Blake Snow

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Quantity not quality: The best way to learn a skill in life is to “make lots of pots”

Eric Scott

A pottery teacher split her class into two halves.

To the first half she said, “You will spend the semester studying pottery, planning, designing, and creating your perfect pot. At the end of the semester, there will be a competition to see whose pot is the best”.

To the other half she said, “You will spend your semester making lots of pots. Your grade will be based on the number of completed pots you finish. At the end of the semester, you’ll also have the opportunity to enter your best pot into a competition.”

The first half of the class threw themselves into their research, planning, and design. Then they set about creating their one, perfect pot for the competition.

The second half of the class immediately grabbed fistfulls of clay and started churning out pots. They made big ones, small ones, simple ones, and intricate ones. Their muscles ached for weeks as they gained the strength needed to throw so many pots.

At the end of class, both halves were invited to enter their most perfect pot into the competition. Once the votes were counted, all of the best pots came from the students that were tasked with quantity. The practice they gained made them significantly better potters than the planners on a quest for a single, perfect pot.—As told by Eric Scott

Deadly expeditions: Like Into Thin Air? You’ll relish The Last Place on Earth


I recently finished The Last Place on Earth, Roland Huntford’s well-researched, sometimes heavy-handed, but always legendary retelling of the 1911 South Pole race between Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott. In addition to being published the year I was born, the book’s important for the following reasons:  Continue reading…

The world’s greatest inventions have one thing in common

courtesy image

courtesy image

I recently finished Highbrow’s excellent 10-day course on inventions that changed the world.

In keeping score, half of the cited inventions quickened the sharing of information (writing, printing press, telephone, personal computer, internet). A third hastened our transportation (steam engine, automobile, airplanes). One marginalizes or maximizes physical dominance, depending on who owns more of it (gunpowder). And the last one lengthens our days (light bulb).

Interestingly, every one of these inventions involve some element of speed. The speed of a bullet. The speed of light. The speed of travel. The speed of knowledge. That’s why the world moves at an increasing rate. Our greatest inventions all involve speed.

Even this century’s greatest inventions largely involve speed. How fast you can get new or old music to your ears (iTunes, Spotify). How fast you can get answers to questions (Google). How fast you can connect with friends and family (Facebook, SMS). And how fast you can see the latest cat videos (YouTube).

Of course, many of these inventions involve size, frequency, and power. But when it comes to bigger, stronger, better, and faster—always bet on faster. It’s the future. And it’s likely what the “next big thing” will do more than others.

My latest columns: Dancing Matt, big impact countries, unrecognized beauty, mind travel

I hope the below will help you travel somewhere fun.

Published works: The best things I’ve written as a part-time sportswriter

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Over the last decade, I’ve mostly written about technology. Among the hundreds of magazine articles and thousands of blog posts published, some cover entertainment. Some science. Some travel. And rarer still, some sports. (All topics that personally appeal to me.)

Of the latter category, these are the stories I’m most proud of, along with the backstories that created them.  Continue reading…

At Home: A not-so riviting history of domestic life

athomeBecause he wrote this masterpiece, I consider Bill Bryson one of the greatest non-fiction writers of our time. And while his similar At Home: A Short History of Private Life is brimming with domestic insights, it’s not as powerful or focused as the former. Three stars out of five. I’d only recommend it to die-hard home owners. My favorite passages:

  • That’s really what history mostly is: masses of people doing ordinary things… eating, sleeping, having sex, or endeavoring to be amused.
  • So sedentism meant poorer diets, more illness, lots of toothache and gum disease, and earlier deaths. What is truly extraordinary is that these are all still factors in our lives today.
  • The dining table was a plain board called by that name. It was hung on the wall when not in use, and was perched on the diners’ knees when food was served. Over time, the word board came to signify not just the dining surface but the meal itself, which is where the board comes from in room and board.
  • It has been estimated that 60 percent of all the crops grown in the world today originated in the Americas. These foods weren’t just incorporated into foreign cuisines. They effectively became the foreign cuisines. Imagine Italian food without tomatoes, Greek food without eggplant, Thai and Indonesian foods without peanut sauce, curries without chilies, hamburgers without French fries or ketchup, African food without cassava. There was scarcely a dinner table in the world in any land east or west that wasn’t drastically improved by American foods.
  • Had Thomas Jefferson and George Washington merely been plantation owners who built interesting houses, that would have been accomplishment enough, but in fact of course between them they also instituted a political revolution, conducted a long war, created and tirelessly served a new nation, and spent years away from home. Despite these distractions, and without proper training or materials, they managed to build two of the most satisfying houses ever built.
  • Continue reading…

Knowing how to solve problems is better than knowing answers

wikimedia commons

wikimedia commons

In response to “What are some examples of intelligence disguised as stupidity?” Graham Zaretsky offered the following on Quora:

When I was a freshman in college, one of my fellow freshmen, a young girl who obviously had skipped a bunch of grades would occasionally come to my dorm room in the evenings to ask for help on the homework we both were taking. I was happy to help her out.

After this had happened a few times, she came and asked me about a problem that I, myself was still struggling with. I was stuck on it, and I told her that. She then proceeded to explain to me in great detail how to solve it.

It turned out that what she was doing was going to multiple people (not just me) to see all the different methods that people were using to solve the same problem. She knew how to answer all the questions that I thought she was having trouble with. She just wanted to see if there were other ways to solve those problems, or to see how well she was doing as compared with everyone else. In the end, she far surpassed me in those classes in every way.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

Want to make better decisions? Do these 10 things

Courtesy Miramax

Courtesy Miramax

Smart people don’t make better decisions because they’re smart. They make better decisions, research shows, because they habitually do the following:

1. Remove unimportant decisions. If a decision doesn’t have an impact on your work, relationships, or spirit, then remove it from consideration. For example, many CEOs, heads of states, or creative people wear the same thing every day. Steve Jobs wore blue jeans and a black turtleneck everyday. Mark Zuckerberg only wears blue jeans and a gray t-shirt. Similarly, the leader of the free world only wears blue or gray suits, “Because I have too many other decisions to make,” the president recently told Vanity Fair. “I’m trying to pare down decisions,” he added. “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing.”

For those of us without a personal chef, deciding what kinds of food to eat is a very important decision. But removing or outsourcing unimportant decisions to other people helps us make more meaningful decisions. One of the ways I achieve this is by removing TV from my life, limiting the number of sportsball games I watch, and restricting the number of news sources I read to only three per day. Doing so introduces more social encounters, analog experiences, and thought-provoking literature into my life, which make me a better writer (instead of regurgitator).  Continue reading…

6 poignant quotes that embody Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway aboard his boat off the coast of Cuba (1950)

Hemingway aboard his boat off the coast of Cuba (1950)

As compiled by Highbrow:

  1. “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
  2. “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
  3. “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
  4. “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”
  5. “I drink to make other people more interesting.”
  6. “As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”

See also: My review of Old Man and The Sea

5 alternative hiking shoes that rock

courtesy photos

courtesy photos

If you prefer heavy, protective, and stiff hiking shoes, this story isn’t for you. Go ahead and Google “Keen Liberty Ridge.” They are the mother of all high-performance hiking boots. Seasoned guides swear by ‘em.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something lighter, more flexible, and less clunky, you’ve come to the right place. Having tested more than a dozen candidates, these are the best I could find: 5 alternative—if not low-profile—hiking shoes that rock.

Before listing the winners, remember: you can wear whatever you like while hiking. Said footwear doesn’t have to be gray or brown or chunky or even necessarily labeled for “hiking,” so long as you find them comfortable. Enough preaching. Onto the list.  Continue reading…

Need calligraphy? This woman’s work is impressively analog

As I’ve said before, Heather Smith’s art is creative, meticulous, and “non-machine,” something I believe an increasing number of people will value in an overly processed digital world.

She just opened a store of hand-drawn greeting cards, wrapping paper, silhouettes, and canvas tote bags. I hope consider, dig, and buy them as much as I do.

Disclosure: Heather is my sister-in-law, but nepotism this talented must be rewarded.

What I learned from Anger Management class

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Credit: Columbia Pictures

I’ve successfully completed two rounds of therapy. I say “successfully” because the first (marriage counseling) saved my marriage after a checkered first year. The second (anger management) helped me harness my emotions.

Like Wreck-It-Ralph, my passion bubbles very near the surface. I’ve known this since adolescence. But I didn’t know how to manage it until group therapy. This is that story.

Continue reading…

My scooter made this mundane afternoon all sorts of awesome

credit: blake snow

credit: blake snow

I was late for safety inspection.

In a blur, I rushed to the garage, hopped on my moped, and scooted out of suburbia. While doing 35 miles per hour over train tracks, I elevate my hiney to let my knees absorb the shock. Doing otherwise aggravates my bad back.

I exit right at the roundabout. Left at the bridge. Right on 500 West. Then left again to my first of three stops. “Just the safety test?” a greasy face asks me. “Yes,” I reply. After satisfying all of his procedural requests, I’m cleared for registration.  Continue reading…

What lessons do most people learn late in life?

credit: wikimedia commons

credit: wikimedia commons

I like Jay Bazzinotti’s answer to this question—so much that I’m re-publishing his observations in full. He writes:

  1. Time passes much more quickly than you realize.
  2. If you don’t take care of your body early then it won’t take care of you later. Your world becomes smaller each day as you lose mobility, continence, and sight.
  3. Sex and beauty fades but intimacy and friendship grows.
  4. People are far more important than any other thing in your life. No hobby, interest, book, work is going to be as important to you as the people you spend time with as you get older.
  5. Money talks. It says “Goodbye”. If you didn’t plan financially for your old age when you are young you will wish you had.
  6. Any seeds you planted in the past, either good or bad, will begin to bear fruit and affect the quality of your life as you get older, for better or worse.
  7. Jealousy is a wasted emotion. People you hate are going to succeed; people you like are going to sometimes do better than you did. Kids are going to be smarter and quicker than you are. Accept it with grace.
  8. That big house you had to have becomes a bigger and bigger burden even as the mortgage gets smaller. The cleaning, the maintenance, the stairs, all of it… becomes less attractive every day. Your possessions own YOU.
  9. You will badly regret the things you DIDN’T do far more than the things you did that were “wrong” — the girl you didn’t kiss; the trip you didn’t take; the project you kept putting off; the time you could have helped someone. If you get the chance – do it. You may never get the chance again.
  10. Every day you wake up is a victory.

Work is still work—even with a job you love

BUSINESS_tomsawyer2I’m fortunate to have found my calling in life. I don’t dread Mondays. Returning to my desk after lunch isn’t a chore. I welcome the challenge of pleasing several bosses (aka “clients”).

But I’m still human. I look forward to weekends. I fake “sick days” and play hooky. And I daydream of dorking around, even when working with people I like on projects I’m passionate about.

I was reminded of this last Wednesday while on assignment for Google, writing a fun but challenging story for them. Once late afternoon hit, however, all I wanted to do was paddleboard or cut home movies.  Continue reading…

Preview of what I saw and did in Newfoundland last month

YouTube Preview Image

Nine years ago, I stumbled upon an obscure YouTube video with only a few hundred views. Although I can no longer locate the video, the image it contained has haunted me ever since. A granite-green fjord flanked by towering cliffs, an enticing inlet, and an open invitation to hike it. I added the place to my bucket list and waited for the right opportunity to visit.

Three weeks ago, it finally happened. While on assignment for work (someone’s gotta do it!) and with my brother-in-law begrudgingly assisting, I hiked Western Brook Fjord in Newfoundland. Spoiler alert: It was everything I expected it to be. More beautiful than the already stunning photos of it.

I still don’t fully understand why word hasn’t gotten out; why more people haven’t visited it.

Well I hope to change that, starting with the above video and some feature stories to follow on not just the awesome hike, but the friendly locals, unexpectedly good food, and other exceptional adventures the island affords.

Make no mistake: I went for the fjord but left with a love for an entire province. I’ll be back.

The power of applause: Why recognition works


Last week while eating lunch with my family, my playful wife invented a new game called “Clap for [insert person’s name here].” It works like this. You prompt everyone to applaud someone for several moments. Then watch their face, eyes, and smile light it while you do it.

Even though the act is forced, the game works every time. At least it does on my family, my wife and I very much included.

The only way I can explain why it works is that recognition matters. Just hearing your name, being complimented, or even just having your presence recognized as the above game so deftly accomplishes is enough to make people feel elated and special. When that happens, we want to become better people. That’s powerful.

As silly as it sounds, I invite all reading this to play this game and report your findings. Like Dale Carnegie taught, praise people, even the slightest. Recognize their contributions.

But more importantly, acknowledge people by remembering their name, take a genuine interest in what interests them, and applaud them for being who they are.

It’s magic, I tell ya.