Friday, April 27, 2012

Life is a Bagel

Nico was skeptical of today's topic: how I cut my bagels. Yet I insisted. There is a lot to learn from the way I cut my bagels. Cutting bagels is dangerous. Injuries from bagel cutting is the top cause of emergency room visits in the US ["at least according to some source... what is your source... ok ok... maybe not THE top, but a common cause?"]. Why do we cut ourselves? The knife cuts through the bagel with more force than we anticipated and ends up in our hand. So what is my technique to avoid this? It has three key elements:

1) Rather than doing a few strokes with plenty of force in each, I do lots of strokes with very little force in each. I move the knife back and forth rapidly but gently. When the knife finally cuts through the bagel it barely moves much further. I would generalize this as substituting brute force with finesse. Or, like we say in Venezuela "Mas vale maƱa que fuerza". Similar to when you need to losen something and wiggling back and forth works much better than a single application of all your strength in a one direction. Nico remains skeptical about the value of this lesson... Nico: this works even with people! Say you want to teach someone how to swim. Most teachers wouldn't drop their pupil at one end of a long pool and try to get them to swim all the way across. Instead, they get very close to the soon-to-be swimmer and get them to swim a few inches, then a few more inches, and little by little the distance gets longer until, almost without realizing it, the person swims across a long pool.

2) Back to bagels... I make sure to use an adequate knife. If I try to cut a bagel with a steak knife instead of a bread knife I have to use more force  - not to mention steak knifes have pointier and sharper ends. Simple life lesson: use the right tool for the job.

3) Finally, I make the final third of the cutting away from my hand. So even if the knife flies away it doe so into the air, not my hand. Ale said he does something similar by holding the bagel with a kitchen towel. Life lesson: leave yourself margin for error.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pre-Paid Taxis in Peru

Ale's day to lead our discussion. He told us how during his recent school trip to Peru some of the taxis he took were pre-paid and some weren't. The pre-paid ones were friendly and chatty. The others weren't Ale believe it was because they were worried about the money.

We spoke about money. How it can create friction and fights among people, including friends and relatives. Some people go as far as to avoid doing business with relatives. That might be extreme, but it is certainly a good idea to be super careful when money is involved. Be generous and considerate. When in doubt, err on the others favor. And try to be clear up front if any significant amount of money will be involved.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dead People

Paco's day to lead the discussion. He is reading a book about people experimenting with death - which is why I guess he wanted to talk about not feeling bad when people die, but instead focusing on those who remain alive. We agreed we should make an effort to overcome traumatic experiences, such as when a relative dies, but pointed out we can't control our feelings. We feel what we feel. We went on to talk about the difference between an old person dying after having lived a fulfilling life and a young person dying unexpectedly.  We also spoke about being empathetic to those who are sad. Not to try to reason with them but to be supportive and understanding.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Winning the Battle but Lossing the War

We watched an excellent movie about Pearl Harbor when we visited the memorial. The movie showed how the attack energized America for war - and in particular against Japan. Only six months after Pearl Harbor America decimated the Japanese navy at Midway (sinking four of its aircraft carriers).

We spoke about more mundane situations in our life when we should be careful not to win battles at the expense of wars. Paco already deals with this frequently when he plays chess. Another example is relationships. Don't fight with the teacher over an extra point in a homework assignment loosing sight of the final grade for the year. Or argue with friends, relatives or colleague about short term stuff at the expense of a long term relationship.

Another example was the FIRST robotics competition: some teams devoted most of their time and resources to doing well in the robot battle, but as a result did poorly in the other aspects of the competition - which collectively were worth more points.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What happens when we die

Today was Paco's turn to lead the conversation and he told us about the book he is reading in which the protagonists try to get closer and closer to death to learn what happens when you die. It is actually a French book that his French teacher recommended! Turns out there are multiple levels towards complete death and the protagonists are going deeper and deeper. But Paco is only half way through the book so that is all he told us. Reminds me of the movie Flatliners.

Paco made an intriguing comment before getting off the car: I asked him if he thought that there was indeed something after death and he said no, because that would imply some sort of intelligent design (in which I guess he doesn't believe). We didn't quite follow his logic but we ran out of time, so maybe tomorrow he'll explain.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Compounding Time

I was glad to find out that the boys remembered the concept of compounded interest. But we hadn't discussed compounded time...

We went to visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial. I had read that it got very crowded so we went very early. Got up at 7am (yes during our vacation) and made it to Pearl Harbor at 8am - just in time to sneak into the very first tour of the day. By 9:30am we were ready to go kitesurfing :-).

What would have happened had we woken up as little as 15 minutes later? There would have been a bit more of a line at the coffee shop, so 15 minutes would have become 20. There would have been more traffic in Honolulu, so 20 minutes would have become 35. There would have been a longer line at the ticket counter, so 35 minutes would have become 45 minutes. And the 8am and 9am tours would have been sold out, so 45 minutes would have become 2 hours. To recap: waking up 15 minutes later would have resulted in 2 less hours on the beach.

Just las week I had a meeting in Palo Alto at 8am. I knew that to avoid rush hour traffic I had to leave my house by 6:45am - which I did. I got to Palo Alto in 45 minutes with time to spare before my meeting. Another meeting participant showed up half an hour late. He said traffic was terrible. He had left his home in San Francisco at 7am and it had taken him an hour and half to get to Palo Alto.

BTW: this morning Nico asked me whether I could pay him his allowance daily instead of weekly. He definitely understood compounding!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Bird Lady

We went to Hawaii for Spring Break. Walking towards dinner we stop to watch a lady with three large birds. Before we knew what was happening she put the birds on top of Nico. At this point we took a picture. The lady took the birds back. I offered the lady 2 dollars but instead of taking them she said I owed her 5 dollars. This surprised me. She had no sign saying it cost $5 to hold the birds - nor had we asked to hold the birds. I told her she could take the $2 or leave them and she took them.

The incident led us to a discussion about pricing. It is usually a good idea for both sides of a transaction to understand the economics before the transaction takes place. If the bird lady wants $5 from each person who holds her birds she should let them know ahead of time. And I was also at fault: before letting the lady put the birds on Nico I should have asked her how much she would want (I incorrectly assumed that a "tip" at my discretion would do).

We wondered how the lady would make the most money. Maybe the reason she doesn't say upfront that she expects $5 is that if she did, many people would walk away. We wondered if more people would hold the birds if she lowered her price to $2 and advertised her low price. She could try different approaches on different days and settle on the approach that generates the most money. Maybe she already did that!

We also discussed that she could do a better job at branding herself. For example, a small sign about the protection of endangered species, and an affiliation with a non-profit, might help her.

Finally, when I offered the $2, she could have take them, then politely asked me to consider giving her additional money because the birds are really expensive to care for (or some other such reason). Instead of rudely telling me that I owed her $5.

Don't show this picture to Martin!