Category: My World

Toby Farms

“Second place goes to the team whose silver on their t-shirts shined….”

We had all been up since 6am and were exhausted. The team didn’t win a prize in any of the categories and were disappointed; we just wanted to go home. But, suddenly, our ears perked up – we have silver on our T-shirts?

The announcer continued calling out “..Team 36052, Toby Panthers..”

The kids went wild, Ms. Ebersole literally fell off the stands, I just sat there in disbelief and the Principal Ms. Garner burst out in tears.

First Lego Robotics Team – Toby Farms Intermediate, Chester, PA

It all started in June when i was cleaning my basement and found boxes of old Lego robotics equipment from 4 years ago when i coached my son’s team.  Just donating equipment has minimal impact – it needs to come with human help.  I remember the kids in our district enjoyed the program, but it was one of many choices and opportunities they have, so it was always difficult to see the real impact.  So I decided to try and start a robotics program at a less privileged school district.

Toby Farms Intermediate  is a middle school in Chester, PA, an under privileged, economically disadvantaged community with the same issues that face some of our inner cities. Many kids face difficult family and environmental issues that get reflected in the school and its performance. With lack of resources, despite the efforts of their dedicated staff, significant challenges exist in the school. Ms. Garner is trying to do everything she can to bring new opportunities to the kids – so when she got my email out of the blue, she immediately responded.  It took us several meetings and logistical challenges to finally get the program started in late September. Then my mother fell sick and I left for India.

We finally got going in October – already over 6 weeks behind most teams.  Working with these kids was a completely new experience.  Most had not even touched Lego pieces before.  Every step of the way had logistical issues – from a space to meet, to bussing issues to arranging a computer and so on.  It was difficult to get a consistent group of kids showing up each meeting and thus there was no continuity – but that was all ok, our expectations for the first year was just to give them exposure.

In November, I found myself back in India.  When I was away, we had to cancel meetings as there was no one else to coach.  In December my mother passed away. It was an extremely difficult time for me and I considered stopping the program entirely, but in the memory of my mother, who lived a very selfless life, I decided to put my grief aside and continue with the kids when I returned.

Three days later i broke my hand!

With the holidays and the loss of days due to bad weather, we were down to a few days before the competition.  But the kids stepped up to the plate and the administration and teachers rallied around them with more practice sessions and support. Still we were barely prepared as the competition arrived.

Getting any prize at the competition would have been immensely satisfying but to come in 2nd overall was almost unimaginable. The entire season sounds like a feel good Disney movie script – from the challenging beginning to all the things that went wrong to the beautifully improbable end.

Winning this prize at the competition means a lot more than most people can imagine for the teachers, administrators and most of all for the students of Toby Farms.  They rarely get such achievements to celebrate. It gives a sense of hope and confidence to these kids that they too are good enough and smart enough to compete with others. We hope it gives them the encouragement and excitement to remain inquisitive and try new things.  The entire school is abuzz with excitement right now.

I want to personally thank everyone at PennFLL for giving us the opportunity to participate in the tournament and for their encouragement and support. We look forward to continue to be part of FLL in the City and hopefully give a lot more kids of Toby Farms exposure to this program.


The F Train

A tall, extremely skinny young white man – or should I say kid – walked into the subway train today.  He has had long, unkempt hair all the way down to his waist, dirty black sweats and looked quite ragged. Except he has a small chair in one hand and a half size upright bass , with a bow, in the other.


He proceeded to put his chair in the middle of the car, sit down and start playing  – with a high degree of intensity, head moving from side to side, hair flowing, his boney fingers moving up and down the fret in rapid action.  He was good – not brilliant, but good – and sure enough caught the attention of many passengers.

After a short 3 minute piece, he got up to a round of applause and put out a baseball cap for donations – very politely, remembering to thank each person.  I have never seen so many people immediately give to a subway musician.  He easily cleared $10.   Then he very methodically picked up chair and bass just in time for the next subway stop, bolted out the door, to the next car up.

I started to do some quick calculation.  A subway train usually has 9-10 cars.  Over a 45 min to 1 hour ride, going from one car to the next, playing just one piece each time – he probably cleared an easy $90 – all cash!

Extrapolate that – say he did this just 4 hours a day (he could not do this in the morning and evening rush hours, and probably mid day quiet hours would not be worth it), working a normal work week, that adds up to about $79,000 a year!  All cash – tax free! That is far more than what many of the people that gave him money make.  That is far more than what a really talented musician would make in a real, full time job!

This kid was not some poor, hard on his luck, down and out struggling musician.  This was a well thought out and planned, orchestrated show.  This kid is actually an entrepreneur, who realized by donning the right look, he can play the sympathy card such that he will make more money that just what his talent would suggest.

Absolutely brilliant – I think we really took us all for a ride.  And in full disclosure, I also gave him $1….


P.S. obviously the above is speculative – if he really is a struggling musician trying to make ends meet – I wish him all the best!


Drawing by Shivani Jain, my daughter

Occupy Wall Street

If anything I am a liberal – and although I work in Wall Street, I am the antithesis of a typical Wall Streeter (my kids think I should have been born earlier so I could have been a hippie in the 60’s!)

In spite of this I have found it difficult to support the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy XXXX movement so far.

I saw the protestors a few weeks ago in Zucotti Square, and it was somewhat heartwarming to see a peaceful 60’s style protest with them all camped out, singing, dancing etc.  But what was clear to me was that they really did not have a message.  Even their website as of last week said they have no agenda.

I felt I could hand out a bunch of Save the Whales or Stop the Genocide posters and they would happily take them and start waving them around.

Any protest needs a voice, a medium and a clear message.  They seem to have found their voice and have a powerful medium (Facebook, internet etc) but somewhat lack a clear message.

I just read a list of their demands – and again it is not cohesive with a clear outcome – but more like a jumble of grievances that have been jammed together.   And many make no sense at all.


For example they want open borders so everyone can travel freely and they also want minimum wage set to $20.  How is that going to work?  There will be a mass influx of people into the US and even if the legal minimum wage is $20, the illegal wages will drop like a rock down to $3-$4 an hour.

They want to forgive all mortgage debt, credit card debt, personal loans etc. Why is rewarding individual fiscal irresponsibility a responsible or economic beneficial act? Forgiving all mortgage debt basically means doing away with all real estate lending altogether and home prices will fall by over 80%. The financial system will crash and people will lose their bank deposits en mass.

So to be a credible movement, they need to develop a clear message with achievable solutions and measurable outcomes. If you look at recent movements, like the anti-corruption in India or the protests in the middle-east, they had fairly clear, focused objectives.

However saying all this, there is an interesting change evolving.   Today I have read at least three main street media articles on the movement and in each of these the authors state what the movement is all about.  The authors didn’t actually get this from the protestors, but took the liberty of interpreting what they are seeing and translated this into clear messages. So while a movement normally starts with a purpose, it seems like this one may have started with just a voice and a medium and now their message is being defined elsewhere! This to me is truly fascinating and may actually convert this movement into something with legs – as opposed to something that will disintegrate into nothing.