Quantitative Hiring for Fun and Profit

Let’s talk about your interviewing process. Specifically, how do you evaluate candidates? Intuition? Opinion? Experience? What if I told you there is a way to evaluate your candidates that is consistent, fair, and makes it really easy to justify your hiring decisions? It’s simple but a little more time consuming. In exchange for the extra time investment, you will ensure that everyone on your hiring team is operating from the same set of assumptions about how to evaluate candidates. You’ll take candidate evaluation beyond simplistic scorecards, while allowing the hiring team to fully own the evaluation process. I’d argue that adopting this hiring process will add value to your organization because your enhanced decision making superpower will do a better job of matching candidates to positions. You’ll find the best candidate for the position.Because your new hires will be better fits for both the position and your culture, they will perform better, and maybe even stick around longer. I’m about to describe a way to quantify the qualitative. You’ll learn how to pair rank and weight your feelings. It’s awesome.

There’s two parts to this thing. Part one is your criteria. Part two is the actual candidate evaluation. This whole process takes a little more time than just deciding on which behaviorally based questions you’re going to use, or whatever. You’re gonna need your team. One way or another you’re going to need to figure out who will be participating in the the hiring process, make sure everyone is familiar with the job description, and get them all in a room together for about an hour to sort out the criteria.


Once you’ve got everyone in the room, you’ll lead the team in a brainstorming session around what they believe are the most important qualities embodied by the new hire. Take 10 minutes or so, and capture everyone’s thoughts. A whiteboard will be helpful here. Now spend a few minutes consolidating the ideas, ie, “experienced developer” and “seasoned performer” can be combined into one phrase. Aim for no more than 10–12 descriptive words or phrases. Congratulations, you just finished the qualitative portion of this exercise.

Here comes the quantitative part. Ask the team to look at the first descriptive word or phrase (D1) and compare it to the second descriptive word or phrase (D2), and ask them, if they could only choose one the descriptive qualities, which would it be? This can feel like an impossible question sometimes, but the team needs to imagine two candidates, and each embodies only one of the qualities. Which imaginary candidate would be most successful in the position? That’s the “winner”.

Now let’s pause here for a moment to consider two ways of doing this small comparative exercise. The first way is straight majority rules — ask everyone to vote for one or the other, and go with the one that gets the most votes. This method is quickest. The second way is to tell everyone that you can’t proceed until they all agree on D1 vs D2. This method is slower, but more inclusive. It also takes some group facilitation skills. I’ve done both, and I can say that in larger groups, you don’t gain much for going slow. Smaller groups can come to consensus faster, and generally buy into the overall process more deeply when made to hash out their opinions, but if time is precious, just vote.

What you’ve just done is called “pair ranking”, and it is how you’ll process the whole list of descriptors. D1 v D2; D1 v D3; D1 v D4, then D2 v D3; D2 v D4, and so on until you have matched every descriptive word/phrase against all the others. If you’ve done the majority voting selection method, you’ll have to count the total number of votes, and the number of votes for each descriptive word/phrase. This will allow you to rank each descriptive word/phrase (D count divided by total count). If you’ve done the consensus method, the formula is the same but you’ll be counting fewer hash marks. This is pretty much as difficult as the math gets in this exercise. When you do the division, you’ll end up with a number that can be expressed as a percentage. Write out your descriptive phrases in order of percentage, highest percentage first. Consider not belaboring every single descriptor that gets a percentage greater than zero. I typically stop at 10% and either ignore the leftover percentages, or spread them out among the “winners”. The point here is to have a shorter list of no less than three weighted descriptors. Five weighted descriptors is a great number to aim for, but remember that the more descriptors you use, the more time the evaluation process will consume.

With your weighted descriptors in hand, you now know which qualities to look for in your candidates, and the importance of each quality. Pretty cool, huh? That’s enough work for the team for one day. Make sure everyone on the hiring team has a copy of the weighted descriptors. At this point you can proceed with your usual method of developing interview questions, but try to develop questions that relate to the list of weighted descriptors. After all, these descriptors are by definition the most important qualities for success in the position, as determined by the smart people on your hiring team. It is a good idea to get this work done well in advance of actually interviewing candidates. The process of ranking and weighting descriptors helps anchor their importance in the minds of your hiring team, and will make the final evaluations of candidates much smoother.


Once you’ve interviewed all your candidates, reconvene the hiring team to begin to pair rank the candidates against each weighted descriptor. Start with the first candidate (C1) vs the second candidate (C2) along your most heavily weighted descriptor (D1). Which candidate better embodies D1? Tally your votes or make a hash mark by that candidate, and continue with the rankings along D1. C1 v C3; C1 v C4, etc. Keep doing the rankings until every candidate has been evaluated against every other candidate for each descriptor. Usually you can see an obvious pattern emerging about halfway through the exercise, but for the sake of completeness keep going until the last ranking. This is where your earlier decision about how many descriptors you weight comes into play. This step takes time, and if your team is unfamiliar with the process they may push back against it, preferring to stick with their intuition. Ask them to stay with you, and don’t be shy about re-explaining the overall process again. The payoff is worth it when you see the lightbulb go off in their heads and they understand what they just did.

Again, this is a good use of a whiteboard. I put descriptors on the left and candidate names across the top. Often the hashmarks can make the winner seem obvious, but usually it is a good idea to multiply hashmarks by the weight of the descriptor. So if your D1 is weighted at .5 and C1 has gathered 11 hash marks, the D1 score for C1 will be 5.5 (.5×11=5.5). Once you have all these scores calculated by descriptor and candidate, add them all up by candidate to determine the winner. Most of the time the winner will be indisputable. Occasionally two candidates will be in a horserace and the final scores will be really close. When this happens, it’s time to have some further discussions with the team to come to consensus. Regardless of whether the winner is clear or the decision needs more massaging, check in with your team for a final gut check around the decision. If you’ve been diligent about the process, by the end everyone should understand what they just did, and should be able to validate the results against their intuition.

That’s it! You’ve successfully quantified the qualitative. Sometimes you’ll have people on the hiring team who are very resistant to engaging in this process. They’ll be more trusting of the old intuition or instinct or gut feeling. Acknowledge their preference and point out that 1) their intuition or gut feeling is going to come in really useful during the pair ranking process, and 2) encourage them to track their gut feelings during the interviews and compare them to the outcome of the quantitative process. It may not always match up, but they’ll feel valued by not having their preference dismissed out of hand, and you might even make them into a convert for this method of quantifying the qualitative!


If you’ve never encountered anything like this, it’s a great idea to practice it on your own decisions first. You can use it with anything — buying a car, deciding on a place to go to dinner, deliberating between vendors, etc. Avoid getting caught up in building an Excel spreadsheet to do some of this thinking for you. Just use pencil and paper for your hash marks. It’s quick and easy for personal decisions. Don’t forget to gut check the final result.

(this post was syndicated to 42hire.com)

DIY Korean homeland tour

Here’s the disclaimer: this isn’t really a post about a proper Korean “homeland tour”, at least not in the sense that it’s marketed by the big agencies. I’m not going to tell you all the cool places you should go. There are too many cool places to list, and anyway if all you need is an itinerary just Google it (or this). This is a post about how to have a good DIY visit to Korea with your family, adoptive or otherwise. Primarily Seoul, but much of the advice will probably apply in other big Korean cities. Some of the generalized advice will probably apply to other countries. Also, just FYI for those readers not based in the U.S., this perspective is skewed toward native English speakers living in the U.S.

Before the specific tips, there are just a couple of overarching philosophies to keep in mind…

Know Your Goal

This seems like one of those pieces of advice that you think you already know, but it is important enough to repeat. Understanding your goal(s) will make the trip so much easier. Decisions that would otherwise be excruciating become simple when contrasted against the goal. In our case, our goal was to go home with “stones unturned”, or things on our ToDo list that weren’t crossed off. In a nutshell, this trip was about mom and dad taking the kids somewhere we loved. We wanted to come home with the kids having some internal drive to return to do/see/learn/experience more of Korea, either as a family or individually. For example, one of the things we wanted to do was take the express train to Busan, since that’s where Amy and I met. It had the side benefits of seeing some of the countryside along the way, and having a beach to hang out at once we were there. But while we were in Seoul the weather in Busan changed and got rainy, so we stayed in Seoul. Knowing our goal made it easier to let go of the Busan side trip and do something else.

Do Your Research

This is probably another no-brainer item, especially considering that you’re reading this post while ostensibly doing your research! A little research goes a long way. The thing is, when you’re in another country, especially one with another language and alphabet, there’s a lot of “psychic overhead”. Psychic overhead is just a shorthand way of describing all the background processing that you’ll be doing both mentally and emotionally. Advance research helps limit the psychic overhead because it helps make things predictable and gives you a sense of control. It seems like no big deal from the comfort of your living room, but when you’re in a crowded subway station and there are people stacking up behind you at the ticket machine because you don’t know how to use it, and you don’t know how to ask for help, you’ll really wish you’d done a little research (true story).

With those bits in mind, here are some quick hits to help with your DIY Korean homeland tour:

  • Learn a little language. At least a few basics so you aren’t completely reliant upon English speakers. Books and flash cards are always great, and easily available at big bookstores and Amazon. Also check out TalkToMeInKorean.com for free language lessons via YouTube, KoreanClass101.com for a subscription podcast, or Quizlet for Korean flashcards. And practice by answering your phone in Korean (maybe not at work), or going to Korean restaurants and ordering in Korean, or making a family habit of saying hello, please, and thank you to each other in Korean. Also, if you have a smart phone, be sure and install Google Translate. It’s not perfect and it’s kind of slow (at least in terms of person-to-person interaction), but it can help extricate you from situations where nobody can understand one another.
  • Before buying your airline tickets, find the best travel rewards card, acquire it, and use it to buy your airfare. Plan way ahead for this step. At least a month before you plan to buy your tickets. In our case this single tip saved us about $450 on airfare. The “best” card changes pretty regularly, so don’t lean on our research for this one (it was the Barclay card). To figure out the current best pick, troll through this thread on FlyerTalk.com or check this page on FrugalTravelGuy.com. Generally speaking, rewards cards are either going to be through a bank (think Chase, Barclay, etc) or through a provider (airline, hotel, etc). Unless you’re really married to a particular airline mileage program, you’ll probably want to stick with a bank card since it’ll give you the most flexibility in terms of buying your tickets. The big thing to look for in a card is a healthy sign-up bonus (at least 30,000 miles/points). Beyond that, keep an eye out for other niceties like 0% APR for one year, or point multiples in specific categories (ie, triple points per dollar of spending on airfare, or double points per dollar in office supplies, etc).
  • For organizing travel, I really like TripIt.com. I’ve used the free version for years, but was pleased to learn that the Pro version upgrade came bundled with the travel card we selected. Sweet. I like how easy it is to forward confirmations (air, hotel, car, whatever) from my email inbox over to TripIt and then the app organizes my travel with all the particulars. Plus you can add notes, etc. Plus it has a nice format for printing out an emergency hardcopy (do it). Plus it’ll ping you with airline delays/changes. I like it.
  • For airfare comparisons, check out Google’s Matrix site. You can’t buy your airfare there, so don’t worry about that yet. This site helps you get a handle on the cheapest days to fly, and which airlines suit your needs best. The calendar view is pretty sweet, and I think the graphical implementation of the mobile version is even better. The overarching idea here is that if you’ve got a travel card that rewards you no matter what airline you choose, then you can either choose the cheapest pick, or you can set yourself up with a schedule that suits your needs a little better, all without wrestling with a particular airline’s logistics. The matrix site will let you set up an itinerary and print it out for your travel agent with all their special codes. I’ve never found this to be necessary; I’ve always been able to recreate itineraries online using either Hipmunk.com (personal preference) or airline websites.
  • For lodging, assuming you don’t have friends in the country who are willing to lend you some floor space, you’ve got a few options: vacation rental (AirBnB.com, FlipKey.com, VRBO.com, etc), smaller hostel-type hotels (more difficult to find and book without help), and straight up hotels (from local to Western brands). If you have a family bigger than about 5 people, you will have difficulty finding a straight up hotel room to fit everyone, which limits you to one of the two other options. Of those, the Western internet sites are easier to book. But if you have in-country help (or at least someone fluent in reading Korean on the Internet), you could probably find a hostel-type hotel for your size family. We went with a small apartment through AirBnB.com because it fit our goals (less expensive than a hotel, and provided a more realistic perspective on daily living). There were a couple of times, though, when we almost wished we were in a hotel so that we could avail ourselves of a concierge service for booking tours, etc. Our AirBnB host was awesome, but concierge isn’t in her job description so we didn’t bother her (plus, we do have friends in the city who did help us out). Judging from reviews on her listings, it sounds like others have leaned on her for concierge-type stuff and she has been gracious. YMMV.
  • Expect crowds. There will always be crowds, but some times and some places will have fewer crowds. But expect crowds. Seoul is larger than any city in the U.S. To put that in context, Seoul has roughly 6 million more residents than Los Angeles, all crammed into half of the land mass. So expect crowds wherever you go. Crowds can be a time-sink, an energy-sink, and even a money-sink. The first two are obvious, but the third comes into play with taxis. Taxi fares are a combo of time and distance, so it’s costing you money to sit in a traffic jam for 30 minutes. And speaking of taxis…
  • Taxis are everywhere. Since we have four people in our family, we fit pretty easily in a normal sized taxi (there are a few Sprinter-type taxis around, but they are rare). You could squeeze a fourth person in the back seat, but it better be a relatively small human. FYI, in Korea, seat belts are required up front, but only recommended in the back. As of this writing, taxi fares start at ₩3,000—that’s just for opening the door and getting in the car. After that the toll grows based on distance and time, as noted above. These days pretty much all the taxis have GPS in the car, so if you have a specific address the driver will punch it in and the GPS will reassure you that you aren’t taking the driver’s “special route” (read: long way). If you’re going to well known locations, you’ll just have to trust that the driver is going to get you there as quickly as he can. If you need reassurance, and have the language skills (or patience with Google Translate), you can use Naver maps to see how much a fare should cost. Good luck with that. I’d rather just trust the driver, or give a specific address. If you give a specific address, have it written in Korean, not in English. For most of us that means printing it out in advance (Research!).
  • Expect a lot of walking. Taxis are just one of a few ways of getting around the city. For a single person, a taxi will pretty much always be more comfortable and more expensive than any other transportation option (the others being subway, busses, and walking). For a family, a taxi can often be as cheap as the subway, unless there’s a lot of traffic. Aside from special city tour busses, my advice is to avoid the bus. It is difficult to figure out the schedule, and it’s really more of a localized option. The subway is easier to navigate and reasonably inexpensive. Walking limits you to some extent, but is what you should expect for marketplaces and tourist spots. The general routine will be: figure out how to use the subway to get as close as possible (there are some great subway maps for your smartphone), then walk the remaining distance which usually isn’t terribly far. When walking, remember that you can use subway underpasses to cross large intersections rather than trying to figure out how to get across on the street. Also, sometimes you will be tired of walking, and tired of crowds, and tired of the strain of an unfamiliar language. You might even have grumpy kids (gasp). This is a great time to hail a taxi and beat a retreat back to your lodging (have that written address ready to go).
  • Money stuff. Korean money is called “Won” (₩). The smallest paper currency is ₩1,000. The exchange rate varies daily, but is generally pretty darn close to $1 = ₩1,000. All proper retailers (shops, restaurants, etc) are required by law to take credit cards, so bring that new travel card with you. You can even use your card for cabs and subways (FYI, Korea is a no-tip culture). Smaller street vendors probably don’t take cards, and that’s when it’s handy to have a bit of cash on hand. You can exchange your cash at the airport on either side, but it’ll be the most expensive option. Though if you aren’t taking much cash, even the most expensive option doesn’t cost much. If a benchmark is helpful, we spent 7 days in Seoul and used about $500 in cash, and could certainly have gotten by on less by using the card more. If you really need the best exchange rate, change your USD into KRW at your local international bank (HSBC, Chase, Citibank, BofA, etc). At the other end, exchange your KRW to USD at a Korean bank. Remember that the bank option might take a couple of days, especially on the US side, so plan ahead.
  • Divide duties. If you have the benefit of a household with two adults, plus kids, then by all means plan ahead to figure out who will do what. In our case, Amy has the best language skills so she took the lead in the places where that was more important, while I kept the kids busy and out of her way. I can handle the less critical language scenarios (aka, buying soda and snacks at the corner store), so she was off the hook in those instances and could hang out at the apartment with the kids. We even let the kids take a swing at some of this stuff—the older one was confident enough to hit the corner store for his own snacks, and the younger one even stepped up in a restaurant to ask for more water please (in Korean, and with a little coaching from mom).
  • Bring your passports. It’s probably always a good idea to have your passport on you in a foreign country. If you’re reading this from the perspective of being part of an adoptive family, and the grown ups in your family aren’t of Asian descent, then having your passport can help make some potential conversations less awkward and drawn out. Google Translate can help too. Here’s putting it bluntly: we are two White American adults traveling with two Korean American kids. We got lots of double and triple takes, and once we had an extended “conversation” in a subway stop with with an older man who had lots of questions for us, and no English language skills. We didn’t have our passports on us at that time, but I imagine it would’ve made things a little easier on him if we could’ve shown him that we were a family. Thanks to Amy’s efforts he eventually understood, and was incredibly gracious toward us and genuinely affectionate toward the boys. The above scenario freaked out the boys a little bit, and helped drive home the point that roughhousing in public spaces in Korea is a bad idea. It’s impolite for starters, but it also draws attention to your unconventional family and begs questions from curious onlookers. After the encounter with the older gentleman, we learned better how to fly under the radar in public and limit the roughhousing to places where it’s expected (parks, apartment, etc).
  • Speaking of unusual scenarios, since Seoul is a big city you will see beggars on the street. Sometimes they’ll be drunk and sloppy. Sometimes scary. Sometimes they’ll be missing body parts. Since Seoul is a big city, the beggars don’t get much attention from Seoulites. Depending on your background, they may not warrant much attention from you or your kids either, but regardless it’s a good opportunity to have a conversation with your kids about homelessness in the US vs abroad, and the general human condition.

Figure out where to stay. Seoul has lots of neighborhoods. Check the Wikitravel page to get a handle on what suits your family.

So that’s all great advice, but you’re still left wondering what are you going to do while in Seoul? Well, remember the size of the city. There are a lot of options, and I think that what you end up doing should tie back into your goal for visiting in the first place. Seoul has theme parks, historical sites, marketplaces, galleries, museums, theaters, and on and on. Realize now that you will go back home having missed out on so many awesome things to do, and that’s ok! There’s always next time! 🙂 There are plenty of guidebooks to help you figure out what to do, but my suggestion is to make sure you don’t overbook yourself. Give yourself time to recuperate and refresh back at your lodging. Back to back non-stop days will take a toll on the kids (mine at least), and make them less fun to travel with. We had fun just walking to Namdaemun market from our apartment, buying a few toys and walking back to the apartment to play for a while. We got a good feel for the neighborhood, learned shortcuts to the market, and learned how to haggle a bit with vendors. Again, I think the activities tie back to your goals for the trip. I hope your trip is as fun as our was!

Letter to a 13 year old boy

I can hardly believe you are thirteen years old. I remember how nervous I was to hold you for the first time when you were a baby, thirteen years ago—you looked nervous too! And I remember when I turned thirteen and how I felt, and I wondered how my life would change now that I was a teenager.

I know it’s kind of weird (that’s me!), but I asked a bunch of people what kind of advice they’d give you, now that you’re thirteen. I asked our family and our friends. You know some of them really well, and others you only kind of know. I guess when you read this years later, you probably won’t remember who everyone is, so I made some notes to help with that.

I have some advice too, as usual. These days it feels like I don’t see you as much as I’d like, so I’m writing down all the stuff I wish we could talk about together, and we will eventually, I guess. I should tell you first, though, that I’m really proud of who you are and the adult you are becoming. I really admire your intelligence, and your sense of humor is a great indicator of that. I am constantly impressed by your athleticism because you make the hard stuff look easy (but practice still helps, right?). I am always in awe of how easily you make friends, and keep them. Did I already say I love your sense of humor? I love you so much, and I’m so proud and happy to be the father of such a cool son.

Here are a few quotes that I really like…

  • “To go fast, you need to be good. To be good, you need to go slow.” (unknown) I like this quote because it’s a reminder of how important it is to go slow and practice, and get better, so that when you really need to “go fast” those skills will be available.
  • “Nothing in life matters quite as much as it does while you are thinking about it.” (Daniel Kahneman) Kahneman is a psychologist, and this quote reminds me that the things I think are super important, or scary, or make me feel anxious, definitely aren’t as big of a deal as they seem at that moment. And that has ALWAYS proven true when I look back at those thoughts a few days later.
  • “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.” (unknown) This one makes me chuckle, but it’s true. Pros know what they’re doing, and they know how to avoid the expensive mistakes that amateurs make.
  • “In work, do what you enjoy; in family life, be completely present.” (Tao Te Ching) The Tao Te Ching is a book, not a person. The text dates back to 400 years before Christ, and a lot of the advice in there is still relevant. Do what you love, and when you’re with people, don’t let your mind, eyes, or ears wander away from them—be present.
  • “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” (Simone Weil) Ms. Weil was a philosopher and an activist. This quote really cuts through the crap and names the truth. You can always get more money to give away, but your attention is very limited and valuable. Be aware of where you spend it, and also be aware of when others spend their attention on you. It’s kind of another way of saying the same thing as the previous quote from the Tao Te Ching.
  • “Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.” (Mark Rippetoe) This one makes me laugh, but it’s also true. Rippetoe is a strength coach from Texas, and he’s funny and blunt. When you spend time getting stronger, you’ll be a more useful person in the world. Not just physically, but mentally too because spending time under a heavy barbell forces you to learn about yourself.
  • “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” (Ian Maclaren) Being kind to other people costs nothing (other than patience), and what you get in return is more kindness. We rarely know what other folks are dealing with, so it’s always a great policy to just be as kind as you can manage.
  • “Bear and forbear.” This is translated from the Latin phrase, “Sustine et abstine.” and it basically means to handle the hardships that come your way, and that there’s no need to add to other people’s hardships, or whine about your own. This quote comes from a group of people known as Stoics.

Speaking of Stoics, there was a guy named Marcus Aurelius who lived about 2,000 years ago. He was one of the emperors of Rome, and pretty much spent all his time at war. He had tens of thousands of soldiers under his command. Each night he wrote in his private journal, and surprisingly this journal has survived to this day. It’s called “Meditations”, and it’s his private notes to himself about how he did each day, and how he could do better. A LOT of people find this little book to be very valuable to them. There are other Stoics to read as well: Seneca and Epictetus top the list.

There’s a saying that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. For you, for a lot of years, three of those people were mom, me, and your little brother. As you get older, you’ll make your own choices about who those five people are, and your choices will affect how other people see you, and the opportunities that become available to you. That’s both unfair, and true. People will see who you spend time with, and they’ll assume you are similar. Spend time with brilliant athlete-scholars, and you’ll be seen as one, and treated accordingly. Spend your time with potheads, and you’ll be seen as one, and treated accordingly.

There are a few more things that I think are important for you to have heard sooner rather than later. A lot of this stuff seems like common sense, but you might be surprised by how uncommon “common sense” actually is.

Math and science

  • Science should be fun and interesting. Like Adam Savage said on Mythbusters, “Remember kids, the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.”
  • Learn about the Pareto Principle, also called the 80/20 rule. This basically means that just about anything can be split into 20% of something affecting 80% of something else. See if you can spot this happening with homework, or sports practice…usually the first 10% and last 10% will take up 80% of your time and brainpower.
  • Learn about what’s called the “bell curve”, or “normal distribution”. This is the idea that everything falls into a kind of pattern. Imagine all the 13 year olds in the world. A few are really tall, a few are really short. Most are pretty close to the same height. That’s a normal distribution. Almost everything fits this pattern, and knowing this will help you get a better idea about whether things are awesome or average.
  • Learn to distinguish between causation and correlation, because this is a really common way that people get tricked into believing things that aren’t true. Causation means there’s a direct relationship between an action and a result: if you eat ice cream (cause), your mouth will get cold (effect). Correlation means things happen together, but there may not be causation involved: drownings increase at the same rate as ice cream sales (obviously selling more ice cream isn’t the cause of more drownings, but in the summer both things increase).
  • Learn about the scientific method, and practice on yourself with food, sleep, hydration, exercise, etc. Keep track of results by writing them down. The scientific method just means that you test theories by experimentation, and close observation. For instance, you might wonder if you pitch better with just 4 hours of sleep (that’s called a “hypothesis”). So you’d experiment by observing your pitching performance after 4 hours of sleep, and comparing those results with your performance after 8 hours of sleep. The comparison is called “analysis” and helps you determine whether your hypothesis is correct.

Thinking and talking

  • Figure out how to be a critical thinker, and practice on adults. This might piss them off. Don’t let that stop you (but don’t be a dick about it). Critical thinking is a lot like the scientific method, because you’re always evaluating statements against your own knowledge and experience to see whether there are flaws in the logic and reasoning.
  • Learn to tell the difference between opinions and facts, especially when adults are talking. Everyone likes to pretend their opinions are facts. There’s even a saying, “You are entitled to your own opinions. You are not entitled to your own facts.” Adults make this worse on young people because they want young people to believe that everything that comes out of an adult’s mouth is a fact. It’s not. Use critical thinking to help tell the difference between an opinion and a fact. But don’t be a dick about it.
  • Don’t automatically trust authority; require evidence of one kind or another that the authority is worth your trust. Again, smile while you do this, and don’t be a dick about it.
  • There are things called “logical fallacies.” These are basically tricks with words that people use to make you believe things. If you can learn to identify logical fallacies, people will think you are a warlock. There’s a great list here: https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/


  • Learn about compound interest, and how to make money work for you instead of you working for money. Compound interest is the idea that your money makes a little bit more money on interest. Say you put $100 in the bank and that becomes $110 because of interest. Now you’re earning even MORE interest on $110, but you only put in $100.
  • Spend less than you earn. If you can learn to live on half of what you earn, and save the rest, you won’t have to work for money for very long. Very few people have the discipline to do this, including me.
  • If you have to choose between a poorly made thing that doesn’t cost much, or a well made thing that costs more, buy the well made thing. This is more of an opinion than a fact, but I think the well made thing will last longer and you’ll spend less time and money shopping for a replacement. Just remember that price isn’t always an indicator of quality.

Human performance and psychology

  • There is a phenomenon called a “plateau”. It means that when you practice doing something, you get better really fast at first, and then you stop getting better at it. This is normal. It’s also frustrating, and that’s normal too. If you think creatively about the situation you can usually break out of it and continue to make progress, but the new progress is usually slower than before. That’s also normal.
  • Sometimes our minds get all wound up and we start feeling anxious and worried. If that happens, try to pay attention to just one specific thing. Usually that will calm down your mind.
  • When someone does or says something that really bothers or upsets you, it’s easy to imagine that they are an awful or evil person, or that they are out to get you or something. That’s almost always not the case. Usually the other person just has a different perspective, and they aren’t intentionally trying to hurt you or make you mad. Figuring out their perspective really goes a long way to fixing the conflict.
  • There are so many explanations for events, but usually the simplest explanation is the one that’s closest to the truth. It’s too easy to invent all kinds of scenarios in our heads, but most of those scenarios add in a bunch of junk that just isn’t there. Incidentally, this is how a lot of conflict begins—people make up flawed explanations for events, then assume it’s the truth. Then they’ll do/say something to piss you off because their assumption is messed up. Keep an eye out for this, and don’t fall into the same trap.
  • Perception is reality. That is, always assume other people see the world differently than you see the world. Always work hard (communicate, negotiate) to reduce the difference between your version and their version.
  • When you are looking at a pile of paperwork (homework, whatever) and feeling overwhelmed, start with the item on top. It can only be three things: trash, save for later, or an action to take right now. If it’s trash, throw it away. If you can do it in 2 minutes or less, do it right now. If you need to save it for later, learn about the 43 folders system. This works with a lot of stuff, not just paper.
  • There are things called “cognitive biases” which are ways that human brains behave in order for us to try and make sense of the world. A lot of times these cognitive biases are basically our brains telling us lies because it doesn’t know what else to do. If you can learn to identify these cognitive biases in yourself and others, people will think you are a warlock. There’s more info about cognitive biases here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

This was a pretty quick note to write, but it was 46 years in the making. I am telling you all this stuff because it’s what I wish someone had told me when I was your age. I wouldn’t have understood all of it, but I would have picked away at it over time until I did understand, and it would’ve saved me a lot of time. I really hope these words help you in some way, and that you’re able to build on this and pass along something even better someday.

I guess I’ve rambled enough here. I love you.


Cool Tools Review

Gerber EAB

I have subscribed to Kevin Kelly’s (KK) CoolTools blog pretty much since its inception. I love it because of the variety of interesting things that scroll across the blog. Every now and then I’ll stop to consider something I’m using and decide it would make a nice addition to the CoolTools blog. I did that a while back with a knife that I use pretty regularly, and the review was published this week.

KK has also made a book from the blog. Lots of books have been made from blogs, but this one is really great. It feels and reads like the old Whole Earth Catalog that my parents used to have laying around the house. I received a freebie copy because one of my old reviews was included in the book.

All my CoolTools reviews are here.

ATTN. This is how to lose weight

Happy New Year! If you’re anything like me, you don’t really buy into the new year resolution racket. But maybe, like me, some part of your brain still kinda sorta knows that it’d be a good idea to lose a little weight, for whatever reason. For me, it’s a combination of wanting to carry less weight around during obstacle races and, if I’m honest, just a little bit of vanity. I spent a big part of last year learning a lot about nutrition and exercise. In this edition, I’ll try to distill some of that information down for you.

The thing about weight management with humans is that somewhere along the line we have lost sight of the fact that it’s pretty simple. We stopped seeing the forest for the trees. We let ourselves get marketed into beliving that losing weight is a complex process, and that all these diet plans are somehow making it simpler, when actually the reverse is true. Losing weight is pretty simple. Depending on your goals and lifestyle, it might not be easy. But it’s definitely simple. Don’t believe anyone who tries to convince you otherwise. There are several legit “good guy” authorities on nutrition out there. If you’re interested in knowing more than what I’ve written here, the bottom of this letter has a list for further reading1.

The Secret

The secret to losing weight can be summed up as: eat less than necessary, and be patient. That’s really it. As with most simple things, there’s a lot of meaning packed in there. Let’s unpack a bit of it. First, when I say “eat” I really mean eat real food. Eating doesn’t mean drinking protein shakes, though they have their place; it doesn’t mean eating nutrition bars or prepackaged meals or whatever. As Michael Pollan notes2, when you go to the supermarket, shop around the perimeter rather than in the inner aisles. The edges of the store are where you’ll find the real food: veggies, meat, fish, dairy. The next part, “less than necessary” just means that you consume fewer calories than you require to maintain your current weight. The “be patient” part means that this takes time. The more weight you have to lose, the more time it will take. Healthy weight loss occurs at about 1lb to 1.5lb per week, with some exceptions for start-up water weight loss. Pretty simple, eh?


There are a couple of corollaries to the above “secret” which can be helpful for active people to remember. The first is eat less, move more. The second is you can’t outwork a lousy diet. If you aren’t an athlete, or an active person, then don’t worry about these two corollaries. Sure, it’s good to move more, and you should. But if you live a generally sedentary lifestyle, with no plan to increase activity, then your weight loss is going to be all about food, and movement isn’t really going to play a part, so that first “secret” is all you need to know. Skip down to the bottom for a reading list, and I wish you luck. Everyone else, listen up.

Moving More

If you think you can just add in a three mile run every couple of days and watch the pounds slip away without adjusting what you eat, you are mistaken. The “move more” bit just means that when you eat less than necessary, you can increase weight loss by increasing your activity. Activity alone isn’t going to do it, unless you’re already eating less than necessary.

Moving Too Much More

Moving more doesn’t have to be hard. Just walking more will help. This stuff is all interrelated though, so be aware that if you move a LOT more, like run for miles and miles, your body will adapt to the “new normal” and respond by decreasing metabolic rate. The very thing you think should burn up more calories/fat actually contributes to slowing down your body’s ability to do so, making it more difficult to drop pounds. This applies to any cardio-based activity, not just running.

Count Something

If you are serious about losing some weight, you need to either count calories or macronutrients3. I know you didn’t want to hear that (I sure don’t), but it’s true. At least for a while, until you’ve got your schick down pat. If you are active, you probably should count macros. If you’re sedentary, either is fine. Here is a good generic calculator for starting to figure out your macros (and recipes). Sedentary folks can use this calculator. Active people should prioritize protein intake. If you’re vegetarian/vegan, you probably know where your protein comes from. Everyone else, get your protein from low fat meat: chicken, really lean beef, and seafood. It turns out that your body has a tremendous capacity for processing protein, so eat up.


Active people need to pay attention to the macronutrient makeup of their food. There are lots of ways to approach this, so feel free to do your own reading to see what works for you. The basic advice for active folks is to eat sufficient protein every day, and cycle your carbs and fat. That means assume you’re eating the same amount of protein each day, but on workout days you eat more carbs and a little less fat. On rest days you eat fewer carbs and a little more fat. You need those carbs on workout days so your body gets enough fuel. You want to lose weight, but you don’t want to sacrifice muscle. Eating insufficient carbs on workout days puts active/lean people at risk of catabolism, which is where your body starts using muscle as fuel rather than fat or readily available carbs. There’s plenty more detail behind all this, but thems the basics.

Tools For Success

Use online calcutors to help you figure out your macros and build receipes to fit them. Learn about, and consider using, intermittent fasting to give yourself some contraints. Reject the idea of “cheat days”; embrace planned breaks (aka refeeds) in your diet. Relax, and don’t get all OCD about food. The most efficient activity for weight loss is to build muscle (which increases metabolism), so consider learning how to lift heavy things.

That Is All

I’ve gone on too long already, but in summary, pay attention to your food, and don’t stress out about the occasional slip-up. Accept and move on. If you need more details on any of this, read the authors listed below. In particular, learn about the causes of metabolic slowdown and the solutions for fixing or avoiding it. Also, if you find misstatements or mistakes in the above, please let me know! I’m an absolute layman when it comes to this, and I’m learning as I go. Writing this for you helps me understand it better.

Good Luck With The Diet

Thanks for reading,


  1. For deep info and how-to information, read Lyle McDonald. For good reviews of current nutrition science, read Alan Aragon. For a combo nutrition/fitness perspective, read Martin Berkhan. If you want a little coaching on nutrition while staying active, look into Andy Morgan. ↩

  2. Michael Pollan’s books, in particular Omnivore’s Dilemma. ↩

  3. The main macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Some folks also include alcohol. When counting macros, it’s a good idea to include a little buffer and stay flexible. Andy Morgan has a great outline of how to do this.  ↩

ATTN. here are your lists and guides


By this time each year we start to see a proliferation of end of year lists and gift guides. This edition takes a look at a few. My favorite “list of lists” used to be produced by Rex Sorgatz, but he stopped doing it a couple of years ago. Take a look at the glory it once was. This edition will be nothing like that, but I will point out some of the book lists and gift guides I’ve found most interesting lately.


Before we get to the actual book lists, check out this list of best book covers of 2012. The entry at #8 is a book that our family read aloud together during Spring Break this year, and we loved it. Wonder is a fantastic young adult novel about a boy with congenital facial deformities, and how he made his way thorugh his first year of middle school. Highly recommended, and it pops up on some of the lists that follow. Also, re: the following lists, I left some off because I hated their paginated design. Notably HuffPo, Esquire, and Christian Science Monitor. Look ‘em up if you like.

2012 Books

  1. Amazon’s Editors Picks >> don’t miss the categorical sidebar on the left (also: some big discounts on this list)
  2. Amazon’s best sellers >> depressingly predictable
  3. Goodreads Choice Awards >> great categorization, chosen by readers
  4. NPR’s Best Books list >> good variety
  5. Publisher’s Weekly >> nothing in here for me, honestly
  6. Barnes & Noble’s list >> lots to browse
  7. NY Times Notable Children’s Books >> one of several lists from NYT
  8. NY Times 100 Notable Books >> another from NYT
  9. NY Times 10 Best >> this is the list you’ve probably already seen
  10. Washington Post’s 10 Best >> be sure to check the links at the bottom of the page for more lists
  11. About.com’s bestseller list >> better variety than Amazon’s list
  12. Audible’s list >> in case you’re more inclined to listen
  13. The Guardian’s list >> good British sensibilities (also)
  14. Brainpickings’ Kid’s Illustrated and PIcturebooks >> love
  15. Brainpickings Psychology and Philosophy >> this is the list I wish I could just import into Amazon
  16. Brainpickings Science Books >> SCIENCE (be sure to browse BP’s site for more lists you might like)
  17. Largehearted Boy’s list of lists >> a bit of overlap, but lots of good indie lists here
  18. strategy + business list *>> the original list is behind a paywall (humbug!), but 800CEOREAD grabbed it. Also keep an eye out for 800CEOREAD’s own list coming later
  19. Bloomberg’s list of business books >> lots of overlaps in this genre

Gift Guides

There are too many niched-out guides to count. I’m sticking with the ones that interest me. Maybe they’ll interest you, too.

  1. Uncle Mark’s Gift Guide and Almanac >> a classic, though this year is pretty spartan. check previous editions by just changing the year in the URL of the PDF (if you don’t understand what I just wrote, keep moving)
  2. Maker’s Kids Gift Guide >> always fun stuff here
  3. Make Magazine’s Gift Guide >> more stuff for making
  4. Duluth Trading Gift Guide >> love Duluth Trading
  5. Lehmans Gift Ideas >> some fun old-school ideas
  6. Manufactum >> not a gift guide, and not cheap, but I love the stuff you can find here
  7. Ask Mefi’s metaguide >> keep an eye on this page in case more guides pop up

I know that feel bro

also! be sure and check out ChristmasGIFs.org for the finest in Christmas GIFfery.


Thanks for reading,



ATTN. Please enjoy your food

Here’s a very short letter for you today, since I’m at the beach with family for a long weekend and can only ignore them for so long. First a quick bit of housekeeping. There’s a little ATTN. badge over there on the left. If you don’t see it, something went wrong. I’m grateful to Darryl Brown for the graphics assist. The badge will show up here, and on the brand spanking new ATTN. archive site. The URL is attnplea.se, the double entendre of which pleases me greatly. 🙂


You Shall Not Buy

Here in the U.S., it’s the day after Thanksgiving and consumerism is in full effect. It’s kinda gross, actually. For years now, AdBusters has organized Buy Nothing Day. The posters are still cool, though the movement seems to be less visible these days. Or maybe the ideas are spreading more broadly: check out the front page of Patagonia.com today (screenshot).


But I’m a pragmatist and a good deal is a good deal. I kinda don’t even want to start telling you about some of the deals that are going on, because you have a brain and can find them yourself. Those were some weird disclaimers I just wrote. Do I sound conflicted? Anyway, there’s no need to camp all night in front of a store (I’ll admit to doing this for REI return sales, but c’mon, I was in college). The Wirecutter has the best roundup of online gadgety deals, if that’s your thing. The Clymb has some ridiculous deals on outdoorsy stuff (invite if you need it)RetailMeNot has the rest of it. And that’s enough of that. (Why isn’t there a deal on the Whisky Advent Calendar?)


Obligatory Book Section

One book that I haven’t read yet is How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read [insert joke about needing this book in college]. Rest assured that I will eventually read it (Maria Popova already has). I’ll probably grab it from my local library. It is sometimes a hassle find a book on a web site like Amazon, and then copy the title, then fire up your library’s reservation page, paste in the title, and reserve the book. A little trick that might help speed things up is the old library bookmarklet generator. If it works for your library, it will totally be worth the time it takes to figure out and build the correct bookmarklet. It didn’t work for me a few years ago, so I had a smart undergrad build me a version that did work. Very handy.


This Sums It Up


Thanks for reading, and happy Friday.


P.S. Did you know you can just reply to this letter and it’ll come right to me? Try it out if you’ve got pointers for me, or think I screwed up, or just want to say hi.