My family and I recently returned from a weeklong road trip along U.S. Route 50 through Nevada. Famously dubbed “the loneliest road in America” by an unnamed AAA agent, the highway is as beautiful as it is devoid of life.
My column on the experience will publish next week. But one of the highlights was undoubtedly listening to rural country radio through much of it. And by rural I mean no more than four FM stations at any time; two of which were gospel, one talk radio, and one country.
Because our rental car’s auxiliary music jack didn’t work, these are the best songs we listened to while cruising through the beautiful Great Basin of Nevada: Continue reading…
Joe Devney convincingly answers, “There is a famous photo from the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York City. Three firefighters are raising an American flag over the rubble of the towers. The photo was even made into a U.S. postage stamp.
“I remember reading about someone who found a problem with the picture. All three firefighters were white. This person said the photo should be restaged. There should be a white firefighter, a black firefighter, and a Hispanic firefighter raising the flag. That is, change a record of history, falsify the event, because what actually happened is not what you wish had happened to give the correct unrelated cultural message.
“This person’s priorities were wrong. Three Americans had taken it upon themselves to make a statement by hoisting their flag at the scene of an attack on their country. And someone thought that two of them should be erased from the event and replaced by people who weren’t there.”
I love airplanes. I love travel. And I love this Delta commercial which is the embodiment of both.
Although United has come on strong this year, Delta remains my preferred airline for its reliability and affordability. Keep climbing.
“Writing an essay that started with a chicken in my shower turned out to be the most meaningful accomplishment of my life,” says Noelle Hancock. “It’s unfathomable and humbling, having strangers say you inspired them to leave a job, relationship, or place they weren’t happy in—even when others told them it was a terrible idea.”
Five years ago, Hancock left a $95,000 job and the capital of the world to scoop ice cream on the U.S. Virgin Island of Saint John. Why? She didn’t like her increasingly wired and phone-driven life in New York. Four quiet years later, an old friend asked her to state her reasonings in a story for Cosmopolitan. The story blew up. Continue reading…
I’m writing this at 30,000 feet just off the pacific coast of Nicaragua. Twenty minutes ago I left San Jose, Costa Rica on a Delta flight bound for Salt Lake City via Los Angeles.
I was in Costa Rica this week as a guest of the tourism department. They want me to write about all the reputable adventure here in my travel column for Paste Magazine. Thanks to the renowned canyoneering, rappelling, cliff jumping, rain forrest-ing, mountain biking, waterfalls, surfing, zip lining, Tarzan swinging, river rafting, and exotic fauna and wildlife—all within close proximity, mind you—I gladly will.
But as usual, encounters with new (and familiar) humans while here had the greatest impact on me. Here’s what I really learned from Costa Rica: Continue reading…
Here’s where my byline published last month:
The Network (aka Cisco magazine)
Listen here or here.
But oh! How I depend on them, including the ones not pictured.
“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life,” says Richard Bach. “A happy family is but an earlier heaven,” adds George Bernard Shaw.
I’m grateful for mine.
Courtesy New Line Cinema
“Hi, human. I sell this thing (in my case writing) for a living because I believe in it. It’s benefited myself and others you may know. Are you the right person to pitch? If no, do you know someone who is? If yes, is now a good time?”
I’ve been writing full time for 10 years now. Much of that time, if not half of the time, is spent asking people if I can write for them. In that sense, I’m either a writer who knows how to sell, or a seller who knows how to write.
Either way, I’ve followed the above pitch for the last decade. I don’t know if it’s the best sales approach, but it’s worked alright for me, and it’s one I feel is the most respectful.
Know a better way?
Courtesy Robert Clark/TIME
“Once the dump trucks and bulldozers have cleared away the rubble and a thousand funeral Masses have been said, once the streets are swept clean of ash and glass and the stores and monuments and airports reopen, once we have begun to explain this to our children and to ourselves, what will we do? What else but build new cathedrals, and if they are bombed, build some more. Because the faith is in the act of building, not the building itself, and no amount of terror can keep us from scraping the sky.”—Nancy Gibbs (written three days after the bombing of the Twin Towers, but before the big holes were “built” in their place)
I recently watched (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies. This is what I learned:
- Honor codes, moral self-reminders before brushing with temptation, and asking others to be honest in tempting situations can reduce dishonesty to almost zero, researchers found.
- People are increasingly dishonest as they distance themselves from tangible things (i.e. its easier to steal digital money than tangible money, and it’s easier to cheat in golf by kicking your ball while looking away as opposed to picking it up). To heighten honesty, look at ill behavior right in the face before doing it.
- Everybody is dishonest. Everybody. And all nationalities are equally dishonest, researchers found. It’s just that foreign cultures feel more dishonest because they cheat in unfamiliar ways.
- Scandinavian economies and The U.S. have the world’s highest levels of social trust—Africa and South America the least, which has a dramatic effect in the size and health of those respective economies.
- Bankers cheat twice as much as politicians. Lying can be appropriate when it’s done for the good of others as opposed to selfish reasons and only if the truth wouldn’t later upset the person that was deceived (i.e. telling a hysterical passenger on a crashing plane that you’re an aeronautics engineer and everything is going to be okay or lying to your children to keep them out of imminent danger or harm’s way).
Highly recommended. Four stars out of five.
Courtesy Andy Feige
Here’s what I wrote about last month:
The following people are giants in my eyes. Without their supportive shoulders and encouraging spirit, I would be at a disadvantage: Continue reading…
What grade would you give education technology? I asked around last month while reporting for Cisco.com.
The world wouldn’t be as amazing today if it weren’t for the combustable car engine, pictured at left.
But this engine is 100 years old, has a lot of moving parts that can fail, and isn’t nearly as simple, efficient, or as powerfully fast as the much simpler and smaller engine pictured at right—a newer Tesla motor that fits neatly between rear wheels.
“I think many people don’t realize what we are witnessing at the moment,” writes Quora expert Andrius Adamonis. “Several years from now, we will look back and think, ‘WOW! We used to have engines that were powered by small EXPLOSIONS inside!'”
To improve the future of education, America must focus on science, technology, engineering, and math fields (aka STEM). We must also meet, if not exceed, international test scores.
Or should we?
Said focus has increasingly been criticized in recent years—ironically due to a lack of scientific evidence. After researching “hundreds” of reports from the past six decades, for instance, Robert Charette of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers said the so-called STEM shortage “is a myth.”
Does .99 cent pricing really work? Wouldn’t it be easier to round everything to the nearest dollar?
The answer to both those questions is a resounding “yes.” Although it would be easier to round up, stores use so-called psychological pricing because it demonstrably boosts sales by 8%, according to one study of 60,000 mail-order catalogs.
In short, the 30,000 customers that received rounded up pricing spent 8% less than the 30,000 catalog recipients of 99 cent pricing. (Note: The two catalogs were identical except for pricing.)
Granted, this study was performed 20 years ago. But with those kind of gains, the trend is sure to stick around for a long time.
Courtesy Iceland Tourism
Reporting for Paste Magazine…
credit: blake snow
Life is hard sometimes. It’s always hard if you do any of the following with regularity: Continue reading…
I don’t always study philosophy, but when I do, I make it count.
Case in point: A friend and I were recently discussing the human condition over email. Exhilarating stuff, I know. I’ll skip to the best part.
Basically, we decided that humans struggle to internalize both complex and simple realizations. Complex ones because they’re harder to grasp, and simple takeaways because we’re usually too distracted by temptations, desires, and pleasures to see them through, even if we believe in them (or so argues Aristotle; more on him later).
At this point, I asked my buddy, “So if humans struggle to comprehend both complex and simple ideas, what in the HELL are we good at?”
His reply, “Entertainment. And nothing else.” Full stop. The gravity and strategic double periods of his remark made me do this:
At which point I enrolled in a 36-course undergraduate class from Smith College. Not exactly. But I did download the audible version of the class, The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World’s Greatest Thinkers, from Amazon!
Having already graduated (go, fight, win!), I did this solely for my own enlightenment. Little did I know how much impact professor Jay Garfield’s masterful curriculum would have on my worldview, existential outlook, and shared beliefs with others.
Here’s what I learned: Continue reading…
Where should you spend most of your time? For maximum enjoyment, biggest impact, and lifelong fulfillment, the magic happens in the urgent/not important quadrant of President Eisenhower’s popular Decision Matrix.
Take nurturing a child or business, for example. Both are critical but rarely demand your immediate attention.
In other words, quality time is never urgent. Fostering future sales is easy to put off, especially when current income is steady.
Obviously Eisenhower’s matrix isn’t the end-all, be-all of decision making. But I believe the most successful people in life—both personally and professionally—are the ones that ignore non-critical/non-urgent distractions the most. They don’t check or even react to their “inbox” as much as others, opting instead to focus on forward-thinking but non-urgent tasks.
And they delegate or otherwise prioritize urgent but unimportant tasks better than most.
This two minute video by Matthew Belinkie is as good today as it was when I first shared it eight years ago.
My talented friend Davey Saunders is at it again. The below was first appeared on his Facebook page and is republished here with his permission. Pessimists are encouraged to skip this post.
Metaphorical waves roll into our lives on a pretty regular basis.
Emotional. Physical. Mental. Spiritual. Some we are able to ride out, some we can tuck under, and some break right on top of us —driving us helplessly into the water and currents beneath, until we regain our senses and are able to right ourselves again.
Some waves are rogue, and some come in sets that seem to have no end. There are times I have been, literally and figuratively, pulled from the grasp of the relentless seas. And there are times when I thought I had already drowned.
I am not upset by the challenges the ocean brings. If there was no water, how would I learn to swim? If there was no current to fight, how would I build the strength to hold on? And if there were no waves, how would I ever learn to surf?
So let them come. Let them bring their wrath and their might.
Just remember: with each shove and push from the waves, we are brought closer to shore. And then suddenly we find the furious roar that used to beat us down is now the very soothing sound of the surf… playing its sweet rhythms as we rest in the sand.
I started freelance writing for Cisco.com last month. Here are my first few stories:
The world is full of qualitative statements. Exaggerations. Subjectiveness that cannot be measured. The people that make such statements are easily forgotten.
Quantitative statements, on the other hand, leave an impression. They measure your place in life. My father taught me this at an early age.
When I was nine years old, I ran a fast 400 meter dash, which is no easy feat. The thing about the 400 is not a lot of people run it. It’s difficult, because it’s not quite a sprint and not quite a distance race. As such, few amateurs compete in it. At least that was the case when I ran it.
So my father encouraged me to run the 400. I did. All the way to the ’88 state finals. Here’s how it happened: Continue reading…
This writing by Kathryn Schulz on what it means to be American is beautiful:
Over and over, we forget what being American means. The radical premise of our nation is that one people can be made from many, yet in each new generation we find reasons to limit who those “many” can be—to wall off access to America, literally or figuratively. That impulse usually finds its roots in claims about who we used to be, but nativist nostalgia is a fantasy. We have always been a pluralist nation, with a past far richer and stranger than we choose to recall. Back when the streets of Sheridan were still dirt and Zarif Khan was still young, the Muslim who made his living selling Mexican food in the Wild West would put up a tamale for stakes and race local cowboys barefoot down Main Street. History does not record who won.
Credit Lindsey Snow
Here’s where my travel column went last month:
Dumfounded by the beauty of the surrounding Italian Alps
I just returned from a 10 day, 85 mile, three country hike around Mont Blanc. I’ll publish a full report of the epic G Adventures expedition to my column next month. Until then, I hope you enjoy these photos I took: Continue reading…
Photo: Lindsey Snow
I tried work-life blending for six years. It sucks. Nothing more than a new term coined by self-absorbed workaholics to justify their personal regrets, negligence, and imbalances in life. Now let me tell you how I really feel.
The phrase “work-life balance” entered our lexicon when faxes reigned supreme, the 1980s. Knowledge workers, globalization, and computer networking went mainstream that decade, and with it, the temptation to work ‘round the clock on the Hedonic Treadmill (i.e. the misguided belief that the more money one makes, the happier they’ll be).
In response, first-world countries had a real first-world problem on their hands. The more connected their workers felt to the office, the more pressure they felt to “get ahead” by staying on the clock for extended periods of time. With only 24 hours in a day, something had to give. Continue reading…
Here goes nothing. If I missed anything, set me straight in the comments: Continue reading…
Credit CC/Fred Mancosu
The below short story entitled “Birthday Cake” was written by my friend Josh Ray (under pseudonym) and published with his permission. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
I got a birthday. I suppose everybody does, and it comes around every year at the same time. That’s the way they do. Mine’s in November, but I don’t suppose that matters much one way or the other for this story. Anyway, I’m gonna tell you about two birthdays I had in particular. Continue reading…
Courtesy Focus Features
Oil will not run out for a very long time. If or when it eventually does, we will just manufacture it from coal. That’s according to respected UC Berkley physicist Richard Muller.
Granted, Muller is neither an energy expert or clairvoyant. But as a top Quora writer, he’s one of the most educated and smartest persons I’ve read on a range of subjects.
So what might the future of energy look like? Because it runs circles around the power and convenience of other energy sources—seriously, oil’s potency is remarkable—the black gooey substance will remain the go-to-source for mobile transportation with nuclear powering an increasing amount of the grid. Continue reading…
Credit: Sandeepa Chetan/Creative Commons
Entitled Gujja kids from Kashmir, India, it was shot in 2014 by Sandeepa Chetan and is glorious. Please share it.
Time flies if you’re one of the following: old, busy, or having fun. Here are two reasons why: Continue reading…
credit Lindsey Snow
For those who care, here’s where my travel column went last month:
Yours truly surfing Lake Powell
Someone recently asked me what I’m excited about. “Oh, I don’t know,” I lied. Not because I didn’t have an answer. I just hadn’t articulated it yet.
After further deliberation, here is my answer: Continue reading…
Here’s some scientifically tabulated advice. They’re called the top five regrets of the dying. In short, a nurse that took care of lots of people on their deathbeds asked and recorded their most common regrets. They are as follows, along with my pithy commentary: Continue reading…
As someone who’s written hundreds of articles for fancy publications, I’m often asked the best way to land free publicity.
Outside of knowing when you have truly have something that’s noteworthy and knowing which audiences are most likely to find your something relevant, my colleague Josh Steimle recently wrote about the subject for Entrepreneur; specifically how to get great PR in 15 minutes per day.
Josh was kind enough to interview and quote me in the article. This is what I said: “Indirect PR pitches are the best way to increase your chances of a media placement. Rather than talking about yourself, explain a larger trend that might interest the journalist or publication you’re pitching, complete with stats, anecdotes and data.
“Your contribution should be only part of the story. Doing so not only makes the press’s job easier but demonstrates greater objectivity, further increasing your chances of a placement.”
In my experience as someone being pitched, that approach leads to a lot more placements.
Since we’re on the subject, now go watch Ace in the Hole, All The Presidents Men, State of Play, and Spotlight—all good if not remarkable movies on journalism.
For most of my 20s, I largely existed to leave my mark upon the world and strike it rich. In order to achieve those goals, I labored through the day and voluntarily burned the midnight oil. In other words, I lived to work—how cliche of me!
As I approached 30, something happened. I experienced what I call my Montana Moment—cheesy, but catchy! I realized that my double life as a work-a-holic and present husband and father could no longer be sustained.
So I changed. I set strict boundaries on my time and never looked back. If I was going to be remarkable, I was going to have to do so in a set number of hours and no longer at the expense of my health, family, sleep, friendships, and self-improvement. (That change, by the way, was the catalyst behind my still unfinished book.) Continue reading…
My latest, reporting for Paste Magazine:
“Obviously, user review repositories such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google are a net gain for people in need of lodging, a delicious meal, or a new tool, gadget, or surprise to solve their current problem. But as we increasingly turn to big, crowd-funded data to help us stay informed and avoid buyer’s remorse, we need to be thinking of better ways to get the most up-to-date and accurate information available while also rewarding the efforts of those who aim to please us.”
I recently completed a $150 DNA test for a story I’m working on. Without going into too much detail, this is what I learned:
- I’m healthy. Of 36 diseases tested, I’m not a carrier of any problematic genes. Phew!
- I’m 99.9% European. That’s code for “white privilege.”
- I’m ordinary. For example, I’m a normal sleeper. And although we were all Born to Run, my muscles are more “sprinter” than “endurance” type.
- I got confirmation of what I’ve already observed. For instance, I don’t posses the bald gene, I’m not hairy, my ring finger is longer than my index, my second toe is longer than my big toe, I have wet earwax, and my skin is fair. Go figure!
- Genes are overrated. Like my favorite sci-fi move so eloquently proves, our genes do not define who we are or how we choose to live. Yes, DNA is important and can have a big impact on our circumstance. But it does not determine our destiny or who we chose to become with the cards we’ve been dealt.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the full story.
I admire Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Both are big thinkers and deserve to be imitated by any who hope to follow their success.
But unless you’re already a celebrity (or otherwise top 10) executive, you probably shouldn’t follow their tacky example of wearing the same casual uniform everyday. Here’s why: Continue reading…
In the early 1900s, bananas may have been named the world’s first superfood. At the time, even The American Medical Association praised them for being “sealed by nature in practically germ-proof packages.”*
Although still one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat, bananas are no longer consider a superfood. (I eat one every morning, however, as they’re always in season). Trendy things like acai berries, green tea, quinoa, kale and other manufactured foods are. It’s gotten so out of hand, that the FDA issued a warning letter recently about falsely advertised “superfoods.” As of 2007, the European Union has prohibited food makers from using the term “superfood.”
So how can we distinguish marketing hype from science when seeking out nutrient-rich foods? Highbrow did just that recently. This is what they came up with—the top 10 superfoods backed by science. Continue reading…
The United States of America is the mightiest nation the world has ever seen. (Murica!)
Its economy is bigger than the next four national economies combined. Its military spends more than the next 20 nations combined. Its human rights and democracy record are admired throughout the world. And in terms of pop culture, it’s arguably the “coolest” nation on the planet.
So how did the United States achieve all this?
History buff Balaji Viswanathan makes a pretty convincing argument on Quora. Here are his reasons: Continue reading…
Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Here’s where my travel column went last month:
Although the technology is “95% ready for mainstream use,” the home stretch will likely require another decade of coding, insiders say. Reporting for Paste Magazine…
For the record, I don’t consider myself a great writer. I’m certainly an effective, efficient, and sometimes amusing one. But I wouldn’t say great. The below, on the other hand, written by my friend Davey Saunders and published with his permission is great. I hope you enjoy it.
As I often do, I cold emailed a bunch of people today asking if I could write for them. It was a great day. Not because one of them did this:
(They didn’t.) It was great because American strangers are wonderful to work with. They’re so freakin’ nice. Continue reading…
I’ve spoken highly about bluetooth speakers before, including the original UE Boom, Mega Boom, and Cambridge Audio. Like 21st century boomboxes, they bring music to life because they’re easy to pair with your phone and go anywhere.
This month, Ultimate Ears sent me a UE Boom 2 in the hopes I’d publicize it, which I’m doing now. Not because they asked me to. But because it maintains the full and deep sound of the original (although not as bumping as the Mega or as rich as the Cambridge) with twice the wireless range, a little more battery life, and pause and skip functions right on the speaker. That alone makes it a no-brainer consideration for budgets between $100-200.
That said, UE are giving away a limited edition Boom 2 (pictured) to blakesnow.com readers. Here are the official rules:
- You must reside in the U.S. (sorry international readers)
- You must share your favorite underrated or under-appreciated artist of all time in the below comments and convincingly explain why they deserve more airplay.
That’s it. I’ll announce and publish my favorite entry on May 15 and the speaker will ship shortly thereafter.
Thanks for playing. May the best entry win.
Courtesy RSA Films
Humans — either insecure or work-in-progress ones, myself very much included — often combat ignorance with ignorance. They fight prejudice with prejudice. They hypocritcaly label others as bigoted before crushing their own intolerance.
This is why the world can’t all get along. Continue reading…
- Keep a journal. Because they remind us of our thoughts and feelings as well as photographs remind us of people, places, and things.
- Say “no” to distractions. I’ve started doing this already by avoiding the news. Instead of consuming news in the morning, afternoon, and night, I now only read three newsletter summaries from my three favorite sources. This frees a massive amount of time without missing the most important stories to my work.
- Hire a professional coach. I did this a few years ago and it nearly doubled my sales. After become complacent recently, I need to do this again.
You know the drill. Here’s where my travel column went last month:
credit blake snow
A happy wife is a happy life. Or so goes a popular adage.
This goes both ways, of course. But I suspect the saying is written primarily for men because we probably fail as spouses more often than women.
Either way, what’s the key to successful marriage?
First and foremost, always pretend you’re still courting your spouse, writes popular Quora author and Cal physicist Richard Muller. “Seduce. Entertain. Be nice,” he says. “Do all those things you did when you were trying to win her over.”
That means taking a sexual interest in them (not just maintenance, mind you—that’s not love-making), making them laugh, smile, and feel good about themselves, and respecting them no matter what (as opposed to misjudging, resenting, or objectifying them).
Lastly, “Don’t take them for granted, ever,” Muller says. Do this long enough and you’ll probably get divorced.
In other words, surprise them. Marriage is not a given. Do all you can to earn your keep. Contribute. Give. Don’t just take. Be the spouse you’d like to have.
Sage advice, Mr. Muller.
I sigh every time I see toilet paper hanging under the spool as opposed to over. Toilet paper orientation is a big deal. So big I sometimes switch offending rolls mid bowel movement. It’s one of my OCD indulgences.
But spool orientation is more than just preference. Researcher Barry Sinrod found that 68% of Americans roll over. In fact, 60% of those who earn $50,000 a year or more roll over. Meanwhile, 73% of those who earned less than $20,000 roll under.
When asked what his research proves, Sinrod replied, “I don’t know, but it’s sure interesting.”
I’ll give it a shot. Rolling over conserves more paper. It’s not as easy to let it fly, but it offers better control. Under, on the other hand, is easier. Similarly, making less than $20,000 a year is easier than $50,000.
Granted, being underprivileged isn’t always about taking the easy road, even though it is some of the time. And 40% of middle class and higher roll under. But that’s the best I can come up with.
credit lindsey snow
My wife and I asked and answered five simple questions over a picnic lunch on our sun-drenched driveway today. Most of our answers are closely aligned. This is what I came up with:
What things do you value most in life?
Happiness, which is largely derived from my wife (aka love life), my experiences, my children, the food I eat, the friends I play with, my work as a writer, and my faith.
What is your biggest achievement so far?
Marriage, children, and getting hired by and published in fancy media and blue-chip company publications.
Where do you want to be in five years?
Same house, all the kids in school, still healthy, discoverer of at least five new hobbies, published non-fiction author, discoverer of five new friends, sailor, visitor of all seven continents (Antarctica, Asia, and Australia still pending). My wife answered, “Skiing every weekday with friends, more involved in the community.”
What are some of your favorite books?
Of the top of my head: A Short History of Nearly Everything, Planet of the Apes, Thinking Fast and Slow, Unbroken, And Then There Were None, The Last Place on Earth, The AP Guide to News and Feature Writing (more here).
Found another one. In addition to Stardust and The Natural, The Princess Bride by William Goldman is a better film than book.
I read the latter this month and was in awe of the actual book within a book. Admittedly, Goldman is a remarkably creative, funny, and powerful writer. But the literary mechanism he uses to set up, interject, and conclude the beloved ’80s story — in this case pretending to be a humbled author searching for his next great hit by abridging “the good parts version” of another fictional author’s larger work — detracts from an otherwise five-star effort.
I suspect even Goldman realized this when writing his award-wining screenplay for the actual movie 14 years after publishing the book. Instead of his original, confusing, and over-the-top author trope, Goldman instead opts for the much cleaner “grandpa reading the story to his sick grandson” setting.
Either way, Goldman is a sarcastic genius. And I’m glad he finally got it right. Four stars out of five. Would have awarded it five stars had it not been for the above oversight.
If you do read it, skip the setup, treat Goldman’s interjections as author’s notes, and head straight for the exceptional story of true love, Inigo’s heartwarming backstory that is strong enough to stand on its own, and dozens of beautiful passages like this:
- The woman who emerged was a trifle thinner, a great deal wiser, an ocean sadder. This one understood the nature of pain, and beneath the glory of her features, there was character, and a sure knowledge of suffering.
- The rope seemed almost alive, the greatest of all water serpents heading at last for home.
- His eyes bulged wide, full of horror and pain. It was glorious. If you like that kind of thing.
- I really do think that love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.
I, Blake Snow, wrote this for my children, but figured you might enjoy it too. According to science, the following habits lead to a healthy, happy, and sustainable lifestyle: Continue reading…
Content marketing has been around for centuries—ever since the first newspaper figured out they could sell ad space against stories that interested people. But it wasn’t until the last few years—even after mostly failed corporate blogging efforts—that content marketing has become a staple of modern marketing budgets in the social media age.
Consequently, commercial brands, communication departments, and Fortune 500 marketing arms are hiring former journalists, editors, and content strategists at an astonishing rate. One well-known software maker I consult for even has a bona fide news department. The place bustles like the New York Times newsroom. Their editorial content is generating executive interest and finding traction with online audiences.
That said, we’re still in the wild west of content marketing. Here are 10 ways to lay claim on the new frontier. Continue reading…
Here’s where my travel column went last month. Better late than never:
As seen on the Internet:
- How Mark Zuckerberg should give away $45 billion by Michael Hobbes. I cringe at the idea of telling other people how they should spend their money, but I’ll let it slide in this clever case as it tells the larger story of how philanthropy might change for the better.
- The creepiest thing that’s ever happened to me. This non-fiction story by Mark Blanchard about breaking down on the loneliest road in America with his girlfriend is not only incredibly written and told, but it’s a modern day mystery with a Pee-Wee’s big adventure like twist.
- The case for a bright American future. Living in fear is for Satanic people who watch too much news. The world is in good hands. Or so says the Oracle of Omaha.
To date, I feel lucky to have visited 14 countries on five continents: United States (home), Canada, Mexico, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, France, Switzerland, Italy, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Each have touched me in a unique way. And yet I’ve only scratched the surface—just 6% of the world’s 195 countries.
Furthermore, the above map is grossly skewed. I’ve only visited two thirds of America instead of the whole she-bang (and much of that was only sections of larger states). I’ve yet to visit mainland Mexico or Canada—just Cozumel and Newfoundland (what a place!). I’ve never visited massive Asia, Eastern Europe, and 90% of the rest of Africa. And I’ve visited just one giant state (New South Wales) of the USA-sized Australia.
Granted, I have no intention of visiting every country or plot of land. It doesn’t take that many to realize we’re all the same and that we live on the most beautiful rock in the observable universe. Plus, I still have a lot I want to do in my own backyard, not to mention repeat trips abroad (i.e. New Zealand take two).
But I do hope to visit all seven continents someday, if not next year. Not only does distance makes the heart grow fonder, but a change in geography is good at keeping us on our toes.
Love you, Earth.
PS—Airplanes are amazing and travel is overrated for the following reasons.
courtesy wikimedia commons
When motivating others, take away expectant freebies instead of giving rewards. That’s the take-away of a new study, which found that loss aversion works twice as well (or 82% of) task completion when compared to rewards, which works only 43% of the time.
In other words, promise a desired effect to everyone (in this case, no course final), then take it away if they fail to do as you ask (in this case, pass weekly quizzes). This may seem the same as rewarding someone with no final, but people place a higher value on things they already posses, which motivates them to work harder to keep it than doing something for an award.
Of course, awards still work and are often the only thing you can use when motivating yourself. But loss aversion is a lot more effective.
See also: 9 things Rudy teaches about motivation
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…
Six months after I started blogging in 2005, I got my first check for writing. I’ve learned a lot since then. But many professional stories, outlets, and years later, I still didn’t know how to distinguish an em dash (the really long hyphen) from parentheses.
That is until this week. Turns out, em dashes are reserved for brief interuptions that are unrelated to the preceding clause, whereas parentheses are primarly reserved for clarification of the preceding clause, writes Sarah Stanley, who strikes again! For example:
- Johnny asked me—with a straight face, I might add—if he could borrow the car for the weekend.
- Anyone can edit Wikipedia (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
I haven’t read George Orwell‘s six rules for writing since 2005, the year I started blogging and freelancing for Aol. Today Sarah Stanley reminded me of them, and I think they’re tops. Tops, I say!
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Numbers 2–5 have served me well in my career (i.e. concise language that everyday humans can understand). I’m guilty of number one, however. When on deadline adages accidentally spill sometimes.
I’m mixed about number six. Although admitedly the more noble thing to do, snark, harsh criticism, and emotional writing helped me find an audience early in my career. It’s cheap but it works. Maybe four out of six is good enough.
Although English is the third most spoken language after Mandarin and Spanish, it is the most spoken second language in the world. This is due to the power-brokers that speak it, its uniquely expressive vocabulary, and how it came to be, argues Bill Bryson in The Mother Tongue.
For being more like Bryson’s interesting read on domestic life and less like his masterpiece on science, I award it three stars out of five. These were my favorite passages:
- What most immediately sets English apart from other languages is the richness of its vocabulary. Altogether, about 200,000 English words are in common use, more than in German (184,000) and far more than in French (a mere 100,000). This richness and wealth of available synonyms means English speakers can often draw shades of distinction unavailable to non-English speakers. Continue reading…
credit wikimedia commons
I really enjoy writing these because the subjects have nothing to do with my day job, which keeps me on my toes. Hope you have as much fun reading them as I did writing them:
credit: blake snow
I adore the idea of “never giving up” in all its varieties. This is how I personally approach it. Here’s how Randy Pausch eloquently taught it.
“Brick walls are there for a reason,” he says. “There are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
Not you, reader. You want it badly.
This woman’s reply to what it’s like to never get married and live alone for 56 years breaks my heart:
Life was great and fun and exciting until I hit 40. I looked back on my life and realized the wonderful experiences I had, but something nagged at me.
By 50, I understood that life may have been richer if I had shared those experiences with someone. By 53, it became alarmingly clear to me, that I had no one to tell my stories to. And more importantly, I had no one to tell me their stories.
I had some health scares. I had to hire people to help me as I had no one in my life to help me. That was a huge wake up call. Going into middle to old age with no one by my side.
Sure, it is great to spend time alone and be at ease in your own skin. But after 56 years, I realize humans are “herd” animals. We want to share. We want to feel love. We want to feel like we are a part of something greater than our own thoughts.
For me, I have a very lonely life. I personally would not recommend it. Loneliness is unbearably painful at times.
If I had to do it again, I would not have chosen this lifestyle.
This is precisely why everyone should be extra kind to the lonely.
Les Films du Losange
Four disturbing but important stars out of five. My wife and I enjoyed, pondered, and discussed it very much.
What might happen if humans lived an entirely simulated life, doing everything online except for eating and sleeping?
Earnest Cline has a dystopian, geeky, and fist-pumping answer in Ready Player One, his best-selling novel which I read over the holidays.
The story takes place in 2044 and follows a teenage prodigy named Wade as he seeks hidden fame, power, and fortune bequeathed by the world’s richest man. “But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue,” reads the synopsis, “he is beset by rivals that will kill for the prize, forcing him to confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.”
Clever, huh? USA Today accurately described it as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” I’d add a little Brave New World, ’80s game geek culture, Tron, and “The Wreck-It-Ralph of books” for good measure—all good things.
For fellow nerds who appreciate those things, I award the book a tilted four and a half out of five stars. For everyone else, particularly those who share my desire to curb compulsion disorders, I give it four stars.
These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…
credit: lindsey snow
I get quite reflective and often sappy during the final weeks of the year. After reviewing the past 12 months, this is what I learned: Continue reading…
Credit: Derek Buck
Reporting for Paste Magazine…
photo: lindsey snow
My wife and I recently returned from the most adventurous vacation we’ve ever taken. I have a lot more to say on the subject, but I’ll start with the most important: food. A picture’s worth a thousand words, right? Continue reading…
I recently finished Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, which tells the unlikely true story of the titular captain saving all of his crew after his ship was crushed by Antarctic ice floes in 1914.
All told, the 28 men survived 18 months on sea, ice, and one inhospitable island, while enduring unthinkable cold, the worst weather ever, and the first terrestrial crossing of South Georgia. Even more amazingly, they largely did it with jovial spirits, which helped them persevere and ultimately conquer death.
As I said before, Lansing’s writing is so intensely riveting, I was literally gulping and gasping for air at times. If it weren’t for a somewhat halted plot in the second quarter, I would award the book five out of five stars. These are my favorite passages: Continue reading…
I only read six books this year. Eight if you count the 50 page summaries I read of How To Influence People and Millionaire Next Door, two popular business books.
Regardless, the total was less than half of what I normally devour in a year — a little over one a month. No matter. I’d like to think I’m doing this instead.
Still, I’d like to read more next year. So before starting The Space Merchants, The Power Broker, and a dozen more samples I have downloaded to my Kindle, these are the books I enjoyed most in 2015: Continue reading…
credit: dungeons and dragons
Growing old is a weird as you imagined it. Not that any young readers ever think about getting old. As a tenderfoot, I certainly didn’t. Yolo!
In any case, onset aging baffles me. The body can’t move like it used to. The brain increasingly forgets things. And it’s perplexing to watch younger generations do things in ways you and your contemporaries can’t relate.
Take Let’s Play videos, for instance—one of the most popular and fastest growing types of television. Also called playthroughs, they work like this: Continue reading…
photo: blake snow
Got the pictured from Clever Doormats last week and absolutely adore it. Like it so much, my wife and I are upgrading it to the front door welcome mat after the holidays. Clever.
Tags: published works, feature stories, tech writing, branded journalism, travel columns
Since 2005, I’ve written hundreds of feature stories and special reports and thousands of news articles for half of the top 20 U.S. media and a lot more in the top 100. In that time, I’ve also published tens of thousands of paid blog posts for fancy tech publications.
Like my favorite personal posts, picking my favorite published works is difficult. But here are some that come to mind.
If you’re a business interested in hiring me for strategic content advice, editorial management, and ongoing story production like I’ve done for Dell, Google, Cisco, and others (samples here), please email.
I’ve been an avid listener of classical music for twenty years. I’ve listened to greatest hits, lesser-known recommendations, countless composers, all three periods, one-hit wonders, atonal crap, catchy melodies, and everything in between.
While I wouldn’t call my exposure exhaustive, I will say it has been thorough. And while other composers achieved greatness in their own way, none of them come close to the prolific genius of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. It’s not even close.
This is one of those pieces that separates the cliche-but-deserving trifecta from their contemporaries. I absolutely adore it, because it sounds like two people discussing a serious issue without ever fully arguing it.
Take these. If you’re interested in journalism, the art of war, Star Wars, business, and/or are “white,” I think you’ll enjoy them:
- Access denied. In light of waning press access because celebrities, politicians, newsmakers, and producers now take their scoops and audiences directly to social media (instead of publications), we must “build a new independent media on a bedrock of explaining and celebration and condemnation,” writes John Herrman. Explainers, for instance, “assert authority without invoking expertise; they mimic the language of their audience; they offer closure and satisfaction in an endless stream.”
- Why it’s hard to win the war on terrorism. “War is so much easier when both sides are wearing uniforms,” writes Richard White.
- The first-world problem of being white. “What my son was expressing — that he wants the comfort of what he has but that he is uncomfortable with how he came to have it — is one conundrum of whiteness,” writes Eula Biss.
- Sneaky ways businesses trick consumers. Why that restaurant you used to love is no longer good among other things by Daniele Kline (i.e. cheaper ingredients slowly make their way into popular products).
- Star Wars strikes back. By Brian Hiatt. “The phrase that I used in front of, like, 5,000 Star Wars fans pumped to the gills, ready to see the trailer, was ‘It’s only a movie,'” Hamil says. “I was trying to appeal to the rational, sane people who know movies don’t really change your life, and if you really think we can make you feel like you’re 10 years old at 38, you know what’s gonna happen. So just don’t think that and you’ll be fine!”
Because gratitude is scientifically proven to boost our happiness, the good people at Highbrow explain how to write a gratitude letter:
Close your eyes and think of someone who did something important for you that changed your life in a good direction but who you never properly thanked. It could be that you’re really grateful to a teacher who inspired your love of acting and who persuaded you to try for drama school when everyone else was dead set against it. Maybe you’d like to thank your boss or a colleague for helping you with a particularly tricky project at work. Or perhaps you choose to write a friend who helped you through a tough time… Describe specifically what they did and what influence it had on you. Let them know what you are doing now, and mention how you often remember what she did.
Here’s where my travel column went last month:
Twentieth Century Fox
When I was nine years old, I saw Big starring Tom Hanks. It’s a movie about a boy doing young-at-heart things in a grown-up’s body. That and being employed to have an opinion on (i.e. review) toys.
At the time, I thought it was the coolest movie ever made. I still think it’s pretty darn cool.
In reality, my work as a writer over the last decade is not unlike protagonist Josh Baskin’s. I get paid to have an opinion and ask a bunch of questions. I tinker with ideas, learn from those who are smarter than me, and slay the dragon of misinformation with research as my shield and a keyboard as my sword. Continue reading…
A pottery teacher split her class into two halves.
To the first half she said, “You will spend the semester studying pottery, planning, designing, and creating your perfect pot. At the end of the semester, there will be a competition to see whose pot is the best”.
To the other half she said, “You will spend your semester making lots of pots. Your grade will be based on the number of completed pots you finish. At the end of the semester, you’ll also have the opportunity to enter your best pot into a competition.”
The first half of the class threw themselves into their research, planning, and design. Then they set about creating their one, perfect pot for the competition.
The second half of the class immediately grabbed fistfulls of clay and started churning out pots. They made big ones, small ones, simple ones, and intricate ones. Their muscles ached for weeks as they gained the strength needed to throw so many pots.
At the end of class, both halves were invited to enter their most perfect pot into the competition. Once the votes were counted, all of the best pots came from the students that were tasked with quantity. The practice they gained made them significantly better potters than the planners on a quest for a single, perfect pot.—As told by Eric Scott
I recently finished The Last Place on Earth, Roland Huntford’s well-researched, sometimes heavy-handed, but always legendary retelling of the 1911 South Pole race between Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott. In addition to being published the year I was born, the book’s important for the following reasons: Continue reading…
I recently finished Highbrow’s excellent 10-day course on inventions that changed the world.
In keeping score, half of the cited inventions quickened the sharing of information (writing, printing press, telephone, personal computer, internet). A third hastened our transportation (steam engine, automobile, airplanes). One marginalizes or maximizes physical dominance, depending on who owns more of it (gunpowder). And the last one lengthens our days (light bulb).
Interestingly, every one of these inventions involve some element of speed. The speed of a bullet. The speed of light. The speed of travel. The speed of knowledge. That’s why the world moves at an increasing rate. Our greatest inventions all involve speed.
Even this century’s greatest inventions largely involve speed. How fast you can get new or old music to your ears (iTunes, Spotify). How fast you can get answers to questions (Google). How fast you can connect with friends and family (Facebook, SMS). And how fast you can see the latest cat videos (YouTube).
Of course, many of these inventions involve size, frequency, and power. But when it comes to bigger, stronger, better, and faster—always bet on faster. It’s the future. And it’s likely what the “next big thing” will do more than others.
I hope the below will help you travel somewhere fun.
Over the last decade, I’ve mostly written about technology. Among the hundreds of magazine articles and thousands of blog posts published, some cover entertainment. Some science. Some travel. And rarer still, some sports. (All topics that personally appeal to me.)
Of the latter category, these are the stories I’m most proud of, along with the backstories that created them. Continue reading…
Because he wrote this masterpiece, I consider Bill Bryson one of the greatest non-fiction writers of our time. And while his similar At Home: A Short History of Private Life is brimming with domestic insights, it’s not as powerful or focused as the former. Three stars out of five. I’d only recommend it to die-hard home owners. My favorite passages:
- That’s really what history mostly is: masses of people doing ordinary things… eating, sleeping, having sex, or endeavoring to be amused.
- So sedentism meant poorer diets, more illness, lots of toothache and gum disease, and earlier deaths. What is truly extraordinary is that these are all still factors in our lives today.
- The dining table was a plain board called by that name. It was hung on the wall when not in use, and was perched on the diners’ knees when food was served. Over time, the word board came to signify not just the dining surface but the meal itself, which is where the board comes from in room and board.
- It has been estimated that 60 percent of all the crops grown in the world today originated in the Americas. These foods weren’t just incorporated into foreign cuisines. They effectively became the foreign cuisines. Imagine Italian food without tomatoes, Greek food without eggplant, Thai and Indonesian foods without peanut sauce, curries without chilies, hamburgers without French fries or ketchup, African food without cassava. There was scarcely a dinner table in the world in any land east or west that wasn’t drastically improved by American foods.
- Had Thomas Jefferson and George Washington merely been plantation owners who built interesting houses, that would have been accomplishment enough, but in fact of course between them they also instituted a political revolution, conducted a long war, created and tirelessly served a new nation, and spent years away from home. Despite these distractions, and without proper training or materials, they managed to build two of the most satisfying houses ever built.
In response to “What are some examples of intelligence disguised as stupidity?” Graham Zaretsky offered the following on Quora:
When I was a freshman in college, one of my fellow freshmen, a young girl who obviously had skipped a bunch of grades would occasionally come to my dorm room in the evenings to ask for help on the homework we both were taking. I was happy to help her out.
After this had happened a few times, she came and asked me about a problem that I, myself was still struggling with. I was stuck on it, and I told her that. She then proceeded to explain to me in great detail how to solve it.
It turned out that what she was doing was going to multiple people (not just me) to see all the different methods that people were using to solve the same problem. She knew how to answer all the questions that I thought she was having trouble with. She just wanted to see if there were other ways to solve those problems, or to see how well she was doing as compared with everyone else. In the end, she far surpassed me in those classes in every way.
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
There must be something in the water in Montana. It changed my life. It set the stage for this tragic love story. And it recently humbled one individual who was previously indifferent to nature. Continue reading…
Smart people don’t make better decisions because they’re smart. They make better decisions, research shows, because they habitually do the following:
1. Remove unimportant decisions. If a decision doesn’t have an impact on your work, relationships, or spirit, then remove it from consideration. For example, many CEOs, heads of states, or creative people wear the same thing every day. Steve Jobs wore blue jeans and a black turtleneck everyday. Mark Zuckerberg only wears blue jeans and a gray t-shirt. Similarly, the leader of the free world only wears blue or gray suits, “Because I have too many other decisions to make,” the president recently told Vanity Fair. “I’m trying to pare down decisions,” he added. “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing.”
For those of us without a personal chef, deciding what kinds of food to eat is a very important decision. But removing or outsourcing unimportant decisions to other people helps us make more meaningful decisions. One of the ways I achieve this is by removing TV from my life, limiting the number of sportsball games I watch, and restricting the number of news sources I read to only three per day. Doing so introduces more social encounters, analog experiences, and thought-provoking literature into my life, which make me a better writer (instead of regurgitator). Continue reading…
Hemingway aboard his boat off the coast of Cuba (1950)
As compiled by Highbrow:
- “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
- “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
- “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
- “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”
- “I drink to make other people more interesting.”
- “As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”
See also: My review of Old Man and The Sea
If you prefer heavy, protective, and stiff hiking shoes, this story isn’t for you. Go ahead and Google “Keen Liberty Ridge.” They are the mother of all high-performance hiking boots. Seasoned guides swear by ‘em.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something lighter, more flexible, and less clunky, you’ve come to the right place. Having tested more than a dozen candidates, these are the best I could find: 5 alternative—if not low-profile—hiking shoes that rock.
Before listing the winners, remember: you can wear whatever you like while hiking. Said footwear doesn’t have to be gray or brown or chunky or even necessarily labeled for “hiking,” so long as you find them comfortable. Enough preaching. Onto the list. Continue reading…
As I’ve said before, Heather Smith’s art is creative, meticulous, and “non-machine,” something I believe an increasing number of people will value in an overly processed digital world.
She just opened a store of hand-drawn greeting cards, wrapping paper, silhouettes, and canvas tote bags. I hope consider, dig, and buy them as much as I do.
Disclosure: Heather is my sister-in-law, but nepotism this talented must be rewarded.
Credit: Columbia Pictures
I’ve successfully completed two rounds of therapy. I say “successfully” because the first (marriage counseling) saved my marriage after a checkered first year. The second (anger management) helped me harness my emotions.
Like Wreck-It-Ralph, my passion bubbles very near the surface. I’ve known this since adolescence. But I didn’t know how to manage it until group therapy. This is that story.
Here’s where my travel column went last month: