Friday, April 30, 2010

Expanding the scope

Since I started this blog, all my posts (with a few exceptions) have had something to do with rebooting or reinvention.

I've decided to expand my topic areas to include random subjects that I find interesting. So you will see more blogs that are not really "RebootYou"-oriented.

I'm doing this because of late I feel a renewed urge to write -- just to get things down on paper. Or on the screen. Have been a writer in one form or another most of my life, and I enjoy it. On rare occasions someone will say they enjoyed something I wrote. That makes me think I occasionally have something to say, so I am going to say it!

A couple of days ago I wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times, which they probably won't publish. The subject was Standard & Poor's downgrading of Greek debt, and the ensuing tailspin of markets around the world. My question: S&P is a bond rating agency. These agencies were major culprits in the financial meltdown because of the spurious AAA ratings they slapped on collateralized debt obligations made up of subprime mortgages. So why should we believe them now? Did they suddenly get religion, and we should go back to accepting their ratings without question?

One more thing I don't get about this mess.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The last word on Creamsicles

I have just finished a delicious raspberry Creamsicle.

First one I’ve had in too long to count. And it was just as good as I remembered. (Please see the preceding two blogs.)

Today I mentioned my “ice cream man” memories to a friend who told me that if I went to the grocery store and looked in the frozen foods section, I could find Creamsicles. “I know they are there,” he said. “My wife eats them all the time.”

That’s all I needed. Within 30 minutes I was in my neighborhood supermarket and sure enough, right in the ice cream freezer, there they were. I bought an 8-pack of orange and raspberry. As the Campbell’s soup ad used to say, “Mmmmm, good!”

The Creamsicle is a derivative of the 105-year-old Popsicle. In 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson of San Francisco left a mixture of powdered soda, water, and a stirring stick in a cup on his porch. It was a cold night, and Epperson awoke the next morning to find a frozen pop. He called it the "Epsicle."

It was a hit with his friends at school, and later with his own kids. They constantly called for "Pop's 'sicle." So in 1923, Epperson changed the name and applied for a patent. A couple of years later, Epperson sold the rights to the brand name Popsicle to the Joe Lowe Company in New York.

The Good Humor Company, a subsidiary of Unilever, bought the rights to all the “sicles” in 1989. Popsicle®, Creamsicle® and Fudgsicle® are all trademarks of Unilever.

I still need to figure out how my memory served up “Dreamsicle” instead of “Creamsicle.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Neuron asleep at the switch

Last night I had an exercise in remembering something from my childhood maybe 65 years ago. The overall experience I was remembering was the arrival of the “ice cream man” on our street. Specifically, I recalled (or thought I recalled) a specific product the ice cream man sold. It was a combination bar of frozen juice with ice cream inside. I remembered it as a “Dreamsicle.” I wrote about it in yesterday’s blog.

This morning, in the shower, I had a flash: It wasn’t a “Dreamsicle,” it was a “Creamsicle.” I had remembered the sound of the word but I pulled up an incorrect rhyming version of it from my memory. The minute I got out of the shower I rushed to the computer, pulled up the incorrect blog and corrected it.

This got me to wondering how memories are created, stored and recalled in the brain. I Googled “how memory works” and found Public Broadcasting’s Nova Science Now website. There I was able to view a video of neurosurgeon Itzhak Fried talking about how memories are stored and retrieved.

According to Fried, an experience (say, the arrival of the ice cream man and buying stuff from him) is captured by a single neuron, or a group of neurons firing together. When the call goes out to recall that memory, the same neuron or neuron group fires again.

So let’s say each neuron in the group of neurons that captured the original visit by the ice cream man remembered one part of the experience: one captured the look of the ice cream box, another the sound of the cow bell that signaled the ice cream man’s arrival, and several others the taste of various goodies in the box.

But on further reflection, there must have been one neuron for each quality of each particular product – in this case, the Creamsicle. One neuron got the flavor, one got the temperature, one the location of the ice cream inside the icy blanket around it, one the stick frozen into the Creamsicle to provide a handle and, finally, one got the name.

So let’s dig a little further. Maybe there were several neurons assigned to grab the name. One got that it ended in “… sicle.” Another got that the first syllable sounded like “…eem.” And the one in charge of getting the first letter probably got “C” at the time – but something happened to it along the way.

Now, 65 years later, along comes a memory call: Hey, remember that bar with frozen juice on the outside and ice cream on the inside? What was it? Every frozen-bar-with-ice-cream neuron hustles up to bring its part: Here’s “..sicle,” and here’s “…eem,” and… “Hey, where’s the neuron with the first letter?”

Well, it turns out that neuron was asleep at the switch, as it were. “Duh, I’ve forgotten. Maybe it was ‘D’ for ‘Dreamsicle,’ because they were pretty dreamy-good. So I’ll offer up ‘D.’”

For a few hours, the other neurons accepted the D. But this morning the faulty first-letter neuron snapped awake and said “Hey, wait a minute, it was C, not D. Creamsicle, not Dreamsicle.”

Why did it fail? It came close, but it failed. Has it been doing other things since the ice cream man came by? Remembering algebra, sunsets, the smell of apple pie in the oven, an acquaintance’s name, a dentist’s appointment? Has it been overworked?

Or has it been lying there in the cranial soup, with no responsibilities other than remembering “C?” Did it just go flabby? Use it or lose it, and I didn’t use it?

I’ll probably never know. But I have certainly profited by the experience. I’ve delved deeper into my brain than I thought I would. And I may know a little more about how this amazing organ works – maybe one neuron’s worth.

One thing is for sure. After all this, that dumb neuron better not come up with D again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rebooting memories of Creamsicles

I just read a story by writing instructor and coach Sharon Lippincott entitled “Too Old for Ice Cream,” and it took me back. (I "met" Sharon when she responded to one of my blogs,and I visited her blog at

Her story was about an encounter – or rather, a non-encounter – with a modern-day ice cream truck – a red van with a raised roof, a neighborhood-tempting sound system, numerous big decals and a cooler hung under the window on the passenger side. She was struck by the contrast with the “white, spotlessly clean” ice cream trucks of her youth.

The teenage driver passed her right by without stopping – twice – and Sharon wondered if he thought she looked too old to be buying ice cream. Upon reflection, she happily dismissed this notion, went to her freezer at home, pulled out a Klondike bar and thoroughly enjoyed it. Her pang of nostalgia, it turned out, was about ice cream trucks, not ice cream.

Even though the story was published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review almost three years ago, it was as fresh for me as a frosty Popsicle. It brought to mind the ice cream vendors when I was a little boy – before the days of ice cream trucks, when “the ice cream man” came by pushing a clunky white box mounted on two bike wheels or pedaling a bike-powered version of the same basic box.

They didn’t have amplified sound systems. They had cowbells hanging on their handlebars. Still, you could hear them half a block away.

The chocolate and vanilla delicacy known today as an Eskimo Pie today was a “Big Boy” to us. There were also Fudgsicles, which were all chocolate with no coating. But Popsicles were Popsicles then, just as they are today. And every now and then, if we were lucky, the ice cream man would have Creamsicles, which was a Popsicle on the outside and ice cream on the inside. Heaven on a stick!

The ice cream man – who more often than not was a teenager – also had something really special at the bottom of his box – dry ice. That’s how they kept the ice cream from melting. If you begged long enough, and the ice cream man was feeling generous, he would break off a tiny piece of dry ice and give it to you.

It was so cold you couldn’t hold it in your hand. You had to toss it back and forth or it would burn you. You would put a penny on the dry ice and it would sizzle – in addition to getting very cold. If you were really brave and cool (no pun intended), you’d put the dry ice in your mouth (making sure you had enough saliva to keep it swishing around) and “blow smoke” by breathing out with your mouth open.

I agree with Sharon that you never get too old for ice cream. Sometimes, in the interest of health, the refreshment option is frozen yogurt. But for genuine goodness and perfect taste, nothing beats old fashioned ice cream.

Except, every now and then, a Creamsicle.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Smile, things may be looking up

There was encouraging news for rebooters in the Sunday (4/25/10) New York Times Business section.

The headline: “Rays of Hope For Job Hunters;” the subhead: “Postings are climbing, and baby boomers are retiring. Can a turnaround be near?”

The article, by Phyllis Korkki, reports on improving signs in the labor market. “Employers are beginning to hire again – or at least think about it,” Korkki reports. “There are now some very positive signs… The shift is most apparent in job postings, which have begun to surge.”

The article quoted Tamara Erickson, an author and work-force consultant, as pointing out an intensifying long-term trend: “a worker shortage caused by the continuing retirement of baby boomers.”

“Suddenly, she said, employers are starting to realize that they don’t have, or won’t have, people with the skills they need. Some are starting to worry, she said, while others ‘have no idea what’s going to hit them.’”

This trend means that people who want to keep working in their later years may have the option of deferring their retirement or staying employed by filling a familiar position on a consulting or part-time basis.

The article is side-by-side with a first-person article by Jeremy Jaech, a serial rebooter who has re-started his career twice after “retiring.” He was co-founder of the Aldus Corporation, which created PageMaker and made him rich enough at age 29 that he didn’t have to work.

After playing golf until it was no longer fun, he went back to work and founded the Visio Corporation, another successful venture that developed software to make flow charts, organization charts, office layouts and other diagrams on a desktop computer.

Again he “retired,” this time in his 40s, and became involved working on nonprofit organizations including the University of Washington in research.

Still, not enough, so back to work. This time he founded Verdiem, which provides software to reduce energy consumption of PC networks. His summation:

“Of course, the money has been great. But the actual pleasure of working, and the real reason I can’t stay retired, is the joy of collaborating with a bright team of people to move an idea forward and watch it grow.”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Eating some of my own dog food

There is a phrase heard in businesses that build credibility with customers by using their own products: “Eating our own dog food.”

I haven’t been eating much of my own dog food lately. I’m asking people to join in a conversation about reinvention and rebooting on this blog and I’ve been missing in action.

OK, an honest confession is good for the soul. Consider this my confession. Today I’m back and I intend to be more diligent and regular about posting my thoughts. Maybe some of them will actually be interesting.

One of my original ideas in starting was that there was going to be a flood of Baby Boomers retiring and looking to reinvent themselves, and that my website was where they were going to come to find resources and tell their stories. (I also wanted to reach people of any age who needed or wanted to reboot – and still do – but for now let’s just talk about retirees.) seemed like a good idea, until the Great Recession came along and sent the unemployment rate above 10%. There was a flood of people, all right, but they were the young and middle aged folks who lost their jobs when the economy tanked. For a retiree seeking a paying job in perhaps another field, or thinking about becoming a consultant in her or his career field, there was suddenly a crowd of people also looking for that same job. They were younger, hungrier, perhaps more talented or more current on the latest technology, more desperate to find gainful employment to feed their families and pay their bills. In other words, tough competition.

At the same time, the number of jobs shrank. Companies going bankrupt or falling on hard times did what they always do – they cut staff, eliminated positions, retrenched.

So the picture changed. Fewer jobs available for the potential rebooter, more people vying for those jobs.

I’ve thought about the whole arena of retiree reinvention a lot in the last couple of years and asked myself, what can be done? Is there a course of action the average retiree can take if he or she wants to keep working after retirement?

The main thing I’ve come up with is going back to school. Twice in my lifetime I’ve rebooted by going back to school. It worked both times. So I am going to do some research to find out if there has been any discernible uptick in retirees going back to school to upgrade their knowledge and skills since the recession came down on us like the proverbial ton of bricks.

If you’ve done this, know of someone who has, or (I wish) had any information or statistics on the subject, please post a response. I look forward to hearing from you.