My grandfather and the swan

My 82 year old grandfather – Opa – saw a family with this floating swan in the distance.

“I want to ride that swan,” Opa said. I laughed it off, but then we got closer and closer to the swan.

“I really want to ride on that,” Opa said again, without any fear of embarrassment. Finally, Opa waded up to the swan, politely asked the family if he could jump on, and he did.

There’s a life lesson in there, a tenacious attitude that’s admirable. When you want to ride a floating swan, you do it.


Everyone has a story, as vivid and complex and weird as yours. This isn’t something you think about when you walk down the street, passing dozens of strangers that you’ll likely never see again. But it is inherently true. They all have stories. You are not the main character. You are a small piece in a sprawling, chaotic world.

There is a website – and now a YouTube channel – called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. They wrap profound concepts into tiny little word packages. And they call this sonder.


n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

Gen Y

I really dislike the word millennial. I dislike it for a few reasons. For one, the word comes with a certain stigma. Young, spoiled, pretentious, entitled. For two, I think Gen Y sounds cooler. For three, it’s four syllables, and I’m not a fan of any word with more than three syllables.  For four, I think the whole concept of generations (The Greatest Generation*, The Silents, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y) is ridiculous and just a completely arbitrary construct.

*You want to talk about pretentious? How about referring to your collective selves as the GREATEST GENERATION. 

I was reading a column in the New York Times about millennials. It was not positive. There are a lot of those types of columns these days as we slowly make our way and slither our tentacles into the U.S. workforce. The premise: we’re terrible people, we love our phones, we have no attention spans, we can’t talk to anyone, and the world is doomed. Here’s an except:

The art of conversation is almost a lost one. People talk as they ride bicycles – at a rush – without pausing to consider their surroundings. What has been generally understood as cultured society is rapidly deteriorating into baseness and voluntary ignorance. 

OK, listen, I know we talk fast and we text a lot and we sometimes … oh no, wait … that’s not from the New York Times, that’s a quote from Marie Corelli in 1905.

Alright, here’s the real quote:

Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority. They show disrespsect for their elders.

Alright, bro, I know our manners aren’t the best and we’re sometimes disrespectful and we tend to … wait a second, that’s a quote from Socrates in 500 BC.

Here is a quote from 100 years ago:

A hundred years ago it took so long and cost so much to send a letter that it seemed worth while to put some time and thought into writing it. Now the quickness and the cheapness of the post seem to justify the feeling that a brief letter to-day may be followed by another next week – a line “now” by another to-morrow.

The point I’m trying to make here, if you haven’t figured it out already, is this:

1. Every generation hates the generation that comes after it.


2. The reasons are similar.

You think that the pace of modern life is too fast and the world is changing too quickly and everyone is spoiled and no one can have a conversation, but what you don’t realize is that everyone has been saying that forever.

I think this cycle plays itself out over and over again because: as you get older, you start to feel like you don’t matter anymore. You see new technology and new slang and new ways of doing things and you think, Jesus, this is so different than what I’m used to, this is terribly confusing, this doesn’t feel right, this is uncomfortable. Heck, I feel this way sometimes and I’m 24 years old.

But this type of thought process lends itself to criticizing an entire generation, with supremely broad strokes, just like Socrates did in 500 BC and some random woman named Marie Corelli did in 1905. And of course the cycle continues to play itself out today.

I loved this exchange from an episode of Louie a few weeks ago:

24 year old: Do you want your kids’ world to be a step above yours? Isn’t that what we’re all doing?

Louis CK: Sure.

24 year old: So, doesn’t it follow that if you’re a good parent and your kids evolve and are smarter than you, they’re gonna make you feel kind of dumb?

Louis CK: Yeah, yeah, I guess so.

24 year old: So if you feel stupid around young people, things are going good!

Whenever I see some writer or TV talking head complain about this generation, my immediate reaction is a cringe. I feel embarrassed for them and wouldn’t want to come off that way myself. I think it’s important to stand up for people, not tear them down.

And then I sing The Who.

People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

That was written 50 years ago.

IN CONCLUSION … I think it is good to be optimistic, I think it has never been in your advantage to discount the generation that comes after you, I think the world will be OK. Like always, humans will figure out a way to survive. We’ll be fine.

The gift card


A few months ago, some co-workers and I went to Happy Hour* at a bar called Stadium. We hung out, we chatted, we ordered some drinks, and all was well.

*Massachusetts actually implemented a state-wide ban on Happy Hour in 1984 that still stands today. The idea was that by eliminating promotions with special low-priced alcoholic drinks, there would be fewer incidents of drunken driving. So Happy Hour is technically illegal here, but no one really follows that.

About an hour after we arrived, some dude walked into the bar, pounded fists with the owner, and set up a game of Team Jeopardy in the back. We signed up. There were maybe ten teams, and we didn’t think we’d win or anything, but at the least it would be fun and something to do.

Well, we dominated. Turns out, we’re really smart and know a lot of things!

After the victory, the guy that was running Jeopardy set up a prize table and was basically like, “Uh, yeah, you can take whatever you want.” I cleaned up. I got a shirt, a hat, some gloves, and a $50 gift card.

A week later, I went back to Stadium, happy as a clam and prepared to buy the whole city of Boston a beverage with my new, shiny gift card.

The bar was boarded up. It was totally empty. There was a sign on the door. They went out of business. And now I have a stupid, pointless gift card sitting in my wallet.


I met the President!

On Monday, I met the President of the United States. This isn’t something I ever expected to happen, but it really did happen! Let’s talk about it.


I wish I could say I met Barack Obama because I cured cancer, or I won the World Series, or he really likes this blog and agreed to do an interview. None of those things are true, though I can’t discount the possibility that he reads the blog. No, the reason I met Obama is much less exciting. I have a friend who works at the White House. And yesterday, Obama visited Boston for the opening of the Ted Kennedy Institute. So my friend hooked me up with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I participated in the Presidential motorcade as a volunteer. This meant that I got to drive one of the twelve-passenger vans that holds the press and guests of import. I was given very little details on what exactly I had to do. It was very much a chaotic, confusing atmosphere. Maybe this was for security reasons. I wasn’t briefed until I arrived at Logan Airport.

And now you may be asking yourself: Wait a minute, the Presidential motorcade drivers are volunteers? And the answer is inexplicably: Yes. Yes, they are. Here is a New York Times article that explains the process.

Upon arrival at Logan, the volunteers (six of us) picked up the vans from Budget. Yes, even the Presidential motorcade rents from Budget.

We were briefed by the motorcade staff. Follow the person in front of you. In the event of an emergency, use common sense and get to safety. If you fall out of the motorcade, don’t try to get back in line. Don’t cause any accidents.

From there, I drove one of the vans onto the tarmac and lined it up for the motorcade. I ended up switching cars because, as I learned later, the vehicle I was driving was going to be used for the military advisor and the nuclear football.* And, uh, I was not fit to drive that.

*I wasn’t supposed to know this, and I don’t think you are either. It’s top secret stuff. The guy that told me regretted it immediately.

We waited about an hour for Air Force One to land. There was word that the President was delayed leaving Washington. Finally, around 11am, the plane landed and taxied over to the motorcade. It’s a big plane! Here’s what I was looking at:


And here’s a blurry photo of the President and First Lady as they exited the aircraft.


President Obama greeted some people at the base of the plane, and then he hopped into the Presidential car. And just like that, the motorcade was on. I rode passenger (technically, I was the backup driver). We were about ten cars behind the President. Here’s what it looked like:


We booked it. The roads and highways were all closed. Traffic laws did not apply. We cruised through red lights and drove on the wrong side of the road and weaved through the back streets of Boston at 70mph. Thousands of people waved and cheered us on. It was great.

Ten minutes later, we arrived. I didn’t get to see Obama’s speech at the Ted Kennedy Institute because I had to remain with the vehicle at all times. There was a lot of down time. I mostly sat in the car and tried to take it all in.

When the speech ended, the volunteers were ushered off to a private area. All of a sudden – there’s Elizabeth Warren standing right in front of me! And Maria Shriver! And John McCain! And let me tell you something – John McCain looks good. He’s a lot taller than I thought he would be. I remember people were seriously concerned that he would die in office if he was elected President in 2008. I’m happy to report that in 2015 Senator McCain looks great.


We were then led to a smaller private room, where the President was told that the motorcade drivers had arrived. He looked at us and proclaimed: These are the greatest drivers in Boston! I’ll be sure to mention this the next time I get pulled over.

“But Officer, Obama called me the best driver in the city!”
“Yeah ok kid.”

I tried to laugh at Obama’s comment, but all I could think was HOLY JESUS CHRIST THE PRESIDENT IS STANDING RIGHT THERE.

Joe Biden was in the room too. All I could hear was him shouting at everyone as we lined up for the meet and greet. WHAT’S YOUR NAME? WHAT’S YOUR NAME! WHAT’S YOUR NAME?! He really wanted to know our names. Finally, I walked up to him, I shook his hand, and I told him my name.

Next to Biden was President Obama. I was so, so nervous but I managed to introduce myself and eek out a nice to meet you, Mr. President as I shook his hand and stared intimately at his eyes. He said good to see ya, Jeff before moving on to the next person. We lined up for a picture – three of the us on each side – and smiled into the lens of the official White House camera.

I will post the picture as soon as I can.

After the picture, I shook Obama’s hand one more time because why not. He has soft hands and a very gentle shake. And then the fun was over – back to the motorcade.

We drove over to Cambridge where the President and twenty other dignitaries had lunch. Again, we waited in the van while the President undoubtedly engorged himself in New England Clam Chowder. After about an hour, we drove back to the airport where we saw the President board Air Force One. And then the plane took off. And then I returned the rental van. And then I ate a burrito.


I realize that not too many people get to meet the President and shake his hand. It was truly an honor. I’m lucky to have a friend with the sweetest of connections. I guess it’s good to know that even a kid from the rough and unforgiving streets of Cortlandt Manor, New York, can one day meet the President.



4 random thoughts

Seward’s Folly

I was thinking about Seward’s Folly the other day* – because who doesn’t think about Seward’s Folly every now and then – and I kept asking myself: how could anyone think this was a folly?

*I wonder – how many other people were also thinking about Seward’s Folly at that exact moment? There are 7.1 billion people on this planet. Surely one or two or ten of them were also thinking about it or studying it or learning about it in class.

Seward’s Folly, you probably know, refers to the United States’ acquisition of Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867. At the time, Russia wanted to sell its Alaskan territory, fearing that it might be seized if war broke out with Britain. US Secretary of State William Seward negotiated the deal and purchased the land for $7.2 million (a bargain price of two cents an acre). The area was then organized as the Department of Alaska, then renamed the Alaska territory, and finally became the state of Alaska upon being admitted to the Union in 1959.

Seward was heavily criticized for the purchase. The press called the newly acquired wasteland “Seward’s Icebox” and the “polar bear garden.”* The New York Tribune wrote: “Ninety-nine hundredths of Russian America are absolutely useless. To Russia it was an encumbrance, to us it would be an embarrassment.”And, in what is now my favorite metaphor of all time, The New York World wrote: “Russia has sold us a sucked orange.”

*I know the critics were trying to be offensive, but maybe they could have come up with something better. Who wouldn’t want to live in a polar bear garden? Polar bears are great.

Most of the country also viewed the purchase unfavorably, thinking that sure, the land is cool, but what are we gonna do with it?

Even Congress was annoyed. They had been reluctant to purchase Alaska in the first place, and they viewed it as an arbitrary act rather than something that could bolster a country fresh out of the Civil War.

Russians weren’t happy about it either – they wrote that it was nothing but a “mean, disgusting joke upon the Russian society.”

Here’s the thing though – the purchase of Alaska turned out to be a great decision, right? There was the great Alaska Gold Rush in 1899. There are vast energy resources. There’s the Iditarod. It’s a popular vacation spot. And yet, it’s been 148 years, and we still refer to the purchase as a folly.

I guess I have something that Seward’s contemporaries didn’t have. Hindsight. We look at Alaska now, and we think of this majestic land, of rolling hills and crisp winters and so much space – 586,412 square miles. But in 1867, Alaska was a great unknown. Most of it couldn’t be colonized. In a country overcome with debt and political strife, many looked at the purchase and thought, What’s the point?

I just think it’s time to give old William Seward a break.

It is 2015 and all of these things are true:

Dr. Seuss is coming out with a new book.

Torii Hunter is on the Minnesota Twins.

Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Bill Murray made appearances on SNL.

Bob Dylan is releasing a new album.

Harper Lee is publishing her second novel.

Kevin Garnett is on the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Gas is under $2 a gallon.

The US Presidents

Wait But Why, one of my favorite websites, wrote a post about the US Presidents. It goes into ridiculous detail about each President – from Washington to McKinley – and, wow, some of the nuggets in there are just great. Here are some of my favorites:

The 43 years between 1861 and 1913 saw 9 presidents, 8 of whom had mustaches. And never before or after this era did any other president have a mustache.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson formed a decades-long pen pal relationship after their times in office, and both died the same day, on July 4, 1826 – the country’s 50th anniversary. James Monroe, the fifth President, also died on July 4th.

Late in his life, James Madison became obsessed with his legacy and paranoid to the point of altering letters he had written or others had written him.

John Quincy Adams had a pet alligator who lived in the White House bathtub.

Andrew Jackson cursed like a sailor, and as a result, so did his pet parrot. This caused a lot of problems, including the parrot having to be removed from Jackson’s funeral ceremony for cursing so much during the proceedings.

Martin Van Buren’s hometown was Kinderhook, NY, and one of his campaign slogans was “Vote for Old Kinderhook,” or “Vote for OK.” The term OK caught on and it’s theorized that this could be the origin of the word “okay.”

John Tyler, who was President from 1841-1845, has two living grandchildren.

Zachary Taylor died suddenly after eating some raw fruit, about a year into his presidency. Historians have speculated that he may have been poisoned, but there’s no conclusive evidence either way.

James Buchanan was a terrible person (and a lifelong bachelor). His cabinet was the most corrupt in history, he vetoed a bill to create more colleges, saying that “there are already too many educated people,” he ran the deficit up to $17 million and presided over the Panic of 1857, he recklessly ousted Brigham Young as governor of the Utah Territory after hearing uncorroborated reports of a Mormon rebellion, he vetoed the Morrill Act and Homestead Act, both of which proved to be important acts after Lincoln later signed them into law.

Legend has it that an 11-year-old girl wrote to Abrham Lincoln during his presidential campaign and told him his weird skinny face should have a beard to be less weird and skinny, and he took the advice.

Andrew Johnson, at his and Lincoln’s 1864 inauguration, showed up at the event hammered and proceeded to make a complete debacle of a long, rambling, drunken speech as Lincoln and the entire Senate Chamber looked on in shock. A Senator who attended said afterwards, “I was never so mortified in my life—had I been able to find a hole I would have dropped through it out of sight.” Johnson then disappeared into reclusion for six weeks to avoid public ridicule.

Ulysses Grant’s real name is Hiram Ulysses Grant. But when he was first nominated to attend West Point, the guy who nominated him messed up and put his name in as Ulysses Simpson Grant. When Grant protested, he was told it was too much of a hassle to go back and change it now, so he just had to go live the rest of his life as Ulysses S. Grant.

A young Rutherford B. Hayes has an uncanny resemblance to Drew Brees.

You can listen to the first minute of Grover Cleveland’s 1892 campaign speech.

Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, witnessed, in person, the assassinations of his father, James Garfield, and William McKinley. Lincoln felt super guilty about this and refused to ever attend a public function with a president again.

The Imposter

The other day I watched a documentary called The Imposter, and the story is just so insane that I have to share it.

In 1994, a 13 year old boy from Texas named Nicholas Barclay was kidnapped. Three years later, he was found in Spain and returned home to his family.

The family was obviously overwhelmingly happy that their son was found, and it became a national news story. He moved back in, went back to school, and tried to resume his life as normally as he could.

Except – it was all fake. The real Nicholas Barclay was never found. A 23-year old imposter named Frédéric Bourdin pretended to be Nicholas – he dyed his hair blonde and got the same tattoos as Nicholas and was able to convince the family that it was really him. He was able to do this even though he had different eye colors and a French accent. He told the family that he had been abused and tortured, and was not allowed to speak in English while kidnapped. And they believed it.

It wasn’t until a private investigator grew suspicious while working on a documentary of the family that anyone suspected foul play. The investigator compared a photo of Bourdin’s ears to Nicholas’s ears, and he discovered that they did not match. In 1998, the FBI obtained a court order to take fingerprints and a DNA sample. Bourdin went to prison for six years, and the family was left without their son.

It turned out that Bourdin was a serial imposter who had assumed over 500 false identities.

Many have called out the family for falling for something so obvious. I mean, how can you possibly believe that someone else is your son? Others have speculated that the family knew it wasn’t Nicholas and they had in fact murdered him years earlier. When someone else turned up as Nicholas, they pretended it was him to avoid suspicion. A homicide case was actually opened, but there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed further.

Anyway, it’s an absolutely crazy – and, honestly, pretty depressing – story that has never been solved.

And I don’t want to end this post on a sad note, so here is a video of pandas playing on a slide.

My favorite posts of 2014

2014 was a great year for the blog. Here are some of my favorite posts of the last 12 months. These were fun to write.

Rodeon. The greatest word ever invented.

The frisson. When you experience a brief intense reaction, a feeling of excitement, something resembling chills.

Jerry Dale. The first interview.

Everything is a remix. We learn by copying.

Some thoughts on food. I like food.

Thinkin’ about numbers. An opus on math.

The King. Because there are only 37 of them.

See you in 2015.

Three years

The blog is now a toddler.

Three years ago today, I started this blog with the expectation to write about my travels in Australia. Here is my first post. And here we are at the end of 2014, 224 posts and 200,000 words later, and I’m still here.

Over the last few years, we’ve developed a bit of a following. We’ve grown the regular readership from four all the way up to double digits. The interview series has been a huge driver of growth – the blog has been linked by Arthur Chu (20,000 followers) and Eddy Elfenbein (18,000 followers) and StockTwits (395,000 followers) and River Avenue Blues (16,000 followers), and at least three other blogs and websites on the interwebs.

We’ve had visitors from – if you can believe it – 65 different countries, including Malta and Suriname and Belize and Qatar and Slovenia and Bahrain. It’s been awesome to see so many new readers, even though most of them have no idea who I am or what I write about.

I have no plans to ever stop writing here regularly. Until 2091. By the time I turn 100, I’ll have said everything I’ve wanted to say. So, assuming this blog lasts another 77 years, we will see many things together.

We’ll see the Cubs win a World Series. We’ll see the Dow break 100,000. We’ll see a 16 seed beat a 1 seed. We’ll see wars and treaties and acts of terrorism and acts of kindness and acts of heroism.

According to futurist Ray Kurzweil, we’ll see a revolution in nanotechnology. We’ll see phone calls that entail three-dimensional holographic images of both people. We’ll see genetically engineered pathogens, mind uploading, full-immersion virtual realities, the singularity.

We’ll see the remaining 83 posts in my train stories segment.

We’ll see the return of Halley’s Comet in 2061.

We’ll see the tricentennial, a dozen or so Presidents, new amendments, new laws, progress.

We’ll see the return of clearly definable decades. The 20s, the 30s, the 40s. Where will we make the distinction between the 20th and 21st century?

We’ll see plenty of deaths – actors and athletes and politicians and friends and family. By the time this blog concludes, almost everyone we know today will be dead. And, yeah, that’s a morbid thought, but that’s life man. Man is born, man lives, man dies. But we still have a long way to go. I hope you will join me.


In my senior year of high school, my friends Adam, Alex, Cooper, and I decided to start playing poker. None of us had played before, but we wanted to learn the game and we had the time to kill.

It’s been six years, but the four of us still play when we are all home. We have gone to great lengths to keep poker nights going. Adam has worked during it. Cooper has skyped in. The games are far less frequent, but we still make it happen a handful of times each year.

We have probably played, oh, 100 times. There have been some pretty epic moments over the years.

​There was the time that Adam got a royal flush and didn’t even know it.

Adam: Well, good hand everyone.


Adam: Huh, would you look at that.

The odds of a royal flush are 1 in 649,739.

There was the time Cooper and I rigged a hand. Alex got four jacks, Adam got four queens, I got a straight flush to the queen, and Cooper got a royal flush. The four of us went all in and chaos ensued.

There was the time we were in the middle of a hand and saw sparks out the window. We thought they were Christmas lights. Then they got bigger. We went outside to investigate and saw that the house down the street was on fire. The fire department was already there but couldn’t salvage the house. It burned to the ground and we watched, stunned.

There was the time Cooper angrily threw his jack high down in frustration even though it was the highest hand. We ruled that Cooper folded. This prompted Cooper to claim that his act of throwing his cards down was NOT a fold. We all had to deliberate and decide what to do. To Cooper’s frustration, the ruling stood.

The point is, there have been many, many crazy moments over the years – and they are all carefully documented because of course they are. This is what we do.

But this isn’t really a post about poker. This is a post about the word rodeon, a word we invented and still use regularly. Let us begin the journey down the rabbit hole, broken into three parts.


One day, instead of playing poker, we played Scrabble. This was in late 2008 or early 2009 – the actual date is, unfortunately, lost to history. We were all enjoying ourselves and showing off our linguistical prowess when someone played the word RODEO. And then, inexplicably, Cooper placed an N next to the O and said ‘Rodeon!’ I don’t know why we found this funny, but we did, and we laughed.

Something about the word stuck with us. Maybe it was the way Cooper said it, maybe it was just the peculiar combination of syllables, but at some point we decided to make rodeon a word. Not just a Scrabble word – an actual, real word that we would forever use in our lives. The four of us almost immediately agreed on a definition. And, like, I don’t know how we managed to agree on this so quickly, but it was like the word rodeon was there all along, and we were just the first to happen upon it, as if we were the guardians of the word and its meaning, like how Isaac Newton felt when he discovered gravity or calculus. I don’t doubt that divine intervention played a part.

rodeon [roh-dee-on]

noun; verb
a situation where a person is expecting a full success, but is met with disappointing failure — often to the delight of another present party

At first, we only used the word in poker situations. I have a better hand than you – rodeon. I bluffed and won – rodeon. And then, over time, we started to use the word in all types of situations. It took on a life of its own. We realized – this could be big.


Let us count the reasons why rodeon is such a useful word.

It can be used in all types of situations.

– I was expecting such a pleasant day, so I drove to the park, but then it rained. Rodeon.

There are 45,000 seats in this baseball stadium, and it just so happens that a bird defecated on mine. Rodeon.

One time, Alex and I were out to dinner with his family. We both ordered pulled pork sandwiches. Moments later, the waiter returned and said that they only had enough pulled pork for one sandwich. This was a rodeon.*

*Well, it was a rodeon for Alex. The sandwich went to me.

It fills a void in the English language.

This is called a lexiconical gap, when something doesn’t have a word but should. For example, the Italian word cualcino refers to the mark left on a table by a cold glass. There is no English translation.

There isn’t really an English word that captures the rodeon phenomenon (as far as I’m aware, there isn’t a word in any language). In middle school, the word “serve” was popular, as in “you got served,” or “that was a serve.” I don’t know why those were things we said, but they were. “Burn” was also popular. No one says those words in 2014.

Without the word rodeon, the only way to describe these moments is by using multiple words, such as “unfortunate situation” or “I was expecting great success and then this awful thing happened.” Sometimes people use the phrase “Murphy’s Law,” but there is a subtle difference.

Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong will go wrong

Rodeon: you expect nothing to go wrong and then it does

It can be used as both a noun and verb.

A rodeon can be a thing (“man, that was such a rodeon”) or an action (“I rodeoned you”). In rare cases, it can be used as an adjective (rodeonical) or even an adverb (rodeonically). It cannot be used as a pronoun or proper noun, unless, of course, you start a business called ‘Rodeon,’ which, apparently, has already happened.

It has an opposite.

The opposite of a rodeon is a noedor, pronounced “know-door,” which is rodeon backwards. This is when you expect something bad to happen, but it doesn’t. It is said (and experienced) less often, though certainly encouraged.

It is a fun word to say.

Say it out loud. Rodeon. Roh-dee-on. RODEON.

And now we move on to Part 3:


I am a simple man, and I don’t want or expect too much, but one thing I really really want to see is for the word rodeon to spread like a giant virus, invading the brains of every human and becoming a part of the world’s regular lexicon. I want to see it in official Supreme Court decisions, in sports box scores, in job rejection letters. I want to see it on news broadcasts. I want to see it in the dictionary.

We all agree – the moment one of us attains a position of power, we will do what we can to spread the word. We are playing the long game. We don’t expect it to happen quickly, but we will see it through, and it will happen.

One final thought.

It took an amazing series of events for the word rodeon to enter the world. The four of us had to play the exact same Scrabble words in the exact same order, the word ‘rodeo’ must have been played, Cooper had to have an N, and above all, he had to inexplicably place it after rodeo. None of this should have happened. The definition and use of the word – oh yes, that was borne out of necessity and honed through careful, pragmatic thinking. But its creation just happened. I think back to the words of Albert Einstein. I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.

The prisoner’s dilemma

You may have heard of the prisoner’s dilemma, one of the cornerstones of game theory. It is a classic example of how two rational individuals might not cooperate, even if it is in their best interests to do so. The prisoner’s dilemma is usually explained like this:

Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to or exchanging messages with the other. The police admit they don’t have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They plan to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the police offer each prisoner a Faustian bargain. Each prisoner is given the opportunity either to betray the other, by testifying that the other committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent. Here’s how it goes:

If A and B both betray the other, each of them serves 2 years in prison
If A betrays B but B remains silent, A will be set free and B will serve 3 years in prison (and vice versa)
If A and B both remain silent, both of them will only serve 1 year in prison (on the lesser charge)

The prisoner’s dilemma is seen in many different areas. In fact, it is almost exactly recreated in Golden Balls, a British game show with a curious name.

In Golden Balls, each person has two choices: Split or Steal.

If  both contestants choose to split the money, they will split the money.

If one chooses to split the money and the other chooses to steal, the stealer gets everything.

If they both choose to steal, nobody wins any money.

Unlike the prisoner’s dilemma, the contestants are actually able to talk to each other before their decision, which produces some great drama. They tend to beg and plead, to say that they are an honest person, that their family would never look at them the same if they lied, that even half of the money is more than enough for them, and so they verbally agree to split. Of course, when they reveal their golden balls, one inevitably steals.

The game produced one of my favorite videos on the internet. It gives you an idea of the psychological terror and drama that goes into these types of decisions. Except something unexpected happens in this one. Here is the link again. Please watch and then come back and read the rest of this blog post.


We are now seeing a real life example of the prisoner’s dilemma on the biggest stage – The World Cup. This has required a very specific set of circumstances, and so far they have all happened.

A quick review – the top two teams in each group of four advance to the round of sixteen. The standings are based on points – three points for a win, one point for a draw, zero points for a loss. The tie-breaker is goal differential. Here is how things stand in the United States group.

Germany: 1 win, 0 losses, 1 draw, 4 points, +4 goal differential
USA: 1 win, 0 losses, 1 draw, 4 points, +1 goal differential
Ghana: 0 wins, 1 loss, 1 draw, 1 point, -1 goal differential
Portugal: 0 wins, 1 loss, 1 draw, 1 point, -4 goal differential

There are two games left – Germany will play USA, and Ghana will play Portugal.

In theory, any of the four teams can still advance. But, Germany and the US control their own destiny, so the winner will automatically advance. The loser could still advance, but will need some help in the Ghana-Portugal game.

And now here’s the kicker: if Germany and the US draw, BOTH advance, no matter what happens in the other game.

So, what do you do if you are the US? If you’re Germany? How confident are you that you won’t lose? Do you conspire with the other team? Does Jürgen Klinsmann call up the German head coach and collude?* Do the two teams just sit there for 90 minutes to guarantee a tie?

*This actually happened in the 1982 World Cup, when West Germany and Austria colluded to prevent Algeria from advancing. There was mass protest from fans, but there was no punishment from FIFA. Eventually, FIFA decided that the last two games in each group must be played simultaneously.

This will never happen. It CAN’T happen, because it would be a disastrous ordeal. I think both teams would rather lose than face the consequence of a cheating scandal. Except, is it really cheating? Aren’t you just putting your team in the best position to advance?

It’s an interesting thought.