Until I get around to writing a condensed, more interesting story, here’s a chronology of mostly personal events:
1979. Born in Moscow, Idaho to goodly parents named Brent and Cathy Snow as the fourth child of six and second son in the family. Moved to Oklahoma one month later.
1985. Started my formal education at Westwood Elementary School in Stillwater, Oklahoma while my father taught psychology at Oklahoma State University (Go Pokes!). Said formal schooling would last me 17 consecutive years (gulp) across three state programs.
1986. Exposed to my first home computer and modern video game console after my mother bought a colored IBM PCjr and some neighborhood friends scored a Nintendo Entertainment System. The love affair with technology, personal computers, and video games had begun.
My sister-in-law challenged our family to a plank-off recently. Person who could plank the longest wins. “I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t stomach those things for 30 seconds.”
Or so I told myself.
Before continuing my story, a quick note: Like any inherently lazy human, there are a lot of exercises I hate doing. But planks are the worst—invented by Satan himself. They’re right up there with Turkish getups, mountain climbers, and wall sits as most uncomfortable for me. So I wasn’t enthused to participate.
“I’m in!” my wife said. My daughter, too, was excited to compete. “I’ll try,” I relented, offending Jedi Masters everywhere. Continue reading…
This story first appeared in Paste Magazine after the heated election of President Trump
I just returned from an extraordinary hike through Patagonia’s great outdoors (review here). When I left, the world was collectively bracing itself for a politically incorrect and hugely unpredictable man to assume America’s highest office. Two weeks later, I returned to a world that was deeply concerned about Donald Trump’s hasty, religiously-profiled, and arbitrary American hold on accepting immigrants and visitors from seven Middle East countries.
Seemingly overnight, the world had become a more isolated and divided place. In uncertain times like this, it’s best to batten down the hatches, stay inside and keep to our own, right? At most, whirl a few zingers on social media from the comforts of home maybe?
While I can’t do anything for the millions affected by the travel ban and am hesitant to recommend visiting unwelcoming or otherwise hostile places, my answer is an emphatic “NO!” Continue reading…
Many 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 announcements 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…
Prior to graduating from college, I played drums in a trio band. We mostly played Killers, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, and Led Zeppelin covers in our bassist’s basement. We maybe played once a week for a month or so and didn’t even have a proper name. But we still wanted to rock.
Anxious to play a live set, we caught wind of an “Acoustic Battle of the Bands” to be played at BYU’s 22,000 seat capacity Marriott Center. I remember thinking, “Who says we can’t rock that? It says ‘acoustic,’ not low energy or slow tempo.” So we traded our electric guitar for an acoustic/electric and proceeded to tryouts that were being held in some small theater room in the English building.
Upon arrival, we were clearly out of place. As we lugged our full drum kit, half stack bass rig, and guitar amp down the hall, dozens of Dave Mathew wannabes practiced three chord love songs in squeaky voices to admiring girlfriends. My opinion of humanity worsened a little that day. But I digress. Our name was called, we entered the room and setup stage.
You are bound to encounter a noticeable number of people in life who don’t watch TV, avoid books, or ignore performance art and sports altogether. But you’ll probably never encounter someone who doesn’t watch movies—they’re that universal.
Because of this, film tourism (or “location vacations”) are a big deal. Indeed, an untold number of scenic or otherwise interesting places might not have entered our collective radars had some movie director chose to shoot somewhere else.
Of those immortalized backdrops, few trips are more iconic or deserving than to one of these. Continue reading…
A businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal village in Mexico. Just then, a skiff docked with one humble fisherman inside. His boat contained several large yellowfin tuna.
The businessman complimented the fisherman’s catch and asked how long it took to reel them in. “Only a little while,” the fisherman replied. The onlooker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer to 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 man pressed.
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, stroll the village each evening, sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos,” the fisherman replied. “I live a full life, señor.” Continue reading…
Before taking office, the vast majority of U.S. presidents were lawyers. President Trump, on the other hand, was a real estate developer, TV star, and hotelier of 14 properties—some of which by name-only.
One of those properties is Trump Waikiki. On a recent trip to Oahu I stayed there because at the time of booking and during my stay, Trump Waikiki was the number one rated hotel out of 84 in Honolulu, according to TripAdvisor.
That alone piqued my interest, as did the political novelty. But the real reason is because I was being hosted by the hotel in the hopes that I would write about it. And here we are. Not because I was contractually obligated to. In my capacity as a travel writer, I never guarantee coverage, meaning if I feel something doesn’t deserve your attention—even shiny freebies—I don’t write about it.
There’s solemn appreciation whenever I tell someone I’m headed to New Zealand. “Oh, wow!” they say. “My [insert relation] has traveled the world and that’s their favorite place.”
That reputation isn’t lost on me. But I wanted to know for myself—what’s so special about this two-island nation near the bottom of the world?
For one thing, it’s a long way away. Up to 10,000 miles for most people. In my case, it was 14 hours one way by jet. But after visiting both islands this month, I’d travel twice that number to visit New Zealand again. Here’s why. Continue reading…
It took the world a long time to discover Patagonia, the trendy adventure area shared by both southern Chile and Argentina. While other mountaineers had been hiking and climbing the Alps and Rockies for over a century, Patagonia wasn’t explored much until the 1980s. In fact, the recreational area didn’t become mainstream until the 21st century, when more accessible transportation, lodging and tourist amenities were finally added.
What’s all the fuss about? In between knife-like mountains, this is arguably the best place in the world to see moving glaciers. It is also a great place to meet gentle but playful people.
Last month I had the chance to examine this hauntingly majestic land up close on a guided tour with National Geographic Expeditions, the society’s official tour operator. Spoiler alert: it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Here’s what I witnessed hiking to what some call South America’s greatest “national park.” Continue reading…
On Earth, 12,450 miles is the farthest anyone can get from home. Take one more step in any direction, and you will have started your return journey from the halfway point.
Until I visit one of these places (aka 45° meridian east), I came as close to that point as I ever have last month. The distance from my home in Provo to Durban is over 10,000 miles, where I began a life-changing journey through the motherland.
I should have grasped this impressive separation sooner than I did. Upon booking airfare, total flight time read over 22 hours across three flights. “That’s a long haul,” I passingly noted, before moving to other travel arrangements. Continue reading…
There are a lot of productivity myths. For instance, early birds are more productive, structure kills creativity, adding resources increases output, and more. Although well intentioned, these are all wrong.
So what works? What productivity hypotheses have been tested and proven by science? After sifting through dozens of top search results, reports, and studies, this is what I found. The most convincing, substantiated, and established productivity strategies: Continue reading…
Most of it relates to typos. Some of it relates to disagreement or additional viewpoints. On occasion, I even get fan mail—how lovely.
As for typo-related mail, most of that is really nice. “Hey, Blake. Enjoyed your story on [insert popular story here]. Noticed a typo, however, and thought I’d share.”
Some of it gives me the benefit of the doubt. “Hi, Blake. Perhaps your spellcheck mistakenly changed ‘espoused’ to ‘expelled’?”
“No, kind reader,” I’ll reply. “My bad diction stuck again. Thanks for keeping me honest.”
Still, some of the mail I receive is unforgiving. As if my mistakes should disbar me from contributing to mainstream media. As if I should master English before using it to articulate a point, tell a story, answer a question, or inspire change. Continue reading…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.”
I 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…
I don’t always study philosophy, but when I do, I make it count.
Case in point: A friend and I were recently discussing the human condition over email. Exhilarating stuff, I know. I’ll skip to the best part.
Basically, we decided that humans struggle to internalize both complex and simple realizations. Complex ones because they’re harder to grasp, and simple takeaways because we’re usually too distracted by temptations, desires, and pleasures to see them through, even if we believe in them (or so argues Aristotle; more on him later).
At this point, I asked my buddy, “So if humans struggle to comprehend both complex and simple ideas, what in the HELL are we good at?”
His reply, “Entertainment. And nothing else.” Full stop. The gravity and strategic double periods of his remark made me do this:
At which point I enrolled in a 36-course undergraduate class from Smith College. Not exactly. But I did download the audible version of the class, The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World’s Greatest Thinkers, from Amazon!
Having already graduated (go, fight, win!), I did this solely for my own enlightenment. Little did I know how much impact professor Jay Garfield’s masterful curriculum would have on my worldview, existential outlook, and shared beliefs with others.
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…
Content marketing has been around for centuries—ever since the first newspaper figured out they could sell ad space against stories that interested people. But it wasn’t until the last few years—even after mostly failed corporate blogging efforts—that content marketing has become a staple of modern marketing budgets in the social media age.
Consequently, commercial brands, communication departments, and Fortune 500 marketing arms are hiring former journalists, editors, and content strategists at an astonishing rate. One well-known software maker I consult for even has a bona fide news department. The place bustles like the New York Times newsroom. Their editorial content is generating executive interest and finding traction with online audiences.
That said, we’re still in the wild west of content marketing. Here are 10 ways to lay claim on the new frontier. Continue reading…
I recently sampled a book in which the author said such-and-such was the “second most enchanting thing” he’d ever seen, save only seeing his wife for the first time. The line made me reflect upon the first time I met my wife:
For 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…
I have found, as many before me, that with age comes added responsibility and a much larger to-do list. I’m arguably busier than I’ve ever been in my life with managing a marriage, a new baby, a company, and working on several other projects. Opportunity surrounds us, and I want to take it all in. I hope to learn, experience, and do as much as I can (or even can’t sometimes) throughout my life. I thoroughly enjoy meeting new people, learning new things, and finding other ways of applying the little that I know.
While pondering all of this on my way to Salt Lake City this morning and after catching myself saying “I’m so busy,” to those around me, I couldn’t help but think how this claim might sound to the receiver. Does that phrase add any value to the person listening? Does that make them feel important? If it doesn’t, then do away with it. Continue reading…
What do all those silly corporate titles really mean? Let’s find out.
According to Wikipedia, the Chairman (of the board) is pretty much the top dog. He elects the CEO and President who then elect the rest of the down line. The Chairman and the rest of the board are more concerned with governance while the CEO and President are more concerned with management. The distinction between governance and management allows for clear lines of authority with the aim being to prevent a conflict of interest and too much power being concentrated in the hands of one person.
The President can also be known as COO or chief operating officer, taking care of the day-to-day operations of the company while the CEO is more concerned with strategic management. The President or COO report directly to the CEO, and the CEO to the board.
These titles are generally used for large, public corporations, while partners (chair persons) and directors (managers) are typically used for smaller, private firms. There you have it.
A message—whether an email, voice-mail, sticky note, or blog post—is just a mini presentation. It’s a way of conveying information to an audience. To effectively do so, I try to adhere to the following 3 principles.
Be brief. Say what you need to say and nothing more. Keeping it simple will allow your audience to understand and remember what you want them to.
Be detailed. In what you do choose to say, tell the audience specifically what they need to know, including quantities, hard deadlines, and delivery.
Have structure. Write, record, annotate, say, or outline your message in an organized manner, so there is no confusion.
If you are brief, detailed, and structured when conveying information to an audience, your message will be loud and clear. Just be sure you have something important to say…