Why Don’t We Do Things 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, often ignore such opportunities?

Hidden Benefits in Your Employer’s Health Insurance

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.

Shopping for a Mortgage

I just read about this phenomenon the other day. According to a report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, almost half of consumers seeking a loan to purchase a home do not shop lenders, the agency said Tuesday. The cost of not shopping around can be significant. A consumer taking out a 30-year mortgage for $200,000 and paying an interest rate of 4.5 percent will pay about $60 per month more than someone borrowing at 4 percent, and the borrower with the cheaper loan will also build equity faster, the report said.


Perhaps the biggest culprit of doing something that is not good for us, and being fully aware of it, is a habit that is a global issue – smoking. According to the CDC, smoking is estimated to increase the risk:

  • for coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times;
  • for stroke by 2 to 4 times;
  • of men developing lung cancer by 25 times;
  • and of women developing lung cancer by 25.7 times.
  • In addition, smoking causes diminished overall heath, such as self-reported poor health, increased absenteeism from work, and increased health care utilization and cost.

While rates of tobacco use have declined globally, because of population growth there are more people smoking than ever. And the problem is worse in developing countries, where the rate of smoking among men is often well over 50%. In the U.S.,  the prevalence of smoking has remained steady for the past several years, at about 20% for men and 15% for women. I also find it remarkable that about 10% of teenagers smoke in the U.S. While that rate has been going down, I still find the number unacceptably high. Haven’t they all been bombarded with the nasty health effects of smoking since kindergarten? The good news according to the CDC,  is that the benefits from quitting smoking are significant and happen fairly quickly:

  • quitting smoking cuts cardiovascular risks. Just 1 year after quitting smoking, your risk for a heart attack drops sharply.
  • Within 2 to 5 years after quitting smoking, your risk for stroke could fall to about the same as a nonsmoker’s.
  • If you quit smoking, your risks for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder drop by half within 5 years.
  • Ten years after you quit smoking, your risk for lung cancer drops by half.

Your Employer’s Retirement Plan

According to commentary from an oft-quoted Merrill Lynch Help2Retire webcast, half of eligible employees younger than 34 don’t contribute at all to their employer-sponsored 401(k) programs. Of those who do, 40 percent don’t put in enough to take advantage of the employer’s matching program. In companies that offer  a dollar for dollar match with employee contributions, that’s a guaranteed 100% return on your investment! So why would an employee not participate to the fullest extent possible?

Wearing Seat Belts and Helmets

Seat belt usage has risen from 14% in 1983 to 86% in 2012. Sounds like impressive growth, but I wonder about the 14% who currently don’t wear a seat belt. Is it a deliberate choice, and if so, what is their logic?

Helmet usage among motorcycle drivers actually dropped from 66% in 2011 to 60% in 2012, while helmet usage among motorcycle passengers dropped from 64% to 46% during that same time period. Again, what are these people thinking (although I must admit I do not drive a motorcycle, never have, and never plan to, so I don’t really understand the mind set of a motorcyclist at all)? I still remember in grad school (this is going back 30 years) a debate breaking out between the teacher and a student on this very issue. The teacher was showing all the date supporting why helmets should be required, while the student was arguing why he should have the freedom to decide whether or not he wants to wear a helmet. The teacher ended the argument with one of the best lines I’ve ever heard: “There is a benefit to society of people not wearing a helmet when they drive a motorcycle; if they get in a crash and die, the average I.Q. of the nation goes up.” Classic…

Conscious Eating

While I am convinced of the benefits of a vegan diet, I realize it’s not for everyone, and it’s not my job to convince everyone of its benefits. However, I think we can all stand to at least be conscious of what we eat, to think about our choices, and to educate ourselves as much as we can about nutrition. Ignoring our genetic makeup (which we have no control over), I think the primary determinant of our health, by a wide margin, is our diet, followed to a lesser extent by our exercise routine, our sleep habits, and how we handle stress.

Trying to Beat the Stock Market

Many investors try to invest in the latest hot stock tip, or think they can outsmart the market because of their superior intellect. But here’s the advice from one of the greatest investors of all time, Warren Buffett, when he talks about how he would like his heirs to manage their money:

My advice to the trustee couldn’t be more simple: Put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard’s.) I believe the trust’s long-term results from this policy will be superior to those attained by most investors — whether pension funds, institutions or individuals — who employ high-fee managers. 

Yet many investors engage in frequent trading of individual stocks, generally a fool’s errand. Great books like The Automatic Millionaire and The Wealthy Barber provide useful investment advice.

I am sure I could come up with several more, and so could you. I’m also sure that some of you may disagree with some of what I have said. But regardless of that, I think we can all agree that there are some key areas of our life that we could take a closer look at to make sure we are taking full advantage of the opportunities that are presented to us.

So where to start? I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes, this one from Jim Rohn:

The difference between where you are today and where you’ll be five years from now will be found in the quality of books you’ve read.”

So the advice is simple:


Human Energizer Bunnies

energizer bunny

I was reading the paper today, and there was a great story about Judy Collins, of “Both Sides Now” and “Send in the Clowns” fame. I was shocked to read that she is 75 years old! But quoting from the story:

“(she) is still as enthusiastic about making music as she was in her heyday. ‘I feel like I’m in high school again,’ she says.”  

And fun fact (at least I never knew this) – the song Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” was written about her by Stephen Stills!

But as I was reading the Judy Collins story, another story I had read earlier in the week came to mind about another person who acts like he is still in high school. This story was written by a personal trainer about his experience working with Kobe Bryant as part of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team.   Here’s a brief excerpt:

The night before the first scrimmage I remember I had just watched “Casablanca” for the first time and it was about 3:30 AM. I lay in bed, slowly fading away when I hear my cell ring. It was Kobe. I nervously picked up. “Hey, uhh Rob, I hope I’m not disturbing anything right?” “Uhh no, what’s up Kob?” “Just wondering if you could just help me out with some conditioning work, that’s all.” I checked my clock. 4:15 AM. “Yeah sure, I’ll see you in the facility in a bit.” It took me about twenty minutes to get my gear and out of the hotel. When I arrived and opened the room to the main practice floor I saw Kobe. Alone. He was drenched in sweat as if he had just taken a swim. It wasn’t even 5AM. 

The trainer came to the conclusion that “he (Kobe) simply is not human when he is working on his craft.”

Of course Judy Collins and Kobe Bryant aren’t the only ones who come to mind when we hear such stories about people who have committed their lives to one pursuit with such zeal.

– John Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 59 years, until the age of 88.

– Bruce Springsteen turned 65 years old last year. He has been performing with the E Street Band for over 40 years, and still puts on high-energy, marathon shows that last close to three hours. One show in Melbourne last year clocked in at 3 hours and 48 minutes!

– Woody Allen will be 80 years old this year, and still averages writing and directing about 1 movie per year. In addition, he was just signed by Amazon to write and direct his first television series.

– Toni Morrison, the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author. will release her latest novel this year, at the age of 84.

– Joseph Ominsky, a Philadelphia lawyer who kept going to work every day until the year he died at the age of 98.

I could go on and on, but as I read their stories, I can’t help but wonder what is it that keeps them so motivated and so productive? They have achieved great success and left their mark on the world, and are at an age when no one would fault them for easing off the gas pedal a little bit. Yet they still outwork people half their age. And while many such individuals are earning a significant income, I don’t think it’s money that motivates them.

So what is it?

I would certainly say that passion is a large part of what drives such people. They have found their passion in life, and pursuing that passion must not feel like “work” to them.

I would also venture a guess that they recognize that what they do matters to a lot of people. I know I still get awestruck when I attend a Springsteen concert, and always eagerly await the latest Woody film. Does the energy from their peers and fans rejuvenate them?

But I also wonder if they are driven a bit by fear. The fear of not knowing what’s next for them, of not knowing how to fill their days. Do they fear that they would be letting people down if they were to stop doing what they do? Would they miss the recognition by their peers and fans if they were to move on to something else? Have they gotten too comfortable/too secure with the way their life is and simply don’t know how to stop? Do they feel an obligation to keep doing what they do, since so many people “depend” on what they do?

I find myself thinking about such issues more frequently as I get closer to my planned retirement from teaching nine years from now at the age of 66. I could keep teaching if I wanted to beyond that age; Villanova has several faculty in their mid to late 70s who have been teaching for 50 plus years and who are still as passionate about what they do as the day they started.

But I look at them as well as all the examples noted above, and I think, what’s wrong with me, why don’t I want to keep teaching forever?

I think part of it has to do with passion. As noted in a previous post, I am still searching for my passion, my purpose in life. While I have enjoyed teaching and felt that I have had a positive impact on many students, I have to admit, if I’m honest with myself, that I am not like Kobe in terms of having a burning desire to be the best teacher ever.

I think the other part of it is that I don’t believe I have a fear of change, but instead I am actually excited about the prospect of doing something new when I retire from teaching.

What that “next big thing” will be is still to be determined, but my hope is that whatever it is, it will keep me going  and going, just like the Energizer Bunny.

Life Design Class


Imagine taking college courses titled, “Bruce Springsteen’s Theology”, “Demystifying the Hipster”, “What if Harry Potter Is Real”, “Simpsons and Philosophy”, and “Calvin and Hobbes”. That could potentially be the greatest semester of my life. And while there is no one college offering all of those courses, those are all real courses that have been offered in the past few years at a variety of colleges.

What inspired my search for such courses was an article I read this past week which profiled several business school faculty who were bringing their passions into the classroom and creating projects or courses where they got to share that passion with their students. As I read the description of each course, it made me want to be a student in each of them.

So it made me realize that there are probably dozens of unique and innovative courses around the world that I would find fascinating. While I wouldn’t actually enroll in the courses, a simple email to the instructor asking for the syllabus would probably enable me to find out what the course content is and what the required readings are. Then at that point if the topic caught my interest, I could just teach the course to myself. While I would be missing out on some valuable interaction with the teacher and other students, I would certainly be enhancing my knowledge of the subject matter.

My next thought was that it may be helpful to share what I find with others, and so my plan is to dedicate one of my daily blog posts each week to taking a closer look at courses that are fascinating, bizarre, popular, or inspiring. These won’t be your Principles of Economics or General Psychology type courses, but rather courses such as “Exploring Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The Religions of Star Trek”.

So for this week I thought I would write about a course that was featured in the previously mentioned article about innovation in business education. The course was developed in 2010 by David Gould, a professor at the University of Iowa.

The name of the course is Life Design, and is designed to help students use higher education as a means to discover their passions by drawing upon the works of Seth Godin, Tony Hsieh, Ken Robinson, Daniel Pink, and others. When I saw that list of names I immediately thought this is my kind of course.

Biz Ed Magazine describes the course as “A kind of introspective laboratory where students identify their passions and discover paths to life-sustaining careers, Life Design meets twice a week and includes inspirational readings and reflective writing assignments on students’ core aspirations.”

Here’s a sampling of some of the assignments:

– Ask yourself the following question – “If I could select anyone in the world to learn from, who would I pick, and what would I ask?”

– Look at the page before the Table of Contents in most books and you’ll typically find a dedication. If you were to dedicate your college education to someone, who would it be and why?

– Kids have the luxury of calling “do-over!” when things go wrong. Why can’t we? What are your biggest regrets, and if you could, how would you re-do them? Moving forward, what can you learn from these experiences?

– Hoping to define a unique approach to higher education, and with the help of some friends, I have started a set of “Ten Life Commandments.” I have four remaining, and need your help. If you were to add one commandment for today’s university classroom, what would it be and why? Are there commandments on my list you would change?

and some  of the suggested readings:

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose” by Tony Hsieh

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink

Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” by Ken Robinson

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?” by Seth Godin

I don’t know about you, but just seeing that list of assignments and readings gets me motivated.

The general web site for the course can be found at  http://www.uiowa.edu/~lifeclas/ 

and if you want to see the detailed syllabus from the past Fall semester, here is the link:

I plan to get in touch with David this week to learn more about the course and to see if there is possibly a way to integrate such a course into our curriculum. If you would like to contact David, his email address is david-gould@uiowa.edu

Next week, a look at one of the most popular courses in the history of Harvard University.

Sign on the Dotted Line, with Care


It started at an early age.

My first memory was from going to Catholic School and having the Palmer Method of cursive handwriting drilled into me. The endless repetition of loops, lines, and letters enabled me to develop what I thought was a very stylish, easy to read signature.


The next memory I have is from around the age of 10. It was at that time that I started reading The Hardy Boys series of books, and over the next few years read every one available. My favorite was “The House on the Cliff”, and one small part of the story has always stuck with me, 45 plus years later. In the story, the Hardy Boys’ father goes missing, and a couple of days later a letter, allegedly from their father, arrives at their house. The boys’ mother is immediately suspicious because the signature at the end of the note is missing the secret sign that would indicate that the correspondence was really from him. And I thought that is so cool to think of something like that, using your signature to send a secret message.


The third memory I have is from a family vacation to Disneyland. This was the biggest vacation our family had ever gone on, and in anticipation of the trip I bought an Autograph book so that I could get signatures of the Disney characters, and any famous people we might run into in California. I remember getting signatures from among others, Mickey and Goofy, and for some reason, Ernest Borgnine, the star of the TV show, McHale’s Navy. I also recall that for some time afterwards, I would occasionally open the autograph book and study the various signatures.


So collectively, these three memories likely made some impression on me about the importance of my signature. But as I was signing my name a multiple times today for a variety of reasons, it struck me that most people are in a hurry when it comes to writing their signature. That includes both the person who is creating the signature, and the person who is waiting for you to complete your signature, whether it is the cashier, or the person behind you in line.

I have always written my signature so that anyone could read it, even if it might take an extra couple of seconds do so so. The same thing certainly can’t be said for many other people. I’ve never gotten signatures that look like these:

signature2 or      signature3


Who can read those? Are you trying to hide something? Are you in a hurry and can’t afford the 5 seconds it would take to sign your name legibly?

I remember going into a local coffee shop recently that used iPads for its credit card transactions. When it was time to sign, I had to sign my name on the iPad itself, which was not that easy, and it came out looking pretty bad. Surprisingly though, the cashier was quite impressed and said that my signature was one of the best she had seen, that most people just swiped their finger across the surface of the iPad. How is that a signature? The guy behind me in line, apparently annoyed that I had taken too long, said something along the line that he couldn’t be bothered to take that much time to sign his name.

I’m fairly certain that I’m in the minority on this one, as I’ve often looked at people’s signatures, and most of the time I have no idea what they just wrote. And I think it’s just going to get worse. As many school districts remove cursive handwriting from its curriculum, I’m left to wonder how people will learn how to write their signature in a legible manner, and to me, that’s a shame.

I’ve always been proud of my name, and I’ve viewed my signature as a way to display that pride. And while I may be a dying breed, it’s good to know that there are a few others who may have thought the same way.

bill_gates_sig john_hancock

And here’s possible proof that poor handwriting could cost you a lot of money and fame:



The two Steve’s have perfectly good handwriting, but there’s no way I can read Ronald Wayne’s signature.

Is it just a coincidence that the two guys with the most legible handwriting became incredibly wealthy and well-known, while the guy whose handwriting is illegible became just an interesting footnote in the history of Apple? Hmmmm…..  something to ponder.

So the next time you need to do the John Hancock thing, do it with pride, and you too may some day be a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, like The Woz.

The Seinfeld Blog


I’m starting to panic; I think my blog is turning into a Seinfeld-like blog. The Seinfeld show was famously known for being a show about nothing. And that’s what I fear is happening, or could happen, to this blog.

I know it’s only been two weeks, so it’s not much of a sample size, but I continue to struggle with things to write about.  As a result, I often end up writing about things that pop into my head, and as was pointed about by a fellow #writeandrun31 member, that is usually not the most effective way to write. Sometimes I am happy with what I have written, sometimes I am not. But one of the reasons I love this writeandrun challenge is that it forces me to write something every day, and from what I have read, that is perhaps the single best way to improve your writing.

While preparing this post I came across a recent interview with Jerry Seinfeld where he addresses the belief that his show was about nothing. He notes that Seinfeld was not pitched as a show about nothing. “The real pitch, when Larry (David) and I went to NBC in 1988, was we want to show how a comedian gets his material,” he said. “The show about nothing was just a joke in an episode many years later, and Larry and I to this day are surprised that it caught on as a way that people describe the show, because to us it’s the opposite of that.”

In the Seinfeld show, most of the episodes started and ended with Jerry doing a stand-up routine, which often related to what took place in the show. So essentially Jerry was a keen observer of the both the mundane and the wacky events that made up people’s lives, and then took those observations and used them as fodder for his stand-up routine.

When viewed from this perspective, it gave me some potential insight into my blogging process. Perhaps I should view my blog as being about how I get material for my blog. This would allow me to write about a variety of topics, yet would still provide with an overall theme to the blog.

And so following the Seinfeld model, that is what I am going to try and do – be a better witness to the daily events that surround me, from the routine to the ridiculous and from the outrageous to the heartwarming. And hopefully by reflecting on those events, the ideas for my blog will flow much better and I’ll be able to make something out of nothing.

And who knows, perhaps nine years from now, if I’m lucky, I’ll still be writing a blog about nothing, just like this post.

Turning Points…


I’ve been thinking about this for awhile. What were some of the key events or decisions in my life that got me to where I am at today, that made me the person I am? It’s a bit different than thinking about, and thanking, all of the people who have helped me along the way, which I wrote about in a previous post.

Just like my gratitude post, I think the easiest way for me to do this will be to go through these events and decisions, the turning points of my life, in chronological order.

1. Choosing to be a swimmer. I joined my first swim team at the age of 9, and swam competitively for the next 13 years. Swimming gave me confidence, instilled in me the importance of hard work and commitment, kindled in me a passion for fitness that I still have 48 years later,  and enabled me to develop some life-long friendships. In college, swimming was something that defined me, it was  a big part of who I was. I haven’t raced in a swim meet for over 35 years, but I still enjoy going to swim meets. The smell of the chlorine, the excitement of the race, the camaraderie among the swimmers, they all bring back such good memories.

2. Getting married – easily the most important and best decision I have ever made. I think this a fairly obvious life-changing event. It represents a serious, adult-level commitment, perhaps the first one I had ever made. While swimming required a commitment, that was mainly to myself, and such a commitment was made at a fairly young age. With marriage, I was also committing to another person. Prior to being married, most decisions were made thinking of how it would affect me; I could no longer think that way once I was married. Like Lou Gehrig, I consider myself the luckiest man alive, thanks to my wife.

3. Having our first child – again, one of the greatest days in my life, and another obvious life-changing event.  We were a family now, and had serious responsibility for the life of someone else. I realized even more that my decisions affected not only me, or my wife, but my child as well. The decision to have children continues to bring joy into my life.

4. Quitting my job and going back to school. I am not sure what my parents must have thought. I was married, my wife had quit her job to stay at home with our first child , and I decided to quit my job after just  one year so that I could go back to school. By all appearances it was a good job. I was in a management rotational program with a large insurance company, about as safe and secure a job as you could have. However, it had no appeal to me. I could not envision myself spending the next 40 years coming into work and doing the same thing every day. I’ve come to realize that such a job would have likely provided a good deal of variety and challenge, but I guess that’s how a 24 year-old thinks. And I was not doing this just for me; I did a good deal of research before making such a decision, and it seemed as if the odds of having a successful and rewarding carer and family life were quite high if I went into academia. And it has certainly turned out to be true. (see number 7 below).

5. Buying our first house. This was an event that signaled that we were ready to settle down, to become a part of a community. We got lucky; our neighborhood has proved to be a great place to raise a family and to make friends. We’ve been in the same house for 28 years, and have never regretted the decision.

6. Having a child with special needs – our youngest child, Patrick, was born with a condition known as Williams Syndrome. This event has likely had the most  profound effect on how I think about a lot of issues. I think, or at least I hope, I became 1000% more compassionate. I think long and often about the luck of birth. Some babies are born into extreme wealth, others into extreme poverty; some babies are born into a loving family, others into a dysfunctional one; some babies are born with perfect genes, others are born with physical or mental challenges. And while we have probably all read stories about people who have successfully overcome being born into difficult circumstances, I think such stories are the exception rather than the rule. I’ve heard that being malnourished as a very young child actually thwarts appropriate brain development; how is that fair, how is that overcome? While I am all for personal responsibility, I have come to realize that we are also responsible for others. I’ve done a 180 on my political beliefs because of this event (becoming socialistic in many of my views), and I’ve done a 180 on what sort of accomplishments most impress me, things that most people would likely take for granted. For all that he has accomplished, and will accomplish in the future, Patrick continues to be one of the most inspirational people I know.

7.  Getting tenure. This event provided a great sense of stability and security to my family. It also provided a sense of accomplishment for having achieved a goal I had set for myself. I started teaching at my college in 1986, and 29 years later, I am still there (or should I say, they are still stuck with me!)

8. Becoming vegan. Eight years ago one of my sons recommended that I read “The Food Revolution” by John Robbins. To say it was life-changing is an understatement. When I started reading the book I ate a standard American diet; the day after I finished it I became a vegan, not just because of the book, but also because of the positive role model my son was as a vegan. Eight years later I look back on it as one of the best decisions of my life.  Being a vegan has changed me.  I think I became more mature (not really sure why), more contemplative,  more introverted (although I was never the life of the party), perhaps more judgmental, and began to strongly prefer more intimate social events such as dinner with another couple or game night with the family as compared to large social events like company parties and neighborhood block parties. (It was also around this time that I gave up alcohol, I am sure that had something to do with my new social habits.) I also changed my views on many issues, including the obvious ones like caring for the environment and the rights of animals, but also on issues related to compassion and the importance of finding my purpose in life. While I will be the first to admit that not all of the changes have necessarily been for the better, they have certainly played a role in who I am today.

9. Starting my own business. A few years ago I thought I would try to combine two of my passions in life, business and fitness, and open up a personal training studio. Unlike all of the other events/decisions listed here, this one did not have a happy ending. I ran the business for 4 years, had great managers and trainers, great customers, and met many other dedicated small business owners. However, I learned that running a business is a lot harder than teaching about business. While the personal training studio was not a profitable venture, it was one of the best learning experiences I have ever had, and I think it has made me a better teacher.

10. Participating in the #writeandrun31 challenge. While it is certainly too early to say what the long-term impact of being a part of this group will be, writing every day is something I have always thought about doing, and it was this challenge that made it a reality. It is a great feeling to be part of such a like-minded, supportive community. It has given me a chance to express my creative side, and to share my thoughts and emotions with my family, my friends, my neighbors, and the members of the #writeandrun31 community, and I know that such a chance has the potential to be life-changing.


What Am I Missing?


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):


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:


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.


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


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


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.