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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The Process of Writing, or Why God Gives Me a Lego

I never intended to become a writer.

Somehow, through a progression of abnormal happenstance, I landed this as my vocation. And I mean vocation in the Latin sense: my calling.

I now write at least a dozen articles, or usually about 10,000 words, per month or more. Like a chain-smoker, I have no idea how I am doing this or why, and I have no idea if I will ever stop. I just keep doing it.

In third grade, I wrote a short-story called Topper the Mouse. It was filled with erudite prose and had a twistingly subversive plot, regrettably now lost to the canon of fine literature. I remember how my teacher had to lean against the blackboard as she sobbed with joy at my preternatural accomplishment. I can only assume those ten pages are now framed, one by one, in some elementary school library, surrounded by blue ribbons.

As a junior in high school, during a dark Stephen King period, I wrote

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Standing in the Shadow of a Giant

I once stood only a few feet away from greatness.

Walt Mossberg, the renowned journalist who writes for The Wall Street Journal, was waiting for his luggage at the Sahara Casino in Las Vegas.

We were both there for a reason. Back in the heady days before the Sahara turned into a ghost town blocked by do-not-cross signs and barbed wire fences, when the carpet wasn’t caked with tequila stains and coffee burns, this fine establishment was as close as you could get to the Consumer Electronics Show without having to hail a taxi. In the morning, you could sit down for a $15 leisurely breakfast buffet before taking a walk up to the show. Rooms were $89 a night, sans cockroaches.

I was waiting for the valet. Back then, I had made arrangements to test out an Infiniti G37 during the expo, which someone had driven up all the way from LA. I noted the difference in our attire. I was wearing

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Feedback sucks

I mean, whoever came up with the idea that it makes you stronger? Kelly Clarkson? Feedback is sometimes just a pointless smackdown.

See, back before the dawn of time, and before I started writing full-time, I worked as a customer service representative for an exercise machine manufacturer in Chaska, Minnesota. Subsisting as part of a team of under-paid and overworked corpodrones, I dispensed carefully worded instructions about how to repair the machines while playing Snake on my Nokia cell phone and eating free tacos from the company snack bar.

Meanwhile, up in the hallowed halls of the marketing department, there was an advertising director who had heard about my forays into the world of repair manuals. (She was also aware that I had been hired because my dad knew the president of the company.) Over the course of a few weeks and months, she stopped by my cubicle (actually, it was more

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Much Ado About Pinterest

Pinterest, Pinterest, Pinterest!

Pins of Pinterest! Pinning our hopes on Pinterest!

The Year of the Pins!

Okay, I’m getting a little tired of the buzz.

Granted, I’m not in the demographic – e.g., surly journalist who last did a craft at summer camp when he was 12. I’m also not clear about why there is so much fuss. So you can look through a bunch of pins and find cool stuff, then buy that cool stuff? Sounds a bit like Amazon.com.

To me, the most curious development is that we’re all talking more about Pinterest now than ever before. Apparently, millions upon millions of people (let’s be honest for once: most of the users are women) got hooked on pinning this last year, and now we’re starting to analyze why.

The same thing happened when I was a kid. Everyone got hooked on Pop Rocks. Oh, I’m telling you. It was fantastic. We’d walk into the 7-11 and buy a weekly supply. You put

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Picking the Products of the Year, or My Close Relationship with FedEx

I’m a product testing machine. Even the FedEx driver knows this. She smiles when she hands me a box, sometimes giving the package a playful jiggle-jiggle. In the warmer summer months, small children walk by and point at me, whispering “testing machine” in hushed tones (not really). I have so many boxes in my office, I can barely sit at my desk (that’s not even remotely true, but creates a funny word picture at least).

I’m amazed by how many products I’ve tested – somewhere around 8,000 in the last ten years. Gulp. You do the math on how much FedEx makes off me.

It wasn’t always like this. Back in the early aughts, I was not as prolific. A few days would go by and UPS would barely darken my doorstep. Now, when brown-shirted drivers arrive at my office, some of them give a doggie treat for my Border Collie mix. (If you must know, her name is Abby.) I am thinking of having them over for

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The Mayans Won’t Kill Us, But the Internets Might

I’m knee-deep in the Mayan Apocalypse right now.

Oh yeah: Zombie infestations, long-period comets, massive solar-scale destruction. Frankly, it’s a good diversion from testing laptops.

Apparently, and I did not know this either, the Mayans used something called a Tzolkin Calculator to keep track of their schedules and stay on top of things. “Honey, I’m running late for my meeting with the Ajaw!” “Did you check your Tzolkin Calculator?” “No, but thanks for reminding me!”

The Mayans predicted, as every Wal-Mart clerk knows, the world will end on December 21, or shortly after the last episode of How I Met Your Mother airs on CBS. More specifically, they predicted the planet Nibiru would collide with Earth and bring about a Total Cataclysmic Event.

Except, they didn’t predict any of that. The calendar runs out and then starts over. That’s it. As NASA space scientist and astrobiologist

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My Trip To Bountiful, Or Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

“Do you know why the CardMunch app won’t install on my iPad?”

I was speaking with Mark, an employee at Apple’s Santa Monica store a few blocks from my hotel, while visiting LA. He had that unimposing surfer-dude vibe you can only find within scent of a California ocean.

“That’s a good question,” he said, adhering to the unspoken code of conduct among all Apple employees: always compliment the customer first before you instruct them gently from your vast cornucopia of knowledge.

As we all know, the congeniality of an Apple employee is without equal in all of retailing. You can expect a pleasantly rigid demeanor from the employees at an Ikea store as they exhibit a vaguely Scandinavian curtness. We accept that because few of have actually been to Sweden. But Apple employees? They glide six inches off the ground. They glow like heaven.

Eventually, Mark tapped on my iPad screen. His

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The Employee Is The Company

Slogging my way through a convention this week in Los Angeles, I had a brainstorm. The clouds parted, the sun came out, and little bluebirds flapped away into the horizon. I had to sit down. My brain weathered the storm, thankfully, but not before a few cells wafted up through my cerebral cortex.

This does not happen every day. The longer I keep doing this job, the more infrequently a brainstorm occurs.

In the early days, I had ideas coming out of my ears, which must have looked weird. Why can’t someone make a hotel door key that is impervious to magnets and cell phones? What would it take for a car to understand the context of your day (e.g., running late for a meeting) and offer to help? I’m always analyzing and inventing. I study casino carpets in Vegas and Segway rental agreements in San Francisco. Put something in front of me and I will immediately start trying to decipher it

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Windows 8, or Why The Natives Will Own Us

She stared at the screen for five minutes.

In that space of time, entire Twitter trends came and went. I swear I missed the whole Jay-Z hashtag incident (you know the one), and probably at least four e-mails and a few Facebook posts. Google invented a new search engine algorithm, published it, upgraded it, and removed it.

“What do you do?” she said.

“Well, let me show you a few tips on this here thingie,” I said. “You drag up from the screen like this. That’s how you unlock.”

Cold stone silence.

“You drag up with your finger?” she asked, perplexed.

“Right.”

“Why do you need to do that?”

“I don’t know, that’s something you will have to ask Microsoft.”

Eventually, my wife unlocked the screen. She was using the new Windows Surface RT tablet. She asked about why you drag down from the top to close something. She asked about the difference between an app and a screen. She asked me

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Remembering CES 2012, or My Interview With Fiddy

He was not an imposing figure.

As the door cracked open, I could see him sitting on a couch sipping a Diet Coke, waiting in a patient repose. The bodyguards didn’t say a word, ushering me into the room with an assured, military-like calm.

His assistant smiled with a dual-purpose intent: don’t make this difficult for yourself or him. I nodded knowingly, having spent a few short minutes with other world-renowned celebrities in my time, and took my seat.

Curtis James Jackson III, better known as 50 Cent, reached out and offered a warm handshake. We gripped and grinned, and I started setting up my recording equipment. “Just need a minute to setup here,” I said.

“Are you getting along okay?” he said, nodding in the general direction of the showfloor. I was attending CES for my tenth year in a row. The gala event, exactly like going to a Best Buy with better lighting, happens every year

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