Monthly Archives: February 2003

Neuroscience in the Nursery

News from Stealthmode Partners 28 February 2003


A PET (positron emission tomography) scan is a view of the blood flow to the brain. If you look at a PET scan of a new-born’s brain, large areas of it are unengaged or inactive. Only the most primitive parts are working: the parts that make the heart beat and the lungs empty and fill.

If you look at the scan of a one-year-old’s brain, it has changed startlingly. In fact, the brain of a year-old child has more in common with that of an adult that with that of a newborn. That’s how quickly an infant’s brain develops. As a parent, you intuitiviely realize your child is changing fast; now neuroscience can see it.

The majority of ‘wiring’ of the brain, according to neuroscientists, happens just *after* birth. It is almost as if a new baby is born with an “operating” system, but no programs or applications. When you buy a new computer, you immediately install the productivity suite of your choice, and then anything else you think you will need. A similar procedure happens with a baby. The brain develops from back to front and lower to higher, and the last thing to develop is the neocortex–that part of the brain that allows a person to attach, pay attention, and learn.

The input of the environment is thus both dramatic and specific: it doesn’t merely influence the general direction of development, it actually affects the wiring of the brain’s circuitry. Brain scans of older kids who spent their first years in Romanian orphanages show large inactive areas that never “fire up” despite their adoption by loving, middle class American families.

What if We Miss Those First Moments?

The lower areas of the brain act as gatekeepers to the neocortex. According to Dr. Michael Phelps, the co-inventor of the PET scan, “these developmental years are not just a chance to educate, but are actually your obligation to form a brain, and if you miss these opportunties, you have missed them FOREVER. No wonder the Jesuits used to say “give me a child until the age of five and he will be mind for life.”

We all remember the experiment with the wire monkey and the stuffed monkey. The wire monkey’s baby was fed adequately, but it did not thrive. The stuffed monkey cuddled its baby more, and the baby thrived despite less adequate food.(It has been several years since I took Psych 101, and I may have some of the details wrong, but the gist is still the same).

Well, many of us today are working parents. We’ve got the wire monkey act down pretty well with out caregivers, nannies and preschools, but how are we doing as stuffed monkeys? Who takes care of your children when you don’t?

At least in Arizona, animal control workers, street vendors, parking lot attendants and telemarketers all make more money than child care workers and preschool teachers. We are also fortunate to have some of the weakest licensing laws in the country, and some of the highest caregiver-to-child ratios.

Talking to children, singing to them, reading to them, playing with them, and touching them are almost as important as food, clothing, and shelter for a child’s brain. In fact, to a child they’re not really distinguishable, because infants are looking for patterns and dependability. The food is important, but the aspect of continued food from the same person is more important. The brain develops according to pattern recognition.

And what about talking to babies? We’ve all felt like jerks talking to our infants who don’t even have their eyes open. But the more words we say to the baby, the better the brain develops. A study of 42 families over 2.5 years showed that welfare parents spoke 616 words per hour; working parents spoke 1,252 words per hour; professional parents spoke 2,153 word per hour. No wonder the children of lawyers and doctors (and writers???) do better in school.

So now there’s clinical evidence that lots of baby-directed talking results in better academic performance and higher IQ scores. Keep babbling to that baby.

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I’m moving.


I’m moving. I’ve sold my old house, and it will close in a month. I’ve also bought a new place, and closed on it last week. I’m going to share my experience: the good, the bad, and the ugly, because you need to know all this.

Although a home is the most important purchase most people make in a lifetime, the process is usually a mystery. Most people just call a Realtor(tm), usually a friend of a friend or a relative, and dump the whole process on the Realtor. They pay a 6% commission and look the other way. Just as a reality check on what you are paying for customer service and professionalism, 6% of $250,000 is $15,000. If you pre-qualify for your mortgage, search for homes on the Internet ( as most people do, make an offer that is accepted, and close the transaction without a problem, the Realtor may spend as little as ten hours on your transaction –and make $1500 an hour. Although that doesn’t usually happen, it happens often enough to give you pause if it’s your money.

There are hundreds of thousands of Realtors in Arizona. (Defined here as people who have gone to real estate school and passed a simple test.)Most of them are awful. I’ve had a license for over twenty years, and I would suck if I really had to handle a residential transaction. A good Realtor holds your hand through the process and earns his/her money. Many Realtors, however, are just the horribly nearsighted leading the blind.

The New Way of Buying and Selling Homes

All this is changing, however. One thing that has caused the change is the Internet. The Internet gives Joe Homeowner the same information the Realtor used to hold secret — the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

While early online real estate services tried to disintermediate the Realtor by giving home buyers and sellers access to the MLS, they discovered (too late) that the home buyers and sellers actually *wanted* someone human in the process. So the new ones engage with professionals and just automate the onerous tasks.

The best ones do more than simplify the process by allowing you to eliminate homes over the Internet; they also refer you to a participating agent who will give part of his or her commission in exchange for receiving you, the qualified buyer, as a customer. On the house I bought last week, I received a $6200 rebate — 1% of the agent’s commission.

I did it by enrolling my favorite agent (happens to be Bobby Lieb)in the CU Realty program. Then I bought and sold my homes through him. He’s happy, because he closes two transactions. I’m happy because I’ve saved a lot of money. I also found the comps for the home I was selling on the CU Realty site, which allowed me to understand the price Bobby suggested I ask for the house.

The CU Realty program is offered mainly by and through credit unions, but there is a retail site for people who are not credit union members and want to use the program: If you plan to buy or sell a home soon, you ought to get familiar with the site now. Register and look at homes; it’s fun. Find out what the comps are for you home and the others in your neighborhood; that’s even more fun. It’s like being a peeping Tom.

If you’re not buying or selling, you can still be part of the entertainment.To increase traffic to the retail site, CURealty has an affiliate program in partnership with Incentive Logic: if you refer someone to the site and they register, you get a point. If they actually go out with an agent, you get 25 points. You can redeem your points for gifts. Go to the site and register, and then click on membership rewards.

I say all this because I was stunned at how exciting it was to get all that money back on the transaction. Although CU Realty is a Stealthmode portfolio company, until I used it myself everything was pretty abstract. Now it’s pretty concrete; it paid for most of my moving expenses.

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Like every other state, Arizona

Like every other state, Arizona has a big budget deficit. And, like every other state, a large percentage of the budget goes for corrections. When people in the technology community go to the legislature to ask for venture capital, weary legislators try to balance our need to grow businesses with the heavy demands of health care, education, and corrections. Business always loses. I believe it’s time for the business community to get behind changes in the three big systems that suck up all the budget dollars, or we will never receive a dime for the things we need to make Arizona a technology center.

I always have known quite a bit about what’s wrong with the health care and education systems, having been directly impacted by them over the years, but I have only recently experienced directly what’s wrong with “Corrections.” Until your family has a relative in jail or prison, corrections seems a long way off and a non-issue. And then…

For Example:

One of my former foster kids is in the “corrections” system. He’s bi-polar, went off his meds as an adolescent, and began to self-medicate. Sure enough, his life deteriorated, and he dropped out of school six weeks before graduation. He got a few traffic tickets for which he failed to appear. They turned into warrants. He couldn’t afford to pay the fines.He went to jail, got out, went right back to the drugs, stealing auto parts and selling them to support his habit. Of course he got caught. This time he went to prison.

At his sentencing hearing, I testified that he was mentally ill and needed help, and to silence me the judge assigned him to a drug treatment program. He finally got there after languishing in jail for six months and in prison for another three — waiting for a bed in the treatment program. While waiting, he could do nothing — take no classes, learn no skills.

In the treatment program (Marana), he made good progress. He got a GED and he was taking management classes.Then the state learned that there was another outstanding warrant for his arrest, and this made him ineligible for the treatment program. He was moved to a medium security prison.

After a month in the medium security prison (Buckeye), he was moved again. Now he is in the Towers Jail, awaiting trial for the outstanding warrant.

In Buckeye, he was waiting to get into vocational classes, for which there’s a long wait. When he was transferred to Towers Jail, he lost his position. Towers Jail has no classes. It has nothing.

One of the few things you can do for an inmate from the outside is send him books, which must come directly from a bookstore. I have sent Jerry many books over the past year, trying to “home” school him. Some arrived after he had been transferred to another prison, and he never got them.

When he got to Towers, I ordered four more books from Amazon.

Last week-end, I visited him. I found out that the books I sent were “contrabanded.” They were considered contraband because they were hard cover books and there were “too many” of them. My hundred dollars worth of books (which qualified me for Amazon’s free shipping policy) have gone into a black hole.

This kid (he’s only twenty) has lost a year of his life. He hasn’t been “corrected” at all. He hasn’t been taught anything. He says he’s over the drug thing and wants to get back to a real life. But he’s stuck in an inefficient,inhumane, uncaring system.

This system does not discriminate. As a visitor, I was treated like scum by high-handed guards who sit around drinking Mountain Dew and disregard the visitors’ requests. The visitors’ bathrooms at Towers Jail were overflowing with toilet paper, and the floors were full of water. The electronic “welcome” sign over the guard’s offices was still not programmed a year after the first time I saw it. Probably no one knows how — although we spent our tax money to buy it.

The conditions of the jail are a poor example for the people we are trying to “correct.” They are warehoused and then let out on the street without money, education, or a job. What exactly are they supposed to do besides sell drugs and steal? They’re left with no options.

And yet the misnamed corrections system sucks big bucks from the budget at every level: look at the beautiful new Federal courthouse downtown, with its un-coolable atrium. Look at the new Phoenix courthouse, with its curving stairways and veranda-like courtrooms. Wouldn’t you love to have such a grand facility?

Well, you do. You own it. You pay for it. If you were more vociferous about how this system was used, and more involved in how education’s failure creates corrections’ neccessities, we might some time have money for venture capital.

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Esplanade Place Office

(moving in!)

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