Sunday, December 18, 2016

Winter Wonderland

Mount Everest, also known in Nepal as Sagarmāthā and in China as Chomolungma, is Earth's highest mountain. Its peak is 29,029 feet above sea level. Mount Everest is located in the Mahalangur mountain range in Nepal.

Death Valley National Park comprises more than 3.3 million acres of spectacular desert scenery, rare desert wildlife, complex geology, undisturbed wilderness and sites of historical interest. Death Valley is unique because it contains the lowest, hottest, driest location in North America. Nearly 550 square miles of its area lie below sea level. Ecologically, its plants and animals are representative of the Mojave Desert.
Death Valley is one of the hottest places on earth, attaining the highest temperature ever recorded, 134 degrees F. in 1913. It contains the lowest point in the western hemisphere -- 282 feet below sea level near Badwater -- as well as numerous high-rising mountain peaks, including Telescope Peak at over 11,000 feet. Death Valley was named by gold-seekers, some of whom died crossing the valley during the 1849 California gold rush.

If you are looking for an amazing place to visit this holiday season, The Winter Village at Bryant Park will do the trick. You can click here to see a live webcam of the Winter Village. Bryant Park is in the heart of Manhattan, an amazing place anytime of the year - but especially during the holidays.

The Rink is the centerpiece of Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park. The 170' x 100' rink features free admission ice skating, in addition to high quality rental skates, skating shows, special events, and activities. Whether you are looking to skate before going to the office, with family on weekends, or for a spin under the stars at a holiday party, Winter Village is the perfect destination.

Members of the gathered at Bryant Park this past Friday for a holiday celebration. Many of NYDLA's vendors and sponsors had “pop up” stores in the Winter Village. Holidays in New York are always amazing, but the Winter Village at Bryant Park is really something special. The lines were long to check out Facebook's Virtual Reality. NYDLA members has special "front of the line" passes. 

Via VR, there were "virtual tours" of amazing destinations around the world - including Mt. Everest and Death Valley.

The next day, one homeless man shot and killed another early Saturday morning near Bryant Park. Terrance Walker, 27, was gunned down at about 2:20 a.m. at the busy corner of West 40th Street and Sixth Avenue in Midtown. Walker and another man argued as they left a nearby subway station. It was unclear late Saturday why the men feuded.

This was the scene early Saturday morning at the corner of West 40th St. and 6th Avenue. It was grim. Someone pulled a .38-caliber handgun and fired four shots. One bullet struck Walker in the chest. He collapsed to the pavement. Walker was declared dead at the scene. His attacker was last seen fleeing west on West 40th Street. The gunman was still on the lam late Saturday. He is described as 6 feet tall and about 190 pounds, and was wearing a black leather jacket over a blue hoodie. Police are confident security cameras will give them a glimpse of the suspect. “You’re by Bryant Park. Everything is on video. You’re gonna get caught,” a police source said. 

Later yesterday afternoon, as the park brimmed with shoppers perusing the annual Winter Village pop-up shops, some visitors were shocked a fatal shooting occurred just across the street, just a few hours ago. 

New York City during the holidays. Whether you visit in-person or via Virtual Reality - there is no place like it on earth.
I always wondered what it would fee like to go from Mt. Everest to Death Valley in less than 24 hours, virtually or otherwise. 

Real life or virtual reality, life is short. Every magical moment is precious.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tree envy

Today we killed a tree and then we dragged it into the house. And I was an accomplice.

There are few debates more lively and spirited than that age old argument about which type of Christmas tree is “better”: real trees, or artificial trees. Ever since the first feather Christmas trees were developed in the late 19th century, a serious divide has developed between those who swear by real Christmas trees, and those who prefer artificial trees. These debates have produced a number of untruths about both types of trees that are still widely believed, and make it more difficult for families to make an informed decision about what type of Christmas tree is best for them.

Coming off the recent election, I felt the need to get the facts. The “true facts” as they say in Washington, D.C.  So, via the power of “the Google” here are the facts. The true facts.

A small number of wild trees are cut down and used as Christmas trees. However, this type of removal is strictly regulated by the U.S. Forest Service, which limits the number of trees that can be removed. The remainder of such trees are cut down on private land by individuals who prefer to cut down their own Christmas trees.

The majority of Christmas trees are grown on farms (much like any other crop) specifically for the purpose of being harvested for Christmas trees. These trees wouldn’t exist in the first place, if it wasn’t for the public demand for Christmas trees.

A consulting company that studies environmental sustainability in numerous industries, did an analysis of the environmental impact of artificial Christmas trees, versus real trees. The study found that, depending on how a real tree is disposed of, an artificial tree would only have to be used for more than 4 years before there was a net benefit with regard to contribution to global warming. This means that if a household uses an artificial tree for at least 4 years, its carbon footprint will be smaller than that of a household that purchases a real tree every year.
In addition, the study found that with both real and artificial trees, no matter how they were ultimately disposed of, Christmas trees accounted for less than 0.1% of the average person’s annual carbon footprint. So, the environmental impact is negligible, and can easily be offset by other lifestyle changes, such as driving less, recycling more regularly, purchasing items that use less packaging, etc.

Plant-related allergies are typically triggered by the pollen produced by such plants. This is why spring is often referred to as “allergy season,” as the burst of warm weather in April and May triggers the reproduction cycle in many plant species, including tree species commonly used as Christmas trees. But by late November and early December, when such trees are harvested, pollen production has long since ceased. This means that most people with pollen allergies will not be bothered by real trees, except for those are sensitive enough to be bothered by trace amounts.

However, real trees can carry dust, as well as molds and fungi. The best way to deal with this is by cleaning the tree before you bring it into your home. Use your garden hose to spray down the tree, and then leave the tree somewhere warm to dry for about 24 hours. Once it’s dry, then you can bring it into your home. As an added precaution, you can try running an air purifier in the room where the tree is located. { Sounds like…….work }

Additionally, there is a very small percentage of the population that is allergic to tree sap. In this case, the only solution is to only purchase artificial trees for your home, and avoid close proximity to real Christmas trees. { And yet people will STILL do it!!!! Crazy, right??? }

The “real tree” fans look at artificial trees with a cynical eye and consider them to be a sign of the commercialization of Christmas. However, Christmas trees as a whole were a relatively late fad in the United States. This is largely due to the fact that Christmas trees are a largely Germanic tradition, dating back to the 1500s. The tradition remained largely confined to that region for several centuries, until German immigrants brought the tradition with them to America in the 1700s and early 1800s. In fact, the first written records of Christmas trees being used in the United States date back to the 1740s, when the children of German settlers in Pennsylvania decorated wooden pyramids with evergreen branches and affixed candles to the branches. So: the first Christmas trees in America were in fact artificial.

Christmas trees actually didn’t gain notoriety outside of German households until the 1830s, when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, both of German descent, brought the tradition of the Christmas tree to Windsor Castle in the 1830s (though this didn’t gain the attention of the public until the late 1840s). It was only after this that the general public’s appetite for Christmas trees took off.

As the old tradition experienced a resurgence in Germany during this time, some started to worry about the potential deforestation of German forests. This led to the development of reusable feather trees, which were made out of dyed goose feathers bound together with wire and attached to a wooden pole. These artificial trees quickly made their way to the United States, and over subsequent decades evolved into the sturdier plastic artificial trees that we know today. { So, the “real” trees are really the fake trees! Wait, what? }

In the end, history shows that both real and artificial trees are deeply rooted in the history of Christmas, both here and abroad. Neither is more “Christmas-y” than the other. Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine what type of tree best suits you and your family’s Christmas traditions. You get to vote on the tree you want in your homes.

Tom, this blog is not like you………. What’s up?

I was born in 1960, so that makes 56 “fake” and/or “real” Christmas Trees in our home in the history of me. We have had both. But at least 80% of the time, they were fake. Store bought trees. Same goes for Presidents of the United States. We have had many Presidents since JFK.

There will be "fake or real" in many homes this Christmas. However the decision was made, however the logic or facts were interpreted, there will be a tree. Real or fake, there shall be a tree!

Emotional decisions, or decisions purely based on facts. Decisions made by tradition (we ALWAYS voted for a fake tree!) or decisions made by calculated analysis (what is the ROI on that fake tree) and is this tree good for our household economy, long term?

This year, for Christmas 2016, I voted to reuse our fake tree. Everyone in the family agreed. Everyone went along with the logic of using our already purchased, perfectly good tree that we invested $100+ many years ago. We had a proven good tree, a tree that we already paid for. It was a safe decision to use our fake store bought tree, just as we did for many years. Christmas is all about tradition, right?

And then, at the last minute, without warning, there we were. At a local farm, cutting down a tree. Just like that, the polls were WRONG!  Everyone predicted a FAKE TREE for Christmas 2016! But we don’t have a fake tree, do we? We have a real tree, right this second, in our living room. All the while we have perfect good tree in the attic.

I find it fascinating how the polls could be so wrong. We were just talking about setting up the tree last night - we were just discussing at dinner going up into the attic to bring down the tree! What caused this drastic change in logic?

OK, it happened. We just came home from killing a tree, and it is now in our living room. I just find it amazing how fast people can change their minds. You simply cannot trust the polls!

Fake trees or real trees. Well, at least we did not go TOTALLY crazy and put up a metal pole in the middle of the living room. That will never catch on, right? People will never be THAT crazy, right? 

People in the USA will never be that nuts, to see something on television and then copy that crazy stupid behavior, right? 


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Pass the Placebos Please

Image result for placebo effect
pla·ce·bo ef·fect
  1. a beneficial effect, produced by a placebo drug or treatment, that cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient's belief in that treatment.

A placebo is anything that seems to be a "real" treatment -- but isn't. It could be a pill, a shot, or some other type of "fake" treatment. What all placebos have in common is that they do not contain an active substance that will affect health.

What Is the Placebo Effect?
Sometimes a person can have a response to a placebo. The response can be positive or negative. For instance, the person's symptoms may improve. Or the person may have what appears to be side effects from the treatment. These responses are known as the "placebo effect." There are some conditions in which a placebo can produce results even when people know they are taking a placebo. Studies show that placebos can have an effect on conditions such as:
  • Depression
  • Pain
  • Sleep disorders
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Menopause
In one study involving asthma, people using a placebo inhaler did no better on breathing tests than sitting and doing nothing. But when researchers asked for people's perception of how they felt, the placebo inhaler was reported as being as effective as medicine in providing relief.

How Does the Placebo Effect Work?
Image result for placebo effectResearch on the placebo effect has focused on the relationship of mind and body. One of the most common theories is that the placebo effect is due to a person's expectations. If a person expects a pill to do something, then it's possible that the body's own chemistry can cause effects similar to what a medication might have caused.
Experts also say that there is a relationship between how strongly a person expects to have results and whether or not results occur. The stronger the feeling, the more likely it is that a person will experience positive effects. There may be a profound effect due to the interaction between a patient and health care provider. The same appears to be true for negative effects. If people expect to have side effects such as headaches, nausea, or drowsiness, there is a greater chance of those reactions happening.
Image result for placebo effect

The fact that the placebo effect is tied to expectations doesn't make it imaginary or fake. Studies show that there are actual physical changes that occur with the placebo effect. For instance, studies have documented an increase in the body's production of endorphins, one of the body's natural pain relievers.
Critics of the practice responded that it is unethical to prescribe treatments that do not work, and that telling a patient (as opposed to a research test subject) that a placebo is a real medication is deceptive and harms the doctor-patient relationship in the long run. Critics also argued that using placebos can delay the proper diagnosis and treatment of serious medical conditions.

Legitimate doctors and pharmacists could open themselves up to charges of fraud or malpractice by using a placebo. What say you: is lying to (a patient, a customer or ...a voter) ever OK?

How we make people feel is one of the most important things in life. There is an old joke where the full-figured wife asks the husband: “Does this dress make me look fat?” Is there ever (ever) a time when the husband would be so dumb, so stupid as to say yes to such a question?

People don't like to be sold - but they love to buy!
Salespeople learn techniques. Salespeople learn "closes." Salespeople learn systems of selling. And none of them are more powerful than someone wanting to buy. In fact, all of them are useless if someone doesn't want to buy.

Rather than selling, take a look at buying. Would you rather know how to sell, or would you rather know why people buy? Aha! Why people buy, of course.

You can argue that relationship building, questioning skills, networking, and presentation skills are all part of the "selling process," and I agree. But I stand firm on this point: that buying motives are a million times more powerful than selling skills.

A buying motive may have to do with how much money I have. Or it may be about how much of a risk I have to take to make the purchase. Or it might be about "Will it work when I get it home?" Or it might be about "Will this produce for me?" Or "Will this increase productivity?"

Think of your buying motives. Why do you buy? You decide that you need or want something. Then you justify the need or the want, and you literally search for it. You set out on a Saturday afternoon to spend money. You may go "shopping," or you may go directly to the establishment that has what you want. Either way, your motive is clear: you want ownership as soon as possible! If someone’s buying motive is strong enough - spouses, children, parents, and especially salespeople - can't keep you from getting what you want. Logic? Facts? Ha! I WANT IT!!!! And I want it NOW!

And buy the way, that need is defined as an emotion - it has nothing to do with logic. One of the primary motives for buying is an emotional one. And in the emotional state, people will overpay to get what they want.

People will overpay to get what they want. Logic has NOTHING to do with it. Facts have NOTHING to do with it. It is all about the emotions. People buy things for emotional reasons and then try to justify the reasons by using logic. Emotions Trumps Facts. Ooooh, I made a pun!

So: Why did Trump win the election?

Trump was the better salesperson, by several levels of magnitude.

Donald J. Trump has spent his entire career mastering the “Art of the Deal” as a master salesman and professional marketeer. President Elect Trump knows that people would rather BUY A PLACEBO - all the while KNOWING that it is only a placebo - than be SOLD anything.

Could there ever be a bigger “placebo” than telling the folks in West Virginia that he will be bringing back all the jobs to the coal miners? What would you rather hear: coal jobs are coming back! Or: you need to forget about your coal mining jobs, as that is a dying industry. Sorry, you need to be re-trained in other careers.

West Virginians  voted for the placebo, big time. Same goes for climate change, or immigration or any other inconvenient truth. Big complex problems are rarely solved with short sentences.

This is the funny thing about placebos - they can work, they can make a patient feel better - even when the patient knows all along that they are taking nothing more than a sugar pill. But all the while that a placebo is making the patient “feel” better, a placebo is not doing anything to cure what ails them.

The Big Lesson of Election 2016: 
people don't like to be sold - but they love to buy. 

President Elect Trump: Salesman in Chief

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Radio Days

My first memory was Friday, November 22, 1963.  I was three years, one month and twenty days old.

I walked into the kitchen, and my mother was standing there. She greeted me with a smile. And then, she screamed. On the kitchen counter was our GE radio. New flash: JFK was fatally shot in Dallas. To this day, there is still a conspiracy theory about who really killed JFK. It would not be the first time (or the last time) that the government kept secrets from the public.

The Manhattan Project began modestly in 1939, but grew to employ more than 130,000 people and cost nearly US$2 billion (about $26 billion in 2016 dollars). This was a conspiracy that was much more than just a theory. From 1942 to 1945, 130,000+ people worked on the project without telling anyone.

When “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that is the first time the world learned of the secret. 250,000 civilians were killed in Nagasaki, and 65,000 in Hiroshima. President Truman ran for re-election and won. My parents would tell me stories of how they learned of how we dropped “The Bomb” and how that ended the war - saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Ah, so dropping the Atom Bomb saved lives. Got it.

I remember September 11th, 2001 like it was yesterday. Some memories are burned into our brains so deeply, so vividly, that it is like watching a movie in your mind’s eye.

The world changed so many times in my lifetime. The JFK Assassination. The Space Shuttle disasters. The war in Vietnam. Watching the twin towers fall still to this day is a very painful and vivid memory.

Fifteen years, one month and 29 days ago, the twin towers fell in New York City. Since the fall of the towers, our country has experienced multiple wars, a major financial crisis, and several natural disasters. But we recover. We survive. When we say “9/11” it does not matter who you are, where you live, or where you came from. 9/11 means something.

Last night as the election results were coming in, our family was watching very closely. As the evening went on, I could tell that the results were not what I was expecting. At around 10:30, I told my wife “I can’t watch anymore.”  But we all stayed up, well into the morning, watching the results unfold. What our family experienced last night was uncertainty and deep anxiety. We did not expect the results that were unfolding in our living room.

When an event takes place that we are not expecting, our minds focus on it intently. That is human nature. Shock. Surprise. Fear. Anxiety. In nature, this can be beneficial to survival. When something surprising happens, thinking about it at length is what leads to learning. But sometimes that increased focus can do damage. It can lead to anxiety, rumination, fear.

No matter who you supported in yesterday’s election, there’s an important lesson that’s worth considering. It is a lesson that I have been learning since my earliest memories. When stressful events happen, how we interpret the the events matters. It matters a great deal. 

Our interpretation of the events is actually more important than the event itself.

It is very common to focus on the emotion of the moment. And when we focus on our emotions, we magnify the stress and the fear and the anxiety. With time, comes wisdom. True wisdom is characterized by the ability to manage our emotions, especially when things aren’t going as expected. In times of crisis, we must resist the impulse to do something, anything, just for the sake of taking action. We must pause. We must step back and study complex situations. 

But how can we do this?

It’s not always easy. One way is to ask yourself: How will I feel about this 10 years from now? How will I feel about this 20 years from now? Will this really have that much of an impact on my life 10 or 20 years into the future?

Last night as the election results were coming in, the news was terrible: the stock market was crashing. Overseas markets were down. There were rumors running wild on the Internet of NATO being mobilized. I admit it, I did not sleep very well last night.

Today, the stock market has rebounded. The news is slowly moving away from “the election” and things are slowly going back to normal. Slowly. The stress and the anxiety are going away. We are back to talking about Brad Pitt and his wife. I am sure that cat videos on Facebook shall be back in full force very soon.

Since 1992, across three presidents, average salary for people ages 18-40 has gone DOWN from $36,000 to $33,000 while student loan debt has gone straight up, inflation has gone up, healthcare costs has gone up, housing costs have gone up. We've had a Republican, a Republican, a Democrat, a Republican, a Republican, a Democrat, a Republican, a Democrat as President since I started voting. 

Meanwhile salaries are plummeting in America today. Salaries are going down versus inflation, versus healthcare costs, versus housing costs, versus food, versus just about everything.

The median real salary today, adjusted for inflation, is almost 10% lower than it was in 2007. It's lower than it was in the year 2000. And average hourly wages are lower than they were 40 years ago. A salary alone will not keep most families afloat anymore. Even two salaries won't keep most families afloat. The idea of retirement for tens of millions of Americans doesn't even exist anymore.

OK. I get it. I understand. People voted with their hearts. The reason why the polls were so so so wrong, is that people voted with their hearts. People voted with their emotions.

I did not vote for President Elect Trump. I do not agree with his policies, and I do not approve of his style. But just like every event in my life since November 22, 1963 this too shall pass.  

There are many posts on Social Media about “moving to Canada”. Well, this is the United States of America. We don’t run away from our problems. We fix them. We try again. We learn from our mistakes. And we pledge to do better.  

Donald J. Trump is going to be the 45th President of the United States of America. He will need our guidance and he will need our help to heal our nation. I wish him well. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.

There are many things that have happened in this country since my first memory. Whenever I see an “old radio” I think of my mother, standing in our kitchen, smiling. Many of my memories are emotionally draining, and many are painful to relive. But we must always push forward.

When I see an old radio, I prefer to see in my mind's eye my mother, smiling.

We must always push forward. Always.

We all know the election was very close. Hillary Clinton had slightly more of the popular vote, but Donald Trump had the edge in the electoral vote, thereby winning the election for the Presidency. In a sense, then, both candidates’ supporters have something to celebrate. The losers in the electoral vote, those who supported Hillary Clinton, were the winners in the popular vote; my advice to them is focus on that victory. But we don’t elect presidents by the popular vote, hence President Donald J. Trump, and his supporters can rightfully focus on that victory.
     When the voting is so close it focuses our attention on how divided our country is. The task for Donald Trump is to unify by his words and deeds, not to act in a way which will enthuse his supporters and cause despair among those who voted against him. We are divided as a nation; his task, and it is not an easy one, is to cross the boundaries and bring unity through words and deeds. We will soon find out if he can (or wants) to do it. Let us hope so together.