitly designed to cultivate their students’ spiritual and moral natures.”

But unfortunately over time, “Academic research and teaching replaced character formation at the core of the university’s mission.”

According to Brooks, as colleges became more focused on career training, the humanities became less important. Students are taught how to do things, but not why they should do them or to reflect on what their purpose in life is.

Brooks believes colleges should focus on four tasks:

  • insist that students become familiar with different moral ecologies, such as the Greek, the Jewish,, the Christian, and the Scientific traditions
  • foster transcendent experiences through regular and concentrated contact with beauty
  • investigate current loves and teach new things to love; doing so may help reveal your fundamental self as well as help lead a full future life
  • apply the humanities to real life, perhaps by focusing on concrete challenges students will face in the first decade after graduation

Brooks notes that while it may be difficult for a 20-year old to absorb philosophical instruction, college can be a place where such seeds are planted.

He closes with the following thought, “Universities could more intentionally provide those enchanted goods that the marketplace doesn’t offer.

I certainly can’t say it any better than Brooks does, and I couldn’t agree more.

While I might be viewed as part of the problem since I teach in the business school of a major university, I try to constantly remind my students of the importance of the humanities in a variety of ways.

I encourage my students not to double major in two business disciplines, but instead to consider something outside of the business school.

In my Intro to Business class I have my students read two books beyond their textbook. Once they finish the books, they are required to write a brief review of those books as well as offer their analysis and opinion of the book. I have a suggested reading list of over 100 books, and while many  are business related, there are a significant number of books that are more about personal growth such as The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin (which is the best book I have probably read since In Search of Excellence), The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, A Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz, and Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.

I recently wrote about how my students prepare and present their personal vision board, which forces them to do some reflection on what their interests are and what kind of future they want. This type of project would seem to satisfy Brooks’ desire to have students reflect on what their purpose in life is.

I think the ideal college experience is one that offer students a humanities-focused education, along with some career preparation.

That is why I am such a big fan of Villanova’s Summer Business Institute. This is an intensive nine-week program that enables non-business students to pick up a business minor in one summer. The program offers me the opportunity to teach engineers, nurses, and liberal arts and sciences majors. We have had several students from SBI take full time positions with well known businesses, proving that you did not have to major in business to have such opportunities.

So yes, college can be a good place to learn some career-oriented skills, but an even better place to learn some life skills.

The Onside Kick

kickoff

This is the 28th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.


The cheerleaders were turning triple flips.
The bands were breaking the sound barrier.
The 102,000 fans were roaring.
Football underdog was meeting football powerhouse.
Underdog lost the toss and had to kick.
Whistle.
Roar.
Boot.
It was an onside kick!
A strategy usually used near the end of a game, rarely at the beginning.
Fans gulped.
Piccolo player swallowed his piccolo.
TV commentator got hiccups.
Underdog got ball.
Sis plays later, touchdown!
If you’re an underdog and don’t want to stay that way, try the unexpected for a quick score.
If you’re an overdog, watch out for clever underdogs.


My first thought when reading this was remembering the Super Bowl back in 2010 when the New Orleans Saints opened the second half with an onside kick that completely fooled the Indianapolis Colts.

(The onside kick is the first minute of the video above.)

The play was certainly unexpected; it was the first time such a kick had been used in a Super Bowl before the fourth quarter.

And just like the United Technologies ad suggested, the unexpected led to a quick score by the Saints, and is considered by many a key turning point in the game.

I also think a key takeaway from the ad is the importance of changing your routine occasionally.

Steven Petrow just wrote a great article about this in the New York Times two weeks ago. Petrow talks about how his yoga teacher encouraged the class to try doing simple things differently, such as sitting in a different location at class or switching which leg goes on top of the other leg during one of the poses.

The yoga teacher told the class, “With mindfulness we can purposefully choose a new and different way to act.” Petrow viewed it as a challenge to carefully consider many of the habits he had acquired, which led him, in his words, to wonder if he was sleepwalking through life.

So it seems that doing the unexpected, doing something different, not only can catch an opponent off guard, but it can lead to positive changes in one’s life.

 

 

 

The Threat of Terror Hits Close to Home

fbi

I received the following email earlier today from our University’s Office of Public Safety:

Federal authorities have  notified colleges and universities in our region that threats of violence have been made against “an unspecified university near Philadelphia”. The information includes a specific date of Monday, Oct. 5, 2015 at 2:00 pm. Authorities have no other knowledge of a specific threat.

After that email was sent out to the entire Villanova community, I began to receive emails from some of my students saying that they had discussed the matter with their parents, and have decided to skip class tomorrow.

I told the students that I understood the reason for their decision, and thanked them for letting me know.

Then a few hours later we received an updated email from public safety:

I have heard from a number of community members regarding the safety advisory that was sent out earlier today. Some have expressed concern about the safety of the campus tomorrow, and I am writing now to provide some additional information which will hopefully help alleviate some of the those concerns. The advisory to the Philadelphia-area colleges from federal authorities was sent, in their own words, “with an abundance of caution.” It was sent to our university community in that same spirit.

Also with an abundance of caution, the Villanova is taking extra precautions, adding additional patrols and enlisting the assistance of the Radnor Police. Making people aware of the situation will also help encourage the reporting of any suspicious or unusual activity that could occur on campus.

Because the information the federal authorities received is not specific to Villanova University, we will be open tomorrow for classes and regular activities. We do not believe that cancelling normal activities in response to this unspecified information is warranted.

The University considers the safety of our students, faculty and staff of the utmost importance. Please be assured that we will continue to monitor the situation and make decisions consistent with our commitment to maintaining a safe living and learning environment.

It’s a strange feeling when something like this hits so close to home.

The rational part of me realizes that the odds of anything happening are quite small, and there’s probably more danger in my commute to campus than in teaching my classes.

But still, it’s not always easy to think rationally, as Dan Ariely has brilliantly demonstrated in his books Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality.

I can’t imagine what the frenzy must be like in the dorms across the Philly area. Since I started writing this blog a little over an hour ago, I have received another half dozen emails from students telling me that they will not be attending class tomorrow.

As of now, I plan to hold my classes, but I’m curious what my inbox will be like in the morning.

My admiration goes out to all the public safety officers across the region who will likely be working with a bit more diligence tomorrow, thank you for what you do.

 

Keys to Dating: Personal Hygiene, Personality, and Spell Check

diagramming

The Wall Street Journal had a story this week about the growing importance of grammar on dating sites.

Some of the members of dating sites say written communications matter, from the correct use of semicolons, to understanding the difference between its and it’s, and sentences built on proper parallel construction.

One woman from New York noted “When you get a message that is grammatically correct and has a voice and is put together, it is very attractive, it definitely adds hotness points.” There’s even an app that ranks the message quality of prospective dates. Called the Grade, the app checks messages for typos and grammar errors and assigns each user a letter grade from A+ to F.

Dating site Match asked more than 5,000 singles in the U.S. what criteria they used most in assessing dates. Beyond personal hygiene—which 96% of women valued most, as compared with 91% of men—singles said they judged a date foremost by the person’s grammar. The survey found 88% of women and 75% of men said they cared about grammar most, putting it ahead of a person’s confidence and teeth.

Analysis of spelling errors on dating site eHarmony by Grammarly found that a man with two spelling errors on the site was 14% less likely to receive a positive response compared with a man with zero spelling errors. Poor spelling by a woman, on the other hand, didn’t seem to affect her chances of a positive match.

In addition to decreasing the chances of getting a date, Sift Science, a fraud-detection company that uses big data, also says that certain types of typos are associated with fraud.

While my ability to spell and diagram sentences didn’t do too much for my love life back in grade school or high school, it seems like I would be a pretty hot commodity on OkCupid today.

But sorry ladies, I’m already spoken four. (Just trying to kool off some of the women reeding this blog…)

 

What Generous People’s Brains Do Differently

dictatorgame2

New research from the emerging field of neuroeconomics suggests that being generous is not as tough as some people think. But even so, it is pretty rare.

In an article at Harvard Business Review, Nicole Torres looks at this research which examines how and why some people make giving look effortless while others face more of a struggle when it comes to putting others first.

Scientists at CalTech and Harvard studied what actually happens in the brain when people make an altruistic choice—one that benefits another at a cost to themselves. They found that the decision to give or take simply comes down to how much importance you attach to your interests versus someone else’s. So if you’re the type of person who considers other people’s needs as much as your own, self-sacrificing tends to be automatic. If you typically place more value on yourself, then giving feels more onerous.

Participants in the study varied a lot in how much importance they attached to themselves versus others, but the researchers weren’t able to say where this disposition comes from—whether it’s education and upbringing, or how our brains are wired. “My guess is that it’s pretty modifiable,” according to Cendri Hutcherson, who led the work and is the director of the Toronto Decision Neuroscience Laboratory. “So the question we want to answer is how do we tap into those mechanisms to make people just a little bit more willing to give?”

The results of the experiment suggest that being generous could be made easier simply by taking the time to focus on how someone else might feel, and not just consider how the decision impacts the individual making the decision.

I think that being generous is a characteristic that could be taught, and that it is not limited to just certain people whose brains are wired a certain way. I think by being exposed to generous people and seeing the positive outcomes associated with being generous, one can learn to be generous.

Perhaps that can be the next research study. Offer “generosity training” to one group of participants, and no training at all to another, and then when the training is complete, have the two groups participate in the Dictator Game to see if there are differences between the two groups. (This is the same game that was used in the study noted above).

If there is a significant difference, then perhaps generosity training could be something that is implemented into school curriculums and career development programs.

I know I would certainly benefit from learning how to be more generous, and imagine the overall benefit to society if we collectively became more generous.