If You Think You Know a Lot, Take This Test

This is the 17th 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.

Can you explain the self-evident truths of our Declaration of Independence?
The checks and balances of our Constitution?
Do you know three of the rights in your Bill of Rights?
What must be done to become an American citizen?
Can you compare the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens with those of people from three ideologically different countries?
Explain the preamble of the UN Charter.
Outline the UN organization.
What is meant by foreign exchange, balance of payments, diplomatic exchange?
Can you answer all these questions?
If so, then you know only some of the things a Boy Scout must know to earn merit badges in national and world citizenship.

I must admit that I did OK with the first four questions and the one starting with foreign exchange, but I really had no answers for the questions about comparing the U.S. to other countries or the ones about the UN.

If you would like to see the details for what is required for these badges, here are the links from the Boy Scouts web site, along with suggested answers from an unofficial web site.

Citizenship in the Nation (answers)

Citizenship in the World (answers)

There is also a Citizenship in the Community (answers) merit badge that Boy Scouts can earn, which focuses on the rights, duties, and obligations of citizenship, and requires the Scouts to explain how they can demonstrate good citizenship in their community, Scouting unit, place of worship, or school.

I remember being a Cub Scout (my mom was a den mother), and it was a fun group and organization to be part of. I still recall with fondness the annual Pine Run Derby (my car never won, in fact I don’t think my car ever crossed the finish line). It was also exciting to be presented with the new badges you had earned, and to me were the early stages of learning about setting goals and the importance of being recognized for accomplishing those goals. I did move on to Webelos, but that’s as far as I went with Scouting.

For many reasons, I wish I had continued on and became an Eagle Scout, not only because of the useful knowledge I would have acquired along the way, but also for the sense of accomplishment that must come with earning such a designation.

When I meet someone who is an Eagle Scout, it always makes a favorable first impression. While I could be proven wrong at a later date, earning such a designation says something about the person’s work ethic and sense of honor.

But getting back to the focus of this week’s United Technologies ad; while you obviously don’t need to be a Boy Scout to become informed about your community, your country, or the world, it’s nice knowing that there is an organization that encourages such knowledge, and provides incentives for doing so.

While I may not agree with everything that the Boy Scouts of America stands for, all in all I think it provides a useful service to our young boys. If any of our sons had expressed interest in becoming a Boy Scout, I certainly would not have hesitated in allowing them to do so, as long as what they were learning from the Boy Scouts was consistent with my family’s values.

In the meantime, it looks like I’ve got some studying to do.

The Impact of Experiencing Awe


We all experience moments of temporary awe. Such feelings could be triggered by staring up at the night sky, watching the waves crash onto the shore, listening to your favorite singer perform your favorite song live, or watching an athlete turn in a performance for the ages.

While such experiences are often fleeting and hard to describe, a group of researchers wanted to study the impact of such experiences on people’s behavior. The researchers hypothesized that feelings of awe may trigger a relatively diminished sense of self, known as the “small-self”.

By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forego strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others. Improving the welfare of others is referred to as “prosocial behavior”, which includes actions such as generosity, helping, caring, ethical decision making, and decreased entitlement.

The researchers conducted five studies to examine the effect of awe on the small self and prosocial behavior. The results of the five studies supported their general hypothesis.

Individuals higher in dispositional tendencies to experience awe exhibited more generosity in an economic game (Study 1). Experimentally inducing awe caused individuals to endorse more ethical decisions (Study 2), to be more generous to a stranger (Study 3), and to report more prosocial values (Study 4). A naturalistic induction of awe in which participants looked up at a grove of towering trees led to increased helpfulness, greater ethicality, and decreased entitlement (Study 5).

The researchers concluded that that awe serves a vital social function. Future research is encouraged to further uncover the ways in which awe shifts people away from being the center of their own individual worlds, toward a focus on the broader social context and their place within it.

The research made me think about fund-raising, and how one might use awe-type experiences to increase the amount of money contributed by donors.

Perhaps that’s what preachers have been doing for years. They deliver an awe-inspiring sermon, and right after that, they start passing around the baskets.

I’ve also been to plays where at the end of a potentially awe-some performance, the actors appear back on stage and ask for donations to support various causes.

So while the preachers and actors may not have thought about it much, perhaps they just knew instinctively that people were more likely to be generous after they had a potentially awe-like experience.

It seems as if awe can be a powerful tool for affecting one’s behavior, and I’m surprised that such information is not acted on more often.

Maybe I should start putting anonymous donation buckets at strategic viewing points along beaches and mountain vistas…

My First Experience with Uber


We’re in D.C. for the weekend, and we had planned to either walk or use the Metro to get around the city.

When I went to check the directions from our hotel to the Smithsonian on Google Maps, I saw a link at the bottom that suggested giving Uber a try. I had downloaded and set-up an Uber account a couple of months ago, but more out of curiosity to see how the app worked. I didn’t really see myself having a need for the service, even though I had a $30 first ride credit from Uber.

But once I saw the link in Google maps, I thought we’d give it a try.

And there’s only one word to describe it – awesome.

The app was very easy to use, and it was helpful being able to track how long until the driver would arrive to pick us up. In the four trips we Ubered (can it be a verb?), the wait was never more than four minutes.

Every driver we met was quite nice, and their cars were clean and roomy enough to fit the four of us. One of the cars was a Nissan Leaf, so that was kind of cool.

It was also nice that Uber has an incentive that you can send invitations to others to sign up for the service, and if they do, you each get a free ride. So in addition to my first ride being free, so were two more of our rides through my sons’ accounts.

So for a total of four trips, our total cost was $11.

Since I thought I would be able to leave a tip through the app, I did not directly tip the first driver. However, when I learned there was no such feature, we made sure to tip our next three drivers.

It seems it would be much easier if Uber could just add a tipping option to its app. Apparently Lyft already has it, so I’m sure it would not be difficult to do. It would be nice to not have to worry about having the right amount of cash on hand when you want to leave a tip, and just do it through the app. I think the drivers would also like to see such an option added to the app.

So while it may not have been the highlight of our trip to D.C. (dinner and walking around Georgetown at night was wonderful), Uber certainly helped make the overall experience even more enjoyable.

We look forward to using Uber again.

Almost Scammed by a Craigslist Ad


We have been trying to find a house to rent in Ocean City. NJ, and given how late we are trying to do so, there are not many houses available.

Our first stop was good old VRBO, which we have had great luck with before. We found one that was available but when we contacted the owner, he replied that he had just sent out a contract earlier in the week, and would be updating the web site soon.

We then went to the web sites of the various real estate firms in Ocean City, and we found a few that seemed reasonable. We contacted the realtors to get additional details, and we then shared that info with the other family that will be joining us on vacation. We agreed on a couple of them, but then by the time we contacted the realtors the next day, the two houses we liked were gone.

So then today I decided to try Craigslist. I found a few homes that potentially met our needs, so I sent each of them an email.

I heard back from a couple of the owners, but one of the houses looked quite appealing. After exchanging a few emails, we told the owner we were interested in renting the house, and to send us the paperwork.

I then received the contract, printed it out, filled it out, but something just didn’t seem quite right. My wife had been concerned from the very start about using Craigslist, and so I wanted to be as sure as I could that everything was legitimate, particularly before I sent in my $2,000 deposit by bank transfer…

When we started looking back at the emails, and looking at the contract in more detail, we became quite suspicious. The emails were not well written, and almost seemed of the type you might find in a typical email fraud campaign.

And the contract was odd in that it said the check-in time was 10:00 am on the morning of our arrival, but checkout time was 4:00 pm on our last day. Most rentals are the exact opposite. The contract also said that they would provide the linens; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a vacation home rental where the owner provides the linens.

But what really convinced us that the Craigslist ad was fraudulent was when we googled the home address that appeared on the contract, and lo and behold, we found the house also listed on VRBO. However, the dates we wanted were listed as not available on VRBO.

While it seemed as if the Craigslist ad just copied all the info, including the pictures, about the house from VRBO, it appeared to have messed up on the linens situation, since the VRBO ad clearly states that the guests provide their own linens.

The contract had five people listed as co-owners, so I started googling the names. Two of them were listed as owners of the house on whitepages.com, but I could not find any info about the other three owners, one of which was the name of the person I had been exchanging emails with.

So at this point I decided to call the owner’s number listed on VRBO and ask them if they had also placed an ad on Craigslist, and if so, were they the ones I had been in contact with via email during the day.

As of the time of this writing, I had not received a response, so as one last check I decided to send an email via VRBO to the owner. At this point, all  I have received was an auto-reply, but it did provide one more key piece of info to confirm our suspicions – the owners’ names included in the VRBO auto-reply are not the same as the names included in the contract sent via Craigslist.

While I wish I had heard back from the VRBO owners so that I could confirm that the Craigslist ad was a scam before I posted this, I am 99% sure, so I figured I would use this post as is, with a disclaimer that I could be completely wrong on this one.

Once I hear back from VRBO, I will provide a brief follow-up.

In the meantime, while Craigslist provides a valuable service, I guess you’ve got to tread with caution.

As we teach in accounting – trust, but verify.

It’s Nights Like This I Wish We Had a Front Porch


We just had a thunderstorm pass through our neighborhood a few minutes ago, with heavy rain, strong winds, and lightning.

For whatever reason, thunderstorms have always fascinated me. I remember as a kid someone telling me that you can tell how far away a storm is by counting how many seconds it takes to hear the thunder after you see lightning. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but I still use it to judge how close the storm is. I know I could probably look-up something like that on Google, but I don’t want to ruin something I’ve believed in for 50 years!

I also remember taking the Kuder Occupational Career Interest survey in high school, and the results listed meteorologist at the top of the list for suggested careers. I followed up on that recommendation in college, or at least as much as I could. I was an Economics major, but there was an elective course in Meteorology, so I thought it would be the perfect elective. Well, as it turned out, it was the only “C” I got in college…

That humbling experience didn’t dampen my interest in the weather, in fact I gained a new respect for the all of the science behind weather patterns and predictions.

So it’s probably no surprise that I like watching the weather forecasts on TV, and I admit a certain bit of jealousy for the TV weather people; it seems like one of the greatest jobs you could have.

But I have two strikes against me if I ever wanted to pursue such a job.

First, if I struggled with an intro meteorology class, I can’t imagine how difficult an entire weather-based curriculum must be. I’ve actually checked out what it takes to earn the Certified Broadcast Meteorologist (CBM) designation from the American Meteorological Society. If you look at the curriculum, you’ll quickly realize it’s no piece of cake.

And second, let’s face it, I don’t have a face that’s “TV weather guy” material.

So knowing all of this just makes me more jealous of TV meteorolists; not only are they good-looking, but they’re really smart as well. I know one of our local TV meteorologists graduated Phi Beta Kappa, earned her seal of approval from the American Meteorological Society, and has been chosen as best local weatherperson by a variety of publications. And if that wasn’t enough, she’s also broken three hours for a marathon and finished in the top 10 for her age group in the Ironman World Championship triathlon in Hawaii.

However, despite all of my meteorological shortcomings, there is still an opportunity to play weatherman. One of the local TV stations has a program called the Eyewitness Weather Watcher Network that enables ordinary people to share their weather observations with the station. I was all set to complete the application, but then one of the questions asked me what type of weather equipment I had, and unfortunately I didn’t have any of the items they listed. Maybe it’s time to put an a

But even if I had some of that fancy equipment, I know I would still get most of my pleasure from just watching a storm pass us by. Ideally, I would be doing that from a front porch, but since we don’t have one, I usually end up just staring out the front door.

I remember when we were looking for our first house 29 years ago, my wife wanted two things in a house – a front porch and a fireplace. Alas, the house we bought, and have lived in for the past 29 years, has neither.

Perhaps when we retire we’ll find a house with a nice front porch (I don’t think we’ll need a fireplace where we hope to move to), and I can just sit out there with a cup of coffee and enjoy the moment.

And hopefully by then I’ll have figured out how to use my anemometer and barometer so that I can tell people what the weather’s really like.

Happy Birthday to My Wife!

mary baby

Today’s blog post is being written from the French Riviera, where my wife Mary and I are celebrating her birthday.

Scratch that first sentence, I must have slipped into my fantasy world for a second.

Anyway, today is my wife’s birthday, and while we don’t have much planned for today, since we’re both working tonight, we (my wife, my youngest son, and I) did have a festive dinner last night with her sister and her family at Cantina Los Caballitos in Philadelphia.

mary bday dinner

There was an unending supply of chips and salsa, a pitcher of frozen margaritas, yummy tacos, and to top it all off, a birthday cake (and nothing goes with cake like some sriracha sauce!). The only thing better than the food was the company, and the service was top-notch.

When I was looking for a picture to put at the top of this blog, I was going to use one that just had Mary in it from her early childhood, but then I thought I might as well include her sister as well. They were inseparable as kids, and as you can see in the picture from last night’s dinner, they are still inseparable (my wife is on the right side of each picture).

In addition to last night’s festivities, we also have an upcoming trip to D.C. to meet our oldest son. As you can tell from her great smile in the picture from last night, my wife likes nothing better than spending time with her family, so I am sure the celebration will continue in Washington.

Anyway, Happy Birthday to the love of my life!

P.S. I was going to try and recreate the baby picture at the restaurant, but since I couldn’t find the baby dress, I thought I would just let it go.

Maybe Some Day I’ll Sit on a Jury


I had jury duty today, and it was the closest I’ve ever come to actually getting selected.

I arrived at the courthouse at 8:30, and at 9:00 we started the day by filling out a questionnaire, following the instructions of a judge who appeared via a video monitor.

After we completed the questionnaire, we were told that they still were not sure if there would be a trial today, and so we were given a 15-minute break.

The break turned into over an hour, and finally around 11:00 we were told that there was going to be a jury trial, and they had randomly selected 65 of us to be in the jury pool.

They began reading off our names; I was the seventh name called so there wasn’t much drama there in terms of seeing if I was going to be excused for the day. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be the 65th person called, since I’m guessing that person was probably thinking that he or she had gotten out of jury duty.

Anyway, we were lead to the courtroom and after about 45 minutes the judge came out and explained what was going to be taking place. Apparently this part of the process is known as voir dire.

Voir dire is when prospective jurors are questioned about their backgrounds and potential biases by the judge and the attorneys before being chosen to sit on a jury. During this time, certain prospective jurors are called to the front of the courtroom for a sidebar with the judge and attorneys to further explain why they answered certain parts of the questionnaire the way they did.

When that questioning was completed, the judge instructed us to not leave our seats unless it was an absolute necessity. This was done so that the attorneys, now armed with all the relevant information, could go through the list of prospective jurors, take a look at us, and reach a decision.

At the end of voir dire (I just like saying that), the judge’s assistant reads off the numbers of the jurors that have been selected.

I must admit that I was kind of hoping to be selected, so that I could have at least one opportunity to serve on a jury before I get too old. Alas, as they read off the numbers, my number was skipped over.

As the selected jurors settled into the jury box, we were lead back to where we started the day. It appeared as if the the other potential jurors, who were not part of the 65 selected to go to the jury room, had been required to stick around as well.

It only took about five minutes at this point to get our certificate of appreciation and the receipt for what we did with our jury duty pay, and then we were free to go.

A few things struck me during the day.

First, the whole process is not nearly as exciting as John Grisham makes it out to be.

Second, it was great to see our system of law in action. The judge first emphasized the point that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and all the burden for proving guilt is on the prosecuting attorney. He also noted that we should not read anything into whether or not a defendant speaks on his or her behalf. The defendant has a constitutional right to remain silent, and is not there to prove his or her innocence. While I was aware of this, I never really thought about this way, but it made perfect sense.

I also like that our county gives potential jurors the option to donate their jury pay to  a select group of non-profit organizations. It’s a nice way to tie civic duty and charity together.

And finally, while I don’t think anyone saw what I was reading on my Kindle, in hindsight it may not have been the most appropriate book for the day, Crime and Punishment. Fortunately that was not one of the questions I was asked…

Would You Hang This Message in Your Work Area?

This is the 16th 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. The link to the original ad is at the end of this post.

In this ad, Gray creates a manifesto of sorts and challenges us to hang the manifesto at our workplace.

The ad suggests that the criticism of American workmanship can be abated by having each of us take pride in our work. Such pride can be earned by perfecting our skills, taking responsibility for what we do, and putting in an honest day’s work.

Once again, the timing of this message is perfect. I am sure many Americans are filled with pride for our country after the 4th of July weekend and the U.S. women’s soccer team World Cup championship.

Perhaps the best way to keep that momentum going is for each of us to take pride in what we do. As Gray notes at the bottom of each of his ads, “How we perform as individuals will determine how we perform as a nation.”

The difficulty is often taking the first step, and posting Gray’s message at your workplace seems like a good way to start.

But simply posting the message won’t do anything, you need to follow through on what the message is asking you to do.

So rather than ask the question of whether you are willing to hang this message at work, I think the more important question is whether you are willing to sign your name to everything you work on. (Just like CEOs and CFOs of publicly traded companies need to do.)

Here is the original United Technologies ad that inspired this post.

Congratulations to the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and the Winners of the Cannes Lions 2015


I just finished watching the American women’s soccer team win the World Cup, and after it was over Nike played a great commercial celebrating women’s soccer, set to the classic Guess Who song “American Woman”.

It was a perfect commercial to show after the victory.

Of course, watching it got me thinking about commercials, and so I checked out the latest winners from the 2015 Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity, which selects the top commercials in a variety of categories.

Here is a link to an article that lists, and includes links to, the Grand Prix winners in each category. While there are obviously many outstanding commercials to pick from, I just want to highlight two of them for now.

The first one is a British ad for Monty the Penguin that was designed to get people in the right mood for the Christmas holiday. This commercial would have been my favorite of all the ones on this year’s list even if it had ended at 1:45, but the last 15 seconds make it one of the best ever. It reminds me of my favorite comic strip of all-time… Enjoy this little bit of Christmas in July.

And the second commercial is an American one, and it fits in perfectly with the American Woman commercial above.

Congratulations to the American women’s soccer team, you’ve been great role models and helped to raise the confidence levels of young girls and women everywhere.

Next up, the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Go U.S.A.!

A New Approach to My Training: the 180 Formula


I am excited to try something new with my fitness training program.

Currently I do cardio six days a week, 45 minutes per workout, alternating days between my recumbent bike and rowing machine. I also alternate the type of training I do each day. I also do 30 minutes of basic strength training workouts three days a week.

Here is what my week looks like in terms of cardio workouts (each day starts with about a 10 minute warm-up on the bike and some stretching; for my max heart rate (MHR), I have been using 170:

  • Monday: 45 minutes on the bike; three minute warm up, followed by 40 minutes steady state at 75% of my MHR, followed by two minute cool down
  • Tuesday: 45 minutes on the erg; three minute warm up, followed by 8 intervals of 5 minutes each, with each five minute interval consisting of the following: two minutes at 65% MHR; 2 minutes at 75% MHR, and one minute at 85% MHR, followed by two minute cool down
  • Wednesday: 45 minutes on the bike; three minute warm up, followed by 40 minutes steady state at 60% of my MHR, followed by two minutes of cool down
  • Thursday: 45 minutes on the erg; 3 minutes warming up, followed by 40 minutes steady state at 75% of my MHR, followed by two minute cool down
  • Friday: 45 minutes on the bike; three minute warm up, followed by 8 intervals of 5 minutes each, with each five minute interval consisting of the following: two minutes at 65% MHR; 2 minutes at 75% MHR, and one minute at 85% MHR, followed by two minute cool down
  • Saturday: 45 minutes on the erg; three minute warm up, followed by 40 minutes steady state at 60% of my MHR, followed by two minute cool down

While not physically taxing, the days where I have to keep my heart rate at 60% max are hard, since I need to go REALLY slow.

So while I think I am in decent shape, I’ve always been interested in trying new approaches to working out, to see if I can improve my fitness level.

I recently discovered the web site of Dr. Phil Maffetone. Dr. Maffetone has worked with world class athletes, celebrities, as well as the general public. His extensive list of clients include professional football and baseball players, race-car drivers, Olympic medalists, and six times world iron-man champion, Mark Allen.

What intrigued me most about his training approach was the emphasis on heart-rate monitoring, which I am a big fan of already, as you can tell from my workouts above. However, rather than having a variety of heart training workouts like I show above, Dr. Maffetone recommends a simple training method known as the 180 formula.

The 180 formula starts with a person taking 180 minus their age to determine their maximum heart rate for training. From there, depending on an individual’s current health status, he or she would make a few simple, but key adjustments to arrive at their final maximum heart training rate.

In my case, I will just start with 180-57 to get a heart rate of 123, and that becomes what I train at every workout. While Maffetone notes that you can use this formula to come up with a training range, perhaps from 10 beats below to your maximum training rate, the closer you are to the max rate the better.

I will continue to do my cardio workouts six days per week, alternating between biking and rowing, as well as continue strength training three times per week. I plan to keep my heart rate under 123 for the strength training workouts as well.

I am looking forward to seeing what, if any, improvements I notice from this approach.

My first guess is that it will be less stressful on my body, and so I should not feel overly tired after a workout. I did try this today when I was doing part of my strength training workout, and it was quite hard to keep my heart rate at 123 when doing burpees ( I realize burpees aren’t best classified as a strength training exercise, but I don’t think of them as strictly cardio either). My heart rate would jump to about 129 after just a few burpees, and then I would have to wait almost 45 seconds for my rate to get back to 123. It will be quite interesting to see if I am able to get more efficient at doing burpees with this training method.

I’ll share my progress on the blog, after my first month of using it.

Anyway, that’s enough talking, tomorrow it’s time to put the plan in action.