Introducing The Bearded Brain

in-the-earsYou may have seen me, over the past couple of weeks, posting on social media about The Bearded Brain, a new email newsletter I've put together.

Just a little bit about it: It's a collection of some interesting stuff I've seen, listened to, and, sometimes, discussed with friends throughout the week.

It's free, it's weekly (I send it on Tuesday), and I think you'll find it interesting.

You can see an issue here, so you know what to expect.

It's off to a good start, and I'd appreciate you trying it out for a couple of issues. I use a third party tool, so you can do your subscribing through them, and later unsubscribe with them if you wish, so there's no awkward, "Uh, Josh, I think I'm good" moment if you don't like it.

You can sign up here.

Thanks for checking it out!


3 things to make your life easier in 2014

Three quick small changes you can make in everyday habits to shave some time.

1. Loop the other way when you tie your shoes.

This takes some getting used to, since you've been tying your shoes one way for decades. It took me about a month to make this automatic, but the knot definitely holds more strongly.

2. Eat more of your apple.

Do you routinely ignore apples as a snack because they leave you wanting a little more (or alternatively because you have to look for apples that have been pumped full of steroids to get bigger and so they don't taste like anything)? You're leaving too much core. I don't know what the guy in this video did with his seeds, but leaving only the seed pouch and stem, you wind up leaving a bit of apple a touch smaller than an avocado seed.

3. Peel your hard-boiled eggs by blowing on them.

This takes some practice, and the baking soda and temperature change are both important – the first time I tried, I didn't cool the eggs very much and the shells didn't pop off. Once you get the hang of it, though, you can peel a half dozen eggs in a minute or two instead of ten.

What things do you do to increase your productivity?

Three things you can read every week to get smarter in 2014

I read a lot. Most of the stuff I read is absolute crap, but I read it because I'm hoping it will teach me something. But no longer. I spent 2013 consuming as many words as I could, and I figured out that there are three things I could read every week that will make me smarter.

That's not to say I don't think there are other useful newsletters out there, and that I'll stop reading books and features and news and such. I'm just going to be more picky – a little more selfish with my time.

These are the three things that I read every week, that I think you should, as well.

1. James Altucher's weekly Twitter chat. James Altucher has done a few things right in his life, and a lot of things wrong. The things he's gotten right vastly outweigh the others, though, and I think he's a really smart guy (I recommend his book, Choose Yourself!, as well). He hosts an "ask me anything" Twitter chat Thursdays from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Eastern. During that hour, tweet him at @jaltucher and he'll respond.

I tend to go to his Twitter page and refresh every few minutes so that I can monitor the answers, and then I have the option to check out the question if I wish. If you can't catch it live, you can always head to his page later and scroll back through. You get not only his collected wisdom, but also you get to read what people are asking about, which might give you some ideas as well.

I think you can get just as much from lurking here as you could participating.

2. Mitch Joel, Alistair Croll and Hugh McGuire's weekly link exchange. Each week, three entrepreneurs collect one link for each of the other two, resulting in a blog post every Saturday on Mitch Joel's blog titled Six Links Worthy of Your Attention. Some weeks you'll find more interesting than others, but that will come down entirely due to personal preference. Give yourself a little time; it's worth at least reading all the explanations, and if you wind up clicking something, you might be in for 15-20 minutes of reading or watching.

The links run the gamut from entrepreneurship to education to space exploration to music, sculpture and everything else.

3. Brain Pickings weekly. Maria Popova writes long-form blog items that are really, really interesting. She writes on writing, habits, music, language, science and a variety of other topics, and she always has interesting take-aways from people who know their fields and have names like Einstein, Fitzgerald and Sontag (that is, names you've heard).

Each Sunday, she sends out a newsletter that can help you through your first pot and a half of coffee (you can't tell me I'm the only one, especially on Sunday morning).

Other newsletters I get include a daily email from Web Urbanist, which usually includes some cool photos with a little text (recent ones included a former subterranean brewery that is now a bunch of hot tubs and heated pools, and a post on large concrete arrows in the middle of the U.S. desert that appear to point nowhere but in the 1920s helped direct mail traffic by air before the use of radar), and a weekly offering from C. Hope Clark at Funds for Writers; she writes about the craft of writing, and also about marketplaces, grants and contests.

What do you read consistently that you'd like to share?

What’s wrong with online reading (question mark or period, you decide)

This is the 500th post on this blog (for those of you who have been with me online for a while, you know I've had a few blogs and this is more like the 1500th post I've written, but it's an interesting enough milestone for this specific post, I think).

Settle in. If (big if, it turns out) you actually read this post for comprehension, it'll take a good half hour or so, starting with the 15 minutes you're about to spend clicking through this presentation from Randy Connolly at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

We've known for a while (through studies and our own behavior), that we scan, rather than really reading online. And it appears that the earliest eye-tracking studies we had are still relevant; essentially we look at the screen in an F pattern, reading the first few words of each line, and maybe the first and third or second and fourth paragraphs on a page.

So we don't read in-depth when we're looking at a screen, but isn't the web a great place for learning?

Not really, it turns out. We have such short attention spans that we just jump from hyperlink to hyperlink, scanning pages and not absorbing very much. Our retention is terrible.

With the glut of information available, you might also think that we'd get a wider diversity of viewpoints, but that's also incorrect. In social spaces, we tend to follow those who agree with us. In research, we search Google, and, if we don't like the first two results, most of us just change our search term.

This surprised me: Only one in six people can identify which search results are sponsored and which aren't, so there's a good chance that 80% of the people reading online are getting their information from advertisements.


The other interesting thing in the presentation is the implication for newspapers (start at slide 76). People who read a hard copy (the physical newspaper) tend to read every section and read articles of all types. People who read online self-select their stories, and tend to read more entertainment and less information. Because it's entertaining, which is why we call it entertainment.

Newspaper design has changed a fair bit since the advent of the Internet, too – pages used to be full of dense, small type, with few photos and small-to-medium headlines. Now, pages feature lots of white space, huge headline type, and large, colorful images.

I can't help but think circulations are not only dipping because younger people aren't buying the paper, but also because people who have read newspapers for years are unimpressed with the website-ification of the printed product. [That's another discussion for another day.]

The biggest thing I learned from this presentation was this: We're born to scan. From an evolutionary standpoint, we are always on the lookout for danger or food. Reading requires a lot of focus, and we've only been able to spend that focus on reading since the advent of leisure time. On an evolutionary scale, that's not a very long time.

Bottom line: if you really want to comprehend something – and if you want your kids, students, friends, etc., to understand something better – give them a book, or write them a letter longhand.

Or make evolution move faster. Just sayin'.

Create something

Rodney Mullen is an icon from my youth. He was the first to do a lot of things with a skateboard. From a public eye standpoint, he was usually overshadowed by Tony Hawk, but from a skating standpoint, the two were complementary – Hawk did a lot of power moves: high air, lots of twists and spins, while Mullen did a lot of board flips and slides and tricks that take place over a short jump.

While Hawk worked on getting a little more hang time so he could get one more rotation in, Mullen worked on getting his deck to do something different, like ride on its side or do a couple of flips with a rotation while he was in the air.

But this is not about Tony Hawk vs. Rodney Mullen.

This is about creating something.

If you're the kind of person who's into presentation, Mullen's TED talk isn't going to do anything for you. But the content of the talk? Wow.

Mullen's the kind of innovator who never needed a large stage, or a drawing board, or conventional tools. He took the thing he loved doing, and did things with it nobody'd ever done.

Because he wanted to.

Because creating is fun.

So go out, and create something. Because creating's fun. Do it for the sake of creating something. Don't worry about the rest; just go out and do it. And do it with purpose. If you're not ready to create something big, create something small. Let it grow. It doesn't matter what your scale, just create.

What’s the value of free?

Oh my. Did you watch that video? Because if not, you should. It's about a prayer book. A really old one. That was written on top of three other books. By that, I mean whoever wrote the prayer book had these three books. He cut them up, erased them, bound them again, and then wrote the prayer book.

A thousand or so years later, the prayer book winds up on a professor's desk, and they try to figure out what lies underneath the prayer book.

And they found previously undiscovered works by Archimedes. Archi-fucking-medes. Previously. Undiscovered. Works.

And guess what? After a decade of work and doing all sorts of amazing things to reconstruct it and gave us all the work they did for free. For fucking free! Seriously, it's all right there at that link!

A whole bunch of people spent 10 years of their lives on this, and we have it for free use, for the love of knowledge.

Think about that the next time someone offers you something for free. Don't just shrug it off because you think "free" means "worthless." Consider that you could be privy to something amazing. You might not be – but then again, you've probably paid for plenty of stuff that might be considered crap.

Want some other stuff that's free that I've found absolutely amazing?

» The Flinch, by Julien Smith
» The Hero Handbook (PDF), by Nate Green
» 279 Days to Overnight Success, by Chris Guillebeau

Now go. Get reading. If you don't like them, I'll double your money back.

Dollar Shave Club

I'm officially a fan-boy.

For those of you who don't know me, I require a lot of razor blades. I shave my head, and if I could get a job growing beards, I'd be among the highest paid members of my profession. Think: "I just saw you last week. Where the hell did you get that four-inch goatee?"

In case you haven't noticed, razor blades are not cheap. They're also not good.

I've been a Schick Quattro guy for a few years now. I pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 for 8 replacement blades, and I go through about 2 a week. If I decide to go 10 days or so without shaving, I'll burn an extra one or two on top of that. Seriously. I should have gone into radio. Or poetry. You know, something where I'm not in front of people and pretty shaggy totally isn't an issue as long as you don't stink.

Then I learned about Dollar Shave Club back in late February. For the price, I couldn't say no to trying it. I joined their $9 a month plan, which includes a handle at sign-up and then three 5-blade razors a month.

And then I got this email:

Last week the Internet came to visit, and as a result, we're unable to fulfill your order right now.

Yes, we think this sucks too. But we're giving you options.

Those options were take your money back now, no harm, no foul, or wait it out and we'll ship in May.

It's embarrassing not to be able to fulfill first orders. It's also a pretty awesome problem to have way exceeded your initial expectations.

I decided to wait it out. I mean, it's still the same amount of money, and it's still way cheaper than I've been paying.

They said they'd ship on the 15th, so I haven't actually shaved in a week, anticipating the arrival of my new razor. It came today, and it took care of a week's worth of growth cleanly. No razor burn (what?!), no cuts, no dulling. The blades are pretty freakin' amazing. And they're half the price of what I've been paying.

Good customer service recovery, and a great product. I get a free month if you use my link. Please do. Here it is.

Why a PC bought an iPad

I was brought up an Apple guy.

The products are sleek and easy to use (sleek is relative, I guess, since the first Apple my family used was an Apple IIe, which was basically a box on top of another box, and my first Apple was an LC II, which was the same box-on-box design, just bigger).

But since the resurgence of Apple, I've been a PC guy. For a third of the price point, I could get a machine that wasn't as cool-looking, but definitely handled everything I needed more than adequately.

When the first iPad debuted, it looked cool as hell. But my take on it then was that it was too big to replace my phone and too small to replace my laptop.

Over the past year or so, as mobile application development really started to do great things in terms of productivity, I've been seriously looking at tablets.

My life is Google-based. I've been using Android phones. But the Android tablets just aren't up to snuff.

When Apple announced the new iPad last week, the company dropped the price of the iPad 2, which priced it competitively with Android tablets, making it worthwhile.

I've been using the tablet for a few days now. I still have a lot of work to do to get myself set up; I use multiple social networks (and multiple accounts on some of them), I have an Apple ID that dates back to when the iTunes store first launched but isn't tied to an email address I use regularly. I have to learn a new software suite and get back to using the Apple keyboard shortcuts, which are different from the PC keyboard shortcuts.

I've played with some photo editing software, and I've published my first blog post, and with this, my second.

I may need to pick up a wifi capable printer (that'd actually help us around the house anyway, since we have two smart phones, two PCs, an Apple, an iPod Touch and now the iPod, so our Dropbox accounts render irrelevant which device we're using).

Let me know your favorite apps so that I can give them a try.

Use all your available input

There's a lot in this talk. It's about chemicals and food and saving the environment by tricking your taste buds into thinking that the watermelon grown in some guy's back yard down the street is tuna transported from the Pacific Ocean 2500 miles inland.

What I'm taking from it today, though, is that your eyes can't always be trusted. You need to take in all the available information via all your available senses, and you need to process it through your brain, and then you can decide if you really have what you think you have.

Be careful, though, to not put yourself through an endless data processing loop. Make a decision, but make it a good one.

Backing Salmonboy

One night, New York City-based experimental filmmaker Star Drooker had a dream about a woman with a birth mark in the middle of her forehead. The next morning, he drove to Vermont, and met Trish Overstreet. Within 24 hours they had decided they would get married, open a vegetarian cafe and performance space, have a child named Jesse, and do a film project surrounding the whole thing.

They traveled the country looking for a place to open the cafe. They narrowed it down to either Portland, Oregon, or Northampton, Massachusetts. After getting stranded nearby in a heavy snowfall, they decided on Northampton.

The plan was to be this: They'd open the cafe, they'd have Jesse, they'd raise him in the cafe for four years, then put together the film.

Well, I think it was John Lennon who wrote, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

They opened Fire & Water, a vegetarian cafe and performance space, in late 1994. Trish was pregnant.

Jesse was born February 4, 1995 with what Star refers to as "a particular heart." They unplugged the machines 19 days later.

But just because he wasn't crawling around Fire & Water, doesn't mean Jesse wasn't a major part of the place. Star and Trish built an altar with photos and toys and stories. Each night after the performances ended, Star would play a song called "Salmonboy" he wrote for Jesse; sometimes it was three minutes long, other times it was longer than an hour.

Time went by. Trish got pregnant again, and Rain Arrow was born. Healthy. And the couple had to make a decision. It had been a really emotional ride for three and a half years. They had a four year lease on the space, and countless friends who helped out, who shared songs and stories and poems and love. Their initial plan was to start the film after four years, and that time was fast approaching.

They decided to re-up for another four years, and raise Rain in the space. He became such a big part of the place that any evening he wasn't there, you could feel the energy that was missing.

In October of 2002, I sat down with Star and Trish and interviewed them for the arts newspaper I was editing. They had reached the end of the next four-year lease, and they made the difficult decision to close up shop. So many people had come through their door over the past eight years. They found love. They found refuge. They found peace. They found an amazing meal and amazing people and an amazing child who one regular described as "another teacher."

In November of that year they closed up shop. On the last night they were open, 80 people showed up (it was a small space, comfortably seating about 30). The tables and chairs were gone. We sat in a ring around the outside, shared songs, shared stories. Rain dozed in a sleeping bag in the corner. Nobody understood how to walk out the door one last time.

Over the next few months, they started filming. They interviewed many of the cafe regulars. And then, while you'd hear something once in a while about Star or Trish or the project, things largely settled down.

But Star was still working on things. He teamed up with a documentary film producer – someone who told stories in a linear fashion to offset his experimental background – and they watched film and cut film and shot film and cut more. Last year, they showed what they had, then went back to the cutting room.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I sat in Star and Trish's new cafe, Cafe Evolution, which has an expanded menu but fewer performances (it's a day-time cafe in a day-time town smaller than Northampton), and watched the 110-minute cut of Salmonboy: A Story of Fire & Water. They're at a point where they are ready to team up with a bigger, more commercial outlet, to do another round of editing and to distribute it.

The film is about Rain, Jesse, Star and Trish, and their roller coaster journey. The cafe is a character in it, but you certainly don't ever have to have walked through the door, never mind have been there three, four or more times a week, as many people were.

Star and PJ, the documentary filmmaker, are doing a Kickstarter project, hoping to raise $19,000 to keep sending the film to festivals and work on that wider distribution. Help them out by donating at their Kickstarter page.