Blake Snow

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

Hi, I'm Blake.

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What lessons do most people learn late in life?

credit: wikimedia commons

credit: wikimedia commons

I like Jay Bazzinotti’s answer to this question—so much that I’m re-publishing his observations in full. He writes:

  1. Time passes much more quickly than you realize.
  2. If you don’t take care of your body early then it won’t take care of you later. Your world becomes smaller each day as you lose mobility, continence, and sight.
  3. Sex and beauty fades but intimacy and friendship grows.
  4. People are far more important than any other thing in your life. No hobby, interest, book, work is going to be as important to you as the people you spend time with as you get older.
  5. Money talks. It says “Goodbye”. If you didn’t plan financially for your old age when you are young you will wish you had.
  6. Any seeds you planted in the past, either good or bad, will begin to bear fruit and affect the quality of your life as you get older, for better or worse.
  7. Jealousy is a wasted emotion. People you hate are going to succeed; people you like are going to sometimes do better than you did. Kids are going to be smarter and quicker than you are. Accept it with grace.
  8. That big house you had to have becomes a bigger and bigger burden even as the mortgage gets smaller. The cleaning, the maintenance, the stairs, all of it… becomes less attractive every day. Your possessions own YOU.
  9. You will badly regret the things you DIDN’T do far more than the things you did that were “wrong” — the girl you didn’t kiss; the trip you didn’t take; the project you kept putting off; the time you could have helped someone. If you get the chance – do it. You may never get the chance again.
  10. Every day you wake up is a victory.
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Work is still work—even with a job you love

BUSINESS_tomsawyer2I’m fortunate to have found my calling in life. I don’t dread Mondays. Returning to my desk after lunch isn’t a chore. I welcome the challenge of pleasing several bosses (aka “clients”).

But I’m still human. I look forward to weekends. I fake “sick days” and play hooky. And I daydream of dorking around, even when working with people I like on projects I’m passionate about.

I was reminded of this last Wednesday while on assignment for Google, writing a fun but challenging story for them. Once late afternoon hit, however, all I wanted to do was paddleboard or cut home movies.  Continue reading…

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Preview of what I saw and did in Newfoundland last month

YouTube Preview Image

Nine years ago, I stumbled upon an obscure YouTube video with only a few hundred views. Although I can no longer locate the video, the image it contained has haunted me ever since. A granite-green fjord flanked by towering cliffs, an enticing inlet, and an open invitation to hike it. I added the place to my bucket list and waited for the right opportunity to visit.

Three weeks ago, it finally happened. While on assignment for work (someone’s gotta do it!) and with my brother-in-law begrudgingly assisting, I hiked Western Brook Fjord in Newfoundland. Spoiler alert: It was everything I expected it to be. More beautiful than the already stunning photos of it.

I still don’t fully understand why word hasn’t gotten out; why more people haven’t visited it.

Well I hope to change that, starting with the above video and some feature stories to follow on not just the awesome hike, but the friendly locals, unexpectedly good food, and other exceptional adventures the island affords.

Make no mistake: I went for the fjord but left with a love for an entire province. I’ll be back.

The power of applause: Why recognition works

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Last week while eating lunch with my family, my playful wife invented a new game called “Clap for [insert person’s name here].” It works like this. You prompt everyone to applaud someone for several moments. Then watch their face, eyes, and smile light it while you do it.

Even though the act is forced, the game works every time. At least it does on my family, my wife and I very much included.

The only way I can explain why it works is that recognition matters. Just hearing your name, being complimented, or even just having your presence recognized as the above game so deftly accomplishes is enough to make people feel elated and special. When that happens, we want to become better people. That’s powerful.

As silly as it sounds, I invite all reading this to play this game and report your findings. Like Dale Carnegie taught, praise people, even the slightest. Recognize their contributions.

But more importantly, acknowledge people by remembering their name, take a genuine interest in what interests them, and applaud them for being who they are.

It’s magic, I tell ya.

Oh, the places you’ll go! Here’s where my travel column went last month

credit: blake snow

credit: blake snow

Perhaps one of the below might inspire your next offline adventure:

How to win friends and influence people: 10 things I learned after reading the book

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

I recently read Dale Carnegie’s popular How to Win Friends and Influence People. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Trying to understand people is more effective than criticism. Not only does it bring clarity, it breeds tolerance and kindness, which engenders people. So before criticizing someone’s effort or creation, ask them why they did what they did. See things from others’ viewpoints. As a born critic, this is difficult for me to do. But I’ve already seen how effective this is after using it on those closest to me.
  2. Smile when greeting and talking to people. This is a simple and powerful act. “The expression one wears on one’s face is far more important than the clothes one wears on one’s back,” Carnegie writes, this coming from someone who notes the power of dressing nice. And from someone who says “one” quite a lot. Continue reading…
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Never postpone what you have the desire and means to do today

Blake Snow

My wife taught me a valuable lesson recently.

For years, we’ve been planning to build a new house for our growing family. With that decision, we pegged a lot of other things to it, such as a new living room, new places to see, and even a family dog.

“Let’s update the living room after we move,” we told ourselves. “Let’s hold off on that vacation until we’re settled. Let’s wait for a dog until we have our own yard.”

We’ve held that belief for many years with various plans, not just shelter. Wait, wait, wait. When.. when… when… After, after, after.  Continue reading…

New research on Tootsie Pops: 42% bite early; 1,000 licks to center

After 36 years of excruciating mystery, humanity finally knows how many people prematurely bite into Tootsie Pops, and how many licks it takes to reach the center. New research conducted by yours truly and NYU has the answers.  Continue reading…

Doing the math: I have a 79% chance of becoming a millionaire

thumbs-up-gifI posses five and a half of the seven denominators of American millionaires, according to The Millionaire Next Door. Assuming each of these traits are weighted equally, I have a 79% chance (78.5% to be exact) of becoming one.

While the extra play money would be fun, I’m content with my thousandaire status. I have my health. I’ve got my soulmate. I found my calling.

I have five fabulous children, many uplifting friends, and a loyal dog. When kids ask me if I’m “rich,” I say yes, because I am.

Enough of the feel-good crap. A millionaire I am not. Let’s get down to numbers:  Continue reading…

Everyone who works with computers should read this (i.e. everyone should read this)

whatiscode

Credit: Business Week

I recently read Paul Ford’s special report on software—all 36,000 words and three hours of it. If you work in computers, you should read it. If you work in business, you should read it. If you’re an adult human, you will learn a lot about the way things are and where they’re headed by reading it.

Admittedly, the story could have benefitted from some additional editing. Ford, after all, veers a little off topic. But like Bill Bryson, Ford is a master at explaining why things matter—in this case, why coders matter, and how they will increasingly influence the future.

If that’s doesn’t convince you to read the article’s entirety, maybe my 10 favorite excerpts will:  Continue reading…

8 hygiene habits that changed my life

blakeroundI’m grateful to my parents for teaching me basic personal hygiene. Things like regular bathing, brushing teeth, grooming, laundry, and hand-washing.

But in recent years, I’ve picked up new habits that have improved my life. My parents probably tried to teach me some of them. Others I discovered on my own or with the help of my wife.

Whatever the catalyst, all of the below have greatly improved my life:

  1. Relentless sun-screening. Several summers ago, I had an epiphany. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “I wish I hadn’t used so much sun screen.” Upon realizing this, I challenged myself to not get burned that summer, despite getting burned every prior summer through negligence (I’m a pasty caucasian). To beat the sun’s harmful rays, I applied sunscreen whenever I knew I would be exposed to direct sunlight for longer than 30-60 minutes. When swimming, for example, I reapplied often, several times an afternoon. Three months later, I conquered without getting burned once. And to my vain surprise, I was tanner than I’d ever been. Since that successful experiment, I haven’t been burned again, at least my skin hasn’t turned lobster, itched, or peeled. So remember: sunscreen only filters the sun’s harmful rays. It doesn’t block the good stuff like vitamin D and sun kissed skin. Continue reading…

6 recent things I really like

pixabay

pixabay

I believe buying experiences is more fulfilling than buying things. Research proves this.

But sometimes things go a long way to enhance life, especially little things or anything that encourages experiences.

Here are five such things that have done that for me recently, in no particular order:  Continue reading…

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Trains, hotels, tourist traps, and bucket lists: Have you read all these?

Courtesy Fox Searchlight

Courtesy Fox Searchlight

Last month I started a travel column for Paste Magazine. Here’s what I wrote about this month:

Thanks for reading.

Doing these two things will instantly improve your mental harmony

Not-so deep thoughts by Blake Snow

Not-so deep thoughts by Blake Snow

Half of Americans say they lead “imbalanced” lives, according to a recent survey. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than what I’ve anecdotally experienced. But it’s worse than other countries.

Of course, finding balance has always been a part of the human condition, at least since the industrial revolution, if not before—many recorded and Biblical accounts acknowledge this. Our imbalance plight accelerated in the ’80s, however, after we entered the information age.

Why does more imbalance exist in America than anywhere else?  Continue reading…

Online shopping is inhuman apparently

Photo: Blake Snow

Taken at one of my local skate shops (Photo: Blake Snow)

Outside of groceries, my household shops online 90% of the time. That’s not me overstating something. That’s my wife’s estimate. She does the budget.

Over the last 10 years, Amazon Prime, Zappos, Target.com, iTunes, Netflix, and many other e-tailers have dramatically improved my family’s standard of living, product selection, and buying power, while reducing buyer’s remorse, time spent, and money spent consuming wants and needs.

Every now and again, I get romantic and decide to “shop local,” as they say. Usually I regret it. The last time I needed a pair of slacks, I went to a big box store. The style selection wasn’t what I wanted. 30 minutes of my life, gone.

Before leaving the parking lot, I launched the Amazon app, found a better pair of 4.5/5 star fitted-pants for less, and clicked “buy now.” The transaction took two minutes. The slacks would be on my door step two days later, and if, for whatever reason, I didn’t like them, I could put them back on my door mat, and a brown truck would magically return them for free.

We live a charmed life.  Continue reading…

With no electricity, my contributions cease to exist

Photo: Lindsey Snow

Photo: Lindsey Snow

I get paid to publish online stories. I love my job. But the harsh reality is my contributions cease to exist in the absence of power. Save for only a few printed artifacts, I don’t keep hardcopies of the hundreds of feature stories and thousands of blog posts I’ve written over the last decade.

I was humbled by that realization earlier this spring. The first two publications that ever paid me to write—Engadget’s gaming blog (Joystiq) and GigaOM—both shuttered within 30 days of each other. Their closures reminded me how impermanent life (and work) is. For now, my archives live on (here and here), but there’s no guarantee they’ll remain. They’ll be totally wiped out in a post-apocalyptic world like Mad Max: Fury Road (which you should run, not walk, to see right now).

Admittedly, I don’t sell life-altering work. I mostly help tech companies and media publications sell more widgets (i.e. products, services, or advertising) with believable stories that interest wide audiences. In any case, grasping your own insignificance is never easy. Big wheel keep on turning…

Work-life balance is NOT a myth. Experience proves this.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Brian Hamilton is head of a million dollar software company. He believes work-life balance is a myth. “Working obsessive hours is nearly a requirement for success,” he writes for Entrepreneur. “For those who feel possessed by entrepreneurship and want to get their idea or product out to the world, you can have work-life balance, as long as the two are one in the same.”

What Hamilton is describing is the trendy practice of anything-goes, work-life blending, which treats imbalance as a pipe-dream at best, a casualty of war at worst. To that I say: Keep telling yourself that. The only thing that seems to change peoples’ minds is a death bead. After not being true to oneself, overwork is the second biggest regret of the dying.

Deep down, I think even Hamilton and others like him know this. “The ability to compartmentalize and separate work,” he concedes, “probably leads to a much more content and happy existence.” But he, like many others, seems dead-set on wholly identifying with (or at least spending the majority of his waking time on) what he contributes economically to the world. Often times popular ego-feeding is to blame.  Continue reading…

Will do again: 5-star swimming at a 3-star resort

courtesy photo

courtesy photo

Lindsey and I took the kids to fabulous Mesquite, Nevada last month for spring break. The city bills itself as “The way Vegas used to be.”

With only three casinos and extremely limited food options, I’m not so sure about that. But I was charmed by the place and plan on returning soon the next time I crave a desert oasis. Here’s why.  Continue reading…

Self-promotion: Never let negative people, wrong trees, or bad timing discourage you

Photo: HBO/ShowtimeFrom the “never give up” files—Last month, I received a suprisingly condescending email in response to a story I was pitching. “Does this strike you as something we would publish?”

It was sent by a deputy editor from the nation’s third largest newspaper. “I was hoping it might it might fit your travel section, which I guessed you might oversee,” I replied. “Would you be willing to forward to the appropriate editor?”

The next day, the gentlemen apologized for being rude. But then he continued “in a spirit of friendliness” to list many greviences in a patronizing 350 word follow-up.

Continue reading…

Introducing “Off the Grid,” my new travel column for Paste Magazine

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I just started a new travel column for Paste Magazine. It’s called “Off the Grid.” You should read it.

First one up: 5 overlooked National Parks. To help you along the way, I’ll follow it up every week with all things awesome.

Thanks for reading (and for sharing if you like what you read).

To the stranger who reminded me that the human body can do hard things

Photo: Lindsey Snow

Photo: Lindsey Snow

The young man was hiding something. Perhaps unknowingly, but he was still hiding something.

He had spiked hair with an Archie look to it, albeit dishwater blonde instead of bright. A little under six feet tall, he wore an oversized t-shirt and basketball shorts like something out of the ’90s—two sizes too big.

He was pigeon toed, around 175 pounds, and with a case of mild acne. I’m guessing he was 20, give or take a few years.

Why was I so concerned with this guy’s looks, especially as a heterosexual man in a public gym?

I’ll tell you why. Continue reading…

Why do successful people often fail at life?

Photo: Platon/New Yorker

Photo: Platon/New Yorker

Clay Christensen, a man I deeply respect, has the answer:

“Christensen had seen dozens of companies falter by going for immediate payoffs rather than long-term growth, and he saw people do the same thing,” writes Larissa MacFarquhar for the New Yorker. “In three hours at work, you could get something substantial accomplished, and if you failed to accomplish it you felt the pain right away. If you spent three hours at home with your family, it felt like you hadn’t done a thing, and if you skipped it nothing happened.

“So you spent more and more time at the office, on high-margin, quick-yield tasks, and you even believed that you were staying away from home for the sake of your family. Christensen had seen many people tell themselves that they could divide their lives into stages, spending the first part pushing forward their careers, and imagining that at some future point they would spend time with their families—only to find that by then their families were gone.”

In other words, you become what you prioritize. Metamorphosis from sustained work-a-holic into a well-rounded and interesting person doesn’t just happen.

My latest for USA Today: Fantastic fjords of North America

Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism

Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism

An edited version of this story first appeared on USA Today

North American is known for a lot of things. Transcendent, soaring, and gaping fjords isn’t one of them. For that, most travelers understandably head to Norway, New Zealand, or Chile first—all renowned for their glacier-carved “canyons” that outlet into swallowing seas.

But the northern half of the continent has its fair share of majestic cliffs cut by frozen (instead of liquid) water, especially in parts of southern Alaska and Canada. As a bonus, they’re more proximitous than Europe’s beloved Grainger Fjord, less travelled, and still rate at least 4.5 out of 5 stars, according to average visitor reviews on Google and Tripadvisor.

Behold, the most fantastic fjords of North America: Continue reading…

10 things I’m thankful for this instant

pointerTo help my brain stay wired for happiness, here are 10 random things I’m grateful for:
  1. Full head of hair. To all my bros (and any women) out there with thinning, balding, receding, or otherwise missing hair, I sympathize with you. I don’t know what it would be like without follicles. I imagine it’s drafty and uncomfortable. I’m grateful for a full coiffure.
  2. A titanium back. Six months ago, I had my lower back fused. Although my participation in high-impact activities involving running, jumping, and extreme bending have been cut short by two thirds a lifetime, I’m grateful for the $26,000 titanium rods, screws, and spacer that keep me upright and mobile now. With a new lease on life, I feel great. Continue reading…

Critic turned fan: Just how “happy” is Disneyland?

Illustration Blake Snow/Disney

Disney

ANAHEIM, Ca.—Comedian Jim Gaffigan once joked, “My favorite ride at Disney was the air conditioned bus back to the airport.” When asked why he paid so much money to wait in long lines for underwhelming rides, he replied, “Because I love my children.”

I love my children, too. But unlike Gaffigan, I’ve been unwilling to visit Disney until recently because I viewed it as a rip-off, an unneeded parental sacrifice, and not nearly as rewarding as natural wonder. Although I have fond memories of visiting Disneyland with my family as an eight year old boy, I have fonder memories of visiting the nearby Laguna Beach that same week. “So I’ll take my kids to more majestic, less expensive places instead,” I’ve told myself ever since.

Deep down, however, I wanted to know: Could so many people be wrong? Why do over 70 million folks visit one of Disney’s templated parks each year, making it the third most-visited tourist attraction on Earth, according to Travel and Leisure? Can a place that averages 4.5 out of 5 visitor stars really be an overpriced tourist trap?

To find out, I caved recently and booked my family for two-day passes to Disneyland. Tickets cost $100 each per day; children were $5 off (that’s it?!). In fact, admittance to the park totaled more than the combined airfare and four-day stay we paid for a well-rated hotel across the street, not to mention the expensive dining we were sure to encounter inside the park.

Upon realizing that, I had buyer’s remorse. Had I make a mistake? Was I turning into sheep? Maybe. But I was determined to find out for myself, if not for humanity’s sake.  Continue reading…

Why I won’t buy an Apple Watch (for now)

Courtesy Apple

Courtesy Apple

Constantly checking your wrist watch is less rude and less distracting than constantly checking your smartphone. It might even improve your life.

Or so says a report from Wired on why Apple chose to manufacture the forthcoming iWatch, which serves as a second, more accessible screen for your iPocket, I mean iPhone.

“Your phone is ruining your life,” writes David Pierce, who, like many others, ignorantly blames the object instead of the abuser. Rather than setting boundaries on his technology, Pierce and others like him egotistically search for reasons to be elsewhere in thought and suffer the consequence.  Continue reading…

Things dance class taught me: Gender roles, body talking, and the Cypress Hill two-step

Snow Family

Snow Family

My wife—hi, hot stuff!—bought me ballroom dance lessons for Christmas. Even though I can cut rug freestyle, I was really excited about taking formal instruction. After finishing the eight week course last week, I am pleased to report it did not disappoint.

I fully expected to learn some new moves, but I didn’t expect the class to broaden my worldview and deepen my appreciation for music. But it did. Here’s what ballroom dance lessons taught me:  Continue reading…

This month’s Offline Newsletter is just three sentences long: Enjoy your life!

From the short and sweet files: “Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”—Dalai Lama XIV

See also: American businessman misses point in life, hilarity ensuesmore offline issues

Food for thought: “Bad days” don’t exist, only bad hours

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

I had a bad day last week. Or so I thought.

After an afternoon full of rejection, major story revisions, and haters hatin’ on my efforts,* I turned to my wife and said, “I had a crappy day at work and am glad it’s over.”

“I’m sorry,” she acknowledged. “Was it all bad?”

In truth it wasn’t. I had a great morning, a nice lunch, and the first hour of the afternoon was smooth sailing, I conceded.

She replied, “A friend and I were talking yesterday, and we decided that there’s usually no such thing as bad days, only bad hours.”

I quickly recalled all the “bad days” from recent memory and realized none of them were that entirely. While I’m sure I’ve had extended periods of bad hours, I don’t believe I’ve ever had a bad day from start to finish.

That’s probably the optimist in me speaking. But country songs are mostly fiction. Very few people (if any) people get divorced, fired, miss all their meals, and lose their dog in a single day.

In other words, “bad days” don’t exist, only bad hours.

* The kind that don’t know how to say “No, thank you” when presented with an opportunity and instead deride, heckle, or discourage you from finding a more suitable dance partner

Smart selling: 7 habits of highly reluctant buyers and how to overcome them

New Line Cinema

New Line Cinema

Selling is a challenge. It requires unwavering confidence, polite persistence, and a deep understanding of buyer demand. It also requires an ability to withstand constant rejection, unfortunate timing, and even bad luck.

Whether you sell to businesses or consumers, overcoming buyer objections in another challenge. Some may be unique to your trade, but most are quite common, regardless of industry. What are they and how can they be surmounted?

To find out, I ransacked dozens of reports, expert analyses, and top Google results. After the dust had settled, I encountered close to 100 specific objections. But most (if not all) of those are merely variations of seven fundamental objections, which I’ve distilled and categorized below.

Before getting down to the nitty gritty, a word of caution: sellers must first understand theirs and their prospects’ available “walk-away” options before addressing any concerns. If you don’t respect those, you’ll fail to appreciate the nuances of your market and have a harder time overcoming legitimate buyer objections.

Furthermore, “objections are a gift,” says Kyle Porter, CEO of SalesLoft. “It’s the customer telling you something that will help you sell to them.” In that sense, buyer concerns are rarely outright rejections—they’re merely requests for more information. Hence, good communication is key to overcoming them.

With that out of the way, here are the seven most common buyer objections and advice for overcoming them:  Continue reading…

5 things everyone needs to get paid for doing what they love (or “The discouraging odds of becoming a professional athlete”)

To many boys (and some girls), professional athletes are modern-day heroes. Iconic celebrities with fame, fortune, and power. What wide-eye youth wouldn’t want the same?

Turns out, a lot of them do. (With oversized Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan posters adorning my childhood walls, I certainly did.) But as with all desirable things in life, getting paid to play sports isn’t easy.

In fact, the odds are downright nasty for aspiring players, according to new data from the NCAA.

Continue reading…

This retro documentary is fun, moving, and almost as good as King of Kong

YouTube Preview Image

My wife and I watched Atari: Game Over last night on YouTube (part II here). It’s an hour long documentary about the fast rise and even faster demise of video games in the early ’80s and the misinformation surrounding their fall (the games, not the decade).

That’s just the pretext, however. The documentary is really about hurtful group think, toxic urban legends, and the unfair, if not tragic, treatment of Howard Warshaw, a talented and pioneering game designer that was ostracized for his largely innocent role.

Although the documentary handles some weighty baggage, director Zak Penn keeps it fun, fast-paced, and peppered with likable characters. When Warshaw is partially redeemed by the end of the movie, I was rattled with sympathy.

Atari: Game Over isn’t as fist-pumping fun as Kong of Kong, which you should watch posthaste if you haven’t already. But the former is more accurate and just as endearing. Furthermore, it challenges the viewer to scrutinize their beliefs before accepting them and encourages us to give others the benefit of the doubt.

Five stars out of five.

I was there: Great moments in rock history (or songs I wish I could play on guitar)

YouTube Preview Image

I learned to play guitar sometime in the spring of 1994. I did it in a single day. Sort of.

Although I knew how to mangle the open chords for A, C, D, E, and G in the months leading up to that fateful day, the instrument didn’t click with me until my brother and his friend Dylan Denny demonstrated how to play bar chords the night before. “You mean I just keep the same finger formation and slide up and down the neck to play any chord I like, even flats!?” I enthusiastically asked. “Yup,” they replied. “That’s the beautify of power chords.”

I was so excited by this revelation — this power, if you will — that I called in sick the next day (i.e. I faked a cough and my mom let me stay home from school).

Armed with this new “life hack,” I learned to play Green Day’s entire breakthrough album by ear that day. I was so elated, I didn’t even break for lunch, let alone breakfast. I just played, played, and played, stopping the CD only to find the right chord. I even learned a few of the album’s basic “fills,” or poor man’s solos, as I call them.

Upon returning from school, my brother and friend were impressed with my progress. It’s not every day a rhythm guitarist is born. From that day forward, I wanted to “play rhythm” forever.

That all changed on a Wednesday night 13 years later.  Continue reading…

Secrets of the world’s most inspiring speakers: How to captivate an audience

flickr/creative commons

flickr/creative commons

What do great speakers such as Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, and top TED presenters have in common? Why do we remember phrases such as, “I have a dream,” “Getting fired from Apple was the best thing to happen to me,” and “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”? What’s the most effective way to persuade a listening audience, either to laughter, action, awareness, or inspiration?

After researching dozens of the Internet’s top search results from a broad range of expert or otherwise popular speakers, we have answers to those questions and more. Of course, there’s no foolproof way to becoming a charming or memorable presenter. But there are several virtues all great speakers uphold. Chief among them: Good orators change the emotions of their audience, rather than just informing them. They inspire them, encourage them to act.

Whether you’re motivating a distrustful audience, leading a team of individuals, selling the next big idea or product to market, or even entertaining a hard to please crowd, here are 10 qualities all good presenters posses:  Continue reading…

My short-lived career as a copywriter

Howard-Gossage

Howard Gossage was revered for his copywriting skills

Most people don’t know the difference between copywriting and editorial copy. I write the latter, which is generally understood by plebians as long-form “magazine articles.” The former is short-form and widely used in advertising and marketing to persuade someone to buy a product or influence their beliefs.

In any case, I usually don’t copywrite in a technical sense. I sometimes get asked to but usually decline. Unless, of course, Nike asks me to, which they did last year. Here is that story.  Continue reading…

Console Wars (the book) might be better than the very games that fueled the fire

consolewars-coverFor any male readers born from the mid ’70s to early ’80s, listen up—Console Wars by Blake Harris has it all: your childhood, the answer to your next marketing challenge, cultural divides, innocence, under bellies, triumph, and loss.

It’s also the only book I’ve ever read that made me feel as young as I am old. Take these gems, for example:

  • “There was no such thing as a magic touch, and it wouldn’t have mattered if there were, because the only thing it takes to sell toys, vitamins, magazines (or anything) is the power of story. That was the secret. That was the whole trick: to recognize that the world is nothing but chaos, and the only thing holding it (and us) together are stories… When you tell memorable, universal, intricate, and heartbreaking stories, anything is possible.”
  • “Tony Harman was prepared to leave with his tail between his legs (smiling, though, as his thesis that western cultures can make great games too had made it all the way to the top), but he decided to try one more approach. “Let me just ask one more question,” he said, taking a step toward [Nintendo President] Yamauchi. “How many bad television commercials do we make each year?” Continue reading…

Do these things to avoid getting old

My wife's grandmother, Beverly Ridd, was forever young

My wife’s grandmother, Beverly Ridd, was forever young

You wanna know what scares me most about getting old? Becoming calloused, jaded, and crotchety.

To counter that, I try to see the good in the world, surround myself with positive people, recognize the value of younger generations (as opposed to bemoaning their shortcomings), and do things that make me feel young again.

To help with the latter, TIME recently compiled a bunch of anti-aging activities backed by science. Here are a few that stood out: Continue reading…

No pain, no gain: Short-term discomfort is the price of long-term health

Why do some people willingly participate in unpleasant things like regular exercise, cold  showers, bland but healthy food, sacrificial restraint, and drinking lots of water, which cause a lot of annoying bathroom runs?

The short answer: Everything has a price. Good health is no exception. In exchange for long-term health, humans must endure short-term discomfort associated with the above.

In more succinct terms, “no pain, no gain.” That’s the catchphrase Jane Fonda popularized in ’80s workout videos to express that rewards are worth the work. Or as David Morris wrote in The Scientist, “The road to achievement runs only through hardship.”

In my experience, that’s the case for good health as much as anything in life. Of course, knowing that won’t make difficult things easy. But it does give them meaning, which I believe lessens suffering.

Here’s what happened when a billionaire overpaid me by $20,000

Fox Networks

Fox Networks

Even if you think you’re honest person, your integrity will forever be challenged, usually when you least expect it.

I recently learned this lesson after a client tried to overpay me by $20,000 on two separate occasions. The first time they simply wired the money into my account without realizing I was already paid. “Either they sent duplicate payment or liked my work so much they gave me a huge bonus,” I thought to myself. I knew it was the former, but sat on the blunder for a few days before notifying the client.

The reason: The devil on my left shoulder made a convincing argument. “Blake,” he said, “maybe you didn’t invoice them the first time?” Nope, I checked my records. I’ve been paid in full. “Okay,” he went on, “but they’re a billion dollar company. They won’t even notice the misplaced $10,000.”

“I doubt it,” the angel on my right shoulder replied. “Imagine if someone got fired for this. Besides, you didn’t earn this money. It doesn’t matter if you omit or commit theft—stealing is wrong. You’re better than this.”  Continue reading…

Man counterfeits $200 million, keeps $50 million, and only serves 6 weeks in plea deal

courtesy frank bourassa

courtesy frank bourassa

What a story. What a character.

Wells Tower writes for GQ: “Frank paid a few visits to the U.S. Secret Service’s website, which, handily, offers an in-depth illustrated guide to serial numbers, watermarks, plate numbers, and all the other fussy obstacles to the counterfeiter’s art. ‘I thought, if I’m going to do this, I’ll go big or go home.'”

At the turn of the decade, the Canadian ended up printing more than $200 million in twenty dollar bills — an elephantine amount compared to most counterfeiters. “If he’d printed a measlier number of millions, he would have lacked a big chip with which to bargain for his liberty,” explains Tower. “He would certainly have been jailed longer. In other words, had Frank not gone big, it could have been quite a long time before he’d have been free to go home.”

Superb read. I highly recommend it.

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Polite people know that everyone has it hard

Paul Ford shared some inspiring advice recently on being polite. He writes:

“Here’s a polite person’s trick, one that has never failed me… When you are at a party and are thrust into conversation with someone, see how long you can hold off before talking about what they do for a living. And when that painful lull arrives, just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: ‘Wow. That sounds hard.'”

This works because everyone believes their job is difficult, Ford says, which is actually true when you consider their circumstances. “People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things,” he continues. “They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing.

“The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment.”

You just need to care, he concludes. You can start by looking others in the eye and asking their name with a smile and firm handshake. Then keep it up over time to ensure your politeness is enduring. After all, fleeting politeness is forgettable, Ford says. Lasting politeness is memorable and makes an impact.

How to get through the rest of winter

credit: lindsey snow

credit: lindsey snow

Thanks to my wife, I’ve grown to appreciate winter instead of loathing it. Still, the persistent cold, dormant life, and extended darkness can take its toll on our mood, especially near the tail end of the season.

That said, here are four things everyone can do to beat the winter blues, according to USA Today:

  1. Volunteer, it will warm your heart. To get inspired, visit United Way.
  2. Eat healthy, from scratch foods; mostly plants, no seconds, but don’t vilify entire food groups (including sugar). The right nutrition can improve your mood.
  3. Schedule leisure. Lunch with friends, night out with a loved one, or your next vacation. Anticipating events does wonders for your mood. Planning yearly vacations in late January (after the tax man takes his cut) has served my family well.
  4. Get moving. Exercise is a dead horse. But I’ll kick it again, because it works. Don’t know where to start? Try a 20 minute outdoor walk everyday or the scientifically proven 7 minute workout.

See you in spring.

8 ways to conquer your smartphone obsession

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

“I really wish I spent more time on my phone,” said no one ever. I doubt anyone will.

And yet, many of us can’t resist the Kavorka of our phones, in times of idleness or activity. What’s a modern human to do?

Don’t worry, Internet denizens. I got you. After five years on a lean, enlivening, and offline-rich phone diet, here are eight things you can do right now to put your phone in check, free yourself from its compulsive clutches, and live in the moment:  Continue reading…

Texting and dating: Young lovers, I feel for you

I don’t know if falling in love is more challenging today than it was before. But it can’t be easy with the constant allure, cover, and distraction of smartphones.

Case in point: I saw a guy macking on a girl recently—or at least trying to. He was obviously interested; his attention undivided. She was preoccupied with her phone, however. She occasionally rejoined his advances with peppered smiles and words, but she mostly focused her attention on the tarot card-sized device she cradled in hand and poked at with thumbs.

From a distance, I couldn’t tell if she was coping with embarrassment behind her phone, considering a counter-flirt, or not at all interested. If I had to guess, I’d bet on the latter because newly crushing or in love couples usually stay fixated on each other’s eyes. Of course, interested males are horrible at deciphering this universal truth — always have been, always will, with or without smartphones. But I know first-hand how complicating phones can be to loving relationships.  Continue reading…

Which is better: Museum of Curiosity or Living Planet Aquarium?

courtesy photo

courtesy photo

Locals and tourists only—Metropolitan Utah welcomed two large museums this year: The re-located and significantly expanded Living Planet Aquarium and the all-new Museum of Natural Curiosity. Although both have their heart in the right place, only one is worth your family’s time and money.

To find out, I tapped the most imaginative minds I could find: my kids. Within a four day period last month, my wife and I took the children to both museums for the first time. Upon visiting, we didn’t coax, herd, or otherwise rush them to any exhibits. Rather, we let them set the pace and decide the order of exhibits. Here’s how it went.  Continue reading…

Embracing cold for a season, respecting winter for life

credit: lindsey snow

credit: lindsey snow

A funny thing happens to humans in winter. At first, the coldest equinox is a magical time for children, especially when it snows. With age, however, those same humans sometimes grow to despise the season. They become calloused by it; discouraged by it. They forget the importance of it to new life; the relevance of it as a requisite opposite.

Upon relocating to Utah 12 years ago, I felt even more jaded by winter given the increased snow here. I didn’t care that this desert land accumulates most of its water from white-capped mountains that melt in spring. I didn’t realize just how water-less summer would be without winter.

All I knew is that I didn’t like commuting in it. And I was a really important person then, busy getting from A to B as fast as I could. Winter, you see, slowed me down. Continue reading…

Stop telling yourself that: Life’s biggest lies

wikimedia commons

wikimedia commons

Several months ago, my wife and I were discussing truths we want are children to know. Although I’ve covered the topic before, I’ve since recognized several more while reiterating others.

Granted, you can’t expect to learn the below principles in a couple of sentences. But maybe, just maybe, this commentary will spark your curiosity and challenge your worldview for the better:  Continue reading…

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

img

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

Homemade polar bear club: Why I started taking cold showers

Cold showers went viral this year. I jumped on the bandwagon this summer and haven’t gone back, not even in winter. Here’s why:

  1. Indisputable health benefits. Cold showers and winter swimming aren’t fun. Neither is exercise. Humans do all three primarily for the health benefits, which include more vigor, less stress, higher immunity, improved complexion and skin, better circulation, and elevated alertness. Since switching to cold showers, I feel more alive not only in the act, but after the fact.  Continue reading…

Eat at your own risk: Soda, red meat, hot dogs, and alcohol may shorten life

courtesy coke.com

courtesy coke.com

After deciding to attempt centenarian status, I’ve become hyper-aware of my health.

I won’t touch fad diets with a 10 foot pole. But I exercise regularly, I’m cognizant about the things I put into my body, and I think about how I consume food.

So health.com caught my eye last month after crunching the numbers on foods that may shorten life, specifically those that harm our DNA’s ability to protect itself from disease. The four that made their list: Continue reading…

You are more than your occupation: This question proves it

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

“What do you do?” is a question humans often hear. It’s a new acquaintance’s favorite ice breaker because it’s socially acceptable, easy to answer, and easy to process. Doctor. Carpenter. Businessman. Homemaker. Forget and move on.

Problem is, we are so much more than our occupation, even workaholics (although they might not realize it if wholly absorbed by their trade). The better question to ask when meeting new people is this: “What do you like to do?” Asking that will give you a truer glimpse of who someone is, because what we think about and do under no obligation is a better indicator of who we really are.

Continue reading…

My favorite saying of the year is empowering: “I won’t judge”

credit: last week tonight

credit: last week tonight

I believe final, condemning, or otherwise hasty judgment of others is like hatred. It is learned, immoral, and vile behavior that worsens with age and leads to unhappiness.

Obviously, we’re required to make mortal judgments on the accused if on jury duty. And we need to judge the fruits and motives of others to make important decisions in life, such as choosing friends, voting for government leaders, engaging in business transactions, shielding our children from danger, or marrying someone.

(Similarly, hatred of conditions—never people—can inspire action, but that’s another story).

While many of us struggle in making the above judgments, all of us suck when it comes to judging others out of misguided fear, selfishness, or an attempt to validate our lifestyle over another’s. It is this type of misjudgment that is so difficult to avoid.

Earlier this year, I learned a useful trick for combating this. Continue reading…

Spinal fusion: 10 things I learned surviving a scary-sounding and life-altering surgery

blakefusion

Frankenstein back with 28 staples (credit: Lindsey Snow)

Life isn’t fair.

I was born with an 80 year-old back. Not exactly 80, but old. It first broke when I was 29. After surgery, it worked again, but only for another six years. It teetered and failed again late this summer in the same spot — a re-ruptured L4/5 disc. The thing was so decrepit, my surgeon had to remove the remains and fuse my spine.

Now I’m resigned to a life of low impact and light lifting. I can’t even hold my youngest brown-eyed boy in his final months of baby-dom, let alone lift a gallon of milk for a month. I can’t return to full activity for six months until the vertebrae fully fuse. And after that, I’m advised to give up running, basketball, soccer, and maybe wake boarding or else.

It sucks.

But it’s not all bad. In fact, I’ve got a heck of a lot to look forward to—a lot more to live for. While having my body deteriorate ahead of schedule and the long recovery are both humbling, I also feel inspired by the experience. Here are 10 things I learned post surgery:  Continue reading…

Face time: 4 ways to make an impression while working from home

wired.com

wired.com

A year after the Great Recession reared its ugly head, my biggest account of nearly three years terminated our contract. At the time, I was the head of news, principal feature writer and editor-at-large for IDG’s second-largest media property.

During my tenure, I managed a small team of remote reporters, oversaw the production of thousands of stories and grew web traffic by 15% in a saturated market. But it wasn’t enough to save my job. When the going got tough (i.e. when the print business failed to transition to digital in time), I was an easy person to let go, despite my page view gains.

One reason: I only visited headquarters twice during my term. I knew management liked me, but they didn’t know me well enough to realize that I, too, had mouths to feed; that I was a peer, their equal. To them I was an impersonal guy that did good work from afar — an easy name to let go that didn’t evoke much emotion.

“Sorry, Blake. We’re cutting back.” That was it.  Continue reading…

Do it for the kids: How to make Halloween awesome this year

E.T. (Universal Pictures)

E.T. (Universal Pictures)

Several years ago, I read a true Halloween story with a sad ending. Sadder still, I forgot to bookmark it and my Google skills have since failed me. I’ll do my best to recount it.

An English family of four had just relocated to America. Although Halloween is observed in other countries — Great Britain included — it’s no where near as big or as festive as in the United States. In anticipation of this, our immigrant friends decided to go “all out” for the occasion.

Continue reading…

One-liner winning: Top 10 quotes on teamwork

wow_winningWith two games remaining, my daughter’s soccer team is in second place. They’ve won nine games and lost one to the third place side which—while not as talented—understands that successful passing leads to more goals than successful dribbling or individuality. In other words, they play as a team more than my daughter’s side.

That same team has likely dropped more games than the three and a half players that impressively carry my daughter’s club because playing as a team for every game is difficult to achieve. It’s easier for great players to show up to every game than a reliable team.

In any case, my daughter’s “club” will square off against the first place team this weekend, and I suspect they’ll lose unless they listen to Michael Jordan: “Talent wins games, teamwork wins championships.”

To inspire more passing, teamwork, and selflessness, I hope they’ll consider my favorite quotes on teamwork as much as you might. They are as follows:  Continue reading…

Generationals: The best $8 album I’ve purchased this year

courtesy photo

courtesy photo

With exception to the food, my brother, brother-in-law, and consummate friend can’t stand New Orleans. I suspect it has nothing to do with the Big Easy or its people and everything to do with an insolvent business they endured there together.

Whatever the case, I hope the new album by New Orleans duo Generationals might somehow change their mind. It’s as distinct, influential, and catchy as the city they hail from. Certainly not as old and in no way related to jazz, the genre invented there. But the synth-driven, upbeat music will make you want to dance and put a smile on your face, which is good enough for me.

After five listens, I don’t think it’s as moving as their last album, but it’s one of the freshest works I’ve listened to all year, especially “Black Lemon,” “Gold Silver Diamond,” “Now Look at Me,” “Welcome to the Fire,” and “Would you Want Me.” If you’re in the mood for something new, I highly recommend at least a stream.

Four stars out of five.

PS – This is the best $10 album I’ve bought all year

If a king falls in a chess match, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

chessdailynews.com

chessdailynews.com

Earlier this month, Seth Stevenson masterfully wrote about the greatest feat in modern chess history: Brooklyn-born Fabiano Caruana (pictured) winning seven straight games and tying three more against top 10 opponents, including world champion Magnus Carlsen.

If you have even a passing interest in chess, game theory, some of the world’s brightest minds, cat fights, and historic performances, I implore you to read it.

Writes Stevenson: “At one point during the Sinquefield Cup, I was watching from a quiet viewing lounge on the first floor of the chess club. I glanced over to my left and saw a man sitting alone. It was Rex Sinquefield. I tried to make conversation, but he politely brushed me off. He was utterly focused on watching Caruana play. An orphan turned plutocrat, now transformed back into a little boy watching his favorite game.

“I suddenly realized that he’d created this institution, funded this tournament, flown these grandmasters here and housed them, out of the purest, simplest love imaginable. He may not have lured droves of spectators to the event, and may not have reignited the world’s love affair with chess. But for two weeks at least, he helped the world’s most storied game flourish as it once had, with dedicated fans witnessing an incandescent burst of greatness that seemed to come from nowhere.”

Can’t hold me down: I make a living sitting down and can no longer sit down

My deffective lower lumbar

My defective lower lumbar

Thanks to genetics, I inherited two bad discs in my back, the neurologist told me. (Sorry kids, you’re next.)

For no particular reason, the first one broke six years ago. It laid me up for six straight weeks, forcing me to work lying down for a month and a half. After surgery, I could thankfully sit, run, and walk again with a normal gait.

I was also given a clean bill of health. “Blake, I’ve had patients scale Mount Everest and play two hours of basketball every morning for the rest of their lives after similar surgery,” the doctor told me. “Except for moving refrigerators and pianos, you have my blessing to do whatever physically adventurous things you want.”

I took his counsel to heart, got fit, ate more plants, and experienced a renaissance of outdoor exploits and saw a lot of wonderful things since then. In a way, breaking my back was the best thing to happen to me since marrying Lindsey, fathering children, and being awesome.

Now I get to do it all over. Last week, I broke my back again. Continue reading…

Highly recommended: This wireless speaker has enriched my life

cambridge audio minx air 200

Exposing my kids to great music is a goal of mine. To accomplish this, I incessantly listen to back catalogs, one-hit wonders, greatest hits, new music, and low profile artists in search of the most timeless, dance-able, moving, and energetic songs. Then I test what I find among my household audience.

So far I’ve done an admirable job, with exception to sharing said music on a proper hi-fi. That all changed this year after acquiring the wireless Cambridge Air 200. It looks like an all-in-one Bose system, but sounds significantly richer, cleaner, and fuller without muddy sounds or the inflated Bose price.  Continue reading…

Fair weather fan: I cheer for these football teams in this order for these reasons

logos

Football began in earnest last week. Not that kind. The oblong American kind. The “hoorah!” kind.

For now, I couldn’t be happier. BYU‘s undefeated and ranked 25th in the country. Seahawks look dominant enough to repeat as Superbowl champions. And even the most jaded fans are full of hope, smiles, and optimism right now. That always makes the world a more enjoyable place to live.

Of course, that’ll change as the season wears on. For most of us, frowns are just around the corner. But there’s a simple trick I’ve learned over the years to avoid letting an uncompetitive or unlucky sportsball team ruin your night, day, week, month, autumn, or even year. It is this: Embrace fair weather fan status. Be proud of it. Bandwagons are fun.

Continue reading…

Fast food, hard work: What I learned as an underpaid Chick-Fil-A employee

Chick-Fil-A

Chick-Fil-A

I want all my children to work fast food someday. Why would I subject the little darlings to low pay, hectic dinner rushes, rude customers, demeaning work, ignorant coworkers, monotonous tasks, slippery shoes, and stinky clothes?

The short answer: Life is filled with the above, so you might as well expose ’em while they’re young. The long answer: Much of what I learned in business I learned from fast food. Not the creative stuff. Not sustained rejection. Certainly not cerebral problem solving.

But working fast food taught me the essence of hard work—livelihood’s version of basic training. After two years as a low-level cooking, toilet cleaning, truck unloading, chicken suit wearing, stench absorbing, fry serving, drive-thru calling, and overly perspiring wage-worker at Chick-Fil-A, here’s what I learned about business, customer service, teamwork, and life:  Continue reading…

Sci-fi language is often distracting. Not with this novel.

bookI’ve been working my way through some of history’s best-rated science fiction novels. And “no,” I don’t distinguish sci-fi from fantasy.

Overall, I find the technical language of books such as Hyperion, Shockwave Rider, and others with ridiculous covers—the kind Gentlemen Broncos makes fun of—too distracting to enjoy. Reading them feels like work. It’s almost as if the author wants me to decipher or decode the language before understanding it. It’s why I abandon many of these books, including The Hobbit. After all, I read to enjoy or educate myself—not learn a fictional language.

When they’re not using overly technical and distracting language, sci-fi novels often finish in confusing or unpoetic form, as is the case with Ender’s Game, an otherwise clever book. Now, I haven’t completely given up on the genre. I still have Dune, Starship Troopers, 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, and others on my list.

My faith in the genre skyrocketed today, however, after reading the first chapter of Planet of the Apes. It’s one of the best opening chapters I’ve read of any genre. It’s so captivating, I dare any imaginative mind over the age of 10 to read the first chapter and desist. It’s humanly impossible. Try it yourself if you don’t believe me, for free even.

That’s how you pull someone into a novel. Bravo, Pierre Boulle.

UPDATE: After finishing the book, I now regard Planet of the Apes as masterpiece literature—from beginning, middle, to the very ironic ending. Five stars out of five.

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Which countries work, leisure, and volunteer most?

AM Charts

AM Charts

I’ve done some light reading on time use this summer — invigorating stuff, I know — and came across some insightful observations from John Robinson. He’s spent the last four decades reviewing thousands of “time journals” from people around the world.  Continue reading…

Wasting away: 5 reasons people work too much

Photo: Blake Snow

Photo: Blake Snow

Americans rank near the bottom in work-life balance because we work more than anyone, that much we know. (Caveat: We don’t work more than we used to, according to decades of research by John Robinson. We just perceive busy-ness as work and fill our free time with it. More on that later.)

But we don’t have to work as much as we do. Quite the opposite, in fact. “Researchers note that productivity rates have risen, which theoretically lets many people be just as comfortable as previous generations while working less. Yet they choose not to,” reports the New York Times. Even visionaries admit as much. “The idea that everyone needs to work frantically is just not true,” says Google CEO Larry Page. “Reducing the workweek is one way to solve the problem.”

I decided to do just that recently in switching from a five to four-day workweek. Like after I quit working nights and weekends, I won’t ever go back (given the choice). In four days, I’ve gotten just as much done as I did in five, because I waste less time now. As the forward-thinking Jason Fried explains, “Constraining time encourages quality time. When you have a compressed workweek, you focus on what’s important.”

So we have evidence that all this snazzy technology lightens our load, increases our productivity, and allows us to work less. And yet we still choose to work more than we need to. Why?! I’ve researched the issue for my book and came away with the following five answers:   Continue reading…

How my daughter helps me “master” life

Photo: Blake Snow

Photo: Blake Snow

Last month, my eight year-old daughter subdued me in a remarkable way.

Our dog Harley had just disobeyed orders. As I confronted him, he urinated on our floor for the umpteenth time.

Now, there are a lot of things I dislike about Harley. He pees like a girl. Recoils from house flies. And his nervous system is a little too nervous. But my least favorite thing about Harley is his knack for urinating a few teaspoons at times when I—the perceived “leader” of the pack—order or reprimand him.

It’s called submissive urination and it’s downright annoying for two reasons. First, I’ve had to clean up dog urine, several times a day, even though he’s been house trained for months. Second, I have no idea when to expect it, even though Harley is normally an obedient dog.  Continue reading…

These 5 quotes will make you smarter (but not necessarily wiser)

psdgraphics.com

psdgraphics.com

  1. “It is remarkable how much long term advantage is gained by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.” — Charlie Munger
  2. “Read every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, not many will.” — Warren Buffett
  3. “To better avoid errors, you should talk to people who disagree with you and you should talk to people who are not in the same emotional situation you are.” — Daniel Kahneman (more of his thoughts here)
  4. “A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguishable from the truth.” — Daniel Kahneman
  5. “Acknowledging what you don’t know is the dawning of wisdom.” — Charlie Munger

Via Motley Fool

Practice doesn’t always make perfect, creative risks are also needed to be great

Photo: Nayu Kim

Photo: Nayu Kim

What does it take to be really good — if not great — at something?

A lot depends on the skill or event. For instance, “In expert tennis, 80% of the points are won, while in amateur tennis, 80% are lost,” says economist Eric Falkenstein. “The same is true for wrestling, chess, and investing: Beginners should focus on avoiding mistakes, experts on making great moves.”

The first step towards mastering a skill, then, lies in assessing whether the ability observes rigid rules or not. Knowing that will help you prioritize deliberate practice over taking creative liberties and vice versa. So if the rules never change, like in classical music or mathematics, you can “out-study” the competition to make it to the top.

But in less structured fields — such as entrepreneurship, rock and roll, and other humanities — taking creative risks or “making great moves” as Falkenstein says takes precedence. It’s the fastest way to greatness. In other words, strict standards reward mastery first. Unregulated skills reward creativity more.

Of course, many disciplines demand both mastery and risk-taking to become great, not to mention raw talent. But knowing where to start — whether by mastery or creativity — is half the battle.

Should have known: Visually straight not the same as mathematically straight

Photo: Blake Snow

Photo: Blake Snow

For anyone with an intermediate understanding of graphic design, you’ll know that some shapes look better when visually centered as opposed to mathematically centered. I thought that truth would hold up over the weekend while hanging square records on my office wall. It didn’t.

As eagle-eyed readers will notice, the right side of the montage is a fourth of an inch lower than the left. I had my pencil, level, helpmeet (Hi, Lindsey!) and string handy, thinking I could crack this nut in minutes. An hour later, and while cursing my inability to recall basic geometric calculations, I thought to myself, “If I can keep it visually aligned, I’m sure it’ll look okay.”

By the time I finished, it was mathematically obvious: My estimation was wrong. Having already invested upwards of two hours on the job, and with the kids asking for the umpteenth time if we were “leaving for the pool yet?”, I hastily skewed some right side records to minimize the visual damage. In doing so, I messed up the two inch margins in between prints.

Although I once excelled at math in school, it’s a good thing I never became an engineer.

See also: Maybe mathematical art is a message from God

American businessman misses point of life, hilarity ensues

Geoff Livingston

Geoff Livingston

An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal village in Mexico. Just then, a skiff docked with one fisherman inside. His boat contained several large yellowfin tuna.

The American complimented the fisherman’s catch and asked how long it took to reel them in. “Only a little while,” the fisherman replied. The American then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish. The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s needs.

“What do you do with the rest of your time?” the American pressed.  Continue reading…

The problem with academic writing: “The teacher must seize the student’s attention”

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

I don’t like academic writing. It’s mostly nonsense.

A few years ago, I said as much to my father who works in academia. Despite my insensitivity and lack of tact, I stand by my belief. Not because I’m incapable of admitting when I’m wrong. But because academic writing’s verbose language, impersonal tone, and dispassionate delivery ultimately fail to engage readers.

In other words, “Academics are really good at writing books that only academics will read, but they’re not very good at making anyone outside of academia care,” says Jared Bauer, co-creator of Thug Notes, in an interview with Huffington Post. “Teaching isn’t easy, so I’m not trying to shame teachers for not trying more radical approaches to literature education,” he adds. “But at the very least, I hope (our) show makes teachers realize that a student won’t volunteer their attention. The teacher must seize it.”

As I debated with my father that day, for writing to succeed, it must capture the reader’s attention. If it doesn’t, the writing won’t get shared, influence can’t happen, and the opportunity to learn is squandered, even among scholars. There’s no point to that kind of writing other than to serve as a reminder of how not to write.  Continue reading…

Hey, who spilled bad acting on my soccer?

img2For the next month, soccer fans watching the World Cup will see more fake injuries than any amount of magic spray could possibly cure. And by fake I mean diving, flopping, conniving—temporarily feigning injury in an effort to draw an advantageous ruling on the field.

Although seen in international soccer with regularity, diving during the World Cup happens in greater frequency because the stakes are higher. (This is the world championship, after all, held once every four years.) And when the stakes are higher, cowardice teams will employ anything they can for an edge.

“In the British game, it is often seen as an import from foreign players,” says psychologist Paul Morris, who studies diving at the University of Portsmouth. “Many people argue that it has been common in Italian football for decades.” Continue reading…

Overheard in the analog world: “Where are all the twenty and thirty-somethings?”

© Blake Snow

© Blake Snow

My brood just returned from a week long road trip to the Black Hills. At close range, we saw Devil’s Tower (4.5 out of 5 stars), Rushmore (4 stars), the Custer Needles and Sylvan Lake (5 stars), Badlands (4 stars), and… a lot of senior citizens (2 stars—wink). We bumped into a few younger families on our travels, but not many. The vast majority were graying couples.

“Where are all the twenty and thirty-somethings?” I asked my wife. She shrugged.

A moment passed, then she offered, “Maybe they’re at Disneyland.”

“Maybe they’re watching TV,” I added.

Wherever they were, they weren’t outside.  Continue reading…

The exact moment I fell in love with soccer

Paramount

Paramount

In honor of the World Cup, which starts next week in Brazil, here’s how I fell in love with the game.

The year: 198X. I was at a friend’s house in a remote part of northern Oklahoma. We were watching Victory, a so-so Sylvester Stallone movie about a POW soccer team playing Nazi Germany during World War II. My buddy and I were no older than five or six at the time.

Not wanting to endure the feeble character and pre-game drama, we fast forwarded the VHS “through all the boring stuff” to get right to the climatic game. While the build up to said game will likely keep most adults engaged — more for its interesting plot than acting skills — the last 20 minutes of the movie is most triumphant.

Continue reading…

Before sharing this on social media, check your motive at the door

Blake Snow

Blake Snow

I quit social media four years ago. By that I mean I quit Facebook, Twitter*, Google+, LinkedIn and other “social networks” that require the declaration and management of electronic relationships. Since then, my personal and professional lives have been greatly enriched. So much so, I don’t plan to join digital social networks ever again. (More on that here.)

Unless, of course, those networks can enhance my physical relationships. Consider, for example, Google Hangouts, an ad-hoc social network. After reluctantly declining six months of invites, my wife recently convinced me to join. I’m glad I did. It’s allowed me to stay in close touch with extended family without colleagues, associates, admirers, like-minded people, or old high school acquaintances getting in the way. It’s also let me indulge in animated gifs.

But even this endearing network has become a distraction at times. By my own doing, it’s sometimes made me lose sight of the big picture.  Continue reading…

Why you should always pay attention to people’s feet

Blake Snow

Blake Snow

“If you approach two people in the middle of a conversation, and they only turn their torsos and not their feet, they don’t want you to join the conversation,” teach the smart people of Quora. “Similarly, if you are in a conversation with a coworker who you think is paying attention to you, and their torso is turned towards you but their feet are facing another direction, they want the conversation to end.”

Wonderful observation. Another one I like: “If you are angry at the person in front of you driving like a grandmother, pretend it is your grandmother. It will significantly reduce your road rage.” As of 6:58 yesterday on I-15 southbound, I can confirm this works.

Speaking of feet: Did I pass that on? Human genetics are incredible

Hey, Denmark! Thanks for liking and paying royalties on my writing

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

I got an unexpected royalty check from Denmark last month. Apparently some Dane liked one of my stories enough to make a bunch of copies for their organization to read. In route through foreign and U.S. copyright law, the specific story and organization that used it were lost unfortunately. But I’m grateful just the same — for the recognition as well as compensation.

Thanks, Denmark.

Keeping up with dual screen monitors: Why I decided against it

Dell

Dell

My millennial brother-in-law chided me recently for using only a single monitor. “Get with the times,” he joked. “Two screens will boost your productivity.”

I’m normally confident about my technology use, but his remark surprised me since no one had questioned the size of my desktop display before. Keep in mind, I’ve worked from home for over a decade, so I don’t get to see how the Jones’ use computers at work. I don’t see their workspaces—only their faces over Skype calls or in conference rooms or voices over phones or words over email.

Self consciously, I began asking family and friends if they used dual monitors at work. “All the time,” said one. “Have for years,” said another. “Will never go back!” exclaimed a third. With exception to one, all my inquires said “yes.” Even my dad and father-in-law use dual screens at work. BABY BOOMERS MORE WIRED THAN ME??!!  Continue reading…

Either/or: How using the Internet affects our lives

Wired

Andrew White/WIRED

Ev Williams believes the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” In a speech reported by Wired, the co-inventor of Blogger and Twitter added, “We often think the internet enables us to do new things, but people just want to do the same things.”

For instance, we want to socialize, entertain ourselves, learn, and make work easier. The internet does all four better than any other convenience of the last century.

It does this in two ways, Williams explains. “Big hits on the internet (think Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon) are masters at making things fast and not making people think… But the internet is not a utopian world. It’s like a lot of other technological revolutions.”  Continue reading…