Blake Snow

content advisor, recognized journalist, bodacious writer-for-hire

Hi, I'm Blake.

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How assertive communication can turbocharge your people skills

Paramount Pictures

How you interact with others has an enormous impact on your life.

According to most experts, there are four types of communication. All four are learned by observing and interacting with our families, friends, and coworkers. While it’s possible to adopt a mix of all four in different settings and relationships, many of us tend to gravitate towards one dominant style.

Problem is, 75% of those styles often complicate our wants and needs while also frustrating the wants and needs of those we live and work with. For example, passive communicators put the needs of others above themselves and rarely if ever share their own wants. Passive aggressive communicators sarcastically put the needs of others above themselves, while obscuring their own true wants. And aggressive communicators put the needs of themselves above others at all costs, while exaggerating their own wants.

But there is a better way. It’s difficult to master but it leads to a lot more honesty, respect, understanding, and freedom. It’s called assertive communication and it can do wonders for both your professional and personal life. Continue reading…

I should have been a Daft Punk

blake-snow-daft-punk

Hac Tran

While working onsite with a client last week, I met an Englishman that shared my love of music. At some point we diverged into a discussion on the merits of Daft Punk — his favorite band — and where their latest album went wrong. We both agreed that Random Access Memories was better produced than it was written; Discovery was “bloody brilliant;” and their soundtrack to Tron: Legacy was their second best work to date.

As I was about to leave, my new friend excitedly announced, “I have something to show you!” He left the room, then returned with a custom, LED-lit Thomas Bangalter mask. “May I?” said I, giddy at the prospect. “Of course,” he replied. I put it on, struck a pose, then took several snapshots for posterity’s sake before bidding him farewell.

What’s funny is this Englishman had just traveled 6,000 miles from his office in Munich for weeklong meetings with “corporate” in Los Angeles. While most people scramble for chargers and underwear the night before travel, I laughed at the thought of this kindly bloke deciding to bring his shiny keepsake along for the journey. “Ah, yes! Mustn’t forget my smashing mask.”

That’s a fan. Thanks for the memories, Daft Punk.

First published on November 6, 2013

Pros and cons: Why 2020 was the most productively distasteful year of my life

I forgot to hit publish on this earlier. Better late than never?

Pros

Cons

  • I lost access to much of my village
  • I got permenant tinnitus (ringing ears) while recording my album (turns out four straight months of loud headphones will do that)
  • Had my income reduced by more than 50%
  • I couldn’t travel as much with borders closed

In short, it was the most challenging four star year of my life. After all, first-world problems are way easier than third-world problems. I’m hoping 2021 will be at least a 4.5/5 star year and am doing everything I can to hit that mark!

How speaking up gets you grease

Courtesy Shutterstock

The following is one of 18 lessons for my new remote work training company. You should totally ask your employer to buy it. 😉

Admitting that you’re stuck is a hard thing to do. Asking for help is even harder, especially for the more prideful souls among us, of which there is no shortage. On top of that, many of us refrain from asking for help because we think doing so is imposing on or making more unwanted work for others.

Nothing could be further from the truth. While it’s true that asking for help sometimes creates more work for others, we do not get to decide what is unwelcome work for others. Predicting or telling ourselves that is an unhelpful projection. That may be true some of the time, but research shows that humans are usually willing to help. As social creatures, it’s in our DNA and has been for tens of thousands of years.

Continue reading…

Where to find them: America’s 11 newest National Parks

Courtesy Lindsey Snow

The United States recently designated “White Sands” as the country’s latest and 62nd National Park—the highest honor given to protected lands. But New Mexico’s newest national park isn’t the only one. Since 1994, America has recognized more than 10 new National Parks. Here’s where to find them and what their biggest draws are, according to my latest article for Lonely Planet.

“Top Guns:” The brilliant magazine article that inspired the movie

I recently re-watched Top Gun with my children. This is what we thought of it: Radical!

As I always do with movies I love, I immediately headed to Wikipedia after the screening to soak up additional context. Turns out, the movie was inspired by this incredibly written article by Ehud Yonay in California Magazine. First published in 1983, Yonay tells the story of two pilots named “Yogi” and “Possum” and how they navigate “Top Gun,” along with two excellent sidebar stories about taking a flight in an F-5 and how to fly one.

“When I climbed out of the cockpit at the end of our hourlong flight, I couldn’t even swagger,” Yonay writes. “Every muscle in my body ached, I was exhausted and slightly nauseated, and all I wanted to do was go to sleep. But they tell me the first time is the worst, and I can’t wait to get up there again.”

FUN FACT: Top Gun has since moved to Fallon, Nevada. My family visited it several years ago on a press trip and were floored by the air maneuvers (or “hops” as they used to say). Looked like something out of Inception—jets flying straight up and down at speeds I’ve never seen before!

This silverware makes food taste better

Several years ago, my wife and I borrowed a fancy fork from a fancy hotel to finish a boxed meal while adventuring in some city I no longer remember.

I remember that fork, however. “This fork is amazing,” I exclaimed to my wife while later eating from the box. “We gotta get silverware like this!”

We never did—even though that same fork would occasionally remind me to buy something like it every time I reached for it from our kitchen drawer.

Continue reading…

How to get free mentoring from really smart people

My friend Wesley and I recently launched a startup called PowerSpace. It’s an employer-sponsored online class to help the surge of employees now working from home. We’re really excited about it.

But that’s not why I’m here today. I’m here to tell you we couldn’t have built what we did so far without the nearly two dozen people who agreed to help us refine our product, pricing, and overall market approach. And they did it all for free, just because we asked nicely.

This brilliant idea wasn’t mine, however. It was Wesley’s. Before starting this company, my definition of mentors went something like this: formal and stiff relationships that mostly college students form to help find a job.

Boy was I wrong. Turns out mentoring is a lot more effective when it’s done on an informal, individual, and case-by-case basis. Better yet, people are happy to share their perspective, feedback, and opinion—usually for free.

That said, free mentoring won’t make you a success. Only you can do that. But it can give you a leg up on what you need to do next, and it will certainly introduce you to a greater number of people who can put you in contact with even more smart people who can help.

Want to get started or have an idea or problem you need help with? Send an email to someone you respect and see what happens. In my experience, my response rate was over half. It works so well, I’m determined to use free mentoring on every big idea that crosses my desk now.

Thanks, Wesley. And thank you to the many people who have mentored me so far. 

Reader question: “How can aspiring writers get their articles published?”

A friendly man named Michael recently asked me how to get published as a freelance writer. This is what I told him:

Most publications want pitches, not full-blown articles. This is for two reasons: 1) they care more about the idea first, and 2) they like to feel like they’re having an influence on its final form, one that’s specific to their publication.

While publications sometimes accept finished manuscripts, these are usually really big or unique or exclusive stories. I’ve only placed a few of those in my 16 year career as a writer, so I’d focus on really good pitches, and why you’re a good person to write it.

On top of that, I’d write everyday, if you’re not already. I’ve done this virtually every day through my blog, journal, and formal assignments. Since there’s no replacement for 10,000 hours of practice, that’s really the best way to improve your writing.

But doing the above only gets you half of the way. To get published, you often have to ask 100 editors if they’ll accept your pitch. Even I have to do this still. In short, placing articles is a grind. But I love the grind enough to stick with it until my article finally publishes.

TLDR; Placing articles is 50% good writing, 50% hustle (at least in my experience)

Recent long reads: Mexico’s surveillance bribe, travel points in lockdown, Nintendo builds a kinder world

  • Can technology ever fix corruption? (Rest of World) Here is a thought-provoking story about how Mexico City uses the world’s largest surveillance system to reduce petty crime while also increasing police bribes in a notoriously corrupt culture. While I disagree with the author about throwing out the bath tub for harboring dirty water (i.e. because the system doesn’t reduce high crimes), it was still an enlightening read.
  • The man who turned credit-card points into a travel empire (NY Times). “If you trace the thread back on any one of these businesses, it’s always the same deal: The poor underwrite the fantasies of the middle class, who in turn underwrite the realities of the rich.”
  • Shigeru Miyamoto Wants to Create a Kinder World (New Yorker). “It’s important to note that, in our household, all the video-game hardware belonged to me, and the children understood that they were borrowing these things. If they couldn’t follow the rules, then there was an understanding that I could just take the machine away from them. [Laughs.] When it was good weather outside, I would always encourage them to play outside. They played a lot of Sega games, too, by the way.”

Science: “A mountain of theory built on a molehill of evidence”

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I recently finished A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. From a single book I’ve never learned so much and so little at the same time. I’ve also never read a more absorbing science book. Whereas I usually highlight a few passages from each book, I highlighted more than two dozen parts of this book upon completion — it covers that much ground.  Continue reading…

Part-time vlogger: These are my most popular YouTube videos

I launched a YouTube channel several years ago solely out of curiosity.

To date I’ve uploaded 38 videos, half of which are songs from my debut record.

Most of my videos have a few dozen total views, but a few surprisingly have numbered in the thousands. They are as follows:

  1. Underdog swing fail. This is a six second video of my youngest son kicking the camera out of my hand after attempting an underdog. It has 123,000 views!
  2. Newfoundland road trip. This is a three and a half minute video of my road trip through Newfoundland with my brother-in-law Clay. It has 2,000 views.
  3. Utah Lake: We found the elusive Bird Island by jet-ski. This is a 30 second video of my buddy Garrit and I happening upon a bird filled island several years ago. It has 376 views.
  4. Backpacking the Uintas: 5 men, 1 mountain, lots of fish. This is a 3 minute video of a recent backpacking trip with friends. it has 354 views.
  5. Super Cover performing “Lonely Boy” by Black Keys. This is a 3 minute video of my cover band playing after only a couple of practices. It has 212 views.

Thanks for watching!

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13 things I learned in France

2012-paris-montage

The story first published to blakesnow.com in the fall of 2012

With the help of two babysitting grandmas, a good job, and lots of decisiveness, Lindsey and I vacationed in Paris this year for her birthday. It was our first time to Yurp. (And I thought Boston was old!)

Travel bragging aside, I learned several things on the trip, including a few reoccurring generalizations. They are as follows: Continue reading…

Does “until death do you part” apply to spouses that lose their mind?

This long-read by Chris Solomon about losing his father to dementia and what it did to his mother is one of the most moving articles I’ve read all year:

I am still single at middle age. Long commitments have not suited me. The way I feel about love is the way I feel standing before the ocean. Its vastness frightens me—to give yourself over to something so large, so borderless, so beautiful, so brutal. Growing up, I was awed by the devotion of my mother and father to each other, those people whom I admired most. I saw them laughing and bobbing and waving amid the whitecaps of their marriage. As I grew older, I watched couples more closely. I saw the misery that is twin to love and devotion. I watched my parents, near the end. I saw a husband receding from view. I saw a wife with one arm stretched out to him, the other reaching to shore—as Stevie Smith wrote, not waving but drowning.

I don’t know if it was extra poignant since my dad suffers from dementia, but either way it’s beautiful.

Better movies: Why Metacritic is more reliable than Rotten Tomatoes

From Quartz: “Imagine you are deciding between two different movies. Five of your friends say movie A is nothing special, but definitely above average. Of those same five friends, four tell you movie B is amazing, but one says it is a bit below average and wouldn’t recommend it.

“Which movie would you choose to see? For me, the clear answer is movie B. I’d prefer an 80% chance of seeing a great movie than a 100% of one that is just pretty good. Yet, if you rely on the popular movie review website Rotten Tomatoes, you would be steered toward movie A. This is unfortunate, and a result of bad statistical methodology.”

Metacritic, on the other hand, weights its reviews and more accurately predicts award-winning movies, the data shows. It also lets you compare critical reviews from audience ones for a fuller picture of how well a movie is received. I’ve been using Metacritic for nearly two decades and highly recommend it.

 

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Good stuff: 5 ways to build resilience

Rescue Time recently published a data-filled article on improving focus in a restricted world that’s still sorting itself out. Although their recommendations (below) aren’t applicable to everyone, the following five certainly are:

  1. Develop an ‘indifferent’ attitude to the things you can’t change
  2. Deprioritize tasks that are bringing you stress without any return
  3. Rebuild your passion and curiosity after burning out
  4. Use the ‘scientific method’ to find your ideal working habits
  5. Create hard boundaries on excessive emails, all-day Zoom calls, and late-night work

I learned the first lesson in anger management. Spoiler alert: this really works and has enabled me to let go of my anger associated with what I believe to be draconian restrictions. The last point I learned while developing my first book. The better boundaries we set, the better we’re able to nurture all of our talents and needs.

As for the rest, I highly recommend you try them, namely quitting habits that aren’t doing anything for you, trying new things when your old routine no longer works, and trying new approaches to your work before giving up or keeping the ones that have a positive impact.

The First Personal Computer Wasn’t a Phone

The following excerpt comes from my newest book, Measuring History: How One Unsung Company Quietly Changed the World.

If there’s one theme that runs deep within the founding DNA of National Instruments, it is this: “Nothing beats dumb luck.”

Long-time CEO Jim Truchard is credited with imparting the belief during his four decades at the helm, and the principle certainly caught on, especially with early-generation employees and executives. “It’s basically a pleasing and modest way of saying we’ll succeed with hard work and luck, but to be great, we also need good timing,” explains Steve Rogers, who was hired in 1984 and serves as one of LabVIEW’s chief architects. “We were lucky to grow when we did.”

Almost everyone I spoke to internally for this book repeated the refrain: “Nothing beats dumb luck. This would have never worked had computers not become affordable and accessible to everyone. We were in the right place at the right time.”

What was that place and time? For those who grew up with smartphones and touchscreens in their hands, it’s important to understand that the “personal computer” (or PC) revolution of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s was a very different place and time. Society had no idea that bulky desktop and laptop computers would eventually merge with cellphones to become pocket-sized supercomputers, so at the time they called them “personal computers.”

Continue reading…

What I learned from a lack of travel this year

For nearly 20 years, I’ve traveled at least once a quarter for fun. Over the last six years, I’ve traveled 8-10 times a year as a working journalist. With few notable exceptions, that all came to a screeching halt this year.

Although not being able to travel might be a first-world problem, having closed borders is no laughing matter. Since restrictions started, here’s what I learned from the lack of travel over the past 10 months: Continue reading…

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I have a job because a lot of companies speak in confusing code

Watch this comical video to see what I mean. Not everyone talks like this, of course, but a lot of companies do.

For whatever reason (usually cultural ones), businesses like to speak in code to each other, and then they pay me to decode the nonsense into something actual humans can understand in written form.

It’s a confusing phenomenon, but I ain’t complaining. I love doing it.

See also: Why corporate speak is garbage language

Book review: One Summer is the fascinating story of how America became a super power

Most historians agree that America became the wold’s superpower in the early 1900s, either after the building the Panama Canal or certainly for their help in winning World War I.

Author Bill Bryson, however, convincingly argues that the county truly congealed that status in the summer of 1927, when Charles Lindberg became a global superstar after becoming the first person to fly across the Atlantic; “talking pictures” began exporting American thoughts, attitudes, and culture en masse; installment plans made modern consumerism possible; television was invented, and Babe Ruth became the first athletic superstar. Amazingly, a lot more happened that summer, too, which you’ll need to read to find out for yourself.

With one or two exceptions later in the book—where Bryson sorta goes off on a tangent about seemingly unconnected things that happened that summer (such as what book publishers did that summer)—I found the history to be fascinating and often gripping. Either way, “It was one hell of a summer,” Bryson writes.

Here’s my favorite passage: “It is a little hard to imagine now, but Americans in the 1920s had grown up in a world in which most of the most important things happened in Europe. Now suddenly America was dominant in nearly every field—in popular culture, finance and banking, military might, invention and technology. The center of gravity for the planet was moving to the other side of the world, and Charles Lindbergh’s flight somehow became the culminating expression of that.”

★★★★☆

3 ways to save your life (motivational speech)

NOTE: You can alternatively watch this article on YouTube—it’s pretty cool and features some of my favorite movie scenes.

Hi, my name is Blake Snow. I am an author and practicing husband and father from Provo, Utah. I recently published my second book called Measuring History about an unknown Texas company that quietly changed the world. I hope you read it.

Many years ago, a hospice nurse from Australia named Bronnie Ware asked thousands of patients on their deathbeds to share their biggest regrets in life. This was number one: “I wish I lived a life that was true to myself instead of trying to satisfy others’ expectations of me.” This was number two: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

To avoid these common mistakes and prevent history from repeating, each of us must change our default, human behavior. The good news is there are three, science-backed daily habits we can adopt to accomplish this. I discovered these while writing my first book, Log Off, and have closely followed them to wonderful heights over the last decade.

These 3 life-saving strategies are as follows: Continue reading…

Recent clippings: Surviving recessions, travel restrictions, and COVID winters

Courtesy Shutterstock

Thanks for reading and sharing the ones that interest you the most:

NO KIDDING: I saw my second UFO sighting of my life this month 🛸

NOT what I saw but thematically similar (Courtesy Shutterstock)

While driving home recently, my wife, son, and I witnessed 10-12 UFOs heading east into the night sky. They were lined up like planes heading to the airport, but they weren’t blinking and the airport is north, not east.

The objects were flying in formation in a mostly straight line. But one by one, the distant lights faded away as they crossed a certain threshold of the cloudless night sky. I was so mesmerized, I thought to myself, “Pull over and take video,” but then I reasoned, “There’s got to be a logical explanation that will manifest itself soon,” so I kept driving. Moments later, the line of UFOs were gone. I don’t know if they were alien, but they were certainly unidentified, mysterious flying objects like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Fun fact: this was the second UFO sighting I’ve seen in my life. The first was as a boy from my window-filled room on Orchard Street in Stillwater, Oklahoma. For that, there were no other witnesses. I saw a dime-sized black-lit oval (with several white lights spaced out like chocolate chips on a cookie) fly across the horizon at a speed that was twice as fast as either a satellite or fighter jet. I immediately ran to my mother to tell her. I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. And she believed me!

I can’t tell you how wonderful that felt, to have my mother believe in a mystery that I had just experienced. She didn’t judge or even express skepticism. She sincerely believed and supported me, which is about the best any of us can do when something unexplained happens.

UPDATE: Mystery solved! After further research, my friend Matt rightfully determined that what we witnessed was SpaceX’s new Starlink internet satellites.

6 months later: How a $2 billion startup failed

Courtesy Shutterstock

This is a great read by Bloomberg about the sudden rise and fall of Quibi, a short-lived streaming platform that threw a lot of money and hype at a problem that didn’t exist:

“By September, Quibi’s user base had crept to about 400,000, putting it far behind the company’s internal projections of 7.4 million viewers by the end of 2020. That same month, Whitman and Katzenberg considered raising more money or selling the company. They pitched Apple, Facebook, WarnerMedia, and NBCUniversal, none of whom bit on either option, according to people familiar with the meetings. With $350 million left, the co-founders abruptly decided to shut down the service.”

I remember hearing about the company when they launched this spring, thinking to myself “Who would pay $8 a month for 10-minute short movies?” and then I never heard from them again, until this news broke. It must be hard to get good feedback on new ideas when you’ve already found success like these two famous cofounders previously had.

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My go-to breakfast: Peanut butter toast topped with bananas and cinnamon

Photo Blake Snow

This thing is a taste and texture explosion!

I like it because the toast and crunchy peanut butter are perfectly balanced by the creaminess of the butter and soft bananas on top that cushion the roof of your mouth. And the cinnamon adds just the right kick of spice!

Better yet, it’s packed with carbs, proteins, and fats to give your body all the macro nutrients it needs to start the day. Pair with whole milk. Hope you enjoy!

First sign of civilization: This quote by Ira Byrock gives me the feels

Courtesy Shutterstock

“Years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.

“But no. Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.

“A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts, Mead said.”

“We are at our best when we serve others. Be civilized.”—Ira Byrock

Good and bad: What I liked most about 2020

Running man at Delicate Arch

I’m conflicted about this year.

On the one hand, 2020 has been the most difficult year of my life. After pandemic struck, I was underemployed and making less than half my normal income for much of the year. As a social butterfly that values gatherings, events, and travel, it’s been hard to pretend to be something I’m not: an introverted, ineffectual homebody that’s suppose to keep their distance.

To be asked to do this for an indefinite period of time is even worse, especially after a country of 10 million (Sweden) has avoided lockdowns, face masks, and closed businesses, even though their death rate is better than Spain, Italy, France, and America (who all opted for strict closures and mask use — go figure).

On the other hand, there’s a lot more to like about 2020 than not. In fact, it’s far from being the “dumpster fire” it’s been called. Although I wouldn’t consider it my favorite year, it’s certainly the most memorable. Here’s why: Continue reading…

Thinking we’re “important” by overworking

Courtesy Shutterstock

The following expert from Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting was cited by a recent reader as their favorite passage in the book:

People want their lives to have meaning. They don’t want a third of it (i.e., the ideal time spent working) to be spent in vain. So we delude ourselves into thinking that our work has some cosmic purpose to justify working more hours, which, on the surface, would suggest more importance. But quantity is not the same as quality. If I’m really being honest, my epitaph should read: “Occupation: Helped companies sell more widgets and advertising with written words.” None of us are that big of a deal. Yes, industry and economy are an important endeavor. But it’s not as important as sharing a smile with someone, realizing your child will be smarter than you, feeling insignificant amid a majestic landscape, experiencing and nurturing true love, finding your groove, watching an underdog upset the establishment, catching a wave, or eating a homemade chocolate chip cookie. The sooner we accept our dispensability and nothingness, the sooner we’ll rightfully fill our lives with greater, more qualitative meaning.

Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving!

Utah less-traveled: Going extinct in Dinosaur National Monument

My latest for Fodor’s: With so many other national parks and recreation areas overshadowing it, northeastern Utah is easily overlooked, especially when compared to Southern Utah. But with many of the same features minus the crowds, little-known Vernal is like Moab before it became overrun with tourists. From remarkable hiking, surreal canyons, and amazing arches, to prehistoric digs, whitewater rafting, and legalized cliff jumping, there’s so much to like about this so-called “Dinosaurland.” Continue reading…

Why does America play “The Star-Spangled Banner” before sporting events?

Courtesy Shutterstock

Although unusual elsewhere in the world, the United States is very patriotic and proud when it comes to commencing athletic events with its own national anthem. Why is that?

In this excellent 12 minute report by Cheddar, it’s fascinating to see how the tradition took root, and how it might change (or not) in the coming years.

My personal opinion: I like the sporting staple and don’t think it’s overplayed, since most people only participate in it when in person or during big televised events such as the Super Bowl or Olympics.

The rest of the time we mostly skip it, which keeps the anthem from becoming blasé (unless of course your one of the rare athletes that hears it before every game).

5 great outdoors that cross borders

Black Hills / Devil’s Tower courtesy Shutterstock

My latest for Orbitz: When European settlers first started carving up territories (and eventually independent states and countries) in the “New World” during the second half of the last millennium, they didn’t care about splitting up natural wonders or continuous sections of geography. They drew borders solely for political and/or easily marked reasons. Which is why North America is divided the way we see it today.

So when it comes to seeing some of the greatest outdoors on the continent, sometimes you have to cross borders to experience the full thing. Here’s why the following are worth someday seeing from both sides. Continue reading at Orbitz…

What is math? The answer will surprise you

Was it invented or discovered? Does it even exist or is it just a Jedi mind trick to help us understand and observe how the world works? The answer might surprise you; I highly recommend you read this.

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Where I stand on American politics

American politics are a turn off. So I don’t watch 24 hour news. But American politics are also important. Which is why I read candidate bios before casting my vote.

As an unaffiliated, independent, business-owning voter living in a conservative state, I typically vote 60% Republican and 40% Democrat in local, state, and federal elections.

To give you an idea of my presidential voting record, I didn’t vote in the 2000 election while living abroad and I didn’t vote in 2004, because I didn’t like either candidate.

President Obama was the first president I actually voted for. He did a good job, but since I like fresh blood and am pro business, I voted Romney in my next election, followed by Clinton as the lesser of two evils last time, and Jo Jorgensen this time (i.e. a vote for good is better than the lesser of two evils). So two no votes, two votes for democrats, one vote for republican, and one vote for libertarian at the federal level. My local and state election record skews slightly more Republican.

As the last fiscally conservative president that actually balanced the federal budget, I think Bill Clinton is the best president of my life time so far. I liked Reagan’s personality, but in hindsight I disliked his turning the former “conservative” party into a big spending, liberal one (i.e. I only like liberal parties so long as there is a conservative party to keep it in check, and vice versa). I didn’t have a strong opinion on the first President Bush. I thought the second President Bush was a well-meaning man surrounding by poor advisers, and I disliked his war on terror.

I like President Obama’s optimism and moderate approach to the presidency, but I disagreed with his signature policy of insuring people rather than improving their actual health. I liked that President Trump has saved me on taxes and how he renegotiated several international treaties. But I dislike his wall approach, his insulting attacks on people he disagrees with, and his total lack of diplomacy. I don’t believe a vote for Trump is a vote for a racist dictator that will ruin the world. But I don’t feel comfortable voting for him either.

As a federalist, I support the electoral college, even at the expense of the popular vote sometimes. I believe in checks and balances and would hate for any party to control both the presidency and both houses of congress. And I think ranked choice voting is the best way to improve the quality of politicians we elect.

Here’s where I stand on the biggest issues put forth by the country’s two largest parties: The Democrats and The Republicans: Continue reading…

OUT NOW: My new book might just change the way you see the world

After more than a year of interviews, reporting, writing, editing, revisions, proofreading, and a couple of months of quarantine (hence the two month delay), I’m excited to announce the release of my second book, Measuring History: How One Unsung Company Quietly Changed The World. We were suppose to do a big book launch party in Texas but that was cancelled for COVID.

Nevertheless, I’m immensely proud of the result and look forward to celebrating and promoting the book over the next several months and into the new year. If you liked my first book, I hope you’ll consider reading this one about a special “little” company from Austin that changed the world in a big, albeit unseen way.

Book description here:

In 1976, three engineers from Austin, Texas created something that would one day touch the lives of more than half of the developed world. Neither “starting a revolution” nor “changing the world” was included in their mission statement. But with the help of some very smart people, a little dumb luck, and a lot of inventive customers, that’s exactly what happened.

From its humble beginnings in a garage and narrowly avoiding a burnt-down headquarters, to making it to space and being honored by the Inventors Hall of Fame, this is the story of how National Instruments (NI) made history. It might not be sexy. It might not be cool. But it’s a true tale that just might change how you see the world.

Thanks for considering it, reading, reviewing on Amazon, and forwarding to all your reader friends.

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How Germany protects its borders with compassion and order

This is an amazing story on how Germany uses detectives to root out lying “refugees” from the ones who really mean well:

“What [the program] has achieved, beyond doubt, is a more limited political goal: to begin to assure Germans that their government’s refugee policy is not simply the absence of a policy. One perplexing question for liberals worldwide is why conservatives seem not to care about the data suggesting that over time, refugees improve the countries that receive them. For one, they can relieve demographic pressures. (Japan’s population is aging, and because immigration remains low, the development of geriatric-helper robots is a national concern.) And refugees tend to be enterprising. “Consider how much courage and determination it takes to put your 2-year-old daughter on your back, grab your 4-year-old son by the hand, and start walking toward Europe,” James Stavridis, who was the supreme commander of nato from 2009 to 2013, told me. “I want that person on my team.”

Continue reading…

Top 10 National Parks to visit in autumn

Courtesy Shutterstock

My latest travel dispatch: Just to be clear—there is never a bad time to visit a National Park! Except for during road closures, wild fires, rush-hour like traffic on holidays, or maybe even extreme temperatures in summer or winter.

That said, many National Parks are especially amazing in autumn, aka America’s favorite season, according to a recent BuzzFeed survey. Not only does fall welcome far fewer crowds and more manageable temperatures to our nation’s public parks, but it also brings with it the changing of the leaves, bringing out nature’s wild palette of colorful trees. Want to see the best of the best for fall? Look no further than these top picks.

Continue reading at Orbitz…

3 reasons why mainstream media so liberal

As a working, independent journalist for over 15 years now, I can attest that there is, in fact, a liberal bias in the media. In fact, 37% of journalists identify as liberal, while just 7% as conservative, according to the Washington Post. The rest, myself included, are independent.

Having written for dozens of moderate outlets such as CNN and even Fox News and MSNBC—the most extreme publications for American news bias—I also have a lot of insight into why that is. Here’s why. Continue reading…

The trouble with travel in an “open” pandemic

Courtesy Shutterstock

My latest for Fodor’s: “Shortly after coronavirus restrictions closed international borders last spring, I asked a dozen travel experts on when those borders might reopen. The immediate answer was discouraging: sometime in 2021 at the earliest. Many of those same experts accurately predicted, however, that domestic borders would reopen this summer and fall, which is exactly what happened.

“So how have travel forecasts changed over the last half-year, if at all? Are there any silver linings or is there any good news on the horizon for those hoping to travel as we did in the past? And what will it take to regain access to the places we lost this year?

“While there’s no easy answer to those questions, this is what many of those same experts say now: Everything is subject to change in this hesitant, inconsistent new world.” Continue reading…

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The Mad Genius of Eddie Van Halen

The Atlantic on the death of Eddie Van Halen: “How do we categorize his music? Soft hard rock. Light heavy metal… In the end, they were crossover artists. Beloved of girls, beloved of boys, with Eddie always, always taking it beyond. The far brought near. Excess without vulgarity. America, don’t forget how beautiful you are; you created the conditions for Eddie Van Halen.”

Why people love Dan Brown, the world’s most polarizing writer

This is a great read by Jason Diamond on why critics hate Dan Brown but readers love him.

“William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie have sold in the billions. Danielle Steel and J.K. Rowling have both moved somewhere on the order of 500 million. Stan and Jan Berenstain sold about 250 million copies of their picture books about a family of eponymous, anthropomorphized bears. Stephen King beats out Brown, checking in around 350 million, and a handful of Japanese manga writers are up there as well. But at around 50th on the list, you’ll find him: Dan Brown, American author of just seven novels (Digital Fortress is the only pre-Langdon title), with 200 million sold copies to his name.”

I devoured Brown’s first four page-turners (Digital Fortress, Deception Point, Angels & Demons, Da Vinci Code) at the turn of the century and have fond memories of doing so. He’s more than deserving of his popularity.

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I love this long-read about two murdered Americans who were biking across the world

Courtesy Outside

They were both modern-day martyrs, reports Outside magazine.

“Back when Austin and Geoghegan were cycling through Spain, after they were rescued by a stranger in the middle of a snowstorm, Austin wrote a post on his blog. “We live in a world where how you live is dictated largely by how you trust. If you do not trust others, if you believe human nature to be something dark and rotten, you close yourself off to a whole lot. If you do not open the shutters, all you get is darkness, no matter what’s outside. True, you may get darkness even if the shutters are open. Darkness or something worse: a rock hurled through your window, a tree branch kicked up by violent winds. But there’s no way to let the light in unless you open your shutters to the wider world.”

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Published works: The rise of “travel shaming” and how to combat it

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My latest for Fodor’s about people who don’t think other people should travel in pandemic: “I think shamers are just scared, probably a little jealous, and don’t know how to handle their frustration or anger,” says travel blogger Kristin Addis. “The only way to handle it is to be OK with disagreeing. Shaming won’t fix anything. It won’t help communities that depend on tourism, and it won’t stop people from traveling either.” Continue reading…

What it’s like to hike in 5000-year-old trees

My latest for Lonely Planet:

“At nearly five millennia old, the bristlecone pines in Nevada’s only National Park are some of the oldest living organisms on earth. Although they don’t have the height or size of record-setting redwoods and sequoias standing in nearby California, ancient bristlecones can live over a thousand years longer, which makes hiking among them a surreal experience.”

Continue reading at Lonely Planet…

NEW MUSIC: My favorite albums of the year

Like 2020 in general, music this year has been both good and bad. It hasn’t been the best since both releases and events are at all-time lows. But there’s been some really good stuff from the little that has been released. Pending any surprise release this winter, these are my favorite albums so far this year:

  1. The Killers, Imploding the Mirage. From front to back, this is a really well written, produced, and performed batch of 10 brilliant songs. Favorite song: Dying Breed
  2. Weeknd, After Hours (Clean). Because I listen to music with my kids and already have enough explicit content in my life, I really like the clean version of Weeknd’s latest album. I think it might be his best yet, even though it’s a slight departure from his previous EDM like production. Favorite song: Scared to Live
  3. Tame Impala, The Slow Rush. Is an okay Tame Impala album better than the best of the rest? If you’re a musical genius like Kevin Parker, the answer is yes. While not as masterful as his previous albums, especially currents, it’s still a good listen with a handful of really strong songs. Favorite song: On Track
  4. The Academic, Acting My Age. I cheated on this because it’s really an EP instead of full-length album, but the included six songs are deliciously fun, catchy, and unabashedly youthful. Favorite Song: Anything Could Happen
  5. Haim, Women in Music Pt. III. This is Haim’s best album to date, in my opinion. Delightful, poppy, foot-tappingly good production. Favorite song: Another Try

HONORABLE MENTION: Mr. Mustache by yours truly. I think it’s the best album by an unsigned artist this year, and not far off from sounding, acting, and producing something you’d expect from a professional team of musicians and producers. Now streaming on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube Music, Amazon and more. Favorite song: Shrug. I hope you enjoy it.

Book review: The Maltese Falcon is powerful without ever sharing thoughts or feelings

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Remarkable author Dashiell Hammett keeps this classic murder mystery going by only describing what characters see and do—never their thoughts or feelings. This makes for a tense and innovative approach to a who-done-it, and even started the hard-boiled, film noir trend of later detective novels and movies. Four out of five stars. 

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Published works: Parks vs Monuments, coping with no travel, best quarantine trips

Courtesy Shutterstock

Although several of my international travel stories are still on hold, a handful of domestic ones recently published that I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading and sharing any you like:

5 things to know before traveling in a pandemic

Judge me if you must, but I’ve been roadtripping with family for the last several months in quarantine to domestic locations that are increasingly open to tourists.

This is what I’ve learned from that changed, strange, but still worthwhile experience of traveling in a pandemic:  Continue reading…

Surplus of time, lack of distractions lead to record guitar sales this year

Two weeks after lockdown began this spring, I went to Guitar Center to pickup some gear for my new album. The place was packed. “It’s been Black Friday every day for the past two weeks,” one clerk told me.

Turns out, the sudden spike in homemade music has remained ever since. Gibson, Fender, and others have already broken record sales this year. One guitar maker sold in June and July what they expected to sell for the entire year!

According to the New York Times, “In a narrow sense, the surge made sense. Prospective players who had never quite found the time to take up an instrument suddenly had little excuse not to. As James Curleigh, the chief executive of Gibson Brands, put it: “In a world of digital acceleration, time is always your enemy. All of a sudden time became your friend.””

That was certainly the case for me. My work slowed, and I didn’t watch any Netflix or read any books during the first five months of quarantine. Instead, I spent all of my spare time making music, which resulted in my debut record and forming my first band since college.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish when time slows, whether by design or by pandemic.

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5 stunning photos of Utah’s great outdoors


Next to California and Alaska, Utah is one of the most disproportionately beautiful and geographically diverse states in America. It has five national parks, 10 national monuments, and dozens of other national recitation areas. Even some of its state parks that would likely be a national park anywhere else (I’m looking at you Snow Canyon). It’s a state I call home, and where I want my ashes spread when I die. About the only thing Utah doesn’t have are beaches, but the red rock just might make up for that absence. Either way, here are five impressive photos of some of the state’s most iconic scenery: Continue reading…

What business can learn from the world’s biggest sporting scandal

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted dozens of global soccer officials on charges of rampant bribery, money laundering, and widespread corruption. As the “FIFA fallout” continues, here’s what organizations can do to keep themselves honest, in good standing with the law, and free from corporate fraud.

The month before the 2014 World Cup was set to kick-off in Brazil, a Los Angeles journalist by the name of Ken Bensinger received a juicy tip from a colleague. According to the tipster, a top U.S. soccer official by the name of Chuck Blazer had defrauded the sport of more than $20 million dollars. Not only did the official deal in the wholesale bribery, but he apportioned 10% of almost every single dollar that came in—even hot dog sales, even on charity games. 

Bensinger did some digging, confirmed the rumors, and published his wild, investigative story for Buzzfeed News. The story went viral, and quickly uncovered a rabbit hole of obscene corruption that reached nearly every region of the global sport, from the bottom to the top. Although international FIFA officials were always suspected of rampant fraud, Bensinger’s story was the first to reveal that the culture of crime had undoubtedly reached U.S. shores. 

A year later, with the help of a cooperating Blazer, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted the first of dozens of FIFA officials on organized crime charges of racketeering, bribery, money laundering, and fraud. That seismic event lead to Bensinger’s groundbreaking and riveting book, Red Card.

I recently spoke to Bensiger about the fallout and what companies can learn from the largest sporting scandal in world history. And although few, if any, legitimate businesses operate as organized crime syndicates like FIFA often did, Bensinger was quick to diffuse the proximity. 

“It was organized crime, but the corruption case also involved several legitimate businesses,” Bensinger says. “Sports marketers, big broadcasters, and sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Sony, and McDonald’s, the latter two which even canceled their contracts with FIFA as a result.”  Continue reading…

7 parenting facts, backed by science

Business Insider recently compiled the latest research on how parenting styles affect our grown children. For example, according to the American Medical Association, Harvard, the University of Michigan, and others:

  1. Kids who do chores grow into more independent and responsible adults.
  2. Kids who are taught social skills end up graduating from college and earning more money.
  3. Kids who were told white lies by their parents have a lot more trust issues as adults.
  4. Kids develop low self esteem after watching their parents speak negatively about their own bodies.
  5. Kids with high expectations and nurturing parents get better grades in school.
  6. Kids who are taught how to verbalize feelings get fewer divorces as adults.
  7. Kids who are sheltered by their parents suffer greater anxiety as adults.

Parenting isn’t easy. But reading the above makes me want to double my efforts. The upside is far too great than giving in to a daily tantrum.

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Recording artist profile: Blake Snow

When a friend recently asked Blake Snow if he was quitting his day job to become a full-time musician, he answered “No.” But that doesn’t mean his debut album, Mr. Mustache, is a joke or something not worth supporting (or even touring). “It’s a synth-laden rock record that I take very seriously,” Snow says.

Written, recorded, and produced entirely in quarantine, Mr. Mustache is the public culmination of more than 25 years of homegrown songwriting, recording, and performing. “I wouldn’t say this record saved my life, but it definitely saved my sanity during lockdown,” Snow says. “I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I had making it.”

Standout tracks include the lead single, Turn A Corner, the moody Control What You Can, the playful Mr. Mustache, and Snow’s personal favorite, Shrug, which also happens to be his go-to coping mechanism for the current madness.

Listen to the full-length album now on:

Power breaks: How stopping helps you work faster (and smarter!)

Courtesy Shutterstock

Do you know what happens when world-class athletes stop taking time-outs? Their body slows down and they start making bad decisions. Anyone who’s every played competitive sports or even performance art already understands this truth.

And yet when it comes to office work, many of us overlook the importance of regular breaks. We mistakenly assume that just because we’re not exerting our bodies, we don’t need rest. But breaking isn’t just for people who tax their bodies for work, it’s for anyone who thinks and makes lots of decisions—you very much included.

To that end, here are 5 ways regular breaks can help you work smarter, faster, and even longer: Continue reading…

Busy in quarantine: My new book is publishing soon (cover here)

I finished writing my second book the day America shutdown on Friday the 13th. In the months since, it was edited, approved, and most recently cover art-ed.

Although it was suppose to publish in August, COVID slowed things down a little. But I’m still confident it will release in the coming weeks, depending on schedules.

Either way, I’m incredibly proud of the result and can’t wait to share it with the world soon. Thanks for considering it.

Top 10 facts about my debut record

Photo by my son, Max Snow

My first album, Mr. Mustache, was released on all major music stores today. I’m proud and excited to share recording with the world. Here are 10 things you should know:

  1. It’s streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music and more. Additionally you can purchase the album for download from iTunes or Amazon. I get like .00000001 of a penny every time you do.
  2. With exception to one song (“Show Me,” co-written by friend Chris Morell), the entire album was written, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered by me in my home office. I even did the cover art.
  3. I wrote and recorded 18 songs for the album, but shelved five and will re-record the sixth for a later release. The album was recorded in Garage Band on my Mac mini and distributed by Amuse.
  4. The record is 41 minutes long, which is the age I turned while finishing the record.
  5. It was produced entirely in quarantine. Although unwanted, “The Great Shutdown” proved to be the most musically inspiring event of my life so far.
  6. It took four months to complete, from pre-production songwriting and arranging, to recording and performing, and ultimately mixing and mastering.
  7. Not since college have I played this much music. Never in my life have I written this much music. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to make noise while the world sorts itself out.
  8. There are six synth pop songs on the 12 track record, plus two rock songs, two pop punk songs, and two ballads.
  9. My friend recently asked if I was quitting writing to become a full-time musician. I replied, “No,” but I plan to release several more albums in my spare time now as an unsigned artist.
  10. You can ask Alexa, OK Google, or Siri to “Play the latest Album by Blake Snow” and they will. Neat!

After my family played the record for this first time this morning, my wife asked in earnest, “Will you cut your mustache now?” I said, “Yes.” But only after my album release party tomorrow!

Thanks for listening and sharing with anyone who might like it.

PS—If you would review the album on your favorite music service, it would really help it reach more people. Thank you.

Listening to this podcast is guaranteed to make you smarter and happier

Credit: Lindsey Snow

I was recently interviewed by Kim Forrester, a wellbeing podcaster from New Zealand, about my book Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting.

I hope you enjoy her delightful accent and questions as much as my answers related to sustainable technology use, how quarantine has changed the rules (or hasn’t), and what you can do right now to reclaim your nights and weekends.

Thanks for listening.

My new song was recording magic. I hope you like it.

I was a mess the first two weeks of quarantine. My wife of 17 years said she had never seen me so stressed.

What did I do to cope?

I started writing music at a frantic pace and recorded 18 original songs in the first three months of shutdown. Twelve of those songs made it on my debut album that’s available for streaming and download on August 20.

One of the songs that really help me move from stress to at least some kind of clarity was called “Control What You Can.” With exception to the bridge, it ‘s only two chords and it has an uneasy feeling, the same feeling most of us felt when the world changed.

But in spite of the uneasy sound, I wrote the encouraging lyrics for myself, pleading to “control what I could” when there was so much I couldn’t control. It was a wonderful realization that help me turn a corner; from stress into action.

When I went to record the song, it was late at night. With my floor lamp and headphones on, I spent several hours on the production and immediately knew I had captured a special sound, arguably the most professional track on the the entire album. By the end, I recorded a simple but righteous guitar solo and sung my heart out during an extended outro.

This is that song. It’s pretty moody. And although the music doesn’t sound very uplifting, the lyrics completely are, which is a juxtaposition that I really like and hope you do to.

Deal with it: Coronavirus increasingly looking like a mainstay cold or seasonal flu

Courtesy Shutterstock

I’ve never been scared of COVID.

I’m still young and in good health, which played a big part in me not feeling vulnerable, since the virus tends to kill older and chronically ill people. But even those groups are both enjoying well over a 99% recovery rate now, according to the latest numbers. Whereas before coronavirus was hospitalizing and killing around 5% of those it infected, those numbers have dropped below 1%. Neither 5% or 1% scares me.

Truth be told, I’ve always sided with Sweden’s controversial, no masks, and little social distancing approach, which allowed schools, businesses, and small gatherings to remain open. That approach is increasingly looking like a more than suitable one that benefited Sweden’s economy without the massive death that the rest of the world predicted they would have.

Furthermore, in a recent report entitled The Coronavirus Is Never Going Away, The Atlantic convincingly argues that COVID will likely become a common cold or seasonal flu strain, like other coronavirus have before it. “I think this virus is with us to the future,” said one vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins. “But so is influenza with us, and for the most part, flu doesn’t shut down our societies. We manage it.”

If that ends up being the case, I’m not sure how soon we can all remove the masks and start “social proximiting.” But I sure hope it’s sooner than later. As one commenter recently said, “Sitting at home shaking with fear while pointing the critical finger is no life.”

How Mount Everest became a crowded me$$

Courtesy Nirmal Purja/Twitter

This is an excellent long-read on the overpopulation of bagging Mount Everest (aka “the world’s highest junkyard”).

From The Hustle: “On Everest, even these deaths come at a premium. Retrieving a body is an extremely challenging endeavor that requires as many as 10 Sherpas and can cost up to $70k. Most corpses are left on the mountain; some, like “Green Boots,” become immortalized as trail markers.”

No, thank you.

CANCELLED: My cover band is playing a free outdoor show in Provo on Sep. 12

SHOW CANCELLED: Due to drummer issues 😔, our band won’t be playing this weekend. I hope to announce a rescheduled date later this fall. Thanks for your support. 💪

Music has been good to me in quarantine.

In addition to recording an album, I started a cover band with three local musicians.

We call ourselves “Super Cover” and play energetic, dance rock songs that’ll make you want to sing. As you can see, Ashton Bennet rips on guitar. Caleb Browning destroys the bass and backing vocals. Jayce Ward keeps perfect time on drums. And I sing while playing a mean tambourine sometimes.

Our first all-ages show is Saturday, September 12 on the outdoor stage at the Provo Riverwoods Mall. We plan on playing from 7:30–9:00 pm. Our setlist includes bangers from The Black Keys, Fitz & The Tantrums, Muse, MGMT, Phoenix, Tame Impala, Grouplove, and Awolnation among others, not to mention a couple of ’80s surprises.

Hope to see you there. 🤘

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Another day, another report on falling crime rates in America. Will anyone listen?

Courtesy Shutterstock

More than half of Americans think crime is getting worse, according to FiveThirtyEight. Truth is: this majority is wrong. Both property and violent crimes have decreased by nearly 75% over the last three decades.

On top of that, everything else is down too, according to Factfulness. Death, poverty, illness, disease—everything. And we can confidently say that without fear of things getting worse if we admit that. Humans get better. Period. We progress and we still will.

Problem is, fear has a nasty way of impeding our progress. For example, “The trouble is that fear about crime isn’t rational, and it’s hard to convince people to think differently about a problem that they don’t experience on a day-to-day basis anyway,” reports FiveThirtyEight. “’You can tell Americans that the crime rate is lower today than it was in the 1990s, but it won’t feel real to them,’ said Kevin Wozniak, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts Boston. ‘That is, unless politicians stop drumming up the crime rate and people stop hearing about murder every night on the local news.'”

This is especially compounded in middle class and rich countries like America. These types of societies fear more irrational things than others, because they have the luxury of worrying about a lot more stupid things than basic necessities and average wants and needs.

So they worry. They overstate their fears. Then they become victims of that fear.

Coincidentally, we see a lot of similar fears taking hold today about public health. Both are valid concerns, mind you. But I believe both are equally overstated and misunderstood.

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My first album will release August 20 on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and more!

I’m incredibly proud of the album and what it did for me during quarantine. I hope you mark your calendars and enjoy as many songs as possible. Here is the track listing:

  1. Under Quarantine
  2. Turn A Corner
  3. Shrug
  4. Show Me
  5. Control What You Can
  6. Mr. Mustache
  7. No Longer The Same
  8. Victim
  9. Bad Friends
  10. Time Isn’t Money
  11. Going Up
  12. Minuteman

Thanks for giving it a chance. I know it seems weird to have a writer release an album, but I hope you take it as serious as I have. I think you’ll find there are some redeeming, heartfelt songs inside.

What to pack for a camping trip?

Courtesy Shutterstock

My latest for Orbitz: “In case you didn’t know, there’s been a boom in camping this summer. In wake of COVID quarantines, people are gravitating toward trips and activities that come with built-in social distancing. Camping, of course, is a great option. But packing for either a short- or long-term camping trip involves a lot more than just a tent and smores. Looking to spend a night in the great outdoors? Consider these 17 items before you go.” Continue reading…

Miss travel? Here are 10 ways to cope, according to science

My latest for Lonely Planet: “The past few months have been a challenge for everyone. But for travelers, wanderlusters, and global adventurers, the closed borders and shrinking world have been especially depressing. Here are 10 ways to cope for the foreseeable future, according to experts.”

SEE ALSO: My latest for Orbitz—What your summer vacation will look like this year

What it’s like to escape the mindset of a conspiracy theorist

Courtesy Boston Globe

This is a great report by Vice on quitting conspiracy theories. From the article:

“These days, Dave lives differently. ‘Mentally, I’m in a much better place. There isn’t a boogeyman around every corner. The mistrust and paranoia is gone. Some of my former compatriots would compare me to Winston Smith at the end of 1984, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I am able to trust that 2+2=4. Earthquakes happen, people die, stuff happens. There isn’t always a nefarious plot behind it.'”

I’m releasing my first album this summer—here is the cover and lead single

Like many of you reading this, the last four months have been the most eventful, strangest, and unsettling spring of my life. But it’s also been one of the best (i.e. bonding with family, completing my second book, starting a band).

In that time, I also wrote, produced, sung, and recorded 16 original songs. I just finished the last one this week and just need to make some finishing touches and final mastering before independently releasing the album to Spotify, Apple, and Amazon Music in the coming weeks.

I’m incredibly proud of the result and grateful for it helping me to cope with this fearful new, but still incredibly beautiful world. I can’t wait for you to hear the whole thing.

Until then, here is the “lead single” entitled Turn A Corner.

Doing what you love is all about enjoying the process more than the reward

If you enjoy the effort of doing something more than the result, you will be good at whatever you decide to do.

In my case, when I spend days, weeks, months, or even years writing something, I love that process more than the minutes, hours, or days it takes me to read the result.

I’m not exaggerating to prove a point. It’s true. I love the act of writing more than the result (although the result is really nice icing on the cake that sustains me to the next result). Asking a lot of people if I can write for them is worth the rejection.

That’s how you know you can “win” at something—because you enjoy the mastery time, effort, and rejection required more than the average person.

In my case, I would write for free, I love it so much. Which is precisely how I started writing, for free, on this blog (and still do). Because I love writing so much, I’ve gotten good enough at it that people will pay me to write for them.

Which is a fulfillment of Joker’s absolutism: “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”

I’ll disagree with him on the “never” aspect, since you sometimes have to work for free to keep learning and growing. But the point is hard work is valued.

So find work you love doing and the value will take care of itself.

“I’m average, but average people make it!”

My wife and I at the summit of Olympus (courtesy Steven Smith)

I firmly believe that all humans are remarkable and average at the same time. Even Da Vinci, Einstein, and Mozart were average to mediocre in many areas of their lives.

The vast majority of us, however, are neither geniuses nor special. We must accept that, on the whole, we are average. That shouldn’t keep us from dreaming big and trying to be remarkable in a handful of special ways. But acceptance of our averageness can be a powerful motivator in the proper context.

This week with family I summited Mount Olympus, an eight mile roundtrip hike that climbs (then drops) 1000 feet every mile. At one point while approaching the final push to the summit, my brother-in-law Steven blurted out, “I’m average—but average people make it!”

We all laughed out loud and immediately appreciated what he was reinforcing. That is, life is hard sometimes, but the average life overcomes hardship—at least on average.

It’s reassuring to know that over tens of thousands of years (and millions if you consider our ancestors), average humans have survived incredibly difficult things, over and over again. Pandemics. Floods. Pestilence. Earthquakes. Racism. Wars. Famine. Poverty.

We survive despite our averageness. And that makes us remarkable. 💪

Surprising news: Tambourines are in 50% of popular music (including punk rock)

With little else to do in quarantine, I’ve been making a lot of music over the last four months. I’ve recorded an album’s worth of original material, which I hope to release this summer, and started rehearsing with a live cover band—a rock quartet comprised of me singing, Ashton Bennett melting faces on guitar, Caleb Browning rocking a ridiculous amount of bass and backing vocals, and Jayce Ward not missing a beat on drums. (video evidence here)

Though both experiences, I’ve learned two important lessons:

  1. I love making music. I learned guitar and started singing in middle school and played in several bands through college. But with notable exception to listening to lots of new music, I largely quit making it after marrying, having children, and taking up writing. Quarantine changed all of that for the better. It’s a wonderful feeling to make harmonious noise while the world slowly sorts itself out.
  2. Tambourines are in over 50% of popular music. While recording, studying, and performing more live music than ever before, I’ve been immediately struck by the amount of tambourines used in recorded music (at least the kind of pop and rock that I mostly listen to), and how much better they make live music sound. I realize tambourines are the ugly stepchild of music, but let me explain why they’re used more than even synthesizers when it comes to making popular music.

Continue reading…

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Published works: 10 vacations to safely book this summer (Fodor’s)

Courtesy Shutterstock

My latest for Fodor’s: Ready or not, the world is starting to reopen to both shoppers and travelers, after more than three months of quarantine. Although international borders are still largely closed, most state borders are open to domestic visitors. Granted, it will take a lot more time and research to pull off a successful interstate trip these days. But for many, the added hassle, increased risks, and fewer options are still worth it. They aren’t perfect. But until further notice, this is as good as it gets. Continue reading…

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Good news: American democracy is less broken than you think

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Divisive presidents, partisan gridlock, identity politics, and fake news are not new, argue the authors of Democracy Despite Itself. In fact, these frustrating problems have been around since America declared independence nearly 250 years ago.

“The history of democracy is a story of ignorant voters making questionable decisions, and unqualified elected officials implementing abysmal policies,” say researchers Danny Oppenheimer and Mike Edwards. “And yet, by every measure of well-being that has ever been studied, citizens of democracies are doing better than any other form of government. We live longer. We have more wealth. We are better educated. We are safer… Yes, inequality, poverty, and crime still exist, but that is true of every society. No society is perfect, but democracies are less imperfect.”

Not only that, but democracies do a better job improving the existing inefficiencies better than other governments, without widespread bloodshed, the authors argue. Like capitalism, democracy has a proven track record of being the most progressive system available to enrich societies.

In other words, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!

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The first music I bought as a 10 year old

I was raised on Beach Boys, Beatles, ABBA, Led Zeppelin, and ’80s soft rock hits in that order. My father largely exposed me to the first three. My older sister Cami to Zeppelin. And my mother to the latter.

But it wasn’t until the spring of 1990, at the ripe age of 10, that I thought to myself, “I love this song, and I need to spend money on it to start my own music collection.”

The song was Technotronic’s “Pump Up The Jam,” which is a tasty mix of both hip-hop and house music. So on a visit to an Oklahoman Walmart with my mother, I forked over what I remember being around $8 for the album on cassette. I listened to that thing constantly while pretending to be Michael Jordan with my over the door basketball hoop.

Later that year, I was mesmerized by Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” so I bought and devoured that album on cassette too. I don’t remember the third album I bought, but I remember borrowing and adoring my sister Summer’s Nirvana Nevermind CD on the regular.

From there my musical tastes traveled far and wide. With exception to select Nine In Nails songs, there are only two genres that I actively dislike: industrial and death metal. Everything else is fair game.

Readers: What was the first piece of music you bought for yourself?

How freelance writers can pitch publications in two (not so) easy steps

An aspiring freelance writer recently emailed asking me how to increase her chances of placing articles with editors. She seemed eager to learn and willing to work, so this is what I told her:

  1. Keep your pitches (and requests in general) to a single paragraph. If you can’t sell a story or request for help in just a few sentences, you won’t be able to sell it in several paragraphs, which is annoying and disrespectful to an editor’s time. If they want more information, they’ll ask.
  2. Ask 100 editors if they’ll run your story. After most or all ignore you, ask them 3-4 times more. Often times it takes that much to get a favorable response, even after you get some good bylines under your belt. Usually I start by emailing my top 25 editors, and if no one bites, I’ll increase that number. But I didn’t place my first story with Wired Magazine until the 100th editor!

Lastly, I’d argue that most beginning writers struggle with wordiness. They like to hear themselves talk, and it shows in their bloated writing, which neither editors nor readers like. It sounds obvious, but to succeed as a freelance writer, you must be able to write in a way that appeals to a lot of other readers.

Think short sentences. Crystal clarity. Spicy words. Well-researched and genuine arguments. And in an increasingly distracted world, compelling writing requires more brevity than ever before.

Placing articles ain’t easy, but it’s totally worth it.

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Why I like all protests and rallies, even ones I disagree with

Courtesy Shutterstock

I was raised on the belief that few things are more American than protesting.

In high school, I successfully protested a high school teacher for saying that I had to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Although I was sitting out of laziness, as soon as she told me I “must stand,” I remained seated in legal defiance. The next day after my friend and I failed to stand, she sent us to the principal. After meeting with school officials, it was determined that students didn’t have to stand for the Pledge. So on the third day, our teacher humbly stood in front of our class and said she was wrong and apologized. From then on, my friend and I stood for the Pledge every single day with the utmost respect.

I felt a similar feeling of pride watching “reopen the economy” protesters this spring. I was saddened to them being shamed for protesting nationwide quarantines. There’s never a bad time to protest! If anything, lockdowns are the ideal time to protest.

Recently, I’ve felt equal amounts of pride watching “black lives matter” and “celebrate police” protests. Although seemingly on opposite ends of the political spectrum, I believe both are justified and honorable. As with all complicated issues in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Cops are sometimes brutally and deathly racists, and we should try to fix that. But mostly they are good, and they should still be celebrated. Continue reading…

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How my book forever changed a dentist’s life

Earlier this month, I received one of the nicest reader emails ever. With his permission (and edited for clarity), I share the letter in the hopes that it might inspire someone else:

Hi Blake. I want to let you know how great an impact your book Log Off had on my life.

You see, I was overwhelmed, unable to focus, distracted, and constantly tired. I kind of knew the source of it all, but was unable to express it, even to myself. Now, thanks to you, I have changed my relationship with technology, and my life is increasingly better.

A few things about me: my name is Mauricio Munoz. I am 48 year-old dentist from Bogota, Colombia. I love technology. I really like the internet and all the possibilities and access to information and communication that it entails.

I love devices like smartphones, but I realized, after reading your book, that I was addicted to those things. I was completely dominated by the dopamine fix that those devices and connectivity gave me. Now I feel much better. Thanks a lot, man.

Here are some major changes I’ve made:

  1. Now I use a dumb phone. My office has a smartphone managed by my staff, but it’s only used for business.
  2. I do own a smartphone, but I use it with no sim card. Like a tablet mostly for online banking, communication with family overseas, and for its very good camera. But I don’t carry it with me all the time, and sometimes I don’t use it at all for weeks.
  3. I still use a first-generation iPad for reading books.
  4. I have other laptops and desktops around, but I only use those on a need-to basis now.
  5. I enjoy my free time with my family and myself more. I like my work more, too, and feel more present in every moment.

Thanks, Blake. Great work—your book changed my life.

Mauricio, muchas gracias for reading my book and saying so. I’m thrilled it had a positive impact and am humbled by your kind words. I hope to shake your hand in Bogota someday. 

Here’s what it’s like to visit a theme park during the pandemic

Courtesy Blake Snow

Here’s my latest travel dispatch for Lonely Planet

Depending on where you live, amusement parks can be one of the best day trip experiences around. But like everything else, coronavirus indefinitely changed them.

As one of the US states with the lowest rates of coronavirus infections, Utah was also one of the first to lift restrictions and open its doors. In late May, one of those doors was the highly-rated Lagoon Park, which USA Today recently named one of the best “hidden-gem” theme parks in the country.

Local reaction to the park’s reopening was tepid at best. Is a tightly packed, and line-filled attraction really such a good idea, especially after over two months of quarantine? At first my wife and I said no. But after reading favorable reports of “no crowds,” “attendance limited to 15% capacity,” and “we had a lot of fun,” – not to mention almost no getaway options at our disposal (even Utah’s national parks still hadn’t yet opened) – we booked our family for the following Saturday. Continue reading…

How to respond to really demanding customers: “We’re full”

My wife started and runs a successful soccer club of 14 youth teams. Now in their second year, they’ve done really well because they charge little more than recreational fees for a league that’s a lot more competitive, without the expensive time and money commitments of “club soccer.”

After opening registration this summer, she had more than enough players sign up. That’s what you get when you run a well-organized event with lots of value. Last week, however, she received a long-winded email from a demanding mother that listed out several line items she required before registration. She went on and on, my wife said.

In response, my wife kindly but briefly wrote, “Thanks for asking. We’re full this year. Please consider us again.”

My wife instinctively understood that this woman might cause more headaches than her $200 registration fee was worth.

The same is true of any business. If someone seems like they’d be a difficult customer, they probably will be and should best be avoided through a polite “No thanks,” or “I’m busy.”

In rare cases where you provide a custom quote, you might try to “price them out,” that is only work with them for an amount that you estimate would be worth the added headaches.

Both approaches have served me well and really help the free market shine, for sellers as much as buyers.

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Why you should listen to Charley Pride, even if you don’t like country music

During the Great Depression, a man named Charley Pride was born in Mississippi as one of 11 children to his sharecropping parents. The year he was born, The Dust Bowl would ravage 300 million American acres, forcing hundreds of thousands of migrants to California in search of income.

As a boy, Pride was introduced to country music by his father and later learned guitar. Though he loved music, he dreamed of playing professional baseball, which he successfully did for much of his 20s in both Negro and minor leagues. After being cut by the Cincinnati Reds farm team in Missoula, Montana, Pride worked in construction and a metal factory for many years. He also played semi-pro ball on the side and made double his salary by singing to the crowd before games. Years later he cut a demo at the famous Sun Studio in Memphis, the same recording studio that put Elvis on the map. Sometime later, country superstar Chet Atkins heard the demo and signed him to a contract. With over 30 number one hits, he would become the second most successful RCA musician in history (after Elvis).

But fame quickly forced him to confront his outsider status. This is how he confronted it, according to Wikipedia. “In the late summer of 1966, on the strength of his early releases, Pride was booked for his first large show, in Detroit’s Olympia Stadium. Since no biographical information had been included with his songs, few of the 10,000 country fans who came to the show knew Pride was black, and only discovered the fact when he walked onto the stage, at which point the applause trickled off to silence. “I knew I’d have to get it over with sooner or later,” Pride later remembered. “I told the audience: ‘Friends, I realize it’s a little unique, me coming out here—with a permanent suntan—to sing country and western to you. But that’s the way it is.’ ”

I love that quote as much as I love Pride’s music and character. This is my favorite song of his.

Why I don’t like wearing masks for non-airborne diseases like coronavirus

Days before America went on coronavirus quarantine this spring, Time Magazine published an excellent report on why Asian countries wear masks and Americans (up until that point) didn’t. The reason? There is little scientific evidence showing that masks actually work in preventing non-airborn illness such as the flu, common cold, and coronavirus from spreading. Earlier this year, the New York Times published a similar report showing dubious benefits, if any.

In light of that lack of evidence after decades of research, American health officials basically took the stance of, “If it ain’t proven to work, don’t do it.” They kept this stance until early April, when the CDC and WHO superstitiously started recommended them. Not because there were suddenly lots of scientific studies showing that masks actually work (there weren’t). Rather, when dealing with something that’s new and mysterious, humans understandably resort to “doesn’t hurt to try” approaches.

Only in this case, it does hurt to try. Here’s why well-intentioned but “false sense of security” health masks aren’t worth the hassle in the fight against coronavirus: Continue reading…

What happens when a black family RVs across America in quarantine

Courtesy Janine Rubenstein

Read and enjoyed this adventurous story by Janine Rubenstein this week:

I found a site called RVShare.com, which is basically AirBnB for motor homes. Unsurprisingly, you could count on zero hands the amount of Black RV owners I spotted on there. But I stumbled upon the nicest guy renting out the perfect first-timer van: a Class A, 2016 Ford Thor Vegas, measuring in at 24ft. “It drives just like a big SUV” he told me, which helped calm my nerves about how my brother and husband would be able to maneuver the thing.

Pretty sure it’s the first article I’ve ever read in Essence and hope it’s yours too if you’re never read the magazine before.

No going back? 5 ways I like “new normal”

There are a lot of things I miss since coronavirus scared, scarred, and upended the world.

I miss the large number of people I used to freely associate with. I miss seeing the bottom half of people’s faces. I miss the wonderful customer service we used to receive from restaurants and other stores. I miss a normal workload.

I miss live events, especially sports, music, and movie theaters. I miss roaming about my city, country, and world in what was surely the heyday of global travel. I miss knowing that I could shake hands or high-five anyone I encountered. I miss the trust we used to have in immune systems, the ones that largely kept our species alive for hundreds of thousands of years.

But mostly, I miss being treated like a trustworthy human instead of a disease-carrying leper that should be avoided. That’s a gross feeling to confront on a near daily basis.

That said, I couldn’t have stomached and mostly thrived over the last three months had it not been for the following: Continue reading…

The secret to life is working to death, experts say

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

PROVO, Ut. — Want to get ahead in this world? Work lots of extra hours — even nights and weekends — experts say, and it will all be worth your while.

“It’s easy to forget what’s most important in life,” says Bill Loney, a certified life coach who hasn’t quite made it in life yet. “Family, friends, and social activities that can often inspire and enrich the life of an individual… these are all distractions in getting more work done,” he adds.

Emma Royds, who hasn’t stopped looking at her smartphone every five minutes for three straight years, councils that most people actually die wishing they had spent more time — not less — working. “People never regret working too much,” she says. “My neighbor opted to do adventurous, social, and fitness-related activities with family and friends in his spare time.

“Now 80, he told me recently he really wishes he would have spent more time on TPS cover sheets, obsessively trying to turn his company into the next big thing, and reading email during every waking hour of his life. It’s kind of sad, really.” Continue reading…

How athletes became celebrities

This is a fantastic long-read by Louis Menand about how baseball players turned athletes into the sponsored celebrities we know them as today. “He signed his first client in 1921. And that client turned out to be the greatest sports figure of his day, or possibly, with the exception of Muhammad Ali, of any day: Babe Ruth. Ruth didn’t just do what every ballplayer did but better. On the field and off, he was in a class by himself.”

Want better relationships? Avoid these 6 common “love busters”

Knowing the 5 love languages has greatly improved my marriage and other relationships. Since first being introduced to it many years ago, my wife and I have significantly enhanced our communication.

I didn’t learn about the 6 love busters until last night, however, while attending a local charity meeting. They are as follows: Continue reading…

Don’t aim for success. If you persist, it will find you.

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Nina Matthews

If you insist on setting 5, 10, or 30 year goals in life, you’re gonna have a bad time.

The reason: Long-terms goals are mostly arbitrary and futile. Since life is full of surprise, setting specific expectations for it largely results in a feeling of failure.

In other words, “Don’t aim at success,” writes Viktor Frankl in his seminal Man’s Search For Meaning. “The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it.”

This has certainly been the case in my life. Continue reading…

Why NOW is the most important time

Leo Tolstoy courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Leo Tolstoy courtesy Wikimedia Commons

This issue of the Offline Newsletter is brought to you by Leo Tolstoy.

It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.

And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to any one who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.

Several learned men came to the King, but they all answered his questions differently (e.g. advance planning, multi-tasking, mentoring, high-ranking people, science, warfare, religion).

All the answers being different, the King agreed with none of them, and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit, widely renowned for his wisdom.  Continue reading…

What I read to stay informed

Courtesy Shutterstock

I start many of my conversations with the following: “I read an interesting article recently…” This week my twelve-year old daughter asked, “Dad, where do you read all these articles you’re talking about?”

Good question. In essence, she was asking how I stay informed and uncover a lot of interesting information and in-depth news. This is what I told her:

  1. I read three daily newspapers. They are: USA Today (for national news) and KSL and Daily Herald (for local news). I only scan the homepages and click on headlines that interest me. I sometimes skip weekends and weekdays on extra busy days. All told, I might spend 10-20 minutes reading these. I rarely read politics.
  2. I read Digg’s daily long reads. These are editor picks of some of the best long-form journalism and magazine articles on the web, from a variety of outlets. I stockpile them in several open tabs on my phone and read them throughout the week, spending a few hours doing so.
  3. I subscribe to weekly long read newsletters. They are the Weekly Top 5 Longreads and Longform’s Pick of The Week. Like Digg Longreads, I stockpile these and spend a few hours reading them each week.

On top of that, I read about 8-10 books a year, mostly non-fiction and biographies.

Fun fact: I used to spend a lot more time staying informed and reading dozens of websites and online newspapers in my twenties but have found since my thirties that the added distraction didn’t justify the amount of time I was spending. Since then, I’ve been a lot more productive and happy while still staying just as informed on the low-caloric, but nutrient-rich diet of the above.

Hope that helps.