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Rocker Bono and writer Thomas Friedman were quoted online as revealing the 3 skills that American workers need today. And though I doubt that anyone really knows the secret 3 ingredients in the sauce for workers, I was curious.

Friedman has written several books since he started a mantra with The World Is Flat. That book really kicked up the conversation about how the world is changing at an accelerated speed and that American workers were falling behind and needed to adapt their learning quickly for this shifting marketplace.

That is why they chose being a lifelong learner as one of those skills. He points to AT&T who have partnered with the online course provider Udacity as a way to update the skills of its workforce. The company offers employees about $8,000 per year to take courses. Friedman says this sends employees the message that a lifelong AT&T employee is a lifelong learner.

But professional development is not new. Perhaps the platform for it is new.

The second skill suggested to boost creativity is pausing. This one comes from Bono and his band U2. He says that unlike recording studio machines that on pause halt productivity, humans on pause begin a different kind of productivity through rethinking, reimagining and reflecting.

Clearly, the skills these two believe we need to cultivate are what are considered soft skills. Maybe you would have guessed the skills would include tech skills, like coding, data analytics or AI. Those are things workers can learn in courses and training sessions, but soft business skills are getting more attention lately.

Feedback from employers to colleges are often more about teaching soft skills such as the ability to give and receive feedback, and work collaboratively.

One reason is that machines (computers is too restrictive) are getting smarter and are taking over certain aspects of business, but interpersonal skills is an area that is machine-safe.

Friedman says something that I have not heard before. He claims that one of the first things on a résumé that business leaders evaluate is if applicants were in clubs like 4H or were an Eagle Scout. They find that is a good indicator of a work ethic and soft skills that allow people to grow and adapt with the business.

Bottom Line: Make learning a priority. Upgrade your skills. Increase creativity with an occasional pause. Develop interpersonal and communication skills.


I heard about subliminal messages a long time ago. These are hidden messages in video, audio, still images and music. The word ‘subliminal’ comes from Latin words sub + limen and translates as below + threshold. The threshold here is our subconscious, since these messages supposedly are below our conscious mind and so they are not noticed consciously.

An early study that is always mentioned in these discussions is from 1957. James Vicary played a movie at a drive-in theater and over it he flashed the words “Drink Coca Cola’ and “Eat Popcorn” every 1/3000th of a second. He claimed that Coca Cola sales went up 58% and popcorn sales went up by 18% at the snack bar. But later fact-checking found those results to be faked.

So, are there any real uses of effective subliminal messaging?

amazon subliminal messages

On the Amazon logo, is that arrow connecting A to Z  a subliminal smiley face to suggest a happy experience with their services?

Was the classic Coca-Cola bottle shape meant to resemble a sexy voluptuous woman?

Is that a subliminal (or intentional) arrow between the E and x in the FedEx logo to suggest speed?

I saw online that people have noticed that the science fiction magazine SFX (the abbreviation for special effects) seems to often cover the bottom of the ‘F’ in their SFX logo with a person’s head. Is that a style – or is it a way to subliminally make SFX look like SEX?

It seems that subliminal messages are used for marketing. The other use that I had heard over the years was that supermarkets were inserting subliminal audio messages into the music playing in the store to suggest buying certain products or to not shoplift. They also consider the subliminal messages sent to shoppers by placing the fresh produce and flowers at entrances.

Even if the music playing in a store has no hidden messages, the choice of calm relaxing music or fast-paced louder music has an effect on shoppers.

Is it subliminal to place items that kids like at kid’s eye level?

What about the smell of fresh baking bread or other items in a food store?

It sounds like subliminal messaging is all about marketing. But there are other applications.

NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) which is credited to Richard Bandler and John Grinder which is intended to treat anxiety, depression, phobias, and other behavioral disorders. On the evil side, I also read that some people associate its use with mind control.

Though the use of subliminal messages sound intriguing, I don’t find convincing evidence that it is in broad use, or that it is effective. Yet, I know that the use of colors, shapes, sounds and smells evoke feelings, memories and often have symbolic meanings to many people.

Have you encountered examples of subliminal messaging?  Then, post a comment and tell us about it.

Walpurgis Night

Walpurgis Night at the Heidelberg Thingstätte

Tonight is Walpurgis Night (AKA Saint Walpurgis Night or Eve) which is celebrated on the night of 30 April and the day of 1 May.

It is the eve of the Christian feast day of Saint Walpurga, an 8th-century abbess in Francia, and commemorates her traditional canonization date and the movement of her relics to Eichstätt on 1 May in the year 870.

But the origins of the Christian holiday date back to earlier pagan celebrations of fertility rites and the coming of spring. After the Norse were Christianized, the pagan celebration became combined with the legend of St. Walburga which was a common way to transition pagans to Christianity. It is likely that the shared date allowed people to celebrate both events under church law without fear of reprisal.

Saint Walpurga was believed to have cured the illnesses of many local residents and battled pests, rabies and whooping cough, as well as witchcraft. In Germanic folklore, Hexennacht (Dutch: heksennacht), literally “Witches’ Night”, was believed to be the night of a witches’ meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, a range of wooded hills in central Germany.

Christians prayed to Saint Walpurga for her intercession to protect them from witchcraft. Bonfires on the Eve are meant to ward off evil spirits and witches.

Local variants of Walpurgis Night are observed throughout Europe in the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and Estonia. In Denmark, the tradition of using bonfires to ward off the witches is observed as Saint John’s Eve.

My soundtrack for the Eve is Procol Harum’s “Repent Walpurgis.”

green blue

Schools, both K12 and colleges, have been on spring breaks the past few weeks and maybe some are yet to break. It only took two true spring days in Paradelle for me to feel the sap rising in myself. I went outside and cleaned up around some flowerbeds. I started some flats of seeds. I got the garden hose out of the basement and turned on the water to outside.

The season will slap me with cold nights and frost and maybe even snow again, but it has all been put in motion and there is no turning back.

Spring cleaning is usually more associated with cleaning a house, but we clean out in other places and in other ways too.  Spring cleaning might be more of a ritual in cold winter climes, but it occurs in some way in every culture.

We use the term metaphorically for other kinds of cleaning or organizing activities. I read suggestions to do some tech spring cleaning.

There has been a lot of talk about Facebook, social media and privacy this past month.  One writer was suggesting that we may have too many online friends. He suggested some cleaning and pruning of “friends” that aren’t friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere.

I see the point, but I won’t be doing that. For example, I have a lot of “poetry friends” in these networks. Some are people I know who are real life friends, but more of them are people I have met at a reading or workshop or only know as a name online will likely never meet in person. I see no reason to separate from them.

I have been editing Poets Online since 1998 and have had thousands of poems mailed to me as submissions. I know almost all of these poets only virtually, but some have been sending poems for 20 years. I know them by their poetry and I do feel connected to them.

This is also the season of the spring break. Usually that involves a beach, alcohol and general debauchery, though I also know of students who go on charitable missions, build homes for the poor and do personal pilgrimages.

What are we all taking a break from? The everyday. The madness. Our own overcrowded, overly materialistic days and life. Winter. School. Home. A path we see ourselves on that looks far too certain.

Like that technology spring cleaning, some suggest we take a tech break. Put away the computer, the phone and disconnect. It sounds like it might be renewing. It sounds like it might be painful.

The origin of spring cleaning is not certain. One possibility is the Persian New Year, Nowruz,  which falls on the first day of spring. Iranians have a practice of khooneh tekouni which has an interesting literal translation of “shaking the house.” It is a thorough cleaning done just before the new year, but I like the idea of shaking things up.

That cleaning makes me think of the ancient Jewish practice of thoroughly cleansing the home in anticipation of the springtime festival of Passover. This week-long observance is more than just cleaning the house and involves strict prohibitions in eating or drinking.

The Catholic church thoroughly cleans the church altar and everything associated with it on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, as part of another springtime observance. This religious cleansing is still observed in Greece and other Orthodox nations.

It has been nice the past few days to finally open the windows and “air out” the house.

Stravinsky’s ballet score “Le Sacre du Printemps” is a landmark in music. Its French and Russian (Vesna svyashchennaya) titles translate literally as The Coronation Of Spring, but its English title, “The Rite Of Spring,” is a bit stranger. This translation references a pagan ritual in which a sacrificial virgin dances herself to death. Please, none of you should get that seriously involved in celebrating spring.

We finally got a true spring day today and I sat with my cup of tea outside and it felt great to have the Sun shining on me. Would you be surprised to learn that solar storms can affect your emotional health and consciousness?

Many people feel that the Moon affects them, but a lot of research has pretty much shown that madness during Full Moons, increased suicide rates and other effects are more myth than fact. Still, I have read some of the same claims and research into the Sun’s effect on us.

But there are scientific studies that confirm links between solar activity and our bodies and minds.

When I was working and teaching full-time at New Jersey Institute of Technology, I learned some things about solar flares because the university has the Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research for ground- and space-based solar and terrestrial physics. They particularly have an interest in understanding the effects of the Sun on the geospace environment. That Center operates the Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) and Owens Valley Solar Array (OVSA) in California.

A solar storm or eruption is a massive explosion in the Sun’s atmosphere. It releases a tremendous amount of energy and affects all layers of the solar atmosphere. The numbers are incomprehensible to most of us. Plasma heating to tens of millions of Celsius degrees and accelerating electrons, protons shooting at close to the speed of light are not concepts we can really understand.

Animals and humans have a magnetic field that surrounds them. Earth’s magnetic field protects the planet. Geomagnetic activity seems to have three seasonal peaks and these periods are said to correspond to a higher incidence of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other emotional disorders.

The more obvious effects to point at are how electromagnetic activity of the sun affects our electronic devices. Their effects on the human electromagnetic field and the idea that our body can experience various emotions and changes is a newer theory and more controversial.

Here are some of the physiological effects of coronal mass ejections (CMEs)(which are quite brief) are said to have on us: headaches, palpitations, mood swings, fatigue and general malaise. The pineal gland in our brain is also influenced by the electromagnetic activity, which causes a production of excess melatonin, a hormone that can cause drowsiness.

Might CMEs cause physical sensations because of distortions of energy flow inside the body? Hot and cold sensations, sensations of “electricity” and extreme environmental sensitivity have all been “reported” by people.

But our bodies are said to also have an emotional response to these hidden waves of energy. Some of the claims I have read seem rather extreme, pointing to increases in addiction, health problems, depression, unhealthy relationships, repressed emotions and desires.

I have read a number of articles the past week from “Scientific Evidence that Geomagnetic Storms Are Making You Sick“(much of that research coming from Russia) to more New Age pieces that see solar storms as changing human consciousness.

At this point, I would say these connections are somewhere between science and belief, but are interesting enough to continue researching. Will they cause a shift in our consciousness? The Sun has been shining on Earth a long time and I haven’t seen it happen yet.

I haven’t found a good guide to when to expect these solar storms, but I did find lots of suggestions for how to cope with their effects on us, including: ​salt baths, magnesium supplements, ​drink a lot of pure water, ​meditate more or do stillness, relaxation & breathing exercise, ​gentle exercise, and staying away from negative people. I would recommend all but the first two in that list anyway!





“Blackberry winter” is a new season to me, but this colloquial expression is used in south & midwest North America. It refers to a cold snap that often occurs in late spring when the blackberries are in bloom.

Timing for blackberry blooms varies depending on the weather in your area and the variety. But in the warmer climates (USDA zone 7 and south) blackberries start blooming from mid-April to early May.

blackberry blooms

blackberry blooms

In cooler climates, like Paradelle, blackberries begin to bloom in late May and are not ready to harvest until around mid-July. Though the frost-free date here is May 15, there will be no blackberry winters here. It is more likely that in April our fruit trees, like apples and peaches, will get nipped.

Some people believe that a blackberry winter helps the blackberry canes to start growing.

Another blossom that can get hit with a cold snap in our region is the cherry blossom.

The cherry blossom is a mainstay image of spring in haiku poetry. Japanese cherry blossoms and the tradition of flower gazing, or hanami, has inspired poets for centuries.

Mount Fuji seen through cherry blossoms

Mount Fuji seen through cherry blossoms

cherry blossoms scatter–
snap! the buck’s antlers
come off

without regret
they fall and scatter…
cherry blossoms
~ Issa

Very brief –
Gleam of blossoms in the treetops
On a moonlit night.

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms
~ Basho

Drinking up the clouds
it spews out cherry blossoms –
Yoshino Mountain.

Petals falling
unable to resist
the moonlight
~ Buson

Cherry blossoms at Branch Brook Park, NJ

Washington D.C. is famous for the thousands of cherry trees sent there as a gift from Japan before the World Wars as a gesture of friendship. It is far less well known that Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey has more cherry trees than Washington D.C.

But if you are in that warmer climate and you get a late cold snap so that a little “winter” hits during spring,  you have “blackberry winter,” although there are other names for this weather anomaly: “dogwood winter,” “whippoorwill winter,” “locust winter,” and “redbud winter” are all variations.

As with the different nature-oriented names for the Full Moons that are based on locations, these names are based on what is blooming in regions during the typical spring cold snaps.

In rural England, this is called “blackthorn winter”because the blackthorn in hedgerows blossoms in early April. In Finland, this is a common occurrence in April or May. They call it takatalvi, meaning “back winter.”

Last weekend was Palm Sunday.  This week is usually a time of the year when my mind blooms. I wrote this a few years ago.

Palm Sunday

Moveable feast this Passover and Easter week.
No palms here but crocuses, wood hyacinths,
jonquils, cherry blossoms, a first bee buzzing.
Yew Sunday, Branch Sunday, triumph and victory
contained in a seed, bud, pollen, flower.

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