Microfossils Are We

Scientists discovered microfossils that appear to be the oldest evidence of life on this planet. Maybe that’s exciting for you, but on days when I wake up feeling like I’m 3.77 billion years old, it’s not as encouraging as one might think to know I’m not alone. I’m sure somewhere among the microfossils there’s someone saying, “Age is just a number,” or, “You don’t look a day over 3.76 billion,” or, “Hey, nerdface, keep staring at rocks in your windowless, loveless corner of the universe and see how old you look in 4 billion years,” but I bet most of them just sound like Steven Wright

Feeling old sucks. You get hurt when you almost fall. You forget which Target you’re in. Hair from the back of your head gets reincarnated on your shoulders. And, maybe worst of all the non-dying things, you realize in some areas of life, you’ve been doing it wrong this whole time. 

But. 

That’s the part that also makes me feel young again. Learning. Learning a better way of living, a better way of looking at the world. Learning to laugh when someone points out you’re being a stooge instead of slapping them like you’re Moe. 

It’s funny, nothing makes me feel younger than learning I don’t know something and that what I don’t know can be known. I realize it’s cryptic, and I realize I’m only 41, and I hope you realize that telling me this is just the beginning of getting old is not what I need right now. But now, I’m going to go learn. 
You could now learn that South America is the home to the most llamas, but I’m sure you knew that. So here’s today’s new trivia:

In what country were the 3.77-ish-year-old microfossils discovered? (Don’t look. Try to remember.)

This message is from a mailing list. 

I still have no idea what this email says. I’m laughing because I’m devoting an entire post to a message I’m too lazy to read, but that can happen when it displays in microfiche form. It’s somewhat hard to believe a company can employ email marketing that goes so horribly wrong when there are so many tools that even a monkey could use

But my insurance company doesn’t own a monkey, so they sent me this as incentive to work out more, maybe. I don’t know. I’ll never know, because I’m not an ant. When I first opened it, I figured it was only a matter of time before the message expanded, but no dice. There it sat in all its infinitesimal glory. Then I laughed as I snapped a screenshot of the embarrassing attempt at piquing my excitement. 

Not only did the format go horribly wrong, but it came paired with a warning that the message came from a mailing list (as opposed to  a tech-challenged relative). 

Here was a classic example of a mailing betrayed by its email marketing service. This kind of thing is inexcusable for anyone paying real money to do this. I know there are a few different services out there, but I recommend AWeber. I’ve found them to be the most reliable for ensuring the entire process goes smoothly, effectively, and in a way that’s easy to test, track, and analyze. You can see how your messages will look on any platform, including my rare, obscure phone with its antiquated . . . oh, who am I kidding, it’s an iPhone 7. (Seriously, how did this company not know their email would look like a postage stamp?)

Oh, and how do you get around the “This message is from a mailing list” warning with the convenient unsubscribe link? Just send valuable content, for starters. And making sure it’s legible isn’t a terrible idea. 

Ok, on to today’s question (sorry it’s late): What continent is home to the most llamas?

Congrats to Nicole (@asmanyasgiven on twitter) for knowing Saturday’s question. 

We’re buggy phones.

Push the power button and volume down button simultaneously for about 10 seconds and reset yo’self.

There’s this podcast, Tim Ferriss. I really know nothing about him or it or anything. I listened to one episode. It featured Krista Tippett. I really don’t know much about her, either. She’s an author, radio host, and all-around smart person. I’d recommend listening to the whole episode, and I won’t even try to tell you what it’s all about other than to say the title of the episode is “Calming Philosophies for Chaotic Times.” Give it a listen, really.

But there was one image that sprang to my mind from listening to it. The idea was that when we get upset, we tend to lose our capacity to listen and think and perform like rational human beings. It happens in standard conversations, on social media, when watching the wrong newscast, anything. We get mad, indignant, whatever, and we shut. down.

It’s like we’re phones. Smart phones. We can do a lot. We’re talented, resourceful, fun, entertaining, delightful people. Most of the time, we work just fine. Stellar, even. Then all of a sudden, we come across a bug, a little gap in our software, and we find ourselves in a situation we just don’t seemed to be programmed to handle right. Typically our speakers still work fine, but we’re stuck playing Megadeth, and our microphones freeze up altogether.

I’m going to stop the metaphor here rather than talking about needing to reset or regularly updating our software or buying an emotional otter box. I’m sure there’s something to be said for all that, being able to reset ourselves mentally. But I think there’s also just something to be said for realizing when someone else might be bugging out, so to speak, and rather than just dismissing the other person as a stupid piece of crap, well . . . maybe just realize they’ve shut down and it might be best to just give them a minute.

I know, we’re people, not phones. But I think it helps to accept other people’s limitations. Recognize when somebody just isn’t in a place where they’re handling the situation all that well. They, shockingly, aren’t perfect. Give them a second. They’ll do better. Or they won’t. But we can do better. We. 
It ain’t trivia, but it’s a question: who the hell is Tim Ferriss?

Planetary Possibilities


It’s Friday, so I’m keeping it light (and late). I was pretty excited to hear the announcement from NASA that a red dwarf solar system was discovered a hop, skip, and a few dozen light years away from here. While it’s highly improbable the planets host life, the question is there. It’s pretty fun to see scientists burst into a frenzy over investigating the possibilities.

There was a time when I felt programmed to think there was no possibility of life on other planets, but I’m ready to meet our intergalactic overlords.

Today(night)’s question: What’s the name of the star around which the seven newly discovered planets revolve?

Transphobia 

So. With the Trump administration’s latest reversal of the previous administration’s policy, we’re back to bathrooms, back to hurling transgender children outside the shield of federal protection while they’re in school. I know millions of parents, and the children they have so carefully taught, feel allowing transgender children into the bathrooms in which they feel naturally comfortable removes a certain protection from their so-called normal children. A few problems with that rationale:

  • Transgender children are not an actual threat or something from which anyone needs to be protected.
  • People who hate someone, or are afraid of someone, on the basis of the child’s gender identity pose a very real and well documented threat to children.
  • There is absolutely nothing normal about being afraid of a child based on whether they believe they are a boy or a girl.

Now, the main arguments I come across opposing any type of acknowledgment of transgender as a legitimate form of existence fall into two categories: those that argue the issue of gender is simple, and those that argue the issue of transgenderism is ridiculous. I want to address both of them rationally, despite the fact that both are obtuse and the latter is downright cruel. I still feel the argument deserves a calm, reasoned approach, because the people I know who hold to these arguments are not otherwise obtuse or cruel. I truly want to draw a line between what I feel about insensitivity and cruelty towards children and what I feel toward those who struggle to see things the way I do. 

I know it’s easy for the issue to seem simple—boys have a penis, girls have a vagina. But we didn’t learn everything we really need to know in kindergarten or watching Kindergarten Cop. While it may seem like an easy answer that any kid with a penis should use a boys bathroom, it’s not. It would possibly be an easy conclusion if gender were strictly a physical issue. But we know it’s not. If it were, if psychology and emotion weren’t an important (and perhaps more important) part of gender, no one would care about this discussion. Girls wouldn’t be concerned about boys peeing in the wrong room outside of their propensity to leave the seat up (or to splatter when they don’t bother to raise it). There would be no psychological or emotional threat or fear if there were nothing but a physical difference between boys and girls. It’s not the physical difference that concerns people, it’s the emotional and psychological side of things—boys’ and girls’ interest in or curiosity toward the opposite sex, their understanding of gender and sexuality, and their level of comfort in a vulnerable situation around people of the opposite sex. All of those things are legitimate aspects regarding gender . . . for everyone. The emotional and psychological aspects of gender are indeed important. So we can’t simultaneously act out of concern for the emotional and psychological well being of most children because it’s an important part of who they are as boys and girls and completely dismiss it for transgender kids simply by writing off their gender identity as something that is imaginary, contrived, or changeable. If you are of the opinion that there is something wrong with children who have the emotional and psychological makeup of the gender opposite to that of their physical one, something that can and should be changed, I beg of you to please open yourself to the possibility that you’re wrong rather than declaring your ill-informed assumptions as fact. If it’s not your experience, listen carefully to those who do know about it. 

I recently got into a pretty healthy discussion about this with someone who, while disagreeing with me, finally said in complete exasperation that he was just completely confused by it all. I loved that response. Expressing confusion is so much better than judgment. Confusion can be helped. Stubborn judgment is pretty immovable. 

The other category of argument against transgenderism is the realm of the ridiculous. And insulting. 

  • What if I identify as a Chinese person even though I’m Irish? 
  • What if I identify as a wolf?
  • What if I identify as a woman tomorrow?

These are intentionally obtuse false syllogisms. If you base your argument solely on a presupposition intentionally calculated to be false and easily dismissible, it makes for great humor (if by great you mean stripped of all humanity). But it also makes for a completely invalid argument. Because . . .

  • Gender differences are not at all like racial differences. 
  • Species differences are completely unlike gender differences. 
  • Transracialism is not, as far as I know, an observable occurrence in our society, certainly not one I have ever heard results in violence or hostility. 
  • Transspecies issues: see above. 
  • If you aren’t transgender, the notion that you might be tomorrow assumes that it’s a choice. It is intentionally dismissive. Stop confusing that for smart. 
  • Transphobia causes abuse, suicide, violence, murder, and hatred, and if you make a joke out of someone else’s very real suffering, you’re guilty of the logical fallacy of You’re an asshole. Sorry, I can’t be completely rational about attacks like that. 

So, that’s the lowdown from where I sit. I know there’s more to say, but it’s a starting point. 

Here’s a trivia question:

What Pulitzer-prize-winning novel published in 2002 was inspired by the memory of Herculine Barbin?

Put your answers in the comments, and I’ll keep them hidden until midnight. 

The Return of Daily Trivia

Way back when, I used to send out a daily trivia email. It would typically feature some type of commentary on some bit of ridiculous news or something. People on the list would send me their answers, and I would reward the winners by… mentioning them in a follow-up email. Pretty high stakes.

Unfortunately it got too expensive to pay everyone in words, so I discontinued the daily trivia ritual. The trivitual, if you will. But I decided I would reintroduce it as part of my initiative to continue blogging close to every day. I’ll just include a bit of trivia with every post.  So here it is, the first trivia question of the new era:

What celebrity did Donald Trump sue in 2013 for $5 million for breach of contract?

49 Random Sales Tips

Prologue: “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” The Dread Pirate Roberts

So, assuming there’s more to life than pain, here are 49 random sales tips. 

49. Help. Always try to help. Be helpful, and generally everyone will be happy with the results. 

48. Breath mints. I recommend small Altoids, peppermint. 

47. Listen actively and presently. 

46. Think before you speak. Or at least make it look like you are. 

45. Don’t assume you know what the customer wants. If he/she hasn’t said it out loud, there’s a good chance neither of you know. 

44. Calm down. 

43. Anti-perspirant. 

42. Go easy on the cologne. 

41. Just general odor management is key. 

40. Remember: failure is fun. 

39. Learn to love the word No

38. Don’t take anything too personally. 

37. Believe Yes. 

36. Sell. 

35. Be creative. 

34. Be honest. 

32. Like yourself. 

31. Like your product. 

30. Like your job. 

29. Love your family. Remember who you’re working for and why. 

28. Be present. 

27. Pause. 

26. Don’t pay any attention to people who randomly give advice. 

25. Don’t eat from the McDonald’s Pick 2 for $3 menu without an exit strategy. 

24. Be a friend when you arrive and when you leave. 

23. Keep going. 

22. Doggedly pursue solutions. 

21. Shut up. 

20. Admit what you don’t know. 

19. Drive the scenic route. 

18. Look people in the eye. Not as an act. Do it to take a moment to recognize the humanity of whoever you’re with. 

17. Drink lots of water. 

16. Don’t drink too much without an exit strategy. 

15. Breathe. 

14. Ask questions. 

13. Take notes. 

12. Have fun. It’s not that hard to do. 

11. Be mindful of your energy. 

10. Keep good snacks in the car. 

9. Get organized. 

8. Stay organized. 

7. Get organized again. 

6. Remember that people love stories. Especially when they’re relevant, insightful, and help people understand who your company is and how you can help them. 

5. Keep your own stupid personal stories to yourself unless you’ve got a really good reason to tell them. 

4. Pay attention to the whiskey offerings to use in your Old Fashioned. 

3. If you’re making a list of randomness, keep it under 25. 

2. Don’t give anything away. 

1. Believe in yourself. No, seriously. You got this. 

10-minute Writer’s Workshop

One of my favorite new (to me) podcasts is the 10-minute Writer’s Workshop produced by New Hampshire Public Radio I wasn’t aware that NHPR was a thing, but my first experience with them has been delightful and inspiring. 

One thing I look for in a podcast is simplicity. Of the podcasts I’ve tried and moved on from, the single biggest turn-off has been a rambling host, which is the product of a lack of singular focus. That lack of focus is probably also the product of an ego-driven effort. One of the things that makes TMWW so great is the simplicity of their format and their strict dedication to focusing wholly on the featured guest. 

As the title would indicate, it’s just a 10 minute show. The format is quite similar to that of the closing portion of Inside the Actor’s Studio with James Lipton. But instead of the questions from Bernard Pivot’s Apostrophes, they use a standard questionnaire of their own. It’s remarkable how well it works and how much rich insight, perspective, and inspiration come from the answers to a few quite simple questions. 

A big part of the secret to TMWW’s success is the quality and variety of the writers interviewed—Judy Blume, Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), Salman Rushdie, Chuck Klosterman, and James McBride among them. Another is the joy the interviewer, host Virginia Prescott, finds in eliciting the responses, because it comes through in the voices of the authors in the form of great eagerness to speak candidly. That joy flows to the listener as well (at least this one). She really does an outstanding job of expressing deep interest in every guest, and it just works impossibly well. 

I’ve been amazed at how disparate these writers’ experiences and opinions have been (“I always write in coffee shops” vs. “I don’t understand how anyone can write in a coffee shop” is my favorite). The diversity of advice refreshes the spirit of a listening writer, because it helps to know there is no one way to write or one formula for success. The one common theme echoed in every episode, though, is the essential importance of just writing, and that mantra is bolstered with the encouragement that the writers who succeed are people just like you or me . . . or completely different from you or me. It’s a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it. It has helped me to commit to writing and reading regularly. The above links are to the Spotify version, but it’s also available for free on iTunes. 

Coffee Quibble

I don’t care what Merriam-Webster’s defines addiction as, I’m not addicted to coffee. I love it. There are mornings I go without it, and they’re crappy mornings.  So I do my best not to go without a really good cup of coffee. I’m not a coffee snob, but if the coffee isn’t good, it doesn’t count. But good coffee is equal parts strength and sexiness, and drinking it makes me feel in touch with my soul. You can’t water that down.

Mostly it’s Starbucks. I love Starbucks. I don’t care that there’s hipper, better, whateverer coffee elsewhere. I love Starbucks, we have a relationship, and that’s the way it’s going to be. K-Cups, Americanos, and the occasional $7.50 drink when I’ve got a free reward coming my way. (Starbucks Rewards are wonderful. I get free drinks just for using fake Starbucks money to buy the normal stuff. What could be better?)

 

I do have a complaint, though, SB, but it’s not about your cups (awesome) or your political stance that people be treated like human beings (if that’s anti-American, then . . . I’m sorry, I can’t complete that thought, it’s totally American). It’s your lids. Maybe it’s in my head, but it seems as though Starbucks altered the design of their lids ever so slightly so that the indentation is slightly smaller than it used to be, which means it’s slightly smaller than the bottom of the cup, which means it’s slightly impossible to balance one cup on top of the other.

For those of us who don’t always drink coffee alone (we’re in a club, it’s called everyone), this makes my otherwise facile existence slightly difficult. You see, I don’t believe in setting down a cup of coffee to open a door, but if I can’t stack my blazing, potentially crotch-burning coffee on top of an equally fiery cup without fearing I will sear the memory of that dreadful moment into my flesh, well . . . I’ll have to compromise my beliefs and set one of the cups down. On the ground? On the floor? On the top of the car?

And I hate to complain that your sparkling new mobile order function requires me to actually open a door twice, the second time while occasionally holding two or more cups of coffee, but . . . yeah. That happens, which I appreciate the convenience of, but life is always going to be hard. Especially when our cup bottoms and lids don’t get along. It’s even more difficult when I have to consider the possibility that I may have to set. My coffee. On the ground.

At that moment, it doesn’t feel like love. It feels like abandonment. And regret. And a waste of my pretend Starbucks money. So . . . this is awkward. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do at this moment, but I hope we can figure something out. You changed your lids once. You can do it again, right?

Not that I need you to change for me to love you. I do need you to change for me to carry you without spilling you.

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