A four-year university education has become a luxury item

My Alma Mater USC (South Carolinan’s can relax this is not you), is back in the news again today with an article in the NY Times What’s Life Like as a Student at U.S.C.? Depends on the Size of the Bank Account.

The past few years have demonstrated that there are many endemic problems at USC. A new President Carol Falk from UNC Chapel Hill is set to take over in part due to several scandals involving university administrators and employees. There’s a great deal that needs to be fixed at USC.

But the article in the NY Times strikes me as going back to the whipping post to portray everything about USC as overdone, overpaid, and over-the-top. The article described that tuition alone was $57,000 per year. For the record that’s 4x what it cost when I went there. Even for those students that receive financial aid there’s no way they can keep up with the Joneses or the Loughlins for that matter. They don’t even try nor should they.

Yet I venture to guess that USC is not any different than many ‘prestigious’ four-year universities. I’ve been on a number of college campuses around the county and from what I see overall they are MUCH nicer than back in my day. Not all that long ago, upscale living conditions (yes pricey), really didn’t exist to any degree. Campus food did not include major brands being right in the middle of campus.   Affluent parents want to come visit their collegian children but they want nice hotels and nice restaurants. The changes I saw at Florida State in four years during the time my daughter attended were emblematic – and impressive. And of course, everything is more expensive.

The idea of going to college to continue one’s education means very different things than what it meant even before the Internet became ubiquitous. Today, a motivated student with an online connection and basic computer (Chromebook for instance), has the ability to look for and learn about almost any subject imaginable. U.S. based college students are competing with kids around the world that don’t go to college but are VERY motivated and now have more access to the tools to help them compete.   There’s still much work to be done to put Internet based technology in the hands of every child that wants to learn this way. But it’s inevitable.

The idea that as a 17 or 18 year-old you can go to a nice campus for four years (ok for some if could be five or more), meet friends for life, learn a few things, come home and have a summer job before going back to school, is an old idea from another age. It’s become a luxury that fewer and fewer people can afford – or even need to do. When I went to USC my father – who went to City College of NY (he told me it was $1/year and it kept him off the streets), would continually advance that the time spent with my classmates BS-ing was the most valuable thing about college. I understood both then and now what he meant.

Who would want to willingly sign up for almost $240,000 in tuition over four years PLUS living expenses? Foreign and domestic students that can afford to pay full tuition are not benefitting anyone else but themselves. The big ruse is that if you do NOT go to college, no self-respecting baby boomer is going to give a non-collegian a fair shake. Or a shake at all.

USC is far from being unique in providing a luxury experience for its students – and parents. I am certainly embarrassed by the spate of bad news surrounding USC. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad place and that the students are all snot-nosed snobs that don’t learn anything or do anything of value. The entire university system in the United States is a giant mess. From not paying larger program student-athletes who are really university employees to allowing tuition to reach stratospheric levels, well-intentioned universities are degrading into serving themselves and their endowments.

Is a four-year university education still relevant and necessary to succeed? Isn’t what people do today with college based on dogma? Everything is changing at an increasingly rapid pace. There are so many other ways to gain knowledge and wisdom. Apprenticeships used to be quite normal until they were not. The luxury of a being a college student for four or more years is something that’s ripe for big time change.


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Tom Seaver – My boyhood hero isn’t gone just yet

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I went to my first Opening Day at Shea Stadium in 1967. I hadn’t yet turned 8 years old. My father picked me up from school early and I truly felt special. The starting pitcher that day was journeyman Don Cardwell. For the following 10 seasons George Thomas Seaver was the Mets Opening Day pitcher.

Most people have some knowledge that those early Met teams (founded in 1962) were terrible teams. Original Met manager Casey Stengel when asked about one of his early teams’ execution, famously quipped “I’m all for it”.

For Met fans and Seaver buffs:

From Wikipedia:

Seaver was drafted in the tenth round of the 1965 Major League Baseball draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. When Seaver asked for $70,000, however, the Dodgers passed.

In 1966, Seaver signed a professional contract with the Atlanta Braves, who had drafted him in the first round of the secondary June draft (20th overall). However, the contract was voided by Baseball Commissioner William Eckert because his college team had played two exhibition games that year (although Seaver himself hadn’t played). Seaver intended, then, to finish the college season, but because he had signed a pro contract, the NCAA ruled him ineligible. After Seaver’s father complained to Eckert about the unfairness of the situation, and threatened with a lawsuit, Eckert ruled that other teams could match the Braves’ offer.[3] The Mets were subsequently awarded his signing rights in a lottery drawing among the three teams (the Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians being the two others) that were willing to match the Braves’ terms.[4]

I didn’t know any of the background on Tom Seaver as I went to my first baseball game ever that cold April day. Seaver was in the dugout that day recently having made it to the big club and he went on to win 16 games that season and was NL Rookie-of-the-Year. The next year in 1968 Jerry Koosman had a terrific rookie year, also in my view being worthy of Rookie-of –the-Year honors, but that was not in the cards as some guy name Johnny Bench won the award that year.

1969 was a glorious year for Met fans. Tom Terrific, (as he was now called as well as The Franchise), was the undisputed leader of that 1969 championship team going 25-7 with a 2.12 E.R.A. Baseball was still ‘America’s Pastime’ in ’69 and in fact professional baseball was celebrating its 100 anniversary that season. It’s hard to believe that Met team will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the aptly named ‘Miracle Mets’. Like most Met fans I am sad that Seaver will not be able to attend the festivities this season due to his struggles with Lyme disease and Dementia.

The last time I saw Seaver in person was that final day at Shea Stadium when he walked off into center field with his fellow Hall –of –Famer Mike Piazza. He looked both good and strong that day.

Seaver was an intense competitor and while not a man of many words to the press, always gave thoughtful if not straightforward answers. He was also not known as a guy with a great sense of humor, at least not to the public, but his Met teammates have long described him otherwise.

However in the late 1980’s I was treated to one random special moment that displayed Seaver’s quick wit and humility. For some reason I tuned into a New York Yankee broadcast which had longtime announcer Phil Rizzuto working with a variety of people which included Tom Seaver.   While Seaver did pitch for the Yankees late in his career (this pained me deeply), having him on a Yankee broadcast made it worth watching at least a little bit.

Anyone that watched Phil Rizzuto over the years knew him to be a wacky and fun-loving broadcaster who sometimes forgot that he was actually live on the air. Rizzuto and Seaver had a warm on-air relationship borne out of mutual respect and admiration. Neither were great broadcasters but both were memorable ones.

The moment in question started with a camera shot of a large bright full moon. Rizzuto says something like:

Rizzuto – ‘Hey Seaver, lookit that moon!’

Seaver – ‘no Scooter that’s not the moon’.

Rizzuto (puzzled) – ‘It’s not?’

Seaver – ‘Nope. It’s a home run I gave up to Mike Schmidt five years ago finally coming back to Earth’ .

Rizzuto –Speechless. Then laughter.

My boyhood hero had demonstrated a humor and humility that I had never seen before and I loved him all the more for it.

‘Tom Terrific’ has only just retired from public life. Remember that he’s still with us and I am sure is a bit embarrassed by all the recent fuss about his family’s announcement of that retirement. But he will still work in his vineyard making very good wine.

I’ve got a bottle of GTS Cabernet given to me by a good Met fan friend that I am saving a day I hope is long into the future. My boyhood hero has never disappointed me and that’s…Amazing!


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How being on the road is very good for me

For three out of the past four years I’ve taken a break from the cold of the Northeast and, (with my wife), driven South (and also at other times West) to warmer climes. The trips have lasted anywhere from just under 4 to 6 weeks. Aside from the obvious benefit of not freezing my rear-end off, there’s an energy and in my view a corresponding benefit to being off my regular routine and for things being ‘different’ every day.

On this most recent trip of not quite 4 weeks, we did not stay in any one place for more than 4 days. We saw and stayed with several friends and family members and mixed in a few hotel nights as well as an Airbnb stint. One interesting aspect was that in almost every case people asked us how we were enjoying our vacation. Given that we were keeping up with all that needed to be accomplished in our ongoing professional lives, we don’t consider any of these trips to be ‘vacation’. Is the perception that we are on vacation because we are not at home? Or that the weather is warmer and nicer than it is back in the Northeast? My guess is that it’s a combination of both and that the idea that you can move around as we do near the end of our 6th decade is hard to fathom – more by our peers than by millennials btw.

Here’s another thought. I’ve been wildly productive given that I have to work at an optimal pace when the rare opportunity for a protracted period of time is presented And I actually relish those times since, after that I feel ‘caught-up’ and on top of what I need to do and am keenly focused on the important things. Ruthless efficiency can be borne out of need and circumstances.

I know that when I work at my ‘regular’ desk, I have a rhythm and pattern that I suspect is a bit stale. I suspect that tendency Is shared by many. Whether they are aware of it or not is another story. I frequently talk about ‘disrupting thyself’ as the innate human desire for familiarity and comfort is not a way to branch out to see, do, and learn new things. Taking this now almost yearly road trip while staying fully connected to my professional life is at times a little stressful since things happen when they happen and that’s not always convenient to ongoing travel. It also can at times be a bit tiring. Overall it’s exhilarating and I feel like am in some ways cheating convention. And that makes me smile and want to do this more often.

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When doing nothing means doing something

I am increasingly conscious of when I am doing nothing. Meditation can come in a variety of methods and forms. The constancy of being engaged with something, anything, can lead to a downward spiral of that never-ending ability to do – something . However, just because you can always find something to occupy yourself, does not mean that you should.

There’s a great deal lost in never just sitting and thinking, or watching the world go by. It seems to me that most people do ‘nothing’ less than ever before in human history. Social shows us there’s always something is going on in your life to catch up on. I mean, is anybody ever bored anymore? Yet when I consciously do nothing, I have come to realize that I am actually allowing my mind to work on things I’ve been thinking about – albeit subconsciously.

It’s not always easy to achieve deep thinking on demand. But you don’t necessarily realize that your brain is working in the background all the time. I get ideas coming to me at odd times. Lying in bed at night or in the middle of the night. Like many people I get ideas while I am In the shower. Some of them are good ones. It’s the allowing of idle thoughts that helps my entire being take a breath. And that’s far from being in the devil’s workplace in my opinion.

The constant need for stimulation and occupying oneself is insidious. Just look at the people with you in the elevator. How many of them are looking at their phone when they are in the elevator? As if 45 seconds of non-engagement would be just a complete waste of time.

My recommendation is be aware of what you are doing. And not doing. Think about setting aside time to NOT do something. It’s a personal choice and one of the best ones you can make.

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The time is now for video calling at home and at work

Last November I posted about whether or not I was going to buy a Facebook Portal device. I ended up doing so and had a smaller one sent to my daughter who lives in Chicago.

This past Monday evening my daughter and I had dinner ‘together’, complete with cooking our respective dinners simultaneously and then sitting down and enjoying our meals, talking and listening to one another. We were just separated by a screen and 1,000 miles. It was bar-none the best experience I’ve ever had video chatting.   The pan-ability of the Facebook Portal device (140 degree field of vision) is good for now and affords a very natural way to interact with someone without holding a phone or having to stand in front of a static camera (as other devices from Google and Amazon). I can’t wait to do it again with her and other members of my family who don’t live close enough to visit regularly.

To be able to use Facebook Portal to talk and watch, and listen with someone you are not able to see as much as you’d like is still a substitute for being there in person but it’s so vastly different (and in my opinion better) than FaceTime or a phone call. As mentioned before because of the camera we were each able to cook and then sit at our tables in our own kitchens while still chatting. The field of vision is not just of your face but of the entire area around you. It’s a much fuller, more realized experience, really almost like actually being there as compared to the small/focused view of just a face using FaceTime or a desktop camera. And you think you need to yell to be heard but you really don’t need to. It takes a little acclimation.

For my work I’ve been a subscriber to Zoom.us for business video chatting for almost two years but hadn’t used it all that much. This year I did promise myself to use video chatting for business on a regular basis. Our company has clients all over the place and the ability to ‘see’ the people behind the voices at the other end of the phone far surpasses the experience of a conference call.

I understand I am may be a bit late to the video chat party as many companies have video calls and meetings as a regular part of their daily workday or workweek.   But overall adoption of video calling has been slow to gain momentum for a variety of reasons both technological and behavioral as there are people who would rather NOT be viewed during a phone call out of old habits. I do wonder about all that data required to handle video chatting. Worldwide 5G can’t come soon enough.

There are all kinds of ways to engender video calling in the professional world including Google Hangouts, which BTW is free. The utility provided by companies like Zoom include the ability to record meetings (but you still should tell people that you are recording the meeting), send and confirm invitations and the ability to have many people be a part of a call. All I can tell you – video calling is better.

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25 books I read in 2018

I still read about half of the books digitally on my tablet through Amazon Kindle, and the other half is a combination of library, borrowed from friends, gifts, and purchased hardcovers and paperback books.

Riding trains between Manhattan and the suburbs affords me time to read that I otherwise might not manage to find. I keep that in mind when the commute gets to me – which it does on occasion.

What are you reading? You should always be able to answer that question from a family member or friend.

Here are the 25 from 2018 – each review in ten words or less.

National Pastime: U.S. History Through Baseball By Martin C. Babicz, Thomas W. Zeller

Baseball’s story within its appropriate historical context. Really good read. 

Raising Ross – Laurie Rubin

My close friend writes about life with her autistic son.

Aja– Don Breithaupt

Yes an entire book about one groundbreaking Steely Dan album.

Why We Sleep – The New Science of Sleep and Dreams – Matthew Walker

Renowned sleep expert reveals the purpose and power of slumber

Principles – Ray Dalio

My one 2018 audiobook. Long and often interesting, not always.

An American Caddie At St. Andrews – Ollie Horowitz

Funny, irreverent, and not so much appreciated by the caddies.

The War For China’s Wallet – Shaun Rein

An American born marketer living in China assesses the future.

Sapiens: A brief history of humankind – Yuval Noah Har

The subject was more interesting than some of the reading.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz

Enjoyable and jarring at times – not a bad thing.

The Patient Will See You Now – Dr. Eric Topol

Nodded my head all the way through.

Steely Dan FAQ – Anthony Robustelli

I’m a fan, he’s a fan. You get it.

Bad Blood – John Carreyou

The upcoming movie can’t be as good as this book.

The Hard Bargain – David Tucker

A would-be opera singer turned eye doctor’s story. Sweet.

Irresistible: The Rise Of Addictive Technology And The Business Of Keeping Us Hooked – Adam Alter

Truly, scary, and something we should all be concerned with.

Two Years At St. Andrews – George Peper

Former U.S. based Golf Digest writer moves across the pond.

Artemis: Andy Weir

Author of The Martian writes another compelling story. 

The Innovators – Walter Isaacson

A somewhat long but yet still a page turning book.

Eternal Sonata – Jamie Metzl

Disturbing and thought-provoking story about achieving eternal life.

Breakthrough – Michael C. Grumley

Humans finally communicating with dolphins, aliens underwater. Somehow it works.

Astroball – Ben Reiter

Modern day version of ‘Moneyball’ and just as interesting.

Navigating Japan’s Business Culture – Robert Charles Azar

American thirty-year Japan business veteran’s advice on what works.

Abundance – The Future is Better Than You Think – Peter Diamandis and Steven Kottler

2012 book with a very compelling title and uplifting message.

On The Origins of Sports: The Early History and Original Rules of Everybody’s Favorite Games – Gary Beisky and Thomas W. Zeller

How various sports originated and the rules that evolved.

There were a few that did not make the list because I did not finish them.

Read more books in 2019. You can do this!

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Do I want to buy a Facebook ‘Portal’ device?

Having a daughter that lives in a city located almost 1,000 miles away is sometimes frustrating. I miss her and wish I could see her and spend time with her more often. And I know I am in good company since many people have family members that live far away.

The recent Facebook ads for its new Portal device are compelling and have captured my interest because for the first time I can visualize the utility of having a device that has a 140 degree field of view and follows you around the room in a way that until now, hasn’t been commercially available. I can see myself using it and enhancing my ability to stay connected with my daughter and other family members and friends. I mean eventually there will be full-fledged video calling like in Sci-Fi movies and TV shows and it has to start somewhere right?

Interestingly Facebook has never before tried developing and selling hardware. So the timing isn’t an accident. There are other options. Google has its Home device and Amazon has its Echo Show, but the reported high quality of the video combined with the camera tracking makes (by many reviewers), the Portal device the early leader.

Full disclosure – I maintain a small financial position in Facebook mostly because I believe it has the ability to connect family (and friends to a lesser degree) and make their human interaction and connection better. I readily acknowledge that this may seen naive given Facebook’s history in both the short and long term. I think it’s possible to be both an optimist, “Facebook can connect family members and friends in amazing way”, AND a cynic, “but Facebook will continue to sell my personal data to possibly nefarious entities because it’s all about the money.” When it comes to Mark Zuckerberg I have allowed my hope that he’s a decent human being to triumph over my knowledge that power and money often change people inexorably. The jury is out on Zuckerberg as far as I am concerned.

The mission of Facebook began with far less than noble intentions. When Zuckerberg created the ‘Hot or Not’ rating system at Harvard it was both crude and popular. It was more of a harbinger of what was to come than people talk about. Yet along the way it seemed that Mark Zuckerberg grew to understand the incredible responsibility that he undertook when trying to help engineer changes in human interactions. Clearly that was not planned, but it is what ended up happening. While it should be much more scary than emboldening, being 30 and leading a society changing juggernaut hasn’t been done before. Mistakes have been made. LOTS of mistakes.

My son challenged me that I’ve been giving Zuckerberg a pass and I’ve thought long and hard about that and to a degree he’s right. Sheryl Sandberg who was brought in to be the adult in the room (which apparently did not work out so well), is also deserving of criticism since a lot of bad things have happened on her watch. But it’s still Zuckerberg’s fault.

Racial discrimination was just reported by a former Facebook employee in the form of reputed suppression of posts from people of color. This too is Zuckerberg’s fault.

The truth is that There’s more and more reason for people to NOT trust Facebook. If that continues for anything more than the near future Facebook will be in a fight for its survival. The release of the Facebook Portal device is timed for the holidays or perhaps a more tactical reason like staving off a declining share price or simply taking the focus of its business practices.

Since I don’t actually spend much daily time on the Facebook platform anyway, I think I am going to wait a bit before buying a Facebook Portal. In the meantime I will continue to hope that the leadership at Facebook gets its act together, comes clean about what’s been going and what’s going to be done to fix it. The cynic in me is laughing out loud.

Posted in Communication, Data collection, Facebook, Living in the World Today, Marketing stuff, Personal Technology, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment