Year One: Bringing Healthier Nutrition and Habits to PAUSD

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This post is about my quest to bring healthier nutritional habits to the children, staff, and parents of Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD). It is a story that is still in the making as my work is not yet done, but I thought it would be worthwhile to talk about how it began for me and how it's progressed during my first year of taking on what turned out to be an all-encompassing task. I naively approached this task thinking that many things could be done in months but it quickly dawned on me that this was a multi-year effort.

My journey began in late 2010 when out of curiosity I bought The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. I became fascinated with his weight/fat loss hack of simply removing all sugar and white carbs from your diet. At the time, I was semi-retiring from my Ironman triathlon racing as my son had just been born. With race pressure off, I had time to experiment with my training, one aspect of which is nutrition. By eliminating all sugar and white carbs, I discovered my first aha! in nutrition which is exercise matters little in weight/fat loss when you haven't dialed in your diet, and that sugar and carbohydrates in our society's diet has an outsized effect on your health.

Moving forward from this discovery, I dove deeper into nutrition. I joined the ranks of biohackers and the quantified self community, reading tons of educational material and performing experiments on myself. What happened if I ate this, or stopped eating that? How do I measure the results? How do I get blood tests done without a doctor's prescription and how do I interpret the results? It was through this process that I realized that many of the root causes of obesity and other non-communicable diseases all stemmed from the prevalence of things that we are eating too much of and not enough of the stuff we should.

Fast forward to 2015 when my son entered Kindergarten at PAUSD. My first experience of a kindergarten program was of a class that had birthday treats brought in by parents that were often candy and sweets, and when holidays were experienced, there was often cooking to celebrate and I saw more of the holiday's treats being served. This alarmed me to see so much sugar being served in the classroom, and I approached the PTA and principal on this issue. I was shocked to find that at PAUSD, there were scant or no guidelines across the district on limiting sugar at all.

And thus began my journey to institute change at PAUSD in the areas of healthy nutrition. It's been about a year since I started working on these issues. As accomplishments, I've raised awareness, held one educational event, and managed to get commitment to add celebration, fundraising, and rewards guidelines into all the elementary school handbooks.

Becoming an activist in a school district along with its community was an interesting experience and I continue to learn! Here is a list of things I learned along the way:


Always be respectful of people and DO NOT lose your cool.

When I first approached the principal, I expressed my concerns in a calm and professional manner. My intuition was on high because I knew that the principal must get bombarded by parents with both rational and irrational notions all year long. I could sense that this issue had been touched upon before because she pointed me to some celebration guidelines in the elementary handbook. She also was helpful and pointed me to contacts in the PTA and higher up in the PAUSD organization.


Seek advice from previous parents.

It is highly likely that somebody has tried before you; learn from their advice and mistakes. In talking around the school community, there had been many who came before me who have tried to tackle the sugar issue. I managed to get introduced to many of them and got them to sit down and tell me how they approached the issue, get some historical basis on what they tried, how they approached it, and how it went.

I learned that in the past, parents felt that they were too aggressive or overzealous which put school officials and other parents on the defensive. This reinforces my first point to stay cool and approach arguments in a rational, orderly fashion. I also got the sense that their own busy lives prevented a commitment to really figuring out how to get something like this done.


Be prepared with supporting materials. Be also prepared to find indifference and disbelief to your "facts".

Before approaching the principal and PTA members, I put together a quick presentation summarizing some of the key research that is out there on sugar's effects on both adults and children. I tried to keep it as unscientific as possible, which is pretty hard since I referenced research studies. Ultimately I think I came up with something that was fairly easy to read.

However, be prepared for a cold or indifferent, or downright negative, reception to your "facts". I have encountered two types of people.

The first take a look at the deck and then glance away as if they don't have time or don't want to read it. Why would someone do this? Aversion to complexity? Dismissal of information they consider irrelevant? Lack of trust of the deliverer and his/her information? All of the above? Something else? Your guess is as good as mine.

The second group have preconceived notions from their past on what they think they know about sugar and nutrition. They discount everything else except what they already think they know. In the scientific world, we call this "arrogance of knowledge" where you already think you know everything there is to know about something and refuse to learn more.

I am not sure what to do about the first group except to advise not getting frustrated with these people and to keep moving forward. Remember to keep your cool!

On the other hand, the second group is influenced by information that is floating out there already. Despite the confusing morass of nutrition information out there, I believe that there is no better time in history than now to advance this effort as the new families I have met are much more knowledgeable on this subject than parents who have come before them.


Respect as a platform for buy-in.

There are two sides to respect. The first is respecting that there are other opinions on everything about life, including what they think is good nutrition. It is not likely that you will be able to change their opinion on sugar and nutrition unless you are a notable figure in the medical and nutrition community. Still, you do what you can with whatever supporting materials you can put together.

However, in working on this issue, I find it strange that a well reasoned argument with supporting data on sugar and nutrition doesn't move the needle, but a respect platform does.

What do I mean by a respect platform?

By respect platform, I mean that every parent has one thing that they will let no one else touch, and that is they will never let anyone interfere with the parenting of their own children.

So how does a sugar issue relate to a parenting issue and the institution of guidelines?

My argument became less about sugar's negative health effects but rather that school needs to be neutral with respect to sugar, and food overall. To be neutral means removing food from the classroom (with certain exceptions: food is part of the curriculum, food is medically required, etc.). By removing food, we eliminate the conflicts that are brewing from a parenting standpoint, where one parent might be ok with their children eating sugary treats and another is working hard to remove sugar from their children's diet. Once a parent brings a platter of food to the classroom, there is effectively permission given to the children that it is ok to eat it, especially if teachers and parents both encourage it. My argument, therefore, became that if you didn't want your child to eat something, how do you otherwise exert control over something when you are not present to take action? The only and best course of action, therefore, is to just take food out of the classroom.

By the way, this also solves a number of other existing and brewing issues that relate to food allergies, which I also added into the proposal.


Do facts lose always? Not if backed by authority recognized by them.

I had one thing going for me and that was the fact that the American Heart Association has finally put out a statement on limiting sugar for children. This is significant; one of our major trusted health organizations has finally put a guideline for sugar and limited it to 25g per day for children aged 2-18, and ZERO grams from 0-2 years of age. It has enough authority that people find it hard to argue against.


Get involved at the school: join the PTA

Every school has a Parents-Teachers Association. Join it. There typically is a Health and Wellness chair. Take that chair position or work with the person there.

Note that I would strongly recommend taking the chair position. Efforts such as these take a long time and require a lot of time from the stakeholder. Many parents before me have tried to advance these and other issues by trying to hand off something to someone on the committee. I can tell you that it rarely works. Parents are already busy. They don't have time to take on someone else's crusade. They may not even believe what you believe or think it's important. This means...


If you want to see this happen, you must be willing to commit and work on it yourself.

There was a parent who showed up at one of our Student Wellness Committees who had a project she was working on. She had enough energy to get this project piloted at her child's school and felt that it was important enough to go district-wide. After presenting it, I got the feeling that she hoped that someone at the committee would just take on the task of spreading it across the district.

Unfortunately it doesn't work like that.

I think you'll find that there are many initiatives at any school committee. School officials will be concerned mostly about initiatives that come down their chain of command, and parents' initiatives will be driven by their own self-interests. Likely no one is present at these meetings because they have nothing to do; they are there because they already have an agenda to advance.

This is why it is best that if you have a project to get done, you should allocate time and energy to drive it yourself.

It is why I joined the district's Student Wellness Committee and took a co-chair PTA Health and Wellness district-wide position this coming year.

Once you set yourself going on this project...


Be patient and have a long time horizon like YEARS.

It literally took me all year to:

1. Figure out how things work. The school's charter SAYS the school partners with parents to create a great experience for their children; however, it doesn't say exactly HOW this is supposed to happen.

2. Find the key decision makers. How does the organizational structure work at PAUSD? Who is in charge of what? Who can make things happen and who can't? The principal wasn't even sure how to get these things done. However, she was good enough to introduce me around to various committees and councils (whose full function I could not divine) and I had to network my way to various places and people to figure how who could really help me. Suffice to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of support generally around the district in both parents, teachers, and administrators.

While I could detail out what I found at PAUSD, it will likely be different for each school. PAUSD has evolved to each school being extremely independent, which presents many challenges for getting things done across the district. I have heard that many other districts are completely the opposite and everything is driven from the top down, which would make for a different experience in getting things done.

Another three things to watch out for, which also lengthen the time to get things done:

1. Be wary of the changing of the guard at both the PTA and school. PTA committee heads are strictly volunteer and will change each year. Someone who supports your initiatives this year may exit a committee and then next year there could be someone who doesn't care who you are or what you are working on. There are also budget issues at PAUSD which has caused some changing of staff members.

2. Watch out for the winter holidays and summer vacation. Everybody disappears and when time gets near either of these two times, people tend to stop communicating. So whatever you work on and how you do it, target your schedule around the work cycles that schools have and don't get frustrated when things stop for the summer months. It is also why I advise having a time horizon measured in years since the actual time you have per year to get stuff done is amazingly small.

3. School organizations are and are not like corporations. You will have to set your expectations accordingly given their own pace of operating, as well as be mindful that there are a ton of other internal priorities that supersede this project.


Get involved! If there is a Student Wellness Committee, join it! Make allies and gain support.

The principal did point me to the district wide Student Wellness Committee which is made up of staff, parents, and other members in the community such as pediatricians, city bike safety officials and the like. There, I met some key personnel within PAUSD who had a sympathetic ear. In fact, one of them worked at a hospital as a social worker before and recounted how there were so many children who were diabetic in disadvantages populations around the San Francisco Bay Area, all caused by poor diet that was laden with sugar. The staff have been instrumental in helping to get the work done, approved, and pushed through the PAUSD organization.


So what did I do at a detail level? Create guidelines for school websites, celebrations, fundraisers, and rewards.

These are the main areas for creating guidelines.

School websites - our school websites are often places where policies are posted. So a general statement about keeping food out of the classroom is appropriate here.

Celebrations - birthdays and holidays (ie. Thanksgiving, Halloween, Valentines Day, etc.) are the usual suspects.

Fundraisers - for some reason, people think bake sales work better than auctions. Encouraging not to sell sweet edible items is a good thing and just part of the overall behaviors we want to encourage and model. Note that the school and PTA both run fundraisers and guidelines need to go to two different places, with lobbying and discussion to happen in each place.

Rewards - it is discouraging to hear that there are some teachers who have a jar of candy or licorice sticks on their desks and give them to students when they do well.

Writing these guidelines would have been a monumental task had it not been for those who had walked this path before me. We actually tried and got into this back and forth on what language we should use and how we should say something and it was very hard to get to agreement. Then I had an epiphany to google for these documents on the internet and, of course, there were examples out there. We were grateful for KCHealthyKids.org and the Connecticut State Department of Education for allowing us to use large amounts of their text in our own guidelines. Specifically, these were KCHealthyKids.org's Healthy Alternatives for School Celebrations, Rewards, Fundraisers, and Snacks and CT State Department of Education's Alternatives to Food Rewards. Of course, their language was crafted much better than ours and was immediately acceptable to all of us.

If you'll recall, I mentioned getting these guidelines instituted throughout the elementary guidebooks. Note that celebrations are really only relevant for elementary schools as I think you would find it rare to see someone celebrating a birthday in the upper grades.

Rewards unfortunately can span the grades. It is disheartening to see that educators need to resort to food based rewards, typically candy and sweets, in order to motivate their students to do well. It sets a very poor precedent by encouraging children to associate food and its accompanying sensations to performance in school and life.


Be aware of the division of the day and when certain entities are in control of activities and not.

As I developed the guidelines, I became acutely aware of when the school has jurisdiction and when not, and when other parties like the PTA, outside organizations like after school sports leagues or art classes, or the public drives activities.

For example, the school only has jurisdiction during school hours. So any guidelines that the school manages would only be enforced when classes are held.

30 minutes after the last bell rings, the school becomes public property and the administration there can no longer control what happens on campus. There are after school activities which may serve snacks to children. The PTA may hold an event after school such as fund raisers or celebrations.

So while I developed the guidelines, I also had to keep track of not only who they needed to go to but also the time in which they are enforced. Here is a short list of who needs which guidelines, and potentially modifications on how they are instituted:

School:

Fundraising, celebrations, general statement, rewards.

PTA:

Fundraising, celebrations.

If you get into Food Services and what gets sold and served by then, the day gets even further divided up into class time and when Food Services provides meals. At PAUSD, breakfast and lunch are served in elementary school. Food Services became a third entity with whom I have gotten involved.


Launch educational opportunities.

I consider education a key part of these initiatives. Without true understanding, any guidelines we create may be interpreted as being dictated without reason. The community, both parents and teachers, may still do whatever they want despite having published guidelines. They could become rules without substance.

Therefore, I think it is critical that information gets out to the community about the dangers of sugar, that healthy eating habits start from early childhood, and that the absence of healthy eating habits leads to chronic diseases that are appearing now in childhood years, whereas before they only appeared in adults.

Last year, I found a speaker associated with the now defunct Institute of Responsible Nutrition here in the SF Bay Area. She gave a great talk on sugar and its effects and had some great tips for parents and taking sugar out of their households. We attracted 35+ people to the night and parents even brought their children to hear the talk. This coming year I hope to do more talks on the topic of sugar as well as expanding to healthy eating in general.


Institute Board Policy changes to give more top-down authority to these guidelines.

One or two principals were questioning whether there was board level support for these guidelines. Board Policy changes would cement the initiative into something much more official.

It took some research to figure out which Board Policies are relevant to nutritional initiatives involving sugar.

In California, these are Board Policies 3550 Food Service/Child Nutrition Program and 5030 Student Wellness. At PAUSD, these turned out to be out of date and not updated to the latest from the California School Board Association (CSBA): 3550 Food Service/Child Nutrition Program and 5030 Student Wellness.

Board Policy 5030 is driven by PAUSD's Student Services Coordinator who runs the Student Wellness Committee.

If you take a look at the CSBA Board Policy 5030, on page 3 it specifically states:

The nutrition education program shall include, but not be limited to, information about the benefits of healthy eating for learning, disease prevention, weight, and oral health. Nutrition education shall be provided as part of the health education program and, as appropriate, shall be integrated into other academic subjects in the regular educational program, before- and after-school programs, summer learning programs, and school garden programs.

Education is a big part of my initiatives. Now it would be a mandate.

Then on page 4:

The Superintendent or designee shall encourage staff to serve as positive role models for healthy eating and physical fitness. He/she shall promote work-site wellness programs and may provide opportunities for regular physical activity among employees.

Note that I am not only considering children in my initiatives, but also parents and teachers/staff as well.

On page 6:

The Superintendent or designee shall encourage school organizations to use healthy food items or non-food items for fundraising purposes. He/she also shall encourage school staff to avoid the use of non-nutritious foods as a reward for students' academic performance, accomplishments, or classroom behavior.

And:

School staff shall encourage parents/guardians or other volunteers to support the district's nutrition education program by considering nutritional quality when selecting any snacks which they may donate for occasional class parties. Class parties or celebrations shall be held after the lunch period when possible.

These last two paragraphs directly support the guidelines I am trying to get implemented! In many ways, I should have gone for Board Policy modifications immediately.

Board Policy 3550 is driven by PAUSD Food Services who is responsible for the sourcing of all school food provided and sold on school grounds.

This next year I intend on spending more time with Food Services and influencing the continued and increased appearance of natural, healthy foods that are less processed and contain less sugar.


Lobby the School Board members, get their advice

As I worked with the PTA and the district-wide Student Wellness Committee, I also sought out the School Board members to gain their support.

Soon we will be taking the Board Policy changes to the School Board and want to make sure they are on board so giving them some background information beforehand is a good thing, and so they do not need to think all that much about it when the changes are proposed.

At PAUSD, there is a Board Policy Review Board where all Board Policy changes are dealt with. Two of PAUSD's Board members are on that committee and my goal is that, with some initial communication, the changes will be accepted fairly quickly.

The Board members also provided me with excellent advice on how to get things done. This was at the Board level as well as through the school organization and its staff. We talked about potential roadblocks and barriers and how to navigate around them. They also gave me a rich set of contacts from which to get advice (example: there was a woman who managed to get a very broad project done similar to this one), what the personality is at a given school (example: at our middle schools, it will be more effective getting the parents on board, so go to the PTA head and start there), and who else to contact (example: contacts in the school staff and student government for the middle and high schools).


What's next?

I have a huge list of things I would love to get done. Having one year of taking action under my belt, I look to accomplishing these items for the coming year:

1. Make sure the elementary school guidelines are in place.

2. Figure out and start executing a strategy for putting guidelines in place with the PTA, notably in the areas of fund raising and education.

3. Figure out strategies for tackling the middle and high schools. Make contact with the key individuals: parents, teachers, students and determine a game plan.

4. Spend more time with Food Services and work with them on the Board policy as well as how to better examine bringing healthier food across the district.

5. Continue my push into educational opportunities for parents, teachers, and students. Network to find more speakers willing to come talk about sugar and its dangers, healthy eating, and things families can do to bring healthy eating to their homes.


Final Thoughts

For those of you reading this and wanting to create change at your own school, here are some final thoughts:

1. Do not depend on email - it is amazing how easy it is to be ignored. Be persistent at getting a meeting with decision makers, up to and including showing up at where you know they will be.

2. Don't be afraid to embrace and enact change!

When I met with some of the parents who tried before me, they would talk about how there was a lot of resistance on many fronts.

Yes it is true that many parents who have come through the district before you are like that. However, in a few short years, those families will graduate their kids and not be involved in district affairs any more. I can tell you that the up and coming parents' attitudes are changing. The new families coming into the district are much more enlightened on the subject of sugar and healthy eating habits.

When I first started this initiative, I braced myself for strong resistance from all directions. In reality, I was shocked to find way more support for what I was doing.

I think there is an undercurrent of not rocking the boat, or fear of drawing conflict and ire from others. I would urge that you may be pleasantly surprised that there are more parents who have the same feelings that you do. I certainly was.

And yes my long term horizon will mean that I and my initiatives will outlast the opposing parents whose children will eventually graduate and leave the district.


Start small and build bigger. Trial one school. Then rally and move to 2-3. And so on.

While I took on getting things done across the district, it doesn't have to be that way for everything I worked on. For example, I have the best connection with the elementary school that my children are at, and thus am working on the parents, their attitudes, and the activities over there first.

Whenever I have a success, it is just one more piece of evidence that I can bring to other schools and their organizations. So starting small to pilot first is a good idea, and it will help you grow them from there.


Think evolutionary; look for revolutionary opportunities.

Peoples' attitudes rarely change overnight. Don't we all wish that when we tell somebody something that they just believe it and everything is fine? It almost never happens that way.

I found it valuable to be evolutionary whenever possible. So wording in the guidelines is often "encourage" versus "shall". My goal in the short term is to raise awareness by simply inserting the ask for alternatives and making people realize that we don't have to do things the way they were before, and that things like bake sales can be done differently - think auctions or other fund raising options - and that celebrations can be done with non-food activities.

But I continually look for revolutionary opportunities. I consider the Board Policy changes to be revolutionary and a powerful lever to those in the district who fear the consequences of violating them. I also consider the announcement from the American Heart Association on limiting sugar for children a significant revolutionary development, that can sway opinions without argument.


Last Word: Lead with Love.

I was listening to an excellent podcast featuring Danielle Gould, a food futurist and founder of Food + Tech Connect. Towards the end, she talks about leading with love. I think it's a fantastic concept and totally applies to this effort.

Leading with love sounds like a hippie statement but it's just really about your attitude as you approach people and the problem. It means coming from a viewpoint of caring, and that you want the best for both adults and especially the children. It means to be inclusive, to embrace your opposition, to look at things from their point of view and bring them into the fold versus alienating them. When you treat people with respect and that you value their viewpoints, you have a better chance of bringing them on board.

Whenever I talk about sugar and nutrition here, I emphasize that all I work on is because I care for *all* the children in the district and not just my own. It isn't for me or my ego or something else; it's that I do not want to see these children growing up and developing one of the many chronic health conditions we see today. When others throw negativity back at me for what I work on, I remind myself to lead with love because it's the only way to win by bringing the opposition onto your side in their own time and way. Going toe to toe with someone only makes the other party dig in deeper and harder in defense.

So suppress your initial defensiveness or rising anger at those who just don't seem to listen - instead, keep a gentle, unyielding pressure on them and they will turn around. In the end, love wins.

Stay tuned for Year 2!

Many thanks to members of the PAUSD PTA who have joined me on this journey to bring healthier nutrition and habits to our district. This really is a joint effort and I look forward to working with more parents on moving this forward. Huge thanks go to the PAUSD Student Wellness Committee and Board members who have been instrumental in giving great advice and pushing this forward through the organization, and a great thanks to the principals of PAUSD who have jumped on board to implement healthy guidelines in their schools. Mentioned previously, a huge thanks also goes to KCHealthyKids.org and the Connecticut State Department of Education for their help on developing the guidelines and special thanks to the staff of KCHealthyKids.org for helping edit this post and give advice on successful advocacy.


Christmas Gift Tips

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As we approach Christmas, I reflect on the gift giving process.

While I think gift giving is nice, I think it also has some really bad parts too. Like when I get a gift I don't like, and need to figure out whether I should tell the person, hide it, re-gift it, or just toss it out. Or if I am borderline liking it, then it becomes harder to figure out whether to get rid of it.

Fewer and far between are gifts that I absolutely LOVE. But that's near impossible with a guy like me. Why? It's because I have this annoying tendency to just go a buy whatever I need or want...immediately. Thus, when my birthday or Christmas rolls around, I pretty have whatever it is I need because I'm impatient and wanted it the moment I thought of it.

Being an early adopter doesn't help either; that means I've got the latest of whatever it is that is out there, so it's hard to beat whatever it is feature-wise.

Also, now that I'm in a reductionist mode for my life, I almost don't want anything extraneous. As I move into my new place, I'm trying to get of stuff in my life, not add! So it's hard to be happy with things that aren't absolutely on my must-have list as I'm thinking about throwing and giving things away!

For the reductionist, early adopter, guy who has everything, I offer some tips on buying Christmas gifts, which could apply to me, but I think could also apply to just anyone:

1. Go for the "absolutely LOVE it" gift. Challenge yourself. Because if you don't, you run the risk of raising the anxiety level of the receiver and he/she decides on whether or not to re-gift or toss it, and the gift may actually be re-gifted or tossed. So don't just buy anything for the sake of being politically correct in giving something. It's a waste: go for the gold or stay home.

2. If you can't satisfy 1, my advice is to just give something more transient. How about wine? A coupon for dinner at a restaurant of my choice? A round of drinks? A movie? A hug? Remember it's the thought that counts. Or don't give an actual something at all. Just give your love and/or friendship. It's more than enough and longer lasting than a THING.

3. How to achieve 1? I think the best way is to get to know the receiver very well. What kind of person are they like? What do they like or not like? What do they like doing? Listen to them over the course of the year; have they dropped hints on what they might want or need? Remember these and/or write them down. Ask in sneaky ways what they might want; find ways to ask without coming out and asking them directly. Even if you don't figure out what they want, you've at least gotten to know someone close to you very well. Isn't that a nice reward on top of everything?

4. Size matters. If you can't achieve 1, and you don't want to do something transient or you feel like your love and/or friendship isn't worthy enough to give (haha), then size matters. Give something small. A book. A deck of cards. A watch. A calculator. Something tiny. Because reductionist people don't have much space, so don't make them compete between open space in their tiny reductionist condo and your gift.

Merry Christmas everyone and may your gift giving adventures be fruitful, rewarding, and not wasteful.

Handymen are Gods

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Handymen are Gods. Truly.

Don't know if you've ever lived in a condo or apartment building, but usually there is a handyman that works in the building. He is a generalist, and basically is multi-talented and has been there for many years, if not decades. Because he has worked in that building for years, he usually has managed to become an expert in fixing everything.

Yes I mean everything.

There is a handyman in my NYC apartment building who once fixed my microwave. One day, it just decided to stop throwing microwaves around its chamber. It would turn on, but nothing would actually heat up in the oven. So I call the handyman over and he takes a look at it, and then tells me he needs to go downstairs to get something and he'll be right back. He returns a short while later with a circuit board which looks scavenged from another microwave. He then opens up the microwave, unplugs the wires of the old circuit board, removes it and then sticks in the new one. He closes up the microwave and, voila! the microwave turns on AND is now cooking food again.

How many of you would be willing to open up a microwave and tinker with its insides, with enough confidence that what you tinker with will actually fix it?

This last weekend, I return to my LA apartment only to find someone tried to force the door on my apartment, and the guy who tried to break in jams the lock so I can't even open it. It's late so no building staff are around, so I call a locksmith to work on it. He tries everything. He has this hook thing which he tries to pop the door handle from the inside. That doesn't work. He tries to pry the door latch with a screwdriver. No dice. He then tells me that he needs to bring out the heavy equipment and drill out the lock and basically destroy it completely to get in.

I go, hmmmm...maybe that's not a good idea. I don't know how long it will take to fix it if the lock is completely destroyed and don't want to risk leaving the door uncloseable. I tell him no, and I go find a hotel to sleep in.

The next morning I find the handyman and he goes up with me, and in 10 minutes he pops the door open with a screwdriver. Geez. Then he goes downstairs (always this downstairs thing...what, does every handyman have a secret magic cave where they store their mystical tools?) and comes back with a brand new lock assembly. He replaces it and now I'm back to having a working door, even if the door jam is a bit busted up. He does what a trained locksmith couldn't do for 2 hours.

Amazing. Worship your handyman. They are Gods.

Downsizing My Life: Yahoo! Memorabilia

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Two weeks ago I had a dumpster on my driveway, and I had another one this week. It was great to be downsizing and clearing out my garage. In the process, I found my old archives from my Yahoo! days. Here are some great memories:

My first biz card with our very first office address at Pioneer Way in Mountain View, very close to Castro St. Man I miss that place. So close to great food!

A copy of the IPO prospectus, along with Excite, Infoseek, and Opentext!

Since Montgomery Securities underwrote the IPO, is it any surprise that their analyst report says "BUY!"?

One of the first IAudit reports from Nielsen showing Yahoo!'s stats.

Two attempts at being part of software:

To think you could actually buy a browser AND have Yahoo! bookmarked in it, or even the My Yahoo! Ticker....

The first employee handbook, a parody in TV Guide, complete with an Absolut vodka ad on the back.

Last, my old UED team circa 2000. Wow, look how we've all changed!

In the NY Times last week, some guy is selling all this Atari stuff he found in some old file cabinets he bought from a company sale for bucko bucks. Think I could get the same from my old Yahoo! crap or should I just dumpster it?

What Will Our Children Inherit?

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Beijing. Mom drawing with daughter.

Mom and daughter draw a picture. They color it in. Mom starts to color the sky blue. Daughter says, "Mom, you're coloring the sky the wrong color!" Mom replies, "Really? What color should it be?" Daughter says, "It's not blue, it's grey!" At this point, Mom realizes that the years of growing up in Beijing, one of the most polluted cities in the world where the skies are this sickly white/grey EVERY day, that her child thinks that skies are NORMALLY a white/grey and not blue.

Flashback to my childhood. I used to run around Poughkeepsie with my friends. There was this favorite playground where there were two ponds. These ponds were great. They were filled with bass, sunfish, and a school of goldfish which people dumped in there when they didn't want them. It was also filled with painted turtles, snapper turtles, tadpoles and frogs of all sorts. Fishing there was a blast. Sneaking up to frogs and grabbing them out of the water was a constant favorite distraction.

Then after my freshman year in college, I came back only to find a crew of bulldozers levelling the whole playground. I ran in there and all those fish, snapper turtles, frogs were hopping about on the newly turned earth which had filled in the ponds. I gazed upon the dirt and realized for the first time that years from now, the world will be a different place than when I grew up.

From white/grey skies to ponds turned houses, the world is changing rapidly, and some of it for the worse. Humans are changing the environment and those joys as a child I had are either changing or disappearing completely. Will my child be able to run freely through fields and playgrounds as I did when I was younger, or will they grow up under Bladerunner-esque skies and never see the beautiful blue that it can be when not polluted?

I think about this now more than ever as the global warming initiatives finally take hold, and I for one and glad to know that maybe we have a chance for our children to experience a world of the future as well as those joys of our past.

Sunday June 17:

Arrival to LAX. As I walk off the plane, I marvel at the blue skies and am ecstatic to be back under them. Never let your kids forget the sky is blue.

Going Native

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Upon reaching NYC this week, I went to my favorite breakfast shop on 2nd Ave called John's, at 44th St. and 2nd Ave., and ordered my usual. As I finished up breakfast, I struck up a conversation with the waitress there who sees me there every time I go there and she is remembering what I always order (it's because I substitute sliced tomatoes for hash potatoes - kind of weird I know heh).

So I told her my business takes me to NYC a lot and I'm mostly based in California. She was surprised as she pegged me for a native New Yorker. I thought that was funny. It certainly isn't my accent as I have none, or at least I don't think so. I probably dress like a New Yorker, and I can be as obnoxious as a New Yorker. Or maybe I just don't seem like a tourist and just have a comfortable demeanor when I cruise around the city. But I did tell her that I was born in Poughkeepsie, so maybe that's it...

I get the same reaction from California. When I'm back there, my clothes do change. I am less obnoxious and need to adapt my communication style to the more sensitive, less overbearing one that you find works better out there. Many have told me in the Bay Area that I must have grown up there because of whatever it is I exude when I'm out there.

I also get that reaction from being in Hawaii. My costume changes once more and I'm always decked out in Hawaiian wear. Although I definitely do not talk in the Hawaiian accent, still many think I live there and tell me so when we chat.

Going native is interesting. I like having a mindset which allows me to adapt to the culture of wherever I am but I think it also means I try to intuitively gain the ability to morph my mannerisms, dress, and personality to the people of that place. I don't act like a tourist and somehow I blend into the environment. It seems that people don't pay so much attention to you when they see you around, and they accept you more easily when they know you're a native. It makes them more comfortable to having you around and that's great.

When in Rome...

Being Nice Has Its Benefits

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This morning I had a flight out from JFK back to SFO. I go online to attempt check-in and find that I can't; something about the itinerary being unavailable. I think nothing of it as I know I can check in at the airport at a kiosk. I get my things together and hop into a taxi and head to JFK.

When I get there, I check-in at the kiosk and....FIND OUT THEY PUT ME ON ANOTHER LATER FLIGHT. My first reaction was of anger; previously I was on a 900a flight which would get me in around noon. That would give me enough time to go home, get my car, and zip back up to San Francisco for a 300p meeting. But the later flight they put me on would have screwed me! I would have gotten in at 230p and there would be no way that I could make the meeting. I was furious! I looked on the boards and the 900a flight was still there!

I rushed through security and was determined to get this resolved! Watch out for pissed off consumer on the warpath!

As my emotions seethed inside me, I thought back to resolutions I've had about my personality. One of them was that I would always remain calm and courteous even in the face of extreme emotion or anger. I've always admired people who were so calm in the face of calamity and decided it was something I wanted to be. Besides, if that didn't work, there would always be time for shouting (ha).

I got up into the Admirals Lounge where they typically can be more helpful. I said, "I need help! I got rescheduled off my 900a flight into a later flight? Can I get back on that flight?" To which the agent replied, "Oh, the 900a flight got cancelled." It was still on the boards! What gives?

I asked nicely to get on the 700a flight, which was boarding in 20 minutes. Luckily for me, I like to get to the airport early and relax in the Admiral's Club with WIFI, a cup of coffee, and someone else's New York Times which I often find lying around there. This time, it enabled me to have a chance at getting on the earlier flight!

The agent said the flight was not full, but they had closed access to her computer because they were in final boarding. She told me to run down there and see what they could do. So I turned around and ran to the gate.

I got to the agents there and asked nicely with a very calm voice if I could get on the flight. This agent said no problem. Then I asked if I could invoke my complimentary upgrade due to my Executive Platinum status. She tells me I can, but I would have to use my 500 mile upgrade vouchers (you earn these when you fly, and you use however many equal to your flight distance to upgrade to Business class). I tell her I don't want to use my 500 mile upgrade vouchers and she proceeds to book me into a Economy class seat. As she's doing this, I think, "this is wrong. I am Executive Platinum. I should be able to upgrade without using my 500 mile upgrade vouchers." A few seconds later, I persist, but still asking in a very calm nice voice. I ask her if there are Business Class seats available and if I can get a complimentary upgrade as Executive Platinum. She tells me it's not possible without using my 500 mile upgrade vouchers. I pause there, but I refuse to give up since I know I'm right and I refuse to rise to the bait of getting mad and yelling my request.

So I say "I'm sorry, could you explain to me again why I can't get a complimentary upgrade with my Executive Platinum status? I've done it before many times."

She grabs the agent next to her and she recommends calling their manager. The manager comes onto the phone and they chat. He asks if they have seats available and she says yes. Then the kicker; he asks her if I'm a nice guy and she tells him I've very nice and not bothersome at all. He then tells her to go ahead.

By this time, there is 5 minutes until they close the doors, so she just tells me which seat I have and I walk on the plane. Still on the jetway, I'm trying to tell her that Executive Platinum status gives me complimentary upgrades when Business class seats are available. She still claims this is not the case. I give up - I have my Business Class seat and don't worry about it anymore.

As I sit here on the plane typing this post in my comfy Business class seat, about to get my trans-fat omelette and somewhat bad coffee, I reflect on the fact that being calm and courteous in the face of anger can really work. It's just more reinforcement for me that flying-off-the-handle behavior really isn't called for in most cases, and that connecting nicely as human beings can get you huge results a lot faster than being a total asshole.

Snowman, Cuteness

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I must be a poor judge of something cute.

Before Christmas, I was out shopping with my daughter and we needed to find something for my newly born niece. We're in Borders walking around and I see a small stand of stuffed animals. I naturally gravitate towards a bear as they seem to be the safest to pick for somebody to like a lot.

As I pick up a brown bear, my daughter grabs a small snowman off the shelf. She exclaims, "This is soooo cute!". I go, "You think your baby cousin would like that more than the bear?" She goes, "Yes this is much better, Daddy! Get this for her!" I go, "Are you sure? This bear is pretty cute too..." She goes, "Yeah it's pretty cute, but this snowman is really cute!". We go on for a little bit longer and I relent. I look at this snowman and it's OK, but I think the bear is cuter. Whatever. So I put back the bear and grab the snowman. She goes, "Can I hold it?" I go, "Sure of course", and give it to her.

We walk around some more, picking up some other stuff for her other cousins. And all this time she's cuddling the snowman and finally as we're ready to leave, she pulls on my sleeve and looks up at me with those Daddy-melting-eyes and asks, "Can I have one too?" I laugh and say, "Of course sweetheart, go and grab one." She runs off and we end up buying two.

And I'm still trying to figure out what makes this snowman so cute over that bear, or something else for that matter.

At Christmas, I give the snowman to my baby niece and SHE LOVES IT. The whole time while I'm there, she's got it in her arms and running around everywhere with it. The other day (many weeks after Christmas), my sister calls me and tells me my baby niece is STILL running around with the snowman and sleeping with it every night, well after most kids would lose interest on a toy.

Geez. Go figure.

So much for my expertise in what's cute and what's not.

We're Still A Fearful Society

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The Mercury News reports that the creation of a Mandarin immersion program for Kindergarten to First Graders will likely get squashed.

It's amazing to see people still fearful of their own turf in this day and age. Haven't we moved beyond this? Of course not. Drive to Oregon and you'll see people stare at you (if you're Asian) as if you're from Mars...by the way this happened just a few months ago. And just try heading to the middle of the country. Let me tell you - ignorant and bigoted folks still exist in great quantity. Perhaps I should be nicer and say "naive". Should I stoop to their level and call them something negative when they just have not experienced the world and become more comfortable with that which is unknown to them now?

How can we compete on a global scale if we can't even see the realities of the situation that our children need to be better prepared for the future? Humans have a tendency to blind themselves where fear is concerned.

Global warming? Just a fluke. Might lose my business if I do something about it. Of course might lose the planet if I'm wrong....

The article is reprinted below - if I get an email from the copyright people, I'll likely delete this so sorry about that!

MANDARIN POPULARITY DOESN'T PLAY IN P.A.
By Sharon Noguchi
Mercury News

After the Cupertino Union School District began the nation's first Mandarin immersion elementary program eight years ago, interest in teaching Chinese skyrocketed, with schools from San Mateo to Charlotte, N.C., following suit.

But the Palo Alto school district probably won't be joining them.

On Tuesday night, faced with a blizzard of opposition, trustees indicated they can't support Superintendent Mary Frances Callan's recommendation to offer Mandarin classes to 40 kindergartners and first graders in August. They said they were worried that the program would further burden administrators, crowd elementary and middle schools, and divert attention from projects such as improving writing.

"We've stretched our staff so much, and we can only do so many things,'' said trustee Dana Tom. "It's like going to the grocery store and buying a candy bar in the checkout line, without thinking that, 'Gee, I really need bread.' ''

A group of parents have been lobbying for the program for four years, but implementing Mandarin immersion in Palo Alto could have proven costly politically for trustees.

In the contentious discussion leading to a public hearing Tuesday, opponents threatened to boycott fundraising efforts, vote against board members, oppose future tax measures and even try to rescind the parcel tax passed in 2005. Several accused the district of catering to an "affluent, vocal minority.''

That perception -- that Mandarin programs serve a limited and privileged constituency -- helped incite passionate opposition and fueled intense online debates. About 120 people turned out for the hearing, divided among proponents wearing red -- the Chinese good-luck color -- and opponents wearing green.

As a result of the surging interest in Mandarin, the College Board will offer an AP test in the language for the first time this spring. At the Chinese American International School, a private school in San Francisco, applications have more than doubled in four years. And for the first time in its 25-year history, non-Chinese students form the majority in the pre-kindergarten classes, said Andrew Corcoran, head of the school.

The trend, at least in part, reflects the growing economic importance of China.

In Cupertino, Mandarin immersion also engendered intense controversy at its inception with parents voicing the same fears as those in Palo Alto: They worried it would divert precious funds, and they disliked the growing influence of Asians in schools.

But opposition has subsided; there are now 40 children on the waiting list for kindergarten. The 315-student program at Meyerholz Elementary draws from both native Mandarin speakers and those who know no Chinese at all, said director Mary Jew. In fact, she said, "sometimes non-native speakers have a much better pronunciation.''

Several districts had been hoping to follow the Cupertino model. Palo Alto had conducted a "feasibility study'' in response to a request last spring from a parent group, Palo Altans for Chinese Education.

As a result of the study, Callan suggested starting two K-1 classes at Ohlone Elementary School in August. Principal Susan Charles had met Tuesday with her staff and welcomed the program.

Ohlone has one of Palo Alto's three alternative programs, along with a direct-instruction program at Hoover and a Spanish immersion program at Escondido.

But at the public hearing Tuesday, four of five trustees expressed reservations about adding a fourth alternative program. The final vote is scheduled for Jan. 30.

While acknowledging the demand for Mandarin language instruction, trustees still said they didn't want to tie district hands by adding another commitment. Only board President Camille Townsend supported the idea.

"Language acquisition happens best at kindergarten and pre-K,'' she said. The district should continue being an educational leader by starting a Mandarin program, she said.

Despite the superintendent's assertion that the program would not cost extra money, opponents and several board members expressed concerns that it would siphon staff time and other resources.

Some worried that a Mandarin program would attract more families as the district nears its school-room capacity, noting that because Palo Alto schools get most of their funding from local property taxes and not the state, more students doesn't mean more money.

And many objected to offering a program for only a small portion of students.

"This is a private school for the Mandarin-speaking population,'' said Anya Finseth, who asked whether speakers of other languages should also get a program.

Trustee Mandy Lowell said, ``I think it is a terrific program.'' Then, after debunking opponents' arguments, she concluded, "The pluses don't outweigh the minuses.''

Ultimately, proponents concluded that the board found the political costs exceeded the value of the program. "I thought they would have a little bit more vision about where they are taking the school district,'' said David Yen, parent of a 4-year-old boy.

Other proponents concluded that it was simply easier to disappoint proponents than to further enrage opponents.

"For Chinese to become a mainline language in school, it has to be something those who are not ethnic Chinese will support,'' said Corcoran of the Chinese American International School. "It's very important that we look at the study of Chinese as serving the whole community.''

Learning Touchy-Feely Mandarin

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Today I had my first Mandarin class with a friend of mine. We decided it could be cool to do a joint class and maybe lower fees for both of us, but potentially have a wider variety of things to talk about and practice our Mandarin.

At the beginning of class, I related to the teacher what my goals were, which were to learn "feelings" words, conversation, and usage, and to gain enough fluency in business Mandarin to deliver my old creativity in online advertising presentation and be able to field questions.

The second goal was pretty standard; my teacher is already teaching at companies like Google and helping people with their work with China. The specific language used in online advertising is something she hasn't much experience in, but I think we'll get there.

The first goal was more unusual. Initially when I told my friend I was interested in learning Mandarin, and that I wanted to learn "feelings" words in Mandarin, she laughed and said that was exactly what she was doing with her current teacher. I laughed too and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to do this.

Learning "feelings" words is definitely a female thing. But in the last 2 years post-divorce, I have come to believe that communication of one's inner feelings is crucial to maintaining good relations with another person, whether in English or Mandarin. I think it is useful for people of both sexes to learn the language of feelings and to practice using them so that they become part of their normal everyday vocabulary.

As we talked today through class, I came to realize that many of these words were not known to the teacher. I asked why that was. Apparently, it is more than just not knowing the language. It's much more deeper than that - apparently it's a cultural thing.

The Chinese, over the centuries, have come to view expression of their feelings to be downplayed or not done at all for a variety of reasons ranging from men afraid to show that they are weak to just lack of modern research in relations and the effects of "feelings" communication.

This revelation was very interesting to me. I thought back to my parents and definitely they did not use this language much. Then when it came to English, they didn't bother to learn these words and the use of "feelings" communication became doubly removed. Which then leads to the children - uh, that's ME - not learning this method of communicating - or at least not from parents. It suddenly became very clear as to why my "feelings" communication abilty was severely hampered until the last 2 years or so and I actively pursued its study in attempt to be better at it...at least in English.

I can already communicate light conversation with someone in Mandarin. It was time to up the ante and get into more complex concepts. Ultimately, I believe this will make a stronger communicator when it comes to relating to someone in Mandarin, and, I believe, even in business situations.

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