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...