Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Should wearing sunscrean be legally mandated?

As we got into the car there was a Banana Republic commercial on the radio. P thought that was funny so I explained that it was the name of a clothing store, but, more importantly, what the meanting of that expressions was. Talking about banana republics reminded me of the Caribbean and of the missinformation I had given the kids about Bob Marley. I corrected it and explained that he died of skin cancer, not a drig overdose.

I said he probably spent lots of time on the Sun without sunscreen. The kids asked if wearing sunscreaning when on the Sun was the law. like wearing seatbelts. A said that it should be, since one would certainly get sunburned without sunscreen, while one might not get hurt from not wearing a seatbelt (unless one was in an accident). yet we all agreed enforcement would be too difficult, "of course I put sunscreen on this morning officer"... Maybe people should be forced to wear rashguards!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

negotiating and anchoring

Today we spoke about bargaining. How sometimes (as in the Bazar in Jerusalem) those selling start from a very high asking price and might make buyers feel great about the 50% (or even 90%) discount they are getting even though they are paying way too much. Anchoring... you start the negotations from an anchor and the other party measures his progress against it. Of course this technique can also be used by the buyers "you want 1000 shekels for that scarf? I'll give you 10...".

I told them your best friend when negotiating is information. If you know how much the seller paid for the item, you know what a reasonable price for it would be... And of course, if you know how much the buyer or sellers needs the deal, you know how much you can bargain...

Monday, December 15, 2008

behaving inside a car

Last night A & N got in trouble for fighting inside the car. A was furios at the punishment we gave him which he felt was unfair. Thinking about it I realized we punish them a lot in the car - relative to the limited amount of time that we spend in the car. I believe this is because the car is a confined space in which I am busy driving and can't take my time to deal with them. When they are fighting in the car I often need to to stop right away. This results in a warning followed by a punishment (when they don't stop their inapropriate behavior).

By contrast, we rarely punish them when we are in a park or even playing a board game in the living room. In those settings they can get away with much more... My advice to them this morning was to be more sensitive to their setting. Parents have much shorter fuses when we are driving a car than when we are playing in a park.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stick to What You Know

Today A has a dancing party. I told the kids the story of when I had a moving disco business during high school (in Venezuela). We would take our huge stereos, lights, music, etc. to parties and make pretty good money. It was the early eighties and we played disco music. We once got a call asking us if we played Salsa & Merengue. We said yes and were hired - but did not have a single merengue or salsa album. We went to a record store and bought a bunch of salsa and merengue records. As you might imagine, the party was a disaster. We had no clue about which songs to play, and, worst still, we didn't know that you don't mix one salsa song with the next (the way you do for disco). The lesson? Stick to what you know. For everyone's sake!

I sometimes get calls from prospective customers. They are willing to give me money, but I know they are not the "right" customers for me and I turn them down. It is hard turning business down, but it is sometimes the right thing to do. You don't want unhappy customers.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Leading by Example

Today we discussed the best way of teaching. Is it by talking? By showing? By letting the "students" practice for themselves? It obviously depends on the subject, but we agreed that a combination of showing and then having the students try for themselves - then receive feedback was usually a good approach. We also spoke about teaching by example: which Cindy & I try to do all the time with the kids. Turning off the lights when leaving a room, saying please & thank you, cleaning after ourselves, etc, etc.

I told them that there are a few things that I do which wouldn't set a good example [I will not discloses the specifics in this blog ;-)]. I make sure that if I have to do them, I do these things in private.

I wonder how long it will be until one of the kids scolds me for giving a bad example. Probably not long. Can I say "do as I say, not as I do"? We spoke about this a bit. It depends on the circumstances. I have no excuse for leaving my bedroom's light on, but there are good reasons (I think) for me to spend more time in front of my computer than we allow them to - or to go to bed later.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Yesterday I replaced the toner cartridges on my Brother laser printer. When I first opened the box for each cartrige I saw Brother's notice not to dump the used toners in landfill but to recycle them. My initial reaction was something like "easy to say, but what a hassle". But then I was pleasantly surprised to find a pre-paid postage sticker to send the used cartridges back to Brother (using the boxes from the new cartridges). I told this to the kids and described it as "putting your money where your mouth is". Brother shows real committment by spending money to help its customers recycle the cartridges. Of course, this is probably a smart investment as it should generate goodwill from customers (it sure did for me). We discussed a few other examples of following words with actions...

I mentioned to the kids that I would write about it in my blog, which might help the Brother brand - given than I have such a large audience (not). The kids wanted to know if Brother read all their customers' blogs. I explained that there are services that track online mentions of brands, althought with a brand such as Brother, they probably get lots of false positives.

[Later in the day my friend Joe suggested that Brother might reuse the cartridges, so that they might actually be saving money! Maybe, but they are still making it really easy for their customers to recycle...]

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Jury Duty

I had to report for jury duty today. We discussed what it is and why it is important. The kids asked if one got paid for it. I said no, and one probably should. I also suggested that jury judy should be voluntary.

We then joked a bit about ways to get oneself excused from trials that looked like they might take a long time. My favorite was not to bathe for a week... One has to be careful with what one says, as one is under oath and on public records...

As a matter of fact I got assigned to a trial that was estimated to last 3 weeks. I asked to be excused because I am going on a trip in two weeks. I was, but will have to return in 90 days. Maybe I wont bathe between now and then...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mahler's Second Symphony

Today I told the kids the story of Gilbert Kaplan, an economist who fell in love with Mahler's 2nd Symphony. He kept attending performances and learning about it. After a few years he was invited to conduct a private performance of the symphony and did such a good job that he then started to get offers to conduct major orchestras. He is now considered the best conductor of this symphony and its foremost expert. He bought the original score with Mahler's handwritten notes...

My take away for the kids: keep an eye open to the things that might inspire you. Even if they are not part of your "day job", they might become very important for you and a key source of satisfaction. They might even become your "day job". We spoke a bit as well about whether it is important to be very good at those things that we are passionate about. I said that only if being good was necessary to enjoy them. If you cannot enjoy something because you are not good at it, then you might want to look for something else. But if you enjoy it despite not being very talented at it, then that is what counts.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Explaining ourselves

One of the kids got invited to a sleepover at a classmate's - not really a friend. We didn't want him to go, and he wasn't crazy about going either. The reason, which I will not describe here, could have made the classmate feel bad. So I discussed with the kids what to do in situations such as this one. I gave them 4 choices:

1) Go to the sleepover - so as not to make the other kid feel bad.
2) Don't go and spell out the reason - even if that hurts the kid.
3) Don't go but don't spell out the reason - simply say you can't go.
4) Don't go and make up an excuse - e.g., I have another committment that day.

N suggested 1. He hates making people feel bad. P suggested 4. I guess he also wanted to avoid making the other kid feel bad. I disagreed with them. Told them we shouldn't do what we don't want to do and we shouldn'e make up false excuses either. To me, the two valid options were 2 & 3, and I strongly favored 3. I've found that people often provide more explanations for their behavior than is necessary. In this particular case, there was no point in making the other kid feel bad. Simply saying we couldn't go was sufficient. I mentioned to them that I often use the explanation "for personal reasons". This is a way of saying that while there is a good reason for my behavior, the specifics are a private/personal matter.

I discouraged them from making up excuses, as not only it is wrong to lie (even with good intentions), but this often results in the need for more lies to cover the previous lies. And, eventually, the truth often comes out making the situation twice as bad. Maybe the initial lie was truly "harmless", but often there is a snowball effect that makes subsequent lies worst and worst.

I also discouraged them from simply going to the sleepover (in this example) to avoid facing the facts. If they wanted to go for real, maybe because they really cared about their classmate and wanted to do something for them, that would be fine. But to do things just to avoid facing a potentially uncomfortable situation or to possibly hurt someone, is to let other people and external ciscumstances dictate our actions. Not good. We should determine our actions based on our own priorities and preferences.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

movies vs. books - and Bob Marley...

This morning we talked about movies were better than their respective books - or vice-versa. It was a pretty lively discussion with lots of pros and cons thrown around...

A thought books were better because movies showed things in only one way, while books let you imagine things the way you want. Also, movies don't contain all the details and information that books have. N said movies that don't originate from a book are better than the book, since the book doesn't exist(!).

P said it depended on the specific book or movie. I agreed: I prefer movies for action /special effect stories, and books for more complex subjects.

N said the issue with movies is that you after you finish watching one you want to watch anoter. I said the same is true for good books...

Oh, and we also spoke about Bob Marley & Jamaica (since they were playing Buffalo Soldier on the radio). I incorrectly told the kids that he died from a drug overdose. I just double checked wikipedia and found out he died from cancer (melanoma) which he refused to treat due to religious reasons... I guess I need to correct this missinformation.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

helping others & cushions

Today we continued with our conversation about using some of our time & money to help others. I suggested that a starting point might be to determine how much of our time & money we truly neede to accomplish those things that are important for us. I asked them if they thought we could then allocate the remaining to others. P said yes, but A suggested leaving a cushion, "in case things cost more than anticipated".

This led to a good discussion of cushions, e.g., how much extra money to take on a field trip. We discuss the risk of having too much of a cushion, i.e, that we might end up spending more than we need to. But we agreed some amount of cushion was always a good idea.

Back to helping others, I said the problem with devoting our "extra" time & money is that, no matter how much of them we have, we can often find good things to do with all of our time & money. So I suggested establishing a small but consistent "quota" of our time & money that we should always devote to helping others. I also mentioned that helping others helps ourselves as well: we feel good when we've help others. So even from a selfish point of view it remains the smart thing to do...

How big should that quota be? I don't know. We are out of time. Of to school they go...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

brainstorming & helping others

A had a dilema in school. A classmate, not really a friend, asked him to be his teamate for a science project. The kid is one of the worst students in the class and A didn't particularly looked forward to working with him. But he felt maybe he should do it to help him...

So today I wanted to talk about how to determine how much of one's time and resources to devote to helping others, vs helping ourselves. I started the conversation asking for ideas. P suggested devoting 2/3 of one's money to helping others. A immediately jumped in saying that was way too much. I took advantage of this to talk about how to brainstorm. To my suprise, they knew what brainstorming was. But they didn't know one of its most important rules: all ideas should be considered. Don't put others' ideas down, instead, simply propose your own ideas.

After the "brainstorm 101" discussion there wasn't much time left for our original discussion. P said that Bill Gates gave away most of his money, hence his 2/3 suggestion. A explained that since Bill Gates is so reach, he can give a much higher percentage of his money away than most other people.

We'll have to revisit this conversation next week...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Saving Face

This morning P couldn't find his allowance. He thought N had taken it from where P left it and acused N of doing so. That got quite a fight going...

In the car we calmly discussed this. It became clear that there was a small chance that N might have taken P's money by mistake. I told P that, regardlesss of whether N had taken the money or not, or regardless of whether he had done it accidentaly or on purpose, P would be much better off if he took a non-confrontational approach. He could ask N, for example, if there was a chance that N took the money by mistake. That approach was more likely to generate N's cooperation rather than to put him in a defensive position (which an aggresive acusation obviously did). And, if it turned out that N didn't take the money, but that something else happened to it, P wouldn't have uneceseraily and unjustly offended N.

I told them how even when they were certain someone else had done something wrong (and done so intentionaly), they stood a much better chance of resolving the situation by giving the offender a "face saving" exit. For example, by saying "Bob, do you think you might have inadvertently taken my ball" instead of saying "Bob, I know you took my ball. Where is it?". Besides, even when we are "sure" someone did something, we are sometimes wrong...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rude drivers & strangers

Today I told the kids about the time I was driving to the office when a rude driver cut me off. Half an hour later, to my astonishment, the rude driver walked into my office for a job interview. He didn't get the job. But the story gets better: he got a job with one of my most important clients and was put in charge of working with my company! Fortunately, I had not been rude with him (which had taken a lot of self-control). So we kept his company as a client. This is a true story...

So, when a stranger does something bad to you, think twice before insulting him or punching him in the face. First of all, you shouldn't match the bad behavior of others. And, as my story shows, you don't always know who they are or who they might become.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Today we spoke about cars. N thinks they are so cool. A doesn't: all that polution simply to get to where you are going faster than if you walked. I mentioned that most people simply couldn't get to where they normally go by foot, but sure enough it would be better if they used some non poluting public transportation.

N suggested electric cars were the answer, but A pointed out that generating the electricity to charge the cars generated polution (I was impressed!). I told them about a recent article I read about some huge batteries that are being tested to store energy from wind turbines and solar cells.

I suggested we all start walking to school every day but they were not convinced...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bigger, Stronger, Faster

Last night C & I saw a great movie: Bigger, Stronger, Faster. It is about the use of "performance enhancing drugs". I discussed some of the "lighter" points with the kids this morning. Spoke about how some athletes use special drugs to enhance their performance and how most are banned. But things are not as Black and White as one would like. For example, Tiger Woods had eye surgery to improve his vision. Obviously, vision is key for a golfer, so couldn't this be considered cheating? Could a weight lifter undergo surgery to enlarge his muscles? Probably not...

And what about the athletes who sleep in altitude chambers to increase their Red blood cells. That is legal, but a drug that has the same effect is not...

Difficult issues... The movie showed a genetically engineered cow that looked like a weight lifter. A mentioned he once saw the picture of a genetically eginered dog that look like that. The kids will probably have to deal with issues such as genetic enginering and other things that don't yet exist when they grow up...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

No Surprises

We found out yesterday that one of the kids, who shall remain nameless, was keeping some bad news from us. So today I "lectured" them about the importance of communicating bad news as soon as possible to the "relevant parties".

I told them how I always tell the entrepreneurs that I work with never to surprise their boards (of directors). Convey the bad news right away. I don't know if the following is a true statistic, but it seems like the majority of people (politicians, businessmen, athletes, you name it) who "get in trouble" do so for covering up their mistakes, not for the mistakes themselves.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Remembering names

No blogging last week as the kids were on their October break...

I told them this morning about my challenge remembering people's names. I am terrible at it! Whenever I am at an event with C, I ask her to introduce herself to people that we meet "Hi, I am C". This forces the other person to say "Hello, I am so and so" before it becomes obvious that I didn't remember their name...

The truth is many times I do remember people's names, but I am not 100% certain I have it right. And I am afraid I'll call them by a different name...

Anyway, the kids thought this was very amusing.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Non verbal communications, first impressions and stereotypes

I was reading this morning about some research on non-verbal communications. They did a study, at MIT I believe, of individuals pitching business plans. Those who provided the most energetic and compeling presentations, as measured by cues unrelated to the actual content, did the best. I told this to the kids... We also spoke about first impressions, and how most people judge others during the first few seconds that they meet them. I told them that is why they should behave very well during the 1st day of school, so that all their teachers form a good impression about them.

P told me how he knew right away that a certain old man was nice. I asked him how he knew and he said that old men are all nice. This got us talking about stereotypes and their risks. I don't think I managed to get my point across to P & N that not all old men are nice... Oh well, I'll need to think about how to revisit this topic of stereotypes...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Listening, Learning & Teaching

P was having a hard time with his piano piece of the week this morning. He was playing some notes incorrectly and wouldn't believe me when I told him so. In the car we spoke about learning, listening & teaching. I told them how important it was to be able to to teach, and the difficulty of finding the right balance between doing someone's work vs. not helping them enough.

I told them that when deciding who to work with I look for people who are good listeners and to whom I can teach something. Working with people who won't listen (either because they don't want to or because they can't) is very frustrating, while seeing people improve thanks to one's help is extremely rewarding. I also look for people who can teach me things...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sliding doors

C's car is in the shop. She got a mini-van rental in the meantime. N likes it better than C's car. He particularly likes the sliding doors. We all agreed sliding doors are very practical and it is a shame more cars don't have them. Is it because they would be perceived as mini-vans and un-sporty? We also wished there were cars surronded with rubber and built so that minot bumps with other cars or objects wouldn't damage them. Like bumper cars... Maybe by the time the kids are driving (I sure hope so!).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Folklorik music

Last night we went to see Carlos Orozco, a Venezuela harp player. Most impressive... We discussed whether he was playing the high notes with his left hand and the low notes with the right because he is a lefty, or whether all harpist play like that... P brough up that he is a leftie, which is an advantage in many sports... We compared the harp with the piano. A asked what type of instrument the piano is. I thought a string instrument, but need to check Wikipedia.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I woke up with Vertigo today. It is the 2nd time this happens to me. I don't mind the spining, but the fact that I then get sea sick :-(. So, it was a pretty quiet ride this morning. We concluded that A is a night person, P is a morning person, and N is a middle of the day person. We also heard some Van Morrison which reminded the kids of August Rush. N wants to see it again. P wishes it had not ended where it did, but showed their life after they are reunited... I said maybe they'll do August Rush 2 :-).

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


I saw an advertisement for a Leornardo Da Vinci exhibition at The Tech Museum. We spoke about all the amazing things that Leonardo did. I said that today, one had to specialize. A wanted to know why. I told him to imagine a large canvas in which a city had to be painted. The first person who starts painting on it can paint all over the canvas. But after 25 people join the process and fill most of the canvas, you would be limited to painting in a small section (wherever you could squeeze in). There would be little White space, so you would probably end up picking a detail and working on it. I also used the design of a car as an example: if someone worked exclusively on one componet, say the steering wheel, he would likely do a better job than someone who was designing an entire car, including a steering wheel, from scratch.

P & N thought Iron Man was smarter than Da Vinci. A argued for Da Vinci, because he built his inventions from scratch - rather than assemble them from existing components like Iron Man. N correctly guessed that Da Vinci was from Italy. Ciao.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Following your bliss

C & I have been watching a great documentary about Joseph Campbell. One of the things he talks about is following your bliss. Today we spoke about that... About the importance of knowing what one's bliss is and of pursuing it. If we are fortunate, we might be able to make a living out of our passion. If not, we should still make time in our lives for the things that truly fullfil us.

I was glad to hear that N thought that we (note the plural refering to our family) were already following our bliss. P said his were science & piano. A was quiet... I asked if he was thinking about the inmortality of the crab (La inmortalidad del cangrejo). This generated much laughter. I think A is a night person, much more so than a morning person. Unlike P, who sets his alarm clock at 6am and wakes up before C & I do!

Monday, October 6, 2008

pool or jacuzzy

This morning P asked me why we don't buy a pool. I told him that a) we have no room for one, and b) SF doesn't have very good pool weather. A then suggested a jacuzzy: "we can put it in the yard". I don't know where they got this idea but it sure made for a fun conversation. very appropriate for a Monday morning...

Friday, October 3, 2008

The players make the coach

I was telling the kids about a great lunch meeting I had yesterday: I hosted the founders of five of the start-ups that I am involved with. They are all monetizing their audiences with advertising but each is taking a different approach as has different challenges. It was a lot of fun to help them learn from one another...

The kids didn't understand why that was fun. How can work be fun? I used the analogy of a soccer team. I imagine that coaches derive fun from watching their players learn. But they probably derive even more fun from watching their players learn from one another. They kids agreed it would be more for the coach if players with particular strenghths teach the other players as opposed to the coach having to personally teach everything.

I said the best coaches can often be judged by their players: the better the players, the better the coach. A disagreed: what about a lousy but luck coach who gets great players? Well, the best players are unlikely to want to play for a lousy coach. And great coaches often attract good players...

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I asked the kids what they thought was better: to make a favor for someone or to receive a favor. They asked for an example. Taking turns with a toy. They said both people could use it. It took me a while to push to the point where only one person could use the toy that day.

I suggested letting the other person have the first turn was a better route. For a number of reasons: making others hapy often gives us happiness. It is good to be generous. And, finally, assuming the other person was "fair", the next time around it would be our turn. So letting others go first is like saving, while going first is like getting in debt.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

7 Weeks On, 1 Week Off

The kids go to a French school. The French believe kids should not be in school for more than seven weeks at a time. So we have a week off in October, two in December, one in February and one and a half in April. Then of course three months in the summer... Last time we went on a trip the kids complained about not having enough say as to our destination... So today I asked them what they want to do during the upcoming October break.

P wants to stay in SF to go to his gym's Hallowen party. N wants to go play with surfboards in Hawaii, he also liked the idea of visiting his cousins in Miami. P could also go car-camping (no hiking for him!). A isn't sure... he would probably be happy anywhere as long as he is with W or has a computer. Of course C & I want to kitesurfing. Decisions, decisions...

Yesterday we spoke about cancelation policies. How more customer friendly policies, such as full refund if there is no wind for the kitesurfing lesson, are expensive in the short term but usually pay off long term by generating happy customers and good word of mouth.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Allowances & credit cards

Mondays mornings are the toughtest - particularly after a weekend alone with the kids. So I was hoping for a "light" topic today. But I had no such luck... P asked for his allowance. I handed him my wallet and asked him to take his 8 dollars (and his brothers' money). Unfortunately, I only had $4 in my wallet. A said he would just take my credit card and we got talking about credit cards and debit cards.

I kept it simple: pay your balance right away to avoide getting into debt and paying interests. They wanted to know why some people didn't do that. I explained some people needed extra money one month (credit) for a special ocasion or need, and would pay it in the future. Of course, others simply got into the bad habit of living beyond their means.

They wanted to know what happened if one couldn't pay one's credit cards. I explained that the 1st thing was that the cards were taken away and one had to figure out how to live without them. Then, you might need to sell your car or house to pay them, and, worst case, those things might even be take away from you. P joked about evil parents selling their kids (I hope that has nothing to do with C & I!).

A wanted to know why P & N get more allowance money now than he when he was their age. I honestly don't remember how much we gave A at this age, but I needed a quick answer because we were arriving at school so I said it was because of inflation. The real reason, of course, is that 1st borns are guinea pigs... We probably had no clue of how much to give him as an allowance. Our current rule: $1 per year of age.

Friday, September 26, 2008


The kids have their savings at WAMU (Washington Mutual). I told them that WAMU went bankrupt yesterday... Fortunately, their money was guaranteed by the US government which negotiated a sale of WAMU to JP Morgan. So they should not be affected in any way.

Their first question was whether only their branch or the entire bank had been affected... They then wanted to understand how a bank could go under. I gave them a simplified explanation of the current crisis in the financial industry, and explained the fact that most people borrow money to buy their homes.

They inquired about our ability to pay our mortgage and were relieved to hear that we wont have to move anytime soon... We all agreed that our house is a great house.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Win-wins and Zero-Sum Situations

P told me about the complex exchange of toys that he and his friends were working on. He would give one of his characters to J who in turn would give one to M who would then give one to P. The end result: they would all end up happier than before. I told them this was called a win-win situation: an exchange (or transaction) after which all the participants were better off.

I contrasted this with "zero-sum" situations in which what benefited one person hurt another, such as when allocating a fix amount of money. I explained how school grading can sometimes be zero-sum, when done with a curve. Only so many students would get an A, and a given student getting an A meant that some other student would not. Luckly for them, their current grading doesn't seem to be by curve: when they get things right they get As...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

patience & emotions

N was struggling this morning with his piano song of the week. He is really into his piano, but he gets frustrated when he can't get it right. He is a pretty emotional individual, and when frustrated it becomes hard to focus, which frustrates him even more.

Today we spoke about how difficult that are often frustrating to learn often provide the most satisfaction once we master them. They can still remember their frustration learning to swim and ride their bikes, and how mu pleasure they now get from those things. The harder something is to learn, the more pleasure one derives once mastered. Learning to play the piano takes a lot of effort and frustration, but generates inmense pleasure once mastered.

We spoke a bit about emotions. It is ussually impossible to control them. One can't help feeling sad, afraid, frustrated or happy. It is simply how we feel. What we can do is to acknowledge our emotions and not let them control us. If we are frustrated, we shouldn't try not to be frustrated, but to put our frustration aside and address the root cause of our frustration, i.e., our inability to play the song on the piano. Once we learn to play that song, the frustration will go away on its own. But if we let our frustration drive us into a tantrum, then we wont learn the song and will remain frustrated.

BTW, we had a piano tuner come to fix our piano last night. One of the keys was stuck. Not surprisingly, it was a pencil that was stuck inside the piano. Now I know how to open the piano and remove pencils, toys, and other items. The tuner played the piano beautifully and I believe derived great pleasure from it...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I had a great dream last night. We were all in a car. C was driving. Next thing we know we are next to the space shuttle which is about to take off. As it takes off we are way too close and the noise is deafening. But the kids are fascinated by the spectacle. Then the cops chase us away because we are not supposed to be there...

I told the kids how dreams reflect our fears and desires. I asked them to guess what my dream represented. A guessed it was my fear of letting C drive :-)

We then spoke about the space program and how the space shuttle is getting old... N thought it was sad that when I went to Cape Canaveral as a kid the shuttle had not been invented...

Monday, September 22, 2008

If you want to get something done...

P had a very busy weekend: soccer game, sleepover, sailing practice. We spoke about how being active and busy makes you LESS tired than doing nothing. I said that our bodies and minds accelerate to keep up with the actvities and fill us with energy. While if we just lie in bed our bodies slow down and we often fill even more tiered.

We discussed the saying "if you want something done, give it to a busy person". They got it right away. I then told them about my friend M, who tried for a couple of years sleeping half an hour every four hours, and how he felt great (after a month long adjustment). We spoke about the REM period and how that helped us process the day's info. The kids couldn't guess why M had to give up his sleeping pattern: he got a girldfriend :-).

N insisted that he didn't have dreams every day. A told us about some rhinos that have such bad memory they started charging on a person only to forget why they were running... Wow, what a mile!

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Today's conversation was rather technical. A wants to continue playing the casual game he was playing on his home computer when he goes to his friends' house. He was hoping he could copy the game state info into a flash disk. I explained that web sites use "cookies" to recognize specific computers. Cookies are small files with an identifier that web sites place in your computer and read from it afterwards. I told them how the early web was "stateless" and how each new page request or click was unrelated to the previous ones (there were no shopping carts). And told about how an engineer at Netscape came up with the idea for cookies to resolve this. Initially lots of people complained about this as they felt it was an invasion of their privacy to have web sites write a file on their computers and then read it. We spoke about how often innovations are initially rejected or considered unacceptable but after a while people accept them - and recognize that the trade offs are worth it. Of course, sometimes the trade offs are not worth it and the innonvations don't survive.

We also discussed how advertisers use cookies to target ads based on what you do online, so that you are more likely to click on them. and we went on to talk a bit about the advertising models on the web.

P & N didn't understand much of the conversation, at least not initially, but I wouldn't be surprised if eventually they remember it & understand it - the way kids often don't seem to understand what you tell them but then surprise you down the road...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Skill vs. Effort

The kids noticed the cuts in my fingers from kitesurfing yesterday. I explained that since I am still learning, my body compensates for my lack of skill with force. So I end up pulling too hard on the bar (that trims the kite) and working much harder than I should. We discussed how those with "skill" can effortlessly achieve what those without skill need lots of force to accomplish.

I asked them what they thought was more important, effort or skill. They answered effort, to which I replied that it probably depended on the activity [correction: A tells me he actually said skill]. There are some activities for which having the right skill or talent is probably all you need, while there are other for which you must make an effort - no matter how skilled.

I suggested to them than when choosing what to do in life, they should ideally pick things for which either they have a natural talent, or that can be mastered through effort and dedication. I probably should have also added a third type of activity: those that they enjoy even if they don't do very well.

I tried to give them examples of the above but couldn't think of good ones and the mile was up!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Friendship like a Sharpie

N has been having some issues with his best friend O. Yesterday they were no longer friends. Today they are best friends again. He described their friendship in a terrific way. "Our friendship is like a Sharpie", he said, "permanent".

Monday, September 15, 2008

keeping the honest man honest

I am not feeling well today so C took the kids to school... But I remember a good conversation we had week before last about "keeping the honest people honest". P's friend's mom had had her car broken into and her purse stolen. I told them about the importance of not tempting people by leaving valuable things in view and within reach. Simply leave that purse in the trunk or the glove compartment and it becomes highly unlikely that someone will break into your car.

We also spoke about "the club", and how making your car a bit harder to steal than the car next to it is likely to discourage thieves from choosing it.

A few days after the conversation P told me proudly that he put this lesson into practice at school: he figured out how to make his supplies container look like it is closed securely - even though it is not really that secure. But I bet that will prevent other kids in the class from opening it and "borrowing" his eraser...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Working with friends & family

N asked me if I would still be working when he was older and started working himself. I told him that I thought I would be and he asked if I thought we could work together. This led to a conversation about the pros and cons of working with family and friends. I told how it could be a great thing if it worked well, but how it could also be risky - as business could affect personal relationships (and vice-versa). My main advice was to look at business compatibility among the people... I told them about some famous family businesses, such as Yosi Vardi, who started ICQ with his son. I also told them about some unhappy endings...

N and his best friend O are planning to start a business together making movies. I asked A if he thought he and his best friend W would work well together. He didn't think so, but didn't elaborate.

N and I concluded that it would be awesome if we could work together someday...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Managing people

Today's topic was a bit dry I guess. I asked the kids to guess what the most important and most difficult aspect of running an organization was. To my surprise, they immediately responded that keeping the people that worked there happy. Wow! Maybe we already discussed this and I forgot... But, yes, I agreed, finding great people and keeping them happy, motivated and productive was probably the most important, and most difficult, task of a leader. I explained that just like my wife and I have to frequently resolve issued among them and give them help and support, organizations' leaders often have to resolve issues among their teams and devote lots of time to helping them and supporting them.

I the asked them how they thought leaders of large organizations, i.e., 1000+ people, managed to do this. They immediately responded that they got others to help them. Yes, indeed. And for large organization the "helpers" had "helpers" and so on, so that most organizations were like pyramids... P thought that it was unfair that those at the bottom of the pyramid had nobody to "manage". I explained that younger and less experienced people start there, but that they "move up" as they gained more experience and demonstrated their abilities. I should have also told them that not everybody wants to manage others. That plenty of people are happy as individual contributors.

The Beatles

On Tuesday the radio was playing news when we got going. It reminded me of the Beatles's A Day in a Life which I then put on. I try to play all sorts of music to teh kids and have them guess who the artist is. This time A saw the info on my iPhone thus "guessed" that we were listening to the Beatles. We discussed the Beatles and its members. They wanted to know why someone had killed John Lenon. I said the killer was crazy. Is that the real explanation?

How you say things

I drive a Mini Cooper. I love it. But it is not the most convenient car for taking three kids to school. Often the front passenger seat will be too far back or too far forward, and the kids will fight over the space. On Monday A pushed the seat back and squeezed N, who complained loudly. After I intervened A said "sorry". But he said it with that sarcastic tone and body language which conveys anything but sorry.

So we discussed how tone and body language are often more important than the words you use. They get it - even if, as usual, it seems they don't. They do. But how often and how frequent should I repeat things for the message to sink in?

What you teach your children

Every weekday I take my kids to school. My wife has the much more time consuming task of picking them up...

We live one mile from their school and it usually takes about ten minutes from the time we get into the car to the time they get off. Ten minutes. Not much time. Or is it? Maybe the absolute time only ads up to some 40 hours per year, a very small fraction of the time I spend with my kids. But this also represents some 200 opportunities to teach my kids something...

A few months ago I started an "experiment": I would use each 10 minute session to teach something to my kids. Or at least to discuss an interesting topic. The results so far have been terrific. What used to be a burden has become the best part of my day. While I used to get frustrated if traffic increased our commute by five or ten minutes, now I worry that if there is no traffic at all we wont have time to finish our conversation!

I started this blog to write about the discussions that I am having with my kids every morning. If you read it I encourage you to send me suggestions for topics. That has been the main challenge thus far: must days I come up with a topic within a minute or two of leaving the house. But occasionally, I struggle to come up with something appropriate. I guess I need to do a bit more planning that I have been doing...

Anyway, I wont try to remember all the conversations from the past but will start with this week.