Blake Snow

I write sentences for a living: writer-for-hire, bestselling author, content creator

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Written by blake

SAVE THE DATE: My band is playing a free outdoor music fest on June 12

My band Super Cover is playing a free, live outdoor music fest on June 12, 5:00 PM, at the Cranberry Farms Clubhouse in Lehi. There will be food trucks, free prizes, games for kids, and three rocking bands. Show starts at 5:00. We go on at 6:00. See our last concert here

Please bring your family and friends. It’s gonna be an awesome night. 🤘

PS—If you can’t make this performance, please join us for our 80’s only show on June 26, 7:30 at Platinum Music in Provo. 

Success: Okay losing everything you have?

Before his death last year, respected businessman Tony Hsieh once defined success as “being okay with losing everything you have.” He died a single man a few years later at 46 as a multimillionaire and pioneer of online shoe sales.

I’ve recently pondered his definition. I like and mostly agree with it. But I would not be okay losing my wife and children. I would be devastated. I suppose I could come to accept it in time and try the best I could to move on. But it sure would break me for a long time.

As a writer, I would not be okay losing my hands or voice, which would prevent me from typing or dictating my thoughts. But I’d like to think I would be capable of reinventing myself and using my inquisitive talents in other ways.

Perhaps that’s what Hsieh meant by success. A living person that is capable of finding new meaning and contributing in new ways at any point of their life.

But I believe success can and should be so much more than that. If anything I would hope that when I’m gone, the world is a slightly better place, at least in my little village.

What do you think, kind reader?

Need a convincing reason to work less? Try this.

Courtesy Shutterstock

Working long hours is killing hundreds of thousands of people a year, according to the World Health Organization.

In a new study, researchers found that people working 55 hours or more a week are 35% more likely to suffer a stroke and 17% more likely to die of heart disease compared to people putting in 35 to 40 hours a week. That amounts to about 750,000 people a year across the world — and that was before the pandemic hit and rejiggered work-life balance struggles.

The evidence keeps mounting.

30 conversation starters that can help you make friends and learn new things

Lady Bird by Universal Pictures

I would never ask someone all of these questions, but I regularly reach for a handful of them when meeting new people and talking with my family over the holidays.

  1. What are you excited about? (This is my all-time favorite icebreaker because it instantly tells you if that person is interesting or not.)
  2. What do you like better: waking up in the morning or going to bed at night?
  3. What would you do if you had a million dollars?
  4. What is a weird habit that you have?
  5. Would you rather go without television or junk food for the rest of your life?
  6. Where is the most interesting place you have ever been to?
  7. Do you believe in extraterrestrials or life on other planets?
  8. What does a perfect day look like to you?
  9. What was it like growing up where you did?
  10. Is the world a better or worse place than it was 10 years ago? Will it get better in the next 10?
  11. What are your top three all-time favorite movies?
  12. In what ways are you different from your parents? How are you the same?
  13. What are three things you have that your parents didn’t have when they were growing up?
  14. What is the most useful thing you own?
  15. What do you think of tattoos?
  16. What is something popular that annoys you?
  17. What is a controversial opinion that you have?
  18. Which is more important: a great house or car?
  19. What is your guilty pleasure?
  20. What is the most overrated movie?
  21. Which is better: movie or books?
  22. What’s your favorite season?
  23. What was the last book you read?
  24. What’s the best place you’ve ever traveled to?
  25. How has technology changed music?
  26. What is the best thing about being a kid/adult?
  27. Who is your favorite extended family member and why?
  28. Which is better: buying experiences or things?
  29. Is the world a mostly safe or mostly dangerous place?
  30. What was the best part of your day?
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In a heartbeat: 6 countries I’m going back to after borders reopen

Me standing tall in Kyoto

Before pandemic closed international borders and decimated airline routes, I held the ridiculous job of getting paid to travel the world. I’d jetset to far-flung places (often with my family) and then write a review of what I liked most about the place, people, attractions, and/or food.

It was unreal.

Although I plan on taking up that job again, for now I can only dream. And when I look back on the dozens of places I’ve had the privilege of visiting, these are the ones I’ll return to in a heartbeat—one for every inhabited continent.

When daydreaming or adding places to your bucket list, few countries are more lovable than these:

Japan (Asia). Half of the food is amazing. The other half is gross. But the people are 100% adorable. And their contradictory culture is mesmerizing—everything from their language, customs, formality, architecture, tradition, and scenery. BONUS points for being one of the safest and cleanest countries on Earth—a place where kindergartners freely roam downtown late into the night, it’s so safe.

Continue reading…

Why I love my car: 2011 Dodge Journey

Someone recently asked what kind of car I drive. “A discontinued Dodge Journey,” I replied with zero pretense.

My particular model is a 2011—a decade old. My wife and I bought it used when the odometer read 20,000 miles. It now has 130,000 on it, the most I’ve ever logged on a vehicle.

I still love my car and hope to drive it for at least a few more years. Here’s why: Continue reading…

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How facing our fears is fulfilling and rewarding

Facing your fears is never easy. It doesn’t get easier with age.

My wife and I were talking about facing our fears recently with our daughter Sadie. She runs on the track team but it makes her nervous, as any track athlete well knows. We complimented her for running, which is a painful event at the speeds track runs.

Quick backstory: Sadie finished second in the state of Utah while running the mile in grade school. Nevertheless, she was so scared she’d finish last in her first high school meet, that she didn’t even register for the mile. She chose sprints instead and got blown away. That’s what happens when distance runners run sprints.

Anyways, her mother and I encouraged her to run the mile, 400, and 800 next time. She accepted the challenge (we didn’t force her), and she registered for all three events at her next meet. She was visibly nervous for the full week leading up to the big day.  Continue reading…

Musicians are in peril, at the mercy of giant monopolies that profit off their work

This is a great read by American Prospect on the decline of middle-class musicians who can no longer make a living.

From the article: “Spotify also pays out absurdly low per-stream rates, though not as bad as YouTube. ‘Last year, the COVID year, Galaxie 500 had 8.5 million streams on Spotify,’ Damon Krukowski explained. ‘We also released a 2,000-copy, limited-edition LP. They raised the same amount of money. Neither is enough to live on.’ Krukowski calculated that to earn the equivalent of a $15-an-hour living wage, a band would have to get 650,000 streams per month per band member.”

This is sad news without a clear remedy.

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“Exit, Voice, and Loyalty” explains why neighborhoods decline

In his famous book, Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Albert Hirschman boiled the choices a citizen had for influencing a larger organization into three broad categories. Exit (one could leave if one wasn’t satisfied), Voice (one could try to change the organization by speaking out, and Loyalty (one could go along with the organization as it was, and expect some reciprocity for their commitment).

A key challenge for fighting neighborhood decline, and overcoming concentrated poverty is building a credible expectation on the part of neighborhood residents that things are going to change, and change for the better. Building hope is needed to reinforce loyalty and minimize exit, reports City Observatory.

Strong Towns adds the following: “If you let the naysayers overwhelm your community, then they’ll be right; nothing will change. But just as the negative attitudes can pile on top of one another and grow exponentially into a massive weight that begins to drown your city, so, too, can positive actions pile on top of one another and buoy your town toward a better future.

“If you look closely, you’ll see that there are already people around you who are starting to take those actions. It might be your neighbor down the block who carefully tends her front garden each spring. It might be the hardware store owner who says hello to people as they pass by. It might be the mom who picks up trash with her kids as she walks them to school in the mornings.

“Let these people inspire you and start taking your own steps to shine a positive light on your neighborhood. Then join with your neighbors, tell them their efforts matter, and be part of building the future of your community together. Don’t let the psychology of decline be the death of your neighborhood.”

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Here’s why I’m over the moon for my band

Courtesy Lindsey Snow

I’m about to try eyeliner for the first time in my entire life this week. Let that sink in for a moment.

Me, a middle-aged, married, father of five, and full-time writer from in suburbia is about to apply smokey, rock star, “guy liner” in an effort to boost my stage presence this Friday, which by the way, I don’t get paid for.

Why am I doing this? Because I love music. I love listening to it, creating it, playing it, and performing it. More specifically, I love Super Cover, the “new wave, dance rock” cover band I co-founded in quarantine, and which I’ve sung in almost every week for the last year.

Because of this band, I’ve thought more about what makes a song dance or strut than I ever thought possible. I’ve agonized over setlists. I bought a sequin shirt on Amazon. I’ve invested more in musical gear than ever before. I borderline obsess over it.

Last week, I woke up in the middle of the night with the following thought: “We’ve never played a show outside before like we will next week. What are we going to do to make sure it sounds good?” I couldn’t go back to sleep until researching outdoor sound tips for two hours.

While I’ve played in a half dozen bands before, all of which were in high school and college, Super Cover is different. Here’s why: Continue reading…

Published works: 12 things every traveler should do in Utah

Courtesy Lindsey Snow

My latest for Travelocity: “Utah is well-known for its skiing, hiking, red rock, and welcoming residents. If you’ve already visited or are planning your first trip, consider the following statewide classics before finalizing your itinerary. While the below includes several city-based attractions, Utah is disproportionately known for its great outdoors, so plan on enjoying a few urban delights, as well as plenty of magnificent natural ones.” Continue reading…

How I feel after drinking a gallon of water everyday this year

In January, my wife bought this trendy gallon water bottle and has finished it nearly everyday since. Not to be outdone, I decided to join her in the daily gallon water challenge.

Before this, I was already drinking a lot more water than most—around 11 cups a day (or 2/3 a gallon) over the last several years. At 6’1″ and 200 pounds, this amount felt great. But I wondered what five more cups per day might do for me.

Turns out a lot. I’ve lost a little weight, satiated my appetite more than usual, am never thirsty, and my skin feels even better in the cold desert of Utah where I live. I’ve also peed a lot more than usual, but that’s a minor annoyance that’s well worth the trade-off.

Pro tip: To avoid waking at night to urinate, I finish my gallon by 2pm in the afternoon and don’t drink anything after that. The more you know!

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Recommended reading: Measuring History favorably reviewed by industry expert

Many thanks to Martin Rowe at EE World for reviewing my newest book, Measuring History. With exception to thinking my Austin and Measurement chapters were too much background, I thought he provided a fair and recommended review.

From the article: “Measuring History is neither a history of measurement nor a measurement of history, and yet it’s both. Blake Snow takes you through the early days of National Instruments through the 2019 induction of founders Dr. James Truchard and Jeff Kodosky into the Inventors Hall of Fame. Throughout the book, Snow focuses on LabVIEW and how engineers and scientists use the graphic programming language to test and control systems that make many products we use function better… I recommend the book if you’re looking for a quick and easy read.”

Thanks, Martin.

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Published works: 8 Mountain West icons to add to your bucket list

My latest for Travelocity: “The Great Outdoors are scientifically proven to improve your family’s health and happiness. And when it comes to seeing some of the best of America, few regions are more compelling than the Mountain West states (for the record, that’s everything west of the Midwest except Washington, Oregon, and California). With so much to see, however, where should you turn your attention? If you can only visit one place in each of the eight Mountain West states, these should be at the top of your list.” Continue reading…

Start with “No:” How to negotiate with melodramatic politicians

Several years ago, Provo politicians proposed a bond bill to the community to update century-old city schools. The multi-million dollar bond widely passed because the majority of voters agreed with the included line items.

The next year, the other half of the city wanted to update their schools. A second bond was proposed. Only this time, it asked for 40% more money for the same number of schools. Something was fishy. The numbers didn’t add up, despite politicians saying “lumber had gone up.” The community knew it.

Despite manipulative attempts through signs and public speeches that a “vote for yes is a vote for children,” city voters blocked the second bill’s passage. The next year, a revised bond was proposed with much lower costs and tomfoolery. So the community voted in favor of the revised second bond—a vote for both children and honest pricing.

I was proud of my city that day, but only after first telling our local politicians “no.” As in business, if there’s something you don’t like in politics—be it at a local, state, federal, or global level—vote no. And never let melodramatic or manipulate language convince you that “no” means you don’t care about what’s being voted on.

It might actually mean that you care even more and want our politicians to propose even better legislation with the least amount of corruption.

I permanently damaged my ears making music, but the reason they ring is beautiful.

Last year while recording Mr. Mustache, my debut album produced in quarantine, I permanently damaged both of my inner ears. While making the record, I listened to my headphones at volume 8-9 for four straight months. Every day. My ears have been ringing ever since.

Near the end of the recording process, the high pitched “tinging” started. I had also started playing in a live band then but wore ear plugs without realizing that I was letting the problem in the backdoor at the same time.

I read up on the ringing, and after speaking with two permanent “patients,” it was obvious I was suffering from either temporary or permanent tinnitus (pronounced tin-uh-tis). Time was the only way to tell which version I had. All the medical literature says if the ringing stops after 2-4 weeks, the ear cells were able to heal themselves and you’re good to go. If they don’t, the ringing will never go away, according to the latest research. Mine never did.

Obviously, permanent tinnitus, especially in both ears, is an incessant annoyance. But I’ve adapted well. And I’m grateful my ears alerted me to the issue before I was made deaf by music, as the tragic but still hopeful Sound of Metal movie so beautiful demonstrates.

What’s more, I haven’t suffered any noticeable hearing loss beyond maybe 5% clarity. Over my ringing ears, I can still hear the soft breathing of my wife lying in bed next to me or even distant sounds. Although the ringing hasn’t gone away in nearly a year, my hearing remains largely intact.

There’s a very specific reason for that. The ringing is by design! The way it was explained to me, ringing ears are like the hissing you hear on a radio while changing the station in search of something new. Similarly, ear cells change their frequencies, if you will, to make up for the loss of damaged cells. The living cells actually re-tune themselves (or ring) in an effort to listen more acutely with the remaining cells at their disposal. Magic I tell ya!

While I wish I never harmed my ears like I did, I often feel gratitude whenever I notice the ringing. It’s proof that my body and maker (be that God or evolutionary biology) care for me more than I car for myself sometimes. Isn’t that comforting?

TL;DR: Don’t blow out your ears, wear protection, and be grateful for how the human body adapts to survive.

WHAT A STORY: The Beach Bum Who Beat Wall Street and Made Millions

This is an amazing long-read by The Ringer: “It’s a Cinderella story. Mike truly is Cinderella. The money Mike made was stupid money. But it didn’t happen to him overnight. He saw this and we were in it long before all this frenzy. But now he’s set for life.”

I used to work 4 days a week. I’m dying to go back.

Several years ago, I talked with my wife about working Monday–Thursday only if I could hit my income goal. This was incredible motivation. So much so that I hit my target some 8 months later.

For the next 18 months, I didn’t work a single Friday. Maybe an emergency email here and there, but never more than a few minutes. I didn’t check my inbox, make a call—nothing. It was professional and personal bliss.

My wife and I went on dates, played hooky that day, and spent more time with our children during “early release” Fridays. It was awesome.

Sadly, I got complacent and my income dropped. So I started working Fridays again to build it back up in recent years. Continue reading…

How we built a remote employee training company in six months

Last year in the middle of pandemic, my life-long friend, Wesley Lovvorn (pictured left) approached me (pictured right) about co-founding a company. I had been working from home for nearly two decades. He’d done so for almost a decade. Both of us had been self-help students for over 30 years. “Let’s combine the two and help the millions of employees now working from home,” he said.

After studying the market for several months, we discovered two things: 1) there wasn’t a dedicated company that did this, and 2) we possessed some promising experience, empathy, and research to make it happen. So we spent the next half year interviewing executives, speaking to mentors, developing the initial curriculum, branding ourselves as Power Space, and launching with two pilot customers last fall.

Since I come from a background as an explanatory writer-for-hire, I was dubbed “chief content officer” and tasked with producing the first year curriculum of 18 lessons. I also produce all of our marketing assets, such as press releases, content marketing, and websites that our outreach director (Hi, Abby!) then uses to spread the gospel. Since this is still a side hustle, I do all this in between my day job writing articles for Fortune 500 companies and fancy publications.  Continue reading…

Published Works: Utah’s Best National Parks For Every Traveler

Here’s my latest love letter published in Lonely Planet about the state I call home: “Utah is known around the globe for its five national parks, dubbed the “Mighty 5.” But some are better than others, depending on how you travel. Before booking your next adventure to red rock country, here’s what you need to know.” Continue reading…

Published works: Vintage Vallarta awaits at Las Palmas by the Sea

My latest for Travel Weekly: “Just as the U.S. was announcing mandatory Covid tests for border reentry this year, I arrived, family in tow, at a small, locally owned resort in the middle of Puerto Vallarta’s coastline. Deep discounts and easy access made Mexico, one of a dozen or so countries still open to Americans, an irresistible beach vacation escape, and although there were plentiful bargains among newer all-inclusives, I was intrigued by an older property called Las Palmas by the Sea.”

As you can hopefully tell after reading the full article, my family and I were enamored by this place. We stayed a full week. Although we usually like to travel to new places and properties for our next vacation, we hope to return to this little slice of paradise within the next year. I smile justing thinking about it. Kudos to both Las Palmas by the Sea and Vallarta Transportation for getting my family to and the airport in comfort and on time. Viva Vallarta!

Continue reading…

3 things I learned starting an employee training company in quarantine

NEWS FROM MY LATEST SIDE HUSTLE: Last year in the middle of pandemic, my life-long friend approached me about co-founding a company. I had been working from home for nearly two decades. He’d done so for almost a decade. Both of us had been self-help students for over 30 years. “Let’s combine the two and help the millions of employees now working from home,” he said.

After studying the market for several months, we discovered two things: 1) there wasn’t an existing company that did this, and 2) we possessed some promising experience, empathy, and research to make it happen. So we spent the next half year interviewing executives, developing the initial curriculum, getting our ducks in a row, and launching with two pilot customers last fall.

This year, we fully launched as Power Space and have been gaining momentum ever since. Here are three things we’ve learned so far.

  1. Employees are stuck in limbo. While many employees are thrilled to be working from home, a sizable majority are struggling, according to every major metric on employee health. Yes, these employees have adapted to this new reality and proven the productivity of working remotely, but they’re far from reaching their potential in this new isolated state while still figuring out the rules.
  2. Companies are scrambling to keep up. How do you transition from central headquarters to dispersed home offices overnight? You don’t. This takes time. While HR departments have been working hard to help with the transition, they come from a very different background and need assistance with the transition and ongoing training required to make the most of remote work environments.
  3. Aggressive pricing is required in recession. While we believe there’s significant value in the training we’ve created, we also believe that every remote employee and cash-strapped employer deserves an affordable training option. That’s why we’ve launched our training program starting at $1 per year per employee. That jumps to $3 per employee if we deliver the lessons for our customers (our most popular option), and $5 per employee if lesson personalizations are needed to fit your unique policies.

If you or someone you know is in HR and is struggling to help your employees transition to remote work (or in getting the most from this promising but isolating environment), I hope you’ll consider us when planning your employee training this year. Thanks for thinking of us.—Blake Snow

Recent travel stories I’ve published for CNN, NatGeo, USA Today, LA Times, and more

Over the last six years, I’ve written and published hundreds of travel articles for CNN, National Geographic, USA Today, LA Times, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Orbitz, Frommers, and Paste Magazine. For my most recent articles, click here. For some of my recent favorites, see below:

Best of 2020

  1. What I learned from a lack of travel this year
  2. What it’s like to hike among 5,000 year old trees
  3. What!? International travel won’t return until 2024
  4. 11 countries Americans can easily travel to now
  5. 5 border-straddling natural wonders to see from both sides
  6. Going extinct in Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument
  7. Travel shaming: Something else you need to worry about now
  8. National Park versus National Monument: What’s the difference?
  9. What it’s like to visit a theme park in pandemic?
  10. How to travel when you can’t | How to cope with no travel
  11. 6 virtual tours to enjoy from home | Best online virtual tours
  12. The corner of Northeastern Utah that only locals know about
  13. How to see the seedier side of Berlin
  14. How to visit Monument Valley

Continue reading…

This daily newsletter saves me an hour while still keeping me informed

Many years ago, I subscribed to over 150 news feeds. I was a hard news journalist (aka tech blogger) at the time and believed I needed to monitor that many sources to perform my job.

After realizing how much time I wasted on redundant news, I reduced that number to 30. A few years later, I cut my consumption again to just six daily outlets, before eventually settling on four per day for the last several years (one national outlet, one state, one city, and one long-read curator).

Since pandemic started, however, I noticed a disappointing trend: even the trustworthy sources I still read seemingly couldn’t look past the moving target that is coronavirus. They had become temporarily myopic, if not overly doomsday-ish, and were incapable of telling the whole truth (i.e. the world is getting much better).

In light of this, I cut my daily news in January to just two sources per weekday, one of which is delivered straight to my inbox. That source is the Need2Know newsletter, which summarizes what their editors deem as the 10 most important news updates every weekday. In just five minutes, I get smart summaries with a few smile-inducing comments from the Associated Press, New York Times, USA Today, and other specialist publications. (The other daily source I still follow is Digg’s Long Reads for in-depth reporting.)

After cutting my news to just two daily sources (note: I no longer read news on weekends as Need2Know alerts me on Monday of anything noteworthy), I went from spending on hour on news each day to no more than five minutes, minus the long reads I still reach for on my lunch break.

Like all previous instances that I dramatically reduced my news intake, I suspect I’ll be just fine this time, if not even prosper with the added hour the act afforded me.

Young love beat COVID today. Almost.

Courtesy Shutterstock

One morning last fall when the weather was still unseasonably warm, my wife and I were playing tennis at the park. We played a couple times a week last year and enjoyed people-watching in between games and sets.

This particular morning, I watched a young, twenty-something couple meet in the middle of a large field. They were holding masks in hand and maintaining physical distance per state health guidelines. Standing the entire time, it looked as though they were courting lovers having a quarrel.

The calm quarreling went on for some time—several games of tennis, in fact, until finally I watched the couple embrace and kiss after seemingly working out their differences. “Young love beat COVID today,” I mentioned to my wife with a smile. The romantic in me was proud to see the blatant disregard for quarantine restrictions. My wife just rolled her eyes.

It was the cutest thing, really. I then called the Mask Gestapo and both lovers were immediately detained for being a menace to public health. Thank, heavens!

NOTE: Everything but the last two sentences are true.

How assertive communication can turbocharge your people skills

Paramount Pictures

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

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

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

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

I should have been a Daft Punk

blake-snow-daft-punk

Hac Tran

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

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

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

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

First published on November 6, 2013

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

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

Pros

Cons

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

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

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How speaking up gets you grease

Courtesy Shutterstock

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

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

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

Continue reading…

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

Courtesy Lindsey Snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

This silverware makes food taste better

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

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

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

Continue reading…

How to get free mentoring from really smart people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for watching!

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13 things I learned in France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better movies: Why Metacritic is more reliable than Rotten Tomatoes

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

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

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

 

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Good stuff: 5 ways to build resilience

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

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

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

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

The First Personal Computer Wasn’t a Phone

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading…

What I learned from a lack of travel this year

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also: Why corporate speak is garbage language

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

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

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

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

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

★★★★☆

3 ways to save your life (motivational speech)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy Shutterstock

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

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

NOT what I saw but thematically similar (Courtesy Shutterstock)

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

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

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

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

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

6 months later: How a $2 billion startup failed

Courtesy Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

Photo Blake Snow

This thing is a taste and texture explosion!

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

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

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

Courtesy Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

Good and bad: What I liked most about 2020

Running man at Delicate Arch

I’m conflicted about this year.

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

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

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

Thinking we’re “important” by overworking

Courtesy Shutterstock

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

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

Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving!

Utah less-traveled: Going extinct in Dinosaur National Monument

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

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

Courtesy Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

5 great outdoors that cross borders

Black Hills / Devil’s Tower courtesy Shutterstock

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

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

What is math? The answer will surprise you

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

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Where I stand on American politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book description here:

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

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

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

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How Germany protects its borders with compassion and order

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

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

Continue reading…

Top 10 National Parks to visit in autumn

Courtesy Shutterstock

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

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

Continue reading at Orbitz…

3 reasons why mainstream media so liberal

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

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

The trouble with travel in an “open” pandemic

Courtesy Shutterstock

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

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

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

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The Mad Genius of Eddie Van Halen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy Outside

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

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

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

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

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

My latest for Lonely Planet:

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

Continue reading at Lonely Planet…

NEW MUSIC: My favorite albums of the year

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

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

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

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

Courtesy Warner Bros.

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

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

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

5 things to know before traveling in a pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 stunning photos of Utah’s great outdoors


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 parenting facts, backed by science

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

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

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

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Recording artist profile: Blake Snow

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

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

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

Listen to the full-length album now on: