Blake Snow

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

Hi, I'm Blake.

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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…

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…

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!

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.

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…

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.

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.

5 reasons sad stories are good for you

Courtesy Amazon Studios

My wife and I recently watched Manchester by the Sea. It’s a beautifully-acted but heart-wrenching story about a Boston man (played by Casey Affleck) that is left utterly devastated and largely alone after a careless act and some horrifying bad luck. In fact, it’s one of the saddest movies I’ve seen in years.

Although I appreciated the film, I forgot the importance of tragedy while exiting the theater. “For someone who is living in a comedy, is there any value in being reminded that life sucks sometimes?” I asked myself. “Is there any harm in solely watching movies with happy endings?”

With the help of the internet, this is what I learned:  Continue reading…

HOW TO HOPE: 10 ways to starve your fears

Credit: Blake Snow

My wife and I believe the world is inherently good and we want to indoctrinate our children to think the same. Not by ignoring society’s seedy underbelly. But with measurable evidence such as this that overwhelmingly proves the world is getting better and better.

To that end, my wife shared the following quote with our children and I over breakfast recently: “Feed your faith and your fear will starve.” In other words, people who are afraid are usually consumed by doubt.

But in my experience, we can replace that fear and doubt with hope and love by doing the following:  Continue reading…

Documentary review: In The Realm of Perfection is ★★★★☆

Years ago I read one of the greatest sports biographies ever: You Cannot Be Serious by John McEnroe. You should read it.

Last week I watched one of the best sports documentaries I’ve ever seen: John McEnroe: In The Realm of Perfection.

Now before you write me off as a McEnroe fanboy, which I unabashedly am, please know that the latter is a French documentary about a controversial American tennis brat in his prime.

Shot mostly in slow motion, it is a quirky and mesmerizing film with a powerful finish that convincingly argues that a tennis match is good cinema, and that McEnroe was arguably the sports best “directors” of tennis cinema.

Four stars out of five.

 

10 years after quitting Facebook, I still have friends

My first time surfing (in San Diego): What I looked like days after quitting Facebook

10 years ago to the day, I quit Facebook. At the time I feared I might be committing social suicide. Today, I can happily report that didn’t happen.

Since quitting the popular boomer hangout, I’ve limited the number of work and out of office distractions I encounter. I no longer feel the desire to “check in” online at every waking hour. It takes me longer to discover new bands. And I don’t have to consciously decide or distinguish friends from colleagues, associates, and nobodies. I just let them happen naturally now; unannounced and always evolving.

Continue reading…

How my daughter taught me not to judge a book by its cover

Courtesy Shutterstock

My daughter taught, if not reminded, me of an important lesson last week.

While driving home after dropping off one of her applications, I saw a homeless woman on the corner. At first glance, she looked like she might have been high or intoxicated, so I quickly drove past. Upon second thought, I turned to my kiddo and asked, “Do you think we should give our blessing bags (that we keep in the car) to homeless people that look high or might not benefit as much from them?” After a moment, Sadie plainly answered, “Dad, I don’t think we should ever judge a book by their cover.”

Of course she was right, so I quickly responded by turning around and driving back to the spot where the woman was standing. I handed Sadie a bag from the back of the truck. She rolled down the window to the approaching woman. “Here you go,” the former said to the latter.

It was dark outside but the street lamp was bright enough to reveal a woman with lively eyes, a completely sober demeanor, and a bright, appreciative smile. I felt warm inside and was proud of the example that my 14 year old had shown.

Published writing: Why you should visit Utah’s High Uintas wilderness

Credit: Blake Snow

This wasn’t the first time I’ve written about my favorite, lesser-known Utah outdoors. And it probably won’t be the last. Hope you enjoy. 

Utah has some of the most beautiful national parks in the United States, if not North America as a whole. Because of this, numerous state parks and other protected lands are often forgotten; many would likely have national park status were they not located somewhere that already has five. Read on to learn about one of Utah’s best kept secrets. Continue reading on Lonely Planet…

See also: Which Utah park is right for you?

What I learned after re-listening to The Beatles entire catalog this weekend

Courtesy Shutterstock

Because I have a lot of extra free time in a partially paused world, I decided to re-listen to the entire Beatles catalog this weekend (well over 10 hours worth!) to determine my favorite albums.

Although I regularly feasted on The Fab Four in high school, college, and into my late twenties, I haven’t listened to their music much in the last decade. Not that I no longer like or respect it. Only that I probably overplayed it to the point of boredom.

After my weekend binge, however, I reconfirmed my belief that The Beatles are the greatest pop band ever—ahead of only Elvis and Michael Jackson in terms of the shear number of songs I enjoy. Either way, this is what I learned from my quarantine experiment: Continue reading…

The real Lord of the Flies were friendly, loyal, and successful young men

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

Lord of the Flies by EL Epstein was one of my favorite books I read in my adolescence. It’s shocking, sad, and discouraging.

It’s also entirely made up and based on the fear-mongering belief that humans will basically eat each other when the going gets rough. Many humans often think like that in times of uncertainty—global quarantines very much included.

But “it’s time we told a different kind of story,” argues Rutger Bregman, who researched the reality of shipwrecked isolation and found that the vast majority of evidence suggests that adolescent boys would act very differently. In fact, they would largely cooperate and thrive instead of succumbing to war, murder, and anarchy.

“Readers were still skeptical,” Bregman reported, however. So he searched high and low for a real-life example of what shipwrecked boys might actually do. After sleuthing on the internet, he discovered a story of six boys from Tonga in 1965 who were shipwrecked on a Polynesian island for 15 months. He went and visited one of the survivors and heard a detailed and inspiring true story. The short of it: when the boys were finally rescued by a passing ship on September 11, 1966, a physician was “astonished by their mulled physiques” and overall health.

“The real Lord of the Flies is a tale of friendship and loyalty,” Bregman concludes. “One that illustrates how much stronger we are if we can lean on each other.”

Need more proof? Look how far humanity has come over the last 2000, 200, 100, or even 10 years! If the haters, pessimists, and naysayers were actually right, we would have all died along time ago. 💪

Recent writing: National Parks in lockdown, kids books, when can I travel again?

Courtesy Shutterstock

Thanks for reading and sharing any of the below:

Published works: When and how might travel rebound?

Courtesy Shutterstock

My latest for Lonely Planet: If you’re hoping that travel will return to normal in 2020, don’t hold your breath, experts say. That said, you will likely be able to vacation on a reduced basis later this year, if not by summer, some believe. Although not ideal, that’s better than the “do not travel” orders the world has endured since March.

So what might a travel reopening look like?

“The travel industry is a huge part of the economic health of so many countries, so I imagine by the end of the summer tourism will begin again,” says Jorge Branco, director of the World Travelers Association. “I don’t think schedules will be as they were pre-coronavirus right away, but there will be options available to begin the transition.”

In other words, we won’t hit the “on” switch as quickly as we hit the “off” switch. Rather, governments, health experts and tourism providers will metaphorically install “dimmers” to gradually increase lifestyles and travel to normal levels.

Continue reading on Lonely Planet…

No joke: 5 ways coronavirus changed my life for the better

I wish coronavirus never happened. Given its uncertainty, I also wish society would have partially distanced like Sweden did instead of hitting the giant “off” switch on social life or “save hospital capacities at all costs” approach the rest of us took.

It’s a fearful world we live in.

That said, I’ve been able to take the lemons, if you will, to make some sweet lemonade recently. Although I was an angry, stressed-out wreck the first two weeks of quarantine, I’ve been able to transition to first coping and eventually thriving over the last month.

Here’s how the unwelcome outbreak and draconian quarantine have actually changed my life for the better: Continue reading…

My proven guide to dumping and avoiding fake friends

Real friends

Lindsey and I have been blessed with many genuine friends — ones that make us laugh, can celebrate our accomplishments, and extend considerate help.

This week, while visiting one such family, we discovered that they’ve been dealing with some “friends” that reputedly became envious and judgmental of our friends’ recent good fortune. This saddened me. Time is too precious to waste on such superficial friends.

With that in mind, here’s my proven guide to ditching and avoiding fake friends, so you can better enjoy your days in the sun. Continue reading…

Casual Fridays are not a job perk 😞

I graduated from college at a time when “Casual Fridays” were a thing. This was before Silicon Valley established the “casual everydays” that most offices now enjoy—hoodies, jeans, t-shirts, and even activewear and joggers in some cases.

As a senior, I was invited to interview with a large national company that was coming to campus. I wasn’t particularly fond of the company, but I was flattered they had reviewed my resume and wanted to speak to me (after graduating, I would forgo employment altogether to work for myself, but that’s another story).

When the interview time came, I entered a designated office on campus and met a recruiter in his mid 40s under drab fluorescent lighting. He didn’t look particularly happy. In fact, he looked rather miserable. Obviously would rather be home with his family than interviewing some undergrad like me in some far away city. Continue reading…

What was America like in the 1970s?

The following description by Glenn Colehamer of California is as fascinating as it is relevant. 

I was a college junior at the dawn of the 1970’s. Here’s what I remember during that remarkable fascinating decade, both great and not so great:

Cigarette butts on the ground everywhere people went. Ash trays everywhere.

Peace symbols as graffiti everywhere you looked.

Long hair on men everywhere you looked.

Free sex, no AIDS, no herpes, no condoms. Antibiotics reliably cured most venereal diseases.

Youthful baby boomers everywhere.

Muscle cars everywhere. VW bugs in your way everywhere. VW vans owned by hippies everywhere. Curtains covered all the side and rear windows. We knew why. Continue reading…

Music I’ve recorded for friends

With a lot fewer distractions in quarantine, I’ve recorded more music in the last two weeks than I have in years. I even started playing with a local guitarist in the hopes of starting a band. 🤘

Until then, I wanted to share some of the things I’ve recorded recently, in addition to some of my all-time favorite recordings. They are as follows (click to play):

  1. “Girlfriends” (The Academic cover). I love this pop song and just had to record it. I sang and played the guitars and tambourine.
  2. “Another One” (Mac DeMarco cover). I ripped the piano chords from YouTube and sung the lyrics to one of my favorite songs written by my new favorite artist.
  3. “Internet” (Post Malone cover). I played guitar and sang a mostly clean version of this song, with exception to one emotional outburst that I just had to sing in this crazy world right now.
  4. “The Promise” (When in Rome cover). I played piano, guitar, and sang both harmonies. This is one of my all-time favorite ’80s songs. I don’t love the piano tone, but I’m proud of the result.
  5. “Different” (original). A song I wrote, sung, and played while living in Brazil. It’s about changing for the better.
  6. The God of Abraham Praise. If you’re looking for a spiritual track, try this one. I sang the choir parts over a radical organ I found on YouTube. This is one of my favorite hymns, which was converted from an old Jewish song in the 1700s.
  7. “1901” (Phoenix cover). I played guitar and sung one of my favorite upbeat alternative songs.
  8. “Last Time” (original song). An early aught pop song I wrote with my friend Dylan Denny. I sung, played drums, and lead guitar.
  9. “Best Foot Forward” (original song). Another upbeat song I produced and sung with my friend Dylan.
  10. “The Deepest Sleep Ever” (original instrumental). I’ve written and produced a lot of instrumental music over the years, and this is one of my absolute favorites.
  11. “Abstract Consensus” (original instrumental). Recorded in 2002 with over 75 samples, this is probably the best dance song I’ve ever written.
  12. “System Sound” (original song). Ever wanted to hear me rap, albeit not very good? Well now’s your chance! I wrote, produced, and rapped this song in the summer of 2001.
  13. “Stay” (U2 cover). Probably one of the best recordings I’ve ever made. I played guitar and sang.
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Went skydiving today. Didn’t die.

It only took me a few minutes to fall 10,000 feet, but I didn’t really come down for another couple of hours. That’s the best way to describe my first time skydiving. That and recognizing it as one of the greatest physiological sensations I’ve ever endeavored.

On a royal blue morning recently, I drove forty minutes south of my home to Skydive the Wasatch in Nephi, Utah. I was greeted by Andrew the drop manager, Jordan my instructor (or more accurately the person I’d strap my life to), and Joel the pilot.

Free snacks, a row of leather sofas, and caffeinated drinks lined the open hanger in an effort to ease or at least distract the nerves of would-be jumpers. Just outside, an old Cessna plane came to life to take a woman in her forties and her friend in her twenties on their first and second respective dives. While waiting for their quick return, I signed and initialed the longest waiver I’ve ever seen without reading a single line of legalese.

“Are you ready?” Jordan asked with a friendly smile. I honestly answered in the affirmative, and then he explained the safety and protocol procedures. “The whole experience takes about 25 minutes,” he said. “Twenty minutes to climb, around half of minute to free-fall, and three or four more to parachute down.” Continue reading…

Getting what you want: Why capitals and punctuation still matter

This is what old people talk about over lunch: how degenerate youth no longer use capitals and punctuation when writing. At least that’s what I did over lunch today with a few middle aged friends.

This is especially important to me because I’m in the business of selling clear writing. Having done so for many years, this much I know: the clearer you write, the better chance you have of avoiding confusion and getting what you want.

A few years ago, a recent college graduate and aspiring writer emailed me to ask for help in getting a job. He used no capitals, punctuation, paragraphs—let a lone line breaks. It was just one huge blob of text. Continue reading…

15 travel movies to enjoy in quarantine

What do Indiana Jones, Little Miss Sunshine, Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Darjeeling Unlimited, and Endless Summer have in common? They’re among the very best feature films that make you want to go places. So before streaming your next great home movie, consider one of these first: Continue reading…

The 5 ingredients of happiness: I won’t argue with these

Photo: Blake Snow

I recently started reading The Nature Fix by Florence Williams.

In her introduction, Williams reports that most empirical evidence suggests there are four ingredients for happiness, namely feeling enmeshed in a community of healthy friendships (i.e. “it takes a village”), having your basic survival needs met, keeping your brain stimulated and engaged, and working for something that’s larger than yourself.

There’s increasing evidence, however, for a fifth ingredient, Williams argues: Regular outdoors, getting outside, or “forest bathing.”

I certainly won’t argue with any of those. Surrounding myself with healthy relationships, having my basic needs met, keeping my brain stimulated through learning and interesting work, volunteering, and staying outdoors has done the trick for me.

Easier said than done. But when you break it down like that, it also seems highly attainable.

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What great leaders do: 9 characteristics

Courtesy Shutterstock

What do the world’s greatest leaders have in common? What makes a great boss?

Stanford professor and management consultant Robert Sutton recently asked that question and presented his findings in an hour-long, information-packed lecture.

According to his research, this is what great leaders often do: Continue reading…

3 proven ways to cope with quarantine

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When the world first starting shutting down amid the coronavirus outbreak, I was angry. Angry with how the situation was being handled and frustrated by how quickly everything changed.

After the second week of widespread restrictions, I was grieving. I missed the sudden loss of lifestyle, normal working conditions, family routines, and exciting plans—almost all of it cancelled.

In this third week of quarantine, however, I’ve learned three important lessons that have allowed me to appropriately adjust and make the most of an unprecedented situation. They are as follows: Continue reading…

How to write well in a pandemic

Courtesy Shutterstock

Some of my clients have recently asked how to address coronavirus uncertainty in their immediate writing and content marketing plans.

While I don’t have all the answers, these seem to be the most common approaches: Continue reading…

Published works: How to travel at home, places you can’t visit, leftovers I forgot

Courtesy Shutterstock

Some of the below are no longer relevant right now, due to coronavirus quarantines. But others still are, and I wanted to add them to my portfolio in any case.

Thanks for reading, bookmarking, or sharing any that you enjoy.

5 reasons forgiveness is better than revenge

The following was a sermon I gave in 2018 to 50 juvenile detainees. I cried through most of it. 

Courtesy Shutterstock

By a show of hands, who here believes in second chances? I believe each of us have several second chances in life. All of us do. And I’m here to tell you that if we want the most from our second chances, we must do two things: 1) seek forgiveness from God; and 2) forgive others instead of seeking revenge or succumbing to resentment—both of which will enslave us for as long as we let them.

This is easier said than done. But it can be done. Today I’d like to share five stories of people that have done just that in order to inspire each of us to do the same: Continue reading…

How I got to where I am today

Until I get around to writing a condensed, more interesting story, here’s a chronology of mostly personal events:

bskids.jpg

1979. Born in Moscow, Idaho to goodly parents named Brent and Cathy Snow as the fourth child of six and second son in the family. Moved to Oklahoma one month later.

1985. Started my formal education at Westwood Elementary School in Stillwater, Oklahoma while my father taught psychology at Oklahoma State University (Go Pokes!). Said formal schooling would last me 17 consecutive years (gulp) across three state programs.

1986. Exposed to my first home computer and modern video game console after my mother bought a colored IBM PCjr and some neighborhood friends scored a Nintendo Entertainment System. The love affair with technology, personal computers, and video games had begun.

Continue reading…

What does “American” mean? Hampton Sides has a pretty good answer

Below is excerpted from Americana by Hampton Sides, which I recently enjoyed reading. 

A few years ago, I was passing through Marrakech on my way to the Sahara for a magazine assignment. One afternoon, outside La Mamounia Hotel, I was accosted, as all tourists inevitably are, by a “guide.” He was an intense young Berber with penetrating eyes and a brisk stride, one of those canny creatures of the bazaar. He wore a slick black suit.

“Hello, American?” he said, instantly sizing me up.

”No, no American,” I replied and walked on as fast as I could. Not that I’m embarrassed by my nationality, but I’d been told the guides assume all Americans are loaded. Besides, I didn’t want a guide that day, and this guy really seemed like an operator.

He looked puzzled. “American, yes? You need guide for the souk. We buy rugs now.”

I shook my head vigorously and picked up my step, but he persisted. “British. German, yes? Canadian?” I could almost hear his brain racing.

“I am Finnish,” I said. Someone had told me this always throws the guides. Continue reading…

8 ways to overcome uncertainty

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Over the last week, the world radically entered a health crisis mode. What was normal just a few days ago is no longer the case. In addition to school, office, sports, and recreation closures, many restaurants are even closing in some parts of the country. That can be a scary thing.

But it’s not all scary. We can still play music, congregate in tight groups, go outside, and carry on as best as possible. To help you do that, here are eight proven ways to overcome uncertainty, regardless of the source: Continue reading…

Stuck in quarantine? Virtual tours are the next best thing

Courtesy AirPano

There is no replacement for seeing something with your own eyes. Let alone hearing, smelling, and feeling it with your own presence.

But despite coronavirus quarantines, there’s still something you can do about it. With the help of modern technology, there’s a lot you can do about it.

From seeing the seven wonders of the world and world-class museums, to exploring the great outdoors and National Parks on foot, these are the best virtual tours I found online in a story I wrote for Lonely Planet.

Hope you enjoy.

How to survive coronavirus without “flattening the curve” at all costs

This week many world and local leaders hit the nuclear response button to a pervasive, flu-like virus that kills a lot of old people and around 10 times the number as the common flu, according to the latest figures.

Dubbed “the coronavirus” (covid-19 to be scientific), roughly 92% of all infected age groups survive and fully recover. For those under 60, the survival rate jumps to over 99%. For those in their 70s and 80s, or those with respiratory or smoking conditions, the survival rate drops to 96% and 92% respectively. For comparison, the flu kills .1% of those infected on average.

Understandably, those “much higher than normal odds” are a scary concern for senior citizens like my parents who venture out in public. But depending on how optimistic you are, a 92-99.5% survival rate doesn’t warrant shutting down society for, as one megacity in China has done and the entire countries of Italy, France, Spain (and surely more) have already done.

In my opinion, those reactions are the nuclear option. A “flattening the curve” of infections at all costs option. In America, we’ve so far taken a hybrid approach, which is still an overreaction, in my risk-taking opinion. Although citizens are free to move about and go to a decreasing number of open stores (because there isn’t enough foot traffic to keep them all open), every public event, many businesses, most churches, and an increasing number of schools are closed to meetings.

To make matters worse, public officials haven’t explained an endgame or exit strategy for the first wave of 15-30 day closures. Because they don’t have one. This only causes more panic and uncertainty. Continue reading…

Why face masks are encouraged in Asia but shunned in America

Courtesy Shutterstock

This is a fascinating report by Time on cultural truth, incomplete science, better than nothing protection, and the cost of social distancing. “People look at me funny because I don’t wear a mask,” Chan says. “But I think the only thing that’s laughable is everyone buying into this excessive fear. People are being led by emotion, not science.”

PS—I’m grateful for public health officials and infectious disease doctors. Like vaccines, I believe they have our best interests in mind. What I’m not comfortable with is a nuclear social distancing response in reaction to a serious but still not that deadly virus (aka the vast majority of those infected by coronavirus live). It’s unfair to trump out a “flatten the curve at all costs” approach to something that doesn’t deserve such a dramatic response. Just because we could “flatten the curve” of 61,000 flu deaths last year with nuclear social distancing doesn’t mean we should. That’s why people are upset, scared, and confused. We can’t agree on the price to pay!

What 15 years of content marketing have taught me

The following was updated and adopted from a recent hired-speech I gave to a group of 50 CEOs and partners at the headquarters of NEA, the world’s largest venture capital firm.

Since 2005, I’ve written for half of the top 20 U.S. media publications and dozens of Fortune 100 companies as a featured contributor, branded storyteller, and retained content advisor. In that time, this is what I know for sure: marketing is the way you let people know you exist. Content marketing is the ongoing explanation for why they should care.

As a discipline, content marketing (or brand journalism, executive editorial, and thought leadership) is important, because it allows companies to persuade highly-informed buyers in an increasingly noisy world. Not only is it the fastest growing marketing strategy in recent years, it’s also the most effective for supplying search demand, engaging target audiences, enabling messaging, and satisfying the buyer’s need to read and inform themselves before making a purchase.

What surprises people most that engage me? Here are the top five:  Continue reading…

Coronavirus 2020: A life lived in fear is a life half lived, smart doctor says

The following was written by Dr. Abdu Sharkawy after a global wave of premature event cancelations, travel restrictions, and economic collapse:

I’m a doctor and an Infectious Diseases Specialist. I’ve been at this for more than 20 years seeing sick patients on a daily basis. I have worked in inner city hospitals and in the poorest slums of Africa. HIV-AIDS, Hepatitis,TB, SARS, Measles, Shingles, Whooping cough, Diphtheria…there is little I haven’t been exposed to in my profession. And with notable exception of SARS, very little has left me feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed or downright scared.

I am not scared of Covid-19. I am concerned about the implications of a novel infectious agent that has spread the world over and continues to find new footholds in different soil. I am rightly concerned for the welfare of those who are elderly, in frail health or disenfranchised who stand to suffer mostly, and disproportionately, at the hands of this new scourge. But I am not scared of Covid-19. Continue reading…

Documentary review: The Rise and Reign of Amazon is ★★★★☆ scrutiny

My wife and I (and even some of our young children) watched Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos recently. It’s a slick documentary that raises some important questions and concerns about the increasingly monopolistic company that keeps prices low (instead of raising them like past monopolies).

The movie wasn’t enough to make me ditch my Amazon Prime or Alexa accounts, especially given how much time and money Amazon has saved my family over the last two decades. That could change, but for now I’ll say: so far, so good. In fact, I’d rather convert to Android and stay with Amazon than stay with Apple and ditch Amazon—I like them that much.

For its slick production and warranted scrutiny, I award it ★★★★☆.

Fun fact: Walmart made twice as much money as Amazon did last year ($512 billion versus $233 billion).

16 years as a freelance writer: How I got to where I am today (hint: luck & persistence)

Me at my desk. Photo by Lindsey Snow

I was recently on a podcast to talk about my education and career path towards becoming a full-time freelance writer for the past 16 years. If you have 30 minutes to spare, I hope you enjoy my remarks. If you don’t have that much time, the short answer is lots of luck and persistence. Either way, I’m still pinching myself.

Thanks for having me on the show, Doug. 

Resist the temptation: Why corporate speak is insecure garbage language

This story by Molly Young on why corporations speak nonsense is the best thing I’ve read in a long-time:

But unlike garbage, which we contain in wastebaskets and landfills, the hideous nature of these words — their facility to warp and impede communication — is also their purpose. Garbage language permeates the ways we think of our jobs and shapes our identities as workers. It is obvious that the point is concealment; it is less obvious what so many of us are trying to hide.

I’m partially biased because I spend a lot of my time helping companies talk like humans instead of broken computers. And I suppose I might not have a job if humans always spoke clearly:

When we adopt words that connect us to a larger project — that simultaneously fold us into an institutional organism and insist on that institution’s worthiness — it is easier to pretend that our jobs are more interesting than they seem. Empowerment language is a self-marketing asset as much as anything else: a way of selling our jobs back to ourselves.

Either way, I think this is a must-read. I enjoyed every word—well, the non-garbage ones at least.

Long reads: Garbage language, disinformation, DJing, history of work, quitting the news

Courtesy Mark Manson

Hope you enjoy these recent long-form articles as much as I did:

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“No one dies wishing they spent more time online:” Author of Log Off (that’s me!)

I was recently interviewed by Metro International, the world’s largest free daily newspaper, about my book. This is what I said and thought you might enjoy:

In your book description you say that excessive “internetting,” smartphoning, and social media make us miserable, Why do you think that?

That’s not my opinion. There’s an overwhelming amount of research that proves that virtual socialization is no substitute for the real thing. In fact, it’s even worse since infinite scrolling on screens is either curated highlights that make our own average lives feel worse by comparison, or endless online news that make the world sound a lot more worse and scary than it really is.

In this connected world, do you think you can really manage to live disconnected? How?

As outlined in my book, not only can we successfully disconnect, we can thrive more offline when we find a good balance of it. Smartphones, the internet, and social media aren’t all bad. But they can be if we allow them to be. The trick is setting boundaries in ways that allow them to work for us instead of letting them interrupt and dictate our everyday lives. Continue reading…

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Things my dad taught me: Never ask what you’re not willing to hear

The following is an excerpt from a graduation speech my father Brent Snow gave in 2008 at the University of West Georgia:

I grew up in the deep south—deep southern Idaho–so I picked potatoes rather than cotton! My family was very athletic and my older brother Bruce was probably the best all around athlete in Idaho when he was a senior in high school. Being two years younger, I was constantly compared to him in every sport I played as well as in academics. While I was often on the “short” end of those comparisons, I never resented being so. I respected and admired him a great deal and thought it was an honor to be compared to him.

After finishing my Ph.D. in 1979, I became a faculty member at Oklahoma State University. After I had been there for a couple of years, my Father called me and said he was coming to Stillwater and maybe we could go see a couple of basketball games that were on the schedule. This was quite common for us as athletic events were really an excuse to be together, laugh, and for me to be interviewed about how I was doing—was I doing what I should as a Dad?, husband?, and in my work? I loved those interviews with my Father as he would listen and share some advice and wisdom all the while watching a point guard hit a three pointer! You didn’t have to know my Dad very long to realize he was a very wise person.

After one of those games on the way home, we had been talking about my Brother and me always being compared as athletes. I decided to try to be a little clever by putting my Dad on the spot and testing his wisdom:

“Well Dad, how would you compare Bruce and me as athletes?”

“In what sport?” he said –surprising me that he was willing to do so.

“How about baseball?” Continue reading…

Why I love Valentine’s Day after years of shrugging it off

Valentine’s dinner with kids at home beats crowded restaurants

Like any red-blooded American, I grew up observing Valentine’s Day, albeit casually. I traded candies with classmates, chocolates and stuffed animals with crushes, and used to take my wife to “romantic” dinners at crowded restaurants.

It was not an enjoyable experience, especially the latter. A few years after marriage, my wife and I started eating Valentine’s dinner on another day the week to beat the crowds, but that didn’t feel right either.

Then one day nearly 10 years ago, my wife proposed a radical idea: “Why don’t we stay home and cook a nice candlelight dinner with the kids and celebrate all kinds of love, not just romance?” By this point, I didn’t really care since nothing seemed to work. “Sure,” I said. Continue reading…

Moving from toxic to healthy relationships always requires temporary loneliness

I volunteer with a support group that counsels and encourages ex-prisoners back into society.

It’s heavy stuff, especially since many of them are homeless when they first get out and largely ostracized by friends, family, and greater society. Those are hard conditions to beat, which is why so many of them return to prison (upwards of 70%).

That said, these meetings are usually incredibly warm, uplifting, humbling, and inspiring. Just last night, one participant expressed frustration in how difficult it can be to leave negative relationships behind, especially if you don’t have any positive relationships to replace them with.

In other words, misery loves company. As social creatures, many humans would rather stay with toxic people than endure loneliness.

When I quit recreational drugs, I spent a lot of lonely nights on my own. My friends were still good people, but I had to remove myself from negative behavior.

It was hard. But after a while, I gradually started fellowshipping with less dependent, more “naturally high” individuals. That felt wonderful and totally worth the temporary loneness I suffered in order to meet them.

So if you’re in an unhealthy relationship but don’t want to be alone, that’s understandable. But it’s better to brave temporary loneliness than to endure ongoing negativity.

The sacrifice is worth it, I promise.

How my daughter inspired me to plank for 5 minutes

My sister-in-law challenged our family to a plank-off recently. Person who could plank the longest wins. “I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t stomach those things for 30 seconds.”

Or so I told myself.

Before continuing my story, a quick note: Like any inherently lazy human, there are a lot of exercises I hate doing. But planks are the worst—invented by Satan himself. They’re right up there with Turkish getups, mountain climbers, and wall sits as most uncomfortable for me. So I wasn’t enthused to participate.

“I’m in!” my wife said. My daughter, too, was excited to compete. “I’ll try,” I relented, offending Jedi Masters everywhere.  Continue reading…

Long reads: Big money pop songs, Silicon Slopes, Spirit Airlines, and 50 years of losing

These are the best long-form articles I’ve read recently:

Math in perspective: This is how big a million, billion, and trillion really are

Learning this number-to-time scale blew my mind recently.

We all know that a million, billion, and trillion are very big numbers. But we often don’t appreciate the staggering increases between them. For example, a million seconds equals eleven days. That’s a lot, but two weeks isn’t that far away. A billion seconds, however, is over 31 years—either a third or even half of a lifetime depending on how healthy you are. Now that’s a lot.

But a trillion is unfathomable, if not completely unrelatable to our lifespan. In fact, a trillion seconds is over 31,000 years!!!

The more you know.

See also: A Short History of Nearly Everything

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Book Review: Say Nothing by Patrick Keefe is riveting, ★★★★☆ writing

Earlier this month, I finished a gripping non-fiction and superbly reported book on the terrorist civil war that devoured Northern Ireland from 1969—1998 (aka The Troubles).

Written by Patrick Keefe, Say Nothing is a shocking, deplorable, and sometimes asinine account of two groups of Christians who looked identical, spoke in the same English accent, and only disagreed upon which country they did or should belong to (i.e. United Kingdom versus Ireland). That disagreement, amazingly, caused them to terrorize and kill each other to the tune of 3,500 people, most of which were innocent civilians. To get an idea of how crazy the conflict was, the Irish Republican Army (which was largely a guerrilla group of terrorists) would sometimes bomb civilian buildings, alert civilians a couple hours before the bombing so no one would get hurt, then absolve themselves of any “accidental deaths” because they weren’t responsible for any civilians that didn’t get the message to stay away.

That about sums up the logic behind The Troubles, which thankfully ended two decades ago. But man are the stories from the past as thought-provoking as they are tragic. May history never repeat itself. Four stars out of five. 

These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…

How to crush the next decade: 10 daily choices you can make today

Not only is 2020 the start of a new year, it’s the start of a new “roaring twenties” (hopefully one that doesn’t end in another Great Depression). That’s exciting–the new decade part, not depression.

Regardless of what greater society elects to do, I’m here to tell you that individual people can change. Granted, a lot of people try and fail to change, especially in January. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us are incapable. It just means change is hard.

It’s easier, however, if we make small, daily choices that can have a big impact on our future prosperity, health, and fulfillment. For example, here are 10 simple things you can do on a daily basis to improve your future and slay the next decade of your life. Continue reading…

They made a movie out of it: Why I’m okay with million dollar long-form articles

I recently read a thought-provoking essay by James Pogue on the rise of long-form articles that are later optioned into feature films and narrative-driven books, sometimes to the tune of several million dollars, as was the case with Argo, a movie that was based on a previously published Wired article.

As Pogue seemingly sees it, this new economy of article-to-film adaptations turns previously idyllic literature into modern day “trash,” which is as harsh as it is inaccurate. For example, Say Nothing, a book written by the New Yorker’s Patrick Keefe and based on his previously published articles, is hardly trash for soon becoming a TV series. In fact, the book is phenomenal and proof that great authors and their stories deserve to be told across as many mediums and adaptations as possible, in an effort to reach as many people as possible—even ones that don’t like to read books or long-form articles.

On the whole, it seems like Pogue is just bemoaning change. Continue reading…

Book Review: The Body by Bill Bryson is ★★★★☆ fascination

Over the holidays I read The Body: An Occupant’s Guide by Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors. It is well-researched, captivating, and enlightening. It loses steam in the third and final act, however, which is why I dock it a single star, while still recommending it. These are my favorite passages:

  • It’s a slightly humbling thought that the genes you carry are immensely ancient and possibly—so far anyway—eternal. You will die and fade away, but your genes will go on and on so long as you and your descendants continue to produce offspring. And it is surely astounding to reflect that not once in the three billion years since life began has your personal line of descent been broken. For you to be here now, every one of your ancestors had to successfully pass on its genetic material to a new generation before being snuffed out or otherwise sidetracked from the procreative process. That’s quite a chain of success.
  • The body is often likened to a machine, but it is so much more than that. It works twenty-four hours a day for decades without (for the most part) needing regular servicing or the installation of spare parts, runs on water and a few organic compounds, is soft and rather lovely, is accommodatingly mobile and pliant, reproduces itself with enthusiasm, makes jokes, feels affection, appreciates a red sunset and a cooling breeze. How many machines do you know that can do any of that? There is no question about it. You are truly a wonder.
  • With such an unrelenting work rate, it is a miracle that most hearts last as long as they do. Every hour your heart dispenses around 70 gallons of blood. That’s 1,680 gallons in a day—more gallons pushed through you in a day than you are likely to put in your car in a year.
  • Even with the advantage of clothing, shelter, and boundless ingenuity, humans can manage to live on only about 12 percent of Earth’s land area and just 4 percent of the total surface area if you include the seas. It is a sobering thought that 96 percent of our planet is off-limits to us.
  • When a teenager struggles to get up in the morning, that isn’t laziness; it’s biology. Matters are compounded in America by what The New York Times in an editorial called “a dangerous tradition: starting high school abnormally early.” According to the Times, 86 percent of U.S. high schools start their day before 8:30 a.m., and 10 percent start before 7:30. Later start times have been shown to produce better attendance, better test results, fewer car accidents, and even less depression and self-harm.
  • Medical science has never produced a more noble and selfless group of investigators than the pathologists and parasitologists who risked and all too often lost their lives in trying to conquer the most pernicious of the world’s diseases in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There ought to be a monument to them somewhere.
  • As Daniel Lieberman told me, reaching 80 is largely a consequence of following a healthy lifestyle, but after that it is almost entirely a matter of genes. Or as Bernard Starr, a professor emeritus at City University of New York, put it, “The best way to assure longevity is to pick your parents.”
  • It is an extraordinary fact that having good and loving relationships physically alters your DNA. Conversely, a 2010 U.S. study found, not having such relationships doubles your risk of dying from any cause.
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So long, 2019! Happy New Year!

I jumped in a pool while fully clothed and turned 40 this year. It’s been a wonderful decade with family, friends, and a job I love. Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

My 10 best travel stories of 2019

Favorite place visited: Chicago (really!)

If there’s a better approach to selling than this, I’m all ears

I was recently asked my approach to sales, given that I spend significant time asking people if I can write for them. Here it is in its entirety:

“Hi, human. I sell this thing for a living because I believe in it. It’s benefited myself and others like you. Are you the right person to pitch? If no, do you know someone who is? If yes, is now a good time?”

That’s it. This gentle but persistent approach has served me well, because it respects timing as much as finding and asking the right person.

Long reads: Cozy up and learn something new with one of these

Courtesy Outside Magazine

“The American dream is alive and well,” according to these two paragliders

Several years ago, I visited San Diego for a story I wrote for Paste Magazine.

While there I met two Latino immigrants who are now paragliding pilots for one of the best paragliding spots in the whole world—Torrey Pines.

The first was named J.C. Originally from Venezuela, “I come to America twenty years ago with only $70 and a parachute,” he told me when I asked about his story. “Now I have a wife and kids and pilot parachutes for a living,” he added. 

Another man named Junior told me he used to make sandwiches for the Torrey Pines cafe before becoming a full-time pilot. Today he regularly takes paying guests on controlled spiral spins and up-downs above the beautiful coastline. “The American Dream is a live and well,” he told me then. 

I realize this small sample size cannot and does not speak for every immigrant or domestic American story. I also realize this is a topic many people will disagree on.

But in my experience, I meet more believers in the American dream than not. And as long as immigrants keep coming in at record numbers, the outside world seems to think the same.

Can’t fault them for trying. Or better yet, doing. It’s the type of believers I want my children to share their future with.

My recent travel writing: Portugal, National Parks, Tucson, Best Biking Cities

Courtesy Shutterstock

Thanks for reading and sharing:

5 ways to wake up with more energy (according to research)

I used to be a night owl. But after waking up groggy for three decades, I learned in my 30s to embrace sleep, if not be selfish with it—i.e. I rarely if stay up past 10 or 11 now, even on weekends.

Since then, I’ve accomplished signficantly more, especially on mornings and weekends, which I used to let slip by. How do I do it?

These are the rules that I live by, according to science: Continue reading…

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How to travel a seemingly divided world

This story first appeared in Paste Magazine after the heated election of President Trump

I just returned from an extraordinary hike through Patagonia’s great outdoors (review here). When I left, the world was collectively bracing itself for a politically incorrect and hugely unpredictable man to assume America’s highest office. Two weeks later, I returned to a world that was deeply concerned about Donald Trump’s hasty, religiously-profiled, and arbitrary American hold on accepting immigrants and visitors from seven Middle East countries.

Seemingly overnight, the world had become a more isolated and divided place. In uncertain times like this, it’s best to batten down the hatches, stay inside and keep to our own, right? At most, whirl a few zingers on social media from the comforts of home maybe?

While I can’t do anything for the millions affected by the travel ban and am hesitant to recommend visiting unwelcoming or otherwise hostile places, my answer is an emphatic “NO!” Continue reading…

Adolf Hitler: Top 10 facts

Courtesy Wikimedia

I recently visited Berlin for the first time to commemorate the 30th anniversary since the fall of the wall. While there I took several fascinating tours of this war-torn, politically complex, once divided, but now peaceful capital. (Incidentally, Berlin unexpectedly became one of my favorite European cities—right up there with Rome, Ljubljana, Budapest, and Paris.)

Although I’m usually not a history buff, while touring the capital I was struck by the swiftness of Hitler’s dictatorship, which was as breathtaking and brutal as it was conniving and sabotaging. Upon returning home, I was coincidently introduced to Secret Hitler (a very fun board game), which further piqued my interest in the reviled dictator.

To that end, I downloaded his personal biography (Mein Kampf) and read his entire Wikipedia profile. Here are some of the more interesting facts I’ve learned so far about the most hated villain the world has ever seen: Continue reading…

Why saying “thank you” is a powerful thing

I’m quick to extol the benefits of expressed gratitude. Not only is it scientifically proven to make us happier, it can be super easy to do—if you get in the habit, that is.

Take thank you letters for example. All you have to do is think of someone who has blessed, supported, buoyed, transformed, changed, or even saved your life. Then visit them, call them, or write them to express your gratitude for helping you. (For more tips, click here)

I like to take this a step further, however. Eventually you might run out of people to thank. What can you do then? Thank them again for their continued support. Then again and again. When that gets awkward, I move to the next best thing. Continue reading…

These quotes speak to me: Some of my favorite adages of all-time


Some oldies but goodies.

  • “Time is time, money is money.”—anonymous
  • “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”—anonymous
  • “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”—anonymous
  • “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”—anonymous
  • “Honesty is the best policy.”—anonymous
  • “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”—Chinese proverb
  • “Measure twice, cut once.”—anonymous
  • “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”—anonymous
  • “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”―Leo Tolstoy
  • “A year from now you will wish you had started today.”—Karen Lamb
  • “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”–Wayne Gretzky
  • “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”—Maya Angelou
  • “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”—Reinhold Niebuhr
  • “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”—Benjamin Franklin
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The surprising logic behind working smarter, not harder

What does it mean to “work smarter, not harder”?

Leading research has the answer. It is this: unconscious (or otherwise subconscious) thought is often better at making inspired decisions than our conscious thought.

In that way, those who work smarter, not harder, let their subconscious go to work. They don’t sit in front of a perplexing problem for prolonged periods of time, forcing themselves to find a solution, even if they’re not in the right mental state to solve it. They let their mind breathe.

Let me give you an example. I was recently faced with an important personal decision that seemingly needed to be made immediately without accurate information being available. I was feeling social pressure to make a decision that very afternoon.

Instead of doing that, I went for a walk by the river without directly thinking about the concern. I took a break, both consciously and presently. When I returned 20 minutes later, I felt refreshed. My mind felt clear. Only moments after arriving home, I decided what to do (something I hadn’t first realized) and I felt confident in my decision.

In hindsight, I believe I made the smarter and right decision. But only because I allowed my brain to work smarter, not harder. As we temporarily walk away from our problems, we let your unconscious mind do much of the heavy lifting. Doing this actually allows faster problem solving, while avoiding the “wheels spinning in the mud” syndrome that too many people succumb to.

At least that’s been the case for me. You should try it. All the smart kids are doing it.

5 tips for traveling with kids

There’s a great line from Goonies uttered right before the second act. “Kids suck,” grumbles an exasperated Mother Fratelli, having been reminded how unruly children often are.

There’s no denying what a pain-in-the-ass kids can be, especially while traveling. There’s also no denying their ability to help us see the world with younger eyes again, laugh more, soften calloused hearts, learn new things, reawaken zest and relive the past.

Depending on your outlook, the trade-off is usually worth it. For the brave souls traveling with kids, here’s how to minimize collateral damage on your next trip. Continue reading…

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One of the best examples of magnanimous behavior I’ve ever seen

“I’m not mad at you,” she said. “I’m happy that you get the opportunity to make some money. I was blessed for a while. I hate to see it go. Now it’s your turn to be blessed.”—Shannon Mulcahy from Indiana after losing her job to an offshoring immigrant in a story published in the New York Times.

Skepticism educates. Optimism wins.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference and importance of both skepticism and optimism.

For example, whenever I ask someone if they’re a pessimist or optimist, the latter will always embrace the label. But the former will almost always reply with, “I’m a realist,” or “I’m a skeptic.” They do this, I guess, because pessimism has a negative connotation.

Although I wholeheartedly consider myself an optimist, I fully embrace skepticism, however, when it comes to educating myself, asking questions, reporting the news, or examining a complex or controversial topic.

In other words, “consider the source.” Don’t just accept something you hear as fact. Challenge it. Probe it. Make sure it holds water before believing it. Ensure the person delivering the news is in an objective position to give it. If not, be skeptical.

In that regard, we can all be realists and skeptics when it comes to seeking the truth. And similarly, we can all be hopeful optimists when it comes creating and striving for a winning future.

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In defense of Post Malone, a self-destructive and “culture vulture” musician from Texas

Courtesy Post Malone

I like Post Malone. A lot. Even though I can’t relate.

He’s a young twenty-something rapper with face tattoos that openly indulges in substance abuse and destructive relationships.

I, on the other hand, am a middle-age, clean-cut, ink-free family man who wants to live to 100 over burning the candle on both ends. Continue reading…

BOOK REVIEW: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Toole is an American masterpiece

My wife is reading America’s 100 most beloved books and recently stumbled upon this masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Toole.

Written in 1962 while Toole was stationed in Puerto Rico on military duty, the novel has been described as “Don Quixote meets the French Quarter,” which is a total abortion. In truth, protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly is much more likable, hilarious, and compelling than the former. His misadventures through New Orleans with an ensemble cast of nearly a dozen charismatic characters are a joy to read, as is Toole’s exceptional writing, satisfying storytelling, and clever dialogue.

In short, I could not put Dunces down and cannot recommend it enough. Sadly, the Pulitzer Prize-winning work wasn’t published until 1980, this after the author was rejected by multiple editors who called his writing “pointless,” which partially caused him to succumb to depression and later suicide in 1969.

Thankfully Toole’s mother and an a university professor re-pitched the book posthumously until it was finally published. I’m so glad they did and wonder what could have been had its genius author lived to tell another tale. “Just wait till they hear all that originality pouring out of your head.”

Rating: ★★★★★

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Recent writing: Utah skiing, breathtaking buildings, rafting with family, waterproof gear

Excluding my non-bylined commercial writing, here’s what I’ve written for news media lately:

Thanks for reading and sharing.

Smartphone rules for kids: What I made my child agree to

After years of asking, I finally caved into giving my oldest child a “smartphone” for her 14th birthday. I say “smartphone” in quotes because we really just bought her an iPhone without a carrier plan (aka the latest iPod touch).

To use her phone and send and receive calls and texts from a virtual number app, she must be connected to wifi. She’s happy for now, although this is likely only a two year stop gap until she starts driving and we start teaching her full smartphone etiquette before she leaves home.

But for now, we’re all happy. Especially since my daughter has agreed to obeying the following rules, as outlined in my book: Continue reading…

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Long reads: WeNotWorking, Ballon Boy, unstoppable Amazon, trailer lottery, millionaire complacency

Courtesy Medium

I really enjoyed the following long-reads recently:

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10 frequently asked questions for a self-employed writer

Me at my desk courtesy Lindsey Snow

I’ve been a professional writer since 2005 and a full-time writer since 2007. I moonlighted for a couple of years before transitioning to a full-time freelancing journalist, a “calling” I continue to this day.

Since then, these are some of the most frequently asked questions I get from aspiring writers or otherwise curious email inquires:

How do you become a self-employed writer?

My advice: write everyday and ask 50 people if they will publish your best work. If they all say no, ask 50 more and so on. This never fails but most writers will never do this and therefore go unpublished and unpaid. Usually I don’t even have to ask 50, but in two exceptional cases, I asked over 100 before someone said yes: My first story for Wired Magazine about college footballcomputers and my first travel column for Paste Magazine. Both were huge wins for my career and would have never happened had I quite after asking just 50. The harder you work, the luckier you get. (See also: How to succeed: Don’t quit until everyone in the room tells you “no”)

Is it actually possible to make a decent income at home and support a family by being self employed writer?

Yes. I’ve worked from home for the last 15 years, make a good income, and have six mouths to feed (wife and five children). In my experience, successful self employment requires persistence, low overhead (i.e. low maintenance lifestyle), extra emergency savings, and a willingness to sell your craft in addition to the craft itself. Self employment isn’t for everyone, but it can be done and is remarkably rewarding.

Continue reading…