Blake Snow

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

Hi, I'm Blake.

I run this joint. Don’t know where to start? Let me show you around:

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Open letter to the underdressed lady from Gallup, New Mexico

While on vacation this summer, my family stayed at a Hampton Inn in Gallup, New Mexico.

At breakfast the following day, my five year old daughter couldn’t stop gawking at an under-clothed woman seated at the table next to us. “Why is that lady showing her belly?” she loudly inquired. A little embarrassed, Lindsey and I told her to stop starring and eat her breakfast.

Admittedly, I think everyone in the room was a little uncomfortable and probably judgmental. But for the most part, everyone carried on and we had an enjoyable breakfast.

As we were finishing up, the lady approached our table. Looking at Lindsey and I with a gentle smile, she said, “You have a beautiful family.” She then turned and offered the same smile to each of our four children. It was the nicest compliment and gesture anyone has paid to me all summer, if not all year.

So thank you lady from the Hampton Inn in Gallup, New Mexico. Thank you for your unexpected example of kindness, friendship, and reminding my family never to judge a book by its cover.

Originally published on October 26, 2012

How to raise happy kids in 10 scientific steps

Below is an edited summary of Eric Barker’s excellent list written for TIME Magazine:

  1. Get happy yourself. How happy you are dramatically affects how happy and successful your kids are. So plan time each week to nurture your own relationships and hobbies.
  2. Teach kids to build relationships. Encourage them to invest in relationships and perform small acts of kindness to build empathy.
  3. Expect effort, not perfection. Banging the achievement drum messes kids up. The research is very consistent: praise effort, not natural ability. Continue reading…

Good new music: 9 remarkable albums your ears must hear

It’s been a superb year for new music so far. Along with a strong finish of releases last year, these are the albums worth writing home about—and ones I hope you’ll consider in your search for new, inspiring songs from new or rejuvenated blood.

Gone Now by Bleachers

Behold: this is art. From front to back, singer/songwriter Jack Antonoff (aka Bleachers) channels brilliant beats, catchy choruses, and melodic instrumentation in classic stereo. If this masterpiece doesn’t finish as album of the year, I’ll be delightfully surprised.  Continue reading…

How this movie scene changed my life

Ten years ago, Disney released a Pixar film that had a profound impact on the course of my professional life.

At the time I was a full-time video game critic for several online magazines. I had a knack for raking mediocre games and news over the coals. I gained a reputation for publishing smart but scathing copy. Back then, I felt it was my job, if not duty, to critique everything I touched as if the orbit of the Earth depended on it.  Continue reading…

Published works: Forces of nature, why do we travel, where to avoid this summer

Excluding non-bylined commercial work, here’s where my travel column went last month:

See also: My best work to date. Thanks for reading!

How to succeed: Don’t quit until everyone in the room tells you “no”

hd-wallpapers-never-give-up-1920x1200-wallpaper

After a decade of self employment, I’ve been told “no” several thousand times. I have records. For the same period, I’ve been told “yes” a few dozen times. Fewer than a hundred. I have records of that, too.

As you can tell, I–like most humans, salesmen, and business owners–experience rejection more than acceptance. Unlike many people, however, I don’t let that discourage me as a proprietor. But I almost did once.

Continue reading…

Fascinating research on correcting dishonesty

Via Business Insider:

How can we stop such trends toward dishonesty (in this case, broader acceptance of illegal downloading)? The problem is that if someone has acquired 97% of their music illegally, why would they legally buy the next 1%? Would they do it in order to be 4% legal? It turns out that we view ourselves categorically as either good or bad, and moving from being 3% legal to being 4% legal is not a very compelling motivation.

This is where confession and amnesty can come into play. What we find in our experiments is that once we start thinking of ourselves as polluted, there is not much incentive to behave well, and the trip down the slippery slope is likely. This is the bad news. The good news is that in such cases, confession, where we articulate what we have done wrong, is an incredibly effective mechanism for resetting our moral compass.

First published November 5, 2012

How to stay focused in a 24/7 world

wikimedia commons

wikimedia commons

Humans are more distracted now than ever before, at least since we’ve started keeping records. Over the last decade, the average attention span has dwindled from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds in 2014, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine. The kicker: our eight second attention spans are one second shorter than a goldfish’s. No joke.

Who or what’s to blame for such abhorrent focus? “External stimulation,” says the Library of Medicine. That’s code for mobile internet, apps that vie for our attention, push email, social media alerts, work from anywhere, persistent connectivity, and our enthusiastic adoption of “the internet of things.” In other words, the only person we can blame is ourselves.

What’s a working professional to do then? You have three options, according to popular thinking: fall off the grid, stick with default technology settings for substandard productivity, or my personal favorite, set usage boundaries to upgrade concentration, contributions, and welfare levels.

For those interested in options one or two, this article won’t be any help. But for for those interested in the latter, there’s quite a lot you can do to stay focused in a 24/7 world. After extensive online research, here is the most celebrated and pragmatic advice for doing just that:  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.

First published on November 6, 2013

These speakers are the best desktop upgrade I’ve ever made

Klipsch ProMedia 2.1

I’m planning an upcoming story on some of the best desktop upgrades you can make but had to break to excitedly endorse these: The Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 speakers. They are THX certified and they sound magnificent.

If you’re a music lover, I think $150 is a small price to pay. These speakers have awakened my ears and made old music sound new again and new music sound even brighter, tighter, heavier, and clearer without the muddiness associated with most desktop speakers.

Five stars out of five.

Ignorant teenage vandals deface wilderness sign but the good still outnumber the bad

Photo credit: Blake Snow

My family and I encountered the pictured sign recently while biking our river trail. Immediately the older children collectively remarked, “That’s sad.” My wife and I agreed. So we went home, grabbed some spray paint, and returned to censure the offending message and alert the authorities to replace the defaced sign.

By the looks of the handwriting, the up-to-no-gooders were probably teenagers and likely less-educated. Young minds exploring anti-social behavior rather than full-blown racists. Nevertheless, the words still stung. But I was proud of my children’s response. Not anger. Not over-reaction. Just concern and an immediate quest to right the wrong.  Continue reading…

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The best children’s books, according to my nine year-old daughter

The book reviewer at Green River Overlook in Canyonlands

In addition to books for young and adult readers, my family buys a lot of picture books. We have three shelves packed tight with them and three overflow stacks spread across the rest of the house.

For years I’ve wanted to catalog my favorites but never got around to it. So this spring, I hired my nine year-old daughter to do it for me.

After reviewing well over 100 children’ books, these were her favorites rated 4.5 out of 5 stars or better:  Continue reading…

You’re not alone: This is one funny and inspired graduation speech

“For many of you who don’t have it all figured out it’s okay, that’s the same chair that I sat in. Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the result. Trust your gut, keeping throwing darts at the dart board, don’t listen to the critics, and you will figure it out.”—Will Ferrell

Published works: New tech, great outdoors, why we overlook Puerto Rico

Courtesy Puerto Rico tourism

Excluding non-bylined stories written for commercial clients (i.e. the bulk of my work these days), here’s what I published last month:

What 12 years of content marketing have taught me

The following was updated and adopted from a hired-speech I gave to a group of 50 portfolio CEOs and senior partners in June 2015 at the headquarters of NEA, the world’s largest venture capital firm.

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

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

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

Why your second act should be designed by an adult instead of a teenager

Courtesy Universal Pictures

Best-selling author Marshall Karp used to work in advertising. But then he realized he didn’t like what he was doing because the original architect was a lousy planner.

“This rut that you’re stuck in, this life that you’re trapped in, who planned it?” he writes on Quora. “Not you. Most of us form our life’s plans shortly after high school. I was pushing 40 and still living the dream of some teenage kid.”

So he decided to switch careers and become a screenwriter and author. “My Act Two was conceived, written, produced, and directed by an adult. And I’m grateful for the insight that convinced him to take on the job.”

Sage advice.

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Where is America on the gender equality scale?

My wife and I were discussing gender equality over lunch today. On a scale of 1–10 (one being female dominate and 10 being male dominate), we both agreed that America today is probably around a 6.5/10 in favor of men.

That might vary a half point in either direction depending on what part of the country you live in. But overall I think that’s a fair assessment.

What will it take to get to an equal five? Two big things: equal pay for the same job and greater access to leadership roles. I’d also add being able to walk alone a night without fear of being assaulted, but my wife said that’s a tricky one. After all, how much of that perceived inequality is unfounded fear versus actual threat?

Either way, I’d say things are looking up for my daughters, wife, sisters, and mother and hope to be at or around a five within 10–20 years. What do you think?

Is excitement for electric cars “optimism bias”?

Courtesy Tesla

Before I write another word, let the record show that I admire, appreciate, and even covet Tesla cars. Their instant torque, modern styling, simple engines, and overall innovation are a thing of beauty.

But there’s a fundamental problem with electric vehicles today: they’re all powered by dirty energy and heavily subsidized by government incentives, argues Berkeley physicist Richard Muller. “There is little to no environmental benefit, since in most of the world the electricity is derived from coal,” he writes. In fact, “an electric car in China produces more CO2 than does a gasoline car.”

Even in states such as California, where only 25% of their energy is renewable, we’re still along ways from sustainably clean cars. Obviously, we’ve made progress and don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water. But Muller brings up a good point: Is 100 mpg gas mileage from combustable engines (which we’re approaching) more environmentally friendly than a 250 mpg coal-based electric vehicle?

For the time being, Muller argues no. “Prices of batteries have come down, but not nearly enough to negate the high cost of owning such a car.”

All of that could change, of course, with breakthrough gains in battery storage or clean energy. But for now, we’re still in the “Kickstarter” phase of electric vehicles. Exciting but not fail-proof.

Published works: The future of TV, film tourism, first time in Hawaii, Trump’s #1 hotel

Excluding non-bylined stories for my commercial clients, this is what I published last month:

Thanks for reading.

5 reasons sad stories are good for you

Courtesy Amazon Studios

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

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

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

Is it ethical to have children amid global warming threats?

Photo credit: Blake Snow

I wholeheartedly agree with Cal physicist Richard Muller’s optimistic and informed answer to this question.

“Global warming does not threaten humans with extermination,” he writes. “In the history of the world, I would say now is the best time to be born. The problem of global warming is minuscule to the dangers faced by my parents when then had me (i.e. world wars, more tyrants, worse civil rights for minorities and women, more violence, poorer health, less economic wealth). We will handle global warming through mitigation and adaptation. Don’t deny your future children their opportunity to enter this wonderful world.”

I don’t think Muller, I, or any other optimists are delusional in that outlook. After all, history is on our side—humans are survivors, tinkerers, and self-improvers.

Statistically we’re collectively better off now than ever before. Read and try to refute this if you don’t believe me. There’s no looming threat suggesting others—only unfounded human fear, old age, or alarmists rooted in emotion (or self interest) rather than fact.

If you disagree with Muller, Louis Armstrong, or Viktor Frankl, you’re wrong.

Published works: Hiking Patagonia, biking Buenos Aires, and apps killing websites

Courtesy Argentina Tourism

Excluding non-bylined writings for commercial clients, here’s what I published last month:

10 things I’ve thought about recently

  1. Reading about humanity’s underbelly is hard, but its exposure is important work.
  2. PREDICTION: “On fleek” will never be as cool as rad, righteous, legit, wicked, or even “groovy.” Like “dank” did before it, it’ll fade.
  3. Bad news: Corporate spies steal $300 billion from U.S. Good news: Can’t steal ingenuity.
  4. Nice! This story helps me appreciate “good parent privilege,” less talk, and the danger of overconfidence
  5. This classy, elegant Mozart masterpiece never gets old. I still adore it two decades after first hearing it.
  6. Continue reading…

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8 people you should be extra kind to

Deal_with_it_dog_gifI was jogging last week and ran past a parked patrol car. A cop was in it.

I make it a habit to wave to everyone I encounter, so I cut the air with my hand and smiled. He waved back and flashed a big grin, as if I had just made his day—as if he rarely gets acknowledged by civilians.

Surprised by the effect it had, I started thinking of other people that might benefit from extra kindness. This is what I came up with: Continue reading…

Why some people don’t eat pork

An estimated quarter of the world’s population doesn’t eat pork—mostly for religious but also for vegetarian reasons. Why?

“Islam and Judaism both originated in a region where pigs were scavengers and rooted through garbage to survive,” explains Jeff Dege on Quora. “They were unclean in every sense in that environment.”

On the other hand, Western civilizations are more accustom to non-scavenger or otherwise domesticated pigs that aren’t as infected as the ones the Middle East grew up with.

“If I lived in the Middle East 1500–200 years ago, I wouldn’t have eaten pig, either,” concludes Dege. “But I don’t and the reasons for avoiding it then and there don’t apply here and now.”

Which explains why the other three quarters of the world happily consume pork, mostly for barbecue, bacon, sausage, and chop reasons.

On a personal note, I rank edible animal muscle as follows—beef > poultry > pork > fish—but I try to limit my intake of it to no more than 2-3 times a week in favor of produce.

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The scientific method is self-skepticism

Courtesy MGM

Here’s a great quote from Cal physicist Richard Muller on the scientific method: “I see the difference between a scientist and a non-scientist in a simple way:

  • A non-scientist is easily fooled and particularly vulnerable to self-deception.
  • A scientist is easily fooled and particularly vulnerable to self-deception… and knows it.”

If you avoid distinguishing beliefs and bias from knowledge, you’re not a scientist. If you overstate the truth (even for the greater good), you’re also not a scientist.

True science demands objectivity, guts, free speech, vulnerability, and lots of “we’re still not sure but let’s keep checking.”

20 things I learned about life and business reading Shoe Dog by the creator of Nike

Phil Knight seemingly had a lot of slick editors to help him write his wonderful book (4/5 stars) on the creation and rise of Nike. But his passion, character, and insightful war stories all ring true. These were my favorite excerpts:

  1. What if there were a way, without being an athlete, to feel what athletes feel? To play all the time, instead of working? Or else to enjoy work so much that it becomes essentially the same thing.
  2. Every runner knows this. You run and run, mile after mile, and you never quite know why. You tell yourself that you’re running toward some goal, chasing some rush, but really you run because the alternative, stopping, scares you to death.
  3. The Japanese believe climbing Fuji is a mystical experience, a ritual act of celebration, and I was overcome with a desire to climb it, right then. I wanted to ascend into the clouds. I decided to wait, however. I would return when I had something to celebrate.
  4. After shaving, I put on my green Brooks Brothers suit and gave myself a pep talk. You are capable. You are confident. You can do this. You can DO this. Then I went to the wrong place.
  5. Continue reading…

Published works: The cyclical nature of cool, every country, water shortages, smart cities

Courtesy Whitelines Snowboarding

Courtesy Whitelines Snowboarding

Excluding blogging, ghostwritten, and otherwise non-bylined stories for some of these companies, this is what I wrote this month.

Paste Magazine:

Cisco:

Thanks for reading.

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10 things I learned after reading The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman

  1. With notable exception to most of Africa, the global economic playing field has been flattened (i.e. the world is flat)
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  2. Giving people remote access to collaborative tools, search engines, and billions of pages of information ensures that “the next innovations will come from all over Planet Flat.”
  3. True education teaches students how to develop inquisitive minds (i.e. be curious, absorb as much as you can, seek answers to questions that inspire you)
  4. America is losing its competitive edge of trust, stability, and entrepreneurial infrastructure (i.e. “its secret sauce”) because it’s increasingly becoming entitled, lazy, and out-collaborated by hungrier nations, Friedman argues. It also succumbed to fear-mongering after 9/11 instead of focusing on optimism and hope as it had done so well up to that point.
  5. Globalization winners take care of their own, but they are also compassionate and considerate of others, not protectionists playing an illusionary zero-sum economic game (i.e. domestic manufacturing jobs).
  6. Economic success is the result of hard work, thrift, honesty, patience, tenacity, and openness to adapt from others (i.e. “glocalization”)
  7. Authoritarian Muslim countries (e.g. Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, ISIS) have struggled to adapt to a flattening world because they don’t “glocalize.” More tolerant India, Turkey, Lebanon, Bahrain, Dubai, Indonesia, and Malaysia are notable exceptions to this rule, Friedman argues.
  8. The roots of terrorism are based on religious fanaticism and an education system that condemns Western decadence to create an atmosphere of intolerance (rather than a “live and let live” mindset).
  9. Although the U.S. still benefits from being the most dominate popular culture, globalization is is not the same as “Americanization” or American imperialism.
  10. No two countries that are part of a major global supply chain, such as Dell or McDonald’s, will ever fight a war against each other so long as both remain in said supply chain (i.e. money talks more than peace talks).

Despite Friedman’s verbose and scatterbrain writing, his insights deserve four stars out of five.

How brand loyalty will eventually bite you

amazon-com-logo

I’m an enthusiastic Amazon, Apple, Uber, and Google user because they make my life easier. I don’t think twice before upping my Prime membership. In fact, I like these companies so much, I’ve even willing to pay a little extra for the convenience they offer.

But obsessive brand loyalty will ultimately hurt us, argue two ivy-league economists for USA Today. “Each of us can do our part to make sure Amazon and others never get to the point of ubiquitous domination. It might introduce a bit of hassle and inconvenience into your life, but only a tiny bit. But by taking on this challenge, you’ll be doing the job that antitrust authorities, in an ideal world, might take care of on our behalf – ensuring that consumers and workers, rather than the owners of capital and algorithms – get a piece of the surplus that’s created by new business ideas.”

Make no mistake, I’m a proud American capitalist. But I like it even more when companies compete for my business. “Think about those credit card teasers we all get,” the authors add. “As long as we keep businesses thinking they need to chase after us to try to lock us in, they’ll keep on handing us value rather than using it to pad their bottom line.”

If you agree, consider shopping with competing companies and platforms from time to time to keep your favorite companies on their toes, hungry for your business, and willing to let you keep a greater share of the value.

The greatest display of clouds I’ve ever seen

Clouds from my plane window somewhere over Nicaragua (courtesy Blake Snow)

Clouds from my plane window somewhere over Nicaragua (courtesy Blake Snow)

My respect for clouds skyrocketed last year on two separate occasions.

The first was while flying home from France after hiking Mont Blanc with my long-time friend Wesley Lovvorn. Despite being about the same elevation as my beloved Wasatch Mountains, The Alps appear 2000-4000 feet taller due to greater topographical prominence. That is their valley floor is about 2000-4000 lower than the 4400 feet I live at in Provo. Consequently, the Alps looked like giants the first time I saw them. But not as giant as the cumulus clouds I flew through on the way home. Shortly after crossing into eastern Utah on the 10 hour flight from Paris to Salt Lake, my Delta plane felt like an insect flying into an endless mountain range of white, billowy water vapor. I’ve never seen anything so big. It was a beautiful and comforting sight to come home to.

Continue reading…

Best of 2016 travel: Never do as the locals do, extreme theme parking, Antarctica

Here’s where my travel column went this month:

5 things I haven’t shared until now

echo-dot-black-back-on

I’m always writing down blog ideas. At the time of writing, I have 535 unpublished saved drafts. Most of these will never see the light of day. But some of them are worth sharing. In an effort to whittle that number down as fast as humanly possible, here are five things that have crossed my mind recently: Continue reading…

Published works: Airport tips, Disney cruises, Nevada road trip, not-so exotic vacations, and online security

Photo credit: Lindsey Snow

Photo credit: Lindsey Snow

Here’s where my travel column went last month:

Here’s what I wrote for Cisco.com recently:

Notable tech: 5 gadgets that rocked this year

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I’m by no means an expert on technology. But I’ve covered the industry long enough (since the mid ‘80s to be exact) to know that very few innovations really matter. The vast majority of mainstream releases are merely novel diversions that fail to fundamentally change our lives, let alone improve them.

They are the opposite of personal computers, the web/email combo, GPS directions, social media, high definition, touchscreen phones that double as cameras, YouTube, and increasingly voice search. Over the last thirty years, those are the real innovative heavyweights.

Although nothing released this year approaches that status—uneven virtual reality very much included—they are several gizmos released this year that excited and even enhanced my life on a near daily basis.

They are as follows:  Continue reading…

The Struts: Sober performances and the return of stage presence

courtesy photo

courtesy photo

“Who does this guy thinks he is?”

I asked myself that upon seeing Luke Spiller perform with The Struts for the first time. He had just finished ripping through the opening four songs of their recent set in Salt Lake City. Two singles. Two of his debut album’s most anthemic tracks. No stops or pauses in between songs. All in the first 15 minutes of a performance that would eventually double the running time of their only album plus one new song.

But unlike a punk act that similarly keeps the punches rolling, Spiller was wholly uninhibited on stage. He wore glittered capes and spandex. Shimmied his shoulders like Freddie Mercury. Calculated dramatic toe steps and emphatic kicks in every direction. Choreographed his carefully rehearsed movements to the music.

While observing all of this, I couldn’t decide if Spiller wanted to imitate Michael Jackson, Robert Plant, Prince, or Mick Jagger. On top of that, the size of his mouth suggests his mother may have slept with Steven Tyler during the British leg of Aerosmith’s Pump tour.

In a later interview after the show, he brushed off a facetious question about his outrageous showmanship. “That’s just what I am,” he told me. “It’s just what I enjoy.”

For lovers of live performances that make you forget the troubles at home, Spiller’s dramatic charisma is all for your gain.  Continue reading…

Things I enjoy doing as a tall man

Courtesy Pixar

Courtesy Pixar

I’m not quite 6 feet 2 inches tall. But I laughed out loud at some of the things a 6′ 6″ man can do, as written by Jaime Barth:

  • I like standing awkwardly close to people, so they have no choice but to either look up at me, or stare directly at my chest, because that’s where most people’s height brings them.
  • Elevators are my favorite, because there’s an entire little room of people who can’t help but notice that I tower over them.
  • Over-exaggerating the fact that I have to duck to get on the subway. I make a show of it.
  • Holding the door open for people in such a way that they have to walk under my arm, like a child. (so good)
  • Complaining about stores with low-hanging signs that I bump my head on.
  • Running my finger on the top shelves at supermarkets and pointing out all of the dust.
  • Reaching all the way to the back of a display for something at a store.
  • Holding up my hand for a “high five” and watching my students struggle to hit it.

#messingwithshortpeople

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What do 50 year-olds know that 20 year-olds often don’t?

creative commons

creative commons

Craig Weiler has the answer:

You have one set of teeth, one set of knees, one set of lungs and one back. If you don’t take care of them, you can’t re-boot. You can get knee replacement surgery and you can get your teeth capped and wear dentures, or get new lungs, but it’s not the same as your originals. The back is much more tricky and if you damage it enough you’re never coming back from it.

You have one set of hands and feet. They are irreplaceable as is your brain. So if you damage them you’re never coming back from it.

Your body, in other words, is a one-off. You will never have another one as long as you live. If you start taking good care of it and you’re mindful in your 20’s, you’ll be far healthier and happier in your 50’s and beyond.”

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How to have better conversations by asking better questions

starwars

I whole heartily agree with Confucius when he said, “The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute; the man who does not ask is a fool for life.”

Because of this, I’m always asking new questions of everyone I encounter in an effort to learn from them. Long-time family and friends. Acquaintances. Complete strangers. Everybody!

When it comes to getting better answers (i.e. more lively conversations), there are few better ice-breaker questions than these:

  1. What do you like to do? (more fun than the default and boring “What do you do for work?”)
  2. What is it like to live there? (asked as as a follow up to “Where are you from?”)
  3. What are you excited about right now?

To adopt for people you now, just add “now” to the above and voila! Instant learning. When you feel ready, you can really dig deep with, “What are your guiding beliefs?”

Hat tip, Ahmed Arshad

Best songs I heard driving “The loneliest road in America”

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…

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Good question: When is being politically correct wrong?

heroesstampJoe 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.”

Winning at life after leaving the rat race

noelle-hancock

“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…

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7 things I learned in Costa Rica last week

dscf0149

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…

Published works: Skydiving, Australia, computers killing writers, and battery tech

front

Here’s where my byline published last month:

The Network (aka Cisco magazine)

Paste Magazine

The IRS considers these two my oldest and youngest dependents.

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.

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My approach to selling all boils down to this:

Courtesy New Line Cinema

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?

15 years later…

Courtesy Robert Clark/TIME

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)

5 things I learned recently after watching Dishonesty documentary

Courtesy YouTube

Courtesy YouTube

I recently watched (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies. This is what I learned:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Travel column: Off the grid in North America, San Diego, New Zealand, and Seattle

Courtesy Andy Feige

Courtesy Andy Feige

Here’s what I wrote about last month:

Fewer parts which can fail: The most convincing argument for electric cars

motors

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!'”

Getting smarter: The myth of STEM shortages and world education rankings

wikimedia commons

wikimedia commons

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.”

Continue reading…

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Psychology study: 99 cent pricing boosts sales by 8%

ShamwowWTFDoes .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.

The meaning of life: 13 things I learned from the world’s greatest thinkers

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:

MGM Studios

MGM Studios

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 classThe 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…

How to make better decisions: Focus on important, non-urgent things

Eisenhower_Matrix

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.

Feel-good poetry on the meaning and purpose of waves

giphy
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.

Published works: Predicting the office of the future, women in tech

2016 cisco logo

I started freelance writing for Cisco.com last month. Here are my first few stories:

Using numbers to look your best

suit

ABC

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…

The Muslim who made his living selling Mexican food in the Wild West

1435861004com_post_90795056330_a_m_e_r_i_c_aThis 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.

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Published columns: Kid travels, universal sensations, foreign foods, paddle boarding

Credit Lindsey Snow

Credit Lindsey Snow

Here’s where my travel column went last month:

New name, same thing: Work-life blending is all about balance

Photo: Lindsey Snow

Photo: Lindsey Snow

In recent years, a new ideology has emerged. It is this: work-life balance is impossible; therefore, humanity must embrace work-life blending instead.

I tried work-life blending for six years before we ever called it that. I’m here to tell you it stinks and is largely a pipe dream—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.  Continue reading…

This moving short story is something fierce

Credit CC/Fred Mancosu

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…

Future of oil: The most apolitical, objective, and realistic forecast I’ve ever read

Courtesy Focus Features

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…

Published columns: Traveling guidebooks, nature worship, industrial views, music city

credit Lindsey Snow

credit Lindsey Snow

For those who care, here’s where my travel column went last month:

5 things I’m excited about at this point in life

Me surfing Lake Powell recently

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…

How to get free publicity: 10 tips from insiders (+ movie recommendations)

47365db5-285d-49d4-89ba-bb5693a3da67

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.

In the absence of extraordinary, ordinary is more than enough

Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Cinemagraphs

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…

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Published works: Latest version—the problem with online user reviews

TA_550x370My 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.”

Continue reading…

No news is good news, right? What I learned from my recent DNA test

Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures

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:

  1. I’m healthy. Of 36 diseases tested, I’m not a carrier of any problematic genes. Phew!
  2. I’m 99.9% European. That’s code for “white privilege.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.

Listen up, futurists: Here’s why wearing the same outfit everyday is a bad idea

evolution-look-steve-jobs

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…

More than just a buzzword: Top 10 superfoods backed by science

Courtesy Highbrow

Courtesy Highbrow

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 world’s only superpower: Why the USA is so dominant

fasteveryfoxhound

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…

Published columns: Americans abroad, epic inlands, Monument Valley, underrated states

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Here’s where my travel column went last month:

Not everyone can be a great writer. But a great writer can come from anywhere.

gif-cinematic09

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. 

Continue reading…

Like #music? Wanna win a $200 wireless speaker? Tell me your favorite underrated artist and it’s yours.

ue boom 2 main

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:

  1. You must reside in the U.S. (sorry international readers)
  2. 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.