Everyone Loves a Countdown

In his own words, this writer’s top 5 commentaries of 2015

Published in the Woonsocket Call on December 27, 2015

As a columnist on “the aging beat” it has been a very eventful year in covering aging, health care and medical issues. During 2015, over 47 weekly commentaries appeared in the Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call. By reading my weekly commentaries readers were kept abreast on a dazzling array of aging issues including Congressional attempts to whittle away the Social Security and Medicare programs. They learned first-hand about the Rhode Island General Assembly’s move to not tax Social Security and to provide new benefits to Ocean State caregivers. Commentaries even touched on the passing away of Wayne Dwyer and Capitol TV’s Dave Barber, how to put the fire back in your relationship, and even travel tips.

Below are five article, providing you with the breadth and depth of my commentaries. Al other articles can be found on my blog, herbweiss.wordpress.com.

1. “Cicilline Spearheading Key Comeback: Rep. Wants to Reestablish House Select Committee on Aging, published in the Dec. 20 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the Dec. 21 issue of the Pawtucket Times.

After Congress eliminated the House Select Committee on Aging in 1993 to rein in costs, this commentary takes a close look at Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) and 63 House colleagues efforts to urge the newly elected GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan in correspondence to bring back the Aging panel to the House Chamber. It was extremely obvious to Cicilline and his cosigners of the House Aging panel’s importance to today’s Congress, especially with efforts to put Social Security and Medicare on the budgetary chopping block. In the late 1980s as a journalist covering Capitol Hill I saw first-hand how the former Aging panel’s bipartisan approach ultimately created sound aging. Working together for the common good of older Americans is sorely needed now with a House divided. Cicilline’s legislative efforts to bring this select committee back to life, can send a powerful message that the House is ready to confront concerns of the nation’s seniors. Go to: http://www.herbweiss.wordpress.com/2015/12/20/cicilline-spearingheading-key-comeback/.

2, Pausch’s The Last Lecture Is a Must Read,” published in the Jan. 30 issue of the Pawtucket Times. The 206 page book, “The Last Lecture” coauthored by Randy Pausch and Wall Street Journal reporter Jeffrey Zaslow, published by Hyperion in 2008, is a great read for those wanting to get their life’s priorities in order. The tome is jam-packed with Pausch’s wisdom that will certainly come in handy to the reader when confront by the “brick walls” or challenges in personal and/or professional careers

This commentary details the thoughts of terminally ill Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Professor Randy Pausch, a 47-year-old father of three who had from three to six more months to live at the time he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2007. One month before his death he gave his last lecture, part of an ongoing CMU lecture series where top academics give their “final talk,” revealing what really matters to them and the insights gleaned over their life if it was their last opportunity. Sadly, Pausch literally got his last chance to give his talk, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Go to: http://www.herbweiss.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/pauschs-the-last-lecture-is-a-must-read.

3. “You are Never Too Old for Romance,” published in the February 13 issue of the Pawtucket Times. Rekindling your relationship may be as simple as packing your bags and taking a romantic trip. In this commentary AARP’s Love and Relationships Ambassador Dr. Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist and sexologist teaching at the University of Washington in Seattle Washington, says the findings reveal a need for couples to plan romantic getaways as a way to spend quality time with their partner and bolster their relationship.

In this commentary Dr. Schwartz, co-author of the newly released book Places for Passion, says “I wish we could be as romantic at home as we can on a trip but there is something about getting away that lets us forget about our daily stuff and instead, fully concentrate on each other. When we stay at home, it’s hard not to answer the phone or try to answer one more email but in fact, we seem to need to get away to have a new stage setting’ for romance to bring out the best in us.” Couples with children can take a short trip without them to boost the romance in their relationship, she says. Readers will find the commentary chock-full of tips for heightening the romance on the trip. Go to: http://www.herbweiss.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/baby-boomers-can-spice-up-valentines-day.

4. “Sensible Advice from Seasoned Folk to the Class of 2015,” published in the May 17 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the May 18 Pawtucket Times. Every year very notable and professionally successful commencement speakers gather at the nation’s Colleges and Universities to give the graduating seniors their practical tips and advice as how to have a rewarding personal and professional life. This commentary calls for the end of the practice of bringing celebrities, politicians and corporate heads to give commence speakers. Regular people will do. Thirteen Rhode Islanders, many not recognized on the street but well-known in their communities were asked to give their “pearls of wisdom” to graduating seniors if they had the opportunity. They most certainly did. Go to:  http://www.herbweiss.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/sensible-advice-from-seasoned-folk-to-the-class-of-2015.

5. “Aggressive Scams Popping up All around the Ocean State,” published in the November 25 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the November 26 issue of the Pawtucket Times. Throughout the year there were several commentaries to increase the reader’s awareness of protecting themselves from financial scams. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission list of top consumer fraud complaints last year, more than 6,200 Rhode Island residents were victims of imposter scams. The commentary details one scam where the caller “Sergeant Bradley” threatens a person with a felony for not appearing in court unless they immediate make a payment on a debit card.

The commentary details AARP’s Fraud Watch Network. By registering for the free service a person can receive alerts via smart phone or your computer when a new scam surfaces. This program also allows you to report a scam going around your neighborhood that is shared across the network. For those not connected to the Internet, you can receive alerts and tips via a quarterly newsletter mailed to homes. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin calls for “constant vigilance” and gives tips also gives tips on protecting yourself against scams.

 

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Pausch’s The Last Lecture is a Must Read

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 30, 2015

Sometimes you may just pick up a good book to read, especially during a storm when the Governor’s call for a State of Emergency three days ago because of the blizzard. Yes, being homebound because of bad weather does have its advantages. It gives you time to read books, especially if you still have electricity.

For years, my wife has gently suggested that I read a book, lying on her night stand. She told me that “it’ll help you put life’s priorities in order.” But, I never did, until this week when I finally picked up that nationally acclaimed book, “The Last Lecture” coauthored by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow. I quickly devoured the 206 page book, published by Hyperion in 2008, in just one day.

Thoughts of a Dying Professor

Doctors gave Pausch, a 47-year-old father of three, from three to six more months of “good health” when they diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer in August 2007. Just one month later, the dying Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) professor would address a packed auditorium for his afternoon lecture, addressing over 400 students, colleagues and friends. His talk was part of an ongoing CMU lecture series where top academics gave their “final talk”, revealing what really matters to them and the insights gleaned over their life if it was their last opportunity. Sadly, Pausch literally got his last chance.

Pausch was an award-winning professor and researcher, in the Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction, and Design at CMU in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He passed away from complications from his disease on July 25, 2008. Zaslow, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, attended the last lecture, and wrote the story that helped fuel worldwide interest in it.

According to Wikipedia, “The Last Lecture became a New York Times bestseller in 2008, and remained on the prestigious list for 112 weeks, continuing into the summer of 2011. The book [ISBN: 978-1-4013-2325-7] has been translated into 48 languages [including Italian, German, Chinese, Arabic and more] and has sold more than 5 million copies in the United States alone, states the free internet encyclopedia.”

The CMU shot a video (one hour and 16 minutes in length) of Pausch’s last lecture—and soon the footage began spreading across the internet, on You Tube, popping up in tens of thousands of websites. Pausch’s inspirational talk, which has been viewed today by more than 17 million people today on You Tube can now be seen on CMU’s website, at http://www.cmu.edu/randyslecture/. His book and e-book can also be purchased on this website or at any bookstore, including your favorite neighborhood store.

Pausch’s Last Hurrah

Pausch’s lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” wasn’t about his dying. But, he freely admitted that he would rather have terminal cancer than being hit by a bus and suddenly killed because if he was hit by a sudden accident he would not have time to spend with his family and getting his house in order. He moved from Southern Virginia to Pittsburg so his wife, Jai, and his children could be near family.

Meanwhile, the CMU lecturer humorously begins by noting that while he had cancerous lesions throughout his body, outwardly he looked healthy. At one point, to prove his point, he dropped down to the floor and did push-ups on stage.

Throughout his talk, Pausch reeled off his unique insights gained from his four plus decades of life experience, specifically surmounting the challenges in your life he calls “brick walls.” He says, “Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something,” he said. Seize the moment, he adds, because, “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think”

One of his dreams was becoming a Disney Imagineer. Three rejection letters and a Dean who attempted to block his efforts were an insurmountable “brick wall.” He ultimately would accomplish that childhood dream. He met William Shatner, won large stuffed animals, floated in zero gravity and even authored an article in the World Book encyclopedia. Although he never played for the NFL, he learned about life from his football coaches in his early school years.

So, while Professor Pausch stresses his talk was about achieving childhood dreams, it’s really about how to lead your life, he admits. “If you live your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself,” he believes. Oftentimes referring to ‘head fake’ throughout the lecture, meaning we tend to gain the most experience or lesson when guised by something else. But, at the lecture’s conclusion, Pausch freely admits the ‘last lecture’ was the biggest head fake of them all – for it wasn’t for those in the room but for his children, all under 7 years old. His talk is sprinkled with things he wants his children to learn and wants them to know about him, including personal stories of his growing up, his courtship with their mother, and ways to succeed in life. So, there are many levels and points Pausch gets across in his lecture, detailed in his bestselling book.

Pausch practiced what he preached, telling the packed auditorium to enjoy life and just have fun, like he did. Live life to the fullest because one never knows when it might be taken away, the terminally ill professor warns, who has just months to live.

Loyalty is important so “dance with the one who brings you,” says Pausch. He quotes Seneca, the Roman philosopher born in 5 B.C., “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. With this quote, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” He reminds us not to focus on the little issues while ignoring the big ones. “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand,” he says.

Pausch tells a story of his father’s “heroic achievement” for bravery awarded to him by the commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division in War II. The 22 year old solider, like many of the Greatest Generation, never mentioned his bronze star, which he only discovered after his death. It just never came up, stated Pausch, but revealed volumes about the importance of being touted their awards, never revealed to mother.

The CMU Professor would even award the “First Penguin” to students who failed to achieve their goals in his “Building Virtual Worlds” course, even though they took a risk using new technology or ideas in their design. He says this award was for “glorious failure” and “out-of-the-box thinking and using imagination in a daring way.”

The Last Lecture is a great read for those who seek a road map for living a better more productive life. It’s jam-packed with Pausch’s wisdom that will certainly come in handy throughout one’s journey in life especially when you confront the “brick walls” or challenges in your personal and professional careers. Take time to live your dreams to be crossed off your bucket list. Sometimes life can be unexpectedly too short, just like Pausch ultimately found out.

Some Simple Resolutions Can Better Your Life

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 4, 2014

Every year we see the Times Square ball swiftly drop as a million or so revelers loudly count down to one at the stroke of midnight. Also, we traditionally make New Year Resolutions to accomplish in the coming year to perform acts of kindness and for self-improvement.

Making a resolution for positive change goes back for eons. According to Wikipedia, the act of making a resolution can be documented in Mesopotamia (the territory of modern-day Iraq). Babylonians made promises to their stone deities to start off a new year by returning borrowed goods and paying off debts.

The free internet encyclopedia also notes that the Romans even carried out this tradition by making promises to Janus, the God of beginnings and transitions (for whom the month January is named). Knights during the Medieval era, from the 5th to 15th century, took a “peacock vow” after the Christmas season to re-affirm their commitment to knightly virtues of honor, courtesy love and courtesy.

Wikipedia also reports that even “watch services” held late on New Year’s Eve, also provided an opportunity for Christian parishioners to review the past year and make confessions and prepare for the New Year by prayer. Even Judaism’s High Holidays, from Rosh Hashanah ending with Yom Kipper, the Day of Atonement, gives worshipers an opportunity to reflect on their wrongdoings over the year to seek forgiveness and to prepare for the upcoming year, adds the internet website.

Memorable New Year Resolutions

Zoe Mintz, of the International Business Times, posted her thoughts about New Year Resolutions just hours before 2014, on the New York-based digital global publication’s web. Like clockwork, many of the nation’s newspapers and magazines, including Mintz, printed articles detailing interesting, inspirational and unusual resolutions from prominent people, from movies stars (they usually tweet) artists, politicians, writers, and corporate leaders.

Mintz details some well-thought out New Year Resolutions from people who you may well know.

“Let our New Year’s resolution be this: We will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.” — Goran Persson, served as Prime Minister of Sweden from 1996 to 2006

“New Year’s resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.” — James Agate, British diarist and critic.

“I made no resolutions for the new year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” — Anaïs Nin, an American author, ‘

“One resolution I have made, and try always to keep, is this: to rise above the little things.” — John Burroughs, an American naturalist and essayist important in the evolution of the U.S conservation movement.

“I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years.” — Henry Moore, an English sculptor and artist. He was best known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures which are located around the world as public works of art

“What the New Year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the New Year.” — Vern McLellan, author of Wise Words and Quote.

“Follow your passions, believe in karma, and you won’t have to chase your dreams; they will come to you.” — Randy Pausch, American professor of computer science and human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is author of the “Last Lecture.”

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” — Mother Teresa, an Albanian-born, Indian Roman Catholic Religious Sister who founded the Missionaries of Charity which in 2012 consisted of over 4,500 sisters in 133 countries.

“If you asked me for my New Year resolution, it would be to find out who I am.” — Cyril Cusack, an Irish actor, who appeared in numerous films and television productions in a career lasting more than 70 years.

Everyday Resolutions

Resolutions may inspire or be a little bit ethereal, as detailed in the above listing compiled by Mintz. Simply put, our personal New Year’s resolutions help us cope with daily challenges to improve health, personal finances and relationships, that is to enhance our quality of life.

Many of your family and friends will be making their 2014 New Year’s resolutions to improve their health by eating healthy foods, losing weight or ratcheting up their exercise regimen. Everyone knows someone whose has made a resolution to either drink or smoke less, or not at all.

As the New Year approaches a person may say “Life’s too short,” when they begin to craft their personal resolutions. Attitude adjustments may well occur, when the person resolves to see “a glass half full rather than half empty,” making a commitment for the coming year to become a more positive person, one who looks forward to living life to the fullest. Even some may explore ways to reduce the stress in their lives.

A 2014 New Year resolution for others may just be to dig themselves out of credit card debt (cut those cards in half), regularly put money away for retirement, invest in the stock market or even to find a more satisfying job that pays better than their current one.

You might even see college students making their 2014 resolution to study harder to get that “A.” Some baby boomers and seniors may even chose to make this year the time to enroll at a local College or University to get a bachelor’s or graduate degree, or go to just learn new or sharpen up their existing skills.

For many, life may have become too routine and predictable, pushing them to schedule a trip to exotic places in the New Year. Some may choose to watch less television, committing to put their leisure time to a better use in 2014. One might resolve to become a volunteer at the local food kitchen, or helping the homeless, or even joining civic groups, like the Pawtucket Rotary Club or Lions club, or the Masons, to reach out to their community. Spending time helping those in need can also be a benefit for those volunteering – learning new skills, meeting new friends, advancing your career, or even improving mental and physical health.

New Year’s resolutions even help a person focus where their time, money and energy is directed. Everyone knows someone who is resolving to spend quality time in 2014 with family members. Some may even make resolutions to get engaged or married their long-time partner or to even begin a family.

With Christmas becoming so commercial, some may well make New Year resolutions that will push them away from materialistic pleasures, to exploring their spirituality.

Using Technology to Keep Resolutions

New technology can help keep us on track with keeping our 2014 New Year’s Resolutions. With the growing popularity of cell phones (iPhone and Android) thousands of self-help apps are now becoming available on app stores for IOS and Android cell phones, reports Business Reporter Victor Luckerson, in an article published on New Year’s Day on Time.com.

Luckerson details apps that will keep you on track with keeping your 2014 New Years resolutions. Here is a small sampling:

For learning the basics of a foreign language to prepare for a vacation, Duolingo helps you to quickly learn the basics. Users can easily review lessons in vocabulary, pronunciation, and basic grammar. Currently Duolingo offers lessons in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German and Italian. Available for iPhone and Android.

MyQuitCoach was created to help you keep cigarettes at arms length. The app uses data to help people curb their bad habit by allowing users to input how often they smoke and when they have their cravings. This information allows short and long-term goals to be set, enabling the smoker to reduce their daily cigarette use. Tying results to both Facebook and Twitter can increase support from social media friends. Available for iPhone.

For those who require motivation to go to their neighborhood gym, MapMyFitness is just the app for you. The app tracks 600 different fitness activities, from running, to ballroom dancing, to even walking the dog. With this app you can even map out effective jogging routes. It even offers a social component that allows your friends to motivate you to exercise from within the app. Available for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry.

For resolutions to tighten your belt to improve your personal finances, check out DailyCost. The app easily allows you to closely check in going and outgoing money in all you bank accounts. Moreover, you can easily log in all your daily expenses, too, categorizing them within seconds. Weekly and monthly spending charts allow you to closely review where you spend your money. Available for iPhone.

Finally here’s an app to help you accomplish your resolution goals. Simply put, Lift helps you track how often you complete your tasks that you resolve to complete and rewards you with virtual check marks for achieving. Tasks can be drinking more water, praying, and other habits you want to change. App users who pursue the same goals can support each other via discussion groups. Available for iPhone and Android.

For this columnist, my 2014 New Year’s Resolutions (like many) revolve around health, financial and family. I resolve to become healthier by losing weight, eating healthier foods, and increasing my visits to the local YMCA; to get my financial house in order; and to spend more time with family and good friends. Maybe I might even write a book. As to my success, I will keep my fingers crossed.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.