Thursday, March 31, 2011

Flea Markets & A Child's-Eye View

I am writing this on a flight to Copenhagen. When I was younger I knew it as Royal Copenhagen. You see, the cultures of distant lands were categorized and understood by the collectible antiques I had seen in flea markets that originated from that place. I never really thought about international imports or that some people would want to break from tradition.
David Andersen Butterfly

Hence, Denmark was the country of LEGOs and Holland was a country of Delft porcelain. My image of Scandinavia had porcelain with blue and white clogged children and windmills sitting on mid-century boroughs. In the foreground of that mental scene, kids sat on living room floors building castles out of primary-colored blocks.  All the women wore David Andersen enamel sterling jewelry in vivid colors. Striated blues, greens, and reds forming a leaf or a butterfly, fastened scarves and adorned the wrists of locals as they set their tables with cobalt and ivory dishes. Norway also brought solje jewelry--- intricate silver filigree pieces with hanging spoons--- worn by every bride on her wedding gown.   

As for the rest of Europe--- West Germany still existed because valuable porcelain marked as such could still be found and I knew that Germans must like their silver duller than most everywhere else, as they usually put about 10% less of the substance into their amalgams. France had Limoges insect encrusted trinket boxes and Lalique perfume bottles with beautiful translucent nudes, sitting atop Louis XIV marble top bombay chests--- never quite seemed 'cozy' or 'livable', but they must be a very formal fancy peoples, I thought.

Intaglia carnelian faces surrounded in bright yellow gold could be seen on the erect pinkies of firey Romans drinking espresso, and at these chest-height-Italian-gathering-places there were flower arrangements at the center in an end-of-day Murano glass vase. If one wanted to know if a women was of Czechoslovakian or Austrian decent, all one needed to do was look to her crystal necklace, which of course, they all wore. If she was Czech, the beads would reflect a rainbow off each of the facets, but if she was Austrian, the crystals had a clearer, more refined appearance without the same prismatic effect. 

You get the picture.

Fortunately, now that I have been able to travel as an adult, I don't see countries in such a particular way. Though many times, I still type-cast and cities now become to some extent a periscope-like view into an entire country, admittedly unfairly. For instance, France, for now I think Paris--- a beautiful city filled with fantastic food and art, though the people many times seem quite self-important, dare I say, obnoxious. But their cool black clad appearance belies a passionate sense of French identity to which they cling and never want diluted. And I was right, they are a formal peoples, just sit in a cafe with a few teenage girls, and you'll notice a sense of occasion and of personal style that can't be found anywhere else. Some of my most beautiful mental images were shot there, and some of the most thought-provoking and creative movie shorts I've ever seen were born in the mind of a Frenchman. So I wouldn't quite say, "I left my heart in Paris", but close and Lalique and Limoges have very little to do with it.

So we'll see what Copenhagen has in store. Hans Christian Andersen's antiquarian fairy tales and George Jensen flatware certainly, but what else I'll learn about the Danes I wonder.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Great Divide: Doctors vs Innovators

Time Magazine eLEGS

I recently listened to a talk about the future of exoskeleton technology.  It seems that Berkeley Bionics is making great 'strides', helping wheel-chair bound individuals walk again.  My college days were packed with discussions of biomechanics and gait analysis so, of course, the topic is of great interest to me.  However, if conceivable, what I find more interesting is that when it comes to discussion of modern science and medical technologies inevitably, the practice of medicine is vilified. 

The woman demonstrating the technology has been paralyzed for nineteen years after taking a sudden somersault while skiing in her twenties.  She described her despair in the hospital bed, which was magnified by the doctor who "strolled in and told me I'd never walk again.  And with that he shattered me".  Since then, she had relearned how to ski and rock climb, but with this device, she was walking for the first time. Her tone was defiant, as if she thought her doctor would have wanted to be right more than for her to be healed.

As a teenage, I worked at the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, a non-profit that focused on teaching doctors to treat patients more humanistically.  Many of us, I'm sure, have read statistics on the mind-body connection, the placebo effect, the importance of hopefulness in treatment.  I saw it with my own grandmother. This is not the first time I have heard such a negative perception of physician care.  But more and more often I hear these sentiments espoused by the innovation community, with the most vitriol of all.  The attacks come both in professional and personal contexts.  Oddly enough, it often becomes medicine versus innovation.

I believe, what it really distills down to is that though these two groups seem to have similar goals, they actually have diametrically different views of patient care with much differing time horizons.  In the most idealistic situation, doctors are trained experts with an encyclopedic knowledge about disease and ways to fight it.  However, they are dealing from a very finite stack of answers and the very basis of their profession tells them, that all diagnosis and prognosis must fall within that Rolodex.  Everything is reduced to statistical norms within mortality and morbidity charts.  Their focus is primarily in the past.  They treat one patient at a time, informed by their education and experience, winning some, losing others, hoping that over enough cases, they can beat the house. 

The science and technology community is predominantly a different breed of animal who thinks almost entirely of the future.  Innovators believe that the game can always be rigged to improve the odds.  They have faith that given enough analytical capital--- man, microprocessor, experimentation--- anything is possible.  This illogical blindly optimistic view of the world provide the fumes that keep them working even when chances seem slim.  To them answers are never finite, and thus the Rolodex is a dynamic one.  And lastly, when they hit, they hit big, effecting the life of not just one patient, but possibly millions.

So when these two communities are forced into the same room, whether by industry or illness, they can't understand each other.  The doctor, in the trenches daily, patient-to-patient, must see the innovator as a wild-eyed dreamer. While the innovator, creating a device or cure ten, twenty, or thirty years into the future sees the physician as lacking hope, vision, and having the audacity to think he has all the answers . 

The irony is that they both need each other--- and it's not just about creation and implementation.

I hear that job satisfaction amongst physicians is at an all time low.  Doctors are a disheartened and disillusioned bunch and they deserve a little hope and faith drizzled into their profession. Maybe innovators could share their flame of optimism.  A tiny flicker could burn despite all the negativity medical professionals face.  Maybe then they could impart more of it to their patients too.  And I'll be the first to admit, many times innovators can be dreamers.  They could stand to learn more about the current needs of patients, develop a greater sense of urgency around solutions and visualize the real people they would be helping with this great abstract idea. 

Past, present and future.  Grounded and hopeful.  Micro and macro.  Doctors and innovators would do well to realize they are on the same team. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wal-mart & Manhattan

A letter to the editor about our dismay for the now built and running Wal-mart coming to our neighborhood, the argument I believe is still apropos.  I hope New York keeps fighting the good fight.

"As fairly recent home-owners in North Bergen, purchasing our apartment in November of 2006, we were drawn in by the sense of community, the highly diverse population, and the fact that it is a transitioning neighborhood. As such, we were distressed to read in Tuesday's Bergen Record about the imminent acquisition of property by Wal-Mart in our town. We feel that Wal-Mart would undermine everything North Bergen is striving to be.

North Bergen is a strong working-class town with a large Urban Enterprise Zone. The UEZ zoning was created to help the area flourish and to promote small business growth. The program is there to incentivize employment of local union workers and to allow the area to have a self-sustaining economy. However, based on a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about Wal-Mart's "aggressive" tax cutting strategies, we are forced to believe that it would take advantage of and undermine the entire purpose of the UEZ zone (Drucker A1). Simultaneously, it would enjoy half the normal state tax rate and gain additional profits from the employment of local non-union workers. Wal-Mart will hire a skeleton crew with as few full-time employees as possible, making sure to avoid paying for health coverage. As stated in Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, even many of their full-time employees with 'full benefits' are forced onto food stamps and Medicare because Wal-Mart wages aren't adequate for the standard of living (Friedman 215). Lastly, this company has an infamous track record for taking control of an area and its economy, while manipulating and optimizing local tax law for maximum profits. Consequently, it is being indicted by multiple states for partial tax evasion.

We see this aggressive move by Wal-Mart as a way to take advantage of a small town at a tipping point, to benefit its investors at the cost of a town's success. North Bergen would be at the will of this anti-American corporation. Wal-Mart will strangle the small- to mid-size companies, which the UEZ zone was created to promote and protect, by undercutting prices and limiting necessary expenses. Inevitably, many businesses will close and Wal-Mart will be able to assert it's dominance over what would have been a thriving community.

We see no benefit for our home town or our neighbors."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Allure of Wander Lust

My mother planted a tree for each of her children when we were born.  For me, she trained a wisteria vine to stand upright and become what looks like a peculiar tree--- no small feat. It still gives her headaches some years, she has given up on bracing it to a post and now just attempts to trim it at the beginning of the season. Every spring it grows in unexpected directions, the flowers draping differently, and the seedling pods spread further on my parent's front lawn.  As a child, that bush-like tree was symbolic of my rebellious nature, my impulse to roam, the fact that 'I could not be tamed'.  I thought it meant that I was wild like a vine.

I've been noticing a trend lately.  One where smart, ambitious, young people choose to take a wild detour, a seemingly permanent hiatus from their adult lives.  I see quarter-lifers en masse abandoning all notions of a permanent identity, forgoing education (some use this as a detour in and of itself), family, home, and career to 'travel'.  'Travel' has thus become an autonomous and all-encompassing word for not just motion, but constant, never ending life as a rootless vagabond.  That way they are responding solely to individual whims and momentary desires, rather than facing the bigger picture--- the instinct I believe every human being has--- 'How will I contribute to something greater than myself? What will be my lasting impact?".

The impulse is understandable, after all a few years ago, I had a similar one. I hit some bumps in the proverbial road that many people my age are first encountering--- the experience of being forced to reconcile your hopes with a reality that is less than ideal, particularly in the context of work-life.  My generation was told, 'you can do anything', 'you can change the world', 'you are special'.  It's a great deal to live up to, and more so, to figure out what that actually means when you are forced to 'specialize' in very tenuous times.

Suddenly, one feels the need to figure out what to do with the rest of life, now, at this very moment.  The unfortunate thing is, when someone with the life experience of a couple of decades is faced with such a deep unanswerable existential question as "What will fulfill and engage me for the next, hopefully, eight decades? What will it say on my epitaph?" many run scared, understandably so.  They run to the farthest corners of the earth, thinking they can escape this monster, the very one their fathers vanquished from under their beds when they were little.  But as my grandmother used to say, "whereever you go your troubles follow", and no matter where one sleeps, there will always be a goblin lurking in the corner.  That is, until someone turns on the light to reveal that scary shadow to be, say, a sweater hanging on the back of a chair. 

I decided to write about this after reading a poem by Robert Service in Truman Capote's, 'In Cold Blood'.  The killer in this true-story left a note for a woman who had cared for him, as explanation for his departure.

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
    A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
    And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,

    And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
    And they don't know how to rest.
If they just went straight they might go far;
    They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
    And they want the strange and new.
They say: "Could I find my proper groove,
    What a deep mark I would make!"
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
    Is only a fresh mistake.
And each forgets, as he strips and runs
    With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
    Who win in the lifelong race.

It is such a scary question because life is an ever evolving journey--- there is no one answer in your mid-twenties, let alone early fifties or late seventies.  And with the life experience comes the knowledge, not what will keep your engaged ad infinatum and leave a legacy long after you're gone, but that situations manifest, unforeseeable events and environments arise and change happens even as life seems like it's standing still.  Thus we need to be open to the ride, adaptable to change, and make decisions authentic to ourselves and to that which is known at the moment.
As for me, I have always been called a 'gypsy', partially because of my look, and partially because I've always been a restless vine-like spirit.  As a teenager, I identified with movies like 'Chocolat' and assumed I had a wandering soul like the listless heroine. So for a spell, as an adult, I tried on that shoe for size. Surprisingly, what I found, is that it didn't fit as well as I had expected.  I found that I am committed and passionate about certain things and to certain people.  I am not listless nor scared of standing still--- if anything, I am terrified of running. I found that I love an adventure, but I also love a warm home where I can collect all the stories in one place.  I discovered that thinking outside myself defined me more than looking within.   "Yes! Live! Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!," Auntie Mame proclaims to her nephew.  I've only recently come to understand what that actually means. 

And funny enough, I now see myself like that wisteria even more today than when I was a child, but in an entirely different way--- not a tree, not a vine, but both. Which makes me beautifully unpredictable, and at the same time also deeply rooted and when my season comes, I spread my flowers and seeds generously, and hopefully, with more far ranging impact than the prior one. A bohemian with a specific place in the universe--- I am a stationary gypsy, if that's possible.  Hence, now I can sit without the dizzying shifting parallax of perpetual motion and enjoy this wonderful ride of life, where I try to steer as often as possible. A ride well-lived, not a life well-ridden--- that's my goal.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Perception of Power

Last week, I wrote yet another complaint email to a CEO. This time, it was in regards to unfulfilled price match guarantees on a travel site that shall remain nameless. Other times it has been to the heads of commercial & investment banks, retailers, consumer products producers, credit card companies. Many times I CC other chief executives within the company, depending if it is say, an operational or financial issue. Often I CC members of the board.  You could say that I am blind to the perceived boundaries of wealth and/or power.

As to this particular incident, it may seem trivial to most. After spending an unexpected hour on the phone with  'white glove' call center service, they wouldn't honor the guarantee attested on their website. The service rep mentioned as the reasoning a couple of loop holes, asterisks and round-abouts, all contradicting each other. All to get the company out of a $25 refund and $50 future credit. Mind you, I had just received an elite/platinum membership, with this spiffy concierge number embossed on the card, for being such a profitable customer. I promptly cancelled my reservation and rebooked with a competing site. After which I wrote a scathing email to the head of the company for his irresponsibility, his dereliction in the way of customer service, and also expressing that the company no longer had verisimilitude to me--- I didn't sense they were acting in good faith.

My first letter like this was written at age 8, with the help of my father. Frustrated that Jolly Ranchers  packages were usually slim on the lemons, my favorite flavor, I wrote to 'the man' about being bilked out of my allowance money.  I even lamented about how the 29 cent stamp was an expense I could not afford (ok, so it was a slight exaggeration), audaciously asking for 3 bags of pure lemon, which was not a product they produced.  After printing the letter off on our dot matrix printer, I separated it at the perforation, removed the trim, and sent it off in an envelope. A few weeks later, I received not only a hand written reply from a brand manager (oh, the irony), but samples of new products, coupons and my father was invited to pick up more at the local factory.  He later came home with cases of pink lemonade candy sticks, something I don't believe they produce any longer.  All because of my insolant little letter.

My mother recently found these
and gave them to me.
Now access is even easier. We have the internet and blackberries and email, and given a little research effort and writing abilities, it is fairly easy to tell a company what you think quickly and electronically. I've found the email address on my way underground, written the email on the subway ride, and sent it as I've walked up the steps to the street air.  The day of printers and snail mail is nearly dead. 

But it's not just a 'company' I like to contact, inevitably I want a human being on the other end of that letter and one with enough clout and skin in the game to do something about it.  Hence, I have this dreadful habit of sending complaint letters to CEOs.  And I always offer a seemingly important consequence, the loss of a good customer.  I usually get a response from the executive office. Occasionally, I'll get a response from a customer service manager, given specific instruction, I'm sure, to "handle this".  Rarely, have I received direct touch from the CEO himself (yes, him, it's always been a him unfortunately). 

Apparently, I'm not the only one. I recently read about the CEO of Starbucks receiving an email from the CEO of J Crew, Millard Drexler, about the coffee lids at his regular Starbucks haunt. Drexler sees it as his right and his duty, as I do.  Schultz was responsive and took ownership of this small complaint--- I'm glad, as I'm not only a regular consumer, I'm a shareholder.  I hope he responds as vigorously even to the 'nobodies' who email him.

I guess, if you distill it down, my habit started with that letter to the candy company.  Maybe if my father never read about Ralph Charell, Guiness Records most successful complainer in the early 80's, I'd be a slightly different person today. But then again, I have always had a strong sense of fairness and justice.  Additionally, I never quite understood that fear of 'authority' or respect for 'conventional wisdom' that's supposed to come with say, your first teeth or your first homework assignment.  Also, when I entered the business world, and particularly the entrepreneurial world, I found myself speaking with management of companies often.  So all those factors accumulate to create a world that is markedly flat, where we are all human and fundamentally, that means no one is inaccessible and no aura of power is inpenetrable. 

As for my anonymous travel executive, I just received an email with an apology and a credit for my next booking. I'm happy. But I'll be happier if they don't do it next time. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Auto-Generated Code

I have a tendency to draw out logic flows of websites. And occasionally I build out a website myself as a way to help organize the structure of an entrepreneurial idea and then, to help me evaluate it as a viable one. It helps me flush out concepts in a structured environment--- similar to writing. After which, I can use it for market analysis, case studies, and possibly build out by a real developer.  I spent a good portion of today, structuring out one of those concepts.

Nowadays, simple website construction is a point and click endeavor using open-source software like Joomla. Unfortunately, auto-generated HTML is not up-to-snuff, and I find myself, inevitably frustrated and tinkering with the code manually. That's what I found myself doing, until the flickering moving frames left me with a headache and eyes open so wide, anime cartoon characters didn't seem so exaggerated.

I am reminded of my childhood business selling M&M collectibles and antiques on ebay. This was in the platform's infancy when you still had to know HTML and FTP photos to your own server. My mother and I would spend hours on dial-up with freezes and reboots.  Now that ebay is so user friendly, it's a shame they want such high commissions (for a different day). 

Technology and web development has come a long way--- but there's still a ways to go. 

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, March 18, 2011

Game Changer: Courtney Martin, Reinventing Feminism

"I was raised with a very heavy sense of unfinished legacy."

Game Changer: Sarah Kay, spoken poet

If I should have a daughter, I wouldn't mind her being like Sarah Kay.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Six Degree Obituaries

My father has always read the obits, leaving posthumous clippings listing the achievements of famous scientists on the kitchen table. Coffee stained and sticky, the paper was held up at dinner, while he would regale the accomplishments of the recently deceased and mention how sad it is that this man or woman of science (the highest of callings) hadn't gotten their due prominence by the public, even in death.  Jeopardy would normally be on in the background.

I started reading the 'morbids' at age 8.  What can I say, I was a peculiar and precocious child.  The way I see it, if someone put in the effort to abridge someones life into a paragraph or two, the least I could do is have enough respect to read it.  Maybe, in the process I'll learn something about life, relationships, accomplishment, the meaning of it all--- what's really important when you nail it down to the brass tacks.  

Today, I saw the announcement for Shifra Lerer, heroine of the Yiddish stage.  It reminded me of the first obituary I had ever read, for Molly Picon.  One of the greatest beacons of Yiddish stage, she died not long after I had done a presentation about her life in class.  Mrs. McClair, my second grade teacher, saw how invested I was in researching her life, how much I had grown to admire her, that she felt the need to break the bad news and clipped the article for me.  I remember crying in the hallway that day. 

That year, I also remember biographing the lives of Harry Houdini and Golda Meir.  What's funny is that fairly recently a friend told me about a study that the interests and traits one has at age eight speak to the adult you will become.  I've been hearing a great deal about the 'Longevity Project', an eighty year longitudinal study following the same highly intelligent children throughout their lives.  I wonder if they will come to the same conclusion about the interests of second graders.

Who knows, maybe my epitaph will read, 'Female Scion. Brilliant Performer. Powerful Influencer & Leader '  I've never thought of myself as a performer.  But there's still time--- I hope.  Kenina Hora. Poo, Poo, Poo. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Hate Women.

I love talent. I love passion.  I love empathy.  I often, hate women. 

The former qualities I seek in people, and many times go wasted in women in particular.  Hence, I support women.  However, I have often found that women don't support me.  Many seem to see the world, their careers, their networks as a zero-sum game.  As if, when I am aided to do something great it will some how be to the exclusion of my 'connector'. I think we've been programmed that way by our feminist mothers, to compete, to strive, to conquer and win, but the message that got muttled for many of us, is 'go at it alone' and hence, 'sharing is bad'.   

'Connector'--- it's an interesting term, one I picked up a few years ago after reading Keith  Ferrazzi's, 'Never Eat Alone'.  I would consider myself to be a connector, a flame if you will.  Not only do I take great joy in connecting the synapses, weaving together people and ideas into an intricate and beautiful web, I also know that I am not extinguished by helping others.  To the contrary, I think it only increases the heat of my flame and the size of my web. 

At the end of the day, I am a woman.  And consequently, I feel the need to support women, no matter how misguided, selfish or competitive many may seem.  As Hillel once asked, אם אין אני לי מי לי (im ain ani li mi li). "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" Continuing he queries, "And if I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"  I am for me and therefore, I am for women, now and forever.

I just wish there were more out there who felt the same--- I'm working on it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Fiber Optic Umbilicus

He peers at me over the top of his laptop screen, furtively, guilty almost, with an unmistakable neon glow radiating off his face. I shoot back with a quick, 'you need to set better boundaries'. 'But Dayna, Asia might not be able to do business on Monday'. To which I respond, 'this time.'

I know how heartless that must sound but, that reflective fluorescent hue of the computer screen or of the Blackberry email queue on a Sunday is all to familiar to me and my husband. We relish the fact that we live in this modern age--- after all we are both passionate about technology, it is our stock and trade. We are able to be a part of an innovative industry that excites us both daily. Now you can work from anywhere at anytime, but that also means that you can be reached anywhere at anytime. And business is being transacted throughout the day, all over the globe, with New York, primarily as its epicenter.  Thus our devices become inescapable tethers that keep us forever bound to our work lives. The expectation becomes that we are a 24/7 information economy--- and thus 24/7 work creatures. But, one may say, as I often do, humans aren't built that way.

The industrial revolution saved us from such things. It reduced our work weeks and brought us weekends. Yet now, we sacrifice those hard fought gains readily with our satellite fed umbilical cords. And unfortunately, this persistent feed between workers and the office is only reinforced by the economy and anemic job market. We all want to stay competitive. And if you log off while your cube-mate logs on, you are forced to ask the dreaded question, 'Will it be me? Will I be the next to go?' I also wonder if this contributes to the current politically-fueled rivalry between the private sector and public unions. 'If I readily give up my rights, why shouldn't a teacher?'

At about the age of nine, I watched 'The Color Purple' on Sunday afternoon TV. To this day, I remember very little of the movie save one seen I have recounted for years. Whoopi Goldberg's character was taken as a child bride. She was beaten and raped for any non-existent infraction to submit any remaining rebellious power. She began having children as a young adolescent. Fast forward, her son is an adult married to Oprah Winfrey's character, a young outspoken 'insolant' woman. The son comes to his mother asking her how to make his wife listen and be more obedient, to which she pauses and replies with a meak voice, 'Beat her.'  I believe we all have a tendency to speak to what other people should do through the lens of our own black eyes.  Often, we want more for other people than we ourselves experienced, but our perception is biased and we advize with certain preconceived, even subconscious, resentments.  To this I say rather than wanting others to know your pain, aspire for more for everyone. 

Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your--- freedom.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, March 11, 2011

Our Home

Thomas and I are an unlikely pair. In the early years, we quoted Fiddler on the Roof many times together, "a bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?"  Nearly five years ago, we concluded--- on a cliff above the Hudson.  

Our home is in a condo building that sits on the bluff overlooking the Hudson river.  The views are stunning, it fits us perfectly and the moment we walked in the choice was simple, closing on it however, not so much.  When we were in early stages of contract, suddenly, we got an alerted call from our home owner's insurance company.  They had just realized that we would need flood insurance since our apartment was less than 200 feet from the water line.  Yes, but, we retorted, that's on the x-axis, we are thirty six stories up from water level.  Hence, if we needed to be concerned with floods, it would not only be a six-sigma event, but our measly insurance claims would be the least of worries. 

Now, a few years later, I am no longer as confident about that statement.  The earthquake and following tsunami that hit Japan today, is paradigmatic of a much larger problem.  The incidence of natural catastrophe is not only increasing, but the death toll is rising drastically.  Our weather patterns and events like this are signs of global entropy--- movement toward chaos.  And no matter how much we would like to deny it, I know I would, it is clearly related to climate change and our environmental and structural impact on the world. 

The problem cannot be solved by more consumption.  'Green products' might have less impact but they do not attempt to fix the issue--- it makes consumers-- people-- human beings more complacent.  We are lulled into a feeling that we are 'doing something' by buying sustainable goods.  Frankly, it makes it easier to sleep at night. That way, we are not forced to face the mortality of our planet and our actual role in it's destruction.  I wish I knew when or how or if we will change our fate and the fate of our home.  Recently, I saw a groundbreaking movie that put the argument rather succinctly, while inviting every person to gander at stunning views of our collective Home

Double Rainbow, Stewarts in Upstate New York
I remember seeing a beautiful rainbow arch across the sky when I was a little girl.  I followed it's bright shades with my eyes, in amazement, from one horizon to the next.  Suddenly, someone from behind cautioned that this might be one of the last any of us would see because of pollution.  I believed that stranger. For years, I was convinced that rainbows were a fleeting phenomenon, that any given one would be the last I'd see. 

I still see rainbows occasionally.  And with that, I have hope.  I have to. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Science Haiku

From learned research
Sprouts creative pondering
Grows lifetime passion

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Importance of Science Fairs & Project-based Learning

Two projects encompass my entire memory of my science fair career.  The first of which was research about prosthetics.  I interviewed a prosthetist, and pulled quantitative data about the loads placed on the vestigial limb of an amputee.  I drew out the inner workings of artificial joints. Parents of other students listened eagerly as I discussed DVT (deep vein thrombosis), the risks of smoking, diabetes.  In the second project, I researched the Chernobyl disaster. A ten minute elevator pitch to passers-by included nuclear fission and fusion, the inner workings of a nuclear reactor, genetics, physical deformities and abnormalities.  I even had a 'tzedakah' (charity) box next to my tri-fold board to benefit the 'Children of Chernobyl'.  Both of these projects were done in elementary school.

That is the picture I laid out today at a round table about science fairs.  And I concluded the story stating how obvious the correlation was to my chosen academic and career paths.  "No wonder I became a biomedical engineer, the passion started then", I asserted. 

With decreases in funding and increases in vitriolic competition, the joy is getting sucked out of science fairs.  Project based learning, not just in the sciences, but across curricula is critical to education. Not only do they lead many children to the sciences, but they instill in every child softer, intangible, and possibly more important skills. Additionally, the educational community needs to take a few cues from business, and start to use 'silo" as a verb, and a pejorative one at that.  Closing one textbook and opening another does not give children a true understanding or appreciation for how data and analysis actually work, or for the landscape they will encounter as adults.

In general, the scientific method, the ability to research, the knowledge that one can ask a question and take steps toward an answer, are all vital to creative and developed thinking.  They are also vital to a child's confidence in knowing that anything is within reach, that knowledge is just a research project away. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Marketing: A lifetime nemesis

I was raised into a family of contrarians with strange tastes and peculiar personalities.  I'd venture to guess most people would describe similar upbringings, but from my perspective, we were less ordinary than most. Thus, I believe they contributed greatly to my distaste, nae, hatred for marketing. 

Wow, words can't even describe...
My mother, sat in the pediatrician's waiting room, with me as an infant, pointing out the Marlboro man and Virginia Slims lady in magazines. A former smoker, she would yell out a disgusted, 'yucky'.  As a child, I was lectured about TV advertising.  A commercial for a doll or super soaker was dismissed as ploying to the small minded.  'If they need to pay for advertising, it is a piece of junk sure to break', I was assured.  A generalization to which I still find some amount of truth.  From those formative moments I was indoctrinated into the cult of uncultedness. I am a marketer's worst nightmare. 

This lended well to my taste for antiques, my individual personal style and my inability to make large purchases not under the header of 'modern technology'. It is nearly impossible to 'sell' me into anything without evidence and a persuasive argument, making me ironically, very good at what I do.  I have been known to make MLM pyramid schemers cry.  It hasn't been without heartache though.  If I or my family liked it, it would likely be discontinued--- pink lemonade Jolly Ranchers, Haagen Dazs Cassis Sorbet, Sugar Free Minute Maid Limeade, Green Clover and Aloe lotion.

Fast forward twenty five years and I find myself at the helm of a brand management firm discussing product distribution, sales, licensing agreements, and brand equity, daily.  One day, a few years before I was brought on, I had a social conversation with one of the stakeholders in the company.  We discussed market share, competition (I rattled off a couple of his direct competitors), Nielsen data, and the inherent strains on his business.  After that, he was sure he wanted me, a biotech consultant and anti-marketer, to run his company.  So there I stood, running what was effectively, a marketing company.  Ironically, that position only solidified what I already knew, a visceral cynicism (to put it nicely) for the profession and this time, from the inside out.  This checkpoint in my career was a sobering one, I faced some tough realizations about the world, the marketing industry and it's direct correlation to consumerism.  I left, after I realized how truly and deeply I am passionate about innovation, and that I had to contribute to the world in a different way than this.

However, I keep some of the lessons with me. I realized that brand equity is a commodity to be bought and sold, with no promises to the consumer that they will have any product continuity.  So in paying a 'premium' for the brand name, you may just be contributing to the new owner's licensing fee fund and not necessarily be receiving your tried and true shampoo, frying pan, perfume.  Also, demographics data is sliced and extrapolated so that not only are products geared toward specific groups, but consumers are 'marketed at'.  The buyer is effectively told what he or she should be purchasing, unfortunately forcing most to blur the line between need and want. 

Not to take away blame from consumers, but in the bigger picture this contributes to our credit card debt society and class warfare.   Yes, I said it, class warfare. We have created an aspirational society, competing each other, not based on achievement, but based on consumption of goods.  The richer you are, the more expensive a product you should be purchasing.  The three dollar bar of soap from your corner drug store can no longer suffice for you.  You must, must, buy the one in the department store nine times the ring, otherwise how else would you prove that you've made it? That you have reached a higher echelon, above your neighbor? I digress.

To my dismay, brand recognition seems to have exploded in the past few years.  Not surprising, given my tendencies that seem to sand against the grain of society. Every reality star, musician, chef has their 'own line of consumer products'.  Paris Hilton's first fragrance 'Fairy Dust' was a rousing financial success (I happened to have used the same fragrance house for a few of the firm's products).  Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, Sarah Jessica Parker, now all have fragrance lines, using words like 'lifestyle brand' and 'taste level' to lend credibility to these pursuits.  Every food network star now has their own line of dinnerware, cookware, linens because 'he/she would know best'.  I hear Snooky from 'Jersey Shore' now even as her own line of 'novels' and hair accessories. 

To me, clearly, it's maddening.  I get aggravated that the public could be so easily snowed. But more, now salivating marketeers see opportunities everywhere. Success is thus formulaic: 1. Find a contract packer. 2. Take generic product (often cheap, second rate, and normally unsellable). 3. Enter into licensing agreement with anyone or anything which currently has a remotely recognizable name. 4. Slap on the new label. 5. Rake in the dividends of 'brand equity'. 

So, the term 'household name' unavoidably gets under my skin.

Maybe that is why I find it so difficult that at this point in the game I hear the resounding message that I need to do a little more self-promotion.  That as an entrepreneur and investor you need to 'market yourself', 'create a brand around your name'.  Marketing, my lifetime nemesis, my perpetual haunting ghoul, seems to keep rearing it's ugly head.  Unfortunately, at this point, I must consider it a necessary evil..  But some days I still hesitate and recite the old Latin doctrine, res ipsa loquitur.  But then again, in order for the thing to speak for itself, it needs an audience--- right?

A lifetime at odds, who knows if I'll ever make peace.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Brainwaves: Beta, Theta, Delta

Last night, I had a dream that I was trapped in a dream. It was trippy, yes.  As I thought about it this morning, I realized that the concept might have been 'Incepted' earlier in the evening at a yoga class.  As a former gymnast, I find my practice keeps me limber, flexible, and strong.  I also believe, it makes me more creative. 

When your brain is permitted to go into Alpha & Theta rhythms, the studies have concluded, you are calmer and more open to suggestion.  I have come to think of it as, when I allow my brain to rest while I am still awake, it is able to reap that which my active analytical Beta brain sows.  My husband claims that the same thing occurs to him in the shower, one of my friends claims it happens to her on a treadmill, while yet another has insights on the accupuncture table.

So back to that dream and it's connection to my asana.  At the end of my practice yesterday was a responsive chant.  Sometimes I feel quite silly repeating esoteric Sanskrit phrases, as if I am being unknowingly indoctrinated into an ancient cult and my left brain-dominant personality wants me to roll up my mat and leave.  But in that moment, I sat in erect lotus position and chanted with the class.

Lead us from unreal to real,
Lead us from darkness to the light
Lead us from the fear of death, to knowledge of immortality.
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (peace, peace, peace)

I happen to be humming it as I write. Truth be told, it is basically the same thing I subconsciously tell myself everyday.  Stick to the facts. Always stay positive.  Clarity. Compassion. Make lasting impact on the world.  Pursue things as if there is no possibility of failure.  World peace, peace of mind, shalom in the home. 

Maybe it's just that 'unreal to real' part. 

Maybe last night my delta brain was trying to tell me not to be such a dreamer in my waking hours too. But then I think, "I'm not the only one.  I hope some day you'll join us. And the world will be as one." Damn it, I've done it again, I don't want to know what the Delta waves have in store for me tonight. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Obama's Status on Women: Majors & C-Sections

Back in 1961, JFK asked Eleanor Roosevelt to report back on the status of women.  This is the first such report since then. I geek out over analysis and data visualization, so bear with me. I was particularly interested in two charts:

College majors--- this is a subject of particular interest to me. I recently had a conversation with some education officials.  We were discussing ways get more girls interested in math, science and engineering.  It really seems to be an uphill battle. 

My choice had many factors: I had moxie, I wanted to take competition with 'the boys' head on and I had a highly egalitarian and nerdy family.  All of which contributed to my pursuit of an engineering degree. Apparently the superintendent hears quite often, 'but my mother isn't good at math either'.  Statements like this make me quiver.  I know many girls aren't lucky enough to grow up in an environment where it was cool to solve math puzzles.  One of my father's proudest moments from my childhood was when we were in a department store buying school clothes; I calculated the final bill after discount and taxes in my head.  He still mentions it occasionally, when it happened probably somewhere around twenty years ago. 

Like I said, I understand most kids aren't spawn of prideful dweebs.  But most women are better at math than they realize.  As far as statistics, anywhere from 70-90% of women control the finances in their home and younger women are more likely to manage the household money solely.  It's about a change in perception though.  It requires a psycho-social shift.  Let's encourage our daughters.  If it helps, here's my 30 second elevator pitch. With an engineering degree, any career and industry is at your disposal. Many people in my graduating class went on into business, medicine, law, construction, design, to name a few.  And if all else fails and she is a straight-boy-crazy teenage girl, tell her that she'll have her pick of 80% men.

As a parenthetical aside, I find it interesting that so many women are pursuing business degrees.  In some ways, this seems to me that they are trying to catch up with the boys.  The interesting part is that men in the business world have learned the lesson that entrepreneurship rather than management is more fruitful and fulfilling than career track jobs that might require a business degree.  I wonder if it will take women a few decades to learn that same lesson. We still have a great deal of catching up to do when it comes to starting our own businesses, much to my bilious ranting chagrin.  Additionally, many women find great career success in the business environment pre-children, after which the salary, promotion and opportunity ratios really begin to shift.  This will be an interesting enlightenment for women and I am curious to see how and if the pendulum swings. 

As I've always said, young girls in a feminist age have been trained, in essence, to want whatever a man does and forgo anything that would make her 'more feminine'. And sometimes that means chasing a dead-end corporate job or choosing a promiscuous lifestyle. Just because a man does it, doesn't mean that it's smart and women should follow suit.  Women should not just aspire for the same opportunities men have had, they should evaluate those opportunities for themselves and also learn from the blunders.  India is first getting electricity and running water in some places.  Do you think they are installing dial-up or 4G? Whether women like to admit it or not, men have had to go the long way around. So let's learn from their experience and evolve quicker--- call it career hotkeys or professional game cheats.
I say go for the three E's: Engineering, Entrepreneurship, & Energy--- but maybe I'm a little biased.

I'll be brief with my second chart.

I was a breach birth and thus my mother proudly wears her c-section scar because of me, her third.  Maybe it was her first sign, or it should have been, that I am the one who wouldn't play by the rules.  At any rate, these statistics are not the sign of more tempestuous children.  It is a sign of higher malpractice insurance and overly cautious behavior by physicians.  I've heard for some time about OBGYNs in Manhattan dropping the OB, because they simply can't afford the premiums.  This is a very scary shift.  Yes, we live in overly litigious time and tort reform is needed, however the insurance industry also needs a complete overhaul, both practitioner liability and patient policies.  Insurance companies should not be in control of patient care or doctor's livelihoods.  And the doctors have a responsibility to adhere to their Hippocratic oath.  For more on this, I suggest watching 'The Business of Being Born", you'll never see labor and delivery the same way.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Grandparents & Unions

My grandfather died six months before I was born.  Along with his name, it is said I received his charisma, his love for animals, his brute strength and his hard-headed obstinacy.  What was also instilled in me, almost in utero was the knowledge that I should never, ever, under any circumstance, cross a picket line.

Grandpa Dave was a Teamster.  An only son, at age sixteen he left school to take care of his aged ailing parents who died not long after.  He married my grandmother at eighteen.  She graduated early from high school at sixteen, and was discouraged from going to college because she was female.  They both went to work in the Baltimore shipyards during WWII.  Under five feet tall and the purest of outspoken New Yorkers, she was appointed shop steward and chief wage negotiator.

Diabetes, heart attacks, and bypass surgery not-withstanding, my grandfather spent most of his working years as a devoted poultry man and truck driver, working long overnight shifts.  My grandparents skrimped and saved, eventually starting their own poultry route, in order to give their daughter more opportunity than they had. I'd say their hard work paid off.  My mother went on to not just be the first in the family to go to college, but also got multiple professional degrees and bought a home in the 'burbs.

I watch the stories coming out of Wisconsin in disbelief.  My reaction is so instinctive, so visceral, it's hard to verbalize. The attempt to strip workers of their collective bargaining rights is a gross violation of everything America and I have come to stand for. Triangle Shirtwaste Factory, was ironically, almost exactly one hundred years ago--- we are approaching the anniversary of the fire and the monumental labor reform that followed in just a few days. 

Workers need protection from unfair practices and recrimination for speaking out.  In the past century, we have developed such complacency and safety in knowing that labor unions are there to assist public workers.  They forgo private jobs with higher salaries to be part of the engine that keeps America running daily.  Teachers educate our youth, and many times, are the ones who create opportunity for children.  People usually hope for more for their progeny, like my grandparents did for my mother.  Imagine if there were no teachers to sheperd pupils, to generate excitement and passions early on. We leave garbage at our doorsteps with complete expectation that it will disappear by the end of the day with no care for where it goes or how it got there.  Imagine how difficult our lives would get if there was no one there to pick up after us. 

As I see it, Americans are being pitted against eachother.  We are in a time where it has become acceptable to resent anyone with more and hope that it is stripped from them.  But let us never forget Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.

Our labor laws are part of what give America true supremecy over other countries, and solidify its identity as a beacon for freedoms.  I imagine my great grandparents gazing at Lady Liberty's torch as they arrived by ship, thinking, how defiantly proud she stands, that this country must stand for something.  Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free. America is a scrappy start-up known  for giving opportunity to all.  Speech, religion, commerce, press--- any of these rights stripped from us,  particularly, the freedom to assemble or associate, would make us no different than China.

Personally, I'd like to believe what my great grandparents did.  That this is a place where people like my grandparents would be able to exist, and have the ability and opportunity to create someone like my mother. 

The American dream--- let's all hope.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Government & The Business of Innovation

The US government is attempting to modernize their approach to innovation.  As the old system stood, the Obama administration was writing checks that these departments could not cash.  Expediting the FDA innovative device applications and reworking the patent office are a steps towards real efficacious reform.

As a biomedical engineer, I have had a love-hate relationship with the FDA.  Most of my anecdotes I can't fully disclose so I am reminded of the story that would set the tone for my perspective on the administration.  In college, I approached a professor who specialized in ceramic engineering, particularly nano-materials.  A light bulb moment, follow-up research and a trip to the head of my engineering department had led me there.  I was working on a nano-alternator, inevitably this could be a power source for all internally implantable electrical devices, from heart pacemakers to deep brain stimulators.  After my extensive discussion with him, he laid out things plainly to me.  He said 'Look, Dayna, I think this is a revolutionary idea. I know Dean so-and-so is really excited by it too. You are really on to something.  But to get a innovative medical device, let alone an implantable innovative medical device like this one cleared through the FDA would take years--- decades. So the question becomes, do you want to spend the next 20-40 years of your life on this one singular pursuit, this solitary battle?" Maybe he was testing me, maybe he was brushing me off nicely, maybe he had been discouraged in the past, but with that I had a rude awakening.  All this talk about the great innovations---not the incremental accomplishments---the real game changers, are to some extent a myth in the American system.  Or at the very least they are a perceived myth in the greatest incubators of innovative thinking, academia.  And with innovation and bold action particularly, perception is reality.

Blatant unfounded cynicism aside, there is some truth to what the professor told me that day. That has led to device companies doing unscrupulous record keeping and form filing.  They present new innovations as incremental adaptations to circumvent a long, drawn out clearance and trial process.  The J&J recall of their highly defective hip implants this summer is just one example of the slippery slope that a failing system can cause. Many people were needlessly injured by a device that J&J tried to pass as an adaptation and the FDA didn't bother to do their homework. 

So I applaud these meaningful steps toward building a real knowledge and innovation economy, bridging the chasm between lightning fast invention and lumbering bureaucracy.  You'll just have to excuse my more cynical moments---they're relics in the system.