Monday, April 30, 2012

Proxy server

Sitting outside the U.S. and want to read a U.S. website as if you were sitting in the States?

I don't encounter this problem often, but a friend who lives overseas recommends Ultrasurf.

I'm told this can overcome issues such as: Amazon offering a free download to consumers in the U.S. but charging if you are abroad.

The proxy server apparently also helps if you happen to be in a country with a regime that likes to read over your shoulder.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What questions does your kid ask? Write them down

Got a kid? Does your kid ask questions?

Then write some of them down.

I do my best to field questions from my wonderful kids, and after seeing this blog post, I plan to start keeping track of those questions. Here are some questions that a four-year-old Robin Hanson asked:

How do snakes travel?
How does God make people?
How can God make make babies and help them grow?
What's inside my finger?
What moves my food from my mouth to my stomach?
How does my body use the food?
How is bread made? 

(above questions all within 15 minutes) 

How is paper made?
Why do daddies go to work?
How does a flashlight work?
What is the cat saying?
Why is she going outside?
When is Valentine's Day coming?
What do crocodiles eat?
What makes crocodiles happy? 

The first question I've captured so far from my daughter:

"Why does the moon keep following us?"

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Advice on changing your diet

A friend sent a message out to a group we belong to with a request for advice on how to eat a healthy diet: what books to read, and other tips.  Here are the thoughts I sent her:

Congratulations on your decision to take control of your diet and eat in a more healthful manner.  Here are a few responses to your request for ideas on books and other tips:

1. Michael Pollan's Food Rules: An Eater's Manifesto
Pollan's advice is simple, and you won't find much about what food to eat after what other food. This short book expounds upon his seven-word formulation for healthy eating:
"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

One of the best ways to eliminate unhealthy foods from your diet, I've found, is to cultivate a sense of disgust. That can be a more powerful emotion that the more intellectual desire to switch with type of omega fats you are eating.
After reading Pollan's description of how animals are raised in the modern industrial agricultural system, you might find it easier to cut them out of your diet (if you're a vegetarian, then the discussions of corn and soybean will be interesting.)
The impact on me: I now eat only meat that I've raised myself. That may not be an option for everyone, but if you switch to buying only grass-fed, organic beef directly from the farmer, you'll spend more, but you'll probably eat a lot less meat of much higher quality.

3. Marion Nestle's What to Eat
I didn't find this book as compelling, but if you want a lot more details on nutrient contents, what type of fish has less impact on the environment, and so forth, this is the bible.

Cowen writes one of the leading economics blogs in the world,, and has been a dedicated foodie for three decades. He recommends making every meal count, and uses the insights of economics to help you find the best meals at the best deals. A portion of his book was excerpted in The Atlantic this month and you can read it free here:
If you are mindful about making every meal an adventure, you'll be less likely to eat junk.

5. Read my wife's blog. My wife has been planning to start her blog for a year, and she finally got it launched last week. Every day she is posting about a food adventure with kids. Subscribe by email, join her Facebook group, or share the blog with friends who have kids:
(She figures she will serve each of our kids 18,000 meals before they leave home, and wants to make 10% of them an adventure, thus the 1,800)

6. Check out this fantastic infographic on how, why, and where we eat from an amazing data set (the info comes from The Eatery, an iPhone app where you can snap a photo of everything you eat, rate how healthy it is, and have other users also rate how healthy they think it is)
Sample insights: 
Users who ate breakfast ate 12.3% healthier all day; 
Users who don't eat breakfast end up eating 6.8% more food in total all day
You might even try using the app yourself if you've got a smartphone (I downloaded it yesterday)

7. Give up sugar. This is perhaps the simplest diet rule possible. If you follow this one rule, you are almost certainly to eat a more healthy diet. From the same set of infographics as #6 above: 
"Pick a diet, any diet: it will make you healthier. Users with a specific diet type ate 15.2% healthier that users without one." (Vegetarians ate 22.4% healthier, in case you were wondering.)
You may have cravings for a couple of days, but it is surprisingly easy to do. I gave up sugar in late January this year and have no cravings at all for dessert. If you give up sugar, you'll most likely start eating more fruit. And you'll start being able to taste real food again. 
And as a side benefit, the vast majority of junk food will be off limits.

8. Don't try to change everything at once. This is most likely to fail: we are literally creatures of habit, and trying to change everything at once doesn't work, for most people at least. Pick just one habit that you will commit to changing, and work on it for 2-3 months. Then work on the next one. Breakfast is the greatest leverage point, so I'd start there. Plan a healthy breakfast that you enjoy, and just change that. For more advice on how to change habits, read:
(Great post up right now on how to fail at changing habits)
Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit

Friday, April 27, 2012

Free until April 28: The On-Purpose Person

The On-Purpose Person is free to download until Saturday, April 28.

I've only skimmed the first couple chapters, so I won't give the book an unqualified thumbs up yet:

The main idea is that to have a successful life, you need to have a purpose. I assume the meat of the book helps you define what that purpose is.

Tip: Memorize one your credit card numbers

The small time investment of memorizing the number of one of your credit cards, along with the expiration date and security code, is well worth it.

You'll save time when buying stuff online and on the phone.

Plus, there is a slight security advantage. At some point, you'll be buying something on the phone while you are on the go, and knowing the number means you won't have to pull your credit card out of your wallet while you are walking along and carrying a couple packages, with the chance of dropping or losing your card.

You don't need to remember phone numbers any more. A credit card is one number worth knowing.

Great infographic on our perceptions of how we eat

A very interesting app that I'm going to try that claims it will help you eat more healthfully.

Check out this cool infographic:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The new term for "self-published"

Within ten years, and perhaps five, I think will we have a new term for self-published.

That term will be: published.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pumping gas was so dull...

...before they installed a TV at the pump. Now I swing by the gas station to catch my favorite show.

From Innovation Bootcamp post Nov 1 2011

From Innovation Bootcamp post Nov 1 2011

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ideas for startups

Paul Graham's essay "Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas" got me thinking about other problems that I'd like someone to solve for me.

Some of these might be preposterous or impossible, but I would have said the same thing about Pandora or Shazam 10 years ago.

1. A tool to track and categorize all my spending
"You can't manage what you can't measure" says the cliche, and it is awfully difficult to track all expenses in a household. has about the best solution that I know of - it can pull in info from your checking account and all your credit cards. But it is still a hassle to track cash expenses, and to categorize spending. If you spend $300 at Wal-Mart, how should that get categorized? It could be a new gas grill or clothes (hope not) or groceries or diapers. The solution needs to be able to see not just the vendor, but all the line items.

2. A tool to plan out our family menus, keep track of what is in the refrigerator, and order the necessary ingredients from Fresh Direct (or give us a shopping list if we didn't live in New York City.) This doesn't seem particularly far-fetched to me. If Pandora can learn my preferences and pick songs, then a program could certainly learn our food preferences and plan out our menus. And it ought to be able to detect what we put in the fridge. And include in the menu plans nights where we would defrost that extra stew that we frSuoze two months ago.

3. A virtual travel agent
When I was at a big consulting firm, it was nice being able to call the travel office and ask them to book me travel to a given city, with a car, and a hotel in a certain part of town. The call would take two minutes; or could even be accomplished with an email.
Now I book all my own travel, starting with to find airfares - I'd like some software that would learn my preferences and do that for me.

4. Curate reading content
There may already be a good tool out there that I'm just not aware of. I'd like to be able to enter all the books I've read, rate them, and then have a recommendation engine suggest more books and articles that I ought to read. Amazon has its suggestion tool, but I think it is only based on books I've purchased. The tool should be designed to surprise me with content that I normally would not have come across, as well as bring me the articles that I would definitely want to know about, such as anything new by Malcolm Gladwell, John Stilgoe, or James Surowieki.

5. A tool to find professionals based on recommendations of people I trust
Yes, I know there is Angie's list. But I tried that site a few years ago and it was so clunky that it was unusable. I want to find a medical doctor, a car mechanic, a graphic designer, an attorney, etc., who is recommended by people that I trust. I don't spend much time on Facebook, but this seems like a valuable application that could be integrated to Facebook.
LinkedIn has recommendations, but they all read the same, and they have to be approved by the recipient, so they are of little value.
One way I know this is an unmet need is that I see emails on listservs of Columbia Business School alums every day asking for an introduction to an attorney who specializes in a certain area, or for a website designer, or a nanny.

6. I'd like my phone to detect how many calories I'm eating throughout the day. And then provide that info in graphical form, e.g., calories eaten per hour. Calories classified by type. Etc.

7. Smart software to prepare my taxes. The software that does exist is almost as much of a hassle as filling in the forms by hand.

8. Software to help me track all my goals

9. The immersive reading experience of the future. I'll write a future post on what I'd like out of this one.

10. A fashion tool.
I don't like to shop for clothes - particularly the time it takes. I'd like a tool that monitors what I have in my closet. It will learn my preferences by monitoring what I wear most often, as well as by asking me to pick A or B from a whole series of choices and then doing conjoint analysis. Then the tool would combine its knowledge of what I have in my closet, with its knowledge of my preferences, plus a separate module monitoring fashion trends. Combining those sources of information, it would occasionally order me new clothes when it thinks I should get them. I would rate its choices, and could send back what I don't like. It could also have the option where I would pay a premium to have another person rate how the clothes look on me, and then incorporate those ratings into the decision.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Self-tracking technology

"Employees, Measure Yourselves" - Interesting article in the WSJ about tools to track your own use of technology

Sites mentioned in the article:

I'll check out these sites in more detail as soon as I'm done surfing the web...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"What a waste of time"

I've never thought of saying this after spending 30 minutes reading to my son or doing a project with my daughter.

But I've heard this is a common reaction after watching a tv show.

According to the American Time Use Study, Americans spend an average of 2.7 hours per day - that's 18.9 hours per week - watching television.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

How to save time making hotel reservations

Going to be making multiple visits to the same hotel over a period of several weeks or months?

Time saving tip:

Instead of bothering to book online or go through the 1-800 number, get the contact info for the corporate sales person at the property.

Then you can just send an email with all of your dates to that person, and they will make the reservations for you.

And if you need to change or cancel a bunch of them, just an email does it, instead of spending a bunch of time online or on the phone.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why is Harvard so behind the curve?

Yale has Open Yale courses - a wide selection of courses that are free online.

MIT has 2000 courses online and free at MIT OpenCourseware.

58,000 people took an artificial intelligence course at Stanford for free.

And now Harvard, in celebration of its 375th anniversary, announces the launch of "Harvard Great Teachers," which includes the videos of....[drumroll, please]

...a grand total of four professors.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

How to contact people on LinkedIn without using InMail

Want to contact someone directly on LinkedIn?

A trick that seems to be not universally known is that if you are in the same group as a person, you can send her a direct message, even if you are not connected to her.

This proves very useful if you are doing research on an industry. Join some groups that are popular, and you can scroll through the membership and send people a direct message with a question, or invite them to connect.

Note: the default is that someone in a group you join can contact you directly, but there is an option to opt out and block messages. In my experience, only a small percentage of people opt out.

What religious pilgrimage in the world attracts the most visitors?

I would have answered that the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, attracts the most pilgrims.

But I would have been wrong.

According to an article in the New York Times on Tuesday, "Friendship, Competition, Pathogens: Gauging an Outbreak at the Olympics", the hajj gets about three million pilgrims per year, but

India’s festival of Kumbh Mela, held every six years, is much larger. As many as 70 million Hindus attended in 2007.

An interesting example of the availability bias. I've certainly heard a lot more about the hajj than about Kumbh Mela.

My ebook downloaded 360 times so far

I was pretty surprised when I checked a couple days ago and found out that "The Storyteller's Tollbooth," the book I wrote my son for Christmas, has been downloaded 360 times. I would have been surprised by five downloads.

It still wasn't available on, though, even though Lulu seemed to indicate that it would be. So I went ahead and self-published the book on Amazon, via the Kindle Direct Publishing program. It is remarkably easy, and takes just a couple minutes to publish anything you've written. The minimum price you can charge, however, is 99 cents. They don't let you make it free. The advice that I found on the web, though, is to click on the "tell us about a lower price" link and include the B&N link, where the book is free. So I'll try that and see if Amazon lowers their price.

I haven't heard back from anyone who has downloaded the book, so I don't have any idea if anyone has actually read any of it. And there are no reviews, so I don't have any idea of anyone may have thought of it. (Other than my son, who enjoyed being a character in a book written by his dad.) So it is interesting to feel firsthand the experience that I imagine many authors get when the book is released into the world.

You can get the book at
Barnes & Noble


From Screen Capture

From Screen Capture

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I'm always impressed when this happens. Do photo editors get embarrassed about it?

From Innovation Bootcamp post Nov 1 2011

How to start and run your own consulting firm

I gave a talk last night at Columbia Business School on how to start and run your own consulting firm.

Here are the slides I used. I'm working on a handbook with a set of practical actions that will be a lot more comprehensive that these slides. I expect to post that handbook here on the blog within the next few weeks.

I'll also be answering the questions that attendees included on the feedback form (which is also included below the slides).

One answer: the library in Manhattan with fantastic electronic resources is the Science, Industry, and Business Library, part of the NYPL system. It is at 34th and Madison. To access the electronic documents, you need to go in person to the resource center downstairs. Bring a USB drive to take home your files. They have free analyst reports via a service called either Investext or Multext, which is owned by Thompson Reuters.

How to start and run your own consulting firm -

I always find it helpful to collect feedback when giving a talk. Here is a form I developed which I think works pretty well. I hand it out at the beginning of the talk and make it clear how helpful the feedback will be.

Feedback form -

Can't find time to read?

For quite a few years I've been frustrated about not having time in my life to read novels, and in particular to read the 'classics' that I think an educated person ought to be familiar with. In the term 'classics' I'm including the Western canon, world fiction, and great works of literature for children that I missed reading when I was a kid. (One reason for this last group is to know which books I want to read to my own kids.)

When I'm at home, I can never find time to read. I get home from work, then it is dinner, getting the kids a bath, playing with them or reading to them, and by that point I'm ready to go to sleep myself. The days when I could curl up with a book for two to three hours are long gone, and I've missed that experience.

Then this year I started listening to audiobooks regularly, and a whole new field of opportunity has opened.

On my morning run, and then on my commute to and from work, I've been listening to audiobooks. I can often get in about thirty minutes on my run, and thirty minutes each way to work. That is an hour and a half per day.

I've started to think of books in terms of hours rather than pages. A shorter book is 6-7 hours, a long novel like Crime and Punishment runs about 20 hours.

And so since the beginning of February I've managed to listen to:

+ Wuthering Heights
+ Captains Courageous
+ Treasure Island
+ Anne of Green Gables
+ A Tale of Two Cities
+ Crime and Punishment (got 70% of the way through before I gave up)
+ Their Eyes Were Watching God

There are plenty of good sources of audiobooks, of course. If you have a NYC address and a library card, you can download audiobooks from the NYPL for free and keep them for 21 days. Or if you want a wider selection and less hassle there is, where audiobooks cost $10 or less if you sign up with a plan. (Works out to $1 or less per hour of listening.)

The critic Sven Birkerts grumbles about audiobooks in his book The Guterberg Elegies. He writes disapprovingly:

With the audiobook everything - pace, timbre, inflection - is determined for the captive reader. The collaborative component is gone - one simply receives.

Perhaps this is a disadvantage for a professional critic and reader like Birkerts, but for me audiobooks provide a superior artistic experience to reading the book myself. This is particularly the case for fiction based in a time or setting distant from my own, with a lot of accents or difficult to pronounce names.

I feel I understand Wuthering Heights far better after listening to a professional perform the Yorkshire accent of the old servant than I would trying to read it myself. Same applies to the African-American voices in Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

An opportunity for retail banks

I recently opened a savings account for my seven-year-old son at a local retail bank. I'd give the experience a score of three on a scale of one to ten.

My goal was to start building his financial literacy and help him understand what money is all about and how banks work.

Apparently, I wasn't the only parent with this idea. Our neighbors walked in a few minutes after us with their young daughter and the same idea in mind. (They were turned away because they forget to bring ID and the girl's SSN.) And another banker was enrolling another young saver while my son was getting signed up.

A few observations about what did happen:

- The banker kept us on the far side of the desk and refused to let us look at his screen. I would have liked my son to see all the information that he had to enter. The banker claimed we were not allowed to watch - something to do with money laundering or catching terrorists.

- I was asked if I have any accounts at the bank, and when I said 'No' there was no follow-up.

- On the positive side, the banker did show us the machine that printed our new ATM card.

What a truly world-class experience might look like:

+ The banker introduces himself to my son by name, and gives my son his card. "Anytime you have any questions, you can call me on this number."

+ The banker engages my son directly, and welcomes him to the bank. "First, before we sign you up, let's take a quick tour of the bank so you can see what we do here." We get a tour of the vault, of the cash-counting machines behind the counter, etc.

+ The banker gives my son a short book, designed for his age range. The book explains with simple diagrams and examples how a bank works.

+ The banker gives my son a worksheet on goal-setting. "Is there something in particular that you'd like to save up for? Do you know how much it will cost? When would you like to buy it? Let's figure out how much you need to save each month to be able to have enough by then."

+ My son gets invited to a class on financial literacy for kids ages 7-9 that will be held at the bank two weeks from now.

+ "Before you leave, I'd like to introduce you to the manager of this branch, who always likes to say a few words to young savers."

Those are a few ideas off the top of my head. That would be an experience I'd tell friends about.

Now, the bank is almost certain to lose money on this account we just opened with a total of eleven dollars as a first deposit. (No minimum balance for kids under 18.)

So why bother to create an extraordinary experience? Because the type of parent who wants to open a savings account for a child represents, more often than not, the potential to be a lucrative customer. And creating an extraordinary experience for the child would probably cost less than the comparable acquisition cost of that customer.

To my knowledge, no retail bank in New York City owns this space, as the go-to bank if you want to open an account for a child.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The education line on your resume

What if you could list only the education you've completed in the last year?

Would that change how you manage your own professional development?

How relevant really is the famous college you attended one, two, or three decades ago?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Would you still go to Harvard...

Would you still go to Harvard if you couldn't list Harvard on your resume? (Replace "Harvard" with the name of the famous college of your choice.)

Without the brand name, is the education alone worth your time and student loans?

(Assume for a moment that getting accepted isn't an issue.)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How to stop receiving credit card offers

Back in November, I wrote about my effort to stop receiving credit card offers.

Update: It worked. I haven't received any credit card offers for several months. Unfortunately, I'm not sure exactly which of the tactics is responsible.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Rhetorical fallacies, logical errors

The blog Information is Beautiful has a wonderful graphic on the rhetorical fallacies and logical errors that we make.

Here is just a sample. Click on the link above to see all 55 fallacies.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tip on planting an orchard

Whether planting a couple fruit trees in the backyard or creating a larger orchard, here is a tip:

Keep track of what trees you planted, and where you planted them. Don't rely on those tags, which will get lost.

Make a map, note each location, and then save the map in a safe spot. Preferably, email it to yourself.

Note when you planted the tree, the name of the variety, and where you bought it.

I failed to follow this advice in 2010 and 2011 when we started our orchard, and now we have nine mystery trees growing. But we're keeping track of the trees we plant this year.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What are you going to do less of?

When I sit down to set goals, I generally think about the additional activities I want to add to my life.

But I know that I need to make space for the new activities, so I also work on setting goals about what I will stop doing.

Emotionally, it is a lot easier to buy a new shirt than to take a shirt in my closet to the thrift store.

Same thing with activities, but there are only 24 hours in the day.

What will you do less of?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The National Follow-up Deficit

We hear a lot about the budget deficit these days. We used to hear a lot about the trade deficit, but we've had one of those so long, and nothing bad seems to have happened, that politicians don't pay so much attention to that one anymore.

But we don't hear a lot about the National Follow-up Deficit.

Have you seen signs of it?

Once you start looking for it, you find signs of it all over.

Just a couple examples:

+ From time to time during the summer, I'll hire someone to help do some yardwork. Of the dozen or more people that I've hired over the years, only one has ever called me up the following year to see if I needed more help.

+ I was looking for a vacation rental for a ski weekend, and sent inquiries to ten different properties. Only three of them got back to me with an email, and none of them tried a second time, even though I included my phone number.

I know that I'm at fault here too, and that someone looking over my shoulder could find plenty of examples where I've failed to follow-up.

But am I wondering: what would it do our GDP growth, the unemployment rate, and overall life satisfaction if we were better at following up on opportunities?

How could you teach that?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Stand up to the white board

Doesn't matter if you called the meeting.

Doesn't matter if you are the most senior person in the room.

You don't need to be leading the meeting.

To add oxygen to any group discussion, stand up and grab a marker.

If you aren't leading, take notes. ("I'll just capture these action items that we are deciding.")

If you have an idea, sketch it out. ("What if we structure the problem this way?")

Sunday, April 8, 2012

"America is number one."

When I hear patriotic citizens (and I consider myself one) say that "America is number one," I'm curious to ask:

At what?

And which other countries are in the top five?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

There is no such thing as "CBE", so you need to design your own

Doctors have to complete CME - continuing medical education.

Attorneys have to complete CLE - continuing legal education.

Even payroll professionals (at least in the UK) need to complete CPD - continuing professional development.

But there is no required CBE (continuing business education).

So you need to design your own.

What are you going to learn this year?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Out of Egypt

The novelist Jonathan Safran Foer has edited a new Haggadah, which for the uniniated (like me) is the text read during the Passover Seder. He explains why he took time away from writing novels to edit this new Haggadah in a New York Times piece, Why a Haggadah?

One line in his piece, quoted from the Haggadah, struck me:

In every generation a person is obligated to view himself as if he were the one who went out of Egypt.

This got me interested, and I read through a free Haggadah that I found online. Here is a quote worth considering:

The struggle for freedom, for the elusive rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of justice, is a constant one. In every age, some new freedom is won and established, adding to the advancement of human happiness and security. Yet each age creates more Pharaohs and more enslavements,requiring new liberations. The victory over the first Pharaoh in Egypt was but the beginning, a foreshadowing of all the emancipations that were to follow, and which will yet follow in the days to come. Mitzrayim means the narrow place--the place that squeezes the life out of a human soul and body. We are all still enslaved in Mitzrayim, because we are all still struggling to be free. We are duty bound to retell and expand upon the story of our Exodus from Mitzrayim to remind us to work for the time when all the Pharaohs of the world will be vanquished, when right will conquer might, when God alone will rule, and all peoples will enjoy peace and freedom

A non-Jewish family, of whatever faith, might consider adopting this holiday.

What is your Egypt? What Pharaohs are you struggling to overcome?

Passover starts today and runs through April 14. The Passover seder is held on the first night of Passover.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Last gasp of the gatekeepers

A story in the New York Times this past Saturday, "Young Writers Dazzle Publisher (Mom and Dad)," discusses the increasing numbers of kids under eighteen who are writing books and self-publishing them, using one of the many platforms that make this easy to do.

In my opinion, this is phenomenal. For a twelve-year-old, or a fifteen-year-old, to have the discipline and initiative to write a book, I think that is something to be celebrated. Whether the book has literary merit is beside the point.

For the young author, what a fantastic feeling it must be to hold a printed book in her hands that she wrote herself. And what an inspiration to her friends as well. The message is: don't worry about gatekeepers - ignore them! Your success in life isn't going to be determined by the decision of an admissions officer or HR manager - technology gives you the tools to create and spread your art.

There are few better ways to understand literature than to write a novel yourself. These kids who are writing books are learning a lot more from writing than they are in English class. They are forced to get a character into and out of a room; to come up with dialogue; to describe a scene. I'll bet they are far more attentive to what they read in school that their peers. Because they are looking for tricks they can use.

Yet the gatekeepers, who don't understand that the world has changed, object:

But others see the blurring of the line between publishing and self-publishing as a lost opportunity to teach children about adversity and perseverance.

My rough translation of this point of view into plain English is:

We want to ensure children understand that they need to wait for approval from authority. If we start teaching children that they can accomplish their dreams without waiting for the permission of a gatekeeper, how are we ever going to get them to work in a factory?

Here is my favorite quote of the article:

Alan Rinzler, a publishing industry veteran who now works with writers as an editorial consultant, suggested parents hire a professional editor like him to work with their child to tear a manuscript apart and help make it better.

Mr. Rinzler calls to mind a manuscript illuminator complaining about the new printing press.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Vocabulary adoption seen through the lens of network effects and technology

In this week's New York Review of Books, I came across the following phrase in Joseph Lelyveld's review of "The Alamanac of American Politics 2012:

For the Republicans, this was "their best showing since the election of 1946," the psephologist - the fancy term for analysts of polls and elections - Michael Barone tells us in the introduction to the latest edition of the biennial manual he has been editing for four decades.

When I read that unfamiliar word psephologist, I noticed that I started thinking about whether I should bother to learn the term.

And my thought process was similar to the one I go through when I consider whether to join a social network or use a piece of technology that exhibits network effects.

While I like the word, and particularly the etymology (it was coined in 1952, based on the Greek word for pebbles, which the Greeks placed in urns to vote), if few other people are familiar with the word (i.e., using the technology), then it won't be very useful.

In fact, using the word could have some negative value, since people might consider me pretentious if I use it with a straight face. Note the apologetic "fancy term" with which Lleyveld introduces his definition.

As I evaluated whether to adopt this word (technology), I was also thinking about whether it solves a problem. And I decided that it doesn't. The terms "poll analyst" and "election analyst" might be clumsier technology, but they are legacy systems with insignificant maintenance costs and the protocol of those terms is accepted by all the other users I interface with.

Opportunity cost of watching television: $7 trillion per year

As I mentioned yesterday, Americans spend 2.7 hours per day watching television. That's 18.9 hours per week. Or 950 hours per year.

A thumbrule is that a person on a 40 hour week works 1860 hours per year.

So the amount of time we spend watching television is equal to about half the amount of time spent working.

The GDP of the U.S. is about $14 trillion.

Now I realize that GDP depends on the input of capital, not just labor.

But as a first-order approximation, the opportunity cost of watching tv seems to be something approaching $7 trillion.

What to do in Paris with young kids - advice from a local

A guest post by my friend Wissam Kahi, who has just launched an iPhone app called StreetEchoes that lets you post and view content from others about wherever you happen to be.

Wissam and his wife live in Paris with their two children and provided these suggestions on fun activities for kids in the city:

Our children are ages three and one. Below are some suggestions that we typically do with them:

- the doll museum (musee de la poupee) this is right behind the Pompidou center in Paris 3rd
- the aquarium at Trocadero (by the Trocsdero square)
- the playground le Poussin Vert at the Luxembourg gardens (!)
- playgrounds on the territory of Notre Dame (big swing, sandbox, small swings)
- Jardin d'acclimatation with a ride on the choo-choo train (!) (this is in Neuilly right outside Paris)
- playgrounds in the Jardin des Truilleries - for the older child, look the black trampelines

For the 7-year old, I think he or she would also enjoy musee de la villette (in la villette) and musee de la decouverte (close to the Grand Palais in the 8th).

One thing we've found children enjoy as well is the bateau Mouche on the Seine. It's also fun to stroll with them on the highway by the Seine which becomes pedestrian on Sundays.

And then of course there's Eurodisney :)

How to start and run your own consulting firm

On Tuesday, April 17 at 7:30PM I'll be giving a talk sponsored by the Management Consulting Association at Columbia Business School on how you can successfully start and run your own consulting firm. Food will be served. The talk will be held at Columbia Business School in Uris 141.

Topics to be covered:
+ How to prepare for this career path while still in business school and then while in a job after business school (jumping right from an MBA to running your own firm is possible, but tougher)
+ Practical factors of setting up your own firm
+ How to generate business for your firm

The event is free but registration is required. CBS alumni are welcome to join. Register here:

If you aren't a CBS alum but would like to attend, email me at RSVP -AT-

If you can't attend in person, check back on this blog. I'll be posting my slides from the talk within a few days of April 17.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Keeping hot food hot in a student's school lunch

Just (re)learned this trick:

If you are sending your kid to school with hot food in a thermos and you want to keep the hot food hot until lunchtime, then heat up the inside of the thermos with boiling water before you put the hot food in.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The How of Happiness - summary of twelve activities proven to work

The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubormirsky is a great book on the findings of positive psychology. It discusses what activities and habits have actually been shown to increase your happiness level.

For quick reference, here is a list of the 12 activities discussed in the book that research has demonstrated will increase your happiness. Lyubormirsky says that you don't need to do all these activities to be happy, and should choose the ones you think that you'll be able to adhere to over the longer term.

1. Expressing Gratitude
Cultivating an attitude of gratitude has been shown in studies to have a range of effects that surprise a skeptic (i.e., me) including improved physical health outcomes. A few methods to try: maintain a gratitude journal, set aside fixed time each week to consider your blessings, directly express your gratitude. One specific idea: send a postcard to the general manager at the last hotel you stayed at, thanking the front desk and housekeeping staff (by name, if possible.)

2. Cultivating Optimism
Study participants were asked to spend twenty minutes on four consecutive days writing a narrative description of their "best possible future selves." These study participants showed a sustained lift in mood compared to a control group that just spent 20 minutes writing about events in their lives. A few methods to try: Keep a best possible selves diary; keep a goals and subgoals diary; identify pessimistic thoughts and consciously replace them with positive thoughts. Some questions to ask to challenge your pessimistic thoughts:
+ What else could this situation or experience mean?
+ Can anything good come from it?
+ Does it present any opportunities for me?
+ What lessons can I learn and apply to the future?
+ Did I develop any strengths as a result?

3. Avoiding Overthinking
Research suggests that when you are feeling depressed that ruminating about your troubles hurts and doesn't help. A few ideas to stop overthinking and avoid social comparisons: set aside thirty minutes each day to ruminate about your problems and then during the rest of the day tell yourself you can ruminate during the scheduled time; write it down; talk to a friend; identify the triggers that activate your rumination and avoid them.

4. Practicing Acts of Kindness
If you want to get the most personal benefit out of your kindness, the recommendation is to focus on both the timing and the nature of your acts of kindness. In research, people who did five additional acts of kindness on one day during the week got more benefit that folks who did one additional act of kindness each day. The study participants who mixed it up and did a wide variety of random acts of kindness felt happier than those who did the same old acts of kindness each week.

5. Nurturing Social Relationships
Lyubomirsky mentions a book by John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, as a sound guide with tested principles on how to nurture the relationship within a marriage. A few unsurprising highlights: make time to talk; express admiration, appreciation, and affective; respond actively and constructively to the good news of your partner.
Also, focus on nurturing your relationships with friends.

6. Developing Strategies for Coping
One tip is to identify the benefit in trauma through writing or conversing. I imagine this could be pretty difficult in cases of the most painful trauma in life, such as the loss of a loved one.

7. Learning to Forgive
Research confirms what Buddha said: "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting your hand burned."
Are you still holding a grudge against someone? Whom could you forgive today? First, try imagining what forgiveness would feel like. Try writing a letter of forgiveness, even if you aren't ready to send it. Research indicates that those who forgive are happier and have better health outcomes.

8. Increasing Flow Experiences
The term 'flow' was coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (chick-SENT-me-hi). See his book Flow. Find activities were you are so absorbed in what you are doing that you don't notice time passing.

9. Savoring Life's Joys
Consciously savor those good times. Relish ordinary experiences (a hug from your child, holding hands with your spouse, walking to work on a sunny morning.) Savor and reminisce with family and friends. Transport yourself to a positive memory and relive it. Replay happy days. Celebrate good news. Notice beauty and excellence in your everyday life. Be mindful. Take pleasure in the senses. Create a savoring album. Savor with your camera. Write about it.

10. Committing to Your Goals
Research supports the idea that "people who strive for something personally significant, whether it's learning a new craft, changing careers, or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don't have strong dreams or aspirations."
Tip: it is better to phrase your goal as an "approach goal", that is, working towards something like trying to be fit, rather than an "avoidance goal" such as not being overweight.
Tip #2: People get more happiness out of an "activity goal" such as biking once a week than a "situation goal" such as having a new house or moving to a new city.
Tip #3: Write down your goals. Break them down into baby steps, so you can see yourself accomplishing sub-goals and making progress.

11. Practicing Religion and Spirituality
For those who are religious, this one is straightforward. But you don't need to believe in God or a god to get the benefits. Lyubomirsky defines sprituality as "the search for the sacred - that is, a search for meaning in life through something that is larger than the individual self."

12. Taking Care of Your Body (Meditation, Physical Activity, Acting Like a Happy Person)
If you are depressed, don't wait to feel better before you start working out. Get moving. The science shows that people who start exercising show improved attitudes, are more creative and less depressed.
Also, start meditating. It has a wealth of benefits. No need for fancy meditation training. Just sit quietly, close your eyes, and follow your breath. When your attention wanders, don't beat yourself up, just bring your focus back to your breath. I suggest using an alarm to let you know when the time is up. I added a Tibetan bell ringtone to my iPhone as the alarm to end my practice.

HP Envy function key "action mode"

The HP Envy laptop comes with an unfortunate default for the function keys. In the default mode, if you want the function key to work as a function key, you have to hold down the "fn" key before pressing the applicable function key, F1 to F12.

If you don't hold down the "fn" key, the function key operates in "action mode." For example, the F2 key dims the screen.

To toggle back to the way a regular computer operates, follow these instructions:

To disable, or enable, the function key (fn) in the BIOS, do the following steps.
a. Press the power button to turn on the computer.
b. Press the f10 key to open the BIOS setup window.
c. Use the right-arrow or left-arrow keys to navigate to the System Configuration option.Use the up-arrow or down-arrow keys to navigate to the Action Keys Mode option, and then press the enter key to display the Enable / Disable menu.
d. Select the desired mode:
Disabled : Requires pressing fn key + f1 through f12 to use the action as indicated on the action key.
For example, if Disabled , pressing fn + f11 will mute the sound as indicated on the key on this model PC. Alternatively, pressing f11 only will minimize and maximize a web browser if open.
The action keys may vary depending on the model of notebook.
Enabled : Requires pressing only f1 through f12 to use the action as indicated on the action keys.
For example, if Enabled , pressing f11 only will mute the sound as indicated on the key on this model PC. Alternatively, pressing fn + f11 will minimize and maximize a web browser if open.
The action keys may vary depending on the model of notebook.
Press f10 key to save the selection and restart the computer.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Harvard Business Review on the rise of independent professionals

The "Big Idea" in the May 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review is about the rise of independent professionals, written by Jody Miller, the CEO of Business Talent Group.

The full text of the article is temporarily available for free to non-subscribers (I'm not sure how long the link will work.)

Business Talent Group has some truly top-notch consultants in their talent pool. Here is one fine example.

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