John Swartzwelder, Sage of The Simpsons

Many of my favorite Simpsons episodes of all time, including “Homer at the Bat” and “Bart Gets an Elephant”, were written by John Swartzwelder.

This article is a rare interview with a notoriously reclusive guy, and as someone who was practically raised at the altar of this show, getting a closer look at one of their disciples was a treat.

Favorable Conditions Never Come

We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.

How raising children can change a father’s brain

Consider a man who leaves his menopausal wife and family to start a new family with a younger, fertile woman. Or think of certain high-status, married fathers who spend considerable time and money on girlfriends, mistresses and even prostitutes. Yet, many other men choose to forego these pursuits. They override impulses that evolution has programmed into their brains, impulses that evolved because they enhanced the reproductive success of their ancestors. They do so out of love and respect for their partners and their children, and out of respect for social and cultural norms. But how do they do what males of other species seem incapable of?

The answer, I believe, is that they rely on the crowning achievement of human brain evolution: the prefrontal cortex. Not only is the human brain three times larger than the brain of our closest living primate relatives, the great apes, but the human prefrontal cortex is also larger than expected for our brain size. Our prefrontal cortex is what allows us to override ancient, evolved impulses in the service of honouring commitments, abiding by social norms, and exercising our moral responsibilities. We are privileged to have this remarkable organ, and we fathers would all do well to make use of it.

What a Hobby Feels Like

I grew up in a place, and a time, where hobbies — activities that had no place on your resume, no function in getting you into a better school — were still commonplace. Amongst the bourgeois American middle class, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Old Millennials were the last to experience this attitude towards activities and leisure. My partner spent his junior high and high school years at a competitive prep school on the Main Line in Philly, and has only recently come to realize that he had no hobbies, and no sense of what he actually liked to do, just what he needed to do in order to shape himself for school, then college, then work. Every hobby, for him, is an adult hobby — and thus all the more difficult to discover and adopt.

Hobbies are tough, especially hobbies that take up large chunks of a day (such as training for a marathon) or an actual entire day (such as getting season tickets to a sporting event).

I've got a few things that I'm thinking of getting into this year. First, tinkering with physical things. I am gonna try to restore some of my older broken tech that is laying dormant in my basement.

Second, flying. I want to get a discovery flight and possibly get my pilot's license.

Both of these things will take up "time", but frankly, after giving up most of my social media, I have a lot of free time in the evenings that gets eaten up with television. I'm ready to start trying some new things and being curious again.

Leave It Better | Pack It Out

Who couldn’t love a story like this? Two people biked across America with a mission to pack out as much trash as they could.

A beautifully told story that compels one to really take stock on what matters in life.

Medieval Wood Riving - An Attempt to Recreate Craftsmanship

In a lot of ways, this video is boring, useless, and a colossal waste of time.

In many other ways, however, this is compelling to the point of fascination.

A Swedish carpenter discovers giant 13 meter rafter supports inside an 800 year old church. He thinks to himself, “I wonder how they were able to use such beautiful wood in order to create this.”

What does he do? He enlists the help of 3 fellow master carpenters, who in turn locate a suitably similar tree, discuss their hypothesis around the tools and techniques used, and then execute those ideas.

This video is emblematic of a style of YouTube video I’ve been obsessed with lately: how do things work? Not just old tech, but extremely old tech.

I’ve never thought to myself, “how did people used to build big buildings?”, but I’m sure glad somebody else not only had that thought, but decided to document it for others to learn from.

By All Means: DuNord Craft Spirits Founder/CEO Chris Montana

This episode of the excellent By All Means podcast demanded to be shared for two reasons:

First, Allison Kaplan is painfully good at her job. I say painful because, as a podcast host myself, I know it’s not easy to (a) identify good stories and (b) lead a guest comfortably through an interview. She was incredible as a host in this episode, and anyone looking for tips on how to conduct a long-form interview aught to follow Ali’s work.

Second, the story told in this episode is undeniably compelling. Chris Montana’s story is filled with ups and downs, he’s a guy you just can’t help but want to root for.

I lived a couple miles from Du Nord when it first opened, and my wife and I quickly found it to be our favorite local spot. Even now, I can close my eyes and remember exactly how I felt sipping a gin cocktail in his lounge. I’ve never met Chris before, but after hearing his story in full, I can tell that my experience at Du Nord was carefully considered and designed, and I appreciate it all that much more.

There’s grief and pain tied in with the Du Nord story, to be sure… but also lots of success and optimism for the future. It’s stories like these that we all need to hear, learn from, and share voraciously with others.

The Weak Case for Grit

I’ve heard many interviews with Angela Ducksworth over the past few years, and I’ve always felt bad after each one.

Grit, as a trait, is something I feel like I possess relatively little of.

Maybe reading this article is just feeding into my own confirmation bias a bit, but the reason I wanted to share it is because it introduced a different measure to me: conscientious.

Conscientiousness is a component of the popular “OCEAN” model of personality, according to which we all have “big five” rather self-explanatory measurable traits: openness (to experience), conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. This model has left a large mark on personality psychology, in part because it raises useful questions that researchers have subsequently investigated, ranging from the extent to which variation in these traits is caused by nature versus nurture—one 2015 meta-analysis estimated the answer is about 40 percent genetics, 60 percent environment3—to whether and to what extent various traits correlate with success in work, relationships, and other settings.

Again, maybe I’m just hearing what I want to hear, but I’m very interested in learning more about the OCEAN model of personality.

Update: I just spent nearly 90 minutes convincing my kids to each eat half a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Maybe I do have some grit after all...

Still Killer: Deryck Whibley On Sum 41’s “Fat Lip” 20 Years Later

“I think I still feel the same way about it that I did in the very beginning,” Whibley says. “The day that I get sick of playing a song that everyone knows and everyone goes crazy when we play it, and everyone starts jumping around and everyone sings it, I should just quit because I’m so fucking jaded. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. I’ve never understood that. I don’t get Radiohead, even though I love Radiohead, why they don’t play their big songs.”

I respect the hell out of that pull quote, it’s how more of us should feel about things that make other people happy.

It’s hard to express what this song meant to me back in 2001 as an impressionable sixth grader. I’m definitely not an edgy, punk skater kid (nor have I ever been), but this song is still in my regular rotation because it gives me so much life.

Influence: How Salespeople Use Your Mental Shortcuts Against You

I often think about what makes me dislike the “sales” part of being an entrepreneur, and this article outlines exactly why.

The article is a summary of Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, and gives six examples of how people can convince you into thinking, acting, and consuming a certain way.