July 18, 2016

Facts don't matter, embarrassing videos of me and more links

Hey there friend,
I can summon great patience for a purpose. But my intrinsic motivation is to learn and improve myself. When I feel stuck in place, I pretty quickly look for an exit strategy -- from a conversation, an event or a project. So I try to understand other people's motivations through that same personal view: how can a given conversation, event or project keep her motivated? We all have different motivations, but I tend to think that's a pretty good one.

So, consider this my effort to keep you motivated to open an email from me -- I hope you learn something or do something differently because of it. If you do, shoot me an email or tweet me. If you have feedback I want that too: for one, with this being my third, I am noticing that I may want to share too much to keep this to only a monthly. (There are again a lot links :) More on that - tell me what you think. 

And as always, forward this to others if you think they might enjoy it. 

Now links:


Stop using facts alone to try to win arguments. Whether you like it or not, facts -are- fungible or, more clearly, perspectives on what facts mean can vary widely. Instead, approach a difference of opinion "as a partnership," in which two sides have to negotiate an accord. This is called the 'backfire effect' and is a long-understood phenomenon in the social sciences: if you tell me I'm wrong and give me a fact, you've only put me on the defensive and made me retrench into my opinion. If you really want to help me, approach me with understanding and listen. Related: my close friend Sean Blanda writes about this a lot, (his recent most here) but more on that in a coming month. 

Be sensitive to how challenging news can impact your coworkers, friends and family different than you. Racially-informed unrest and difficult discourse isn't new in our multicultural country. But the last month has certainly featured some of the most heightened tensions of a generation, with an array of highly publicized killings of black men and police officers that our president has called an American problem. As one half of a two-white-male-cofounder relationship, we approached this news timidly but openly. We were *not* silent on the subject but felt it wrong for us to lead. About half of our team is made of people of color, so we encouraged some others to set the tone for our office. This "open letter to white people," took on that kind of tone: just let people have feelings. (It's OK to have them too). "...misdirected rage is not necessarily illegitimate rage."

Challenge your own comfort with sexuality. It's as core to humanity as food and shelter, but we're nowhere near as public about its health implications. Bound by my own traditional societal worldview, I aim to follow smart people who take a fun, curious and intellectual view of sex to challenge my comforts. Among them has long been the fiery adult film actress Stoya. In 2009 I profiled her for Technical.ly, based primarily on a more than hour-long conversation with her in a South Philly coffee shop, near where she was living then. This month, New York Magazine profiled the now-Brooklyn resident following her high profile accusation of rape by her former boyfriend, a porn star in his own right. Follow her @Stoya and/or for a slightly more consistently SFW voice on sexuality, follow my friend Dr. Timaree Schmit

If you have or are going to have children, build a strong supportive family and friend network. Because American parents have long had a "happiness gap" between their childless peers, unless they have lots of familial support. 

Understand threshold theory. Malcolm Gladwell is one of those public intellectuals who got so popular that he catches flack but I tend to be someone who can appreciate them for the insight they share and leave it at that. So "pop science" critics aside, I've been digging into Gladwell's new-ish weekly podcast Revisionist History, including a popular episode that uses an approachable story to explain threshold theory. Why don't more NBA basketball players who struggle with foul shots shoot underhanded, which is objectively an easier way to do it? Pure vanity, he says, and players have a "low threshold" for criticism about the optics of their game. Last fall he used threshold theory to explain school shootings and got some backlash, but it remains intriguing. 

Find what3words you live at. There's this crazy effort to geolocate every nine square meters in the world with a unique three-word designation. Mongolia, which lacks the robust address system of countries like the United States, is entering in a massive partnership with the company behind it to address system. You can find your own address using the system.

Follow NASA's Juno space probe now in Jupiter's orbit. Space remains mind blowing.

Learn something new everyday. In June, I kept track of something specific I learned each day of the month. See the list here. It was a little experiment to get a sense of the kinds of things I learn and how I do so. It was fun, I recommend it, among other quirky daily tracking things I've tried. In November 2014, I donated or threw out possessions of mine for each day of the month -- five things on Nov. 5, 13 things on Nov. 13, etc.
Stop saying Millennials are entrepreneurial. In fact, young people today are on track to be among the least entrepreneurial generation in memory. Why? Well, they may be independent contractors or freelancers but they're not hiring people and building companies. All the noise around a post-recession startup boom is more about the need for it, rather than its existence. I took a recent dive into related business incorporation data and wrote about it here.

Make more effective learning platforms. Everybody is coming to break the university model, from vocational schools to project based learning and the like.

Get video of you doing embarrassing things. I ate a 'Philly Taco' and somehow won my way into one of those ridiculous 'money showers.'

"If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him" Voltaire said that.

Challenge even the most exciting new efforts. There's this smart guy I've never met named Dan X O'Neill who led this group in Chicago focused on new approaches to how citizens might engage with government. He recently left that group he led and wrote a big ol' post about the challenges of funding similar 'civic innovation' groups and, more pressingly, whether they should be funded at all. I think it's kinda great when people really challenge things that people want to love. This is healthy. I'm glad he did it, though it ruffled many feathers. (h/t @mheadd)

Learn that all the big gains in venture capital are with the most successful firms. I was poking around the latest Cambridge Associates U.S. venture capital index numbers (check Page 8), a wonderful collection of data, though always delayed due to reporting lag. Looking at 2014 and historical figures, you can see that all the big returns (the 20% annual return for much of the last five 

Always question the validity of online media. To be honest, I'm still not certain this is real or not (I'm leaning toward it being true) but I try to always start with skepticism when I see outrageous videos like this teenager riding his bicycle toward a bus and then veering at the last minute.

If you want to be great, you should learn from greats of all stripes. I love hearing from pretty much anyone who wants to be a master at something. If you care more about something of substance you do than damn near anyone, I want to hear from you. And, surprise, surprise, comedian Louie CK has long fit squarely into that category. I recently came across this interview from last year he had with Charlie Rose that is lovely. Among other great parts, at 17:30, he talks about the similarities between comedy writing and sculpting, which features both additive and subtractive forms.

Get ready for a wave of independence movements. Globalization makes it far easier for smaller countries to survive: trade agreements and peace accords do much of the work that having outsized national influence once had. Brexit could inform Scottish and Catalan independence movements. Why wouldn't partisan U.S. states do the same? If the Kurdish peshmerga could unite, they just might be the most functioning country in the Levant. 

Sometimes just let people live. This lovely episode of NPR podcast Invisibilia (shoutout to my friend and one of the show's producer's Yowei Shaw) focuses on the trouble with always finding a solution. Its focus is on mental illness and how research shows people are really crummy at caring for their family members with mental health challenges. Strangers, who don't have expectations, let people live on their own and they often thrive. This reminded me of that This American Life episode on playing along with dementia patients. (h/t JR)

Adapt your personal content strategy brand. It's super inconvenient to me that Tumblr could be fading away. I use it for my personal silly postings of fun things I do. Instagram may be taking over that.

Tell me how much you think super wealthy people keep in their bank checking account. It's a little personal finance poll I've been asking friends lately. I'll talk to someone who knows this sort of thing for a real answer but I like the thought experiment: does someone like Lebron James have a large amount (like more than $100k) because it's still such a trivial amount to him or a surprisingly low threshold (say below $10k) because he has a money manager who is handling it all?

Listen to Fred Eaglesmith sing his song 'Trucker Speed.' It's painful and haunting and I love it. It featured prominently in a road trip mix CD my friend and I listened to last month.

Remember that data is still manipulated by people. You can call it "math-washing" like we did in this Technical.ly Brooklyn report. From 'lies, damn lies and statistics,' we've always known numbers can be used to evade the truth. But yikes, we're in a new era of it.

Go on a team retreat with the people you work with. We can't have a big budget to do so, but for the fourth year in June, we at Technically Media did just that and, wow, this one was maybe the most special yet. With a team of more than 20 there, there was considerable magic. I'll write more about that shortly.

Connect your at-risk neighborhood around innovation. Back in January our Technical.ly Baltimore reporter Stephen Babcock wrote this very nice feature on a community organizing around giving its residents access to resources normally only focused on familiar creative class groups. I've been sharing it quite a bit lately as we plan to do more work with the group. It's a model to watch.

Save energy by pushing a bunch of water up a hill. Turns out this is one of the most effective ways to store industrial-scale energy. This was news to me.

Cherish your neighbors. I moved on to my Philadelphia rowhome block in 2009, as one of only two non-locals (I bought, and there was one rental lived in by a hipster friend). A half-dozen homes on the block have changed hands in that time, all by kind, good neighbors, but it's still changing. One of the oldest couples, among the first neighbors I met, left their native neighborhood for a retirement home recently, and it got me thinking about a Philly Weekly story from 2004 about my neighborhood changing even then. In it, the first neighbor of mine I ever met, who passed on a couple years back, was featured in the lede and prominently throughout. The final quote in the story is his: "They'll bury me here" he said then. I walk by his grave in the neighborhood pretty quickly and smile at his playful memory. 

Person I love: Go ahead and say hello to El Sawyer (on instagram). He's fun and quirky and eminently malleable, and I'm shocked to say, I've known him for about 10 years. Whether he's nervously meeting with President Obama, doing a Reddit AMA or reluctantly becoming a public face for incarceration reform, he remains so damn approachable. He's using his fledgling social justice-focused film production company Ming Media (which he cofounded with our mutual friend Jon Kaufman, someone else I'm going to rave about in coming months) to connect returning citizens with resources and, more lastingly, confront our lack of preparedness as a society for prison reform. Watch their latest demo reel here. He's just landed a prestigious new fellowship: to celebrate, watch his TEDx talk here. I can remember him somewhat nervously telling me for the first time that he had been incarcerated. This was maybe 2007, and he said it with at least a degree of uncertainty, as if he wasn't quite sure if that was going to change our budding friendship. It didn't -- he was at my wedding last year -- but he's had to face circumstances when it has impacted him. Still, he always has the perspective that, as strange as it might be to say, he's been lucky. Compared to other returning citizens, he's had a fairly (positively) exceptional life already. Remember that criminal justice reform is a bipartisan issue worth addressing.


Hey, I love you. I really, genuinely do. Go tell someone something you love about them, without provocation or explanation. Be the change you want in the world: you know, like, wash your hands in the bathroom like everybody is watching. See you in a few weeks. I'll miss you until then.