How to be a writer on a marketing team without sounding like a jerk

I spent close to seven years in a marketing department on a content team as I wrote blog posts, ebooks, tweets, podcast episodes, magazine pieces, and slide decks among other things. Based on all that experience, I wanted to share some lessons I learned from my time there, and this is the first:

Try not to sound like an asshole when you’re writing

It seems obvious (and easy) on the face of it, but when you’re in the belly of a Silicon Valley beast, and you’re surrounded by fellow marketers and other company marketing departments are reaching out in hopes you write about them using all their favorite buzzwords and you also answer to higher-ups in marketing that want the whole team to help push the company’s go-to-marketing efforts, it’s not easy to hold your line. People will try to talk you into sounding like a jerk constantly.

The Problem

Whenever I have to read a press release for a new thing and it’s breathlessly promoting some life-changing technology combined with the brilliant company behind it, I often find myself three paragraphs into it while still not sure exactly what the thing debuting even is. When that happens, I often think “the writer of this must be a real asshole to waste all my time without getting to the point.”

That’s what I mean when I say: don’t be a jerk and don’t write like one.

I joined a content team with opinions and experience. And even though I was on a marketing team, I know I detest most of the writing I see from other companies doing marketing.

There are a lot of things to dislike about it. I dislike reading things written for people in the industry that tend to exclude everyone else. I’m not a fan of jargon, corporate speak, or marketing phrases peppered all over announcements. I absolutely detest when anything sounds like an effusive press release written by the company about itself.

It’s a balancing act, but you should be able to write things you enjoy yourself that also help your readers, while simultaneously checking the boxes for getting your marketing message across. 

First up, a real life example

About five years ago, Concur–the travel and expenses tracking app used widely in corporate america–decided to build an app that worked inside of Slack. Back then, you’d chat with their app by sending it a direct message, and it’d present you with forms to choose options from, then save the results and actually book your flights.

I looked forward to this app because I hated using Concur’s own web interface for any business flights I had to book at work. Concur’s web app felt like a government website built in the 1990s that barely functioned and took at least 5-10 minutes to login and accomplish a single task. Doing it faster in Slack seemed like a no-brainer.

Here’s a screenshot of an early beta, showing how you could book an entire flight inside of a Slack message with it.

Along with getting to test the beta of their app myself, the team sent me some of their own copy in a marketing brief about the new app. 

I pulled out their opening statement and here’s what it said:

We leveraged the expertise of our Hipmunk team, who built the first and one of the most popular consumer travel chatbots in the industry and blended our corporate booking tool, Concur Travel. From there, we partnered with Slack, the fastest growing team collaboration hub, with over 8 million daily active users, to deliver a world-class assistant that enables Concur Travel bookings directly in Slack

Did you get all that? First things first, it opens by describing one of the acquisitions in their org chart. Does the reader need to know or do they even care which sub-team of people at Concur worked on an app? Do they need to learn this in the very first sentence? 

The rest, to put it mildly, is a word salad of nonsense. The paragraph is three press releases on top of each other inside a trenchcoat. As a veteran reader of tech news, I spotted meaningful words in the last few bits of the closing sentence, which was: you can book travel inside of Slack.

(note: I don’t mean to trash the writer at Concur, I’ve been forced to turn in copy like this before and I’ve seen my own copy turn into this thanks to rounds of further edits that took place far above me so I don’t fault them for it)

So I ignored all their copy, and started fresh. I put the most important information at the top as I was dying to use this app to save myself some time, and I wanted to convey that to others.

Here’s the introductory paragraph I came up with:

Get where you’re going faster with Concur’s Travel Bot

It goes without saying that booking travel can be a hassle. You’ve got schedules to juggle, tons of flight options to sort through, all against the rapidly-approaching deadline of your trip. The ideal scenario is to get in, get flights, and get out in a hurry so you can get back to work.

And that’s exactly what Concur’s new Travel Bot can do.

I pushed the most important feature to the title itself and opened up by acknowledging that booking travel sucks, everywhere, but hopefully this can save you some headaches and time.

If I remember correctly, the team at Concur was surprised by the draft but let us go with this messaging on our own blog post and were pleased with the good reception it got in the tech press. I saw my own screenshots of the beta on The Verge, Bloomberg, and other news outfits.

How to do this yourself 

A couple years ago, my team gained a couple of new hires, and to help welcome them into the fold I looked back on my years in the trenches and wrote a list of all the things people should do when joining a marketing writers team. Here they are.

1. Know thyself

Even though there are 8 billion people on this planet now, each and every one of us is different, and it’s important you figure out what you like, what you stand for, and what you believe on your way to better knowing who you are. As someone with decades of experience, it’s easier for me to know what projects I like to work on, to know what I bring to the table, and to know where I hope my work is headed, but even for young people just starting out, it helps to examine your experiences and background, and come up with areas you prefer to work in and projects you excel at completing. 

It also helps your fellow teammates and your editors. If you can accurately describe yourself and your likes and your view on things, chances are you’ll be quicker to find a writing “beat” that fits you. Other writers on the team will know when to send a pitch or brief your way because they’ll also know your beat and editors will be quicker to assign you projects if they’re well versed in all the subjects you’re ready to write about.

2. Be yourself

Once you know yourself, it’s important to be yourself (and continue being yourself) so you donʼt fall prey to marketing trends or pressure from higher ups to copy things they saw somewhere else. It’s too easy to leave a meeting with a VP where everyone is all charged up about pushing new goals and objectives using today’s catchphrases while forgetting about your reader along the way.

Regular people are busy, have highly-tuned bullshit detectors, and don’t want to be jerked around. They don’t want to wade through a thousand flowery words about the dawn of a new era, they just want 100 words that actually describe what a new feature is or what new product your company is launching.

Be yourself and know yourself enough to push back when someone asks you to write empty marketing nonsense. If it’s not what you’d want to read, why write it?

3. Find something to love before you write

Whenever I started a new writing project at work, I would have a meeting with product managers or ping a few devs/designers that worked on it, and I’d test it out, talk to those behind it, and learn everything I could with the goal of finding something at the core of it that I loved about it. Once I’d find something to like in a thing, it’d make writing about it a hundred times easier.

So my next piece of advice is to honestly find at least one thing you love the most about a new announcement, or product feature, or event, or whatever you’re tasked with writing about. Find the thing that resonates and use that as the basis to share news about the topic.

Then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you love most about new feature x?
  • How would you tell your best friend about it? What would you say if they looked over your shoulder at your computer as you showed them something new?
  • How will it save people time or hassle?

Once you’ve got answers to all those questions, write them down and make that the core of your piece.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean only writing about things you love, but instead to work extra hard to find something in anything to love, even if it’s a B2B industry whitepaper about AI automation (I once wrote a 40 page PDF about this and I would have never finished it if I didn’t find interesting apps I liked that I could write about).

Even for boring announcements about a boring subject—do your best to find at least one tendril of a thing you love about it, then start writing.

4. Think about how you can help a reader solve a problem

I always try to center the reader in my work. When I took on projects talking about another company’s new releases on my own company’s platform, or our own new feature launches, I got tremendous pressure to talk about how incredibly life-changing a new tiny feature was, or to parrot another company’s press release on how their latest innovation was a worldwide game changer. 

Whenever the thought would cross my mind or a manager would ask that I move something in that direction, I’d think of all the empty phrases I’d been annoyed at reading before and I’d cut them out.

Then I’d think about the tech itself. If it was a new feature or a new app, I’d think about all the ways I’d want to use it, and how the new releases might make that easier for me, then I’d simply describe that to the reader.

5. A quick list of no-no phrases

We had an informal list of Things Not To Do on our team that we learned by doing it anyway and then seeing blowback. Every time we had a new employee join the team, they’d make one or two of these mistakes in their first piece. I even did it myself when I was new. They’re almost universal and you’ll see them in technology news all the time. Here they are:

“Weʼre really excited to announce…”

Everyone opens their pieces with this, and of course a company is happy to launch things but it is a meaningless phrase you will see constantly in new release announcements that doesn’t help anyone reading it. Of course a company is excited about their work, but aren’t they all?

So cut it out, because no one cares. 

Also? Make it a game on your team where anytime someone spots it in the wild, they take a screenshot and share it inside your team’s watercooler chat. We used to find at least one instance every week in the press.

“At $Company_Name, we care deeply about…” 

Don’t open a launch post with this phrase, because no one cares about what your company cares about. They just want information that will follow that hopefully helps them. 

“Our whole team has worked hard on this…”

Again, another phrase you see constantly in tech marketing that no reader cares about reading or gets any information from. Cut it.

And finally: donʼt talk like a press release

Product briefs or marketing briefs often are written like press releases by others in your marketing organization and your editors may tell you to lean heavily on them for messaging, but they’re often filled with industry jargon and empty phrases, so instead, write about products and features in your own words. 

Again, back to a simple question from above: How would you describe this new thing to one of your best friends over coffee when they ask what you’ve been up to lately? You wouldn’t say something “synergizes the enterprise purchasing decision funnel” (unless you hated your friend). You’d tell your friend how they could save five minutes of every day, each time they needed to run an app because the company behind it made it easier to use. So that’s what you write instead of a warmed-over press release.

5. Learn to sleep on edits and revisit the next day

The best editor I’ve ever had is my own set of fresh eyes. Whenever I write something substantial, I always build one overnight sleep into my schedule the day before it is due. The morning after you think you’re done with a big writing project is the best possible time to spot all the small typos and tone changes and big and small edits needed to make your piece really shine.

Deadlines can be short and managers often want a piece delivered by “end of day” but do your best to build in a good reason to submit it at say, 10AM the next day instead, because your work will improve with your fresh eyes and a fresh mind taking one final review of it before submission. 

6. Focus your message

Marketing pieces tend to overpromise and underdeliver, so to avoid that, try to focus your message before you start writing a new piece.

Ask yourself whatʼs the most useful piece of information you need to share about a new feature, app, or idea. If there are half a dozen things, boil it down to the 1 or 2 most important worth sharing.

Use this as a lens to evaluate everything and make sure every paragraph supports the core message so you can cut things that are just filler. Remember that readers are busy, so donʼt waste their time. 

Also, donʼt be afraid to kill a story (even if it’s late in the process) or scale it back (maybe something becomes a tweet instead of a big splashy blog post) if the utility doesnʼt outweigh the marketing push to broadcast it. 

7. Ask for better product briefs further up the pipeline

I had a ton of projects that began with a messy multi-page product brief filled with buzzwords and jargon and empty phrases, written by another marketer or another company about the thing we were collaborating on. Often, I wouldn’t even be able to figure out what was being discussed or which aspects of it the company wanted to share most widely. Whenever that happened, I’d throw a meeting with people involved to pepper them with questions to get at the heart of what news we really wanted to share with the world. 

With that in mind, when prepping a product brief for a content team, here are a few tips.

When a brief includes every terrible buzzword and phrasing used by sales teams, keep it clear to your team that they can sprinkle a word or two in if they’re vital and helpful, but buzzwordy phrases aren’t going to automatically end up in the final version just because a VP really loves a weird turn of phrase. 

My biggest wish for every product team was that they made a new heading titled “The No Bullshit Section” that honestly broke down what all is included in a product release, like just 3-5 bullet points for internal use only by your content team. Imagine something under that heading that simply stated “This is a bot that sends notifications when changes are made to files in their app” instead of what you’d normally see, like “how two companies are going to connect the enterprise and reduce friction in your daily dashboards and team monitoring toolsets”

Better marketing briefs also start with a userʼs story. Specifically, how are we solving their problems? Then tell your readers all about it.

Conclusions

After years of working in a marketing team as a writer, I will now repeat my high points: put the reader first, think how they think, and outline your pieces accordingly. Use the reader as a lens to evaluate examples and as a guide for how you explain things. When writing an announcement post, think about how youʼd tell your non-industry friends about it.

It also helps to:

  • Know your strengths so you can write to them
  • Match your strengths with audience to find your beat
  • Always find something to love in a thing

As a discerning, creative person, write stuff you’d want to read from other discerning people like you with taste. And never forget people are busy and don’t have time for bullshit.

Mele Kalikimaka

I’m 5 years old and I’m in kindergarten, and December rolls around so we do a big elementary school holiday show one night that we spend most of the month practicing. To this day, I not only know all the words to Mele Kalikimaka, I remember the choreography from that night.

So after all these years, it’s fun to learn where the phrase in the song comes from, which makes sense given the rules of Hawaiian language.

Every Mastodon iOS app scratches an itch: a brief tour of various clients

Last week, I wrote a gentle intro to Mastodon for the Zapier* blog. I aimed it at regular people that hadn’t yet delved into everything it takes to leave Twitter for the federated network, offering tips on how it works and how to get started using it.

After writing the piece, I realized it could be helpful to do a quick tour of the different iOS mastodon clients I’ve tested and used on my phone.

It’s a fun time to be an early user of a social network, and especially one with good API support, because it means literally anyone can make their own Mastodon client that looks, acts, and behaves how they use the app.

Features of Mastodon vs. client support

Which iOS Mastodon client works best for your exact needs depends on how you use it. For me, my most important features of Mastodon are:

  • Easy as possible to read my timeline
  • Finding and reading my mentions
  • Refreshing my timeline to “now” needs to be obvious with easy controls to backtrack to older posts
  • Finding things I marked as a favorite later on (rare, but I do it to find things I wanted to come back to)
  • Occasionally looking at my local instance’s timeline and the search/explore option to find posts I might have missed
  • I don’t typically use DMs in Mastodon (they’re not really secure) but it would be nice to access them apart from notifications
  • I rarely boost/RT so I don’t want too much screen taken up or gestures favoring that over marking a favorite

Many clients prioritize one or more aspects over the others, but thankfully there are so many options that chances are you’ll find one that fits your particular needs.

So with that, here’s a quick screenshot tour.

Mastodon (official iPhone client)

Pros:

  • The official client excels at the display of your main timeline: good fonts, subtle use of whitespace, and great small icons below
  • Explore button surfaces good posts gaining traction, not a bad use of an algorithm

Cons:

  • Notifications tab shows each and every interaction on its own line, so it’s a lot of scrolling
  • No easy way to find my instance timeline
  • No support for editing even though it’s the official app and the 4.0 server supports editing your posts and replies (you have to open your mastodon account in a safari browser instead to edit)

Metatext

Pros:

  • Great feature at the top to let you switch between timelines
  • Separated DMs into its own view, which I find better than the actual mastodon website on my desktop
  • The timeline refreshes to “now” quite easily
  • Has a “show thread” link when it knows a post has multiple replies from the same author
  • Explore tab shows you trending hashtags with number of mentions

Cons:

  • Notifications are still spelled out for each interaction, making it a long scroll
  • The developer of it recently posted about their health issues, pausing further development of the app unless a new maintainer comes along

Toot!

Pros:

  • Easy switching to local instance and between accounts on the lower right
  • App understands threading and replies, lets you follow all responses to a post like it’s a subway map

Cons:

  • Tiny fonts don’t respect my font settings across iOS
  • Not stoked they use text for reply/boost/favorite instead of small icons
  • No search/explore top level nav
  • Costs a few bucks, which is fine if it did everything I needed

Tusker

Pros:

  • The only client that collapses favorites, boosts, and follows from multiple folks on just one line of your timeline when they occur in a row
  • Good explore/search page offering links to all sorts of options
  • The posting interface is nice and offers all the options on a single screen (polls, images, etc)
  • It’s currently in beta, but improving steadily with releases once every week or two

Cons:

  • Refreshing the timeline to the most recent post is kind of a pain, you have to scroll up to the top several times and wait for a “Jump to Present” button to pop up, which will take you to “now”

Mammoth

Pros:

  • Really nice reading interface
  • Messages tab that separates out DMs
  • Explore tab is really well done, even shows photos with trending topics
  • Great timeline controls, easy to jump to “now” at the top with a tap, shows you how many posts are in between now and your current view with a counter on the right side
  • Also easy to switch timelines from the drop-down control at the top
  • Beta, but several versions come out each week, the most actively developing option for a client that I’ve used

Cons:

  • Notifications tab puts every interaction on its own line, doesn’t group them at all

Ivory

Pros:

  • Slick timeline reading interface
  • Reply/favorite controls are hidden behind a tap to make the reading UI as streamlined as possible
  • I personally like the favorites icon shortcut, it’s the only client that offers it as a default view
  • Good polished feel throughout, feels very much like a “real” app

Cons:

  • The notifications tab is ONLY replies/mentions from others. You don’t get notified about any new followers, boosts, or favorites. This makes using this app full-time a dealbreaker for me, as I want to know how people are liking the things I post
  • I opened it once for the first time in a day or two and had no way of jumping to “now”, and had to scroll up through 1200 posts (great for completists, but I found it kinda annoying)
  • Beta, closed to new testers, no indication just yet of how long until it’s available to the public

Mastoot

Pros:

  • Clean reading UI
  • Fast updating of my timeline to now
  • Messages tab for DMs

Cons:

  • Adding a favorite or boost to a post is behind the … option at the end of a post, so it requires at least two taps to accomplish vs. 1 tap in every other client
  • Notifications aren’t grouped, so every interaction takes up space

My wishlist for future Mastodon clients

I currently switch between using Tusker or Mammoth full time, as Tusker has the best Notifications tab and posting UI for me, while Mammoth has a nicer reading interface. I’m also trying Ivory out too, but the lack of notification detail is a dealbreaker.

My dream client for Mastodon would:

  • be flexible enough to let me specify which icons I want as shortcuts at the bottom of the app. Let me specify I want a messages tab if I am using DMs (though DMs are kinda scary in Mastodon so I rarely use them), and if I want to see my favorites, let me put the list there. Let me turn off stuff I don’t use, and add views I use often.
  • The notifications page on Tusker should be copied by every other app including the Mastodon web interface you use on a desktop. Yes, it’s a lot like how Twitter does it, but it’s the most efficient use of space.
  • Jumping to the most recent post in your timeline is weird and different on every client app. Sometimes it’s easy and it’s a tap up top to jump to now. Most often though, apps require you scroll up several times before it presents itself as an option. I understand people don’t want to accidentally “lose” their place in timeline reading, but it feels like most clients cater too much towards letting you see every single old post first.
  • I know editing a post is a recent addition in Mastodon server 4.0, but it would be nice if more iOS client apps could support it. Currently I open mastodon in a safari browser on my phone if I need to fix a typo (update: I’ve since learned in the detail view of your own posts, you can edit a post in Mammoth).
  • Client apps should understand threading and show you when a post and/or reply is in response to something and when it has more posts before/after it.
  • I hope app designers and developers remember to go easy on the hidden UI features in swipes or taps. I know it’s tempting to hide lots of features behind a double tap or swipe right/left, but I’ll never know the feature exists if I can’t see it in the UI.
  • Don’t forget to respect people’s device-wide font settings, and put a great deal of effort into making reading the timeline easy as it possibly can be, with only a bare minimum of UI clutter.

* I’m writing for Zapier on a freelance basis so expect to see more posts over there in the future, here’s my author page on their blog in case you want to follow it

Birbs are real

Way back in the pre-pandemic times, I backed a Kickstarter project for a very good idea: Bird Buddy.

It’s a bird feeder but also has a camera that takes photos and lets you stream live video, plus WiFi, and a battery. Mine finally shipped and showed up, so I set it up down the hill from my house where birds would hopefully be more comfortable away from people.

Now that I’ve had it for a month or so, I will say birds are using it much less than I thought they would, but I think that’s due to location and I may move it closer to our garden where birds are more abundant.

What is the greatest is when you unlock your phone and see a notification that a new bird visited, and after launching the app it will show you new photos as a gift you have to tap to open, then it uses AI to identify the kind of bird that visited your feeder.

I kind of love this product more than I even thought I would. It’s really fun to get photos of new bird species from your yard.

Perfect chicken tikka masala made in the InstantPot

Ever since I got an InstantPot a few years ago, I’ve been trying to find the best butter chicken/tikka masala type recipe I could find. There are no Indian restaurants within 30 miles of me and I miss the cuisine. I’ve tried half a dozen out until I decided to start averaging ingredients between them and tweaking parts from the ones I liked.

This recipe post is an amalgamation of the 2-3 favorite versions I found online. In the end, you’ll get perfectly cooked delicious chicken in a thick curry sauce, perfect for serving on rice, using the minimum of ingredients.

Recipe:

Put your instant pot on saute, and wait until it gets to full temp (the display says HOT), then toss in two tablespoons (quarter stick) of unsalted butter and let it go until it’s all melted.

Dice up one white onion, then add it to the sauce pot, along with 3 crushed cloves of garlic and some fresh ginger (I use a tube of ginger paste, adding a tablespoon in). Mix and let the whole thing cook for 4 minutes.

Next toss in your spices into the onions and mix. It’s a tablespoon of garam masala, then teaspoons each of kosher salt, turmeric, smoked paprika, and any other curry spices if you got it. If want it hotter than mild shake a bit of cayenne pepper into it. Let the spices cook up and blossom for a full minute.

Add a 28oz can of peeled tomatoes, and crush up the tomatoes with your hands as you toss them into the pot to help liquify them. Throw in 1.5 to 2 pounds of boneless chicken thighs. Mix everything together, then make sure the tomato paste/liquids cover all the chicken before securing the lid.

Set your InstantPot to a manual high pressure cook for 10min. It will likely take 10-15min to get up to pressure/temp before the 10min of cook time begins

After 10 minutes of cooking, let it sit for 10min of natural release, then release any remaining pressure.

Remove the chicken from the pot with tongs and cut into 1″ cubes on a cutting board, then leave your chicken on cutting board for now.

Throw in 2 more tablespoons of butter (quarter stick) along with 1/2 cup (4oz) of heavy cream, then mix. Optionally, toss a few shakes of fresh garam masala powder to spark up the flavor vs. the spent garam masala that was cooked.

Use a stick blender/immersion blender to blend the sauce until smooth, just about 30-60sec, until all the tomato and onion chunks are gone.

Slide your chopped chicken back into the pot, set it to warm to let it cook down the curry, and serve up your chicken curry over white rice.

Notes:

• some recipes call for coconut milk or yogurt in place of cream, but this one recipe comes out most like the chicken curry I find in Indian buffets

• a lot of recipes call for boneless chicken breast but it can overcook easily and get tough in a pressure cooker if you go just a minute or two too long, while thighs have more moisture and are harder to ruin

• start rice in a rice cooker before you fire up the InstantPot so it’s ready well before the chicken is done

• almost every online recipe calls for cutting up the raw chicken before cooking, but being able to pull the big pieces out and blend the sauce yields a way tastier and smoother curry sauce in the end

• total cook time with prep is close to an hour

Photo of chicken tikka masala over rice in a blue bowl

Rian Johnson for President

I don’t want to over-hype anything or give away any spoilers, but I will strongly suggest you go in as cold as you possibly can for Knives Out 2/Glass Onion. Try to avoid everything written about it over the next few days or weeks until you get to see it.

All I will say for now is that it exceeded my expectations.

I’m sorry, Big Agnes

I found a store-wide discount at an outdoor brand’s shop that made really high tech stuff. I told my spouse and she said “the kids really want to get into backpacking but all we have is heavy, thick car camping stuff, or old REI backpacking stuff from the 1990s. We should use that code to get them some light bags and tents and sleeping pads for xmas.”

So I order up 5 things: a tent, a vestibule/footprint, two sleeping bags and a sleeping pad. After a week, I get a shipment notification that everything is in the mail but then one small box, about the size of two shoe boxes shows up.

The side of the box has printing that says 1 (NAME OF TENT I ORDERED) on it so I’m like cool, I’ll just wait out the other stuff, you know supply chains and all. Two more weeks go by and I start to get nervous so I email the company saying, hey man, I just got one tent in the mail, where are my four other things? I’d really like to get this stuff in time for xmas.

They email back: dude, we checked with the warehouse packers, and we checked in operations and we double-checked everything in the entire chain of command, and we’re positive we sent you five things. And I go “in one box?!” and they say I should start a claim at Fedex, because that’s really weird it didn’t get to me, everything on their end looks right. I tell them that’s nuts and this has never happened to me in 25 years of online purchases where four boxes were somehow lost in the mail.

My fedex tracking has a photo of the box on my doorstep, so I send that and call them up and we’re on the phone trying to get to the bottom of it and eventually, I’m like dude, I told you ten times I only got one box, but if you’re actually asking me to open the box right now, I’ll go into the xmas present hiding place and open the fucking box.

I cradle the phone in the crook of my neck, grab a box cutter, slice open the tape, and see five backpacking things inside the box, everything I ordered.

I start apologizing profusely, I tell the guy I stopped ultralight backpacking over 20 years ago and everything I own is for car camping in absolute comfort. My camping sleeping pad alone completely rolled up is bigger than this box in every dimension.

This stuff is climbing Mt. Everest shit. The sleeping bags in their stuff sacks are about the size of a 16oz plastic bottle of coke. I literally forgot how fucking tiny ultralight backpack stuff was.

It’s then that I hear some cheering in the room getting picked up on his phone mic. I think some people were pulling their hair out all week over my insane complaints.

The best stocking stuffer is these little wire ties

I am pretty sure I first found out about these little reusable wire tie things from an interview at Cool Tools where someone mentioned how much they loved them. I bought a set solely based on the strength of recommendations made on that site.

Once I got them, I started using them. And using them. And using so many of them I had to buy more packs of them.

These are the perfect stocking stuffer for any nerd in your life. You can use them to bundle up cables behind a TV, for keeping headphone cables tidy in your backpack, and for keeping extra USB charge cables in your car organized. I tend to use them whenever I want to de-clutter something or organize any sort of wires that tend to end up in piles. And they’re better than zip-ties because they don’t waste more plastic and you can untie things and re-tie things as many times as you like.

They’re around $8 for a small pack and I can’t recommend them enough. Buy a few and you won’t be disappointed.

Decoder ring on the history of big butts

The Victorian bustle made way for the big butt obsession

The new Slate Decoder Ring podcast episode on the history of butts and bustles is pretty amazing. As always, what starts as an innocent question “why is having a big butt popular now when 30 years ago people tried to get rid of them?” then goes all the way back to the 18th and 19th centuries, featuring horrific stories of slavery, with many ideas around it rooted in racism and colonialism, before veering into fashion and how white society adopted aspects and eventually embraced it.

It’s a fascinating look at the long history of the butt, and worth a listen.