More than just information

“If information were the answer," Derek Sivers once told Tim Ferriss, "we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”

If you are of a certain age, you remember CDs, and if you were early enough to the internet, you remember that once upon a time, CDBaby was the place for independent musicians to sell their wares.

Sivers created CDBaby, then sold it for a boatload of money, which he largely gave away.

He's read, reviewed and synopsized dozens of books so that you don't have to.

Information, then, is important to him, or he wouldn't have done all that reading.

But there's something more. The information isn't enough. It needs to be mixed with the best of each of us to take form, to become something greater.

Be undeniably you


Twinsies!? From left: Vin Diesel, Adam Sandler, Josh Shear.

"Hey, man, you look like Vin Diesel!"

"Hey, thanks! Check this out: I even have the haircut," I replied, lifting up my cap for proof.

I was in a hotel bar, towel over my shoulder, fanny pack around my waist, handing a crumpled $20 bill over the counter for a lager in a plastic cup.

Diesel (real name Mark Sinclair), is listed at just shy of six feet tall and around 225 pounds. He's 60 years old. When I saw a trailer for a recent film of his, I asked, "when did Adam Sandler get so big?" Sandler is also 50 years old. He's listed at 5'9" and about 185 pounds.

I'm 10 years their junior, 5'2" tall (on a good day, I might hit 5'3") and at my heaviest, I tend to weigh in around 165 pounds. I'm not anywhere near Sandler's size, never mind Diesel's.

The guy at the bar who told me I looked like Diesel was working on his second Budweiser, so let's assume he was pretty well with it.

Anyway, it's at least flattering to be taken for a celebrity. Even a celebrity I sometimes mistake for another celebrity.

To be honest, I've seen very few of their movies, combined. Sorry, gentlemen. I respect your art, it's just not for me. But you keep doing you.

And that's what this is about — you being you.


Be you. Be your own original. You look like what you look like — or whom you look like, for that matter — but don't let those comparisons shape the person you are or would like to be.


I was told the evening before I was mistaken for an action movie star that there is a dentist in Milwaukee who could be my twin.

I stood looking contemplatively for a moment at the woman who told me that. I may have stood vacantly for just a moment too long because she apologized for any offense; I told her no, I was just filing that away in case that information became useful someday.

See also: Reasonable doubt.

I had been reading The Godfather at the time.


Again, be you. Be an original. Whether you resemble a famous actor or a bodybuilder or a dentist in Milwaukee, if you're not one of those things, don't try to become them. Don't emulate them.

Be the person you are, or become the person you will become.

Know your audience (or at least get their money before you insult them)


Photo by Jenny Shear

The Waimea Canyon lookout at Pu'u Hinahina on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i is 13 miles up a winding road. About 10 miles up that road there is another lookout, and the sign makes it unclear which way the road continues and which way the lookout rests.

We accidentally pulled off three miles before the beginning of our planned hike and figured that we'd take in a view before continuing up.

When we got to the lookout, there was a man (pictured above) who told us some of the history and customs of the native Hawaiian people. Before hula became a sensual dance performed by women in coconut bras and grass skirts, it was a war dance performed by men in masks hoping to send the enemy into retreat before combat became necessary.

He taught us a little about the language, about how the word aloha breaks down into alo, meaning a shared presence, and ha, the breath of life.

And then he told us a little about himself and what he does.

You see, a few years ago, he was arrested and charged with being an unlicensed vendor. He'd been coming to this spot with a tip basket and a history lesson for tourists to provide for his family, unsanctioned by the parks service or any state agency.

He argued in his own defense, asking the judge for proof that the prosecuting attorney had jurisdiction to arrest and charge him. He said he didn't recognize the United States' sovereignty over Hawaii. He asked to see the articles of annexation. After five trips to court — five days he couldn't provide for his family because he was in court — his case was dismissed after the prosecutor failed to provide the requested document.

He continued his story about how Kaua'i, the furthest Hawaiian island from the US mainland (outside of one privately owned island with a small, mostly native population) and least developed to date, is being bought up by people who love its unspoiled nature, and are spoiling it. He complained about Mark Zuckerberg's purchase of 700 acres on the island.

At this point, his crowd started to scatter. He'd received one tip from someone who left before he got into his lesson.

As you might guess, his audience was largely (probably entirely) tourists. All were white. No one wanted to stick around to hear how badly we were destroying things — we knew we had a history of doing that on the US mainland and we were here to get away from, among other things, a particularly nasty bout of political shouting.

Educational vacation? Sure, I like learning things. I don't, however, enjoy being lectured to. If I want your opinion on politics and the local atmosphere, I'll ask. And I probably would have said some

If you rely on people giving you tips for a living, ask for money when you're at a high point in your speech. Don't wait until you're lecturing them on their bad behavior.

Know your audience. Stop talking at the point they're most likely to give you money. If you get to that point and they're not giving you money, cut bait. If you keep talking, you might accidentally find your foot in your mouth.

Reinventing the pizza, not the pizza box: Discourse in the wake of the Scalise shooting

Hop on in here around 55 minutes and give it four minutes or so. Ryan Singer and Johnny Z are discussing how we deal with each other, and right before the 58 minute mark, Singer comes up with this analogy:

"It doesn't matter if the pizza box changes, it's the pizza."

The pizza box, he says, is technology and society and who is president at any given time and what sorts of structures we live in, but we're the pizza.

It doesn't matter how fancy the box is, if the pizza doesn't change, it's still the same old pizza.

Singer's point here is that you can dress us up any way you want. You can make us high tech, you can let us read minds, you can make us invisible with mirrored clothing. Unless the change happens inside, we're still the same ol' same ol'.

The country saying for this is lipstick on a pig. You can dress it up all you want, it's still a pig.

If you're an asshole, you can put on a shirt that says "peace, love and tie dye" and go to yoga class and say "namaste," but you're still an asshole.

It doesn't matter what's going on on the outside.

Last Tuesday, June 13, was a quiet night at work. It might have been the quietest night of the Trump administration. The Calder Cup final wrapped up (that's the AHL championship — minor league hockey), but there was little else of note in any of our markets.

The next morning, we woke up to news that Rep. Steve Scalise and four others had been shot while practicing for the annual Congressional baseball game. Despite once being tied to White Supremacist David Duke — charges stemming from when Scalise thought he was attending a campaign rally that turned a little more sinister — he is generally well-liked by his colleagues in the House, whatever their party affiliation.

Something feels different about this than when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in early 2011.

In the Giffords shooting, the gunman had shown anti-government leanings, posting about mind control and that kind of things. He was out to get someone in the federal government and an opportunity presented itself with the Giffords rally.

In the Scalise shooting, someone who was politically active in a traditional sense — the gunman had volunteered on the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (Sanders didn't equivocate on his views here) and had left home to be closer to Washington, where he apparently thought he could be more useful as an activist — went looking for Republicans to shoot.

In the Giffords case, the shooter was paranoid and looking for a way out. In the Scalise case, the shooter had tried to take a traditional route and given up.

The problem with dialogue in this country for the most part is we're no longer listening to each other. We're waiting for the other person to stop speaking so that we can start.

I'm generalizing, of course. There's good discussion and reasonable debate happening every day in every city.

It's just rarely on display in public. And never at the federal level.

Reaction since the Scalise shooting has been a little different. Apart from the partisan wrangling over guns — some of course calling for tighter gun control and others saying we should allow Congress to carry weapons — there have been calls for partisan unity that have been muted, where normally these are empty and grandstanded.

"We are united in our shock. We are united in our anguish," Speaker Paul Ryan said. "An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us."

Rep. Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, warned about a "deterioration in the manner we talk to each other."

Even President Donald Trump, not exactly known for muted responses and calm, non-partisan rhetoric, had only this to say:

This is a good time for a period of reflection for all of us. The seasons are changing. If you're reading this the day it publishes, the solstice is tonight just after midnight Eastern.

Take a couple of days and decide if you're going to spend the rest of your life speaking at — or worse, shouting over — people you disagree with, rather than actually listening to what they're saying and perhaps even taking it to heart, and letting it change your mind if it strikes that chord in you.

It's certainly time for our national pizza to evolve. Is it time for your pizza to change, too?

Some related stuff you might like:
Civility in disagreement
I was on Me & Paranormal You talking Freemasonry

On shortcuts

It's important, when considering shortcuts, that you nail two things: what you're willing to bypass and where you're going.

If you use a surgery as a shortcut for weight loss, you might bypass the formation of healthy habits that will help you keep the weight off.

If you buy social media followers, you only get the appearance of an audience. They don't engage with your company or buy things from you.

Watch where you're going, and how you get there.

In praise of the greatest you

Lewis Howes releases three podcasts a week. One of those is a quick take on Fridays he dubs "Five Minute Friday." The one above is from April 14, 2017 and is called Be True to Yourself.

It's a look at what is commonly called crab mentality — the notion that one crab in a bucket will scurry out, but if there are a lot of crabs in a bucket and one tries to crawl out, the others will grab that crab and pull it down.

I know this wasn't the point, but I did try to look up whether this is actually true, since in my experience crabs are merely delicious. All I found was this:

[C]rabs pull on stuff when they can't swim. They're trying to move. If there's nothing else around, they'll pull on the other crabs. And there's nothing else in a bucket of crabs.

Back to the crab mentality.

The analogy in human behavior is claimed to be that members of a group will attempt to negate or diminish the importance of any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings, to halt their progress.

Howes notes that we don't want to feel lonely or excluded or to disappoint or upset other people.

It's worth noting here that for survival, humans as a species had to conform to our communities or we'd be ostracized and not receive the benefits of collective living, like sharing in food gathering, child-raising, etc.

While that's still true in many communities, if you're in a position to listen to podcasts or read blogs, you're most likely not stuck in such a community. It might be difficult physically or emotionally, but you can change which communities you're a part of.

If you're missing out on what's possible in your life, Howes does offer some tips for dealing with people who try to hold you down while never climbing to achieve anything in their own lives:

  • Have a conversation with the person hold you back. Request that person's support for your endeavors.
  • If you can't garner that person's support, don't get caught in the trap of being dragged down by others. Set boundaries. Know when you have to get up from the table and not be part of the conversation.
  • If necessary, significantly cut back on the time you spend with people who hold you back. Instead, go find people who life you up

You can love and support negative people from a distance, he says, but don't spend time around them allowing their negative attitude seep into your world.

Remember, there's room for everyone to be great.

Of stories and storytellers: Farewell to the ‘unlettered bum’

Clifton Pollard's name was queried on Google more on Sunday than it had been perhaps any other day except for one — Nov. 22, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy.

I'll save you the search, if you don't recognize the name. Pollard was the man who, on a Sunday morning, finished his bacon and eggs, went to Arlington National Cemetery, climbed into a reverse backhoe, and dug the grave into which Kennedy's casket would be lowered.

He made $3.01 per hour, and he came in on his day off.

He didn't get to go to the funeral. It was too crowded.

We know about Clifton Pollard because a New York Herald Tribune columnist named Jimmy Breslin wrote about him.

On April 5, 1992, Pollard, a World War II veteran, died and was soon after buried not too far from our thirty-fifth president.

Breslin died over the weekend at the age of 88. He had, earlier in the week, been admitted to the hospital to be treated for pneumonia and released the next day. His wife thought he was getting better and his death came as a surprise to her.


Breslin was part of a generation of hard-scrabble storytelling journalists. He wrote stories, not articles. He drank whiskey. He smoked cigars. He scorned reporters who stayed in the newsroom, and instead wandered the streets, pubs and tenements of New York, speaking to people.

It's a storied generation — one that included Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal. Most of them predeceased Breslin.

While journalism — and the rest of the world, frankly — has certainly changed in the couple of generations since Breslin went and found Pollard, there are remnants of his world. I recently found in a used bookstore a collection of essays by PJ O'Rourke. Younger essayists like Doug Rushkoff and Chuck Klosterman certainly carry forth a biting witness. My friend Tommy Shea was so well-loved at The Republican that even the competition wrote him a nice sendoff. My friend and former colleague Sean Kirst had the same impact in Syracuse, and has now moved on.

Reading Shea and Kirst in print — actual newsprint still feels, and smells, familiar to me — put me in mind of a time I never really got to know. But the writing is still there. Wolfe is still writing books and the occasional column. Count among Breslin's non-journalistic contemporaries William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac.

These are not easy men to read, but once you start, it's nigh impossible to stop.


Yes, the world has changed. You won't find many smoky bars anymore. Nor too many people in suits willing to walk into a slum in search of a story (nor many people willing to talk to them if they did).

Breslin was the sort of guy who was able to find not only Clifton Pollard but also a man named Tony Palma.

If that name doesn't sound familiar, I'll again save you the searching. Palma was once a long-haired Beatles fan in the 1960s, and later, on December 8, 1980, he was the police officer, along with his partner, Herb Frauenberger, who responded to a call of, "Man shot, 1 West 72nd St." That night, they helped a dying John Lennon.

And Breslin had his interview conducted and typed up that night in time for 1:30 a.m. deadline.

It takes hours or days to get that kind of access to some people in uniform nowadays. That's not a complaint; it's just the world we live in.


There are stories, and there are storytellers, and there are people who read stories.

I think a lot of people would like to claim to be the second, but to do so, you have to truly understand the first. And that's a hell of a craft. You'll know who they really are, because they attract the third.

Many people have stories — hell, many people are stories — they just don't know it. It takes a real storyteller to pry the stories out of those folks.

It's why we'll read a headline or a couple of sentences in almost everything we click on these days, but we'll read giant novels by Wolfe and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It's why we'll read Kirst's book of Central New York stories.

Breslin told stories. They were stories of New York and New Yorkers, and people felt they knew him and the stories. Maybe that's why David Berkowitz — the Son of Sam killer — wrote him letters.

Sometimes the stories don't realize what they are. You might think you have a story to tell, but the one that comes out when a storyteller gets a hold of it may be entirely different.


"You climb the stairs," Breslin is quoted as saying, "and all the stories are at the top of the stairs."

Maybe it's a simple metaphor for doing the work ‐ climb the stairs while everyone takes the elevator, or just stays in the lobby. Or maybe it's a simple instruction manual. When you climb enough stairs, there are certainly stories when you get to the top.

Breslin called himself an "unlettered bum." He certainly put a lot of letters on a lot of pages.


Be a story, or be a storyteller. Hell, be both. Or neither. But don't pretend to be either. We have enough pretenders out there.

To Mr. Breslin, ever a story and a teller, may your cigar ever be lit, your glass three fingers full and your typewriter ready for some punishment.

Would you still be doing what you’re doing?

I recently re-read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Maybe I should be doing it more often, particularly given it's about a three-hour read.

Here's something important I pulled out of it.

"Here’s another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?"

It gave me pause, but not for very long.

Blogging and podcasting are how I understand the world. I would certainly still be doing those things.

My job in news? I would definitely do that. It's gathering information, processing it and sharing it.

Running? Yep. Eating? Yep. Meditating? For sure.

There really are a lot of lessons in that book. I recently ordered a copy on a whim for someone who needed it. It's that important.

Here are a couple of other lessons I've learned from the book.

What's the Platonic ideal for Resistance? »

Pressfield imagines Resistance as a dragon, and you, as artist or entrepreneur or whatever, must slay the dragon to do the work you want to be doing.

The thing is, upon further review, I'm not sure that dragon ever dies. Is wounded to the point of dormancy? Sometimes. Dead? Never.

We are nothing if not present tense »

There's a line. On one side are the people who say "I'm gonna" and "I used to" and "I wanna" and "I wish I could," and on the other side are the people who say "I am."

Be on the important side of the line.

Stop cursing 2016 and go make something great

I see a lot of people on social media cursing 2016 for taking some of our greatest creative minds. A lot of one-of-a-kinds died this year.

To name a smattering, in no particular order: David Bowie, John Glenn, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Alan Rickman, Alan Thicke, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Harper Lee, Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey, Florence Henderson, Fidel Castro, Gene Wilder, Arnold Palmer, Gwen Ifill, Leon Russell, Janet Reno, Fyvush Finkel, Merle Haggard, Elie Wiesel, Garry Shandling ... it was a long list and then George Michael died on Christmas.

It may seem like the universe is taking something from us. It's not.

The universe is saying, "You see how much these people have done? They get to rest now. Go create something amazing for yourself."

Heed the call.

Hey, we're about to flip the calendar page. There's no reason not to go for it in 2017. Onward!

Regressing toward a higher mean, or, there’s room for everyone to be great

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There's a phenomenon in statistics called regression toward the mean. You can read a good explanation of it here, but the short version goes like this:

(1) Give people a test (say, driving a golf ball, but don't worry, this isn't going to be a sports post), then plot the results. You'll notice that there are some outliers (those with really long drives and those with really short drives), but most of them will cluster around a mean, or average.

(2) Add a new variable to all of them that you'd expect will change their drive. An example might be a golf lesson (which you'd expect to increase the drive distance) or wrist weights (which you'd expect would decrease the drive distance).

(3) Test them again, and plot the results. You'll find that there are still outliers and a cluster around a mean. The mean may be different, but there's still a mean and there are still roughly the same number of people clustered around it.

Got it?

OK, cool. Now, let's look at life.

Can we all agree there are outliers? We might have different measures and have different tastes, but I'm going to suggest as success measures not having trouble paying your bills, generally enjoying what you do, and not worrying about what other people think.

I'm going to suggest the "positive" outliers — people who are "winning" at life, if you will — are people like Richard Branson, Joe Rogan and Kim Kardashian. They all seem to be pretty happy folks with successful business ventures (look, I'm a fan of one of the three of them and I did absolutely no research).

Then there are "negative" outliers — people who maybe aren't doing so well. People who are homeless, hungry and unhappy about it, maybe. (Yes, I realize it's a very American-centric view of things, can we move on, please?)

Then there's some line that is the average of those people.

Depending on how you measure things, now you have people clustered around that line. We're going to stick with the generally subjective items I seem to have come up with here.

There are people who have no trouble paying their bills, have a generally satisfying family life but hate their jobs. Or people who are wealthy but alone and miserable. Or people who like their jobs and like their home lives but are just scraping by, sometimes eating just rice for a couple days at the end of the month to keep the heat on.

When you add up their "scores," they wind up somewhere in the middle, give or take.

This is regression toward the mean.

Now, let's add some measure of happiness to everybody. I don't know, maybe one day each week, every person gets some sort of dopamine release that launches them into absolute bliss for 16 hours. Or maybe everybody always gets all the sleep they need every night.

There are still outliers now, but everyone's happiness went up. Most people are still clustered around a mean, just the mean is higher than it was before we added our new thing.

Still with me? Good, because this is where it gets important.

We're all making this up as we go along, trying to get a little bit better, day by day. Some of us have figured out some things. Some of us have figured out other things. Some of us haven't figured out anything.

But we can all get better. The top outliers can become better, the bottom outliers can become better, and everyone who regressed toward the mean can get better — it just gives us a higher mean. The distribution remains the same, but we're raising the mean.

Let's make up numbers. Let's say the outliers at the top are 90 and the outliers at the bottom are 10 and the mean is 50. What if we bump the top outliers to 100 and the bottom to 20 and the mean to 60? Everybody got better. What if we bump the top outliers to 200 and the bottom to 120 and the mean to 160?

Same distribution, but the mean is higher.

Here's the point: Nobody has to get worse for you to get better. There's room for everyone to improve, for everyone to rise, and it doesn't detract from your ability to also rise.

So lift people up, don't put them down. As you rise, bring people with you. It'll be easier at the top if you have people around you.