Way of the Duck

by Buster Benson

Product manager on analytics.twitter.com. Amateur behavior change fanatic/skeptic. I tweet 10.4 times/day, retweet 1.4 times/day, and get 2.1 faves/tweet.

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A Self-Tracking Challenge (draft)

This challenge requires some working knowledge of spreadsheets, and self-tracking. It’s also a work-in-progress and is very much open to feedback.

In a spreadsheet of some kind (Google Spreadsheet, Excel, Numbers, etc) rate every day subjectively on a scale between 1 and 3.

1 = exceptionally bad day

3 = exceptionally good day

2 = all other days

Then, come up with a “fitness function” based on objective data (nothing subjective like mood) that is mathematically correlated with the subjective rating over time. Say, over a month or two of data.

In other words, find out what, if any, things that are externally measurable have an effect on your subjective experience of life. Using math.

Use =CORREL(subjective column, objective column) in most spreadsheets to get a number between -1 and 1 that states whether or not the two sets of numbers are correlated. -1 means they are inversely

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“Behavior change” is an intuition pump

Gary Wolf suggested that the phrase “behavior change” is an intuition pump – a phrase that leads one down a specific set of simplifications and assumptions that ultimately mislead one to making false conclusions.

Gary Wolf quote

This idea is growing on me. Especially after this branch on “If behavior change is belief change” in which I play the role of scorned behavior change-ologist.

Still working on this but I think there’s something interesting at the end of this train of thought. I’m not there yet though.

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Zoomed out

My father passed away 19 years ago today.

Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast hard yesterday.

Stepping back and remembering that we’re all mortal and fragile can bring us closer together.

It makes you want to hug your family, your friends, and even random strangers.

It adds a filter of meaning over everything.

The moments are rare when this reality descends on us collectively, so take advantage of it. Use it to up your empathy not only for the people who are near you, but for all people who are face to face with this realization every day.

What if we could always think and act from a place of respecting the big picture, of being zoomed out and seeing the vulnerability of life?

Dad, I miss you.

Remembering Dad

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Has Twitter killed blogging?

Kottke mentioned a theory that I’ve heard a bunch. New media killing old media (again).

Tweet conversation

Since I’ve kept all of my tweets and blog posts and everything else on my own server going back to 1999, I thought it would be simple enough to throw some anecdotal information at the question.

Here’s a graph of number of blog posts (blue) versus tweets (green) that I’ve written over the last 13 years.

Blog posts vs Tweets

So, while it seems like blog posts haven’t really suffered much as a direct result of the growth of Twitter, it could be that I would’ve written more blog posts if I didn’t have a plethora of other lower barrier ways of self expression.

In fact, that probably applies to the general evolution of publishing in general. Just because a particular line of lizards evolved into birds doesn’t mean lizards are going to go extinct. And also doesn’t mean that whales will never evolve in the future.

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Hidden Twitter Cards potential

I’m on the team at Twitter that recently added the ability to view images, story summaries, and videos “in a tweet” on Twitter.com, and on the Twitter mobile apps. They did all of this before I joined but it was a big part of the reason that I wanted to work here… there’s tons of potential to play around with.

Twitter Cards (developer docs) have been mentioned and hyped up in some interviews recently as quite a big deal. Which I believe it is (and will continue to be).

Twitter Cards

But, I actually think there are a lot of things that can be done with the existing photo card integration that people haven’t quite taken full advantage of yet.

Just wanted to write up my thoughts on it in case people weren’t fully aware of all of the possibilities.

 Attach more data to your tweet

The photo card is interesting because it is data that doesn’t necessarily have to be included in your tweet. It can be

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The best pedometer

I think the new Fitbit Zip is the best pedometer / walking tracker out there right now.

  • You don’t have to charge it (the battery lasts 4-6 months, and is replaceable)
  • It automatically syncs with your phone and the web without having to plug it in to anything. You don’t even need to open the app, or press a button anywhere! (requires at least an iPhone 4S)
  • It has a great website and API so it integrates with lots of other things
  • It can be used as a KEYCHAIN! (so it’ll always be in your pocket)

It’s better than an iPhone app because all of those run your battery down, and therefore can’t be on all the time.

It’s better than the full-featured Fitbit or Nike FuelBand because every time you have to charge it or sync it or upgrade the software is a chance that it’ll get left behind, run out of charge, or get lost.

The best pedometer is the one that’s always with you.

You should get

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Behavior change is belief change

Aristotle habit quote

Every behavior change fanatic out there loves this quote. Probably has it on their bathroom mirror.

The formula is so simple.

You = what you do every day

And therefore:

if (what you do every day == excellent)


You = excellent

And also, if you’re trying to solve for excellence…

You + X = Excellence

You now know that

X = do excellent things every day


You + (do excellent things every day) = Excellence

I know what you’re thinking.

Be excellent to each other

And more importantly, just be excellent.

And here, it becomes clear.

The quote by Aristotle is actually not helpful at all.

Last night I had a great conversation with @e_ramirez, @cwhogg, and @aarondcoleman over a few beers. It was a thoroughly enjoyable behavior-change app-building quantified-self throw down.

Despite all of us having fairly different ideas about to build RIGHT NOW, given the current state of the market, what we

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Who you are vs who you want to be

To accept who you are seems to suggest that there’s no reason to gamble it all on who you want to be.

And yet…

To gamble everything on who you want to be seems to suggest that you’re really unhappy with who you are now.

This has always been an unsolved paradox in my head as I generally seem, upon inspection, to be both happy where I am, and eager to gamble a lot of it on something bigger.

In the shower today I decided to just let these two voices talk it out, without me getting in the way. And within about 30 seconds they had come to an agreement.

Who I am now agrees to accept who I want to be, and who I want to be agrees to accept who I am now. Neither voice will try to persuade the other on their primary belief, but rather accept that the other belief exists as strongly as their own. Seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many years I’ve forced one or the other voice to shut

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Look, look, look

One of the things I love on the internet is this tap-essay manifesto slash free iPhone story app by Robin Sloan: Fish. I return to it pretty often.

The premise is that we have a desire to return repeatedly to the things that we love. And that, on the internet, the deluge of information overload sometimes discourages returning much to individual things. Instead, we collect containers of things, and curations of things, because they’re always new.

I particularly love the full story of Agassiz mentioned in Fish. Enough even to want to save the actual text of it here. It was written by Samuel H. Scudder. Originally published, I think, in American Poems (3rd ed.; Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co., 1879). Enjoy!

 “The Student, The Fish, and Agassiz”

It was more than fifteen years ago that I entered the laboratory of Professor Agassiz, and told him I had enrolled my name in the Scientific

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$1 for you


I want to change some of my behaviors. What else is new, right? (I’ll tell you what is new!) I have a new strategy for getting through my habit-gimmick-resistant brain.

Between now and the end of October, I’ll give $1 to the first person who calls me out at any time if they witness me doing any of the following:

  1. Complaining about anything. Anything! Complaining is stupid.
  2. Talking ill about anyone behind their back. Gossipping.
  3. Eating junk food, drinking soda.
  4. Drinking anything alcoholic except red wine.

2 social habits, 2 health habits: a good start for now. I might edit or add as I go along.

I’m planning to use Chirpify to pay people, since I’ve been wanting to use their service, and like how it automatically adds a public element to the self-challenge. So anyone on Twitter or the internet at large can feel free to call me out whenever!

Please, call me out!

Also, if you want

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