How to Make People Think You’re Smarter Than You Actually Are

11 Sep

Want to make people at work think you’re super smart? This is one of the things I do to help me seem like I have an amazing memory, when in fact my memory is only slightly above average. You’ll need two things: one skill and one tool.


The Skill

The skill is one you can pick up pretty easily and you don’t even need to be that good at it. It’s something you may have heard of called typing. Get good at typing. You don’t have to have perfect accuracy and you don’t have to have an above average typing speed. The faster you can
get, the better – but the accuracy  level can be solved really easily with autocorrect and spellcheck.


You can take the test at

I type around 90 words per minute according to It also says my accuracy when typing Aesop’s fables is around 98%. This is decent and I was trying to really do my best when I took the test. It’s unlikely I type quite that fast normally. Go take the test and see where you are.

Now you know your typing speed. I don’t know of a way to easily determine your speaking speed, but the average person speaks at about 110-150 words per minute in casual conversation. Television hosts, podcasters, professional debaters and others speak much faster though.

I bet you can see where we’re going with this.


The Tool

The tool is Evernote. I started using Evernote when I started my current job 3 years ago after determining that VooDooPad didn’t do everything I needed it to. I have notes in EverNote from my very first day of work and I often check those old notes even years later. I catalog everything and try to keep little bits and pieces of information out of my head and in my Evernote. The human brain is really inefficient at storing bits of factual data without context. I try to put as much context around my Evernote info as possible, creating a little mind map or handbook for myself to reference later.

Hold-down-comand-shift-and-D-to-restore-last-selection_jpg_524×75_pixelsWhen I’m in meetings or on conference calls, I open the associated note, usually titled by the name of the client I’m working with. Then I put in a date stamp using the shortcut Shift+Command+D.

Next, I check the meeting invite information to see the attendees and list those in my note, along with an indicator of who attended and who didn’t. I try to catch titles and any bits of personal info they throw out on the call to help me separate people and their voices. Generally if I don’t catch a full title, I can quickly look them up on LinkedIn and add it from there. Sometimes I even drag their profile pictures into the note.

My preferences for note taking deserve their own blog post, so I won’t go into how to do that here. Simply populate your note file with the accompanying data you think you’ll need to remember right at the beginning of the meeting.

The Setup

Now that you’ve got all the metadata about the call in your note, it’s time to put those typing skills to work and transcribe the conversation. Does that sound intense? Maybe it is, but it is one of the best ways I’ve found to get the most accurate information down in my notes. I usually try to write it up as if it’s a play, with the name of the speaker, followed by what they said.

It takes some practice, obviously, especially when you’re leading the call and have to talk at the same time. Usually you can paraphrase your own words if you’re leading the call and then take copious, word-for-word notes of the responses from the other party and their team. I’ve found this incredibly valuable. I’ll ask questions and while the others are thinking, quickly jot down what I said. Then I start typing word for word what the responses are.

A lot of note-taking tips say to gather the end results, the consensus points, etc. I do that, but I like to capture the discussion and brainstorming that got to that conclusion. When I confirm with a client that they indicated the need for a penetration test instead of an assessment, for example, I could simply write “Client wants penetration test.” But the discussion around that and what leads us there provides valuable information about the drivers for the engagement and what goals they’re trying to achieve. Maybe they just prefer it because of compliance requirements, but maybe there’s deeper information to be found there, and I’ll want to refer back to it later. This is how I can really deliver value to my security professional services clients. This is the context you’re trying to get down to refer to later.

The Payoff

Referring to notes later for personal use is obviously hugely important. But that isn’t our trick for seeming smart to others. The trick is to be able to refer to exactly what someone said verbatim. When you’re able to quote someone back to themselves, or quote exactly what they said to your colleagues or superiors, you have a lot of leverage that other people don’t. And you look pretty damn smart. I don’t generally tell people I do this, but I seem to be one of the few focusing on capturing this kind of information for reference later and it has worked out very well for me on several occasions. Try it out for your next 5-10 meetings and see what kind of results you get.

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Protein Shake Recipe

2 Sep
I’m on a lot of diet, fitness and health forums and follow a ton of blogs about those topics. I’m also an anti-aging fanatic. It’s probably one of my top hobbies. I love learning about techniques to delay aging and improve physical health. Hacking your body through diet, exercise and what you consume is fascinating to me. One of the reasons I love it so much is because I’ve been able to see and feel results that make me feel like it’s working.


Protein is a really common topic on the forums I read. There are questions about how much to get, when to consume it, what forms to use, etc. I find myself posting my protein shake recipe all the time for people who are looking to start on a shake to help increase their protein intake.


 The protein powder I use is called Syntrax Nectar Sweets Vanilla Bean Torte. It has no sugar, no carbs, no fat. 1 scoop contains 24g of protein. It mixes extremely well in the blender and gets smooth without chunky protein globs left in the mix.


If you’re unsure about buying a giant 2 pound tub of protein powder, you’re not alone! Go to Vitamin Shoppe and you’ll see single serving packets of this exact flavor for you to try. Grab a few, they’re usually around $1.50 each and see if you like it. Those packets contain the equivalent of one scoop.


My recipe includes:
5oz of whole milk
1 scoop protein powder
3 frozen strawberries
2 large ice cubes


Blend in blender (Vitamix is the best) until it’s a milkshake consistency.




Now I’ll breakdown the tips and caveats of my ingredient choices.


I use whole milk. It’s what I prefer and what I’m used to. I’m also only using 5oz, so I don’t even think twice about using it. You can use almond milk, soy milk, rice milk or any other kind of milk you prefer. You can even use water, though I can’t imagine that tastes very good.


The protein powder I use has a very light vanilla taste, I barely notice it. It also does not have that cloying sweetness or a fake sweet aftertaste like a lot of fake sugar products I’ve tried. It uses sucralose for sweetness.


The Navitas Naturals Superfruit is something I’m trying out. It’s ok and has a vague fruity taste from the pomegranate in it. I love antioxidants and it only has a minimal taste. It’s pricey though, so don’t bother with it if you’re cost conscious.


I add in 2-3 large frozen strawberries for a little flavor when I get sick of the vanilla. You could add any fruit in you like, but I’ve found that 2 frozen strawberries is plenty of flavor and color.


I use frozen for the same reason I use ice cubes – the consistency and texture is better with a few frozen things added in. Also, if you use a Vitamix blender, the raw beastly power of the machine will add a little heat to the contents of the blender, so adding some ice keeps it cool.


I drink one of these every morning and am really happy with it as a breakfast substitute.



Small print: I’m not a doctor, nutritionist or dietician, although I see them regularly and they’ve all cleared this as being appropriate for me. It might not be appropriate for you. This works for me and could work for you. But maybe it won’t. Give it a try and see for yourself.

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28 Jan

For the first project, I’m starting with a Facebook “suggested post.” This is a post that a page, or even an individual can make and “sponsor” or “suggest” it through facebook’s ad platform. People tend to lament and sometimes deeply hate the “sponsored post,” so I thought it would be a great place to start. I saw this ad and clicked it.



Someone paid for me to see this ad, I clicked it and it took me to It contained a discount code which I used to order $64 worth of recipes. This gave me 2 different meals, both with servings for 2. The original cost was $64 with $12 shipping. I only had to pay for the shipping because of the Facebook ad. That means my total cost for the meals was $3 each.

Due to shipping constraints, Plated is only available in certain areas. You can also get memberships to make the plates cheaper. I opted against that for my this tryout, plus I had a free code.

I chose the Provencal Steak and the Chicken with White Wine Pan Sauce. The Plated box came about 4 days later. It contained lots of things:

My images show the “Provencal Steak” dish. It wasn’t difficult to cook, but the directions were a little lacking and some of the ingredients weren’t very intuitive.
Over all it ended up looking a lot like the picture, but the steak was a bit tough. Likely due to only marinating for a short time, when we could’ve marinated up to 24 hours. Plated isn’t about learning to cook. They provide pre-portioned ingredients and a recipe. Follow the directions and you have something decent. Learning to cook requires understanding what you’re doing, not just mindlessly following the directions. My cooking and dining companion actually said, “I’ve seen boxed cake mix with better documentation.”
The four people who tried the finished dish generally liked it, every one of them added butter and salt to their vegetables and said the steak was tough.
I split the 2 servings into 4 servings so my friends could each taste the full meal, here are their ratings:
Diner A – 4.5/10
Diner B – 7.5/10
Diner C – 7/10
Diner D – 6/10
My overall feeling was that this slickly-produced startup isn’t going to be successful. The website is visually very well done and the app itself works well. However, the directions need to be refined and the price is clearly only for a novelty. The ingredients are not rare, hard to find things, they’re regular grocery items at an increased cost, plus a wait time for shipping. It just makes sense for people to learn to cook on their own. Sure, some people might not have the time to go shopping, but at that point, why not just go out? I think the one aspect that would be worth pursuing for Plated is the gifting aspect. It would be a sort of fun gift to a family member who lives far away and then you could buy them dinner once a month, but they’d still have to cook.

Plated encourages others to post their meals to twitter and instagram with the hash tag #plated. You can check those sites for more pictures of dishes that their users have made.


I’m clicking on and purchasing from 12 ads in 2014. To learn more about this project, check out the introduction to “Let’s Click on Ads

Let’s Click on Ads

28 Jan

A lot of people online say they hate ads on the internet. They never click them, they use adblock and make sure to never, ever, ever see an ad. And certainly if they did see an ad somehow, they would never, ever click that ad.

Hate to break it to you, but we’re atypical. Most internet users do see ads. And some of them even click the ads! Shocking. I don’t really mind ads. I consider them the price I pay to receive great content for free. I’ve been on the other side of the equation and depended on ad revenue to keep my sites up. I value the fact that we not only get web content for free, but we also get television and radio for free and have for decades. All supported via advertising.

Not only do I see ads, I sometimes enjoy them. I sometimes click them or purchase something I found out about via ads. I thought it would be interesting in 2014 to really embrace advertising more. To not make them peripherial to my internet experience, but to make them central. To give ads importance, interact with them – click and buy from them.

I’m going to click 12 ads in 2014 and purchase from them. I see ads all the time and often don’t give them a second thought. While other times I’ve clicked and purchased things without really paying much attention. I thought I’d turn myself into that mythical unicorn – the person who mindfully, purposefully clicks on ads online and spends money.

Below is a list of ads I’ve clicked on and my write up on the results:

January 2014 – Plated

Flash Sale Price Gouge Roundup

4 Oct

I put together a little roundup of how gouges on prices, it’s over on my Kinja. It got shared to ValleyWag main site, which is awesome.


Evernote Reaches #1 on my Most Hated Companies List

8 Oct

I’ve been happily using Evernote for several months. Previously I was using Voodoo Pad and quite enjoyed it. I switched to Evernote in order to have an easily accessible iPhone app with all my notes and information that could be ported and synced. Things had been going really well. Then they came out with a paper notebook made by Moleskine. The pitch is that you can take written notes and then import then into your Evernote app by snapping a picture. Once you’ve snapped the image, the special paper allows the iPhone app to convert the written notes to text notes easily and quickly. The lines provide an easier way for the app to line up the text and make a more accurate conversion. This seemed like a great idea! They even included physical stickers that could then be associated with tags. Put a sticker on the page and the “work” or “idea” tag you’ve chosen would then automatically associate and attach to the note.

This sounded so great to me! In meetings I tend to prefer to hand write notes. I find it easier sometimes to draw a little diagram, underline something or copy what’s on whiteboard. Further, I find that it’s much more personal to handwrite notes. I’ve been in the tech industry for my entire career and I’ve found that typing notes in a meeting gives the appearance of not paying attention, even when you’re diligently focused. Even I sometimes tend to assume that everyone is just browsing their email instead of listening. Thus, paper notes that can be quickly and easily converted to searchable, readable text seems to solve the problem.

Except it doesn’t. The notebook arrived yesterday and I couldn’t get it to work no matter what I tried. I followed the directions exactly. I was able to snap an image, but not able to have the image recognized as a Smart Notebook page or have my text converted. Of c ourse I assumed it was my handwriting and had two friends try their penmanship. Even the most lovely blockscript didn’t do the trick. I updated the app and tried lots of different things. Of course the Evernote support forums are full of similar complaints. It doesn’t work.

What a disappointment.

Further disappointment came when I attempted to get support. You see, the notebook I ordered was $25 and included 3 months of Premium account status. Evernote is a classic “Freemium” model. They provide extra features, priority support and no ads for a small monthly fee. Of course the sticker on the front of the notebook proclaims how lovely your included 3 months free will be, but nowhere does it tell you exactly how to activate the premium status for your existing account.

Now things go a little off the rails, but this is how they reached the top spot for my most hated company today. I’ve been using a little app called “skitch” for years. It was a great lightweight app for quickly adding text, small icons and drawings on to images. It also took great quick screenshots and allowed you to upload your images in a variety of ways. Gawker wrote up a bit about it 6 months ago (NSFW link). A few weeks ago Evernote purchased Skitch. Things stopped working. And with the latest version, it essentially destroyed the app.

The Apple App Store reviews are full of vitriol. My favorite complaint is “If you loved Skitch, you will hate this”. “This” being Skitch under the Evernote acquisition. I have so many friends that used and loved Skitch that a few even emailed me warning me not to upgrade or I’d lose one of my most useful productivity tools.

I made the horrible mistake of "upgrading" to @ 2.0. This interface is AWFUL and resizing is broken! Anybody know a good alternative?
Alexander Sliwinski
bummed that whomever (evernote?) took over Skitch development ruined it. Did the current devs even use the old version? #SeriousRegression
J.D. Mullin
OK Skitch used to be useful but the latest update made it pointless to me. No camera access, weird interface…
Christian Heilmann
What's a good alternative to Skitch (for quick crops & scaling + adding notes to images)? The newest version killed it for me.
Josh Pigford
I hate @ 2.0. They killed the menu bar icon, which was bad enough, but now I realize that I can't do a timer-countdown snap! #notcool
Andy McFee
Skitch 2 is horrible. Capturing is now a 2-step process & impossible to line-up. Files can't be named. All files auto-sent to Evernote. WTF?
Alistair Hart
@ you've ruined Skitch with the new version. I've been using it for over 5 I'm going elsewhere
Duncan Riley

Then the genius CEO of Evernote responds to the outrage and disappointment with flippancy and ridicule toward his users. At the very least they could have done some damage control, but instead said “deal with it, jerks,” to the longtime Skitch users who have now been forcibly converted to Evernote users and lost all of the content storage they’ve been using for years.

Thus, Evernote ranks as worst company for selling me a useless paper notebook, giving me substandard level of support eventhough I’ve paid for premium and especially for ruining a fantastic application that I’ve used for years. AT&T has been knocked to third most hated, while United Airlines hangs at second place.

On a lighter note, I really love the Blackbird Pie plugin for WordPress.

Image via sonofman in comments

I joined Facebook?

30 Aug

Well, it finally happened. I’d been happy without one, but I felt like I was missing out on too many important events in the lives of my friends, so I finally decided to join (and participate in?) facebook. Obviously there are tons of concerns around privacy and I’ve taken the approach of posting 100% publicly, when I do post thus far. Also, I’m using Ghostery to keep the creepy tracking to a minimum.

It hasn’t even been 24 hours, so I’m not sure how much I’ll be using it. Similarly with twitter, I’m sure I’ll forget it exists in a few weeks until someone asks me about it again or links to it, then I’ll remember all over again. It’s really amazing how many people are on it and actively use the site. I suppose livejournal is finished and done with by now. A shame, really. Livejournal has the most superior threaded commenting system I’ve seen on the internet. And it was completed in its current form almost 10 years ago. Yet in 2012, facebook doesn’t have comment threading at all.

If you’re interested in seeing more personal information like dog pics, ridiculous quotes and other things that are boring and mundane, feel free to add me there.

This substantially increases my social media accounts to keep up with. Let’s do the inventory:


There won’t be more than this, right? This is it I hope.



Sherrod on NPR

24 Jul

I had a little spot on NPR Connecticut today. The main topic was about trolling but Parmy Olson who wrote a book about Anonymous did the first segment. You can skip to 00:31 to hear my part. It’s just a few quick comments about what “trolling” means.


Click here for audio player.

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Today He Conversed With Me

14 Jun

The nice Italian gentleman at “Today I Conversed With” did an interview with me a few days ago. It’s up on his site now. We mostly cover things like internet culture, the future of social media security and the Semantic Web.


What future is waiting us, in your own opinion? Will be take measures to increase the security of our data or not?

I think that security measures will slowly improve, while tactics for unauthorized access improve as well. It’s an arms race. There is a lot more work that needs to be done, but that’s ok. There are a lot of really smart people working on these problems.


Feel free to read the whole thing on the Today I Conversed With site.

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Phishing Protip: Don’t Send to All

7 Jun

I got the below email today. Phishing is a problem, obviously, but it also tends to provide a lot of entertainment value to information security professionals. There are lots of fun little tricks that Phishers use in their emails. They hope to get you to click on their links and then send you to a site where you’ll put in your username and passwords. It’s fun to see how creative and how stupid they can get. It’s also interesting to see how little effort a lot of them put into their attempts.




This email is obviously phishing because it is sent to undisclosed-recipients:; and American Express would refer to me as “Dear Sherrod DeGrippo,” not “Dear customer.” The bad grammar and randomly capitalized letters are another give away. An appeal to “secure online service against any fraudulent attempt,” is pretty funny too.

Looking at the mail headers is funny too. Because this was in my spam folder and was actually marked spam due to my low spamscore threshold. It got marked as spam not for phishing, but for forging the MUA. Adorable.


But as with all phishing, the biggest give away is that the email doesn’t link to, but to something completely unrelated. I’m also pretty sure that AmEx prefers really showy, ridiculously fancy html emails, not just a single logo at the top.

If you want to be transported back to the early 2000s and take a quick Phishing proficiency quiz, SonicWALL has one that is pretty cute.

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