Archive for May, 2019

Service of Speaking with Strangers

Thursday, May 30th, 2019

Photo: sites.google.com

I find it easy to speak with strangers. It may be a New York thing. It came natural to me because when I was small I often saw my mother chat with fellow passengers on public busses or in the grocery store.

In the day, most guests passing one another in a hotel hallway at a resort would say, “good morning” or “good afternoon.”

Some people silently shout out to be spoken to. At an opening at MoMA a friend and I passed a man wearing a tie in primary colors with giant Warhol-style images. I commented on his choice, he beamed, and my friend said, “How can you do that?” I thought, “How could you not?”

I met my first husband in a college library and two of my dearest friends on a train.

Photo: wnyc.org

On my walk to work last week on a 50 degree day I saw a 30-something man who was well-groomed walking across Second Avenue in the 40’s, towards the UN, wearing jogging pants and no shirt, with a backpack. I half turned to a young man waiting for the light to change on 43rd Street as I was and said, “I wonder if he’s going for a job interview?” When I faced him, the stranger in a sweat shirt with a plumbing company logo was giggling. He replied, “I bet he gets the job!”

Speaking with people you don’t know is a good thing according to Elizabeth Bernstein in her Wall Street Journal article, “The Surprising Boost You Get From Strangers.” The subhead, “Sometimes a stranger—not a friend or a loved one—can significantly improve our day, providing comfort or helping to broaden our perspective.”

Photo: languageforlife.ca

She wrote: “ ‘People feel more connected when they talk to strangers, like they are part of something bigger,’ says Gillian Sandstrom, a psychologist and senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, in Colchester, England, who studies interactions between strangers.” The doctor has studies that show people have better days when they’ve spoken with strangers. The same with students who speak with classmates.

“And yet most people resist talking to strangers, she says. They fret about the mechanics of the conversation—how to start, maintain or stop it. They think they will blather on and disclose too much—or not talk enough. They worry they will bore the other person.”

Bernstein continued “And in a study in which she asked participants to talk to at least one stranger a day for five days, 99% said they found at least one of the conversations pleasantly surprising, 82% said they learned something from one of the strangers, 43% exchanged contact information, and 40% had communicated with one of the strangers again, an indication they might be making friends.

“Scientists believe there may be an ancient reason why humans enjoy interacting with strangers. To survive as a species, we need to mate outside our own gene pool, so we may have evolved to have both the social skills and the motivation to interact with people who are not in our tribe.”

Is speaking with strangers a New York City thing because there are so many opportunities to do so? Do you do this? Can you remember a conversation with a stranger? Because so many are wrapped up with their phones, is chatting with strangers a lost art?

Photo: doublemesh.com

 

Service of Charity V: 13 is a Charm for Christopher Leadership Award Winner

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

Mary Ellen Robinson, vice president, COO, Secretary of The Christophers with Frank Siller, winner of the 2019 Christopher Leadership Award

Being charity-minded and selfless came naturally to the Siller children. Last week Frank Siller told a New York City audience about the Thanksgiving his mother picked up the turkey from the dining room table and brought it to a family she had just heard was less well off than hers, and they were poor. Siller was so young he didn’t remember but his older brother tells the story. Their father–eventually there were seven children–spent Saturdays at a hospital chatting or praying with the ill–whatever was needed.

Frank Siller, left, and Christopher Awards MC Ernie Anastos, anchor/producer, Fox 5, NY

The story the chairman and CEO of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation told that touched me the most happened after his First Holy Communion. He’d received a stack of envelopes from well wishers the contents of which totaled $26. His mother took him for a walk that day and asked him how much he would give to those in need. He tested the water and suggested $13, which his mother accepted. He said that today, he can’t remember what he bought with his $13 but he remembers, in retrospect, how he felt about $13 he gave away.

To honor their brother, Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who was killed on 9/11, Siller and his siblings launched the foundation to aid catastrophically injured veterans, first responders, and Gold Star families. For this Frank Siller was honored with The Christopher Leadership Award that recognizes individuals whose work, actions, and example serve as a guiding light to others. I heard Siller address the other winners of Christopher Awards–for their winning feature films, TV/Cable programs, and books for adults and young people–and guests who gathered for the 70th Annual Christopher Awards.

Some of the Christopher Award winning authors who attended the 70th Christopher Awards in New York City are, from the left, Torrey Maldonado, “Tight;” Linsey Davis, “The World is Awake;” Jeffrey Kluger, “To the Moon!;” Ruby Shamir, “To the Moon!;” David Blight whose book “Frederick Douglass” also won a Pulitzer Award and Beth Hautala, “The Ostrich and Other Lost Things.”

The Foundation began locally and now has a national reach building specially adapted smart homes for members of the military who have lost arms and legs, pays off mortgages for families of first responders who have been killed in the line of duty and supports Gold Star families and supports community programs around the country. Since its inception, the Foundation has raised over $125 million dollars, with 95 cents of every dollar going to programs.

St. Francis of Assisi said “While we have time, let us do good,” which the siblings adopted as the Foundation’s motto because they heard their parents frequently repeat those words. This motto fits hand-in-hand with The Christophers’ motto: “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness,” which guides its publishing, radio, online, and awards programs.

Do you think it is easier for poor people to give to charity than for the comfortable? I am always amazed by Americans’ generosity. Is giving to charity cultural? Did your family guide or inspire you to give time or money to support causes that were meaningful to you?

From the left presenters at the 70th Annual Christopher Awards ceremony: Tony Aiello, reporter, WCBS-TV, NY; Joan Bauer, author, three-time Christopher Award winner; Paula Faris, ABC News anchor and host of the “Journeys of Faith” podcast with MC Ernie Anastos, anchor/producer, Fox 5, NY and 2016 Life Achievement Award winner.

 

Service of the Legacy of Passionate Hobbies

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

 

Photo: nytimes.com

My family was besotted by The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle and bridge. I was interested in neither and that’s never changed. I’d cringe when someone would ask: “What’s a five letter word for X?”

However, I have always had plants, like my dad. In fact, I have a third cousin of a dracaena that he nurtured since the 1960s and an asparagus fern that was his. [He died in 1985.] The fern thrived in the country. I had to split it in two for the move and I’m resuscitating it in its new home. I also play a lot of solitaire on my computer either during long conference calls or as a quick break. My dad played with cards almost every night.

When I recently asked a friend, who lives in a house in the suburbs, what flowers she’d planted in her garden this spring she said “none.” Her mother was a zealous gardener. She thought her lack of interest in flowers may have been related. She works on the Times‘ Sunday puzzle, she said, something her father also finished weekly.

I mentioned all this to another friend who shared a different twist. Her mother was an expert knitter who made countless magnificent, complicated Irish knit baby sweaters. After her husband–my friend’s father–died she stopped cold. Eventually my friend asked her why she didn’t knit anymore and her mother replied, “I don’t know how.”

Are hobby choices as much psychological as they are related to a person’s druthers and abilities? Do you share hobbies with a parent? Have you turned away from or added a hobby?

Service of Why Pick on Computer Science Types? Inappropriate Stereotyping

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Photo: collegeexpress.com

Have you ever met a doctor, executive, middle manager, social worker, nurse, PR or advertising exec, engineer or instructor with poor empathy and/or crummy communications skills? I have.

Photo: bw.edu

This is why I want to know why Northeastern University picks on “Computer science types” in this regard. Sara Castellanos wrote that to graduate, these students have been required to take an “Eloquent Presenter” class. I maintain that any student would benefit from such a requirement and that the university is inappropriately typecasting its computer science students–and people in this line of work.

In her Wall Street Journal article, “A Tech Nerd Walks Into a Bar…” Castellanos wrote: “The class is a way to ‘robot-proof’ computer-science majors, helping them sharpen uniquely human skills, said Joseph E. Aoun, the university president. Empathy, creativity and teamwork help students exercise their competitive advantage over machines in the era of artificial intelligence, according to Mr. Aoun, who wrote a book about it.”

Photo: thebalancecareers.com

How many people do you know who aren’t glued to their devices regardless of their profession or industry? Even the UPS delivery person carries a device. And of these, do all have “human skills?” Some five years ago a friend in the nonprofit world, who worked in a one-room office with the boss and another person, was irritated that this manager insisted she email everything. She was forbidden to cross the room to ask the simplest question.

 

Castellanos reported these reasons to justify the class:

 

  • “Many computer-science types say they would rather work at a screen than chat face to face.” I don’t think that they are alone!
  • “Others hate drawing attention to themselves.” Ditto.
  • “In the improv class….computer-science majors not only cozy up with peers, but work in groups and take turns in the spotlight.” Don’t groups like Toastmasters address this kind of thing? They wouldn’t be so popular if participants didn’t feel the need.

 

The jury’s still out about the success of office concepts adopted by companies like GitLab, a company that “offers tools for software developers.” The startup employs 600 over the world, continued Agam Shah in The Wall Street Journal, and has no headquarters. All employees work remotely which seems to be a trend with some working from home at least a few days a week. I have my opinion about the negative impact on the quality of work with little face-to-face but the point for this post is that if this is the way things are going, why bother with being an “Eloquent Presenter?” Or, is the CEO, Sid Sijbrandij, and his clients the result of people who missed taking such a class and feel no need to converse/empathize?

Speech was a gut course when I went to college. Turns out it would have been helpful in my career and in the professions of most of the people I know. Had computer science been around in the day, I wouldn’t have been able to pass a course. Nevertheless, “Eloquent Presenter” should have been right up my alley as a government/history major—yours too? Your thoughts about Northeastern typecasting computer science majors?

Photo: towson.edu

Service of Fur Clothing and Accessories: To Ban or Not

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

NYC Crest–Note beavers. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Sales figures don’t lie. Suzanne Kapner reported that compared to the low in 2009 [reflecting recovery from the mini crash of 2008 no doubt?] fur sales more than doubled in 2018, reaching their “highest level in 17 years, according to Euromonitor International.” The all time high was in 1999.

In her Wall Street Journal article, “Bans on Fur threaten a Resurgence,” Kapner wrote that in spite of brands such as Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren and Gucci which no longer use fur and others, such as Coach, that won’t as of fall, others add it everywhere. “Once mainly used in coats, fur is now used to adorn everything from sneakers to pillows to purses. Sales at Canada Goose Holdings Inc., known for its down parkas trimmed in coyote fur, jumped 50% in the most recent quarter from a year ago. Macy’s Inc., which sells a number of fur products including mink coats and rabbit-fur keychains, has said fur sales are ‘fairly strong.’” Kapner noted fur lined gloves and loafers as well and don’t forget hats and scarves.

Photo: friendsoranimals.org

The impact of those who support the fur ban is powerful. The Federal Trade Commission, according to Kapner, “settled charges against Neiman Marcus and several other retailers that were accused of selling real fur labeled as fake.” Imagine that!

LA and San Francisco already have banned sales and New York City, California and New York State are considering doing so.

About New York City, CBS News reported yesterday: “The council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business licensing will consider the fur ban which would prohibit the sale of fur apparel in the city except for fur that is worn for religious reasons.” Fines would range from $500 to as much as $1,500.

WCBS Newsradio 880 morning show’s Wayne Cabot tweeted: “Notice two beavers on the official crest of NYC, which was built on fur and remains the USA’s fur capitol. A city council bill to ban sales has fur flying.” Reporter Alice Stockton-Rossini responded: “Thanks for the Beaver update! Not sure you can ban fur w/o banning leather and eating meat! Can we be humane to animals and still wear and eat them?”

Photo: couponsforbloggers.com

CBS news: “Members of the fur industry say such bans could put 1,100 people out of a job in the city alone. Supporters dismiss that and emphasize that the wearing of fur is barbaric and inhumane.”

Kapner “‘Fake fur is made from petrochemicals and plastic, which is very harmful for the environment,’ said Nancy Daigneault, a vice president at the International Fur Federation, a trade group. ‘It will end up in a landfill and is not biodegradable. Real fur will decompose naturally.’”

Kapner added: “‘Virtually all legislatures that have banned fur—or are considering doing so—have exempted sheepskin,’ said Tom Garcia, the general counsel for Deckers Outdoors Corp., which owns Ugg. ‘They recognize that, unlike luxury furs, sheepskin is a byproduct of food like leather.’”

Back to CBS: “The furriers cast the argument in stark economic terms, pointing out that 98 percent of the industry business owners said they would move out of New York City if the ban were to go into effect…… costing New York City $3.3 billion in revenue in the next decade and leaving lots of empty storefronts.”

Should fur be banned in NYC and everywhere? If you own a fur coat or hat, will you continue to wear it if fur is banned in your city? What will furriers do to make a living? Will the public’s hunger for fur stay steady or be influenced by the bans? How will prices be impacted? If you’ve always wanted a fur coat and couldn’t afford one, will this be your chance to buy one or as contraband will they be even more expensive? Faux fur looks real: Won’t wearers be in danger of protester ire if they wear it?

Faux fur–Photo: dhgate.com

Service of Subscription Services

Monday, May 13th, 2019

Photo: nytimes.com

Tempted to sign up online for the $2.00/week New York Times digital subscription or The New Yorker Magazine’s 12 issues for $12 but haven’t fallen for either yet because you may end up paying for them for the rest of your life or spend half that time shaking them off? I’m afraid of subscription services because I suspect that they are impossible and/or time-consuming to shed.

When we moved we got a year of Netflix for free with my FIOS bundle–internet, TV, phone. I love it. Goodness knows what the additional charge will be–in February 2020–to my super hefty FIOS bill. I’ve marked my calendar for January to remember to find out what the damage will be and to take appropriate steps.

Joanna Stern reported in The Wall Street Journal‘s Personal Technology column that she’d paid $540—or $15/month for three years—for an electronic fax service she used twice. “The charges regularly hitting our credit cards have expanded far beyond video and music-streaming services and, yes, newspapers. The average American pays $237 a month for subscription services, according to a July 2018 report from West Monroe Partners.”

She added: “The technology industry loves the term SaaS, or Software as a Service. It’s the idea that software isn’t just bought once and installed, but rather is subscribed to and always updating. Microsoft Office 365? SaaS. Google Drive? SaaS. Your kid’s coding app? SaaS again.

“There’s also CaaS, Content as a Service. Netflix ? Hulu? Spotify? Apple News+? All CaaS. And then there’s HaaS, hardware as a service. Your connected door lock, thermostat, security camera, maybe even your car or your toothbrush, now come with subscriptions.” I did NOT sign up for Onstar emergency services that came free for a few months with my GM car. The company never had my credit card number.

Do you have so many subscription services you can’t keep count? How do you keep track of them all? How long does it take you to notify them of your new number if you lose your credit card? Have you had trouble ridding yourself of any?

Photo: creditcards.com

Service of Little Things Mean A Lot

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

Like a paper cut the tiniest thing can irritate big time. The fix is often so simple as to be ridiculous. Yet it can take time to face.

The bathtub in my new apartment needs a stopper. When we first moved in I bought the wrong size and for two months I’ve annoyed myself every day by having to adjust the thing several times to fill one tub. The stopper would slip out of place with the force of the water hitting it so the water leaked out.

For $1.49 at a full-price midtown NYC hardware store two blocks from my office and a proper measurement of the bathtub drain I solved the problem in seconds. Such relief! And it took me weeks to attend to this simple chore.

In another instance I was at CVS Drug Store looking for an item. As I scrunched to the ground and up again several times in front of a brand I heard a voice on the loud speaker: “Customer in the makeup department.” I was the only one there! I wondered if I’d touched a button—I hadn’t.

An employee appeared [spooky] and asked if she could help. I told her what I was looking for. They had split the brand so that half of its products were on one side of the aisle and the other across the aisle! I’d never have figured that out. Amazing! She apologized and admitted that the placement could be confusing.

Are there little things that get on your nerves in your home or office that would take little to fix and would make a big difference? Do you attend to them immediately or drag your feet? Has obscure merchandising in a store tripped you up? Do you think CVS has lost sales by splitting a brand’s beauty products across an aisle?

Photo: cvshealth.com

Service of That’s Horse Racing–The 2019 Kentucky Derby Outcome a Metaphor for Life

Monday, May 6th, 2019

Photo: kentuckyderby.com

I always watch the Kentucky Derby though I don’t follow the sport and choose my favorite by name–a sure path to failure. I rooted for Plus Que Parfait this Saturday.

As I watched on Saturday I was reporting developments by text to friends who were in a bus. I couldn’t believe it when Maximum Security, who won by many lengths, faced 20+ minutes of limbo while stewards–horse racing referees–studied the videotapes.

Photo: Kentucky.com

When one of the stewards reported the Commission’s unanimous decision to the press–that Maximum Security was out and Country House was the official winner–she took no questions.

The odds for Country House were 65 to one and the payout $132.40. Imagine the chaos at the betting windows in those edge-of-their-seats 20 minutes.

Photo: footwearnews.com

The metaphor to life of the outcome was gut wrenching, reminding me of the times I was the unlikely winner–my boutique PR agency selected to represent brands at a Fortune 50 company for example or me chosen by awards committees to receive recognition–and the times I could almost taste a positive outcome that didn’t happen and the subsequent sickening sinking feeling of disappointment: All that work and elation leading to failure.

I am on the side of Maximum Security. And you? Do you agree with the Maximum Security team that is appealing the decision to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission?

 

Photo: Kentucky.com

 

Service of Adults Competing in Games That Children Play

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

Photo: calendarclub.ca

Many sports are played by kids which adults adopt and turn into big stakes competitions–think basketball, soccer, baseball, hockey, football, skiing or skating. We don’t think of table games as making such a transition but Scott Simon on “Weekend Edition Saturday” addressed one. He interviewed two men–Larry Kahn and David Lockwood for the segment “Not Just Child’s Play: World Tiddlywinks Champions Reclaim Their Glory.”

Lockwood told Simon “‘Tiddlywinks is not what you did when you were 5 years old. Tournament tiddlywinks is a fascinating combination of physical skill at a micro level and positional strategy.’

“Probability, physics and dexterity rule the game.”

Photo: raggedclown.com

Simon reported that the 19th century game, launched in England as an adult parlor game, got its own tournament at Cambridge University in 1955. In addition to Cambridge University, the professional tournament players hail mostly from MIT and Oxford. Lockwood and Kahn were at MIT in the 1970s where they joined their college team.

One of the challenges for the players today is that the winks are hard if not impossible to come by. Manufacturers aren’t making them. These players fashion their own by sanding down spice jar lids. They pin their hopes on 3-D printing that, once affordable, they anticipate will streamline the process.

Photo: alum.mit.edu

So what happened: Did the Lockwood-Kahn team win in Cambridge? If you paid attention to the title of the article in the first paragraph you’d know that they are this year’s champions! While the two like to win they claim that the friendships they make at the tournaments are most important to them.

Lockwood said: “If you get a modicum of success, you’re more frequently willing to continue to play, but it’s also a very frustrating game because you miss these things that you’ve made so many times in the past.”

I’ve heard people say the same thing about all sorts of sports from golf to basketball—haven’t you? Aren’t most sports—with exceptions such as golf, which is expensive, and curling, which isn’t readily available–first played by children? Do you play traditional board or table games anymore? Are the friends you’ve made at your sport as important to you as winning? Do you play computer games? Are the benefits the same?

Photo: tiddlywinks.org

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