Blake Snow

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

Hi, I'm Blake.

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As seen on CNN, NBC, ABC, Fox, Wired, Yahoo!, BusinessWeek, Wall Street Journal

Philanthropy, mystery, and optimism: The 3 best short-stories I read last week

marge-pee-wee

Warner Bros.

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.

Why loss aversion motivates twice as well as rewards

courtesy wikimedia commons

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 

Now is the most important time because it’s the only time we have any power

Leo Tolstoy courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Leo Tolstoy courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

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

11 years after becoming a paid writer, I finally learned the difference between em dashes and parenthesis

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).

Continue reading…

6 rules for clear writing: Anyone who types or constructs sentences should know these

writer-for-mac-alice

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!

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. 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.

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The mother tongue: Why English is the most global of languages

mothertongueAlthough 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…
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Read this if you like money-saving adventures, inspiring islands, popular consensus, or myth-busting

credit: wikimedia commons

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:

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Brick walls exist to prove how badly we want something

credit: blake snow

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,” said Randy Pausch in  “Brick walls 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.

Being “forever alone” sounds horrible, just horrible

credit: olsen web

credit: olsen web

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.

Ready Player One persuasively challenges extreme escapism and digital obsession

ready-player-one

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…

Book highlights: Shackleton’s incredible Endurance

wikimedia commons

wikimedia commons

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…

These are the best books I read this year

KindleI 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…

How to stay young at heart (aka “aging gracefully”): Don’t knock it ’till you try it

credit: dungeons and dragons

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…

My best work yet: 11 years, dozens of fancy outlets, thousands of published stories

logos

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 retaining me for branded journalism, please email.


Fox News

CNN

Bloomberg

USA Today

NBC News

Wired Magazine

By subject, syndication, etc

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I’m so glad Beethoven wrote this music

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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.

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