Greetings from a jazz bar in Sardinia, Italy! If you’d like to see what I pack when I also hit cold weather like the pelting rain of Scotland — while still keeping it under 20 lbs. — check out my recent post on Gadling here.
The Monica grape wine here is excellent and a new taste for me. In the spirit of trying new things, I wanted to share a few tips for the would-be bloggers/writers out there (that’s you at some point). Here are five timesavers to save you grief and suffering:
1. Decide how you’re measuring success before writing a post. What’s your metric? Form follows function.
Is it Technorati rank? Then focus on crafting 1-2-sentence bolded sound bites in the text that encourage quoting. Quotes can be just as important as content. Alexa or other traffic rank? Focus on making the headline and how-to appeal to tech-oriented readers on Digg, Reddit, etc. Number of comments? Make the topic either controversial or universal and end with a question that asks for opinions (slightly more effective than asking for experiences).
2. Post less to be read more.
No matter how good your material is, too much of it can cause feed-overwhelm and unsubscribes. Based on input from close to a dozen top bloggers I’ve interviewed, it takes an average of three days for a new post to propagate well in the blogosphere. If you write too often, pushing down the previous post and its visibility, you decrease the reach of each post, run the risk of increasing unsubscribes, and create more work for yourself. Test posting 2-4 times per week — my preference is two — and don’t feel compelled to keep up with the frequency “you have to post three times before lunch” Joneses. Quality, not quantity, is what spreads.
3. Define the lead and close, then fill it in.
This is a habit I picked up from John McPhee, a master of writing structure and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. Decide on your first or last sentence/question/scene, then fill in the rest. If you can’t decide on the lead, start with the close and work backwards.
A good formula for the lead, which I learned from a Wired writer, is: first sentence or paragraph is a question or situation involving a specific person, potentially including a quote; second paragraph is the “nutgraph,” where you explain the trend or topic of the post, perhaps including a statistic, then close the paragraph explaining what you’ll teach (the “nut”) the reader if they finish the post.
4. Think in lists, even if the post isn’t a list.
Separate brainstorming (idea generation) from synthesis (putting it all into a flowing post). I generally note down 10-15 potential points for a post between 10-10:30am with a double espresso, select 4-5 I like and put them in a tentative order from 10:30-10:45am, then I’ll let them marinate until 12am-4am, when I’ll drink yerba mate tea, craft a few examples to match the points, then start composing. It’s important to identify your ideal circadian schedule and pre-writing warm-up for consistent and reliable results.
5. The best posts are often right in front of you… or the ones you avoid.
Fear is the enemy of creativity. If a good serious post just isn’t coming, consider trying the obvious or ridiculous. Obvious to you is often revelatory for someone else, so don’t think a “Basic Confused Terms of Blogging” or similar return to basics would insult your readers. Failing a post on something you take for granted, go for lighthearted. Is this self-indulgent? So what if it is? It might just give your readers the respite from serious thinking they secretly crave. If not, it will at least give them an excuse to comment and get engaged. Two weeks ago at 3am, I was anxious because the words just wouldn’t flow for a ground-breaking post I wanted to finish. To relax, I took a 3-minute video of me doing a few pen tricks and uploaded it as a joke. What happened? It promptly hit the Digg frontpage the next morning and was viewed by more than 120,000 people within 24 hours. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and don’t cater to readers who have no sense of humor. If blogging can’t be fun at least some of the time, it isn’t worth doing.
Oktoberfest is good for reactivating German but bad for livers. ((c) Dave77459)
How can you possibly maintain fluency in two foreign languages — let alone five or six — if the opportunities to use them are months or years apart?
In 20 minutes, I leave from JFK for Iceland, then Scotland, and then a circle in Europe that will include Oktoberfest in Munich. Germany is strategic, as I want to “reactivate” my German before the media tour there.
Few topics provoke more anxiety and depression in language lovers than the prospect of forgetting a hard-earned language. After you return to your English-dominated homeland, how do you maintain your newfound skills, which seem to have yogurt-like expiration dates? Having juggled close to a dozen languages — keeping some and losing others — and having suffered the interference that goes it all, my answer now is simple: you don’t.
It is easier, and much more time-efficient, to catch up versus keep up.
Why struggle to maintain a foreign tongue in the US, for example, when you most often gain nothing more than bad habits? If you acquire the language in a native environment and attain an intermediate or advanced level of fluency, you can reactivate your language skills in four weeks or less when approached methodically. Would you rather spend four hours per week on your new language, only to see it get sick and bloated with a distinctly foreign-sounding twang, or spend two hours per day for 1-3 weeks and be right back at your fluency level from years prior?
I began reactivation of irretrievable German just over a week ago and can already hold a decent conversation. This is not a testament to my ability, but to the efficacy of a process that begins with massive passive exposure and avoids time-consuming review from square one:
1. Days 1-7: German films with English subtitles for at least two hours each evening for one week.
2. Days 3+: 10-20 pages of dialogue-rich manga (Japanese comics, here translated into German, that can be ordered in most languages from comic stores in your target country) for 30 minutes each morning and prior to bed. I’m a big fan of One Piece.
3. On the plane: Read a phrasebook in its entirety for active recall practice of common phrases (45 minutes of study alternated with 15 minutes of rest — this takes advantage of what is called the “primacy and recency” effect).
4. Upon arrival: Continue with manga and grammar reference checks as needed, using an electronic dictionary to reactivate vocabulary from conversation that is familiar but not understood.
5. Weeks 2-3: Thirty to sixty Vis-Ed flashcards daily. This seems like a lot, but most will have been covered in steps 1-3 using active recall (English to German). Vis-Ed compiles its sets of flashcards from word frequency lists and includes sample phrases for usage. I begin flashcards after three or four days in-country.
The sooner you decide to reactivate languages when needed, instead of maintaining them for an unspecified time in the future, the more leisure time you will have and the less diluted your language abilities will be when you need them.
Don’t fear losing languages if you’ve attained real fluency. They’re just in temporary storage with the covers pulled over them.
Odds and Ends: Please vote for me, and be on the CBS Early Show!
There are only 24 hours left… if you haven’t, please vote for my panel at the SXSW conference! It takes about 30 seconds and will allow me to pull together some of the best entrepreneurial minds in the world. Check out all of the panels and vote here.
ASAP: Would you like to be on the CBS Early Show? They are doing a segment on personal outsourcing and are looking for fun case studies in New York City (or people willing to travel there). If you are in/near NYC and have a good success story of using personal outsourcing, please share them in the comments here and I’ll pass your e-mail address to the producers!
The thought-awareness bracelet and the latest straw that broke the camel’s back.
“This $@#&ing mac will be the death of me. Intuitive, my ass.”
It just slipped out, and I don’t think I can be blamed. I was ready to leave the PC behind and take my mac overseas for the first time when I couldn’t figure out how to resize photos. On a friggin’ mac? I felt swindled. I also now had to move the bracelet.
For the last four months, I’ve been experimenting with a few types of thought experiments. The two most notable are Radical Honesty, which is 100% guaranteed to get you slapped or worse, and anti-complaining, which I’ll explain here. The latter started in my book agent’s office, where I spotted a pile of purple bracelets on his desk… Read More
Are the days of Da Vinci dead? Is it possible to, at once, be a world-class painter, engineer, scientist, and more?
“No way. Those times are long gone. Nothing was discovered then. Now the best you can do is pick your field and master it.”
The devout specialist is fond of labeling the impetuous learner–Da Vinci and Ben Franklin being just two forgotten examples–”jack of all trades, master of none.” The chorus unites: In the modern world, it is he who specializes who survives and thrives. There is no place for Renaissance men or women. Starry-eyed amateurs.
Is it true? I don’t think so. Here are the top five reasons why being a “jack of all trades,” what I prefer to call a “generalist,” is making a comeback:
5) “Jack of all trades, master of none” is an artificial pairing.
It is entirely possible to be a jack of all trades, master of many. How? Specialists overestimate the time needed to “master” a skill and confuse “master” with “perfect”… Read More
What is the true cost of your commute? One example comes from 4HWW reader Troy Gardner, who recently wrote to me:
I’m still work focused (I like creating things!), but since I control my time/location, I’m reaping some of the rewards of being among the New Rich. My girlfriend and I will be spending the entire month of October visiting Chicago and Hawaii. Since I’m project/laptop based I can work during the evenings/free time, while spending the time out and about, finally learning surfing, and maybe kiteboarding etc.
Here is his experience, in his own words, of going from shocked awareness to blissful mobility… Read More
What would you do if you had a 250-lb. football player on top of you?
Most women would be raped, and most men would be beaten unconscious.
In both cases, you end up on the ground and must first try and establish what’s called the “guard” position — your legs locked around your attacker’s mid-section, which allows you to better control distance. Most self-defense courses will only train you enrage your attacker, ensuring a worse ending.
Here are two ring-tested approaches that just plain work for saving your ass:
Want to see some of these moves in real life? Check out UFC 75 tonight for free at 9pm ET/PT on Spike TV. Not for the faint of heart but a good tutorial in what actually works. Be safe!
I consider physical training a crucial part of lifestyle design and optimization. This is the first of two posts that will focus on practical strategies for surviving a full-force physical attack.
Parts I and II focus on stand-up defense against punches and chokes, and parts III and IV — taught with UFC grappling coach, David Camarillo — will focus on ground escapes and finishes.
Trained competitive fighters have a wide range of techniques, but I will limit the video tutorials below to simple-to-remember defenses against the most common attacks for men and women in the standing and ground positions. First we’ll look at punch defenses for men (especially against the overhand right) and choke defenses for women… Read More
The spectrum of human memory potential: Daniel “Brainman” Tammet beats blackjack and Japanese schoolchildren become human calculators.
Numbers, or digit strings, are considered by many mnemonists and cognitive scientists to be the most difficult data to memorize. If numbers are both abstract and difficult, how did Hideaki Tomoyori of Japan memorize PI to more than 10,000 places?How did my classmate in Tokyo also multiply four-digit numbers in seconds?
The answer is proper encoding, or translation of the abstract to the concrete. Hideaki used what I’ll teach you here, whereas my classmate used a phantom abacus like in the above video.
The average person can only hold seven or fewer numbers in their working memory at any given time, using vocal repetition as an aid. Using proper encoding, trained subjects can memorize all of the area codes in the United States within a 24-hour period… Read More
“You’re nobody here at $10 million,” said Gary Kremen, the 43-year old founder of Match.com, of Silicon Valley.
In the August 5th New York Times article titled, “In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich,” he and others in the nation’s wealthiest 1/2 of 1 percent admitted to feeling compelled to work 60-80-hour work weeks just to keep up. Hal Steger, who’s banked more than $2 million and has a net worth of $3.5 million, echoes the sentiments of these “working-class millionaires” when he says, “…a few million doesn’t go as far as it used to. Maybe in the ’70s, a few million bucks meant ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,’ or Richie Rich living in a big house with a butler. But not anymore…
I live in a nice part of Silicon Valley, and I do whatever I want for less than $5,000 per month. There are more metrics to consider. More important, I’m “happy” by all conventional measurements. But I’ll be the first to admit… it hasn’t been this way for long. Only in the last three years have I really come to understand the concepts of time as currency and positional economics. Before I explain how you can use both to exit the rat race and dramatically upgrade your Lifestyle Quotient, let’s look at some numbers… Read More