Words To Live By

by John Brandon

Contributing Editor at Inc. Magazine and Inc.com. I also write for Fox News.com, Popular Mechanics, Wired, Men’s Journal, Outside Magazine, CIO, TechHive.com, Connected Fridge Quarterly, DIY Dentistry, We Love Cheese! online, and this here blog. I live way too close to Fargo for my own comfort level.

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10 Tips For Writing A List Article

I don’t know why this is, but people love lists. I mean, they want to marry lists and have children with them. There is an article on the top ten sci-fi horror movies starring Val Kilmer and one on the six ways to cure sleep-walking if you are an alien fixated by late-night Star Trek movies and are drunk. And, now: there is even an article on the top ways to write a list article. Done, and done. The universe can safely implode on itself now, thank you.

Side note: Thank you to the fine folks who have contacted me lately suggesting more list ideas. I’m also now compiling a list of the top ten pitches for list ideas. You have me pretty well pegged, oh e-mail champions of the public relations cyberverse! Keep those list ideas coming! Group hug.

1. Start big
Make a slam dunk right away. Boom! Just do it! Start strong! If you’re making a list article about poodle outerwear, don’t save the...

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My Open Letter to Google, Or Ten Reasons To Let Me Test Google Glass

Dear Google,

Journalism is hard work. As technology writers, we’re hard-pressed to pound out one article after another on a daily basis, stressed out by deadlines and editorial demands. When we are not eating free muffins at press functions and making up bad Steve Ballmer jokes, we also have families to support and coffee addictions to fuel (I went to Starbucks 14 times just today).

So, I’m writing to see if you can make my life a little easier. See, I know you said I’m “on the list” to receive my own pair of Google Glass. I know what that really means. It’s secret code for you suck and don’t even think about ever seeing this product – like, ever. But I have decided not to accept that eternal fate as prescribed by you. And to prove to you I have not accepted that fate, here are a few reasons I’d be a great Google Glass candidate.

1. I’m God
Seriously, it would be handy to have a pair....

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The Grand Tour

A few people have asked me over the years, how do I test so much stuff? As a tech reporter since 2001, and a ventriloquist for a traveling circus before that (not really), I have become quite adept at filling out online forms for FedEx return shipments, stacking boxes in a wonderful cubical arrangement so they do not tip over, and drinking coffee. In my spare time, when I am not whipping out a box-cutter like Batman in a dark alleyway, I sit at a computer and read Gizmodo articles while pretending to work so my wife thinks I’m busy.

Sometimes, when I get really bored reading about the survival gear Bigfoot would use on an Alaskan expedition or how amateur photo sleuths are total morons, I write about gadgets. This week, I covered the connected car of the future while simultaneously researching the early recordings of The Flaming Lips and eating a bunch of low-salt nuts at my desk....

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What is the Purpose of Life Anyway, or Why I Feel like the Brother of the Guy in The National

Sometimes, I feel like I’m the brother of the lead singer in the alt-rock band The National. He has a beard, I have a beard. (Well, sometimes. And by “sometimes” I mean often.) He has made a movie about how he went on tour as an assistant tour manager. I feel like I’m also a bystander, covering things with a casual bipartisan interest. We’re both members of the crowd, linked in an inextricable way to something famous and unattainable.

Just today I talked to an engineer from a company called Detroit Electric. It’s not a utility. They’re making a sports car that can go 190 miles on a charge, which is like having an expensive (and drive-able) smartphone. Brilliance reveals itself in short phrases. The engineer had The Bill Gates Pause where you can almost see neurons connecting inside his head, processing a millions things but only giving you a snippet. They pause because, like God, if...

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Tools of the Trade, or Why You Need to Keep a Nail Clipper Handy at All Times

Journalism is an ancient profession dating back to the early heliomongrel days. (I made that word up, but it sounds old. Also, vaguely veterinarian.) Reporters tapped out articles using a stone tablet, which meant editors did not exist (air five, anyone?). Thankfully, as professions go, journalism has progressed to where it can now serve as an adequate form of income and not just an opportunity for people to flog you or hang you on a pole outside of their hut for making an error.

Still, for anyone new to the field, things can be a little daunting. Let’s say you have just registered for a blog. Now what? Do you buy a fedora and a spiral notebook? (No.) Do you start pelting Apple with e-mails asking if you can test an iPad? (Please don’t.) Do you take a speed-typing class so you can blog every 14 seconds about inane subjects? (Not really, but apparently people have done that.) It’s...

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15 Things You Cannot Do With a Chromebook Pixel

“I will do anything for love, but I won’t do that.” - Meatloaf

Yes, I have resorted to leading off with a Meatloaf quote. This not only cheapens the quality of this fine blog but also makes me hungry. But, before you complain too much or mumble to yourself about how lame that is, please note: there is a method to this madness. Mostly, it is to keep me from getting bored. Also, I’m secretly hinting to my wife that meatloaf might make a good dinner entrée. (Home by 7 honey!)

So, instead of writing a review, I’ve decided to list just some of the things the new Chromebook Pixel won’t do. But first, a little backstory. The Chromebook Pixel ($1299) is a marvel of engineering. It has a responsive high-res touchscreen (check), an elegant machined-aluminum chassis (check), a speedy processor (check), and Google (check).

Unless you’re a glutton for punishment (e.g., Windows 8), the Pixel is...

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The World of Hands-On Journalism, or How You Can Save Fido from Certain Death

“We’ve already been featured in top media outlets.”

Those are the famous last words I received in an e-mail today.

In some ways, it’s like telling a police officer you’ve already received enough speeding tickets. Or, explaining to your doctor you’ve already performed surgery on yourself.

In other words, it’s not the most effective way to deal with the media.

There’s a short phrase we like to use which is sort of a secret handshake in the field of journalism: the hands-on test. I might say hands-on when I need to see the thing in person. You make a widget, and I need to see if the widget does what it’s supposed to do. There’s a check and balance at play here. (Eventually, there’s also a check.)

As journalists, we’re often paid to find out, on behalf of a customer, if something really works. We’re sort of a silent oracle, the space between two realities. (Some of us take up a bigger...

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What Is Journalism?

No, really. What is it? Where is it going? How has it changed? Why am I asking so many questions? How many questions in a lead are too many and get annoying after a while?

I was asking myself these questions today, trying to write an amazing and detailed account of video game character development. (Actually, I didn’t really ask any of those questions, but I did have a BLT for lunch. Also, I’m lying about the amazing part. To be honest, it’s only mildly amazing.)

I don’t think journalism has changed at all, though. I think it has stayed the same for eons. And I don’t think it ever will change. You find a source, get them to say stuff, and make it interesting. Or, you get something in the mail, test it, and then say what you think. If there is anything else beyond this, I’m not sure what it is. Maybe having a FedEx account?

Some insist journalism is changing. They usually point to...

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My Ode To Facebook

I love Facebook.

There, I said it. I am out in the open now, available for public scrutiny. I have admitted my love affair with the Golden Domain of tech, the offspring of Mark Zuckerberg, the great Blue Monolith of the Internets.

I love Facebook in the way people love sports or that Bachelor show. I love it the way you love a lost puppy. You can speak out in a public forum, sharing insights with hundreds of interested parties. You can craft a brilliantly worded expose and people will cling to every word. I can’t remember who said it exactly (okay, it was Mark Zuckerberg) but this is a 100-year invention in the same league as the printing press or Starbucks.

So, here is my tribute – a few examples of what makes it so valuable:

  1. Letting us know you are sick. And I don’t mean you have a mild cold. I mean you are literally coughing up a lung. With Facebook, you can go into great detail...

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I’m Leaving On a Jet Plane, and It Sucks

I hate air travel. It is an anathema to me, a scourge.

I hate it the way I hate going to the dentist or having a sit-down talk with my wife to discuss my shortcomings. Travel is a necessary evil but it is also just plain evil. You’re in a cramped seat with awkward lighting, how can this be good? Getting from point A to point B is painful and tedious enough, but the worst part of air travel is that it is so wholly predictable.

I’m on a flight right now typing this. It’s a regional jet, which means there is enough room to move one of my legs and an elbow. You would think United Airlines would have installed some sort of power outlet near my seat, knowing The Tech Geek of the Century would be on board. (I suspect this has something to do with needing enough power for the plane, but let’s be reasonable here: I have work to do.)

I mentioned how air travel is predictable. Here are a few...

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