Doing the Impossible

This week I received the alumni news from my high school, Chaminade, an all-male Catholic institution on Long Island. Photos from this year’s graduation graced the cover dated July 2013. Normal stuff. Then this:

[Guy’s name] who graduated with a four-year cumulative average of 100 percent, is shown at left…

To explain the magnitude of this let me state that at Chaminade, averages are kept in tenths and even hundredths of a point and are displayed with pride in the entry foyer. In addition, in an average year, 99 percent of the graduating class goes on to college, and about 1 percent, every year, are appointed to service academies. In other words, this place is highly competitive and the kids are pretty dang smart.

I had to do the math. To get credit for a 100 percent average over four years, this dude had to average over 99.95 percent, otherwise, it would have been rounded down to 99.9. I made some assumptions with regard to the number of tests and quizzes per week and I estimate that he answered a total of 186,480 questions in his four years. Over that time period he only got fewer than 93 answers wrong.

Wait, it gets better.

If tradition at the school holds, each subject has a comprehensive exam at the end of the year which accounts for 50 percent of the grade for the year. By comprehensive, I mean comprehensive. The test includes questions about material taught from September through June. Again, making some assumptions about questions per test over the four years, I estimate about 7,000 questions. To achieve the necessary 99.95 percent, he would be allowed to get three or fewer of the 7,000 answers incorrect over the four year period.

Say what!

[Guy’s name] is off to Columbia in the Fall.

Disclaimer: In speaking with a classmate of mine he offered some additional thoughts: 

  1. Standards at the school may have changed in a few ways: a) Extra credit and makeup work were not an option when we attended. If this is no longer the case 100 percent is a bit more doable. b) Grading standards may be relaxed as well. Meaning, this 100 percent may be based on an over 99.5 percent average. 
  2. If anything my assumption with regard to the number of questions may be on the low side by a factor almost two, meaning the total number of question could be near 350,000. 

PS – This post would receive a grade of 90 or so, due to excessive use of the passive voice. Way too many usages of the very “to be.” Be, am, is, are, was, were, been, being.

Leadership Lessons from a Great Mom

So your seven-year old son has been working diligently on his homework sheet due on Friday all during the week. He even got most of it done on Wednesday even because he knew he had baseball practice on Thursday night and would not be able to do it.

He decides early Friday morning to add a few embellishments in color to give it that extra something, but unfortunately, he leaves it behind on the kitchen counter. Shown here.

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On your way out the door, you notice the paper, do you:

  1. pick it up and give it to your son.
  2. gently remind him he left his paper on the counter.
  3. walk past it and leave it lie.
  4. walk past it, leave it lie and shush your husband who will likely see it and come running out the door with it.

The obvious and great choice is #4. Thanks, Christine!

Flunking My Son’s Report Card

My son, Sean, got his report card last week, oops sorry his “Student Assessment.” I think he did well. I am not 100 percent sure, because with all the education jargon it is difficult to really tell.

In fact, in order to decipher the gobbledygook (as my friend Michelle Golden calls it) I was sent an email from his teacher explaining it. Here is the email in part. I say in part because each of these required a full paragraph to explain the details.

  1. The Report Card- The specific skills addressed and assessed this grading period are listed with your students achievement.
  2. The First Grade Report Card Addendum- Indicates your student’s Independent reading level at this time.
  3. Student Success initiative (SSI) letter- this will inform you of how your student is performing compared to the grade level standard. 
  4. Math Inventory form- this form reports your student’s scores on the District Math Assessment given to all first graders.
  5. DRA Report- This is your child’s independent reading level.
  6. TPRI Report- This report has their beginning of the  year (boy) testing and middle of year (moy) testing for this assessment.

Now, while I am very grateful to his teacher for her assistance with this, I am dumbstruck with the amount of bureaucracy this must create. Each of these is assessed on a quarterly basis!

Notice the duplication of the second and fifth items. Actually, it is triplication because the first item covers reading as well.

If you want to know why the education budget is completely bonkers look no further. Think about the cost of driving all this crap through the system!

Please note, I believe my son is getting an excellent education so far, but I must say it is in spite of, not because of, all this nonsensical garbage with which teachers must concern themselves.

On the grading system I recall using, I give this an F!

A Modest (Marriage) Proposal

This week the media, traditional and new, have been bursting with conversations about the Supreme Court of the United States taking on both California’s Proposition 8 and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, both of which attempt to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

I wish to offer a libertarian proposal on the best trade-off possible to bring this situation to an expedient close. Not surprisingly, my remedy is to get the government out of the marriage business entirely.

The idea is simple, let the term marriage be defined by religious (or non-religious) institutions in the manner that best serves their beliefs. If two men wish to marry and your religion or belief system allows it, great. If five men and three women wish to marry and your religion or belief system allows it, great!

The term civil union should be adopted by governments to describe the contract between two people which confers certain rights with regard to child rearing, property ownership, and end-of-life issues. (There may be others as well, but I am not a lawyer. So be it, add them on.)

Let me be clear, as the POTUS, is fond of saying. I do not think that only gay and lesbian couples should be subject to this civil union, I am saying that it will apply to all. From the perspective of the state it is a special kind of contract in that only two people can enter into it and any one time.

R. Lee WrightsThis idea is not without precedent. As R. Lee Wrights, a great Texan and Libertarian candidate for President in 2012 said during the LP Presidential debate in Fort Worth last year, “George and Martha Washington did not have a marriage license.” Here, here!

In fact, it was inconceivable to them that one should even obtain permission from the government to get married.

I am sure many libertarians would say to me that we just need to eliminate the idea of government approved unions. While, in principle, I agree with this statement, we must acknowledge that undoing all of the law with regard to these unions will take years, if not decades.

Therefore, we must support something that achieves the goal of separating church and state and allows more freedom. This proposal does just that. It would allow maximum freedom for people to define marriage in any way they like.

I hope you say, “I do!”

A Story about My Grandfather

My grandfather had an expression he used to use on occasions such as a beautiful early Fall evening.

“I wonder what the poor people are doing?”

Now this might strike you as odd, extraordinarily glib, or even downright insulting. It was not.

It was actually meant as a reminder to take pleasure in the wonder of life. His implication was that we, my family, were “the rich.” Financially, I can assure you, we were anything but.

We were, however, rich in health (mostly), in spirit, and, most importantly, in love!

“The poor people” in my grandfather’s heuristic expression, were those who lacked this richness in spirit and love.

On those evenings he felt blessed, and his expression and his attitude about life, live with me to this day.

“I wonder what the poor people are doing?”

On September 21, 2001

I was blessed in that the only person I personally knew who perished in the terrorist attacks was a friend of my cousin Thomas with whom I have played golf with a few times. For many, I know the tragedy hit much closer to home. This is not to say I was not affected by the events of that awful day, but as I reflect back, it was ten years ago today that my personal healing process with respect to 9/11 began.

When it was announced that my beloved New York Mets were going to play in the first professional sports event to be held in New York City after the attacks, I knew I wanted to be there. Although truth be told, it was probably Christine (now my wife) who suggested it out loud.

So, we purchased tickets.

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For those of you not familiar with the layout of Shea Stadium, Section 1, Row V is the last row of the upper deck and directly behind home plate. From this vantage point we had not only a view of the entire stadium, but by turning around we could view the smoke still rising from Ground Zero.

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As the immense crowd of 41,000+ swelled, I realized that we were not there for the Mets, but for ourselves. We were there out of defiance to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. “You will NOT make us live in fear!” was the collective thought of everyone in the ballpark including the ballplayers and coaches.

The visiting (and usually much hated) Braves received a standing ovation as they were announced. The two like-named, but stylistically diametrically opposed managers, Bobby Cox and Bobby Valentine hugged at home plate. The virtual United Nations on the field including: Bruce Chen of Taiwan; Andruw Jones from Curacao; Julio Franco from the Dominican Republic; Tsuyoshi Shinjo from Osaka, Japan; Edgardo Alfonso from Venezuela; Rey Ordonez from La Habana, Cuba; Mike Piazza from Norristown, PA; and John Franco from Brooklyn, was matched in the assembly of New Yorkers including a native of Jamaica (the island, not Queens) who with his two kids sat next to me and a Hassidic (Orthodox Jewish) family who sat directly in front of us.

We all cheered Yankee fan Mayor Rudy Giuliani as he came out to throw the ceremonial first pitch, cried during the National Anthem sung by Diana Ross, and sang New York, New York with Liz Minnelli during the seventh inning stretch. The Mets wore caps representing New York’s Finest and Bravest (the police, fire and other emergency personnel) during the game. (John Franco would wear his FDNY hat the rest of the year.)

After falling behind by one in the top of the eighth, Alfonzo walked on a close pitch from Steve Karsay. What happened next could only be the stuff of Providence or Hollywood.

 

This was a monster blast of at least 440 feet. From my seat it looked like a line drive, “a frozen rope” as old-timers say. I hugged Christine and the kids; the man from Jamaica hugged his; the Hassid hugged his; we all hugged each other.

With the Mets now ahead 3-2, Armando Benitez (also from the Dominican Republic) gave up a walk to Javier Lopez (Puerto Rico), struck out B.J. Surhoff (from the Bronx), and enticed Keith Lockhart to ground into a game-ending double play. I am certain radio announcer, Bob Murphy said his trademarked, “…and the Mets win the ball game!”

The healing did not occur all at once, and in some sense it will always continue, but for me, it began that night at the ballpark.

God bless America! God bless Baseball!

On the Occasion of Rob Johnson Leaving Sage

imageAs many of you are aware of by now, my friend and colleague, Rob Johnson has decided to leave Sage and join Avalara (the lucky dogs).

Early today, our partner programs team had our last call with Rob at the helm. With their permission, I am sharing some of the content of this call.

First up was myself, playing (in my bang on the keyboard style) one of my and Rob’s favorite songs, Corner of the Sky from the 1972 Broadway musical, Pippin. (Please excuse the clunkers.)

Next up was a poem written by Joo Sohn DeView entitled: Our Lifetime Friend. Each member of the team took turns reciting the stanzas.

Remember your team and never forget,
The first time you became our boss and we met.

Youthful Christina has really come a long way,
She’s managing programs and taking care of a baby all day.

And what about Ed whose ideas were so grand,
Talented is he, he was even in the Sage band.

And sweet Diana who took pictures of you sleeping,
Now she is sad that you’re leaving and weeping.

And your dear friend Joo who always gave you a hard time,
Is now struggling to write a farewell poem for you that will rhyme.

Who could forget your “y’alls,” kicking your own ass, and nightly ice creams?
We really did have more fun than all of those other teams.

You really enjoy your girls, running and public speaking,
A replacement for Sales Academy we’ll need to be seeking.

You’re leaving a legacy of a boss who really cared,
Your hopes and dreams of soaring you happily shared.

You are entering a new chapter in your life that’s exciting,
We are eagerly anticipating the next book you’ll be writing.

Good bye dear friend, we will miss you a ton,
You’ve inspired us with your optimism and our hearts you have won.

Only one day left as our boss but a lifetime friend,
Our exciting time together will finally come to an end.

We’ve shared many laughs, frustrations and tears,
But through it all, it was the best time we had in years!

Then Diana Waterman, presented Rob with a customer shirt she had made on all of our behalf for him.

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The front of the shirt depicts Rob, asleep in the back of Diana’s car while dreaming of a Robism, “Two thumbs up!” This was taken at Summit as they went out to an early dinner with him.

Lastly, we all said our “farewells” including Christina Parra, our programs specialist.

“There’s no crying in software. Talk to y’all next week,” Rob ended.

Rob, thanks! ‘Nuf said.

ET HORA LIBELLUM DELENDA EST

Sesame Street for Knowledge Workers

Last Sunday, my wife and I brought my son, Sean, and daughter, Cara, to the Imagination Movers concert at the Verizon Center just outside Dallas. To coin a phrase, a good time was had by all.

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For those of you not familiar with the “Movers” (as we in the hip-in-the-know-‘cause-we-have-a-five-year-old crowd like to them) let me give you some quick background. The Imagination Movers are a kid-focused rock band that began when a group of four friends in New Orleans discovered they shared a similar distain for music groups oriented for children. (With this I agree with them. Barney, Teletubbies and especially The Wiggles are downright creepy.)

They achieved significant regional success, selling over 100,000 copies of their independently produced CDs. In 2006, they inked a deal with Disney and for the past three years have been one of the top-rated shows on the Disney Channel.

Aside from being a pretty darn good writers and performers, the messages they convey in their music and on their show is spot on for their audience of future knowledge workers.

Each show centers around a different customer (yes, they call them customers not clients) coming into their Idea Warehouse with a problem that needs solving. The four Movers than ask some diagnostic questions (notice they do not jump to a solution!) until they decide that they do, in fact, have an Idea Emergency (I love this term). This phrase always trips an alarm and begins the song called Brainstorming which is sung in every show.

Because there are “no bad ideas when you’re brainstorming,” the Movers always end up solving the problem for their customer. Now the exchange of money is never talked about, but a few of the shows have focused around the guys solving some of their own problems, including one episode in which they record a TV commercial to attract more customers. In another episode, Bad Hair Day (one of my son’s, OK, one of my favorites), they need to help Mover Scott get his hair under control so they can take a picture for the newspaper.

In the first season, there was a neighbor called Knit-Knots who always wore beige, played only one note on his tuba (b-flat because, “the b stood for boring and the flat made it extra boring”), and did nothing in his office but “staple, stamp and stack” papers. While I rather enjoyed this slam at the monotony of the office service worker, it was clear that after season one, the gag had played itself out and Knit-Knots is not in season two or three.

Knit-Knots’ niece, Nina, however, has continued on the show in part to bring some female presence, but mostly because the actress that plays Nina, Wendy Calio is quite a talent herself.  The live concert featured her in a cover of The Black-Eyed Peas’ I’ve Got a Feeling. Dare I say, she has a much better voice than Fergie.

 

I strongly recommend the Imagination Movers to any of you with children or grandchildren. Heck, maybe it should be required viewing for all current knowledge workers.

Personal After Action Reviews – Parent and Child Editions

In a recent Facebook post made by a old friend, John Stulak, (old as is long-time, not age-wise). John stated that he was 16,443 days old and that he was awakened at 3am with this thought:

The day is the natural cycle of our lives. The cycle of light and dark, being awake and sleep, has more significance than the cycle of the seasons. The day is what counts. Each day is a complete unit in itself. At the end of each day I can look back and take stock. How have I been? What have I learned? What can I be grateful for? I can hold a day’s experience in my mind quite easily. Trying to go back and take stock of a whole year is much harder. Numerous incidents and discoveries are inevitably forgotten. I also find it far more meaningful to think that I have lived through over 16,000 days this life, rather than 45 years.

imageHis post reminded to get back in the habit of doing a personal AAR (after action review) each day. In a ten-year journal given to me by my wife a few years ago, I record the answers to the following questions:

  1. What did I hope to do today?
  2. What went well? Why did that go well?
  3. What went wrong today? Why did it go wrong?
  4. What am I going to do different tomorrow?

I can’t tell you how dramatic the improvement is over time. Consulting guru, Alan Weiss calls this change The 1% Solution, improve by one percent and in 70 days you are twice as good.

About six months ago, my genius wife, Christine, developed a similar tool with our five-year old son, Sean. When putting him to bed each night, we ask him to say:

  1. One thing good about today.
  2. Hope he has a good nights sleep.
  3. One thing he is looking forward to tomorrow.

We do it in the form of a prayer after he says his Gloria Patri, as it connects to the past, present, future form of the prayer, but I think this is easily modified and adapted without a religious spin.

Thoughts?

In that case, I want my blood back!

On Saturday, I gave blood as part of a Collin County Libertarian Party event. Today, I received a phone call and it was transcribed by Vonage as follows, “Hello I’m calling on behalf of Carter BloodCare to thank you for saving a life. Now, here’s a blood recipient who’s a lawyer today.”

Carter BloodCare - Be a Part of Something Great.

My first thought was that I wanted to go get my blood back!

Upon listening to the message that last sentence was actually, “Now here is the recipient who is alive today.” And, what followed was a very nice message from a non-lawyer.

As GIlda Radner as Emily Latella said, “Oh, that’s completely different. Never mind.”