A review of Solo: A Star Wars Story

I’ve written and co-written numerous movie reviews on my blog, and I’m a firm believer in the power of movies to inspire an interest in the sciences as they did for me – particularly Science Fiction films. Growing up with the Star Wars franchise, and its original storyline and cast, I wanted to write a short review of latest installment of the franchise; Solo: A Star Wars Story directed by Ron Howard. This latest Star Wars adventure starred: Aden Ehrenriech, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, and Paul Bettany. Thandi Newton also had a short role. Please be advised that if you haven’t seen the movie yet, this may contain a spoiler or two.

Overall I was pleased with Solo: A Star Wars Story. Similar to Rogue One, I thought it delivered and stayed true to George Lucas’s original ideas and creations. In my opinion, the new movies by Zach Snyder have gotten too far away from the original movies and the swashbuckling, action-adventures they’re supposed to be. The Star Wars films are supposed to be balanced in terms of any serious themes and the overall adventure. The original trilogy for example showed us the growth of Luke Skywalker, and his transition to manhood from innocence with the guidance of two mentors; Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Yoda. Along the way he learns who he really is, his family’s legacy and whether or not to follow his father’s dark path. It was simple and it worked – no social messages, no ideology or anything.

Solo was similar to Rogue One where the intent was to simply tell the back stories leading up to the original trilogy. I thought Aden Ehrenreich played a younger version of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo pretty well, and I have no complaints there. The story showed us the origins of Han Solo as a young man, his love interest prior to Princess Leia, how he met up with Chewbacca, and finally how he became immersed in the life of a mercenary which he is mentored into by Woody Harrelson’s character Beckett.

Going in I was really intrigued to see Donald Glover play Lando Calrissian who was originally played by Billy Dee Williams’s starting in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. In Episode V, we initially weren’t sure whether or not to trust the charismatic and suave Lando Calrissian as he seemed to betray: Han, Leia, Chewie and C3-P0, though he ultimately turned out to be an ally. We also heard in The Empire Strikes Back that Han won the Millennium Falcon from Lando through gambling. I was looking to get those stories filled in and they were. Solo: A Star Wars Story further showed us an earlier version of the Millennium Falcon and how the ship was modified in the original series. I won’t give it away, but if you look at the original series, you can see subtle structural differences in the ship.

We also got some new stuff too such as Emilia Clarke’s character Kira. I have to admit that I am a huge fan of Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones. This might be a spoiler for some, but towards the end of the film, an additional thread was introduced where Kira seemed to have formed an alliance with what looked like Darth Maul from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace which was a little confusing to me continuity-wise as Darth Maul technically died before the creation of the Galactic Empire. The film also gives hints that Han and Chewbacca are going to eventually meet up with a certain gangster on the planet of Tatoine. I’ll close by saying that I was surprised to see Paul Bettany’s play a villain as I’m used to seeing him play Vision in Marvel’s Avengers, and also that the special effects were very impressive – particularly the scenes where Han and his companions travel to and from the mining colony which is buried deep within the nebula whose name escapes me.

Thank you for taking the time to read this review. If you enjoyed this one, you may also enjoy:

A review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
A review of Marvel’s Avengers Infinity War
A review of Marvel’s Black Panther
A review of Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok
A review of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming
A review of Marvel’s Dr. Strange
A review of DC’s Justice League
A review of Bladerunner 2049

If you enjoyed this review, please do click the like button, leave comments, and share it. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. My Twitter handle is @BWArePowerful, and you can also follow me at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

My personal experience With Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball Revisited

“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” – Proverbs 22:7

One of the principles of my blog is the “Teaching of Wealth Building and Financial Literacy”. A key component of Financial Literacy is understanding debt – specifically what happens when you carry too much of it. I painfully learned what it’s like to carry exorbitant amounts of debt – a place I hope never to return to. The featured image of this post is the exact same American Express Gold Charge Card which was a critical piece in my debt journey. The image of it will always hold a special significance for me – a reminder of what not to do.

My Inspiration For Writing This Piece

I got out of debt because some friends graciously shared Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” with me. While there are supporters of Financial Peace University and Dave’s “Debt Snowball”, I found that there are also detractors and critics. I wrote the following piece on the Examiner in early 2016 after someone else wrote an article about why she quit her Debt Snowball. I didn’t write this to rebut the author in a confrontational way or to discard her experience altogether, but instead to share an alternative perspective. By the way, to read about how to prolong your Debt Snowball, see my Mother’s Day 2017 blog post.

Giving Up On Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball

Over the holiday season, an article appeared on my Twitter feed from another passionate Financial Literacy writer (there are many) entitled, “Why I Gave Up on Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball”. Being a coordinator within the Financial Peace University ministry at the Alfred Street Baptist Church, and also in the final stages of my own Debt snowball, the article resonated with me and prompted the crafting of this piece. This piece won’t refute Jennifer Calonia’s experience, but will actually agree with some of her points and discuss my own experiences.

Starting To Accumulate Debt

No one plans to go into crippling financial debt which usually occurs because of a lack of Financial Literacy; living above one’s means, or something else such as today’s soaring costs of higher education. Many people don’t understand what they’re doing and the long-term ramifications as was in my case. Roughly nine years were spent completing my Ph.D. and then the two and a half years of subsequent training – all on a taxable graduate stipend which ranged from $17,000-$22,000, and then a postdoctoral salary of $37,000. During that time, my expenses often exceeded my income for a number reasons. My old Saturn SL2 was bought with my father’s credit card. It was maintained using another credit card whose balance eventually ballooned to $8,500 (just paid off this month). An unhealthy relationship or two also contributed to the bonanza.

Going Deeper Into Debt

After starting my first real job in the federal government, my debt swelled at least two to three times due to wanting to learn to invest in real estate, and wanting to do too much too soon money-wise. It was a good idea but the trainings came at a steep price which in hindsight could’ve been obtained for less money. Those who gave those particular trainings dangerously encouraged us as students who didn’t have tens of thousands of dollars saved up, to use our credit cards, under the assumption that the costs of the classes would get paid off relatively easily once we got some real estate deals done (to be covered in depth in a later piece).

Finding A Way Out

After accumulating my mound of debt, my life was blessed when two friends (from the same real estate trainings) discovered and shared Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU). Just briefly, four of the key components of FPU – the cornerstones of Dave’s “Baby Steps” include:

• Saving an Emergency Fund – one month and then four to six months
• Learning how to budget
• Using cash instead of credit cards and debit cards
The Debt Snowball

The Debt Snowball is a strategy for eliminating debt. The individual lines up all of their debts smallest to largest, steadily paying them off one by one using the money from each paid off debt on the next one, steadily increasing the size of the payments on the larger ones until everything is paid off using “Gazelle Intensity” as Dave Ramsey calls it. Dave Ramsey uses the parable of the Gazelle who represents consumers who are preyed upon by the Cheetahs who represent credit card companies, banks and marketers.

The Debt Snowball Takes Determination And Work

Jennifer Calonia’s points are honestly all valid. My own Debt Snowball has taken two to three difficult years (and that’s without children), and it is easy to feel like quitting. Life continues to happen not just to you, but those around you – some of whom aren’t making good financial decisions and ultimately need your help – often unexpectedly. There is also the pull to do what others are doing – taking lavish vacations and acquiring luxury items for example. Finally, because you’re living on a fixed income when doing the debt snowball, some people may conclude that you’re “strapped” for cash which can be hurtful if you’re sensitive to the words of others.

These are all reasons why Ramsey discusses prayer when pursuing this effort (if that’s in your value system of course). From experience, when doing the Debt Snowball, one has to know that there are times when this financial plan can and must be altered temporarily – the holiday season for example. Furthermore, periodic rewards are realistically a good idea too (within reason). In other words, if you’re doing the Debt Snowball, you have to allow yourself some fun, or else you’ll stop it and never go back.

Other Ways To Pay Down Debt

Much to my surprise, Dave Ramsey does have his detractors and critics as does every author/speaker/guru. There is for example a second method to paying down debts which involves paying down the highest interest rate obligations first. Some consider this more financially intelligent than the debt snowball which is powerful because of the ‘emotional’ effect of seeing the debts go away.

Closing Thoughts

“We’re going to live like no one else, so later we can live like no one else,” Ramsey says frequently during frequently during Financial Peace University meaning that some sacrifices are initially involved, for greater gains and a comfortable life later on. Money is an emotional topic and as with most things, everyone has to make the best decisions for their own lives. Being on the cusp of completing my own debt snowball, it admittedly wasn’t easy, but if one can find a way to stick to it, it does work.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed this one, you might also enjoy:

Chris Brown discusses true stewardship and financial peace
Your gross net worth, your gross salary and what they mean
The difference between being cheap and frugal
Mother’s Day 2017: One of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged, and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff
Father’s Day 2017: Reflections on some of Dad’s money and life lessons
We should’ve bought Facebook and Bitcoin stock: An investing and technology story
Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in class, household income, wealth and privilege

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. Please visit me on one or all of my channels on YouTube. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Tableau hosts discussion on educating in a data driven world revisited

Shortly before the Examiner closed its operations in 2016, I was invited to write a story on a symposium hosted by the company Tableau regarding the increasing role of data and analytics in education. During my doctoral and postdoctoral research in Pharmacology and Toxicology, I experienced firsthand the importance generating quality data and statistical analyses, though I didn’t realize that data and analytics was literally its own field. It turned out that there was a whole data and analytics community/world, with companies like Tableau creating software for quality data analyses and interpretation. Likewise there are whole careers in data and analytics, and these professionals are critical components of Academia, and the Public and Private Sectors.

* * *

On June 9, 2016 Tableau hosted a symposium in Washington DC titled; “Educating in a Data Driven World”. The symposium took place at Washington DC’s St. Regis Hotel and featured a panel of experts from the United States’ leading institutions of higher education. Among them were:

• Mike Galbreth, Associate Professor of Management Science, University of South Carolina
• Danial Lopresti, Professor and Chair of Departmen3t of Computer Science and Engineering, Director of Data X Initiative, Lehigh University
• Cheryl Phillips, Hearst Professional in Residence, Stanford University
• Vijay Khatri, Associate Professor of Information systems, Arthur M. Weimer Faculty Fellow, Co-Director, Kelley Institute for Business Analytics, Indiana University
• Jana Schaich Borg, Postdoctoral Associate, Duke University
• Jon Schwabish, Adjunct Professor in the McCourt School of Public Policy and the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, Lecturer at the Maryland Institute of College of Art

The Moderator of the panel discussion was Ben Jones, Director of Tableau Public. The panel discussion revolved around the state of analytics education and how higher education is responding to the increased demand for analytics skills in the workplace; a topic all in itself which impacts pretty much every sector and discipline; Politics, Humanities, Business and lastly Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Specific topics discussed were: Issues pertaining to data literacy, how students can be better educated to increase their data literacy, the importance of communication and soft skills for data professionals, and the common traits of individuals interested in analytics.

“Just like there are a lot of programs to help young girls get into STEM fields, we think that it’s important that we help educate our students to be successful in an increasingly data driven world. We have academic curricula for teachers to help them get started with Tableau in the classroom. We do whatever we can to help close the skills gap,” said Tableau for Teaching Manager Emma Trifari. Tableau’s motivation for hosting the panel was the understanding that there is a huge skills gap in the data world, and in order to fill that gap, data literacy needs to start from the beginning.

Tableau’s software is used to simplify data analysis. Currently enrolled students around the world are eligible to receive free one-year licenses of Tableau Desktop through Tableau for Students. Instructors and their students are also eligible to receive free licenses of Tableau Desktop through the Tableau for Teaching program.

For more information on Tableau’s Academic programs, go to: tableau.com/academic.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed this one, you might also enjoy:

We should’ve bough Facebook and Bitcoin Stock: An investing and technology story
A look at STEM: Blockchain technology, a new way of conducting business and record keeping
A Cryptocurrency App Case Study
Why SEO really is the key to a successful online business
The Best Apps for Crypto Investment
Who will have the skills to benefit from Apple’s $350 billion investment?

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

The transferrable skills from a doctoral degree in the basic sciences

I originally published this piece in The Edvocate in the summer of 2015 under a slightly different title. When I set out to earn my Ph.D. in Pharmacology, I wasn’t clear on what I was supposed to be getting from my doctoral research besides the degree itself, and hopefully a job at the end of it all. It turned out that in addition to the expertise gained in my thesis project, there were several other important skills that the University of Michigan’s Department of Pharmacology sought to instill in me and my classmates.

These skills – some of which took time and effort to learn are actually very critical in any of the “Biomedical” sciences that I’ve recently written about: Pharmacology, Toxicology, ADME/Drug Metabolism and Inhalation Toxicology, and others. They’re further critical in any of the ‘Basic’ research sciences.  All Ph.D.s are not the same, nor are all Ph.D. programs the same and you may have learned some or all of these skills in yours. The following piece discusses the transferrable skills scientists in the Basic research sciences receive during their training which are very valuable in: Academia, and both the Public and Private sectors.

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July 8, 2015 marked the ten year anniversary of the earning of my Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy degree) in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan. It was a tremendous accomplishment educationally and scientifically for a kid from Buffalo’s eastside. Coming from my community, it had far reaching effects and implications socially that I didn’t understand at the time.

On June 2, 2015, the University of Michigan’s Department of Pharmacology hosted its annual Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Career Day. The event was designed to expose the department’s current students, to the multiple career options available to them following their doctoral and masters level trainings. As a key component of the day, select alumni (myself included) were invited back and asked to discuss their careers and share their experiences.

Going back to Ann Arbor is always like going home. Six of my most of the most meaningful years were spent there learning about science and life. My graduate advisor for example taught me lasting lessons not only about pharmacological research, but also how to be a professional and how to survive in this world. In a lot of ways, he was like a second father.

While I experienced tremendous growth during graduate school earning my degree, some of the most meaningful lessons about my doctoral degree itself took place after leaving Ann Arbor. College towns like Ann Arbor are unique in that the University is a major part of the town’s culture, and as such there is an unusually high concentration of highly educated individuals there. Needless to say every place isn’t like that, and you don’t realize it until you leave.

Once I left, I discovered that my degree touched people in many different ways. I actually wrote a ten part series for the Examiner titled “Pursing a Ph.D”. One part of the series was dedicated to the social implications of the degree, specifically some of my biological father’s words of wisdom.

“I wouldn’t tell people that you’re a doctor when you first meet them. They’re going to expect you to have certain things and look a certain way.” Upon moving to Albany, NY for my Postdoctoral fellowship, my father gave me this stern recommendation. I didn’t understand why he was encouraging me to keep my great accomplishment a secret, but to make a long story short, he was afraid of other people’s expectations, and there was some validity to his fears.

Our society associates the title of doctor with wealth, no matter what kind of doctor the person is. The late Dr. Thomas Stanley, author of the Millionaire Next Door series discussed in his books that being a high-income professional, and the accumulation of wealth don’t directly correlate. Wealth building involves: sound money management skills, financial literacy, and in some cases delayed gratification – components that not all doctors have.

“I wasn’t aware of Dr. Dunbar’s level of education when I met him so I was unable to address him by his proper title,” said a teacher at a Career Day at a local elementary school in late May. I casually revealed to the class that I earned a Ph.D. but didn’t introduce myself as “Dr. Dunbar”. As best I could, I tried to humbly explain to her class of sixth graders that success, in this case earning a doctorate, is a door that swings both ways.

That is, some people will instinctually be happy for you, celebrate your success and look at you with reverence, while others will unfortunately feel threatened and insecure about it and behave as such. This can be relatives, friends, significant others, coworkers, etc. There are numerous stories I could tell about this both good and bad, but there isn’t enough room in this piece.

In any case let’s circle back to the University of Michigan’s Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Career Day. What does having a doctorate in the basic sciences actually mean, and what does it actually empower one to do particularly in the sciences? As the lone government Regulatory Scientist at the Career Day, I interestingly drew the first time slot for the morning speakers.

I had no idea what my peers were going to talk about, but surprisingly most of our talks shared similar core themes. Each of us in our own way, communicated that in addition to becoming experts of our thesis projects, in my case the “Ubiquitination and Proteasomal Degradation of Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase”, there were a host of other skills that we had all learned that were applicable to our current careers and other areas, particularly the Public and Private sectors. Among them were:

• Critical thinking/Problem solving skills
• The ability to multi-task, organize and coordinate multiple projects at one time
• The ability to write clearly
• The ability to speak and present clearly
• The ability to work on teams
• The ability to adapt and understand new systems

My classmates had all gone on to do some very impressive things. Each of us worked on research projects in the areas of: Cardiovascular Pharmacology, Receptor Pharmacology, and Drug Metabolism, just to name a few. However after graduation, not everyone had taken the traditional path of becoming tenure-track academic researchers.

Some had gone on to: work in the pharmaceutical industry, start their own companies, become consultants, become academic professors or administrators (at small teaching colleges), or science advocates. Our varying careers spoke in part to our department’s openness to prepare its students for the potential for other careers, in addition to the versatility of the skills that we had acquired. See my Pharmacology blog post to get a feel for just how vast the field is.

In summary, earning any doctorate whether it be in the sciences or the humanities is a tremendous accomplishment. That being said, it’s what one does with the skills they’ve acquired during their thesis research that makes them great, not the degree itself. In the sciences, in addition to mastery of one’s area of expertise there a core set of skills learned. And it is these skills that make that person exceptional no matter which field they go into.

I’m going to end this differently than the original piece by saying that with a simple Google search, the publications I proudly generated during my research days I believe are all still available online for those curious individuals. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy:

A look at STEM: What is Inhalation Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?
A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is ADME/Drug Metabolism?
A look at STEM: Blockchain technology, a new way of conducting business and record keeping

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part four: Life, success and failure

This article was originally the conclusion of the series titled the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. As described in the opening piece, I’m working on a larger writing project regarding my high school basketball experience and what it taught me about: life, success, and failure. As I’m working on finalizing that project, more ideas are coming to me and so I may add to this series from time to time. Part four discusses some of the valuable lessons basketball taught me about how to be successful in life.  As with all of the posts in this series, this one also falls under my blog’s principle of “Creating Ecosystems of Success”.

* * *

Basketball taught me that no matter what you set out to do, it helps to have a mentor who is experienced in your craft of interest. Someone who has been there already, knows all of the tricks of the trade, and the potential pitfalls, and can help guide you in the best possible way towards your goal is invaluable.

“Sometimes kids have to realize when a coach is trying to help them,” Coach Larry Brown said during his unsuccessful stint coaching Carmelo Anthony, Allen IversonStephon Marbury, and some of the other younger NBA stars on the 2004 Men’s Olympic Basketball Team. “Kids have to understand the difference between coaching and criticism. There is a big difference.”

One of the most important lessons basketball taught me is that when someone says something to you that may at first seem unpleasant or like they’re attacking you, it’s important to try to figure out where their words are coming from. Are they coming from a place of hurt? Are they coming from a place of genuine concern? Are they coming from a place of trying to help? Trying to figure out where people are coming from, and avoiding ‘Knee Jerk’ reactions can often save a lot of trouble later on for all parties involved. It can also lead to major successes and breakthroughs.

Basketball taught me that you have to know the leaders of your craft. On the court, you have to know who to model your game after to improve your own game. In other arenas you have to know who the leaders of your field are and how they got there. In graduate school, my thesis advisor stayed on me about knowing what was new in our field because it impacted our own research projects – it helped us not to, “reinvent the wheel,” as they say.

Basketball taught me that sometimes you have to lose before you can win. This is a hard concept to fathom, especially when the losing is taking place. In life, however, it’s often important to learn what not to do just as it’s important to learn what to do in key situations. Furthermore, there are usually very important lessons in every loss.

Basketball taught me that there are times in life when you have to go your own way, and leave certain people behind in order to achieve your goal. Examples are friends and relatives who don’t share your interests who can sometimes hold you back from achieving your goal. In other instances, they haven’t been to where you’re trying to go, and may hinder your getting there.

It likewise helps to associate with those who share your interests, and are trying to go where you want to go. If you’re going to be a good basketball player for example, you have to hang around with other basketball players. The same thing goes for learning to invest money, learning how to write, learning how to Salsa dance, pursuing higher education, etc.

In my playing days, it was often stressed to us that, “the game is 95% mental and 5% physical.” This relates to one of the biggest lessons that basketball taught me which is that whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, you not only have to be focused on your goal, but you also have to be mentally strong, as there will likely be unexpected obstacles to whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.

Just as on the basketball court, on the way to achieving your goals in the game of life, not only will you have to put in the work to master your craft, but you’ll also have to endure negative people or dream killers – sometimes the people closest to you telling you, “you can’t,” or, “you won’t,” or, “you’re not” – all disempowering words, but comments you’ll face when setting out to accomplish something of value. Many successful people derive motivation from disempowering words and naysayers, while unsuccessful people buckle and fold under such criticisms and doubts. With this being a basketball-themed post, Michael Jordan is probably the best example of this as his critics and doubters regularly served as his main motivators as he memorably described at his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“Your attitude determines your altitude,” my high school basketball coach Ken Jones told us regularly. In translation, your approach to a given situation will impact the outcome of that situation. We were fortunate that in addition to trying to lead us to victories, Coach Jones also wanted to develop us into the best people we could be. Likewise, in whichever activity a young person is involved in, the life skills taught are just as important as that particular activity.

This article will be continued in part four of the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one: An introduction
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part two: Life lessons
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part three: People, teamwork, mental toughness and leadership
Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional basketball careers and coaching
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

A review of Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War

While my blog has distinct areas of focus and associated principles, I like to leave room for movie reviews. As stated in my bio, I have a love for Science Fiction and Super Hero movies going back to childhood. This review will thus focus on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) much anticipated Avengers: Infinity War which assembles the majority of the Marvel Comics characters brought to life on the movie screen including: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, Black Panther, and others. The exceptions are Antman and Hawkeye which weren’t in Avengers: Infinity War Part One.

I’m going to try to write this review up without any spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen the Avengers Infinity War Part yet, and I’ll facetiously start by telling James Cameron to eat his heart out. Leading up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War Part One, the legendary director of: The Terminator, Aliens, Titanic and Avatar, voiced his hope that movie goers eventually get ‘Avengers Fatigue’. I’m going to rebut Mr. Cameron by saying that I hope that we don’t get Avengers Fatigue. I’m personally having a lot of fun with the MCU’s movies, their characters, and the actors who are playing them – a run that I hope goes on for quite some time.

Now in terms of Avengers: Infinity War Part, after seeing it twice, I’m going to do something different and focus on the movie’s villain; Thanos played by Josh Brolin. What’s fascinating about Thanos and pretty much all of the MCU’s villains is that they aren’t evil simply for the sake of being evil. There is a level of sophistication and complexity to all of them which just happen to make them the enemies of the protagonists.

Similar to Killmonger in Black Panther, while we know Thanos’s quest to obtain all six of the “Infinity Stones” is what our heroes want to stop, in a way his motivations are noble and visionary. Talk show host Tommy Sotomayor actually pointed out that the “balance” Thanos is looking to achieve in the movie has real world implications – that is it’s speculated that world leaders and governments actually do ponder population density control – something that’s in a way very scary.

While I’m still on villains, for laughs I recommend any curious readers go lookup the “How It Should Have Ended” (HISHE) series on YouTube which parodies all of the Super Hero/Science Fiction movies and gives them alternate endings. The producers actually created a spinoff called the “Villain Pub” where all of the famous villains from numerous movie franchises socialize and conspire including: Thanos, Emperor Palpatine, the Predator, the Alien, the Joker, and Voldomort, among others. All of HISHE’s parodies are very, very funny, and they recently created one for Black Panther.

Overall, I was pleased with Avengers: Infinity War – the culmination of all of the MCU’s films starting 10 years ago as shown to us in the “Marvel Studios” logo at the beginning of the film. One thing that occurred to me after Avengers: Age of Ultron was that something particularly heinous might happen to Vision who up until this movie wears one of the Infinity Stones on his forehead, so I was on the lookout for that particular thread which does factor heavily into the plotline. There were also numerous other elements which surprised me.

I expected to see Steve Rogers and Tony Stark reunite and find some sort of closure following Captain America: Civil War – particularly after learning that Tony made a new prototype shield for Captain America in Spider-Man: Homecoming. With Thor, Thanos, and the Guardians of the Galaxy all being from other worlds, this movie allowed the writers to not only leave the planet earth, but also break the teams up that we were used to seeing, and then putting unfamiliar characters together side by side – something that actually worked quite well.

Based upon what I saw in the trailer for the movie, I was fooled by what actually played out on the screen. In the trailer for example, there is a scene where multiple Avengers are in Wakanda, and are sprinting (and flying) towards the screen most likely against Thanos and his minions. In the back we can see the Hulk as a part of the attack – something which he didn’t do a lot of in Avengers: Infinity War. This was either a deleted scene or, it’s a scene that will appear in Avengers: Infinity War Part Two.

In terms of the next film, I’m not sure what to expect which is cool. While Thanos’s goal is alluded to throughout the movie, the ending does take you by surprise in an ominous sort of way – at least it did me, in addition to its “Easter Egg”. In addition to a new character that was hinted at in the Easter Egg, I suspect we’ll see Hawkeye, and the Antman and the Wasp in the next Avengers: Infinity War Part Two.

Thank you for taking the time to read this review. If you enjoyed this one, you may also enjoy:

A review of Marvel’s Black Panther
A review of Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok
A review of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming
A review of Marvel’s Dr. Strange
A review of DC’s Justice League
A review of Bladerunner 2049
A review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

If you enjoyed this review, please do click the like button, leave comments, and share it. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Please visit my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. My Twitter handle is @BWArePowerful, and you can also follow me at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Shaka G. Brown discusses Salsa, and the Capital Congress Latin Dance Festival part two

This article is part two of the interview with Shaka Gonzalez Brown in honor of the Capital Congress Latin Dance Festival. Part one of the interview discussed Shaka’s: background, the golden age of Washington DC’s Salsa scene, and some of the inspirations for his own social dancing style. Part two will discuss: the current state of salsa, the rise of other Latin dance styles, and the Capital Congress. The pictures used in this post were once again graciously shared by Shaka himself.

Anwar Dunbar: When I started dancing in 2002, Salsa reigned supreme, but then around 2007, Bachata ascended, and then Kizobma and Zouk.

Shaka Gonzalez Brown: They just kept coming up with things to take over from salsa (laughing).

AD: Yes, so you had these other universes coming up. How are things now? You started teaching some Kizomba yourself right? What is the state or balance now of the Latin dances?

SGB: How things now? Well, Salsa used to be the main dish. I was talking to a buddy and he said, ‘Salsa is my steak, and the Bachata is like some mashed potatoes, and one of the other dances might be like some vegetables, but I have to have my steak you know?’

So that was the case for a long time. Bachata and Kizomba are easier dances, so it’s easier to reach the masses. To dance Salsa, it sounds weird to say this – it can be hard and it can be really discouraging for someone. So you have a personality type that wants to learn it, and is going to go into something that’s hard, and they really don’t care about it being discouraging because they have a bigger goal. But there are other people who say, ‘I just want to have fun, and salsa is too complicated.’

So in terms of dealing with that, the instructors, the teachers, and the artists are the ones who have a big responsibility in terms of making it fun as people are on the path, because if you’re discouraging someone who is just starting out, they’re going to find something else to do where they feel more welcome. It’s important to let people know that, ‘You know you’re at this point now, but there’s something to enjoy about being at this point, and we’re going to be with you all of the way whether you’re an advanced dancer or just a beginner.’

I’ve seen this – the schools and the instructors that are able to build the best scenes are the ones who are open and welcome. If you look at folks like Ismael Otero of Caribbean Soul, he’ll have dancers who come in who know nothing from their first day of class, but they know they like the environment and they know they like hanging out with him. As long as you hang out with somebody you’re going to pick up their habits, and you’re going to pick up their touches.

So as the student you say okay, ‘This group of people, I’m going to dance with everybody, they’re friendly and they might be good and they might not be that good, they’re just learning but they’re all a group,’ and that’s what people want to be a part of. They want to be a part of something, so with the Bachata and the Kizomba, the basic steps are pretty simple so there’s not a big range in terms of this person has been doing this for one month, and this person has been doing this for six months.

That six month person can easily dance with that one month person, and still make them feel like they’re doing something, whereas the Salsa can be so exclusive, because as you mentioned, you can get to the social or party and say, ‘I want to dance with the person who has been dancing for five years,’ but they’re going to be so much better than the person who has only been doing it for two weeks, and that two week person could be standing there like, ‘Okay I just spent my money, dressed up, came out and now I’m just standing here not doing anything.’ Then they can go to the Bachata room and someone will grab them and say, ‘Oh you’ve been dancing for two weeks? You’re fine,’ and then they’ll be dancing all night. So it’s how that system is managed that’s really going to determine what happens with the Salsa scene, because people have more options now.

AD: I experienced that firsthand when I moved to Albany (the Capital Region Salsa Social). I did some low level teaching and tried a little bit of DJing as well; both more challenging at times than they look. I wanted to bring Salsa to the area the way that you guys did it, and it just didn’t take. Likewise I witnessed a bunch of people gravitate towards Bachata, and then Kizomba. I just didn’t understand what was going on at the time but you’re right. It’s a very interesting phenomenon.

SGB: And because folks are on different paths sometimes, even when a person says, ‘I want to be a DJ,’ they may want to DJ because they have music that they like. I was talking with Lorenzo Haire (DJ Renzo), and we talked about how there is a difference between a DJ and music collector. A music collector is going to have music that they like, so they’ll say, ‘I’m going to play something that I like and hope that you’ll like it,’ whereas a DJ will ask, ‘What is it that I can do with this crowd?’

Renzo said the same thing. He said, ‘I don’t make up playlists. I get to the venue, start playing a song, and see how it works. If that works then I’ll work with that, but you don’t come with a full playlist of everything you’re going to play regardless of the people that are there.’ So when you have someone who says, ‘This is the music that I like, and you guys need to like it as well, and this is the only thing I’m going to play for you,’ it can turn people off. Some people might want to hear some Salsa Romantica, some Marc Anthony, some Bachata – do something to draw me in not push me away.

AD: That’s right and I was guilty of that. People definitely have different palates in terms of music and it’s a lot like eating a meal.

So Shaka on that same vein, when I first started dancing in Detroit (the YA Social), I didn’t organize any of the events, so I was unaware of what goes into: starting socials, coordinating with other studios, and building up relationships with other instructors, and I was oblivious to all of the behind the scenes stuff. I got a lot of exposure to that when I moved to Albany where I saw the politics that go on, the business side of dancing, the rivalries, and all of those unpleasant things. Describe your transition from being a student, to an instructor/performer, to a promoter.

SGB: Everything is a transition and an adjustment – like when you go from being the guy who goes out and dances to the guy who teaches, people will look at you through a different lens. There are folks I know who I see when I go out, and we chat it up each time we’re at a party. Our relationship is seeing them at the club and they have fun when they’re dancing. But if they tell me, ‘Oh I’m teaching over here, here, and here now,’ now I’m thinking, ‘Whoa wait a minute what’s your goal there?’ Now I just don’t look at you and see how you dance, but technically how you dance.

Are you just having fun? Do you know what you’re doing? Are you able to communicate that to people and teach that? I don’t want to say you look at the person as less, but you are way more critical of what they’re doing and if they haven’t taken that into account, then that can be a turnoff for me, just like if I was to suddenly promote myself as a Salsa DJ. I mean I’ve been in this thing for 15-16 years, but I know that I am not a DJ. If I tell people I’m a DJ, the DJs I respect are going to hold me to the flame. If you’re a DJ, can you handle this situation? Can you handle that situation? And I realize, no I can’t handle that situation so why am I calling myself a DJ?

So it’s the same thing with being a promoter. I’m much more of a dancer than I am a promoter because when I see folks actually promoting, I think, ‘I should be doing that.’ They’re the ones handing out flyers and talking to people, pushing people and just constantly promoting, and promoting and promoting. That’s the job of a promoter and so on. Each time you want to wear a new hat, you want to make sure you’re willing to go through what it takes to be that, or else you’re not being fair to yourself.

AD: So sometimes you have dancers who say, ‘I want to teach. I want to start a school. I want to host my own event.’ The short version of it all is that there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes when you transition from social dancing to the promoting, and the event organizing.

SGB: Every single one of those aspects is a very separate job, and you don’t need to be the do all person. If you’re just good at one particular thing, that’s going to rise. If I try to do everything and say, ‘Oh I can teach. I can promote. I can DJ. I can create flyers. I make my own t-shirts and I can bake cookies,’ then it’s like, okay which one of these things are you really going to do? If you’re average at everything and not doing one thing well, then you’re just that; average. You want to be great at something.

AD: So now Shaka, talk about the Capital Congress.

SGB: We started it in 2005 and it came out of a house party we used to do back in 2002 and 2003. We had a big apartment, my friend Dupree and I, with wood floors, and we said, ‘Why don’t we do a house party?’ I was much more of a promoter then because I would send out these long emails. They were funny and they were dramatic. It was just me trying to get people to come to the party. We must have done about six of these parties and we had people flying in from Chicago, coming from North Carolina, coming in from New York, just for these house parties. And so a promoter, my buddy the late David Melendez saw what I was doing with these parties and said that he wanted to do a Salsa Congress in DC. And so I told him, ‘I’m not a promoter,’ and he said, ‘No just do what you normally do,’ and that’s what we did for the Salsa Congress.

That started in 2005, and David passed away in 2007 and I continued doing the event since then. First when I moved out to Portugal and to Miami, it was like a homecoming. For me each year I was like, okay I’m coming back and doing this event which is an opportunity for everyone to be under one roof and of all different skill levels, and all different dance types, and to have access and to be able to learn from the best instructors in the world because they’re all there, and they’re available to interact. I think it’s like you mentioned, it’s important for the instructors to be available so a beginner can come up to them and have the same chance to get a dance as the most advanced dancer. Also the best instructors I know like teaching beginning classes because sometimes we think that the best instructors are going to be teaching the advanced classes.

Sometimes as an advanced dancer, you know how to get the concepts a person is trying to teach whether they’re teaching it well or not. But it’s to the beginner dancers whom you say, ‘Okay let me show you the most important aspects of what you’re doing,’ and getting that guidance from one of the top five dancers in the world, who will say, ‘Let me show you guys two things that if you get these, you’ll be able expand yourselves and take your dance to new level,’ instead of saying, ‘Oh these are the beginners. Let anybody teach them. All we’re going to do is walk back and forth and do right turns.’

There are so many ways you can grow a scene by having the right people – by having that right fertilizer for it. For me that’s what the Congress is. I know it goes well when I can put everybody in the room and just leave and know that folks are going to have a good time and that there’s not going to be any weird drama. There’s not going to be people turning down other people. That to me is the joy of the event. That’s the best part.

AD: So a Congress (in the dance context) is essentially a weekend of: dance workshops, shows-.

SGB: It’s workshops, parties, performances – and you know it’s a Latin dance experience.

AD: And it looks like you guys have expanded it to incorporate: Bachata, Zouk, and Kizomba.

SGB: Well it’s the same thing; I don’t want just steak. I want the steak, the mashed potatoes, and the vegetables. I want everything to come together at the middle of the pot. My focus is making sure Salsa doesn’t end up as the back burner-type thing. I live in Miami and outside of my window, they have the Ultra Music Festival. It’s hundreds of thousands of people all in one place, and as an event organizer, I think to myself, ‘Oh it would be great to have something like that,’ but as a Salsero I think okay there aren’t that many Salseros, and if I had that many people, I would not be able to cater to what it is that I love. I would not be able to have just David Gonzalez, Hector Martinez and Frankie Morales that I can just text and talk to on Facebook and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do. We’re putting this kind of sound together and we’re going to do the old Tito Puento version of this with him playing this,’ and knowing that’s an experience unlike any other.

There aren’t hundreds of thousands of people who will come for that, and I don’t care about that. I want to have that two thousand people come together and have that experience of seeing the New Swing Sextet, and seeing Terry and Cécile. One of the biggest joys for me last year was that I did my first performance to a New Swing Sextet song, and to have the New Swing Sextet last year at my congress say, ‘Hey I want to dedicate this song to Shaka,’ and I said, ‘What?’, and they played that song and I was able to dance to it. That for me is the magic of the event and the most important thing is saying, ‘This is Salsa. This is Latin music.’ The other stuff, I can get that anywhere.

AD: Okay Shaka I’ve got three more questions. Running a congress, what has it taught you?

SGB: In terms of organizing a congress? – finding people who are much better at their jobs than I am. I’ve also learned to hire the best people to: manage the dance floors, the sound, the installation, and manage the DJs. Each one of those tasks, I would tell myself, ‘Oh yeah I can do that task,’ but having to do all of those tasks is overwhelming and I learned that each time I find the right person that I can delegate to, then I find that life becomes so much more – Well maybe you even get a chance to dance at your own event. So I’ve learned that you go professional for as much as you can. If you do anything halfway, then you get halfway results.

AD: The last two questions are related to performances. So the original performance you did with Psyon Mauricio Scott; the famous two man routine, is that available anywhere? Is it on YouTube? Or is it locked away in a vault somewhere?

SGB: If you find it let me know (laughing). I have some halfway versions of it but – this was before YouTube even existed. I think I have one version somewhere, but I would like to see it so that I can go and re-learn it and do it somewhere. We danced to “El Presidente Dante” by Frankie Dante Y Su Orquesta Flamboyan. I first heard that song when DJ Bruno played it at Clarendon Grill. But in terms of performances, that is important to me for people to know what song we’re performing to, and who did it and what version, because you have a lot of folks who just start doing it without knowing what they’re doing and why. So we push that on our teams and say, ‘You guys need to know the music we’re dancing to,’ because one of the most embarrassing things for me is to have a dancer on my team who doesn’t know the song we’re dancing to.

AD: The last question; the five man musical chairs routine you did at the Flava Invasion with Pyson Mauricio Scott, Gordon Neil, Sekou McMiller and Leon Rose, is it true you guys put that together in 10 minutes? One of them told me that.

SGB: That routine, we had no idea what we were doing for that routine (laughing). Gordon said he wanted us to do a routine, and we got together in the middle of the Flava Invasion, and we went over to Gordon’s house. He said, ‘I’m thinking we’ll use this song’ (The Hustler by Willie Colon). We counted out the eight counts in the song and realized there were five sections that we could use. And then the chorus so to speak – that horn riff that comes in, we said, ‘Okay that repeats, so we can all do the same thing for that chorus, and then in between, each person will just free-style.’ And then we decided that when we brought each person up, we’d just rotate the chairs. So we did that, and we kind of just listened to it, said okay that works, and then we all left. We had a specific cut of the song we were going to use, so right before we’re about walk onto the stage, Gordon says to me, ‘Oh we’re going to use the whole song,’ and I said, ‘What?’

So we’re all up there (laughing), and if you see us, we’re all counting the song throughout the chorus and looking at each other. Our plan was that we would stomp so that the other person would know that they were cued up. So you see us all just standing there – you might even see our lips moving, and then at one point in time we stomp, and if the person was off on the stomp, then they would know, because everyone else was stomping. You’d say, ‘Oh this is where we are so now it’s my turn to go out there.’That was a lot of fun in terms of how random and spontaneous it was. We all said, ‘We have to make it through this song.’

AD: Okay, because the end result was brilliant, especially when you did that flip (laughing).

SGB: Oh god. That flip – I can tell you why I did that flip, because I was thinking, ‘I can do a backflip,’ when it was my turn to go up, but Leon went before me, and Leon did a backflip and then I thought, ‘Okay now I have to come up with something else now,’ At the same time I’m counting and stomping and trying to remember when I have to go up, so I said, ‘Okay I’ll do a front flip.’ So I did a front flip and you might notice that I didn’t land on my feet. I landed on my back.

So I do the front flip, land on my back, and then I kept dancing and my back was killing me, and as I walked off of the stage, I’m texting my chiropractor (laughing) and saying, ‘Okay I’ve got to see you on Monday.’ But yes I thought I was going to break my back out there, and there was something that happened with Gordon – he was doing his free-style, and he grabbed his foot as he was spinning around, and afterwards I asked him, ‘Did you just grab your boot?,’ to which he said, ‘I was feeling it (laughing).’ That was the fun of the Flava Invasion that year. There’s a story behind everything if you get to watch that show again.

AD: Yes when I saw it, I was trying to show it to everyone and telling everyone how great it was.

Well Shaka thank you again for this amazing interview. We covered a lot. Thanks for helping me get through graduate school, your teaching and your inspiration, and even for sharing some music files here and there over the years. I look forward to seeing you and everyone else at the Capital Congress this year in June.

SGB: Okay thank you Anwar. I loved being a part of this, and I’ll see you at the Congress.

To learn about the stellar schedule of workshops, and performances Shaka Gonzalez Brown and his team have put together, visit the Capital Congress website.

Thank you for taking out the time to read this interview. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or by copying the link to my RSS feed to your email’s feedreader. Please check out my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Why SEO really is the key to a successful online business

Regardless of what your business is, or what your content is as a writer, it’s critical to make your presence known and easy to find. The following guest post comes courtesy of Michael Kordvani. It discusses importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for the success of online businesses. Michael Kordvani can be contacted at michaelkordvani@gmail.com.

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When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), many are aware it’s something that’s supposed to help their online business but very few make time to learn anything about it or to even try. Many tell you they rely on word of mouth marketing or paid advertising that can take a chunk out of your business budget.

It’s a shame that SEO marketing is misunderstood and underused. SEO is a series of techniques designed to make your website easier for both search engines and your visitors to understand. Since search engines don’t see and understand your web pages the way a human can, SEO helps them ascertain what each page is about and why it’s useful to its users. Then it helps the search engines bring their users to you.

6 Ways SEO Helps Your Online Business Succeed

While there are many ways SEO can benefit your online business, here are six of the top ones.

Use Professional Services: There are SEO specialists out there who can help you to achieve everything you want from your SEO campaign. Take a look around and visit site to learn more!

More Clients: With so many websites available for any given product, service, or niche, getting clients can be a challenge. Using solid SEO techniques will improve your ranking in the search engines and make it easier to find. The easier your site is to find, the more potential customers you will receive. With the increased traffic, you will see more conversions.

Mobile Friendly: According to Hitwise, as much as 58% of all search engine queries are conducted on mobile devices and that number will continue to grow. How does SEO factor into that? An entirely new set of SEO techniques, like local search optimization, have been developed to help businesses get their products and services in front of the mobile audience. Choosing to ignore this particular trend is allowing your business to fall behind and out of the minds of today’s consumers.

Reputation Building: Reaching the first page of a search engine is quite an accomplishment and much more than something to brag about. Greater consumer trust is given to pages that are highly ranked. For many customers, if they can’t find a business on the first page of their Google search results, it’s not good enough. SEO boosts your website’s ranking in the search engines, gradually helping you move towards the top of users’ search results.

Brand Awareness: Another great benefit of SEO is that it lets your site appear on relevant pages of the search engines. As your ranking goes up, your site will appear more often at the top of user searches. That increases awareness among potential customers, even for niche things like singularsound.com, more of them being aware of you means a higher conversion rate. Getting your SEO optimized content on social media channels too will also help increase your brand’s awareness and inspire consumer trust and loyalty.

Cost Effective: People are often afraid of investing in SEO because they don’t understand it. In educating yourself about the true power potential of SEO, you’ll see that such investment is much like investing in real estate. If you invest wisely in SEO, you get more from it. The remarkable thing is that a huge investment isn’t necessary and it’s very cost effective when compared to what you’d pay for PPC and social media marketing.

A Cryptocurrency App Case Study

The following guest post comes courtesy of Al Hill, Co-Founder of www.Tradingsim.com. It focuses on a case study for Cryptocurrency Apps – a topic related to my posts which discussed both Bitcoin and Blockchain Technology. While this post discusses Apps for financial transactions using Cryptocurrencies, it worth noting that the Big Words Blog Site is not involved in giving personal financial advice to readers and is not liable for any financial decisions made by readers. This post contains several infographics. Click on the images to enlarge them.

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Why do a case study on cryptocurrency apps? Well, it wasn’t up to me. There is just too much demand according to the number of searches from Google.

There are a lot of case studies on the web related to bitcoin and cryptocurrencies apps, so we wanted to do things slightly differently by defining a methodology to remove any inherit bias from the equation.

The study focused on 4 main factors on a normalized exponential scale of 1 to 100.

• Social Power- Social power is a custom ranking metric we created by weighting the numbers of followers across social networks: Facebook (45%), Twitter  (35%), and LinkedIn (20%)

• Total Number of Installs (provided only by the Google Play App Store)
• Total Number of Reviews
• Rating on the Google Play App Store (the IOS App Store only provides “4+”)

So, after inputting these data points into our algorithm, what did we come up with? An awesome top 10 list for you to explore!

The top graph depicts the overall rating based on our methodology. Now, if you are a true data geek like me, please have a look at the supporting numbers in the table below.

As you can see, the methodology did create some separation between the best in breed.

Blockchain is the clear technology leader providing a framework solving many business challenges, one of which is the cryptocurrency market, so the 100 rating was not a shocker.

Some of the other apps are news outlets or provide the ability to track the value of currencies, which won’t measure up in terms of value add against apps that allow you to buy cryptos or use them as a form of payment.

But what makes Coinbase so popular?

The real story with Coinbase is the large number of reviews for their app.

With the largest count of over 600k reviews, this was not by chance. Coinbase has a clear growth strategy focused on 4 pillars:

1. Create a simple retail exchange that allow consumers to invest in digital currency
2. Enable professional traders and institutions to trade digital currencies
3. Create an interface for people to make payments with digital currencies and developers to build applications that utilize this payment network
4. Simplify the development process and even invest in some partners that have awesome ideas

This approach creates evangelists that not only use Coinbase’s products, but also scream about them from the rooftops.

You of course will need to determine which app works best for your needs, but how people are sharing and using the application is likely a great measure.

To access the full case study, please visit: https://tradingsim.com/blog/crypto-apps-study/

Al Hill
Co-Founder, Tradingsim.com

Mother’s Day 2018: Memories of my grandmothers

Following my 2017 Mother’s Day blog post, I had to think long and hard about what to write for 2018. Not coming up with a topic for some time, I figured that I’d simply promote my 2017 post once again. That post touched a lot of people, and it talked about some advice my mother gave me about getting married – advice which helped save me and our family from bedlam and chaos. Recently while at the gym, a topic came to me for 2018 – a remembrance of both of my maternal and paternal grandmothers, and their lasting impressions on my life as a child, and now as an adult.

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As described in the story of my blog, I grew up in Buffalo, NY. Following my parent’s divorce, we returned to New York State’s western-most city where my mother grew up. With most of my aunts and uncles having fled Buffalo along with many other blacks in their peer group, my grandmother moved in with us – on top of us as most houses in the Buffalo were what I call ‘true’ duplexes. True duplexes are singular structures containing multiple units, all under one mortgage. Each unit has its own living room, bathroom, kitchen and multiple bedrooms – something you don’t see here in the Washington, DC market – something I plan to revisit in greater detail in another post where I’ll discuss some of my adventures in learning how to invest in real estate.

My maternal grandmother was a very beautiful woman as a younger woman and as a senior, and there were always suitors. I didn’t fully appreciate it then, but an advantage I’ll always have over my younger cousins is that I was able to spend quality time with my maternal grandmother during my childhood. Some of my first cousins just under me age-wise either didn’t get to spend time with her due to life circumstances, or didn’t appreciate their time with her while she was still in good health.

Curiosity was always in my nature. As stated in the story of my blog, I always enjoyed hearing my elders talk and tell their stories. As result, I regularly asked my maternal grandmother questions about varying topics and sought her wisdom. Sharing everything would literally take volumes to write, so I’ll just share a few.

“My children are all different Anwar,” Grandma told me more times than I can count. It was a simple, but profound statement. Over the years she observed that while her eight children were born to the same mother, ate the same food, and for the most part learned the same set of values, each of them figuratively ‘scattered’ into eight different directions – some closely adhering to what they’d been taught while others went their own way, setting in motion the inevitable family dramas, fallouts, squabbles and rivalries.  She also strongly believed that in terms of family, “The stronger ones should take care of the weaker ones.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but grandma taught me my first lesson about the concept of “Nature vs. Nurture”. This was many years before I had heard of Dr. Thomas Sowell, Dr. Walter E. Williams, or Malcolm Gladwell. It was decades before I met the mentor whom I regularly discuss this concept with – the same mentor who encouraged me to list out the principles of my blog. With such vast differences in one family, isn’t it logical to expect such variability in a whole society of millions of people?

Are our lives extensions of what we were taught in our familial ecosystems? Are our lives the very essence of who we are as individuals? Or are our lives mixtures of both? What I’ve seen in my own family suggests that our lives are mixtures of both. What have you seen in your familial ecosystems?

“People should only speak in ‘tongues’ if there is someone there to interpret what’s being said,” Grandma told me in my late teens. I was raised in a black ‘Baptist’ church in the north. I thus had no idea what I was in for when transferring to Johnson C. Smith University in the region affectionately called the ‘Bible Belt’ – a region where Christianity is much more fanatical, militant, supernatural, and in some instances, cultish.

I had never seen so many people catching the ‘Holy Ghost’, running around their church services, kicking things over, and ‘speaking in tongues’. It all collectively scared me initially and shook whatever faith I had at the time. My maternal grandmother was the first to tell me that this speaking in tongues thing, which was essentially a verbal revelation from the ‘Holy Spirit’, is something not to be done lightly and for show – something that my peers from the southeast seemed to be engaging in.

My maternal grandmother shared things with me about our family, and about the past that I didn’t hear anywhere else. If I recall correctly, she encouraged my mother to let my brother and I form our own opinions about our father, and to also allow us to have a relationship with him. She further encouraged my mother not to demonize him. Apparently, there are a lot of mothers who vengefully keep their children away from their fathers – demonizing them once their romantic relationship breaks down – often to the detriment of the children.

As described in my second essay for A Voice for Men titled “Two very well-behaved boys left to figure things out on their own”, I heard my maternal grandmother discuss the differences between being “Providers” and “Fathers” – something which gave me deep insight into what’s expected of a man should he sire children. Apparently, a man can be one without being the other – the ideal situation is that he’s both. As I got older I found that many of my peers in Black America had neither.

“You raise your children for society.” My maternal grandmother never said this to me a directly. It was one of my grandmother’s philosophies/values my mother shared with me. It meant that your children weren’t just things that you carelessly brought into the world. If you had them, it was your responsibility to make sure that they made the world a better place, that they would contribute something positive, and didn’t end up in someone’s prison.

“Be with someone who loves you more.” This again is something not said directly to me. My mother shared this piece of advice that my maternal grandmother shared with her – something I don’t think my uncles were taught. At the time I was in my early 30s, and entangled in a very, very toxic romantic relationship that I couldn’t break free from. I loved this particular woman more than she loved me which created a very bad imbalance. Now considering myself a bit of a ‘Men’s Rights Activist/Advocate’, I feel compelled to share this part of the ‘game’ with other men. Thus, for any man reading this, keep this little nugget in your mind because I’m seeing that many girls are taught this part of the game, but not the boys which is in many ways unfair.

“Be a good son, Anwar.” My grandmother told me this towards the end of her life. At that point she had developed some health ailments, and had become dependent upon the care of her own children. I think that she was encouraging me at that time to be an attentive and caring son if and when my own parents needed me later in life. Now in my early 40s it’s clear to me that not every child cares for their parents in their last stages, even though it’s something they may have been taught to do.

Again I feel as though I was one of the lucky grandchildren to have her there for the majority of my childhood. Both my brother and I are the only two of her grandchildren who can actually say that. She was there until I went away to college, before moving to Georgia for the remainder of her life. That’s the last place that I saw her. That was March of 2008.

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In terms of my paternal grandmother, I’ll start by saying that there are often other causalities in divorces besides the married couple and their children. Sometimes it’s other relatives who don’t get to see the children of those divorces as often. It’s something that affects all parties involved for years to come. There are many instances where children of broken relationships have little contact with the other sides of their family – this is just one. I think ours was just circumstance.

I didn’t know my father’s mother that well before she passed away in August of 1999. We lived in Buffalo and she lived seven hours away in New York City. We were younger at the time and didn’t travel independently – especially not to places like New York City – a dangerous and overwhelming place if you asked my mother. I thus only saw my paternal grandmother on the one or two visits to see my father – not a significant amount of time.

That said as a child, I fondly recall going down to upper Manhattan where she lived and staying in her two-bedroom apartment in one of those orange-brick ‘Public Housing’ buildings you see in many of New York City’s five boroughs – one in a set of three or four, with a shared playground, park benches and basketball courts on the ground level. The elevators had that smell of urine and were ‘tagged’ with markers and spray paint. It was the coolest things for me to see at that time as it was so different than what I knew back in Buffalo. Her apartment overlooked the elevated train tracks leading to and from Grand Central Station – a perfect bird’s eye view. A lover of trains back then, I would spend lots of time in her windows watching the “Metro-North” commuter trains going back and forth, and hoping to spot the “Amtrak” trains which ran less frequently.

She cooked for us when we came, and boy could she cook. We ate like kings. She spoiled us with big breakfasts, and large dinners – usually involving something fried like chicken or salmon croquets. There was also my grandfather’s ‘Shrimp Gumbo’ recipe which my father says he has laying around in a box somewhere. The hallmark of the breakfasts were the waffles, beef bacon and cheese eggs. Then there were the banana cakes on our birthdays. There was one particular visit where I ate so much that my mother said that she could visibly see how much weight I had gained when we got off the train back in Buffalo towards the end of one summer.

Puff Daddy was performing at a gym with Heavy D and there was a shooting,” my paternal grandmother said on one of visits as young teens. We were up at my father’s house and she had seen a news broadcast from New York City. We were preparing to eat one of her wonderful meals. It was the early 1990s and we knew who Heavy D was because he had been out for a while and had numerous hits and music videos. I had never heard of this Puff Daddy before, and wondered what she was talking about. His music just hadn’t made it up to Western New York yet, so we didn’t know anything about him. Three to four years later, Puff Daddy created one of the hottest rap labels of all time; Bad Boy Records. It’s funny when I think about it.

Those were rare occurrences though – specks in the entirety of my life. Similar to my father, because our time was limited, all of the times were fun times at that stage – meant to make up for the lost time and packing in as many good experiences possible. I’m thankful for them, but I can look back as an adult and realize what they were. I also realize the ‘why’ now – something you don’t know as a child on a deeper level.

I didn’t get to know my paternal grandmother on a deeper level the way that I got to know my maternal grandmother – there were no substantial passages of knowledge and wisdom. Well actually, there is one which I’ll keep to myself. I can tell you a lot about her though. She was very gregarious, and always laughing – she was very bubbly and always smiling for one reason or the other. She really enjoyed playing the lottery which is probably where my father got it from. They would play the ‘lot-to’ and attentively watch the numbers on the news every night hoping to win something. Based upon stories from my father, she was also a very superstitious woman – she didn’t believe in picking up pennies on the street, or splitting poles and people when walking down the street. Those are just the two that I know about.

One of my biggest regrets is not doing enough for her, like getting her gifts around the holidays. On my mother’s side of the family birthdays and holidays were sacred and not getting gifts was literally playing with your life. There were times when my mother had to remind me of those expectations until I got to the point of knowing what to do on my own. Gifts weren’t as important to Dad, and thus the importance of getting them for his mother wasn’t engrained in me. There was one instance as an early teen when I realized that I should have gotten her something for Christmas. It wasn’t something she said or reprimanded me over, but instead I realized in her nonverbal body language – her disappointment – something I’ll never forget.

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I’ll end this with a few closing points. My maternal grandmother was a great cook as well. She made a lot of things. Her macaroni and cheese recipe was popular when I’ve made it for some coworkers. She lives on through it among other things. For many years, I needed reminders from my own mother about Grandma’s November 8th birthday. I remembered after a while. My father was an only child and thus my brother and myself were his mother’s only grandchildren. I didn’t understand it growing up, but having ‘Grands’ is actually a really big deal. I guess that explains why she spoiled us so much when she saw us. Oh, and I’ve finally gotten my hands on her Shrimp Gumbo recipe and will be experimenting with it soon.

I’m going to wrap this up by saying that as I grew into adulthood, I watched both of my grandmothers’ declines, and I still remember the last time I saw both. They passed away almost ten years apart. To whoever reads this, man or woman, I encourage you to take care of your health as much as possible as you get older, as we all inevitably will. To the younger folks, cherish your elders as much as you can while they’re still here. Get as much wisdom as you can while they’re still around, as you never know if and how it will help you as you progress through your own years, and the challenges in them. Lastly, do as much for them as you can while you still have them.

Thank you for taking the time out to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Mother’s Day 2017: One of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged, and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff
Father’s Day 2017: Reflections on some of Dad’s money and life lessons
Two well-behaved boys left to figure things out on their own: Reflections on growing up ‘Blue Pill’
Challenging stereotypes and misconceptions in academic achievement
The benefits and challenges of using articulate speech

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