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.