Why Facebook Is Making You Stupid

When I was growing up, there was endless debate about how watching TV made you stupid. The basic argument was that the mindless consumption of non-information made you lazy, and the constant channel surfing destroyed your ability to focus on one thing at a time.

The way most people surf the web today, however, makes channel-surfing seem like a deep intellectual activity. When we scroll through our Facebook news feed, we’re switching from one thought to the next in a matter of seconds. If you don’t already have ADD, this constant over-stimulation and task switching is a great way to develop it.

The saddest part is that almost none of the thoughts we’re switching between are worth reading. When you think about it, all of the interesting things that human beings are creating are being created in other media. People are writing, composing, producing great movies and TV shows, building new software, creating art and architecture, and none of it is on Facebook. The only reason people go on Facebook is to toss off some throw-away thought or pithy quip. Facebook collects all this mental garbage and displays it to you, with ads. It’s the sewer of human thought. It’s appropriate that it’s called a news “feed”, since when you sit down to read it, you’re just like a pig shoving its face into the trough to feed on whatever garbage the farmer doesn’t want.

“But wait!” I hear you protest “I have this one friend who always has really funny status updates!” or “I have friends who always post really interesting articles!”. I’m sure you do, just like I’m sure there are vitamins in the pig trough, and that interesting things occasionally get flushed down the toilet and wind up in the sewer. That doesn’t mean you should spend all your time there.

At least on TV, some of the shows are good. Some are educational, or some are critically acclaimed works of art. How often do you actually learn anything from your Facebook news feed? How often do you see something that genuinely makes you laugh, not just click “Like” or if you’re feeling generous, type “LOL”?

Sure, it happens once in a while, and this is the key to the addiction: variable reinforcement. It’s why rats will push a button 100 times even though they only get a a food pellet once, and the same reason gamblers keep playing even though they’ve been losing for hours – the anticipation of a reward is just as powerful as the reward itself.

So how can you break the cycle? I’m not really sure. I don’t recommend quitting Facebook completely. It’s still a useful way to stay in touch with friends. But I have noticed that I feel happier, calmer, and more focused on the days I don’t scroll through my Facebook news feed and I just check messages on my smart phone. Usually, the insipid and irrelevant status update at the top of the news feed is enough to remind me that I don’t want to scroll through 4 more pages of the same. But somedays I get bored and I start wading through the sewer looking for a hit of mental stimulation. And I always feel a little gross afterward, like I just ate too much junk food.

Because when you have attention-deficit disorder, like I do, you realize that attention is your most precious resource, and you must be very careful about where you spend it.

Or put another way “There’s lots of good food for thought out there. Don’t fill up on bread.”

And stay the hell out of the sewer.

The Lazy Way To Be a Gentleman

Being a gentleman is about being considerate of other people, within reason. That’s it. There is nothing else to it. It’s not a bunch of fancy rules involving handkerchiefs, umbrellas, and calling cards. And it does not involve treating women like they’re helpless.

A lot of people think that being a gentleman involves grand gestures of kindness or generosity. Examples:

  • Offering a woman you don’t know your umbrella – Would you take an umbrella from a stranger? How would you get it back to them?
  • Holding a door open for anyone who’s more than five feet away from it. You’re insinuating that they’re too weak to open it themselves, and obligating them to run to spare you from having to hold it open for so long.
  • Taking “Ladies First” to absurd extremes – If you’re at the front of an elevator and a woman is at the back, you’re not doing her any favors by moving around so she can squeeze past you. Just get out of the damn elevator and make everyone’s life easier, please.
  • Anything that would make you uncomfortable if someone did it for you, especially if you suspected that they had ulterior (read: sexual) motives.

Basic politeness and common courtesy, on the other hand, are always welcome. Some easy ways to demonstrate it are:

  • Listening intently, showing an interest in other people and their interests
  • Hold the door for the person behind you, if they’re right behind you, regardless of their age or gender.
  • Saying “Please” and “Thank you”.
  • Call people you don’t know “Sir” or “Ma’am”.

Do these things every day with everyone, male or female. Then when you open a door for an attractive female, it won’t seem awkward or forced.

And don’t expect a thank-you or a woman’s phone number when you do any of these things. It’s called common courtesy for a reason.

How smart people unknowingly sabotage themselves by neglecting to develop one simple skill

It’s been said that luck = preparation + opportunity. Most geeks are great at the preparation part. We’re willing to spend hours and hours alone studying, practicing, and working hard at what we love. But we neglect the other half of the equation: opportunity.

The problem with this approach is that, despite the cliche, opportunity doesn’t knock on the door while you’re sitting at home alone preparing. You have to go out and find it. And more often than not, it happens serendipitously, through the people you know. You can’t just go up to random people, or to people who you think have the ability to help you, tell them what you do and say “Do you have any opportunities for me?”

For example, when I first moved to Puerto Vallarta and wanted to start playing music, I went around to several bars and restaurants and asked them if they needed live music. Most said no, some said they’d look at my Web-site and give me a call, but none of them did. But then one day I was walking home and I passed a boring little bar with a few gringos inside and I told myself “I haven’t done any socializing today. I’m going to go in here and have a drink and see what happens.”  The guy next to me at the bar was the owner of a rock club in the tourist zone, and by chatting him up casually, I got my first gig. From there it all grew through word of mouth and from the people I met. I got my favorite gig, playing at a yoga retreat that’s only accessible by boat, through a guy I met at a party that I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to. But because I forced myself to get out of the house and meet people, I now get paid to get on a boat every Tuesday around sunset and go play music at a bar overlooking the beach to groups of mostly women, then I wake up the next morning and hang out on the beautiful deserted beach by myself.

And the beauty of expanding your social circle is that it can open up opportunities that you weren’t even expecting. I got asked to be a model for the Puerto Vallarta tourism board, which meant that I got paid to spend a day on a yacht with beautiful women, sunbathing and paddle-boarding, through a woman I struck up a conversation with at a salsa club.

But it’s not just about creating opportunities. Being social will make you happier and healthier.  A study found that even introverted people are happier when they act like extroverts.

On the flip side, loneliness is toxic. Studies have shown that lonely people have a greater tendency to abuse alcohol and drugs, get sick, and die young, than people with active social lives.

This is because we’re a social species, like apes, dolphins, and wolves. We’ve romanticized the idea of the “lone wolf”, but in reality, the lone wolf doesn’t get to mate.

So, if you don’t want to be an evolutionary failure as well, you’d better start cultivating your social skills. Too often, we nerds spend all our time avoiding people and then complain that we have a hard time talking to girls. News flash: women are people, too. If you get better at talking to people, you’ll get better at talking to girls. Haven’t you ever noticed that the guys who are good at talking to girls are also the guys who have a lot of friends and acquaintances, and tend to be at the center of their social circle?

This is because women intuitively understand that social success = success in life. Studies have shown that women are more likely to notice a man when he’s with other people, and that women find men more attractive if they see him with other women who are smiling or laughing.

How many female friends do you have? Most guys complain about being in the friend zone, but the friend zone is actually your key to success. Your female friends are your chick magnets. Treat them really well, but don’t hit on them and creep them out. Practice being your best self around them – fun, charming, and entertaining.

But don’t focus myopically on one gender or age group. Everyone you meet has the potential to open a door for you, introduce you to someone special, or teach you something new about the world. Every person is more fascinatingly complex than the most intricately plotted novel or video game. Whether you want to spend lots of time with them or not, be curious about what makes them tick.

Learn to love people, and the world will open up to you.

The Wisdom of Wife-Swappers: 3 Things Swingers Can Teach You About Sex

Swinging is a fascinating and misunderstood lifestyle. It’s definitely not for everyone (and not for me), but I was curious about it so I did some research and I discovered some interesting things. I even found some valuable lessons that can improve anyone’s sex life. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Learn to let go of jealousy. Swingers know that while sex and love go great together, they’re not quite the same thing. Just because your partner is sexually attracted to someone else, it doesn’t mean that they love you any less. It just means they’re a normal human being with normal desires. Whether or not you and your partner decide to actually fool around with other people, the desire is always going to be there, whether you like it or not. So, instead of letting it freak you out, let it turn you on to know that your partner is a sexual being who other people find desirable.
  2. Don’t put pressure on people. No one is ever required to do anything they don’t want to do at a swingers party, and this is stated clearly up-front. Why? Because swingers know that enthusiastic participation is way sexier than begrudging consent. You can apply this to your own life. When you invite a girl back to your place, make it clear that you don’t expect her to have sex with you, either by saying so explicitly or by saying “You can only come over for a little while, and don’t try to get into my pants.” This is a great line because it’s playful, which brings me to my next point.
  3. Learn to play. Swingers don’t call what they do swinging, fucking, or wife-swapping, they call it playing. This term is vague enough to encompass any sexual activity from kissing to intercourse, because swingers know how to enjoy all of these activities without focusing single-mindedly on the traditional end-goal of sex. Stop racing to the finish line and learn to slow down and enjoy everything that happens along the way. In fact, stop expecting to get to the finish line at all. Your partner will be much more willing to fool around with you if you don’t expect fooling around to always lead to sex. Just play, and focus on having fun.

Stay playful, my friends.

How eating more fat can help you lose weight

What's the most unhealthy thing on this plate? Hint: it's not the bacon or the eggs.

For decades, it was the received wisdom that fat made you fat. Yet despite the proliferation of low-fat foods, obesity has only continued to rise. I don’t need to quote statistics to convince you of how fat Americans have become. You can see them all around you. Maybe you see one in the mirror.

If you are what you eat, then why doesn’t cutting the fat out of your diet cut fat from your waistline? Allow me to illustrate with an example from my own life:

I recently was out with a friend and I suggested getting gelato and she said “I prefer frozen yogurt because it’s low fat”. So we go to the frozen yogurt place and she orders a large. FAIL! She reduced her fat intake, but doubled her sugar intake. Of course, this is fairly typical behavior at a frozen yogurt place, many of which now price their yogurt by the pound, and have a whole selection of toppings so you can add in the flavor that was lost when they took out the fat. Gelato places never have toppings, and they always price their product by the scoop, because you don’t need more than a scoop or two to feel satisfied because it’s so rich in flavor and texture.

Maybe if the yogurt had more flavor, you wouldn't need to pile all that other junk food on top of it

Now, some of you may be thinking that none of this matters, that since fat has more calories per gram than sugar, you end up eating the same number of calories anyway. But not all calories are created equal. The human body is not as simple as the calories in/calories out model of weight management would have us believe. In reality, the sugar is digested much more quickly by the body, causing your blood sugar to rise. Your body can’t tolerate this condition, so it pumps out insulin to get the glucose out of your blood and into your muscles, liver, and fat cells. If you’re a sedentary, well-fed American, your liver and muscles are already storing everything they can, so your body puts the surplus glucose the only place it can: your fat cells.

This is why frozen yogurt is worse for you than gelato, despite the fact BECAUSE it’s low-fat. There’s no fat to slow down the absorption of the sugar, so all of it goes straight to your fat cells.

But that’s not even the worst part. You see, now that the insulin has done its job, you have low blood-sugar again. You start to feel hungry and cranky, and your willpower gets weaker. And eventually you give in and eat another low-fat, sugary snack, and the cycle repeats itself.

This is how we’ve become a nation of big fat dieters. Everyday, somebody eats low-fat cereal with skim milk for breakfast and then feels hungry two hours later, so they eat a muffin or a donut. Every day, somebody orders a salad with low-fat dressing, then has to hit the vending machine around 3pm because they’re hungry and cranky.

But if you add fat to every meal, you’ll feel full and satisfied longer. It’s not a silver bullet. You can’t eat gelato every day and expect to be thin. You can’t put butter on all your pastries and hope to mitigate the damage caused by the carbs. Fat is not, as one author suggests, “a condom for your carbs”. But adding healthy fats to healthy meals will decrease your appetite for junk food and help you get through the day without running to the vending machine to eat whatever some corporation thinks you should eat.

Here are four easy ways to add more healthy fats to your diet:

  1. Eat raw or dry-roasted nuts. Avoid salted nuts, since the salt will trick you into eating more than you need to. I like to keep a jar of natural unsalted peanut-butter in the fridge for nibbling.
  2. Eat more avocados. Some people think it’s hard to find good avocados, but the trick is to buy them when they’re still rock-hard and let them ripen on your counter. Placing them next to bananas will speed up the ripening process.
  3. Keep Greek yogurt in the fridge for a dessert. It’s deliciously creamy and very high in protein. And yogurt doesn’t have as much lactose (sugar) as milk does.
  4. Pour olive oil and vinegar on your salad instead of a sickly-sweet low-fat creamy dressing. Cream doesn’t belong on salad.

What you add to your diet is just as important as what you take away. Add more fat to your diet and start leading a richer, healthier, more delicious life.

Stay sexy, my friends.

The Sexy Geek at WonderCon 2012

I will be at WonderCon this weekend meeting fans and making new friends. Stop by the House of Silk booth (#813) on Sunday from 11-11:30am or 3-4pm to hang out and chat. There’s also some hot models and hot artwork from my friend J.P. Roth’s new Ancient Dreams series. And don’t forget that you can get a free preview of my soon-to-be-published book The Sexy Geek by entering your email address in the sign-up form below:

 

Stay sexy, my friends.

How to deepen your voice and talk like a manly man

I’ve noticed a lot of nerds, including myself sometimes, tend to talk in a pinched, nasal tone. This is something that women do not find attractive. Women like deep, manly voices. You don’t have to sound like Darth Vader, but you do need some depth and some bass in your voice.
If you have a high or nasal voice, don’t fret. It’s not something you’re born with, but a bad habit that you can change. All you have to do is stop using your nose so much and let the rest of your vocal apparatus do some of the work. Here’s what I’ve learned from celebrity vocal coach John Deaver:

Sound is produced by air from your diaphragm being pushed across the vocal chords, but there are three main places where sound can vibrate, and all of these play a role in shaping the sound:

  1. The nose and sinuses.
  2. The mouth.
  3. The chest and throat.

Your first instinct might be to say “Ok, I’ll push all the sound into my throat and talk with a really deep voice”, but that would either make you sound fake or stupid. This is because you can’t articulate the vowel sounds with the throat.

The trick is to find a balance between all three. The chest resonates and provides depth and fullness, the mouth provides clear articulation and a natural buzzing vibration, and the nose and sinuses provide the occasional high pitch or nasal consonant.
Here is an exercise that you can do every day to retrain your voice:

  1. Start with a low hum to get the feel of chest resonance. Do this for a couple of minutes to get warmed up.
  2. Pinch your nose and talk or read out loud. You’ll feel when the sound starts trying to go up into your nose, and you’ll be able to pull it back toward the throat.

Do this every day for a few minutes, ideally in the morning, since your voice is naturally lower at that time, and it’ll help you set the tone for the rest of the day. Then, throughout the day, listen to yourself talking, and try to subtly move the sound away from the nose and sinuses and more towards the chest and throat. Over time, this will become a habit, and it will sound completely natural without you having to think about it.

Last-minute Valentine’s Gift Ideas for the utterly clueless

It’s coming. That special day of the year that officially signifies romance but usually brings anxiety and disappointment. Yes, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and unless you want to spend it in the dog house, you’d better buy your significant other something nice. More than nice, it has to be special. Here’s what I’ve learned about buying gifts for women over the years.

The secret to buying amazing gifts

The best way to get someone a good gift is to pay attention. They drop hints, sometimes on purpose, sometimes without even realizing it. Here’s an example: Once or twice in the middle of the year, I mentioned to my wife that I thought about getting a Kindle, but that I didn’t feel like spending the money. She bought it for me for Christmas. Was I surprised? You bet I was.

What if your girl has made what she wants so obvious that you feel like if you get it for her, there’s no surprise or creativity involved? I would saying you’re probably better off getting points for your attentiveness than taking the risk of getting her something she doesn’t like because you were trying to be creative. Maybe compromise by getting her what you both know she wants, plus a little something extra that you thought of yourself.

Of course, if you’d been paying attention, you probably wouldn’t be reading articles like this one a couple of days before V-Day. So, as a favor to those who are clueless or have just run out of ideas, I’ve compiled some advice about each of the stereotypical categories of Valentine’s Day gifts for women, based entirely on my own experience. If I can’t save your Valentines Day, maybe I can at least make you laugh.

Lingerie

Buying lingerie for a woman is really really difficult. Beyond the simple fact that her tastes may differ from yours (you like crotchless panties, she likes Victorian lace), you also have the problem of size. Here are some lingerie mistakes I’ve made over the years:

  • Bought lingerie for a girl who wasn’t sleeping with me. The last time I saw it was when she tried it on at Victoria’s Secret. I hope she and someone else enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed learning a valuable lesson and telling this hilariously sad story.
  • Bought lingerie at the last minute at a little store inside Grand Central Station. “It looks cheap and nasty, like something a prostitute would wear” were my girlfriend’s words. Ouch. I don’t even remember what she said about the furry hand-cuffs after that.
  • Decide to hilariously subvert gender roles by buying sexy underwear for myself instead of for her (the gift would be the opportunity to see me in black briefs! Get it?). Somehow, this did not lead to sexy laughter followed by sexy Valentine’s Day sex. Oh well. At least I discovered that briefs are more comfortable than boxer-briefs.

The one mistake I’ve never made, that the sales-girls are always trying to get me to make, is to buy her a padded bra. Are they trying to get me killed? Why don’t I just give her a card that says “I love you, babe, but I wish your boobs were bigger”?

But padding is just the beginning. Buying bras is complicated stuff. Even women aren’t that good at picking the right size, according to experts. Furthermore, most bras are uncomfortable with all those wires and itchy straps (um, I imagine). Unless you find something really nice, and I mean way nicer than any of her ordinary bras (maybe something all lace), and you’re sure it’s going to fit, just skip it. Most women have one or two favorite bras that they wear all the time.

Panties, however, are a different story. She changes her panties every day (or at least she ought to), and they’re tiny so they get lost easily. This means that your average women can always use a new pair of panties. And panties are incredibly easy to buy because unlike bras, they only have one size variable. Find a pair of her panties that fits her well (i.e. don’t grab the one pair that’s always falling off of her), and check the size. You can usually find a 5 for $25 sale, so buy her five pairs and hopefully she’ll like at least one of them. I call this the shotgun approach to gift-giving — you can’t miss. Ask the girl behind the counter to gift-wrap ‘em for you and you’re good to go in the lingerie department. You may want to pick up something else though, like perfume or a box of chocolates, just to round things out so that when her girlfriends ask her what her man got her for Valentine’s Day she doesn’t have to say “Uh,…underwear”.

And one final thing: always err on the side of too small. You may be thinking, “I’m an L, and I’m pretty average, and she’s a little smaller than me, so I guess she’s an M”. Big mistake, buddy. Keep in mind that women’s sizes run a lot smaller than ours do, all the way to XXS, in fact. This shouldn’t be a problem if you checked her size before you left the house.

Perfume

A woman’s olfactory glands are more advanced than ours, so don’t go thinking you can get away with buying her cheap perfume. Spend the money on something nice, that you both like and that way it’ll be a gift that gives back. If you know what kind of perfume she already wears, get the same thing or something similar. If you don’t have a clue, go to the mall and sample a few by spraying them on cards. When you find one you like, take the card with you and sniff it at various intervals throughout the day. The character of the scent changes over time.

Another thing to keep in mind is that eau de parfum is much stronger than eau de cologne, so if your woman likes to put a lot of perfume on, get her the weaker one so you can both breathe.

Chocolate

Yes, girls like chocolate, it’s true. That doesn’t mean that a box of chocolates makes a great gift. It’s kind of cheap, and she might think “Do you think I’m such a fatty that I’ll eat a whole box of chocolates?” or “Are you trying to fatten me up?”.

Plus, I’m a total chocoholic, so for me to buy my wife a box of chocolates would be just like the episode of the Simpsons where Homer buys Marge a bowling ball with “Homer” engraved on it (“So you’d know who it was from!”).

This seems as good a place as any to tell the story about how I sent my ex-girlfriend a chocolate penis with a nasty note. Ok, I never actually did that. But I considered it.

Flowers

Flowers are kind of cheap, too. The best time to bring her flowers is when she’s not expecting them. They make a great “Just because I was thinking of you” gift, but if you send her flowers for a special occasion, you come across cheap and lazy-minded. Try a little harder, or get her flowers in addition to something else, like panties, perfume or chocolate.

I also read somewhere that the thing she likes most about flowers is not the flowers themselves, but showing off to her co-workers that she has a guy that sends her flowers, so if your girlfriend is really immature, maybe you should have them sent to the office/salon/boutique where she works.

Jewelry

Jewelry is actually a pretty safe bet provided you have two things: money and good taste. Trying to buy a woman inexpensive jewelry is very risky. I once bought my wife a bracelet that I thought was cool and quirky, but she thought was cheap and ugly (AND it was too big. Double fail).  But I have never gone wrong with diamonds. Every girl loves diamonds. Obviously, some like smaller, tasteful diamonds, and some like the bling. You should know which type your girl is.

If you have good taste but not a lot of money, try freshwater pearls. You can only do this a couple of times though until she figures out that they’re cheaper than regular pearls. Trust me.

Conclusion

I hope that I have pointed out some of the land mines in these cliched gift categories so you can avoid a Valentine’s Day disaster. But seriously, if you can do something special and original that you know will make her happy, do that instead. If not, you can fall back on the ideas above. Happy Valentine’s Day!