I hold a memory of being, say, seven years old. My parents were hosting a family party, and I walked into their bedroom — maybe I was playing hide and seek with my cousins.
Something drew me to the sight of a classic red Budweiser can sitting on a TV table. Not only was I seven, but the can was probably room temperature and likely discarded. The taste was so jarring that I spit it out into a nearby plastic cup. That was the memory I had for the drink for years to come.
I didn’t drink at high school parties, or even in my early college career. It wasn’t exactly that I held some moral stance — most of my friends did drink before they turned 21. I had no insightful health or philosophical stance. I just didn’t like the culture that came with it. I felt mostly socially comfortable and came to like being different by not drinking.
Years later I would better understand there were issues of alcoholism in my family. That became a factor in my approaching drinking with a kind of detached anthropological approach. Somewhere in my mind is always the fear of losing control and hurting those around me, as others in my family have.
I recognized the deep and historical culture tied to it all, and I also respected many people who had very informed, robust views of spirits. I wanted to have something resembling that too.
Continue reading My relationship to alcohol
In spring 2008 during my final interview for a prestigious post-graduate statehouse reporting internship, I got tripped up.
The impatient and inimitable Pennsylvania state government correspondent Pete Decoursey, a quirky Yale alumnus who passed in 2014, asked me to explain how I would approach my reporting on policy differently than my reporting on politics. I started. He corrected. I restarted. He interrupted. I faltered.
The truth was I didn’t yet grasp his point. He very carefully compartmentalized two kinds of government reporting: the legislating to solve problems and the campaigning to get elected power.
Continue reading The difference between reporting about policy and politics
A version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter a couple weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.
In high school, my varsity soccer coach would preach: Masters change speed.
The best players aren’t always the fastest. They are the ones who can go fast and then slow. Dribble the ball at a sprint. Stop. Pause. Redirect. Sprint again. Pace. Pace. Pace.
It’s among the lessons from my youth I reflect on most often. It carries through so much of my life. I love speed. It takes mastery to manage on deadline, something I surely learned from newsrooms. Yet, as I age, I’m most proud of how I can find moments of calm to slow down amid my frenetic pace.
Continue reading To be great, you must know how to change speed
Language and the stories we tell about its origins are highly political. To understand one, you need to be mindful of the other.
That’s the main thesis of the 2011 book You Are What You Speak by Robert Lane Greene, who also writes a twice-monthly column on language in The Economist that I adore as a subscriber. I finished the book earlier this year as part of my continued assault on better understanding language’s history — read other reading notes of mine on language here.
This book helped cement my understanding that my favorite part of linguistics is philology, or the historical and comparative elements that seem quite cultural.
Below I share pieces of the book that stood out to me. But as always I encourage you to buy your own copy and read it; I only write nerdy posts like this when a book has really added to my worldview. So I strongly recommend it.
Continue reading How we speak signals education. But it is not the same thing as education: Robert Lane Greene
One unexpected result of becoming CEO of my own company is that I found myself without a traditional budget line I could pull from.
As we grew our company, we created a budget aligned with core functions. I stepped into a role in which I was overseeing them all, but I didn’t set aside budget for me in last year’s budget for myself. That sparked me to wonder how other CEOs approached giving themselves budgetary space to experiment, explore and trial.
Continue reading How to fund small projects as a CEO
I had read other books by popular marketer Seth Godin (I was a regular reader back in 2009). But not one of his best known, one most aligned with work I do, his 2008 Tribes.
A friend (thanks Kristin!) handed me a copy last year and told me to get it done already. Godin is so ubiquitous in web circles that I stopped pursuing his work. I do respect his perspective and approach; I just expect to come across it from his passionate follower base. I supposed a friend handing me the book was just that.
I read it in a weekend last fall, and I just came across the notes I wrote down for myself. Below find them.
Continue reading Nobody wants to follow someone who made General in Peacetime: notes from Tribes by Seth Godin
The words we have for drinking vessels are old ones. Glass, mug and cup are all very old ideas.
Hence, there’s quite a bit of culture tied to them. So, though, I’m not an overly particular person in many household respects, I have a lot of opinions about them.
I remember being a teenager and finding a common bond among friends because we all agreed (and struggled to explain why), we thought it was strangely discomforting to have milk served in a plastic cup. Understand, we weren’t richly cultured.
We were middle -class teenagers who for the first time were confronting together an opinion developed independently based on culture and lived experience. This was new.
This is going to be a strange little post about feelings and memories about tiny, meaningless things. If you’re paying attention, you might draw conclusions to feelings about language and fashion and so many other cultural elements.
Continue reading Apparently I have a lot of opinions about what cup you should use for your drink
A version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter a couple weeks back. In its own way, it commemorates African American History Month. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.
Dr. King is likely the American thinker who comes to my mind more than any other. Not the populist who was culturally moderated over time into a convenient character for classroom posters. But the difficult and complicated and tortured man, the leader who was flawed and inspiring and masterful in so many ways.
When a MLK quote rattles in my head, it isn’t his iconic, if tired, classic: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Pulled from its context, that’s always seemed to me to be too universal to stir. Instead, it comforts, and I’ve found always found MLK misunderstood when he’s seen as a comforting.
Continue reading Our ‘tranquilizing drug of gradualism’
Modern linguistics is based largely on a descriptivist view of language, describing common usage. Many grammarians follow a more prescriptivist view: if we don’t prescribe, language will falter.
I read a host of pop linguistics books this year, challenging my prescriptivist publishing origins with a small library of descriptivist perspective. I also consumed podcasts, articles and other interviews with experts on the matter. (Most recently this conversation.)
Along this exploration, I was familiar with several of the most-cited grammar classics (King’s English and Elements of Style among them). But I hadn’t read Eats, Shoots and Leaves, published by Lynne Truss in 2006. So I changed that late last year.
I wanted to share a few notes below.
Continue reading Punctuation today: notes from the 2006 bestseller “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”
A decade ago this month a couple friends and I started down a pathway that became Technical.ly so in the next couple weeks I am going to do some sharing.
A couple weeks ago, we hosted our inaugural Alumni Ball — gathering both current and former staff at the Pen and Pencil Club — and on February 26th in Philadelphia, we’re hosting a public celebration, conjoined with our largest jobs fair. We’ll also run plenty of editorial mentions honoring this anniversary.
First things first publicly, I wrote a Twitter thread unashamedly showing off about how lucky I feel about the team I am a part of right now. I’m sharing that here, with slight editing.
Continue reading A thank you to my coworkers ahead of Technical.ly’s 10th anniversary