Archive for January, 2014


January 31st, 2014

Ever tried biofeedback? Technically it is defined as “the use of electronic monitoring of a normally automatic bodily function in order to train someone to acquire voluntary control of that function” Or as I think about use of sensors and displays to create a an explicit and external feedback loop in order to learn and train internal body or mind function.

Yes, you could say that in some sense using an online class is a form of biofeedback, although learning is not one the bodily functions people normally mean. I’m not sure if wearing a heart-rate monitor while you exercise is considered biofeedback? Definitely changes the way you exercise.

I have exposure to a few biofeedback devices and curious to learn about other useful ones.

A machine to help you meditate.

With Resperate you place a strap around your belly and earphones in your ears. After a period of monitoring your breathing, it then begins to play music and tones to guide your breathing and gradually slow it down. It is not just about slowing your breaths, I believe, but also about being conscious of your breaths that provides the benefit.

I’m a little embarrassed to be using a machine to help me meditate. In some sense meditation should be the most cheap free and easy to start but hard to do well system available. But, using this helps me meditate more often and for longer. There are many documented benefits to mindfulness and even without those I feel better when i take the time to stop the constant forward motion to take a pause. So, that’s how I justify it.

Resperate is the only device approved by US FDA to lower blood pressure. It is over the counter so you don’t have to have that issue to use it.

It is expensive, although cheaper than the alternative of unmanaged stress. The first time I did it I felt a sense of relaxation equivalent to a hot tub and glass of wine.

Galvanic Skin Response
Galvanic Skin Response monitoring device like the GSR2, is another way to measure and manage stress. Someone I know swears by using this simple device while engaged in otherwise routine activities. It can remind you how small triggers during your daily life can get your stress response going. This can help you be more mindful during other parts of your day when you are not using the device.

I have not used one yet, although I have a friend who is a fan of the HeartMath system. It monitors pulse (only?) and provides biofeedback that can be combined with computer display or not. If you know much more about this system, please let me know.

I’ve done neurofeedback a few times although hard to say exactly what it accomplished. I went into a lab where they had the equipment to measure my brainwaves during the session. The screen in front of me displayed a PAC-MAN like interface. If I could get the right Alpha-Theta(?) brainwave balance, then the character on the screen would move forward. If you ever wondered then the character would stop. In theory this helps enhance the ability to focus. I had trouble noticing the effects after the sessions although thought I could sense some different state of being when I was able to get the PAC-MAN character to move.

For Benefit Enterprise in New Haven?

January 27th, 2014

I grew up in San Francisco and remember buying our Christmas trees from Delancey Street lots. As a child, I was more focused on the sights, smells and fun of running through the trees. As I grew older, it was less about the trees and more about my fascinated with that type of social enterprise.

Delancey Street describes themselves as “a community where people with nowhere to turn, turn their lives around. [They are] the country’s leading residential self-help organization for former substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless and others who have hit bottom.” And a key part of it are the businesses they run to provide jobs and generate revenue.

Over the past year or so, I have been thinking more about these types of social enterprises (aka for benefit companies) that are focused on job creation for those that may not otherwise easily find employment. It seems there may be a group in Bridgeport that is doing similar work although not enough of this type of thing in the New Haven.

A few like-minded entrepreneurs and I have been giving it some more thought and are getting closer to deciding to start such an enterprise in New Haven. To me, food service is a natural choice for industry although we have thought about some others.

If you’re still not sure what I mean, here are a few of the more famous examples. I’m looking for other examples of successful social enterprises that are multiple-bottmline and are centered around hiring those that might may have challenges with traditional employment. If you have suggestions or other thoughts in this area, please let me know.

St Vincent de Paul of Lane County
St. Vincent de Paul is an internationally recognized leader in developing recycling-based businesses. These businesses have a quadruple bottom line: they responsibly reuse and recycle products; provide quality goods and services to the community; provide jobs and job training; and generate revenue to fund our charitable activities.”

Here’s a great video that tells their story well.

Delancey Street Foundation
Delancey Street Foundation as mentioned above.
Enter with a history. Leave with a future.

Greyston Bakery
Greyston Bakery is famous for the saying: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.” More formally, they believe that “employment is the gateway out of poverty and towards self-sufficiency.” And created the bakery to give “the hard-to-employ a new chance at life.”

Homeboy Industries
Homeboy Industries serves high-risk, formerly gang-involved men and women with a continuum of free services and programs, and operates seven social enterprises that serve as job-training sites.”

If you are interested in their story in more depth, check out the book Tattoos on the Heart.

What’s on Your Podcast List?

January 4th, 2014

Part of my 2014 learning journey is listening to fascinating podcasts.  And I mean good ones packed with information and thoughts that really get the gears turning. And with the exception of This American Life, I really do listen to almost everything at 1.5 or 2 times speed. (BTW, if you know a good way to listen to podcasts on iOS faster, please let me know.)

Here is what is on my podcast subscription list:

  • Freakonomics – I enjoyed the first book about the “hidden side of everything” through the lens of economics.  Then the second book.  So, why not listen to the podcast?  The recent episodes on studying direct transfers as a anti-poverty strategy have been fascinating.  (And Yale and IPA’s own Prof. Dean Karlan was featured recently, too.)
  • Long Now’s Seminar About Long Term Thinking -What if we take a long long term view of our planet, selves and challenges?  What do we learn or come to understand? Amazing speakers that often explore a topic in a totally new way or push my thinking forward in an important way.  One of my favorites was Ed Lu’s talk on B612.
  • Dan Carlin’s Hardcore HistoryA rotating deep dive on various historical topics with an emphasis on grand events, wars, struggles or other “hardcore” items.  I have learned a lot here.  (While he can be a bit verbose, it is great at x2 speed!)
  • EconTalkWhile I don’t agree with all the guests or opinions expressed on this show, this is the most intellectual of this list and really enjoy the level of discourse.  You probably figured out from the title that this podcast is focused do economics.
  • Planet MoneyA much lighter take on economics and finance and how it touches our everyday lives.  Won’t challenge you although may provide some concrete examples of things you only know about in theory.  Or my favorite is when they take you behind the scenes at a mint or similar.
  • This American LifeAs they say, hard to describe, but here is how they try: “There’s a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always.”And no, this podcast does not have much to do with economics.  But you should give it a try if you have not already.

Also, I think I listened to (almost) every episode of the amazing podcast The History of Rome. Definitely an interesting tour through Roman history told very well.

I will occasionally listen to the Humanist Hour (depends on the topic/guest).

I used to listen to NPR’s On the Media and Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (from Stanford) very regularly. For some reason, I have been listening a bit less frequently.  I really enjoyed Venture Voice which was stories from entrepreneurs, but I think they stopped publishing new ones.  If you know of something like that or can start it up yourself, I’ll be a fan.  I’m sure there are a few others I listen to here and there although these are the ones that are top of mind.

What am I missing?  What would you recommend?

My 2014

January 3rd, 2014

It is a new year. And I’m turning over a new leaf.

It was bittersweet coming to the decision that it is time to step back from running Higher One full-time. I’ve spent ~14 years building the company and am passionate about the people, products and mission. That said, it is the right time for the company and for me. Starting mid-January I’m going to be part-time, Chairman of the Board, and involved in various initiatives.

So, what else will I be doing with my time?

First and foremost, I’m focused on a successful transition at Higher One. Next, on shifting gears and taking some time to relax, hang out and travel with my growing family.

There is a so much I want to learn and do in my life. When your head is down growing a business, there is less time for learning things that are not directly relevant. I plan to take this year to look around and explore the world (intellectually as well as physically).


100 Books: While not yet firm, I am intrigued by the idea of setting a goal to read 100 books in 2014. I made a list, piled up the ones I already own, and tallied pages; at last count I’m up to 30,898. Is that too many? Would it sound better if I told you some of these books I plan to skim rather than truly savor every word?

Book Pile for 100 Book Challenge

Some of the books I'm considering reading this year

Online Classes: I want to take at least one online class both for the content as well as understanding the process. I have my eye on one regarding statistical programming and another on genetic engineering. Any other ideas for me?


In addition to my work on the boards of Yale New Haven Hospital, SeeClickFix, Higher One, the Yale Humanist Community and advisory board of Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, I may join one or two more.

One board I’m excited to be joining is AltSchool. I’ve long wanted to be involved in starting a school and now I’m getting the chance. A friend from high school and college has embarked on creating a child-centered primary education company. We are already up and running in San Francisco and hope to expand to other cities, too. Check it out.

Possible Projects

Here are a few other projects that have been rattling around in my head. I’m not fully committed to any or all of these although definitely building excitement and would like to hear your feedback and thoughts.

Digital Fabrication: One technology trend that continues to build momentum is digital fabrication. The ability to design objects, transmit them digitally and manufacture them in small batches and on-demand is truly revolutionary. The impact on rapid prototyping and customization is profound not to mention what it means for distribution networks and just-in-time manufacturing. I want to learn more about the tools, players and techniques. Perhaps New Haven could use a Fab Lab or Fab Academy-type set up where people can get certified in these techniques? Could it be a partnership with Yale, Gateway CC and/or MakeHaven?

For Benefit Business: I’m intrigued by operations like St Vincent de Paul and Greyston Bakery who focus on job creation while running a revenue-generating enterprise. I’d like to help instigate a similar business for New Haven. (Do we have one already?) One option is to run a business plan contest. Another is to support an existing organization in expanding in this way.

Impossible Festival: I like to dream bigger. I think it would be fun to celebrate the declaration of intent to accomplish impossible things and then embrace the success of those that succeed. I think New Haven could have an annual gathering for those tackling the impossible writ large and small. A place one could come to announce the creation of synthetic life, the colonization of Mars, and the secret to losing those stubborn 10 pounds. Or how to learn to juggle. Perhaps this starts as part of Arts & Ideas Festival?

Art: It was very gratifying to see the Inside Out NHV project come to life. Now it is time for more art! We’ve got another mural project starting and I’m thinking of making a short movie with a friend. Maybe more?

Money in Politics: As I have learned more about our political system, I’m increasingly passionate about changing the role of money in politics. If for no other reason than to restore some of America’s trust in our government. One group that I have been getting involved with is Fund for the Republic and I look forward to finding other ways to contribute.

New Haven Startup Scene: I hope to continue to support the New Haven startup community. For example, I want to help Grid New Haven be successful, to encourage New Haven Tech Bits to keep going, and attend InnoHaven events whenever possible.

The Next Dream?: I’m sure there are other things we can dream up together so please drop me a line.