What Am I Missing?

ellsworth1

I’ll admit it, I don’t get most works of art.

Part of the reason goes way back to grade school and my dislike for when it was time for art. I was a numbers guy and viewed art class as just taking time away from doing something more important, and more enjoyable, like long division. So my goal in every art class was simple, get it over with as quickly as possible. And as I recall, it was a rare art lesson when I was not the first one finished.

Now as you can imagine, there was not much art going on at my desk. I realized I had no skill, and just chalked it up by thinking that’s just not how my mind works. Fast forward 40 plus years, and nothing has changed. I’m still a numbers guy (I teach Accounting), and I’m still terrible at art.

Whenever we would get together with our friends to play Pictionary, nobody wanted to be on my team, but at least my drawings were good for a few laughs. The same thing is true with another great game, Telestrations – no one wants to be the person after me, forced to try and figure out what my child-like drawing represents.

I think part of the reason for my lackluster attitude towards art is a lack of appreciation for “art”. I have made a couple of attempts to become more sophisticated and knowledgeable. A few years ago my wife and I joined the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On our first visit, as we walked through variety of displays, I became increasingly agitated. We had even rented headphones so the various pieces of art could be explained, but to me this just made the experience worse. The narrator was seeing things in the works of art that I couldn’t see in my wildest imagination.

What I would find particularly upsetting was coming across works of art like this (not necessarily this particular work of art, but it gets the point across):

ellsworth2a

How is that considered art? A 10 year-old could draw that, or even worse, I could draw that. But there it was, hanging on the walls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the fancy name of “Diagonal with Curve III”. I guess it took the artist a couple of tries to get it right.

Or how about the drawing at the top of this post? That drawing was made by the same artist who made “Diagonal with Curve III”, Ellsworth Kelly. The name of that drawing is “Awnings, Avenue Matignon”, and the name as usual, seems to have nothing to do with the drawing. (I’m not even sure if that little smudge of blue in the bottom right corner is supposed to be there, or if it it really is just a smudge.) When I look at Awnings, it looks like something I created in Excel a couple of weeks ago.

And it’s not just Ellsworth; here’s a work of “art” by Barnett Newman:

newman_art1

This is known as “Vir Heroicus Sublimis”, which translates roughly to “Man, Heroic and Sublime”. Once again, the title helps to explain the drawing perfectly. I think I’ve seen my kids draw something like that when they were 10 years old.

So what am I missing? I understand people love going to Museums, so why can’t I find such a trip enjoyable? I’m not completely void of emotions that might stop me from appreciating art; I cry quite often when something moves me (see my earlier post, I’m in Tears Again“).

I could go on and on with examples like the three shown here. Needless to say, I did not visit the Museum again, despite having paid for a year’s membership. I think my wife was embarrassed of my constant refrain “How is that considered art?”

But I do keep trying to understand art and to have an appreciation for artists. I’ve watched Neil Gaiman’s graduation speech several times where he encourages the graduates to “Make Good Art”. I read Seth Godin‘s books, where he encourages the reader to find the artist within.

And that’s also why I am so committed to this 31 day challenge. I am viewing this blog as my art, and it’s perhaps helping me to understand the mind of the artist a little bit better. Ellsworth and Newman weren’t doing those drawings to please me, but to please themselves, to express their emotions.

And that’s how I feel about this blog. While it would be nice if others liked it; that’s not why I am doing it.

It’s a chance to express myself, to dare I say, make good art.

Driving, B.G.

trip_tik

A few years ago, while we were getting ready to drive to New York City for the day, one of my sons asked me how we used to know how to get places before Google Maps.

The question caught me by surprise, since I had never really given it much thought, and so I really couldn’t give him a good answer. I know for longer trips we would go the local AAA office and get a custom trip-tik created for us.  The trip-tik had a series of mini-maps, one map per page, with the required route highlighted on each map. You would then flip the page over to go to the next segment of the trip.

But what did I do about shorter trips, for example, going from my house to a restaurant or friend’s house for the first time? I certainly wouldn’t go to AAA to get directions for a trip like that.

In the back of my mind, it seemed like I just knew; but somewhere along the way, I had to have learned that route. I am sure many times I relied on my dad to tell me how to get places, since he seemed to know multiple ways to get everywhere within 50 miles of our house.  I am sure other times I would call someone at the place I was going to and ask for directions. But how did the person on the other end of the phone know?

Anyway, what amazes me is that I really have little to no recollection of how I figured out how to get from point A to point B,  before Google (B.G.).

Today, I use Google Maps all the time, even when I already know how to get to where I’m headed. With its real-time traffic info, it may recommend an alternative route compared to the one I would have used if I had not consulted Google Maps.

We’ve used it to successfully navigate New York City, from using its public transit option for the subway system, to its point-to-point walking directions. I’ve used it to check the travel time between two cities I’ll probably never go to, just because I can. It is an incredible app.

But as I thought of my dependence on the app, I wondered if there is any downside to such reliance. For example, would a 16-year old know what to do with a map or a trip-tik? Do they need to know?

And it’s not just Google Maps. I’ve often struggled with the issue of calculators. Do students really need to know the times table up to 12, since calculators are so readily available, whether as a standalone device, or on a cell phone? And who above the age of six doesn’t have a cell phone :)

And what about the ability to go to a library and do some serious research. Can’t we find everything we need on the Internet, using Google?

Or the ability to know how to spell a word correctly, since we can use a spell-checker (although I’m amazed at how infrequently it seems to be used).

Or the ability to have a conversation with a classmate. I often notice students come out of a class, and with 15 seconds all of them are on their cell phone. What could they have missed in the past 75 minutes that’s so important?

While I love all that technology has given us, I also wonder what we’ve lost along the way. I’m not sure if Google Maps can help us find that.

 

 

Books vs. Banks

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One of  our family’s go-to places when we’re looking for something to do is to head out to the local Barnes & Noble. We are fortunate to have three B&Ns within 15 minutes of us, and are frequent visitors to each one. In fact, that is where my wife and son are right now, leaving me to write this post.

We used to have a B&N store just five minutes from our house, but that was closed a few years ago. And just a few months before that was closed, a Borders bookstore that was just two minutes away from us was closed. Now there are no Borders bookstores left, and I am worried the same fate could happen to B&N.

And what a loss that would be. I view bookstores as not only a great place to check out the latest bestsellers and browse through a wide variety of magazines, but a place to meet a friend for a cup of coffee, a place to hear authors speak about their latest work, or a place for a children’s weekly story time – in other words, a great community gathering place.

It’s the same way I feel about libraries, to me the heart and soul of a community. We are blessed with a great local library, Radnor Memorial Library. Where else can you borrow a book, a movie, or a CD for free; surf the web, get tax forms, or expert research help, also all for free? However, community libraries are always subject to the vagaries of public funding, and I have seen local libraries cut their hours of operation, cut their staff, and cut their services. My fear is that what’s been happening to bookstores could happen to libraries.

When I walk through a library, it seems as if every square foot of space is accounted for. While the vast majority of floor space is committed to books, magazines and newspapers, there’s also several computer workstations available, meeting rooms, the reference desk, the circulation desk, displays, etc. In other words, little to no wasted space.

The same goes for B&N. Again, most of its floor space is for books and other reading material, but they also sell other goods, such as games, educational toys, Nooks, and there’s often a space for a cafe. Again, very little wasted space.

None of the above seems to be the case with the banking industry. It seems as if I see a new bank opening around us every few months, and I just don’t get it. (The same can be said for drug stores, but that’s a whole different story.)

I think the five members of our family might go to a bank a combined five times per year, and I know that it’s never busy when I go. One of our visits is usually an annual trip to have our coins counted, and on those visits we are usually the only customers.

Plus, every bank just seems to have so much wasted space. Why is there all that dead space when you first walk in that requires a 30 foot walk to the teller? A bookstore or a library would find a good use for that space.

It also seems as if banks have a pretty significant interior design budget, based on the granite counters that the tellers sit behind, and the walnut desks and leather chairs for its more senior personnel. In the meantime, libraries have to chase people that owe them 60 cents in overdue fines, and deal with 30 year-old furniture.

You may want to blame the bookstore and library problems on Amazon, or on technologies such as e-readers. But there have been great advances in technology in the banking industry as well. Online banking, ATM machines, automatic bill payments, direct deposits, and now mobile deposits using your smartphone. The list goes on and on. As I see it, there’s hardly any reason left to go to a bank, and for the few times that I may need to go, all I need is one bank employee, a desk, and two chairs.

My hope is that this situation reverses itself, sooner rather than later. We need more bookstores and better funded libraries, and fewer banks. Perhaps we can modify the expression, “Books, not bombs” to “Books, not banks”.

A good place to start may be to move those coin counting machines to the local library, which should help with its overdue fines. I’m sure they’ll find a spot for it.

 

Why I Didn’t Upgrade to the iPhone 6

iphone6

I love everything about Apple. I’m sitting here writing this blog on my iMac that I bought in 2007, and it still looks and acts like a state-of-the-art desktop.

My family loves Apple. Right now my wife is checking email on her Macbook Air. Our three sons all have Apple laptops, and all five of us have an iPhone.  There’s also a couple of iPads floating around somewhere. I still remember the Christmas many, many years ago when I drove down to Delaware (tax free shopping!) to pick up three iPods for our kids. It’s come full circle; a couple of years ago our kids bought my wife and I an Apple TV for Christmas, and we love. The combination of Apple TV, AirPlay, and an iPhone is incredible. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve brought up an episode of Between Two Ferns on our iPhone, but then used AirPlay to watch it on our TV – which our kids also bought for us. (My wife and I still had one of those big fat TVs at the time – I kept holding out for the mythical Apple TV set). I may have to settle for the Apple Watch…

My students are also well aware of my fascination/obsession with Apple. I even had a student write a comment a couple of years ago on my end of semester evaluations, “I understand Apple is a very successful company, but it would have been nice to occasionally here about other successful companies.”

To which I respond – don’t you want to learn from the best?

For example, at the close of business today: Apple has the highest market of $657 billion; second place is ExxonMobil at a distant $390 billion. Nobody is in Apple’s league,

Apple stores have the highest sales per square foot, a common benchmark in the retail industry. Apple’s sales per square foot are 50% higher than Tiffany’s which came in third on the list.

And one more fun fact I share with my students – it was harder to get a job at a new Apple store than to get accepted into Harvard. 10,000 people applied for a job at Apple’s Upper West Side store in 2009, but only 200 got a job, an acceptance rate of 2%. Harvard has an acceptance rate of 7%.

One other cool thing I was able to do this past semester (at least I thought it was cool) was to give an entire lecture just using my iPhone. When Microsoft announced that it was making its Office suite available for iPhones and iPads, I immediately downloaded it onto my iPhone. I was then able to send myself a set of PowerPoint slides, open them up on my iPhone, and then using Apple AirPlay in my classroom and display the presentation on the big screens in front of the class. I had complete freedom to walk around the room, advance my slides, click on links out to the web, etc. The students were certainly more impressed with that feat of technology than any actual content in the slides…

So anyway, the point of all this is to show you that I am an Apple “fanboy”. I also think the iPhone is the greatest single piece of technology ever developed. I am confident that I could get by with just an iPhone, and no other piece of technology, for an entire year.

So this past year when Apple announced the release of the iPhone 6, you would think that I would have been one of the first in line to get one. Everything was falling into place – all of our family phones were up for renewal, and it was the holiday season. So we went to the Apple store, intent on upgrading from the 5 to the 6. After my wife and two of my sons upgraded their phones, the salesman went to get me an iPhone 6, and at the last moment, I said no.

Why? A last minute attack of sentimentality.

And if you think I’m a big Apple fan, I am even bigger Steve Jobs fan. I’ve watched Triumph of the Nerds (a great history of the early days of personal computing) where Steve is prominently featured, I’ve watched his graduation speech dozens of times, and I’ve read Walter Isaacson’s bio of Jobs. He was a brilliant, but flawed individual. He changed entire industries (music, computer, smartphones) through his ideas and perseverance. And it’s not just me that had this great respect for what Steve accomplished; he was selected in 2009 by Fortune magazine as the CEO of the decade.

Steve Jobs was the person I most wanted to meet, but now that will never happen. But from what I’ve read, the iPhone 5 was the last iPhone Steve was involved with. And so while I stood there amid the bustle of an Apple store during the holiday, I realized that my iPhone 5 was my connection to Steve, and I just couldn’t part with it. So now every time I use my phone, I think of Steve, and am grateful for his desire to make a difference in the world.

And that’s something the iPhone 6 just can’t do.

By the way if you haven’t Norah Jones singing at the Apple tribute to Steve, it’s well worth it.

My Blogging Queue

alligators

Once again, I owe a debt of gratitude to a fellow #writeandrun31 member, this time, EJ Runyon. In a brief exchange of comments with EJ, I noted how impressed I was with her ability to write 50,000 words in one month. And not just once, but many times.

I told her that I struggle to get 500 words per day, and that my writing process for this 31 day challenge has been to just sit in front of the computer and stare at a blank screen, and hope that something to write about magically comes to me. I’ve survived in this manner for the first seven days, but I also realize that some days the writing is not very good or very profound. I know this approach is not a viable long-term solution if I want to write something meaningful every day, and EJ suggested that I think of some topics and take notes about them before I sit down to write my blog.

So I’ve been trying to do this for the past couple of days, and I thought I would share some of the topics I’ve been thinking about, and a brief blurb about each one. Hopefully you will see each of these turn into a well-written, thought-provoking blog post, but for now, I’ll just be happy getting 500 words out of each of them.

My Greatest Fears

1. All reptiles – snakes, lizards, alligators, crocodiles (I really don’t care what the difference is, either one would scare me to death), etc. The fear has gotten to the point that I’ve ruled out what seems to be in many respects a possibly wonderful place to retire – Hilton Head – because there seems to be way too many alligators, or is it crocodiles?
2. Singing solo in public.
3. Doing a a 5-minute stand-up routine.
4. Calling on a student in class by the wrong name.

I’m sure there’s many more that I can come up with, but I think writing about my fears will be helpful.

My Vision Board

I created a vision board a few years ago, almost because I had to. So not only does it need to be updated, but I need to invest more of myself in the process. I already ask my students to create their own vision board, and after all what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

My Faith Journey

From devout Catholic to atheist to agnostic to? I believe there is something bigger than us, but what that is I don’t know, but I’m always searching. This would be a tough one to write about, but doing so may help bring me some clarity.

My Suggested Headlines for The Onion

The Onion has the funniest writing on the web, and the headlines alone are often enough to get me laughing out loud. I frequently think of my own headlines that I think are Onion-worthy, so I am going to try and come up with enough to make a blog post out of them.

My Bucket List

While the movie didn’t do much for me, I’ve come across some great bucket lists in my readings, and I thought it would be quite motivating to create my own.

What I’ve Learned from Being a Vegan for Eight Years

I read John Robbins’ Food Revolution, and I went from a typical American diet to vegan the day I finished the book. That was eight years ago, and I’m more committed than ever to the vegan lifestyle. It may be helpful to share why  and what I’ve learned over the past several years.

Why I Didn’t Upgrade to the iPhone 6

I love everything about Apple. Ask any of my students; by the end of the semester I know they are tired of all the times I use Apple as an example of a company that does so many things the right way. Steve Jobs was probably the person I most wanted to meet someday (scratch that off my bucket list). Over the past 10 years our family has probably bought over 30 Apple products. So why didn’t I upgrade to what appears to be the best smartphone out there? I plan to share my reasons in a future post.

How Did We Get Directions before Google Maps?

A few years ago one of my sons asked me how we figured out how to get from Point A to Point B, before Google Maps came along. For a generation that grew up always using such apps, it must be a baffling thought. And I must admit it did cause me to pause and think about how I used to get directions. It would be fun to write about how dependent we have all become on technology, including myself.  By the way, I consider Google Maps the greatest app that has ever been developed.

Why Do We Pass Up Opportunities That Are Good for Us?

When presented with the opportunity to save money or to make money or to live a healthier life, why do so many people, myself included, ignore such opportunities. The one that always gets me is the opportunity to join Planet Fitness. $10 a month, $30 annual renewal fee. Total cost, $150 per year. My company’s health insurance plan will reimburse up to $150 per year in gym membership fees to anyone who joins a gym and makes at least 120 visits per year. So that makes my Planet Fitness membership FREE! Plus, it’s a great incentive to get at least 120 workouts in per year. However, most people I tell about this, don’t do anything about it. And this is just one of many examples. I think it may be worth exploring why that is.

So there you have it, nine possible blog posts in the queue. Plus, I got to write about the queue itself, this post was like a bonus! My only concern is that once again I see no consistent theme among the possible blog posts. Not sure if there needs to be, but I think it would be easier to come up with ideas if the blog was focused on one BIG IDEA. Maybe there’s another blog post there…

Thank you again EJ!

 

 

I Wonder What It Would Be Like to Be…

ironman

Once again, I need to give credit to one of Christine Frazier‘s prompts – this time her suggestion of writing about a recurring daydream you may have, for the idea behind this post.

While I don’t really have any recurring daydreams, I do often wonder what it would be like to be someone else, what it would be like to spend a typical day in someone else’s shoes.

So here are some people I think it would be fascinating to be for just a short while:

Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the Killers – every time I watch this video, which is way too often, I think ‘Man, that has to be the greatest feeling in the world,  singing in front of 5,000 screaming fans.’ I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier…

Bruce Springsteen – I assume every 50-something year old man has fantasized about being the Boss. Whether it is seeing him perform live or watching an online video, the passion and joy for what he does comes through loud and clear. And he’s been doing it this way for over 40 years! By the way, I consider “Thunder Road” to be the greatest song of all time…

President of the U.S. – really, how cool would it be that you get the opportunity to possibly change the course of the world, or to pardon a turkey…

Bill Gates – one of my tech heroes, and much like Jimmy Carter and his work with Habitat for Humanity, I think Bill’s “second career” as a philanthropist will be the one he is most remembered for. But I just can’t imagine (but it doesn’t stop me from trying), what it would be like to wake up and realize you are the wealthiest person in the world (as measured in good old dollars at least). I’d love to just spend a day with him and see what his life is like.

Ellen DeGeneres – I’ll admit it, I love watching the Ellen Show. And I often think how great it must be to make people so happy by surprising guests with checks for $10,000 or giving everyone in the audience a big screen TV. Many of these occasions bring tears to my eyes. Plus, she’s vegan! If I had a giveaway, it would be an all expenses paid trip to Hawaii for every member of the audience, along with their immediate family. I also realize being Ellen for a day would require some significant transformations…

Cain Velasquez – the current UFC heavyweight champ. Imagine walking down the street, just about any street, and having the confidence to handle yourself in virtually any physical altercation. I get scared walking into Planet Fitness…

Steven Spielberg – many times when I watch a movie or a play I often wonder what it must take to bring all of that together; the actors, the script, the scenery, the locations, the special effects, the editing, etc. It’s mind boggling, and few people, if any, do it as well as Mr. Spielberg. I still remember watching a movie a long, long time ago on TV called “The Duel“, and thinking at the time what a great movie it was. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that it was one of Spielberg’s earliest directorships. Highly recommended…

While we’re at the movies, how awesome would it be to be Robert Downey, Jr. Imagine getting to be Iron Man for a day, and then later watching yourself on a  70 foot IMAX screen. Or how about the opportunity to play the male lead opposite Anna Kendrick in a movie – as her dad of course. (I think my wife reads this blog…)

I also often wonder what it would be like to be a gifted elementary school teacher at a low income school, and sparking a love of math or reading or art in a young child.

And if I were to imagine what it would be like to be someone from the past, I would add Steve Jobs giving his graduation speech at Stanford, Jimmy Cagney dancing down the White House steps in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and Leonardo da Vinci having one amazing idea after another to the list.

When I try to look for what all these people have in common, what do I find fascinating about them, I guess it’s that they are all people who are among the best at what they do. They found something they love, and worked hard to excel at that. And that’s something everyone cannot only imagine, but make a reality.

And for any of you who may have wondered, or perhaps even fantasized, what it’s like to be a college professor, well here’s a day in my life: watching students fall asleep right in front of (2 minutes into the start of class), receiving emails from students asking if they missed anything important, getting an obituary from a student showing that his grandmother had died (photocopied from a Korean language newspaper), having students ask for extra credit (for just asking for extra credit), and observing students “secretly” checking their phone several times during class. Sound appealing? Then by all means, the job is all you’ve ever fantasized about.

P.S. I really do love my job; I’m blessed to be at a wonderful University surrounded by great colleagues and great students. There aren’t many things better in life than watching a struggling student succeed after putting in some hard work, or having a former student come back to class as a guest speaker and marvel at the transformation that has taken place. It’s the great circle of life.

Great Customer Service vs. Personal Responsibility

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This post is based on one of Christine Frazier‘s writing prompts, in which she suggests writing about the most common question you get in some aspect of your life.

As a college teacher, one of the most common questions I get occurs when a student misses a class and he or she will send me an email asking “Could you tell me what I missed?”, or its more annoying variant “Did I miss anything important?”

It has become even more frustrating in the past few years to get such an email. I have all of my classes video-recorded so that after class students can bring up any class on their computer and watch it at their convenience.  All the students are aware of this option, yet they still send emails asking what they missed.

I’ve often been tempted to either not reply to the email or to respond with some sarcastic comment, but I bite my tongue and send a reply that lets the student know what was covered in class and reminds them about the availability of the video recordings.

One of the the reasons for responding this way is because of all the books and blogs I read that stress the importance of providing great customer service. If I view my students as customers, then it seems reasonable to assume that it is my responsibility to provide them with great customer service. That’s why I have all my classes video-recorded, that’s why I get their tests back to them the next class, that’s why I answer such emails in a polite way.

But at what point does providing great customer service interfere with the idea of personal responsibility? At what point does wanting to do everything for your child interfere with the child learning to be independent?

I struggle with such questions. When I read the words of Seth Godin, I get pumped up about providing extraordinary customer service. But then I’ll watch a Larry Winget video and it’s all about taking personal responsibility, which I am also a big believer in.

So what do I say to a student who stops by my office and tells me he missed the previous class and wants to review a problem we had gone in over in detail during that class?

The Seth Godin side of me wants to do everything I can to help the student, the Larry Winget side of me wants to tell the student to go figure it out yourself.

I see potential merit in the idea that telling the student to figure out the solution on his own is perhaps the best form of customer service I could provide in the long run. However, to me it still begs the question at what point does telling someone to take personal responsibility replace the need to provide great customer service.

What’s the best way to teach someone to swim; do you just tell someone to jump in the water and figure it out on his own, or do you offer some basic lessons beforehand?

Or what do you do if you are a waiter and you serve a customer his meal and then a minute later he tells you he did not realize  that his cheeseburger came with pickles on it. Do you simply apologize and tell the customer that you will get him a new burger with no pickles right away, or do you tell the customer that the menu clearly states what is on every burger, and he is going to have to live with that decision?

I think many of us would answer that of course you would provide someone with swimming lessons as part of helping that person learn how to swim and that you would replace a customer’s burger if there was a problem with it, even though it was not the restaurant’s fault.

But is there some magical line that gets crossed at some point and we say that customer service ends here, you’re on your own now?

Any insights would be appreciated – or is this something I have to figure out by myself?

X plus 7

55mph

Don’t panic, this is not a post about algebra!

Instead, what it represents is the formula I use for determining my driving speed. In the formula, X represents the posted speed limit. So if I am on a highway where the posted speed limit is 55 mph, then the maximum speed I will go, and what I set my cruise control at, is 62 mph. If the speed limit is 35 mph, I keep my speed at or below 42 mph.

This approach has several benefits, such as: I never really worry about getting a speeding ticket (I’ve heard that cops don’t start giving tickets until a driver is at least 10 mph above the speed limit); it’s one less thing to think about when driving, since I know exactly what speed I will be driving at on any particular highway; and since I use cruise control whenever I can, I think my gas mileage is better than if I were constantly speeding up and slowing down.

There are a couple of downsides to this approach. First, if I go to pass someone on a four-lane highway, and while I am in the midst of doing so a car comes up behind me, I am not going to speed up just to get out of their way. This often leads to the person behind me getting quite annoyed (as I can tell from the looks and gestures I get when that person eventually passes me).

Second, it has created, and I am willing to admit this, an almost holier-than-thou approach to my driving. While I am driving, I often think if you were to ask people at the end of any given day if they broke the law that day, virtually no one would admit to having done so. But in reality, judging by how many people pass me while I am driving (and how few people I pass), then most people are breaking the law. And from my perspective, driving above the speed limit is a much more serious crime than possession of an ounce of marijuana. Driving at such high rates of speed puts many innocent people at risk, having an ounce of pot *may* be harmful to the individual who smokes it. (I certainly am against the combination of smoking and driving, in any amount, at any speed).

I’ve often wondered how people can justify going so much faster than the speed limit. It can’t be that everyone has an emergency; why is everyone always in such a hurry?

Some of you may say I am being hypocritical, since I am driving above the speed limit as well. I’m OK with that. I think my approach is consistent with the belief that the occasional beer or helping of fries isn’t too bad for you, but having several beers per day or french fries on a regular basis is not good for your health. So I think there is a big difference between going 62 mph versus 75-80 mph in a 55 mph zone.

I’ve had someone tell me that when he goes well above the speed limit, it’s not really a crime. I then asked him if he slows down to the speed limit if he sees a cop on the side of the road, and he replied that of course he does. To me, that’s a clear sign that he knows he was doing something wrong. On the other hand, I never feel the need to slow down when I see a cop, and I think that makes for a much more relaxed and enjoyable driving experience.

You may argue that there are certain situations when you need to drive excessively fast, and of course there are. But running late is not a legitimate excuse – get up earlier or plan your day better!

I would be in full support if there were highway sensors that could automatically ticket anyone who goes more than (X + 7). I think such a system would eventually create a strong incentive for most people to drive at a more appropriate, and legal speed.

I am also looking forward to the advent of self-driving cars, for many reasons, but certainly one of them is the hope that such cars will have their speeds automatically controlled to maximize throughput and safety, all within the confines of the posted speed limit.

Who know, maybe I can start a movement with the hashtag #X+7.

Safe driving everyone. I can now get off my soapbox.

I’m in Tears, Again

I just watched a beautiful tribute to Scott Stuart, a longtime ESPN anchor who died this morning from cancer at the age of 49. The video makes it clear that Stuart was a remarkable man. Not only for the impact that he had at ESPN for his trademark style, but also for the diversity that he brought to the network and to broadcast journalism in general. He became a role model for many. It is also quite fitting that the video is narrated by Robin Roberts, a cancer survivor and also a role model for many.

But while he certainly made his reputation as an ESPN anchor, I think his most significant contribution, and what will be his legacy, is as a father. The love he had for his two daughters is apparent, and even President Obama alludes to that love in the video.

As I was watching the tribute, the tears were running down my cheeks. I’ve noticed that this happens more and more often, and it is often the result of a variety of emotions. Whether it is listening to Stuart’s fellow colleagues talk of him with such high praise, watching Nicholas Cage singing to his wife (Tea Leoni) in The Family Man, going to a Broadway play such as Wicked and closing my eyes and just listening to the beautiful voices on stage, the riff-off scene from Pitch Perfect,  watching Anna Kendrick singing the Cup Song (yea, I have an Anna Kendrick thing :), this amazing scene from the movie “Begin Again” (probably my favorite four-minute scene in any movie), or Harry Chapin singing “Story of a Life” or “Flowers Are Red“, there are many things that trigger the release of water from my eyes.

As you can tell from the list above, many times it is music that brings on the emotion. I guess there’s just something about someone with a beautiful voice sharing that talent with the world that brings me to tears. Sometimes it’s just a voice itself that does it; many times, as with the songs from Harry Chapin, it’s the words that do it; sometimes it is something profound, like the passing of a loved one.

I’m not really sure what the tears mean, if anything. All I know is that I am no longer embarrassed by it (even less now that I am writing this post to share with the world), and I’ve noticed that my favorite movies and songs are usually the ones that bring out such an emotion. So I’ll continue to listen to Harry Chapin songs and watch clips of Anna Kendrick, and just keep the tissues nearby.

RIP Stuart Scott, Boo-Yah.

Another Challenge for the Year

I’ve enjoyed the 31 day running and writing challenge so far, particularly the writing aspect (although it’s only day 3!). I’ve often thought about starting a daily blog. I’ve always enjoyed reading Seth Godin’s blog,  impressed with the fact that he posts to it every day and at this point has over 5,000 posts, and thought “I should do that.” But for a variety of reasons I’ve never done anything about it.

But I guess there was just something about this #writeandrun31 challenge that appealed to me; perhaps the fact that it was exercise-based, had the daily writing challenge, and was started by a vegan hit all the right buttons.

Anyway, while I am excited by this 30-day challenge, another 2015 challenge captured my interest, and I have signed on for that as well.

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame has started “A Year of Books” challenge in which you read and discuss a new book every two weeks. While I love to read, this will be a daunting task, since I am sure there won’t be any Calvin and Hobbes books among Mark’s biweekly choices, unfortunately. As one data point to support this view, the first book is “The End of Power” by Moises Naim.

It will be interesting to keep track of what happens to the books that Mark selects; Naim’s book is already the number 2 selling book in its category on Amazon, despite having only 54 reviews. I am guessing the impact will be similar to what happened to the books chosen for Oprah’s book club. I am also curious to see if there will be any works of fiction among the chosen books.

All of this talk of books has helped me to recall some of my favorite books of the past few years, all of which I can highly recommend, and some of which may be a little off the beaten path:

The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin; mentioned in yesterday’s blog as well.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts; a beautifully written, mostly autobiographical novel.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas; OK, so I was way behind in getting to this one, but it was well worth the wait.
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes; again, just getting caught up on some of the classics.
The Rosie Project: A Novel by Graeme Simsion; this was highly recommended by Bill Gates, who called it “one of the most profound novels” he had read in a long time.

I’m still hoping that at some point these daily blog posts become less about me (who I am thankful for, the search for my passion, or my 2015 challenges) and more about providing my thoughts on issues that I care about, but for now I am happy that I am just writing something every day.