blogitto ergo sum

September 4, 2017

#228 – Yes-man teams deliver mediocre products


Conflict, disagreement, argument – all are considered negative.

Consensus, agreement, alignment – such positive words, or are they?

Product managers’ success, more than any other management position I’m aware of, depends on leadership without org chart support.  A good product team is aligned, in sync, engaged.  Unified around a goal, a product, a vision.

A product team is, by definition and design, professionally diverse – its cross-functional nature guarantees it. Yet, it is­­ expected to work together as a well-oiled machine, collaborating to delight users who are not in the room, but who will be happily pay the bill; collaborating with the neighboring product teams to ensure the company’s overall success.

What makes a good, kickass product team?  Sharing a goal, mission, vision is crucial, of course.  But as a cynic you might clarify that it is what defines the team; it doesn’t make it rock.  Being a safe, trust-based group that allows mistakes as part of learning and growth, expecting accountability – now this sounds more like it.  Having clear and comfortable group norms is critical.  Google did as thorough research on this as possible.  Group norms, btw, are defined as “the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather…Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. Team members may behave in certain ways as individuals — they may chafe against authority or prefer working independently — but when they gather, the group’s norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team.”  [SOURCE]

Some norms are more critical than others. I’ve led and participated in culturally diverse, geo-distributed teams that spanned multiple time zones; my best – most successful – teams were the teams in which we’ve created a safe and respectful space, while,

  • Supporting freedom of thought and speech
  • Encouraging curiosity, questions, and even arguments
  • Expecting thinking differently, pitching creative ideas
  • Welcoming criticism, speaking truth to power, peers, and everyone else

In my experience, these teams are most likely to end with convergence to agreement on the best path[1] to successful exaction and delivery.  And, as important, these teams are best equipped to deal with development hiccups and surprises.

Thing is, in most settings, conflict is deemed negative, disagreements get pushed to “let’s


take it offline” land, and presenting an unpopular opinion is feared to come with a cost; CLM anyone?  Some companies, including some Silicon Valley-based ones, have “do as I say; your opinion matters not” norms.  Interestingly enough, quite a few of these companies buy innovation more often than have it developed in-house, and the reason, IMHO, is more than the need-for-speed or time-to-market.  Killing the discussion kills most of the innovation.

Which is why, in an interview discussing my vision and beliefs about product management, I said “Yes-Man teams deliver mediocre products.” The interviewer was taken aback, immediately asking for an explanation.  “When a team agrees with the senior in the room, isn’t comfortable challenging proposals, doesn’t question the reason and motivation for a decision, doesn’t feel empowered to offer different approaches, but acts as a rubber stamp while pretending to agree after giving it some thought – well, it shows.  And not in a good way.  This applies to more than just new features. Developing a great SLA that ensures not only meeting customer’s RFP and KPIs, but also doing it in a way that manages its cost, maximizes margins, and provides a delighting CX experience, cannot be dictated by the RFP terms alone [even if that’s what Sales insists on].  The Support Manager, the Engineering Lead, development team, QA; each holds critical information – the robustness & frequency of upgrades/updates, weaknesses in the solution, workarounds that are required, best practices… A PM or an Account Exec, rock star as she or he may be, may be aware of any of any or all of these, but lack the intimate know-how to build it into the SLA.  A team that agrees without judgment, without questioning, without challenging and counter suggestions may agree to a losing proposal.

“But how do you do it?  How do you make it so,” she wanted to know. “You demonstrate it in everything you do.  You make sure you are approachable.  You act it.” Needs examples, I thought.  “It starts when I hire -when I interview candidates.  I make a point of challenging their ability to speak up, to accept the invitation to share opinions and argue for them.”  Unable to hide my smile, I added, “when I’m not sure, I go as far as role play.  Being brilliant, great at what you do isn’t good enough if you aren’t comfortable sharing your wisdom.”

“It’s all about being accessible, making sure everyone knows that you are willing and happy to change your mind, OK with changing your initial proposal… and do it in every meeting, corridor chat, over lunch…”

“How about a quick story to illustrate it?” I offered.

Last year, I had to create a web UI/flow for an early access product in no time.  The ad-hoc team included colleagues that sat next to me and haven’t previously collaborated with prior.  I wrote the stories, acceptance criteria, did agile as agile does.  When we walked the team through the vision and the problem we needed to solve, reviewing the stories, I made a point saying, “you have been working with some of these components longer than me.  You know the effort required to do this.  I want you to challenge the solution and the stories and I’d be delighted if you told me that there’s a simpler way to do it.” In our daily meetings, I saw progress and was very happy with the team’s commitment.  I kept asking them for more feedback and suggestions, and they listened. In one review, three days before the Sprint’s end meeting, one of the engineers mentioned that they added a reset command to one field.  Sometimes it’s too bad we are not allowed to kiss the guy who thinks ahead, sees a problem that I didn’t anticipate, solves it, and tells you about it after it done.

It’s not la la land; let’s be clear about it.  Adopting group norms that allow and expect team members to challenge and test each other comes with a price.  Product planning may take a bit longer, including revisiting a feature you thought was already a nailed down – done deal.  And yet, it’s a good price to pay.  People and product greatness come from open discussions, challenging assumptions, and true team alignment. This is what that drives and motivates a team!


[1] There’s a lot to say about the PM’s leadership, vision, and need to point the team/product in the right direction, but this is out of this post’s scope.



April 25, 2017

#227 – iRecommend

Filed under: #work #career,absorb,connectivity,life matters,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 19:06

A friend or a colleague gets laid-off. You worked together for a while, and you want to keep in touch. You truly want to help.  You care for the guy, you enjoyed working together, you even learned a thing or two from him.  Or her.  Women got a lot to teachSupportLIKEaBRA and share.

What you do? LinkedIn is the obvious answer.  Of course.  Request is sent, accepted, are we done?  And I thought you cared.  You tell yourself you care.  So, now what?

For many, this is as far as it goes.  Let that guy ask for help; we are connected, I’m available and done.  Hmmm, not so fast; not so done.

What does your buddy really need?  Support, mostly emotional, not to feel deleted or erased.  Don’t avoid her or him due to your “survivor’s guilt,” nor go the other extreme, telling yourself, “He was RIFed, therefore he deserved it.”  Don’t become a stranger.  You are better than this.  I know you.

Connecting on LinkedIn is great, meaning a great start.  You however, are going to do more.  You are that kind of a person.  So, in addition to your friendly [read: emotional] support, take the initiative and write a recommendation; endorse a couple of relevant skills.  Don’t overdo it, it’ll backfire. Don’t endorse me for algorithms.  Knowing what they are, their value, and what they do, understanding the philosophy behind them, doesn’t mean I can write one, right?  Yet… All of us can write a recommendation, regardless of training and title, what are you waiting for?!


Last night, as I was getting ready to publish this post, i took a quick detour via LinkedIn. It paid off.  I came across a great advice from Gail Houston, and today I got her permission to adopt and use it here.  When listing accomplishments, “think about the biggest impact and list that first. “Acquired 20k new customers,” “drove cultural change increasing employees engagement level and increasing company’s presence on social media platform,”  “led a deal of $25mm in revenue”… These might be a lot more important than saying that one launched a product on time. It is all about getting that hiring manager / recruiter’s attention early – so they slow down and keep reading or pick up the phone and call. Thank you, Gail.

You shift position uncomfortably.  You never embraced all that stuff about investing in your LinkedIn profile, personal brand, and network. Having a coffee or a drink sounds great.  But, in a global company such as yours, your buddy may be in a different campus, state, or country.  WhatsApp, FaceTime, and SMS may do it, but what with that time difference?  And you never actually met outside the office other than for work-related stuff [and PIVO, but that’s a whole different story].  What should you do?  Think.

Your network may be small, but your heart is big.  And, anyway, right now it’s on the job seeker to expand the network.  But you?  You can help making that LinkedIn profile shine with recommendations and endorsements.  Even you who struggle to put together 140 characters for a tweet can help.  Yes, you can!

Think about your friend, the accomplishments, things you value, impressed with, what special sauce he added to the team, what difference did she make.  Make a short list.

Now, and you may find this a little challenging, what kind of job or a role your buddy is looking for? What qualities, skills & knowledge, experience, and achievement are relevant to those jobs?  Sort the list, scan it against those jobs. Not sure yet? Give your buddy a call.  they’ll appreciate it.  I promise.

Not there yet?  Reflect. Think of something he helped you figure out. think of a time that she pushed you,  you didn’t like, but then you did it.  Recall how he killed that bug, delighted that customer… Think of that sticky situation you resolved together with a smile, leaving the customer and the team happy.  Think of the person, the values, future roles. What would a hiring manager and recruiters want to know?  Don’t forget to mention the nature of the relationship.

Now stir.  If your time is limited to two olives, drop the personal memory.  You’ll have time for that when they call you for the referral.  Drink.   You are a good friend.

January 2, 2017

#226 – Commuter Mug Anyone?

Filed under: Eat, Drink, Enjoy,mmmmmmarketing,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 23:10
Tags: , ,

Going somewhere? Traveling? BYOC.commuterMUGS-06And it’s not champagne we are talking about.  It’s about the cup and the coffee.

I’ve long ago accepted the fact that more often than not, i’m not going to truly enjoy the over-priced latte i order and pay for, even when being “penalized” for those extra shots of espresso i ask for in my attempt to make it better.
On the other hand, I can do something about maintaining the temperature of whatever the under caffeinated super-pretentious barista put in my mug.

When you are in product management, you can’t help to.  you think of any product or service in terms of features, requirements, tradeoffs, usability, user experience, the cost of a feature vs. the value the end-user [Me, Me!] will attach to it… it simply becomes part of you, your assessment process of most things. honestly, I can’t help it.  Food may be one exception.  As for the rest, the PM approach works.  it’s most obvious when i go car shopping.  Most of the features pitched by the smooth, oh too smooth, sales guy are simply irrelevant in the long run.  Color included.  yes, white is better than black in sunny climates, but won’t break the deal.

So what makes a travel mug an exceptional one?  The obvious top two features woul


Contigo redesigned cap for ease of cleaning

d be to safely contain the liquid and maintain temperature over an extended period of time.  These two, however, are far from enough, and yet many mugs fail.  Don’t say a word of Starbucks or Peet’s’ mugs; they are 99% OEMed anyway.


Over the years, I’ve tried brands and non-brands, including Aladdin, Thermos, and Contigo.  Even There is plenty to choose from you may say, but… they are wrong.  Very few mugs actually deliver on what i think should be the basic set of requirements, going from the hardest to the trivial:

  • Keep it hot.  I mean REALLY hot, for at least four hours – critical for a flight or a road trip, but also for the workday – all places that rarely offer good coffee.
  • Keep me and my bag dry.  Spill and leak proof.  one should be aware that leak proof protects you less than a spill proof.
  • Usable – easy to drink from.  Usability is implied or included in most of the other features, but, when looking at a mug that meets all other nose-cuprequirements, but has for a lid a contraption that keeps hitting your nose or detaches from the mug only to get lost and render the mug useless you realize that some mug designs were led by the technologists, forgetting the usability is a key feature, neither an afterthought, nor a marketing nice-to-have thing.
  • Easy to carry, travel with.  This is tricky.  while handles are useful, when packing,
    traveling, trying to fit in a bag or a backpack, that handle spells trouble.  Miles of travel taught me that the best option is a no-handle mug with a built in D-ring or a clip to attach it.  Haven’t found even one mug to hook up with that meets the two previous requirements
  • Easy to clean.  This is such a basic, fundamental requirement, and yet it seems that all manufacturers, without an exception fail at one level or another.
  • Age well.  Yes, it is a feature, and not a trivial one.  that’s when ROI comes to play a an important role.
  • Capacity. Minimum 16 Oz. definitely a trivial requirement.  there’s no point to invest in a travel smaller mug; it’s that simple.

While working on this blog, friends shared their experience and observations.  just like in mobile, there is no RIGHT answer but lots to share.  A colleague of mine swears by her LiquidLogic mug.  Unfortunately, it seems to be available only for promotional large


nice design, low performance

number orders, so not a real option.  THIS blog post lists about six mugs, most of made by Thermos and Contigo.  This blog mixes office and travel mugs along with flasks and water bottles that could double as hot drinks containers.  Brands such as Hydracentials seem to have ventured to this niche, yet stepped out quickly, leaving loyal drinkers behind without replacement options.  Strangely enough, their mug, still offered via Amazon, looks very much like one of the Thermos mugs.  OEM?  Probably.  I do have one Thermos mug that was OEMed by the Sharper Image, and with a bad painting job too.

Thermos mugs maintain temperature impressively, but fail on three major features: cap is almost impossible to clean and ages badly.  Worth, it’s hard to tell “open” from “close” so spilling accidents are bound to happen.


Currently, the obvious winners for serious commuters is Contigo.  Are they the best? No.  But they are the beast, a the newly easier to clean designed cap with “auto close,” and promotions everywhere including CostCo  I’m still looking, but at least i got the requirements right.

To our hot, unspilled coffee!

December 17, 2016

#225 – Home Going

Filed under: absorb,Israel,on the road,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 18:53
Tags: , , ,

Once a year I go home.  My other home that is.  Or maybe I should call it my first home. Dual citizenship isn’t a big deal for Israelis.  It’s allowed, common, nothing to think of.

So I go to Israel.  The anchor, of course, is friends and family.


It’s a long trip.  And every year it gets harder.  The visit, that is.  The longer one lives away from home, the more one can see in a visit.  As Heraclitus said so many years ago, “You could not step twice into the same river.”  Change is inevitable; its direction however is.  and i don’t like the current one.  Not at all.

Landing 10 days after the US election, this visit was the hardest yet. Not only because of the election, but also due to the processes in play in Israel itself, and my ever evolving view of them.  there’s a lot to say about media-generated bias.

Tough, challenging, and rewarding in its own way; no matter who you are or what you do in Israel, this is always true.  And lots of fun too.  And good food.

I haven’t been to Ein Gedi nature reserve probably in a decade or more.  Nor to the Dead Sea.  I haven’t seen this much art in any two weeks. I’ve never before encountered so much bad coffee in Israel.  Nor was taken and addressed as a tourist, complimented for my Hebrew.

It was a challenging visit indeed.  At work, my answer was “it was interesting.”  At least one colleague told me how sorry she is to hear I didn’t have a great time.  So I insisted it was “interesting,” taking advantage of the double literal and colloquial usages of the word.

Interesting has its upside though.  Given my frustration with the long, too long, non-blogging interval, this trip is a great trigger to restart; head first.

The ending says it all

Before leaving my parents’ home for the airport, I went to say goodbye to dear friends living nearby.  I didn’t see this coming:


Given Facebook’s limitations, I had to attach a photo to the post or else I wouldn’t be able to include it in the trip’s album.


Nabi Ilyas, AKA Herbit an-Nabi Aliyas

The kids “posed” without any prompting, just like kids do.  Needless to say, this post got me another exchange over this sharing.  I was back home in California for a couple of hours, and there was a follow-up,  sadly confirming the intolerance and impatience to other opinions.  I’m not used to hearing a dear friend saying “I don’t care what you think,” and I expect you to respect and accept my opinions no matter what, no matter what your conscious tells you.  In Hebrew it goes

“תעזבי פשוט ..כול מה שרציתי להגיד שממש לא חשוב לי הדעות שלך וכו..”

Literally saying, “simply drop it, all I wanted to say is that your opinions are of no importance to me.”  Mic drop.

Are you ready to join my trip?

February 14, 2016

#224 – Behavior-based interviewing is not the question

Filed under: business buz,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 18:39
Tags: , , , , ,


Once upon a time, I came across this article by Liz Ryan, where she attacks, criticizes, and ridicules behavior-based interviewing.

One of her arguments goes like this: “Imagine you’re calling a plumber because your kid stuck his sock in the bathtub drain. Are you going to say to the plumber, “Tell me about a time when you had to get something out of a tub drain.”? [Extra period included in original post]

You’re not. If you did, the plumber would say “Look, buddy, you want me to come over or not?” It’s no different on a job interview.”

This is when you smile, feeling great about hating those questions you’ve been told to ask. I did, for a second.  Then I was not.  It is very different on a job interview.

A plumber is a problem solver, a service provider.  I want him to come, do his thing to meet my requirements,  the best he can, for the right price, leave no mess behind, and be gone.

An employee is someone I bring into my team; someone I depend on, someone I trust, and intend to work with for a long time.  We need to be aligned, in sync, share a vision, communicate a lot.  A good employee may often act on my behalf, executing a strategy we agree on.  Hmm, suddenly it’s so unlike a plumber.  I’d love to see Ms. Ryan’s reaction when the plumber takes initiative and decides it’s also a great time to replace the faucets.  according to his roadmap that is.  At work however, if I hired the right person for the job, I expect her to take initiatives, I trust her; no, I expect her to come up w
ith new ideas that promote our business, and are aligned with our long-term goals.

Do I need to spell out the cost of hiring a full-time employee?  Or worse, the cost of replacing an ill-fitting the-truth-about-behavioral-interviewing-03employee…

The cost of hiring a plumber is often as low as the time it takes to make a phone call, schedule a visit, negotiate price.  Done.  Well, not exactly.  Whether we use Yelp, Angie List, Facebook, Next Door, or call a friend, we ask questions very similar to the condemned behavior-based ones.  “Tell me about the plumber you called when you had to get something out of a tub drain.”  Usually you’d add, “Was he clean?  On time?  Was the problem resolved in one visit?  How much did he charge?”

Most plumbers, when asked, provide contact info of previous customers who’ll answer all these behavior-based questions. Same goes for the mechanic, hair designer, PCP, or the vet.  Like it or not, we judge many of our service providers by their past behavior, whether we get the answers directly from them or from others.


A plumber with lots of negative reviews, is judged for his past behavior and performance.  By design, Yelp, Twitter and their likes provide “behavioral/performance-based assessment.”  LinkedIn enables its plumbers, and everyone else, to share only their best behavior and great performances.  As the world’s de facto professional platform, LinkedIn’s cyber-bullying potential could easily destroy a person’s career.  This is why, IMHO, we get to approve our colleagues’ reviews, and decide if we want to include them in our profiles.  This is a great source to find one’s better and best behavior patterns.  As for the not so great? This is, in a big way, where and when behavior/performance-based questions come to our help.


The challenge recruiters often face is that an interview is as good as the interviewer.  Too often, hiring managers are not required or won’t take the time to develop a minimal level of interviewing skills.  Either they have it or not.  I’d say this is one key reasons companies develop rigid hiring processes and interview scripts.

“Tell me about a decision you made that was wrong, and how you managed it?”   Silence;  long ensuing silence.  This is one of my favorites, both as the interviewer or the interviewee.  It is a great opportunity to learn about a person’s style.  if you did anything of substance, released a product, dealt with a challenging customer or partner, produced an event, drove change… if you did, then there was a mistake, something you could have done better, faster, more efficient, an opportunity… must be.   Once upon a time, in a different everything, a candidate’s answer sealed the decision.  After rewording the question three times, and listening to the nothingness in the room, it no longer mattered how well he answered all other questions, or how impressive he was on the phone interview, or even that he was recommended by a friend.   Would you want someone that cannot even entertain the idea that he may be wrong join your team?

“Can you share your experience dealing with a naysayer in your team?  What did you do?” We know such people exist.  How one manages such situation says a lot about a personal style.  Product managers rarely manage the people that make the product.  One’s leadership isn’t and cannot be the result of authority or rank.  It requires an ability to communicate with multiple people, in multiple roles, with very different personalities, and build with each the rapport, trust, and respect required.  So, how did you deal with naysayers in the past?

Unlike Ms. Ryan, Lou Adler‘s criticism of the ability of past behavior to predict future performance is more serious, calling out that one’s [past] success in doing X, wasn’t only dependent on one’s ability, skills, persona, but also on circumstances.  In his post PAST BEHAVIOR DOESN’T PREDICT FUTURE PERFORMANCE, Adler points out circumstances that may contribute to the success or a failure of one’s behavior in achieving the desired results.  He recommends performance-based hiring.  And of course he is right.  Circumstances are critical factors in one’s success.  More important though is the distinction between behavior-based to performance-based.  Calling it out, Adler helped me realize that we often say one, while meaning the other.  Thank you.


However, no interview can be all behavior performance-based.  A good interview should be a mix of checking facts & history [validate the resume], chemistry, trust, style & rapport [AKA a great or a bad culture fit], subject matter expertise, values.

And let’s not forget, a big part of a job interview is sales and marketing effort.  While the interviewee is pitching himself, her ability to deliver, being a good fit, the interviewer sells the position, the company, the team, the challenge, and opportunity.  Encouraging the candidate to ask as many questions as possible.  These questions in themselves  tell a lot priorities, values, and past experience [read: “traumas”].  Or…

  • I: “This was my last question. Thank you.  Now it’s all about you.  Do you have any question?”
  • Candidate I: “When do I get a promotion?  What does it take to get promoted?”
  • I: “This is a new role.   It’ll take a minimum 18-24 months for one to get to that point.  What would you consider a promotion? What position would you consider a promotion?”
  • Candidate I: “Join that other team doing that [very different] role.”
  • I: “So you are interested in the position we are discussing as a transition, a bridge to another [very different] role?”
  • Candidate I: “Yes.” A pause. [I imagine him replaying his last sentences in his head.  “I guess I’m not the right person for this [current] position.”
  • The voice in my head: “You think?!”



May 14, 2015

#223 – Need a Doctor? See a Therapist.

Filed under: life matters,mmmmmmarketing,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 00:22
Tags: , , ,

there’s nothing good i can say about the American health system.  wasteful, inefficient, unhealthy… not really health-motivated, not in the sense of one’s well-being.  other than my PCP of course.  and it took me three years to find her.

I used to think that @SutterHealth belonged to the better ones of the undesirable options one has in Northern California. until it came out with its TV ad campaign.  A healthcare provider spends millions of dollars to convey the message it cares.  and how does it do it?  by telling us

Trying to convince us that they are better than everyone else, since they care.  Last time anyone used the + sign it didn’t’ work all that well, did it?  To be honest, the Kaiser Permanente commercials are delivering the message of caring much better.  for example:

Sutter Health, unfortunately, fails to do so. there’s no humor, no real compassion in any of those four ads.  one implies that a cancer survivor has no friends or family supporting her but her Dr.  another makes finding our the gender of your baby feel like an AA member about to relapse.  a third features a diabetic patient confessing the major crime of eating a cinnamon roll.  the fourth, which i find to be the most disturbing of them all, makes the conversation between a kid with asthma and his physician look like what could be the opening of a Law&Order SVU episode.   worst yet, it positions asthma as something to be mocked about and ashamed off.  all four videos stage the Doctor-patient conversation in what looks more like a therapy session rather than a doctor’s appointment.   shot in too dark of a room it feels nothing like a doctor’s office.  Creepy is more like it.  and, if i want to be extremely sensitive, why would one choose black actors for the one that feels like a drug usage confession, and white actors to the others? and don’t you have any Asians patients or doctors?  i know you do, since my PCP is one.

want to communicate that you care, that you are a different kind of a health provider?  that’s great.  but if the outcome of all your brainstorming and focus groups is “when i go to my physician, i want to talk to a shrink,” then maybe you should see a therapist???  or at least use a different agency instead of BBDO, or at least have the creative directors, namely Craig Mangan, Matt Miller, Steve Rutter, Amber Justis, Kevin Thomson think it a little more?

Due Diligence: My provider is PAMF, which is part of the Sutter Health system.  Have been for the past six years or more. other than the Eye Doctor and clinic I’ve visited twice recently, i’ve always been very happy with the care i got.  still am.   yet, these ads are creepy bad.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 11.44.11 PM

Be a Dr. not a shrink.

you could do so much better.

October 13, 2014

#222 – where your classroom is a country

Filed under: Israel,life matters,Opinionated,that Jewish thing,US life — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 01:03
Tags: , , ,

Election2014On November 2nd, I’ll practice my civic right, and vote in the 2014 Interim Election. My first! Staring at all the material I need to read to ensure I vote as I should, I realize how different is this democracy, compared to the one I grew up in. Living here for as long as I have, passing the citizenship interview/test, getting sworn in, getting a 2nd blue passport – all these steps were only the beginning. There’s more to US citizenship. And you don’t learn about it, unless you are one, unless you are totally in.

Many-many years ago, i was the [wait for it] Head Counselor of the Tel Aviv University Overseas Student Program [TAU OSP]. Breathe. It was indeed a very long title.  It was my first exposure and intense interaction with Native Americans [pun intended] excluding TV. American students, as opposed to Mexican, Canadian, and the rest of the world students, were the dominant majority [~85-90%] of the program. At that point in time, they were the US for me.

Whether it was getting them to hike to the top of Masada pre-dawn via the Snake Path to see the sunrise from the top, sharing an ambulance ride with a student that tried to commit suicide, or finding a way to tell an excited student that the nice Jewish boy she wants to introduce to her parents when they visit, is indeed very nice, but not at all Jewish, were but a few of my memorable interactions. The challenge of explaining that caring the water jerrycan is a team responsibility to students who didn’t go to Young Judaea or Habonim Dror. It was interesting. Given that I have had yet to visit the US, those interactions and experiences were the building blocks of my American perspective.

Masada Snake Path

It wasn’t until I started visiting the US on a regular basis [while living in Canada], and later living here, that I realized how distorted one’s perception may be, when it is based on a skewed sample, in a very specific setting. You can’t really learn a country or people from afar.  I know how wrong, how far off I was.

[Hold that thought]

Contradictory to Israel’s pathetic PR track record, the OSP had a brilliant one.

“Where Your Classroom is a Country”

TAU OSPSimply brilliant. Hey, I didn’t coin it. Every product / product marketing manager would be proud to have such a befitting slogan.

Every [American] student got a T-shirt with this slogan, before leaving for Israel. Americans dig marketing better than most.

In my latest cleanup & declutter [part #∞], I found the Canadian version that I produced when running the Canadian office, [and recognizing that Canada is so “not the same” [as the US]. Tomorrow, the shirts will be on their way to those who were quick to claim them.

[Keep on holding to that thought]

Between the High Holidays and the recent war, now less interesting since we got ISIS to feed the media, the last couple of months included a lot of, “So what is it with Israel? Can you please explain the war? What is going on? Who & What should I believe?”

israel facesI greatly appreciate everyone who tries to understand, who is honest enough to admit that s/he isn’t sure what’s going on in that troubled region. I respect anyone who wonders what’s behind rating-driven media coverage, money, and political agendas. I try to answer, share, and be as objective as I can. But, to really understand Israel, let alone the overall Middle East mess, you need to take yourself to the class… We – Israelis [in and outside Israel] – are a complicated bunch, with contradictions and inconsistencies being our normal. Our normal includes terrorism, religious fanaticism, and bleeding edge technology. It doesn’t include camels though. We, too, think of them as an attraction. My point? Israel’s normal is too often another’s ‘different.’

For example…

Israel is surrounded by countries that, generally speaking, wish it didn’t exist. Countries, one should point out, that when it comes to access to education & technology, personal freedom, and all other 21st century western world givens, are behind, and not necessarily interested in catching up. Israel pockets of archaic life styles are the whole garment in most of its Muslim neighbors.

Little in common with the neighbors is an understatement – check!

Known and respected for innovation in science, technology, medicine & pharmaceuticals, agriculture… with Israelis present, holding positions, sharing, partnering in most research and industries that advance us all. Yet, at the same time, thought of as a remote unstable desert somewhere.

The only Jewish state, with a minority population that can hardly be thought of as a minority. Home for immigrants, legal or not, from every corner of the world, only 66 years old, yet carries the weight of thousands of years of history. It’s the one place important to three religions that other than monotheism, agree on very little, though share a lot. Actually, make it four. The Baha’i faith, also monotheistic, has two of its most important shrines in Israel. This religious significance leads to a constant tension, not to say conflict, between the desire to be normal, and the push to be a symbol. Fundamentalists, Christians or Muslim, have a very clear view of what Israel should be… The Jewish fundamentalists have their vision too. Neither option will maintain an Israel I would ever consider living in. One or two of the options may change its name. All options will treat women as less than equal to men. The other abnormal for a western country is the unbridgeable gap, tension, and conflict between the desire to live in peace and the critical expensive battle for survival, living surrounded by hate, terrorism, and all too often wars.

You may wonder how this is all connected.  It’s about the Shoes, of course. Between taking a little pride in the brand of Katniss’ shoes and realizing that the election’s “study requirements” demonstrated to me that the country is a classroom… for the curious student.

October 7, 2014

#221 – in her shoes

hunger games shoes newsFour days before the release of the Mockingjay part I trailer, Calcalist [A leading Israeli business newspaper] released this exclusive artilce [see image]. Interestingly enough, the news reposting was limited to Israel.

The article says: “Owned by Teva Naot, the Dafna shoes are soon to become Hollywood stars. Calcalist found that the Hunger Games production [y: they got the wrong name, used Catching Fire instead of Mockingjay] ordered 660 pairs of shoes for the actors of the 3rd movie coming out this November. Value of the order is estimated to be around NIS130,000… Given the many battle scenes in the movie, the production was looking for military boots fitting the Panem freedom fighters… The shoes, made of canvas and have a rubber sole, are called Scout, also used by IDF elite units…”

Given the building excitement around the movie, I tried a more thorough search only to find a much shorter Naot Canada Facebook post dated back to April. But who really cares what boots take Katniss to save Peeta? Israelis.  I think that it’s that pride of being part of the bigger picture, global village. And yes, big studio giving me a PO [purchase order] is much better than me paying big studio for a product placement. Searching for the shoes, any mention of them, I found nothing. Obviously, shoes don’t take canter stage unless the Devil wears them.

More seriously though, I do think it’s a matter of local patriotism & pride. Israelis know how small Israel is, and whenever it gets to play with the big kids, there’s another burst of “we made it,” another rush of “we made good.” My inner child is visualizing a Naot mascot bragging, “Katniss picked me; not you, Merrell, Timberland, or Patagonia,” which are heavily invested in this very product segment. If your memory collects as many useless bits as mine does, and if you read the book, you may remember Katniss saying, “Fortunately, I have on shoes that Cinna designed. They grip the asphalt on contact and spring free of it on release.“ [Mockingjay, p. 49] could be the basis for a great global marketing campaign.

Hunger Games collage

Cherchez la shoe

note to the French and Israeli: as much as i tired to find a photo of the scout boots, what i found looked like the Dafna version of the French Palladium, which were my hiking boots for some years, until they fell apart.  I refused to buy the “imitation,” though it was significantly cheaper.  maybe that was a decision factor?

September 20, 2014

#220 – Triple I. Identity, Interview, and I

Filed under: life matters,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 21:22
Tags: , , ,

Every now and then, I find myself thinking about the latest addition to my identity. The recent war in Israel, and the European anti-Semitism and hate wave that accompanied it, made me think about it a little more. “The whole world is against us” is more than just a song Israelis grew up on. There isn’t a living Israeli who didn’t experience one form or another of war, terrorism, or being under an attack. There isn’t a living American who had to fight to defend US proper – the actual physical country. We are talking home, not a forsaken land half way across the ocean, where an American soldier is sent to liberate, defend, or show the light to people of a very different culture, language, and value set. Getting ready to use my American passport for the first time makes me think about it much more. It is from this place, that my citizenship interview seems removed from the true meaning of being a citizen. After all, being a citizen [of either of my countries] doesn’t mean I agrees with everything politicians say, do, pitch, believe in, and too often, want to send the army to fight for, die for. It means that I agree with the core values and principles that make a country what it is. It means that I’m willing to sacrifice a lot to ensure this country stays around, even if and when its day-to-day practice goes against some of my beliefs. In Israel, land and how to treat the other, how to democratically manage the diversity that was a priori to the establishment of the state are critical components of my comfort with the ruling cocktail of parties, beliefs and interests. Right now I rather not drink this cocktail. In the US, which has been around a little longer, it’s global warming, war on women, and immigration. Social responsibility and community, as in caring for your neighbor are key too. And let’s say nothing about the healthcare mess. The surprising and uncomfortable insight, hard to accept or admit, is that today, or last month, or on May 21st or 22nd, my sworn in day, I was more comfortable, more at ease, with making that commitment to the US than I would have been if I had to re-commit to Israel. I’m not ready to give up this loyalty, this key component of my identity. But… None of this, nothing at all, went through my head when I went in for the citizenship interview. It was early April. On time, past security, I found myself in a big waiting room. A quick visual scan of the room returned with an Indian

majority. A close second was the Mexican, or maybe I should say Latino/Hispanic. Third was the Chinese delegation, and then it was the rest of the world; a Brazilian couple, and one or maybe two more Caucasian couples. One of the Caucasian couples, as well as one of the Chinese, came with a lawyer/translator, others came with kids. I thought I heard Hebrew, but wasn’t too sure. As bureaucracy goes, you need to submit your form NOT at the window with the sign that says so, but at the one to its right. Right there they got it wrong. After a while you realize that the sign is there just to confuse you. I flipped through the booklet with the 100 questions and extra answers, some of them are actually interesting. Patience.

The immigration officers are a diverse bunch. Seems that just like the waiting room, white is a minority. I love California. My people curiosity and its diversity paired well. Many of the names of the citizen wannabes present a pronunciation challenge, from the single or double syllable Chinese, to the how-do-you-pronounce-this-very-long-Indian-name-I’m-out-of-air names. To the officers’ credit, they make an effort to pronounce every wannabe’s name. And then it’s my turn. “Wagner…” and her tone goes up a notch with a typical question intonation. I’m considering taking an offense. 5-Syllable names get pronounced, though not without hesitation, and yet my two syllable, 4-letter name is considered so complicated, too challenging, that I’m the ONLY person that gets called by last name only. One could have said it’s anti-Semitism, but with Wagner for a last name, it’s really hard to make the case. Never thought of my name as a four letter word, but apparently, for most Americans, it is. I get up, smiling to myself, and meet Lupe [I think]. A big woman, and it turns out that with a matching big heart. Her first question, before we even make it to the interview room [read: her office] is, “How do you pronounce your name.” Touché. I say it, she repeats it a couple of times, and tells me about her life long-suffering due to her own unusual name. She goes on to tell me how hard she tries to properly pronounce every interviewee’s name, and admits that when she can’t, as is the case with some of the longer Indian names, she tries to match the application photo to a person in the waiting room… unless it’s me I think to myself. 15-20 minutes later, we exhausted the topic, including her Starsucks and other calorie providers’ fake name. I keep it simple, I admit. My name is “just the letter ‘Y’ please.” OK, so you know I love coffee, you know how to pronounce my name, more or less, now how any of it will help you determine if I am the kind of person you’d want to welcome as a citizen of your country? Have I been a member of a terrorist organization, she wants to know. “I grew up in Israel,” I say. “We fight terrorism.” She didn’t like it. “I have to ask these questions.” And then there’s a question about Nazism or something else. The Israeli association of Wagner & Nazism on one hand, and growing up as an Israeli with Wagner for a last name completely escapes her. Flipping through my application, she handed me a list of international trips. My trips, and asks me to confirm that these are all the trips I took since I got my green card. Not even close. “There’s a whole page missing.” Is it a test? I couldn’t tell. “There wasn’t enough space in the form, so I included an additional page with all my trips,” I added. “I have a copy of it here if you need it.” Working on that excel spreadsheet was my painful 2013 Thanksgiving project. I recall that it was 21 trips for the last 5 years. Make it 22, I took another trip in February. She asked for the dates. Thanks to mobile calendar and mobile boarding passes, I could provide the specific dates. She didn’t want my complete list. And I still wonder, was it a test? And if so, why? What for? “What is freedom of religion,” she asked. And I answered, “The freedom to practice any religion, or not practice a religion.” I had to read a sentence, write a sentence, there is a couple more questions, and then it’s something along the lines of “You are welcome to join this great nation.” You may be sworn in this month, or, if we already met the space limitations, you’ll be invited next month.” I get a note saying that I met all citizenship requirements, and it recommends my citizenship approval. It was all over, waiting included, in just about 70 minutes. What an anticlimax. So I took the rest of the day off. And time and again I think about what defines one’s identity.

July 9, 2014

The Girl Next Door is Black’s post: Potty-Mouthed Street Kids & Other Tales of Harassment

Filed under: life matters,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 14:18
Tags: , ,

Post thoughts re: Potty-Mouthed Street Kids & Other Tales of Harassment.

Is it Safe? source:

Until recently, this girl and I worked together.  It’s only after we went our separate ways that we got together and found out that we both blog.  [Well, most recently I have had more blogging intentions than posts.  Working on it.]

A couple of days after we had coffee together, i read her blog for the first time.  The post is Potty-Mouthed Street Kids & Other Tales of Harassment. I read about her limb grabbing and I nod, San Francisco is full of weirdoes. Here’s a story of a disturbing one. And as I read on, incident after incident, a growing sense of discomfort and unease fills me. This is not how I go through life, this is not how I experience life. Taking a cab, walking down the street, getting on a SF bus… after all, I take the NYC subway without a 2nd thought.

Years ago, visiting NYC from Canada, and meeting an Israeli friend, visiting from Israel, I understood with the internal insight of a strong truism, what the victim’s look means. Observing her approaching me, her walk was out of step, it had the wrong rhythm. She stopped to look around and take pictures, not more often than me, but in a way that disturbed more people than was needed. There was a lot of talk about the victim’s look at that time. It was before New York became safe again. And looking at her, I knew that her chances to get mugged are much higher than mine.

But this is different. No one will ever consider describing Keisha as suffering from a victim’s look. I wouldn’t want to get on her bad side. And yet…

So what is it? Keisha?

May 21, 2014

#219 – home is

Filed under: life matters — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 23:43
Tags: , , ,

Tomorrow, I’ll get sworn in. Sounds grand, doesn’t it? I won’t take over any government office, nor assume any authority or power.  I’ll become an American citizen, taking the oath, pledging my allegiance to this contradiction-rich country that has been my home since 1999.

I have a virtual slide show running in my head.  Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, Israel’s Memorial Day, and Israel’s Independence Day came and left only a couple of weeks ago.  Even without attending any ceremony, without raising any flag, lighting any candle, without pigging out over too much meat, without wearing the compulsory “uniform” of blue & white on memorial day, they still felt more real to me than Memorial Day, which is a weekend away.

Identity is a never-ending process

This citizenship wasn’t an easy or a trivial decision. I qualified to apply for an American citizenship in 2007, and yet applied only during last year’s Thanksgiving, starting a process that on May 22nd will end with my pledge of allegiance to the United States of America.

What I was doing, thinking since 2007? I wasn’t ready.  As it turns out, citizenship means [to me] more than a passport and taxes.  It’s not even where I live.  Israel, Canada, China, US – all are counties in which I’ve enjoyed living, am always happy to go back, go shopping, eating, sightseeing…  This is not what defines home though.  Home is the place that regardless where I am in the world, I have a piece of it with me, within me, as part of my identity.  And it was a long process before the US landed a piece of me.

On my last trip to Israel, about four months ago, I felt it.  At first, it was the realization that I was not an outsider, nor was I an insider.  Then the insight hit me.  This was home, here I have lots of past and identity ties that define me, family, friends that dig me with no need for subtitles…  and yes, I know the language, culture.  Israel definitely feels like home, a place where I don’t need a GPS too often, nor freak out faced with the visit’s customary, almost mandatory, Tel Aviv parking ticket.  But…  too often I found myself  looking at things, observing rather than engaging.

The only times when everything felt right, when and where I knew who I am, why I am, were those cherished Saturday mornings spend with Sharon & Shlomi at the beach.  Wiggling my toes in the sand, sipping Israeli instant 20140125coffee [with no complaints about its quality],munching on beigaleh [pretzels], and talking, arguing, sharing without barriers.  I am yael, I was born and grew up in pardes hana of which I have not too many fond memories, and these are my people.  They know me now, they knew me almost always, and they have the right to ask about the times when that they didn’t.

Long time ago, I learned that I really know very little about the future. But yesterday, and five years ago, and five years to go, with my second language being my first, this is where home is, this is where my life, association, and growing roots are.

And while this have been the case for so long, in less than 12 hours I’ll publicly commit to it.  And mean it too.

How did “I don’t know, I don’t feel as if I need it, why bother” change into spending a big chunk of Thanksgiving week tracking all my international trips, as the N-400 form requires.  Slowly.

That was only the beginning.  I had to go in, give my fingerprints and show my face TWICE.  Slicing my forefinger a couple of days before the first “intake,” disqualified the finger from getting printed.  Of course, nothing in the letter and documentation provided tells you about it before hand.

It went like this:

Early morning, driving to the INS office in Santa Clara, I realize, half way there, that I forgot the green card.  U-turn later I’m rushing home, getting the card, rush back only to be told that

  1. I didn’t need the green card, the letter invitation and my driver’s license would have been enough.
  2. They can’t process my fingers today, not even the middle one, since I have a cut that distorts the image of that  finger.

It took a snail mail exchanges, a phone call, and another ill-timed appointment, before they admitted that I could just walk in and share my precious fingers with them.

You get a stamp on the invitation letter, a booklet and a CD with 100 Q&As about US history, civic system, government system…  go learn.

And then you are summoned for THE INTERVIEW, which deserves a chapter all on its own.

And in the morning there’ll be a ceremony.  My nails are ready.  And I am too.

October 21, 2013

#218 – Ride Out [part I]


We didn’t plan much.  Meet @ my place, on Wednesday, 09:00. Set general direction, Eran gathered some pointers from friends, and this teaser:


Challenge:  Given the coast temperatures’ range, you need light and heavy option of everything.  Two riding jackets, two sets of gloves, storm pants for the sensitive one… and the usual packing list

Space: Limited.  Saddle bags on my bike, large square container on Eran’s

And of course, there’s the shoe challenge.  Riding boots and…?

This is what I was looking at in the morning, reassured that there’ll be some spare space if I must have:


travel light. riding boots not shown


Eran’s “travel minimal” bag

Eran’s luggage, riding gear excluded, looked different.  Some may call it gender-related bias.  Each of us, of course, packed also one iCult and one iToy.

No snacks, no to-go cup with a latte.  There are riding times in which even changing a radio station is not an option.  Forget the munchies.

Off we are

One cappuccino, one latte, tanks are filled, and we are off south-bound.  I recall the long Chautauquas in the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Mine are much less organized.  I follow Eran as my beacon.  I think of the safety that comes with a riding buddy you really trust.  Recalling diving [which I haven’t done in years], I recall of a miserable dive with a dive buddy I didn’t trust, and enjoy the difference.

The FM reception deteriorates into white noise, and i turn the radio off.  Now I’m alone with the voices in my head and the wind.  Exposed to the elements, I feel every degree change, whether is drops as we climb up or goes up as we get closer to sea level. My lululemon outfit supports the temperature’s shifts better than expected. Silver lining at its best.

And the view.  No video or blog praise to Pacific Road or Highway 1 describing it as one of the best drives in the world, is as good as riding it like we do.  This is what meditation should feel like. Shift eyes from the road to the cliff, and once we meet the coastline, it’s the water… the first breath of sea salt air, and what I take in is the smell of a vacation, a sense of freedom. I decline the offer for a breMermaid on Cokeak. My mind is… I don’t even know where, and I don’t want it to stop.  We ride on.  In hindsight, the rides bring me to the state of mind Julia Roberts couldn’t in Eat, Pray, Love.


It’s Mexican.  The Whole Enchilada.  I’m OK with it. The nachos and salsa are served, lemon test passed.  I’m happy that neither of us wears riders’ leather gear.  We would look like a caricature of riders, I smile to myself.  The enchilada, it seems, thinks of itself as a vacation spot, and the little mermaid that comes with Eran’s Coke is a proof.  The other diners have that lazy vacation look, without a purpose.IMG_3061

Someone suggests a better parking spot for the blue mermaid, and it is taken care of right away.

There’s no sign forbidding us to feed the natives, and our black friend provides the live and lively entertainment.  The beak ticking on the tiles indicates his engagement, and adds nice drumming to the sounds of the water fountain. Given the number or restaurants I’ve been to recently that came with some water fountain, I wonder if people drink or eat more to the sound of water…

Not yet finished with “documenting” the lemon test and the mermaid on Coke, I don’t let the arrival of the food interrupt the task.  I multitask.

20130918-nacho macho“You know,” Eran says, “cutlery doesn’t mean fork in one hand and a phone in the other.”  I lift my head, fork at left, phone at right, guilty as charged.  “I’m not doing email, not SMS-ing,” I say, meaning I am here, engaged.  “Am almost done with the photo,” I add, as the weakness of my defense is pointed out. Remember the time my mind has when riding?  Some of it went into this observation.  Measured during bio-breaks and stops through the rest of the day, I was embarrassed to realize that between taking a photo [or five], PIXLR EXPRESS, Foursquare, Studio, and Facebook, it may take up to 15 minutes of phone-engagement.  15 minutes in which my ears are engaged and present, but my eyes are not.  Withdrawal isn’t easy, and [as some of you already observed,] the new practice is that once I take the pictures, you get my eyes.

Fork in one hand, phone in the other – could be a slogan for something.  Maybe the camera should be on the fork, and it should be a Wi-Fi fork.  Or Bluetooth. Which one consumes less battery?

With no desire to ever return to the whole enchilada, we leave.

Cruz Saves the Day

I mean we try to.  I don’t need to look for the bike’s key.  It is in the switch.  The headlight is off.  Oh my.

Eran pushes, I, feeling like the day’s biggest idiot, ride, we try once, twice, trice, and give up.  Releasing the clutch kills the momentum, and the engine rests.  We knock on the window of the café, getting the attention of the manager.  “Excuse me, do you know where we could get someone to jumpstart a bike,” I ask.  I get the feeling that the lady has seen embarrassed morons before.  “Give me a minute,” she says and picks up the phone.  First call ends with her writing a 2nd number.  Second call ends with, “He already left, but he is coming back, he’ll be here soon.”

We look at each other, circle the building, learn that it’s the Lighthouse Harbor Grille, sit at the counter, and order one cappuccino, one latte. The gal behind the counter is trying to convince us that regular coffee is great.  “We already cleaned the machine for the day” she pleads with us.  We ask if the machine is broken and wait.  She tries again, and gets going on our drinks.  I get three, maybe four sips of my latte, and the jumping guy arrives.  I step out and meet Cruz, his truck, and the cables. We already took the battery cover off before, so there isn’t all that much to do; connect, ignite, wait. Guess our lunch was really long.  Don’t blame the social photography, please.

When this battery is dead, it’s really dead.  I get to drink a few more sips of the coffee.  Cruz refuses any drink, and I learn that he is the handyman of few of the establishments here, at Moss Landing.  The café’s owner called him back after he already left for the day.  When I try to run the engine on its own, it’s still dead, so more charging.  Patience.

Cruz refuses any pay, and with my endless thanks drives away. We thank the lady too, and… back to the road.

Thanks to Lighthouse Harbor Grille

Thanks to Lighthouse Harbor Grille

The Ride is my Meditation

Ride, breathe, look around and take it in, struggle with the little engine that can, but slowly.  Breathe, absorb the amazing landscape, get gas, continue.


The afternoon hours bring with them a long winding climb.  Between my slower taking of these curves, and the little engine, Eran’s back gets smaller and smaller, at times completely hidden.  The mirrors tell me that a few riders are politely & patiently waiting for my engine to grow.  With a somewhat frustrated sigh I wave them to pass.  One Harley, two Harleys, three Harleys, maybe four, pass me and are gone.  Now it’s only the wind, the winding road, and me.  Gear down, escalate, gear up, fall back, gear down.  Eventually I pull over to a waiting Eran.

20130918-eran-02The Harleys are all there, too. French couples with an American guide. I take in the view.  You can’t overdose on this.


And then, to my dismay, the French riders approach my bike and… take photos of it, obviously entertained.  The little bike that could, ha?  It’s too funny to get upset about.  And when I do, eventually, Eran points out the gender fact: the men in front, women sit behind.

20130918-view-02Laugh all you want.

Onward we ride.


@ Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park


@ Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer state park

Pfeiffer state park

Whenever we need to climb up, the little engine that could, can, but slowly.  It can’t harm the spiritual experience of the ride, but there’s a growing frustration.


Late afternoon – Hearst San Simeon State Park

The temperatures started to drop, and not only in the shade.  The smell of the salt gets stronger, or maybe saltier, and I consider if I need to stop and change to the winter gloves.

Eran, in a perfect timing, turns into a sand and gravel parking lot, drives to the end, and stops.  Helmet off, gloves off, and I’m COLD.  Even when we have to take off exactly the same amount of items, i.e. helmet, gloves, ear plugs, the guy is walking towards no-idea-what. I get the camera out, and follow.

Everything is sand and grey.  No amazing view to wow over.  “Why did we stop here?”

“Shh, look.” I push my way through the taller observers, and wow.  “Shh” the looks around say.

the amazing elephant seals

The amazing elephant seals, Hearst San Simeon State Park

Hearst San Simeon State Park, one of the two beaches in the Coastline of California, where the dominant among the Northern Elephant Seals, are returning, displacing the sub adult males who have been on the beach for weeks practicing their gladiator skills in hopes of competing against those giant bulls for the affection of the females.  These battles usually take place between Mid November and January, which means that what we saw are the sub adults.  And what a sight they were.

Elephant Seals in Hearst-San Simeon State Park

Elephant Seals in Hearst-San Simeon State Park

20130918-elephantSEALS-03 20130918-elephantSEALS-04

The Last Miles

It’s hard to detach ourselves from these amazing and cute animals, but the growing wind and shades are motivating.  Back at the saddle bags, I pick winter gloves, liner gloves, a fleece scarf, and hope for an easy ride.  It is still beautiful.

A stop to put the no-longer-needed sunglasses away, a gas stop, and by the time we enter San Luis Obispo it’s dark.

Traveling off-season has its benefit, and with no reservation we are warmly welcome at Petit Soleil.  No time to admire the design, atmosphere, or comfort of the place.  We are due for dinner and we better get it while we still can.

Petit Soleil, San Luis Obispo.

September 29, 2013

#217 – That New Year Stuff


Every year, in the introspective period between Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and my birthday, I seek the learning, meaning, lessons, or insights of the year just ending.

For example, in 2010, I had my Slicha, I’m sorry project, posted HERE.

Last year, I was about eliminating the “but” and letting go of grudges.  This is key for a real slicha.  Letting go [of the anger, pain, hurt, even self-righteousness and own mistakes] is a critical step.  I shared it with you HERE.

This year, I was having a hard time picking the one that was IT.  Many lessons were dismissed, not meeting my criteria of significance.  It was getting uncomfortable.

As life has it, in sync with the end of the High Holidays and my birthday, I collided, heart first, with TWO lessons to work on in this coming year.  Each on its own would have been enough.  Together they are going to keep me on my toes, and I haven’t tried ballet since 3rd grade. These are not New Year resolutions.  It’s a public commitment to do better, not for 3 hours per week at the gym, 5 meals per week in the kitchen, or once a week in the filing cabinet, virtual or physical.  It’s a commitment to work, practice and modify the me that you and I know.  You are more than welcome to freely offer your feedback.  Please do.

Walking on egg shells

“I’ve been walking on egg shells around you,” he said.  Surprised, I said, “you need not, you didn’t need to.”

“I didn’t want to hurt you.  I never intend to offend you,” he said.  “Sometimes I just don’t know.”20130925 - walk eggshells

Time went to wherever it goes, and the tables turned.  And now I find myself tip-toeing on eggshells, hovering about, afraid I’ll crack even one shell.
It’s much harder than I’d ever imagined.  Simply put, it sucks.  I mean really, heavily, painfully sucks.

Imagine a ticker running in your head, asking, “Should I say this?  Can I initiate that?  Do I do/say nothing and patiently wait for him to ping?”  This is so! exhausting. I don’t know how he did it.  I don’t know how you can do it for more than a conversation.

A week of this experience, and I have tons of respect [tinted with guilt] for anyone who’d do it.  A week+ of a concentrated intense effort to crack no egg.  This is how much I care, love, value, and cherish the man and the friendship.  Doing nothing for the fear of doing the wrong thing, making the wrong comment… It is a torture, self-imposed, for a great cause, and yet, a torture.  As one who values directness and proactivity, this exercise of eggshells walking is a lesson, and its timing is perfect.

another nail in the fence (source:

The story of the kid and the nails in the fence comes to mind.  Yet, reading the story and getting

the potatoes we carry (source:

the point was much easier experience than being the kid and learning my lesson.  Eliav Alaluf, if my memory serves me right, posted a related story, about a kindergarten teacher illustrating the hate for another person with carrying a potato around, until it rots.

So here goes, and I encourage you to hold me accountable, to never make you walk on eggshells because of me, around me.  This is not about forgiveness; that’s easy.  It’s about being open and approachable, making it OK to make a mistake, say the wrong thing, the insensitive thing, or even the right thing in an off sort of way…  I will be open and willing to talk it over.  Another way of looking at it is for me, for us, to treat our tough, sensitive, high-risk conversations, offenses, arguments and disagreements, as snapchat-like conversations.

A snapchat chat? Yes.  Effective immediately, it’s OK to get pissed off or even get mad…  for a minute, maybe five, 15 minutes if you must.  Recording the chat and using it to eternity is not an option.

the wrong way to go about it (source:

Accepting one’s apology means it’s gone, done, forgotten.  You’d expect one to learn from mistakes, not repeat them.  That’s a given. However, some mistakes take more than one performance before the lesson is learned and internalized.  Some students, in some topics, are slow.  I’ve been blessed with your patience, allowing me and forgiving repeated mistakes until I got it, and stopped it.  Thank you!

There are amazing, very special people in my life, a few that I have conversations with, even when they are not present, valuing their view [and much more].  This is my apology, and a promise to do my best to avoid subjecting anyone to walking on eggshells.  Snapchat these interactions.

Should you feel that I falter, you have my permission to throw those eggs, cracked or not, fresh or not, at me.  Seriously.  A forewarning would be nice though.

The second challenge awaits its very own post.

September 11, 2013

#216 – I ride on, little brother [part II]

3,372 miles ago, I got a motorcycle.  My little brother Guy made some comments that generated this blog post.  And here I am, riding with growing confidence, becoming more efficient in the ride initiation process that includes key, helmet, jacket, gloves, Bluetooth, choke and go.  Still unhappy about the limited shoe choices.  Or the helmet-hair effect.  Not as good a rider as I’d like to be.  Rider in progress of sorts.

Over a weekend, while riding back from Oakridge Mall out of all places, an itch in my ankle that drove me nuts, and the taste of a fly in my mouth led my frustrated mind to form two lists in my head.  Listing can be a good thing.

and as the lists grew, so did the realization. Yes, I ride on, little brother, and sometimes it’s not all cool & fun.  There are scary moments.  And I’m slower than the rest… more practice is needed.  And the only regret is that i don’t venture more, not facing enough challenge outside suburbia.

On the constant improvement side, i finally challenged the limits of a bike load of goods.  Used the mesh for the first time.  And it looks like this:


Loaded. Sep 3, 2013

On another day, I managed to load six gallons of water.  Baby steps, I know.  I am not trying to get to the level of the rider in the picture below.   After all, riding is meant to be about fun, and whenever possible, efficiency.  I can’t claim, even though it would sound great, that I got the motorcycle to reduce my carbon tire print.

So let’s go back to that ride, my very itching ankle, the fly inside the helmet, and the lists I used to distract myself.

List I – Can’t

Can’t wave goodbye, as I hit the road.  Ignite, clutch, shift to 1st, signal on, go, escalate, shift to 2nd, signal off… Starting a ride, any ride, involves lots of hand work.  Can’t spare one.  Sorry.

Shadow the Hedgehog. thanks to:

Can’t have coffee.  Thermo-mug, commuter mug.  I have a collection.  Actually drafting a post about those mugs.  But it’s not an option for the rider.  It’s not only at the beginning of the ride, it’s through the ride, one got no hands to spare.  Need both hands for riding [relatively] safely.  No drinking and driving.  Any drinking.  One of my more stupid riding moments was waving a thank you to a policeman who gave me the right of way…  The clutch didn’t like it.  Luckily, I didn’t lose complete control of the bike.

Some drinkers however, can’t deal with this no drinking imposition.  So they came up with this:

Can’t help you move.  Obvious, right?  At least this is what I thought.  Others, like Mike below, may be more helpful when you need help moving.

Michael Wiles, 29, Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway, Australia.

He did get a ticket and a fine for this, in case you wonder.

Can’t blow my nose.  Embarrassing, right?  Oh yes.  Gloves on.  All zippers shut tight.  The wind will blow or make you lose everything which is loose.  And it’s cold.  So your nose reacts.  Unzipping any pocket is challenging with gloves on.  And how do you reach your nose, prominent as it may be, when it’s under a helmet with a visor?

running nose? running nowhere. Sold on eBay.

Can’t cry.  Well, if blowing your nose isn’t an option, imagine crying.  Wind-related or not, one cannot afford to fog the visor from within. How are you going to wipe the lenses of your glasses?  Riding is not for the teary-eyed.

Please don’t cry. From dramabeans’s Bucket

More Can’ts: It’s a long list.  Think about dialing a number, with gloves on.  Think about CHARGING.  Your phone, your GPS, your headset; not an option.  Not with a 250CC engine that thinks of 72MPH as the fastest case scenario.   There are tons of accessories out there, but part of the experience is to be out there without the protection, shielding,  and amenities of the car, right?

Is “too many gadgets” a possibility?

You could always go shopping at shop at Motorcycle Gear and Riding Info.

I can almost hear you asking me about Siri, or suggesting other voice-activated apps.  And then there’s, of course, Google Glass.  Reading post, Is Google Glass the Future for Motorcycles doesn’t drive me to order one.  Not yet anyway.  Admittedly, it’d be great to have the map in front of my eyes, instead of having to look down to the not-so-well-mounted GPS. Maybe later.

Bottom line, I can’t call you while riding, and I’ve given up on figuring out the pushing sequence required to accept your call via the Scala Rider Bluetooth which provides the music.  So my riding is phone free and look around rich.  I’m not saying it’s the right thing for you.  Just saying that riding feels like the one activity that i enjoy more without it.  No phone, no text.

Go figure.

not me. from:

My list goes on.  Remember the itchy ankle that triggered this post?  Can’t take off your shoes. Not if you care for your soles.  The asphalt is hot, dirty,  and at times comes with tiny sharp objects.  Think you can rest your feet on it?  think again.

It’s gonna hurt, darling.

List II, it seems, will have to wait for the next post.  and it’s all about the things that I can and do while riding.  TBC.

September 10, 2013

#215 – Giving Green a Bad Name

Filed under: mmmmmmarketing,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 17:38
Tags: , ,

The description says: ”

“Green in colour and green by nature! Recycled plastic and recycled metal in a superb quality scissor. Large ergonomically shaped finger grips for comfort and control

  • Left hander has reversed blades to make it easier to see exact cutting lines”


I had no reason to doubt it.   It was a nice thoughtful gift, and it spent its days the drawer, next to a couple of more substantial scissors.   I happily remembered the gifter every time i looked at it.

A couple of days ago, I was playing with yet another idea for the back patio, one that required some cutting.  Garden, green… perfect match, right?

So I took the idle scissor and asked it to do its thing.  Nothing.  I changed the angle.  AS a left-handed, one gets used to the discomfort of using “normal” scissor.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t at all feeling comfortable with the lefty version either. Trying once, twice, and on third trial it fell apart.  “What is the sound of half [green] scissor?”  I wonder.

This is what is looks before you buy it:

And this is what it looks once I tried to use it.


I don’t think this can be recycled in Santa Clara.

Manufacturer: Decree.  More information?  Good Luck.

September 2, 2013

made me smile

Dumb Things I Have Done Lately is Joe Loong’s blog.  Describing himself as “a guy living in Northern Virginia. I try to think about online communities and social media. (I’ll let you know when I get it figured out.)”  Not sure about the dumb.

I should thank him.  Searching for a far removed clipart, I found this cartoon on his blog:

Not his drawing.  So naturally, I searched the source.

Pearls Before Swine seems to be a great comic to follow.  The Creator, Stephan Pastis, native of San Marino, CA, created RAT, studying law at UCLA.  his legal career didn’t last long.  Better for us who can always enjoy a smile or an insight.  Pastis still in California,  How nice.

And yes, I am working on completing my next post.  Isn’t it obvious?

Here’s another one to like:

Makes me think of all those insane, often hateful, talkback’ers as they are called in Hebrew.

Back to my task at hand.

August 26, 2013

#214 – Cheers to Cheerios’ “I HEART DADDY”

Cheerios promotes love. Interracial families included.

I’m not a Cheerios lover. And yet I now have a feel-good warm fuzzy spot for the cereal, independent of its nutritious or hearty value.  In a recent post, Adotas attributes it to the newsworthiness of the ad that I enjoyed so much, and the controversy that followed.

First, the ad:

I’ve seen it a couple of times on TV, and wide-smiled at the kid’s solid logic.  Then, a couple of weeks later, I saw this:

This mind opener, with 6,206,847 viewings and 118,401 thumbs up at writing time, asserts, loud and clear, that the generation growing up in a house near me is freer of prejudice and racist predispositions like never before.

I doubt that this was Cheerios’ intent upon launching the ad.  After all, they are about selling cereals.  And yet… This is the first Cheerios ad ever going truly viral, carrying the brand’s name above and beyond the 103K which was its highest ad true reach to date.  All it took is a cute girl that cares about her father’s heart to reach to over 14.4 Million viewers.  And a pair of interracial parents.

Newsworthiness they say.  The noise that this ad generated is a testimony to its newsworthiness.  Cheerios however, didn’t think of the ad as newsworthy.  It came with the controversy that the ad generated.  Controversy, I must say, that I was completely blind to, until the blogosphere came in and knocked hard at my monitor.

Kudos to General Mills for choosing to stand behind the ad and continuing its broadcast.  Their handling of the racist comments was professional and minimal – they turned off the comments option on YouTube.

Making things even better for General Mills, the decision to stand its ground re the definition of the American normal family, and  keeping the ad, had another amazing side effect.  Listen to Cynthia Liu, who blogs about race, culture, gender and parenting.  “This is a tempest in a cereal bowl, right?” Liu said.  In fact, she posits that Cheerios’ move could even be an “upside-down, inside-out” way to dog-whistle to open-minded parents who otherwise might not buy the cereal. [source]

Lowes’ December 2011 decision to pull out their advertising in the TLC All-American Muslim reality show comes to mind.  Confronted with rage against anything that positions Muslims as anything but terrorist, they quickly caved.  the customer rage they were so concerned with, it turned out, came mostly from one loud guy.  The show, sadly, was canceled after one season.

General Mills/Cheerios, bless their brand and marketing wisdom, is standing strong and winning.  They won me.

Being bold, smart, creative, and… create newsworthy ads, the vibe and spread, and go viral.

As for the American family, it is changing.  On one hand, there are TV shows such as Modern Family which had been criticized for placing women in traditional helpless gender roles, a not touchy enough gay couple, and a heavy usage of modern technology while making it past its 100’s episode, or the new normal, with an extra conservative mother dominant mother, a baby mama surrogate mother and a powerful black assistant, which was canceled after short seven months, possibly for being too gay… but how many successful interracial families do we see on our not-so-small anymore screens.

And yet, in the 2010 census, which is the latest available, one can find some US interracial family statistics to happily keep on mind [Source:]:

Number of Interracial & Interethnic Married Couples Grew by 28 Percent over Decade

The U.S. Census Bureau Census brief, Households and Families: 2010 showed interracial or interethnic opposite-sex married couple households grew by 28 percent over the decade from 7 percent in 2000 to 10 percent in 2010. States with higher percentages of couples of a different race or Hispanic origin in 2010 were primarily located in the western and southwestern parts of the United States, along with Hawaii and Alaska.  I hear California.

Also noted is that a higher percentage of unmarried partners were interracial or interethnic than married couples. Nationally, 10 percent of opposite-sex married couples had partners of a different race or Hispanic origin, compared with 18 percent of opposite-sex unmarried partners and 21 percent of same-sex unmarried partners.

Equality and open-mindedness will prevail.  Cheers.

Christopher Colbert, the father of Grace Colbert, was not offended by the cutting remarks which bombarded the YouTube clip of the ad. Colbert, along with his wife and daughter, spoke to MSNBC TV: “Being part of a biracial family, it’s just the reality,” Christoper Colbert said. “We’re also part of the face of America.”

August 9, 2013

#213 – Crystal. Not clear.

Filed under: business buz,mmmmmmarketing — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 20:49
Tags: ,

You may have not heard the story of how my habit of keeping a spare headlight in the glove compartment saved me from an expensive ticket, yet it did.  Thank you dad, for instilling [some] good driving habits in me.

Maybe that’s a good time to confess that for years I was tracking mileage/gas ratio, ensuring the engine performs as it should.

So no ticket, thank you very much dear spare headlight bulb.Weeks later, I made it back to the neighborhood’s O’Reilly Auto Parts store. I had the used pack of the bulb-that-saved-me with me, so it was easy to ask for a “one like this please.”  When Crystal went to the shelves behind the counter and not to the store space where I remembered the bulbs had been before, I didn’t think much of it.  When the bulb was of a different brand than the one I was holding, it got my attention.  When the price was higher than I remembered I was not happy.

“I’m sorry, I thought the bulb was cheaper.”

“Oh, you mean you want the same brand?’

“Well, I want the same price.”

Without a word, Crystal got from behind the counter, walked to the store space and picked an identical bulb.

I wasn’t done yet.  “Last time you had some sort of promotion.  I think it was ‘buy two at half price’ or something.  Do you know if you have a promotion on these now?”

“We never have promotion on these.”  [Sure.]


I pay.


Ready to leave, I am not upset, just disappointed.  True, it’s been probably eight months since I visited the store.  The Hyundai is a truly low maintenance car, so I have no reason to frequent O’Reilly.  To say something or not… hey, I’m going to say it.

“You know, you are not helping your business by pushing the more expensive product to a customer,” is all I say, pleasantly.

She says nothing.

I look at her shirt.  “Your name is Crystal, right?”

Still nothing.

I walk out.

Difference before tax: $1.96

Damage to Brand: Not priceless, but a function of how many of you will read and share.

Damage to Crystal: Looking at the receipt, depends who at O’Reilly monitors and reads the customer feedback.


Take away?

 or, in other “words”…

July 5, 2013

Wooden artistry adds warmth to Apple’s ‘cool’ keyboard design – The Verge

Filed under: Uncategorized — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 05:20

See on Scoop.itdig marketing

Wooden artistry adds warmth to Apple’s ‘cool’ keyboard design
The Verge
“Apple’s design is really great and cool, but it’s cool,” he says. “It’s not really warm.

yael wagner‘s insight:

Design that delivers more than a design, but rather a different user experience. Wood, unlike most electronic gadgets, ages with grace. And, even the coolest among us may want a ‘warm’ experience everyone in a while. 

See on

July 4, 2013

5 Ways Managers Can Avoid Killing Employee Creativity

Filed under: Uncategorized — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 08:03

See on Scoop.itdig marketing

See on

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