Moonwalking with Einstein, Book Review

Moonwalking with Einstein is a delightful read offering a solid overview of memory techniques. I normally finish a book before recommending it, but the day I started reading I’d told at least six people to check it out. A few days later when I finished I considered it one of the best pieces of participatory journalism I’ve read. By the end, I was neither tired of the book nor sad it was over.

Author Joshua Foer managed to pique my interest for the three days I spent reading and ended exactly when it came time. Foer takes you on a journey from his covering the US memory championships as a reporter in 2005, to becoming the US memory champion, competing for a world title in 2006. He gives an overview of several techniques to improve memory and dives into some fascinating medical literature. Among my favorite parts of the book was an interview with EP, an amnesiac with short term memory comparable to that of a goldfish and no long term memories since the 1950s.

If unfamiliar with techniques like the memory palace and mnemonic devices the book may give you a good place to start learning more. If you’re someone who has some, or even expert familiarity with memory techniques this book is still so well written and interesting as to be an enjoyable read.

Memory techniques?

I had some exposure to the methods described in this book, from an elementary school phonics program called PACE (Processing And Cognitive Enhancement). For many of the same reasons that at 8 or 9-years-old I didn’t keep memorizing everything by storing it in palaces, I’m probably not going to start now. As a kid, I memorized all the US Presidents by visualizing a woman, with feet made of atoms watching a smiling sun wearing a chefs hat, who was BBQing a smaller angry sun. Watching son = Washington, atoms = Adams, chef sun = Jefferson, angry sun = Madison, and so on.

Side note: While it’s not quite the same memory device I learned with, this video shows the US Presidents using mental images.

Those mental images were helpful in a way, but they also gave me extra contextless information that as an adult has no use. I still remember most of the presidents in order, but any application that would require my knowing the order of presidents would likely also require that I know some historical context, and would merit a quick glance online to fact check. As an adult, you’re not often asked who was the President between Grover Cleveland’s two terms (Benjamin Harrison).

Memorization of facts without context doesn’t really matter. Knowing the order of Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower don’t help you understand history. Knowing order doesn’t tell you the economic policies of Hoover and Roosevelt, and how they played into the great depression. The order doesn’t tell you about internment camps, or when Eisenhower hired historian’s to dispute the book Other Losses.

Did writing burn down the memory palace?

Much of what is covered in the book to improve memory seem like gimmicks. Even if they are actually ancient tools. The Method of loci aka the memory palace is described in the ad Herennium, a Latin text from late 80s BC. Even with that history, memory tricks feel like sideshow tricks today.

Socrates in his day disliked writing believing it would make humanity forgetful. I bet Socrates would be shocked by a modern library, and couldn’t fathom our world with cell phones and search engines. I remembered Harrison (a sun with chest hair) was the 23rd President with Cleveland’s (a big cleaver cutting a landmass) terms both before and after, but I did look that up to be sure. That was also me, as an adult, creating a reason to remember the order of US presidents.

The 4-minute mile for memory contests

Even with some knowledge of the core memory techniques, I had no knowledge of The World Memory Championships.

The World Memory Championships were and are fascinating, but it is hard to wrap my mind around what the 13 years since Moonwalking with Einstein was written have done to the world records. In 2006 the fastest time to memorize a shuffled deck of cards was 32 seconds, held by Ben Pridmore. That record is now 13.96 seconds set by Zou Lujian in 2017.

Somehow I don’t think that the speed card world record of just under 14 seconds will ever be thought of as Roger Bannister’s 4-minute mile for memory contests. While it’s pretty safe to say the limit of 13.96 seconds to memorize the order of a shuffled deck of playing cards is in your head, unlike the 4-minute mile it’s probably not going to become any sort of a standard among professional competitors.

Learning How To Learn

I am skeptical of how much value memorization methods will add to my life but it’s still a topic of interest. I think we all want a way to learn things faster and better (I’m also one to pursue stupid human tricks).  While I was reading Moonwalking with Einstein I also took a free class on Coursera called Learning how to Learn, I highly recommend it.

The class, taught by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, gives a lot of insight into the human brain and ways to improve your own performance. If you’re going to take the class don’t skip the optional interviews. The interviews with Benny Lewis, Nelson Dellis, Scott Young & Daphne Gray-Grant stick out in mind, but every interview is worth the extra time.

Learning how to Learn is based largely on Oakley’s A Mind for Numbers, a book that I plan on reading soon. If you’re also interested in improving memory and other mental performance, here are some other books I intend to check out. These come recommended by Ron White, the 2009 & 2010 US Memory Champion. His YouTube Channel is worth checking out, but in one video he recommends:

  • Mega Memory by Kevin Trudeau
  • The Memory Book by Harry Lorrayne
  • Quantum Memory by Dominic Obrien
  • Maximize Your Memory by Ramon Campayo
  • Math Magic by Scott Flansburg

While I’ve yet to read any of these books, since Math Magic has been on my reading list for some time, and Ron White says It’s “a great book if you want to know how to multiply 782 times 25 in your head…” I’m looking forward to it.

Header Image by Electric and Musical Industries Limited

What I Learned Failing Three Side Hustles Last Year

Last year I started a few projects outside of my day to day at Push ROI. I wanted side hustles, the kind of small business I could actively help grow, but also that didn’t require funding more than I could bootstrap. Some of those failed pretty epically, for reasons I was sure, were in no way my fault.

I made the mistake of complaining to a mentor, under the guise of seeking advice. After breaking down how my partner in one side hustle let a motorcycle (intended to be repaired and resold) get stolen just weeks after its purchase. While another venture ran many months behind schedule because a different person greatly exaggerated their abilities and work ethic.

I told him how a company I teamed up with on an analytics tool stopped responding to any communication, after failing to meet several deadlines. Leaving me to find an alternative at the 11th hour, to avoid a contract breach.

Don’t ask for advice if you want sympathy

I expected some degree of sympathy, maybe a story of how the same kinds of things had happened to him in the past. Instead, he asked me…

“How many of your business partners announced themselves to you as unreliable before you started working with them?

Honestly, in all but one case, I had reason to believe that my chosen partners were not reliable. I had ignored obvious signs, for bad business reasons. In one case I wanted to help a friend, in another, the opportunity cost seemed low and the time just seemed right, of the three projects I had just complained about, two involved people I viewed as only slightly more reliable than a meth smoking toddler.

The third project still felt like a blind side. An acquaintance of mine ran a VC funded startup, and we were licensing the use of their existing technology. It required their development team to make a few changes that we’d all discussed and agreed on, but it should have gone smoothly.

His next question…

“How many of these businesses would you have attempted without personally knowing the people you were working with?”

It was just one, the technology project. The other business just seemed like opportunities because I know the right people. He had an unamused look, but was laughing when he said:

“Such amazing opportunities, that you could work with people you just described as unreliable.”

He asked one more question:

“Of these problems you experienced how many of them could have been avoided with different actions on your part even with the same partners?”

That wasn’t something I liked thinking about. Actually, in all three cases, I should have acted differently. When it became clear things were running off the rails, friend or not I needed to have a do your part or get replaced conversation. When risks I wasn’t comfortable with were being taken I should have said no.

Since I was the one putting money in any of these projects, I was the only one with a possible downside as opposed to just a lack of upside. It was my job to protect my investment, and this is more true than usual because I was working with people I already knew weren’t reliable. And regardless of the people I was working with I should have had backup plans if someone couldn’t deliver on their end.

After all, when something intended to be repaired and sold, was stolen; for my partner, it meant he wouldn’t make money, but I lost money. His recklessness and unwillingness to tell me he needed help were almost as responsible for the theft as the thieves. But I knew he was being reckless, I knew he was unreliable, making my inaction a contributing factor in the ordeal.

On reflection, even the technology licensing from a real, functional company with funding and customers should have been handled differently. I was very Laissez-faire about everything because the upside was clear. But the agreement should have been contracted in a way were the other parties failed to deliver on deadline had an actual cost; let’s say covering the fee of hiring a contractor who could complete the project on deadline. That would have been very reasonable, even standard for this type of deal.

The Takeaways from Last Year

Never work with people simply because you know them.

That is something I should have learned from past partnerships when I’d work with someone I knew because of the nine things I needed a partner to do they could help with four. Historically, I started seeing better results form every business relationship when I found people to fill a role, instead of seeing who I knew who could be a round peg shoved into a square hole.

Partners should share in failure and success.

With each project the others I worked with could have made money and didn’t. I was the one who had the ability to lose money, meaning quite literally the buck stopped with me. But if I were managing an investment fund, and I’d made the same type of investments with other people’s money, it would be highly reasonable to assume I’d be getting sued.

If someone isn’t a true partner, make them a freelancer.

In all three projects, it would have proven far cheaper to just pay my “partners” a rate to complete tasks. That way even if the people I knew weren’t reliable, screwed up in a predictable manner, I would just stop paying them. It seems people are more motivated by even small loss than by the possibility of reasonably predictable rewards.

Header Image by jima

I’m Leaving Facebook, for Now, I’m Not Asking Anyone to are

Last year in October I stopped posting to my own Facebook timeline, publicly or otherwise. That was about a year after I uninstalled the Facebook app from my phone. Both of these decisions felt freeing, they made me happier and almost literally gave me more hours in my day. I kept lurking on Facebook, in part to see what friends were doing, to follow news and for groups, for me, that wasn’t a great decision.

Even without posting, Facebook was still taking a lot of my time, and I didn’t feel I was getting much from it. At the beginning of social media, I could see amazing value in the ability to meet people and maintain connections. But in the years since I’ve found that social media in general and Facebook specifically have detracted from my life. Groups that should have been places for discussions turned out to be hotbeds of angry comments, and ad hominem attacks. That I just couldn’t seem to avoid getting sucked into.

One of the most positive changes I made in my life a few years ago was to start mindfulness meditation. What I realized is most of the thoughts that pull me out of a state of mindfulness were random, sometimes years old, arguments with often anonymous people, from Facebook groups and comments sections of friends, news sites, etc. The time spent arguing with anonymous people would have been better spent reading books, literally any books. Imagine if I’d taken classes online or learned a language?

Since messenger is one of my primary sources of communication, I’m keeping that around. I will also still keep my Facebook profile around for the time being. But I’m going to use it less. Even with the changes to how I use Facebook, last week I still wasted 9 hours on the site, according to the app Rescue Time.

I’m not asking anyone to follow me off Facebook or even to care what I’m doing. But if you have a mind to, it may be worth evaluating your use of the platform and resulting emotional state because I think, for most people, Facebook rates high on time spent and low on the value received.

My Concept of Ownership in Business

This post was originally published on tech.co on July 30, 2015, this post was deleted by tech.co on or after June 26, 2018. I was not told that this and several other posts I contributed were removed or given any reason why. No one at tech.co has had any contact with me since the acquisition by MVF. I am backdating this post to July 30, 2015, and publishing on my own blog on January 26, 2019.

To me ownership is the single most important concept in business and, although equity is important, I’m not talking about actual shares or percentages of a company. I’m talking about empowering employees, partners, and coworkers to be able to make decisions. Ownership equates to control. If you want those you work with to ever be more than drones following a process you have to give them the freedom to make decisions and the freedom to fail (Remember, it’s 99 ways how not to make a lightbulb.).

It’s like this: I used to walk my childhood dog twice daily and twice daily we would walk past a Dalmatian in a small fenced in yard. I always wanted to walk my neighbor’s dog who I watched get fatter and more unhappy each day, but I never did. Why? Not my dog. Would it have been a favor to the dog’s owners if I came over every day and walked their dog? Yes. Did I have the right to open the gate and take the dog for a walk? No.

Back to Running a Business

You have to clearly define responsibilities and authority (aka ownership). If your employees don’t know what they are supposed to do, they have been set up for failure. But you probably don’t know everything that needs to be done. If someone is tasked with helping you build a company, they should know the areas they control and where they need approval.

There are many mature companies run entirely by processes created by the corporate leadership. Everyone following the same process lets me order the same drink at any Starbucks at any time and I know it will taste the same. But, when you’re starting, you have to build the checklists and processes. Additionally, many businesses will never be able to run on process entirely–especially in creative fields.

In the beginning, you have to establish the processes that work and find how to scale them. When my grandparents started a barbeque restaurant, they had to come up with a signature BBQ sauce. This sauce was a result of trial and error. Only after tasting different blends of the sauce and settling on a recipe could the making of the sauce be turned into a process. That process has resulted in a consistent taste for nearly 40 years.

Can Your Employees Walk the Dog?

The last thing you want is someone sitting on their hands unsure if they are allowed to step up. Does everyone you work with know their job? In your company, are people allowed to just pick up any task that needs to be done or are they afraid of overstepping boundaries?

If you want to bring out the best in people and quickly identify the lazy make sure everyone knows they have the freedom to step up and take ownership of a project. Just as importantly, make sure that employees efforts are recognized and rewarded.

It wasn’t long ago I was working for a company where I was able to do my entire full time (contract called it 45 hours a week) job in 15 hours a week. When I first started, I was driven and motivated. I would end up working 60 – 80 hours a week trying to go as far above and beyond as I could. When it became clear that my performance wouldn’t affect how much I earned or my progression up the corporate ladder, I found myself depressed and wound up doing my job in 15 hours a week. I didn’t shirk my responsibilities, but I wasn’t walking other people’s dogs. I was just there to do my job and nothing more. It wasn’t long after that I and several other employees, including my boss, left to pursue other work.

TL;DR

Make those around you owners. Compensate them fairly for the work they do. And, while we are at it, build tasks into processes that can be further developed and improved.

A Simple Fix For Why Your Facebook Ads Aren’t Being Served

You wanted to run Facebook ads so you set up a new Facebook ads account, added a payment method, installed tracking pixels for every conversion goal on your website.  Heck, you went all out, did your research, and installed a remarketing pixel installed on your site, uploaded custom audiences, and spent two weeks building creative that both followed Facebook’s 20% text rule and made everyone on your team happy you finally launch your campaigns. Shortly after you get the notification that your ads have been approved!

But… Somethings not working

You check back a few days later only to see that your ad hasn’t spend any money and hasn’t been shown to anyone. So you look over Facebook’s troubleshooting guide and find you have done everything correctly.  The ads, ad sets and campaigns are all turned on, your audience is not too broad for your budget and you even have a high relevance score. The ads just aren’t working. Whether you have a six letter masters in analytics you’ve done enough of your homework to know that you need at least 10,000 impressions for statistically relevant data, you find yourself stuck. With no impressions and no spend… What can you do?

I’ve had this happen four times recently on new accounts.  Always with the same answer. The Billing Threshold was set to $25

In February 2014 Facebook rolled out billing thresholds and in a blog post explained:

“Billing thresholds are set based on how much you’ve paid in the past. For example, if you are a first-time advertiser on Facebook, you will be billed once you reach $25 or if you reach the end of the month. After that first payment, you’ll be billed in $25 increments or when you reach the end of the month.:”

All accounts start with an initial threshold will start at $25 and increase with each successful payment to $50, $250, $500 and $750 USD. If you were running only boosting posts a few dollars at a time this likely won’t affect your ads serving.  :

Facebook (to my knowledge) has never listed billing thresholds as a reason your ads won’t run. However in the last two months I’ve helped four people launch new ads accounts and immediately tried to start spending $200 or more a day.


Every single time the ads would not serve with a $25 billing threshold. Every single time when we manually increased the billing threshold to the maximum $750 allowed for new account the Facebook ads began serving within hours. Clearly four times is a lot less than the 10,000 cases it takes for statistical significance, but I can notice the beginnings of a trend when I see one.

Updated 2016. Facebook has limitations on increasing the billing threshold on new accounts in an Business Manager. I’ve reached out for comment.

Please Steal My Scope of Work. I Want You to Have it.

I started freelancing at the ripe old age of 13. I knew nothing about running a business, had no idea how to pitch or bid a project, and my knowledge of contract law was lacking to say the least. But that was all fine. I was just happy to have any work from people who were willing to pay me. But, after a few projects with massive scope creep, and, more than a few times, when I did work and I didn’t get paid, I started figuring some things out. I got better at choosing clients and started researching contract law.

It took me almost 7 years of freelancing, two jobs with ad agencies, countless hours of watching law classes on iTunes U, and, most importantly, a fair amount of failed projects and lost income. Because of that, I want you to have my scope of work. Please take it. I hope this template can help you.

Free Scope of Work and Master Service Agreement Template

This file includes:

  • An SOW Scope of Work Template
  • An MSA Master Service Agreement Template

Please customize to your own needs.

Download

Why I Only Use a Scope of Work With a Standard MSA.

A contract is nothing more than a set of promises and can be written or oral unless the contract is required to be written by law. Written and verbal are equally binding in theory, but not in practice. The main problem with verbal contracts is a lack of clear understanding of what is being agreed upon. Clear understanding creates happy clients. A happy client means you get paid.

For example: If someone says, “I will finish a website for you,” what does finish mean? …code the site, FTP the website to the server, or write all the content for the website? Do the vendor and the client have the same meaning for the word “finish?” If not, this means not only is the verbal agreement useless, but both you and your client will become frustrated when working together.

Not having a clear understanding of my role led to my most frustrating experiences as a freelancer, and was at least in part responsible for each time I went unpaid. For the work I was doing, long-form contracts are more trouble than they were worth. All I needed was to set a clear understanding between me and my client of what I was doing, how long it was going to take, what I needed from them, and how much and when I expected to be paid. Most importantly, I needed to have that in writing, because verbal contracts are not worth the paper they are printed on, or something like that.

The MSA includes a few key things, and could be much shorter. I have to a lot of terms that where required for a spesific client. The terms for termnation, jerestiction of litgation, non employee agrement, late payment fees, reemburcment of project related expencie are however all the normal things.

I’ve used this to avoid having a lot of despariet contracts with unfimilure restrestions. For example, I hate NDAs. So this contract has a basic, mutual NDA. Why? To stops people from asking me to sign whatever document they found or where handed.

Since all I needed was a scope of work and a basic service agreement that is all I use. As a matter of fact, most of the time I don’t even make proposals. Instead, I will sit with the prospective clients and identify a list of goals and requirements for each of us. I then write up the cost and timeline and send a ready-to-sign SoW.  It’s faster than a proposal and, in my mind, much better.

Let me know if this helps, and what other resources you have found to help the down-trodden, work-a-day freelancer.

***Disclaimer ( The only part of this blog post written by a lawyer)

Information and forms are provided “as is” without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of merchantability, noninfringement of intellectual property, or fitness for any particular purpose. In no event, shall  Mason Pelt, or his agents, officers, attorneys, etc…, be liable for any damages whatsoever (including, without limitation, damages for loss of profits, business interruption, loss of information) arising out of the use of or inability to use the materials, even if Mason Pelt has been advised of the possibility of such damages. They are for guidance and should be modified by you or your attorney to meet your specific needs and the laws of your state or jurisdiction. Use at your own risk.

You May Enjoy

Do We Need Laws For Net Neutrality?

I’ve always supported the ideas behind Net Neutrality. A free and open internet where internet service providers would serve all sites at the best available speed and not charge websites for preferential treatment (faster speeds). For the record, I also support Santa Claus serving ALL children with the best toys his elves can churn out, and not giving preferential treatment to the kids whose parents were able to buy them a slot on the “Nice List.” In my perfect world, there would be fast internet and free toys for all! But this isn’t a perfect world.

No matter how much I want an internet run by agnostic service providers. I’ve never supported government regulations that attempted to ensure the openness of the internet. I was glad when the FCC’s Open Internet Act passed in 2010 was struck down.

As consumers, some people want regulation to prevent internet service providers from giving preferential treatment to some websites. Many media companies want regulations to prevent piracy. Some of those regulations (SOPA and PIPA for examples) would make it difficult for websites like Reddit or YouTube to exist. The result of government regulations and the threat of their solutions come at the expense of how copyright law is supposed to work. To quote those great philosophers, The Rolling Stones… You can’t always get what you want.

A few weeks ago, I, as a T-Mobile user, was thrilled to see that a number of music streaming services would no longer be counted against my bandwidth. Yet, even with Pandora, Spotify, iTunes Radio, iHeart Radio, Slacker, Rhapsody and Milk Music listed, T-Mobile’s decision may screw over the little guys like RDIO and Deezer. So, should we put a law in place so they can either provide unlimited bandwidth for all or can’t provide unlimited bandwidth for any?

The decision T-Mobile made may not be fair to all, but it allows for consumer choice. If enough people want to use Deezer radio, T-Mobile could well be put in a position where they would need to add Deezer to this plan. Or partner services like this could be a new part of the equation when it comes to choosing a network. It’s possible that we could all end up picking our networks based on the services we already choose. For example: If you are a Pandora and Netflix user, you may want to choose one carrier. If you use Hulu and Pandora, you may want to choose another.

Even the underdog companies I mentioned are a lot larger than most websites. I run several personal sites, as well as client sites, that fall into this category. All are much more likely to be de-prioritized by ISPs. After all, none of my sites are capable of generating the kind of consumer and media backlash that Netflix got with a simple banner blaming Verizon for slow load speeds. We’re like the unfortunate and misunderstood kids on the “Naughty List.” With no consumer backlash, how will the little guys be protected without a law?

We are the consumers and companies need our money. If we demand an open internet, not by writing our congressmen, but by spending money elsewhere and telling ISPs why, we WILL get what we want. If we legislate, we may or may not get what we want right now, but we lose freedom. No law, however “necessary” it may be, will make us free. If we restrict, we aren’t simply restricting bad business practices; we are restricting innovation, as well.

I’m aware that not everyone has a choice yet. I grew up in a place that only had one internet option. Well, I guess there were two options if you count take it or leave it as options. I currently have a big city address and I still only have two ISP options. The good news is that the parts of the U.S. that are limited to only one internet service provider are becoming fewer and farther between. More are coming! I can easily see a company coming along to be disruptive.

It’s not hard to see a neutral provider coming along and advertising equality to all sites. Regardless, as more competition is introduced, the only market stronghold will no longer provide a substantial advantage. With no legislation, everything is left to consumer choice, and companies will have to provide customers what they want—be that price, speed, service quality or net neutrality. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

Header Image by Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine

Facebook Remarketing Using The Native Pixel

Facebook remarketing is one of the most effective tactics I’ve used. having  done retargeting on Facebook, for several years now, using Perfect Audience (Acquired by Marin Software) or Adroll. But now the barrier to entry for one of the best Facebook marketing tactics has gotten a lot lower thanks to Facebook’s native pixel. This is how you can set up Facebook retargeting using Facebook’s native tracking pixel.

Go to your account in the Facebook ads manager  and select “Audiences” on the left. In the Audiences section you have several options to make a custom audience. You can upload a data file (emails, user IDs, phone numbers or mobile advertiser IDs), connect MailChimp, build a custom audience from your mobile app, or create a custom audience from your website (website retargeting).

Facebook ads manager - Create Audience

 

Click on “Create a Custom Audience from your Website” and name your custom audience something meaningful. Now click “View Custom Audience Pixel” to view the tracking.

Facebook Marketing Code

Take this bunch of Java Script and place it in your website before the closing tag, on every page you would like to retarget.

Placing Facebook Remarketing Code in your siteIf your CMS’s theme allows you to place a code in the your site you can apply it to every page easily. Or  even better if you use Google Tag Manager  you can apply the tag and define firing rules.