October 31, 2013

Pain is Relative

I've always found it a little strange when the doctor (or nurse) asks you, "On a scale of 0 to 10, how much pain are you in?"


Because pain (like many emotions) is relative to our understanding of it. 

To me, when someone says a 10 for pain, I think of someone under the most excruciating pain--like when someone, G-d forbid, is being tortured. 

However, someone else may think of 10 as just being really sick and uncomfortable. 

That's why I like this graphic that is used to level-set what each number in the scale represents. 

Using this simple graphic, our definition of pain is not purely subjective, but rather each person can look at the faces and expressions and see how they relate to them. 

Of course, the goal on the right for zero pain is a great goal, even if not always achievable. 

In a sense this is a very basic personal architecture--where you have your "as-is" on the scale and your "to-be" which is your goal. 

Then the doctor and patient work together to figure out a transition plan on how to get there (medicine, rehabilitation, healthier living, etc.). 

While pain is usually just a symptom, it is a beginning to get at the root cause of what is bothering us and needs to be fixed. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

October 27, 2013

Divine Light and The Soul Of Man

I took this picture today in the nursing home. 

It hangs over the memorial of names for people that have passed. 

The saying as translated here from Proverbs is: "The Divine light illuminates the soul of man."

But the meaning of the hebrew words themselves are more like: The light of G-d is the soul of man.

What is a person's soul?

- Their consciousness.

- The knowledge of right and wrong.

- The part of us that yearns to learn, grow, and be better. 

- The part of a human being which is eternal 

- The part of a person that can be reunited with loved ones in the afterlife. 

- The part of a person that can be resurrected (to try again).

- The spiritual, inner, real you!

G-d breathed into man life. 

The physical body is the shell, the exoskeleton, and the vehicle that houses our soul. 

The soul is the part of us that drives the vehicle, that makes decisions--good or bad, that navigates the world, and that expresses emotion from the depths of our inner being. 

Our soul loves, cares for, empathizes and has mercy on others or it can be angry, jealous, hateful, and cruel--these are expressed through our bodily actions. 

G-d's light is powerful indeed--and inside each and every one of us--it powers us to do good or bad, depending on how we take care of the gift. 

Do we let ourselves run rampart driven by carnal wants and desires or do we elevate these impulses and use these to serve our master through good deeds and selflessness? 

The divine light illuminates who we are and can be.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

October 26, 2013

Smartphones, Dumb People

On the Street in Washington, D.C., there is this circular sign on the ground.

It says: "Look up! Watch where you are walking."

This is a good reminder, especially on the corner, right before you step off and possibly walk into some ongoing traffic.

People get distracted walking and even texting while driving and they can have big accidents because of this. 

But an article by Christine Rosen in the Wall Street Journal takes this notion quite a bit further. 

She proposes that people are so busy on their smartphones and tablets that they are either "oblivious to their surroundings" or more likely to want to film emergencies rather than get involved and help someone in trouble. 

She has examples including in December 2012, when a freelance photographer took a photo of a man run over by a train instead of trying to help him off the tracks. 

However, I am not convinced that it is the computing devices that make people into "apathetic bystanders" or "cruel voyeurs" any more than the salons in the Wild West made people into alcoholics, gunslingers, and patronizers of prostitutes. 

Let's face it, people are who they are.  

Things do not make us do bad, but lack of self-control and base impulses, poor moral upbringings, brain chemistry and brainwashing, and psychological problems and disorders cause people to behave in antisocial and immoral ways. 

If people weren't filming someone being attacked on the subway, then very likely they would be running out at the next available stop or changing cars as soon as they could get that middle door opened. 

Those helpful people, good samaritans, and even heroes among us, are not there because they left their iPhones at home that day, but because their conscience tells them that it's the right thing to do, and perhaps that they would want someone to help them or their family member if the situation was reversed. 

People like to blame a lot of things on technology, but saying that we are "losing our sense of duty to others because of it" is absurd. 

The technology doesn't make the person; the person makes the technology!" ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

I Like To Be Clean!

This was funny but in a gross type of way. 

Bathroom doorknobs are notorious for being germy. 

In this case, there was a little bit of tissue paper that someone left on the knob--I know ick!

Apparently someone got fed up with the grossness of this, so they put up a sign--it says:

"I have been here for two weeks. Can you clean me?  It like to be clean!"

But that's not all. 

A day later, the note was gone, but that little piece of grossness was still there. 

Howie Mandel, please help us! ;-)

October 25, 2013

Rock Into Space

Very excited by news in the Wall Street Journal on advances for Space Tourism. 

Paragon Space Development Corp is developing a space helium-filled balloon to take us into the wild-blue (and black) yonder. 

The balloon will be as wide as a football field.

It will transport 8 people to an altitude of 18 miles, high enough to move around for about 6 hours and get a "panoramic view of the globe without having to wear space suits of don oxygen masks."

The cost will be about $75,000 per person--which seems almost doable for middle class folks who want the ultimate travel experience. 

In contrast, Virgin Galactic will rocket passengers 60 miles high where customers can experience weightlessness for about $250,000. 

Other ventures are developing offerings of trips to the International Space Station, an orbiting hotel, and even the moon. 

I think it would be so awesome to experience space travel and see G-d's creations in a whole new perspective-filled way. 

It's amazing, we are so small in the realm of things, yet we fallaciously think we are so big. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

October 24, 2013

Performance and Transparency - 2gether 4ever

Really liked this performance measurement and transparency at Home Depot.

Here are their store performance measures prominently displayed.

Not a high-tech solution, but every measure has its place and metrics. 

- Looks at friendly customer service.

- Tracks speed of checkout.

- Measures accuracy of transactions.

This lines up well with the management adage that "you can't manage what you don't measure."

Some pointers:

- Identify, collaboratively, your key drivers of performance

- Determine whether/how you can measure them efficiently (i.e. qualitatively, quantitatively)

- Set realistic, stretch targets for the organization

- Communicate the goals and measures, 360 degrees

- Regularly capture the measures and make the metrics transparent

- Recognize and reward success and course correct when necessary

- Reevaluate measures and goals over time to ensure they are still relevant 

Wash, rinse, repeat for continuous improvement. ;-)

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)

October 23, 2013

Healthcare.gov - Yes, Yes, and Yes

Healthcare.gov was rolled out on October 1. 

Since then there has been lots of bashing of the site and finger-pointing between government overseers and contractors executing it. 

Some have called for improvements down the line through further reform of government IT.

Others have called for retribution by asking for the resignation of the HHS Secretary Sebelius. 

Publication after publication has pointed blame at everything from/to:

- A labyrinth government procurement process

- Not regularly using IT best practices like shared services, open source, cloud computing, and more

- An extremely large and complex system rollout with changing requirements

And the answer is yes, yes, and yes. 

Government procurement is complex and a highly legislated functional area where government program managers are guided to hiring small, disadvantaged, or "best value"  contract support through an often drawn-out process meant to invoke fairness and opportunity, while the private sector can hire the gold standard of who and what they want, when they want, period. 

Government IT is really a partnership of public and private sector folks that I would image numbers well in the hundreds of thousands and includes brand name companies from the esteemed defense and aerospace industries to small innovators and entrepreneurs as well as a significant number of savvy government IT personnel. Having worked in both public and private sector, I can tell you this is true--and that the notion of the government worker with the feet up and snoozing is far from the masses of truth of hardworking people, who care about their important mission serving the public. That being said, best practices in IT and elsewhere are evolving and government is not always the quickest to adopt these. Typically, it is not bleeding edge when it comes to safety and security of the public, but more like followers--sometimes fast, but more often with some kicking and screaming as there is seemingly near-constant change, particularly with swirling political winds and shifting landscapes, agendas, lobbyists, and stakeholders wanting everything and the opposite. 

Government rollout for Healthcare.gov was obviously large and complex--it "involves 47 different statutory provisions and extensive coordination," and impacted systems from numerous federal agencies as well as 36 state governments using the services. While rollouts from private sector companies can also be significant and even global, there is often a surgical focus that goes on to get the job done. In other words, companies choose to be in one or another business (or multiple businesses) as they want or to spin off or otherwise dislodge from businesses they no longer deem profitable or strategic.  In the government, we frequently add new mission requirements (such as the provision of universal healthcare in this case), but hardly ever take away or scale back on services. People want more from the government (entitlements, R&D, secure borders, national security, safe food and water, emergency response, and more), even if they may not want to pay for it and seek the proverbial "smaller government" through less interference and regulation. 

Is government IT a walk in the park, believe me after having been in both the public and private sectors that it is not--and the bashing of "cushy," federal jobs is a misnomer in so many ways. Are there people that take advantage of a "good, secure, government job" with benefits--of course there are some, but I think those in the private sector can look in the offices and cubes next to them and find quite a number of their colleagues that would fit that type of stereotype as well.

We can learn a lot from the private sector in terms of best practices, and it is great when people rotate from the private sector to government and vice versa to cross-pollinate ideas, processes, and practices, but the two sectors are quite different in mission, (often size and complexity), constituents, politics, and law--and not everything is a slam dunk from one to the other. However, there are very smart and competent people as well as those who can do better in both--and you fool yourself perhaps in your elitism if you think this is not the case. 

Are mistakes made in government IT--definitely yes. Should there be accountability to go with the responsibility--absolutely yes. Will we learn from our mistakes and do better in the future--the answer must be yes. ;-)

October 22, 2013

One Sick Pumpkin

I took this photo in Washington, D.C.

Pumpkins are out this year all over town. 

This one was funny sitting on the chair and feeling a little nauseous apparently. 

So much for trick or treat! 

The garbage can on the immediate left seems to be feeling the better. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

October 20, 2013

Going For Gravity

A good friend told me to go see the movie Gravity.

He said, "You'll definitely like it, and make sure you see it in IMAX!"

G-d, I don't recall the last time that I went to an IMAX showing. 

So keeping in the mind the saying, "try it and you'll like it," we went for the $19.00 IMAX 3D experience. 

(OMG, I still remember when movies in NYC were $1!) 

I was hesitant about this movie having heard that there were only 2 characters, and that 1 was Sandra Bullock!

Also, that she was the only one left for the second half of the movie--and I thought how interesting is this going to be?

Okay, I told myself, I'll get excited by the action and destruction in the first half with Clooney and sleep through the second half with Bullock. 

But it was so much better than I anticipated--one of the best movie experiences for me ever!

The IMAX 3D was absolutely amazing...only thing better would've been a massive in-your-face hologram of the whole movie--and I bet this comes one day soon.

The space walks, hurling space debris, exploding space stations and daring escapes was right there and up close in this movie.

I found myself at times reaching my hands out to practically touch the characters--since they seemed that close. 

And Bullocks tears floating in space--were very moving and cool at the same time. 

Bullock is going to win a ton of awards for her performance in Gravity. 

Oh, and one more funny experience was when a lady told this guy in the theatre to hush, and when he didn't listen, she kicked his chair.

But that wasn't the end of it...

After she kicked it a few times, he turned around grabbed her shoe right off of her foot and then threw it at her. 

She ran out of the theatre to get security. 

Security told them both to cut it out, and then I heard the guards outside laughing about these two quarreling theatre-goers. 

Anyway, I didn't sleep a wink in this movie, and enjoyed the whole experience. ;-)

(Source Photo: Rebecca Blumenthal)

October 19, 2013

What A Split!

I guess people are getting into the Halloween spirit early this year. 

Aside from the body in the trunk, this guy or gal is either a yoga guru, they weigh like 1,000 pounds and are as big as a Subaru Outback, or they have been split in half (and this is a crime scene)!

It reminds me of, as a kid, reading the Guinness Book of World Records about the fattest man, Robert Earl Hughes, that was buried in a coffin the size of a piano case, although at the time, I thought he was actually buried in a piano case. 

Either way, this is a ghoulish picture, indeed. ;-)

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)

What If They Can Read Our Redactions?

The New Yorker has a fascinating article about technology advances being made to un-redact classified text from government documents. 

Typically, classified material is redacted from disclosed documents with black bars that are technologically "burnt" into the document.

With the black bars, you are not supposed to be able to see/read what is behind it because of the sensitivity of it. 

But what if our adversaries have the technology to un-redact or un-burn and autocomplete the words behind those black lines and see what it actually says underneath?

Our secrets would be exposed!  Our sensitive assets put at jeopardy!

Already a Columbia University professor is working on a Declassification Engine that uses machine learning and natural language processing to determine semantic patterns that could give the ability "to predict content of redacted text" based on the words and context around them. 

In the case, declassified information in the document is used in aggregate to "piece together" or uncover the material that is blacked out. 

In another case prior, a doctoral candidate at Dublin City University in 2004, used "document-analysis technologies" to decrypt critical information related to 9/11. 

This was done by also using syntax or structure and estimating the size of the word blacked out and then using automation to run through dictionary words to see if it would fit along with another "dictionary-reading program" to filter the result set to the likely missing word(s). 

The point here is that with the right technology redacted text can be un-redacted. 

Will our adversaries (or even allies) soon be able to do this, or perhaps, someone out there has already cracked this nut and our secrets are revealed?

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Newspaper Club)

Eyes Wide Shut

It is the first and foremost duty of every nation to protect its people and safeguard the values upon which it stands.

Therefore, as I watch the news unfold every day, I am left incredulous at some of our actions that seem to defy this basic notion.

Maybe, I am not seeing the bigger picture, but…

A dozen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks by “fundamentalists,” “extremists,” and our declared “War on Terrorism,” we, by our actions, seem to be supporting (tacitly and at times more overtly) those very same extremists that seek our destruction.

Here are some examples:

1) IRAN – Relations thaw and we begin reconciliation with arch enemy Iran (the #1 world sponsor of terrorism) and consider removing sanctions and even considering to allow nuclear capability to remain Iran leaving long time allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE scratching their heads, and Iranians still shouting “Death to America!”

2) SYRIA – We ostensibly support and arms rebels in Syria, yet these rebels fighting Assad (who is no great character himself and allegedly uses chemical weapons on his own people) are aligned with large elements of extremists to include designated terror organization Hezbollah fighting in the thousands in Syria, as well as arch-enemy Al Qaeda!

3) EGYPT - The Egyptian military overthrows Morsi and the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood (aligned with designated terrorist organization Hamas) and the military resumes protection of non-Muslims, including the Christian community, yet we penalize Egypt and withhold military aid to those who just reestablished secular government.

4) IRAQ – We overthrow the Sunni-government of Saddam Hussein, a counterweight (albeit a ruthless dictator) to Iran’s fundamentalist Shiite leadership, and thereby create a virtual greater Shiite Kingdom in the Middle East, and then we pull out our military abandoning gains that were hard fought with the blood of our military men and women and gold from our national treasury.

5) LIBYA – We provide scant support for the overthrow of terrorist dictator Gaddafi, and when fundamentalists attack and kill our Ambassador and others in Benghazi, our military response is muted and the attackers continue to roam free, rather than be speedily tracked down “dead or alive.”

We are a principled nation based on democracy, diversity, and human rights, and we have led the world in greatness towards those ideals.

We can win the peace through the righteousness of our cause, but as with Hitler, there is no placating avowed enemies of the ideals of freedom.

Why abandon longtime friends and allies, and coddle terrorists and those that seek the destruction of our nation and way of life?

"All that is needed for the forces of evil to Triumph is for enough good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Eneas De Troya)


October 18, 2013

Mr. Universe of Leadership

A colleague at work told me about a book called Compelling People by Neffinger and Kohut.

The thesis of the book is that the most effective and powerful leaders balance projecting strength and warmth.

If you just show strength, then you would potentially be seen as dictatorial, a micromanager, unapproachable, all work and no personality, and maybe even a tyrant.

And if you just project warmth, then you would likely be seen as wimpy, emotional but not intellectual/skilled, managing by friendship and not professionally, and not focused on results. 

That's why combining and projecting a healthy balance of strength and warmth is effective in leading towards mission results, but also in being a "mensch" and caring for the people you work with. 

You can't have sustained strong performance without a happy workforce.

And you can't have a happy workforce without strength to achieve meaningful work performance.

In funny, but in a sense Arnold Schwarzenegger is a good example of someone who combines the two. 

On one hand, he represents the big and strong "Mr. Universe," and was able to play in numerous action movies, such as Terminator, Predator, Conan The Barbarian, and more.

At the same time, Schwarzenegger always had a warm, softer side and stared in comedies like Kindergarten Cop, Twins (as the intellectual twin of street-wise Danny Devito), and Junior (where he undergoes a male pregnancy!).

While no one is good at everything and it can be hard to effectively balance strength and warmth, leaders that master this can become the real Mr. Universe for their organizations and people. ;-)

(Source Photo: Left from Andy Blumenthal and Right from here with attribution to Eva Rinaldi)


October 14, 2013

Picture Frames For The Computer Geek In U

Found these 2 interesting pictures frames.

They seem the perfect gift for that computer geek in your life.

The one on the left looks like a memory or circuit board in the computer.

While the one on the right is made from a recycled keyboard. 

I like that they are both made from recycled material and of course, the computer theme. 

While not exactly the computer geek, I think they are very cool, indeed. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Listening Beyond The Superficial

"I know you hear me, but are you listening to me?"

That's something one of my teachers used to say to the class back in yeshiva day school. 

The New York Times reports on a company that is pioneering the study of "Emotional Analytics."

Beyond Verbal is helping to "reach beyond the verbal" and listen for mood, attitude, and personality of the speaker. 

The point is that if you listen carefully, you can decode a person's mood--almost like a "human emotional genome."

Beyond Verbal can already identify "400 variations" of emotions not based on the words chosen, but rather based on the tone and frequency of use. 

For example, is the person telling you over and over again about a products problems--and are they getting annoyed that you aren't getting it!

Through a speech analytics engine that examines patterns of verbal use, we can classify whether a person is dissatisfied, escalating, and so on.

This can be extremely useful, for example, in call centers that service (perhaps some irate) customers.

Also, speech analytics could help us with uncovering deception from terrorists or moles in the government by detecting threatening or nervous emotions that the subjects are trying to hide. 

Potentially, this software could be helpful in our personal lives as well in terms of identifying the context and providing the E.I. (emotional intelligence) to understand what a person is r-e-a-l-l-y saying to us, rather than just perhaps the superficial words themselves. 

If we can not only hear someone else, but listen better and perceive more precisely what they are trying to tell us and what they are feeling, then we can problem-solve and resolve situations better and more quickly.

Software like this could definitely help keep me out of the doghouse at home. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

October 13, 2013

Higher, Higher

Took the girls to Sky Zone today.

It's an indoor trampoline extravaganza. 

The kids had a great time--jumping around, doing acrobatics, bumping off the trampoline walls, and even playing trampoline dodgeball. 

I got left holding the bag (literally!)--all their handbags and stuff. 

Thank G-d, I was able to lose myself in the fun and photography. ;-)

(Source Video: Andy Blumenthal)

Shortsighted Government Is Selfish Politics

So I am at the pool today in Maryland. 

This old man--looks about 100, yes really!--comes up to me and starts a conversation. 

He says, you know what--my friend in California is 99-years old and he just got his driver's license renewed--for 5 years!

Imagine that--can the State of California with confidence really issue a 5-year driver's license to someone at that age and believe that both the drivers' safety and public safety is provided for?

Yes, the problems at the Federal government level are ginormous--the national debt, the level of social entitlements, the "true" unemployment rate, the poverty level, our failing healthcare system, and more. 

Still we cannot forget that some of the most important services that citizens get are at the State and Local levels of government--police, fire & rescue, transportation, community development, family planning, and more. 

For government to function effectively--we need all levels to act rationally, responsibly, and with care for the people in mind--both short-term and long-term. 

Issuing 5-year driver's license to 99-year old individuals can have a devastating impact on someone family if that person loses control of their vehicle due to their physical or mental condition.

Similarly, issuing social entitlements (and they may indeed be needed) without a realistic plan for funding the system is irresponsible and can have a catastrophic impact to families around the nation when the system comes up short.

Government has to run with common sense--and stop setting up rules that are shortsighted and blind to the bigger picture. 

Yes, people deserve to drive and to have medical care and so forth, but politicians should set up these systems, so that the people are really served, and not just their political agendas. ;-)

(Source Video: Michelle Blumenthal)

October 12, 2013

Total CIO Fighting Off The Zombies

I can't wait for The Walking Dead, Season 4. 

It all starts tomorrow night--9 pm on AMC.

Got my bow, ax, shotgun, and friends from the show.

Kill those Zombies! ;-)

Parole By Analytics

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about parole boards using software to predict repeat offenders before letting someone go free. 

What used to be a decision based on good behavior during time served, showing remorse to the parole board, and intuition is being augmented with "automated assessments" that include inmate interviews, age of first arrest, type of crime, and so forth.

At least 15 states have adopted "modern risk assessment methods" to determine the potential for recidivism. 

Individuals are marked as higher risk if they are:

- Young--age 18-23 (and impulsive)
- Offense was drug-related
- Suspended or expelled from school
- Quit a job prior to having another one 
- Single or separated
- Diagnosed with a mental disorder
- Believes that it's not possible to overcome their past. 

Surprisingly, violent criminals (rapists and murders) are actually considered lower risk those guilty of nonviolent property crimes--the thinking being the someone convicted of robbery is more likely to repeat the criminal behavior because the crime is one that "reflects planning and intent."

Honestly, I think it is more than ridiculous that we should rank violent criminals less risky than thieves and release them because they had what is considered an "emotional outburst."

Would you rather have some thieves back on the street or murders and rapists--rhetorical question!

But it just shows that even the best of systems that are supposed to help make better decisions--can instead be misused or abused.

This happens when there is either bad data (such as from data-entry mistakes, deceptive responses, and missing relevant information) or from poorly designed decision rules/algorithms are applied.

The Compas system is one of the main correctional software suites being used, and the company Northpointe (a unit of Volaris) themselves advise that officials should "override the system's decisions at rates of 8% to 15%."

While even a 1/7 error rate may be an improvement over intuition, we need to still do better, especially if that 1 person commits a violent hideous crime that hurts someone else in society, and this could've been prevented. 

It's certainly not easy to expect a parole board to make a decision of whether to let someone out/free in 20 minutes, but think about the impact to someone hurt or killed or to their family, if the wrong decision is made. 

This is a critical governance process that needs:

- Sufficient time to make important decisions
- More investment in tools to aid the decision process
- Refinement of the rules that support release or imprisonment
- Collection of a broad base of interviews, history, and relevant data points tied to repeat behavior
- Validation of information to limit deception or error.

Aside from predicting whether someone is likely to be repeat offenders, parole boards also need to consider whether the person has been both punished in accordance with the severity of the crime and rehabilitated to lead a productive life going forward. 

We need to decide people's fates fairly for them, justly for the victims, and safely for society--systems can help, but it's not enough to just "have faith in the computer." ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

October 11, 2013

The G-d Watch - Live With The End In Mind

I used to have this manager who was within a couple of years of retirement.

She kept a jar of beans on her desk. 

Each bean represented one day of work. 

And every day, she would take one bean out of the jar. 

This was her way of counting down to the end of her career (and the beginning of her retirement).

Anyway, trust me when I say, that we were counting down too--even without the beans. :-)

At work, some people may even say of someone just hanging on or just hanging-out waiting to retire that they are Retired In Place (RIP)--a pun, on rest in peace. 

Uh, not funny, but when people know the end is coming (either for career or their life), they often change their behavior--they focus on what what's coming next. 

With the end of career, perhaps they are imaging sunny skies, palm trees, and margaritas in retirement.

And with end of life, people are often thinking about judgement day--and how they spent their lives: in love or hate, purposeful or without direction, doing good or taking advantage.

So it's very interesting to me how this company, Tikker (funny name, as a watch often makes the sound tick-tock, but also a person's heart is referred to as a ticker), developed a watch (the Death Watch) that not only provides the time, but actually counts down--years, months, days, and even hours, minutes, and seconds--not that they can be so precise--to your expected death. 

The watch is supposed to give people new perspective and encourage them to live a better life.

Someone who is going to purchase the watch fills out a questionnaire with information on family health history, age gender, and race, and then they get their estimated date of death, for the countdown! 

With the DOD (date of death), we now know what we are dealing with--for better or worse--and of course, subject to change, by the One Above.

But like the boss looking to retirement who took out a bean a day from the jar, we too can look towards our own mortality--not in a sad way, but in a fundamental human way--one that guides us, with the end in mind, to make better decisions for the time we have in life. 

Despite, what almost every young person seems to believe, we are not immortal--and the stupid things we do when we are young or throughout of lives comes back to haunt us (whether smoking, drinking, overeating, or other bad stuff). 

And so we must choose to live every moment, not as if we have forever, but rather with purpose, passion, and poetry--until the clock runs out on all of us, as it inevitably will.

October 10, 2013

Halo Arrives To Our Warfighters

So excited about the Army's experimental Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS). 

This is really our fast, strong, and agile fighting force of the future. 

The integration of technologies for the individual warfighter, including sensors, exoskeleton body armor, weapon systems, communications, and monitoring of health and power makes this an unbelievable advance. 

I think the MIT research on magnetorheological fluids--which convert from liquid to solid body armor in milliseconds (sort of like Terminator 2) with a magnetic field or electric current (controlled, so the enemy doesn't bog down the forces) is a true game changer for balancing agility and force protection. 

In the future, I believe these suits will even incorporate capabilities to drive, dive, and fly. 

This will complement unmanned swarms of dumb drones with intelligent human fighters that will take the battlefield on Earth and beyond. ;-)

October 9, 2013

Think B4 U Speak

This was a sign hung in a local high school.

And thought this was pretty good. 

Think before you speak...

THINK = True + Helpful + Inspiring + Necessary + Kind

If it doesn't meet those criteria...shush, or in plain language--keep a lid on it! 

Remember, two ears and one mouth--so speak half as much as you listen. ;-)

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)

October 7, 2013

Looking At It From The Perspective Of Others

This was a funny sign hanging on a tree on one of the hiking trails. 

It's a deer and it says "Please Don't Kill Me!"

With it was a notice about hunters sparing the deer population. 

It's interesting that often we don't look at things from the perspective of others. 

In this case, the deer just wants to be free and alive--and is begging for his life. 

As people, we don't really think of what the deer wants or for that matter often what other people want--we just care about what we want.

Good to remember that we all have our perspective on life and that we should respect diversity of thinking, feeling, and being. 

Hey, and unless those deers are bothering you... ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Recognition Inspires

Thought this was really nice at Starbucks. 

A place to show respect and recognize your colleagues. 

How often to we take others for granted for what they do--oh, it's their job or as one boss used to say coldy and harshly that their employees' recognition is that they get a paycheck every 2 weeks!

But people are not machines--they have feeelings, they need to be motivated, inspired, and appreciated. 

And recognition doesn't just come from the chain of command, but from peers, customers, and other stakeholders. 

We can do a good deed simply be recognizing the hardwork that people make on our behalf, for the customer, or the organization more broadly. 

Taking people for granted is the easy way out.

But saying a genuine thank you and placing a card of recognition in the pocket of the posterboard or otherwise showing your appreciation with an award, a letter of gratitude, or telling people they "did good"--takes an extra effort, but one definitely worth it! ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

October 6, 2013

Fair Trade Principles Are Cool

So I was up in Harpers Ferry and discovered this cool boutique store called Tenfold

The store carries a collection of creative "fair trade," eco-friendly products from around the world. 

They had a cool variety of clothing and accessories--that was different and special. 

We all found something there to come back with and had to choose what we liked best. 

I ended up getting a couple of handmade ties from a company called Global Mamas in Ghana and the girls got some skirts (and necklaces) made by Unique Batik in Thailand. 

I liked the quality and design of the merchandise. 

But more than that, I was truly impressed by the principles these companies adhere to under fair trade:

- Alleviate poverty and social injustice
- Support open, fair, and respectful relationships between producers and customers
- Develop producers' skills, and foster access to markets, application of best practices, and independence, 
- Promote economic justice by improving living standards, health, education, and the distribution of power
- Pay promptly and fairly
- Support safe working conditions
- Protect children's rights
- Cultivate sustainable practices
- Respect cultural diversity

Note: Fair trade is not to be confused with free trade--the later being where government does not interfere with imports or exports by applying tariffs, subsidies, or quotas.

Truly, if we give people a chance to be productive under fair trade working conditions, they can make the world a little better one product at a time. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)


October 5, 2013

The Baconator

So I went to Cabin John Park in Rockville. 

In the park was this Baconator machine. 

It is a pig for collecting garbage (and not being a pig and trashing the park). 

When you press the bottom on the upper right, the pig tells you what to put inside--paper, cardboard, and soft drink cans, but not bottles or broken glass.

The kids seemed really curious about it, but also were sort of scared of it--especially when it says, "I'm hungry, hungry, hungry!"

The Baconator will eat your refuse, but then who would want to eat the Baconator?

Plus as my niece used to say when she was very little, "Piggy isn't kosher!" ;-)

(Source Video: Andy Blumenthal)

The Tron Cycle

This was one of the coolest motorcycles I've seen.

Decked out to look like the cycle in Tron.

Green neon lights under the wheels and engine made this a true sight to see. 

When it zoomed down the street, it was really like a science fiction vehicle.

Awesome sight tonight. ;-)

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)

Debt Default--Now Or Later

So reopening the government, narrowing our deficit spending, and raising the national debt ceiling is coming together in planned negotiations this week. 

Despite all the talk, we continue to spend beyond our national means and basically we must raise the debt ceiling or else the game of borrow and spend is over. 

Almost like insatiable gamblers, we use up our money at the table, head to the pawn shop to sell our watch and car to replenish for the next game, and then borrow against our credit card to fuel our addiction to the game some more. 

Eventually though the house always wins and the borrower must pay up (or they get their legs broken or something nasty like that). 

So while the question posed by the pundits this month is whether the U.S. will default on its debt now, the real question is whether a default is just a matter of time anyway--as we continue to spend more than we generate in revenue as a country. 

Sure can we raise the debt limit again--hey, why not borrow more, if others are willing enough to lend to us (and for little to no interest too)?  

And can we through sequestration or more surgical spending cuts, decrease the rate of our deficit spending--however actually balancing our budget is not even on the table anymore, as booming entitlements for Social Security and Medicare are expected soon with the aging baby boomers to drastically increase our spending again. 

The hope that we will somehow, magically grow our way out is fanciful thinking--almost rising to delusions of national grandeur--that just don't mathematically add up (since we have a median GDP growth rate over the last 80 years of just over 3%). 

Perhaps, we don't care if we can't pay our debts, because we are the superpower and what is anybody going to do to us about it anyway?  

Or perhaps, we rely as a backstop on our ability to print more money and pay off old borrowed sums with worthless new money galore?

Maybe it's not a default if no one acknowledges it or we just get away with it...but somehow, someway, no one and no country can spend more than it generates in perpetuity.

If you believe in the endless virtual cycle of borrow and spend, then the mind control program is working just great, indeed. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

October 4, 2013

Hold The Pickles, Hold The Lettuce--BABIES!

Remember, the catchy old Burger King commercial about "Have it your way"(where you can order the burger any way you want, no problem!)?

Now, we are reaching the point with DNA testing, where we can have it your way and order up babies the way you want them.

According to the Wall Street Journal, by getting genetic profiles of egg or sperm donors, you can search for a match with the genetic profile of the would-be parent to have a higher likelihood of desired traits (e.g. blue eyes) or lower likelihood of undesirable ones (e.g. heart disease). 

23andMe, a DNA company (Note: humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes) that sells home testing kits for $99, has patented a process for analyzing DNA and providing information on health and ancestry, and this could be used for system screening of egg or sperm donors through a tool called a "Family Traits Inheritance calculator."

Calculating better babies by choosing desired matches at fertility clinics is only steps away from actually making marriage decisions based on genetic make-up--in that scenario love is only one factor in choosing a mate and maybe not the primary any longer. 

The idea being to screen potential couples before marriage to yield "the best" potential children--smartest, athletic, good-looking, etc. 

There are already genetic banks for screening and capturing genetic information on potential couples to avoid genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs and others. 

While bioengineering children for better health is one thing, creating a blue-eye and blond-haired race was the Nazi's concept of an Aryan nation as a superior race that would dominate the world. 

The ethical questions of how to screen out illness without creating a situation like in China under a one-child policy, where male offspring are considered superior and so we proverbially tilt the odds in favor of what we think is best even if it may not really be. 

Neither a homogeneous superior race, nor a customized bioengineered baby is the answer--rather, we need to value healthy diversity in children, where each is a miracle and a blessing in their own right. ;-)