My day job as an industry analyst gives me great exposure to all kinds of business writing. Some of it is good. A lot of it isn’t. A common trait of bad business writing is what I call the illusion of action, or giving the appearance that you’re advising or instructing your reader to do something, but the action is either nonexistent or vague. From the content I’ve reviewed, weasel words are a big contributor to weak business writing.
Data visualizations increasingly inform our daily decisions. Traffic visualizations inform which route to take to the office, business intelligence dashboards indicate how you’re doing on projects and key performance indicators. And data collected by fitness trackers tell you how close you are (or aren’t) to reaching your weight loss or fitness goals.
“…in a functioning society markets are shaped and re-shaped by political power”
During my undergrad, one of the most enjoyable classes I took was how to develop emerging economies. The documented progression of economies from agriculture to manufacturing was fascinating, but it was only a 300-level course and it was short on details. I found Joe Studwell’s “How Asia Works” on some recommended book list and promptly added it to my Kindle.
Deciding what information to include in a presentation is a challenge everyone faces. From the presenter’s perspective, every fact that supports the presentation objective has some value. These might be case studies, data points, primary research, or other elements that drive the point home. Some facts, like primary research studies, might have a high impact while others, like anecdotes and informal stories, have less impact.
On April 30th, South China Morning Post reported that Chinese companies are using brain-reading technology to detect the emotional state of workers. The article was short on details but long on effectiveness claims. If you missed it, the device looks like this:
Sharing a great post from Farnam Street on mental models for problem solving. In my day job, I use a number of these methods for market and product forecasting. One of the most valuable methods is Second Order Thinking:
First-level thinking is simplistic and superficial, and just about everyone can do it (a bad sign for anything involving an attempt at superiority). All the first-level thinker needs is an opinion about the future, as in “The outlook for the company is favorable, meaning the stock will go up.” Second-level thinking is deep, complex and convoluted.
When working with technology vendors, they frequently can’t get past the first level. In their defense, the first order is what’s in front of them – often the next quarter of results. My end user clients, the folks writing checks for technology, are less concerned about the next 3-6 months, but the next 3-6 years. This is where second order thinking comes in. It’s often contentious and imperfect; predicting the future usually is, but this model gives a framework for approaching it.
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The top news item this week is the death of Ascendance Biomedical’s CEO, Aaron Traywick. Also, artificial retinas, YouTube’s apparent attack on nootropics content, and the cognitive benefits of music and language training.
Musical training, bilingualism, and executive function: working memory and inhibitory control
Early studies suggested the possibility of a cognitive advantage from musical training and bilingualism but have failed to be replicated by recent findings. To assess whether cognitive benefits from training exist, and how unique they are to each training domain, this study compared musicians and bilinguals to each other, plus to individuals who had expertise in both skills, or neither. The findings confirm previous associations between musicians and improved cognition and extend existing evidence to show that benefits are narrower than expected but can be uniquely attributed to music compared to another specialized auditory skill domain.
Biohacker and CEO of Ascendence Biomedical Aaron Traywick Found Dead in DC
The biohacker community suffered a loss this week. Aaron was found dead in a float tank in DC. It is currently unknown if [Ascendence](https://ascendance.io] will continue operations. Before he died, Ascendance was planning a CRISPR-based trial for treating lung cancer.
YouTube Is Removing Some Nootropics Channels
YouTube deleted at least three nootropics channels over the past three days, leaving members of the community confused and worried that a larger crackdown is coming. Apparently this wasn’t targeted, per the updated Motherboard article, but it leaves more questions than answers about YouTube’s enforcement and appeal guidelines.
New Studies Show Dark Chocolate Can Enhance Cognitive And Immune Health
Although doctors have known about dark chocolate’s health benefits for awhile, these new studies are the first to look specifically at the brains and immune systems of human patients. Flavonoids, an antioxidant, are credited with reducing brain and heart inflammation, but these antioxidants aren’t limited to chocolate. They’re also found in dark vegetables and fruits.
Pupils are taking drugs to help them perform well in exams, says Dr Miriam Stoppard
It’s finals season for many college and university students, which means a raft of “smart drugs” articles. Many of these are overblown and designed to create more FUD than fact.
Scientists develop ‘artificial retina’ in hope to restore sight to the blind
A cheap new artificial retina could soon be used to restore sight to the blind. Researchers from Tel Aviv and Linkoping have developed a small, photoactive film capable of converting light into electrical signals that stimulate light-sensitive nerve cells in the eye. It is hoped that the research could lead to the development of a wireless implant which could be inserted in the eye of a person whose light-sensitive cells have degraded. This technology may be adapted for other biological applications.
Earlier this week, Vice reported that YouTube removed several channels that cover nootropics. I also had trouble publishing Cognitive Enhancement Weekly when MailChimp’s automated service detected a violation of its acceptable use policy. While MailChimp quickly resolved my problem, the YouTube channels have yet to be restored.
I think what’s triggering these automated responses is coverage of kratom. Kratom is an opioid-like herb promising relief from pain, depression and anxiety. The DEA has been on the warpath to ban sales of the herb and make it a Schedule 1 drug, putting it in the same category as heroin and LSD.
Prior to this week, I’ve never mentioned kratom in a mailer. The first time I did, the content was flagged. According the to Vice article, at least one the YouTube content creators believes his coverage of kratom is what triggered the ban. Platforms like YouTube have rules that are applied arbitrarily and they frequently leave no avenue for appeal. Suppressing information, especially for substances with questionable efficacy, benefits no one.
There was a recent Twitter thread, which I can no longer find, asking presenters for their worst experiences on stage. I have one that is pretty awful, but too long for Twitter, even with 280 characters per post.
Several years ago, my company put on two events back-to-back. The first two and a half days were about business intelligence (BI), while the second day and a half covered enterprise information management (EIM) and master data management (MDM). Personally, I never understood why the two events were separate. The topics are linked too tightly. Luckily, we’ve since restructured the event into one cohesive offering.
One side effect of having two events is that sometimes you gave the same presentation twice. That’s what happened to me on the transition day: I gave one pitch in the morning to a business intelligence audience, then had to give it 90 minutes later to the EIM crowd. Only it wasn’t a crowd. See, once people registered for the EIM portion, they were free to attend BI sessions. As a consequence, I only had about seven people in my second session.
The small audience wasn’t a problem. The problem is how the audience shrank from seven to six.
Apparently an attendee from the previous session was having a health scare and she couldn’t be moved out of the room, and the EMTs took some time to arrive. Fortunately, they arrived about 10 minutes into my presentation, when they proceeded to take her vitals, give her oxygen and strap her onto a gurney. With about 5 minutes to go in my pitch, they wheeled her out to a waiting ambulance.
The entire time, my rapidly shrinking audience was trying to listen to me babble on about data lakes when everyone was distracted by the medical emergency in the back of the room. Needless to say, my scores for that session weren’t great.
A popular cliché is that you should enjoy the journey as much as the destination. When it comes to business travel, that’s not my policy. My policy is to make the journey as painless and ignorable as possible. That’s shaped how I travel. Here’s how I get from point A to B and back.
About My Travel
I travel just over 100,000 miles a year, mostly for events that my company puts on. I need to pack a couple suits, dress shirts and training gear. I may also need to take weather gear like coats, gloves, etc. I also travel with a lot of electronics: Kindle, iPad, laptop and noise canceling headphones.
I have an unhealthy obsession with the idea of one-bag travel. There are dozens of structured backpacks that apparently work well for tourists and casual travelers, but I always travel with at least one suit and several shirts. Add in workout gear, casual clothes, another pair of shoes, dopp kit and electronics, and you’re talking about looking like a wrinkled mess when you get where you’re going. A structured suitcase is essential.
My go-to carry-on is the overpriced Tumi Alpha International. I fell into the Tumi because I got a Tumi gift card from my employer when I finished my MBA. (This was probably their way of telling me to take a hike.)
The Tumi lets me easily pack enough for a 3-day work trip and the bag has been flawless over five-plus years and hundreds of thousands of miles of air travel. The bag still looks new, but that’s not because of some special Tumi magic. It looks new because I never check it. The Tumi warranty is only 5 years and it’s fairly limited. Because of the paltry warranty Tumi chooses to put on its overpriced luggage, I check a different bag for longer trips. This is where the Briggs & Riley comes in.
My second bag is the Briggs & Riley Baseline.
I’m a fan of Briggs & Riley because of their lifetime warranty and innovative internal expansion system. The bags wear well and have quality construction. In addition to the Baseline, I have another large rolling suiter that’s been through hell and back. Once, I used a hotel sewing kit to make emergency repairs while in Sydney. I’ve also sent it in for warranty service multiple times. Wirecutter also has nice things to say about the brand.
For longer trips when I can’t do laundry, like a week-long, multi-city trip, I’ll divide clothing between the two carry-ons. Then I check one and keep the other so I’m covered if the airline loses a piece of luggage. As I travel, I move the dirty clothes into the checked bag. The B&R bag takes most of the abuse since it’s always the one I check.
Another essential piece of luggage is a lightweight daypack. I prefer the REI Flash 22. It’s easily packable, but still has great capacity at 22 liters.
If that’s too much, there’s also the Flash 18, as well as several great options from North Face, Osprey and others. These are great for tourist activities, or for carrying your gear to the nearest gym.
Packing comes down to what I take and how I organize it in my luggage. I heavily rely on Eagle Creek packing cubes. I have multiple sizes, but always get the lightest weight version. Packing cubes simplify everything about packing, unpacking and general organization. And if customs wants to rifle through your stuff, cubes make it easier to repack and get on your way.
On the Plane
This is where I try to zone out as much as possible. I’ve found two things to help make that possible:
This mask is countered so it stays off your eyes and the elastic band doesn’t bite into the tops of your ears.
I use these ear plugs with my noise canceling headphones to block as much noise as possible.
I’m always interested in approaches, products or techniques others use to master their air travel. If you’ve got a tip, please leave it in the comments.