Humans of Columbia

I have been a fan of Humans of New York for quite a while now. Never did I think I would try to recreate it in my own town. In the first meeting of my interviewing class today, we were tasked with a very HONY-esque assignment. And it was actually really awesome. We were told to interview a random person somewhere in Columbia – but not on campus. This may or may not be my first and last “Humans of Columbia” post. Paul and I bonded over the St. Louis Cardinals, bum knees, adorable small dogs and even swimming. Below is his “story” and a photo I took of him:

On a sunny Saturday afternoon that could even be described as warm for January in Columbia, Missouri, Stephens Lake Park is teeming with runners, walkers, children and dogs.

Toward the outskirts of the park, a man with a bushy white beard, a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap and red stud earring to match sits alone on a park bench facing the lake.

Paul Steeno strokes a small, squinty-eyed dog on his lap and watches the people passing by as he waits for his wife to return from a jog with their two other dogs.

Paul enjoys the people watching and enjoys people in general.

“I’m the type of person who’s an open book and connects really well with people,” he says as he waves and says hello to strangers passing by.

Secretly though, Paul wishes he could be alongside his wife Paula, enjoying the park more actively.

“I have a hip that just doesn’t let me go like she does,” Paul says as he looks down at his Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Casey, with matching white whiskers.

Years ago, Paul was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, which means the cartilage in his joints is worn out, preventing him from being as active as he would like to be.

“Cartilage is six times slipperier than ice,” Paul says. “That’s what my surgeon told me.”

Before his many knee and hip surgeries, Paul owned his own company as a painter and paperhanger.

Although Paul is a people-person, painting provided him a peaceful kind of solitude.

“A lot of the time it was just me, the wall and the radio,” Paul says.

For 27 years, Paul climbed ladders and painted on his knees eventually wearing down his joints until he could no longer paint. Since cartilage does not grow back, Paul’s doctor advised him to get out of the painting and construction trade altogether.

But for Paul, being retired isn’t too bad because he gets to spend more time with the people he loves.

“It was lonely,” Paul says. “I would come home and talk a mile a minute to my wife and my kids because I missed them.”



How to take great photos—even on your cell phone

I’m no photographer, but I like to pretend I am. This article gives a few brilliant tips to the self-proclaimed Instagram artists like myself who try to learn a thing or two here and there about photography. I do a really good job of number seven.

TED Blog


Taking great photos isn’t just about having a nice camera. I’m a firm believer that good photography comes from smart photographers who think creatively and know how to make the most of what they’ve got—whether they’re working with fancy DSLR or an iPhone.

On TED’s design team, where I manage TED’s Instagram account, we’re always on the lookout for beautiful, arresting images. Below are 8 non-technical, non-intimidating tips that I continue to refer to even after years of taking pictures.

  1. Keep your lens clean and your battery charged. Yes, both of these things are obvious, but they’re also very easy to forget. With my camera, I like to keep at least one extra fully-charged battery on hand, and I always keep my phone charger with me because it’s such a bummer when you want to take a photo but can’t. Phones can get especially dirty from riding around in…

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SwimToday Campaign Aims to Celebrate the #funnnestsport

I recently recannonballad this New York Times article about the SwimToday Campaign, a campaign to increase awareness and participation for the sport of swimming among youth. As a D-1 swimmer studying promotions and advertising, I couldn’t not blog about it! First of all, I love the idea of an ad campaign to grow the sport of swimming. It’s really a beautiful thing because it’s a sport that lacks the attention it deserves and still can’t compete with youth sports like football, baseball and soccer. Industry giants Speedo, TYR and Arena are all backing the campaign. It is nice to see these companies, which are usually busy vying for swimmers’ business, teaming up for this cause. USA Swimming has branded the campaign with the appropriately childlike hashtag #funnestsport to encourage swimmers everywhere to share their cherished experiences in the sport of swimming. The campaign caught on quickly and swimmers from summer league, club, high school, college and masters swimming programs started sharing their stories.

Even Olympians like Ryan Lochte and Breeja Larson joined in on the hashtag.

However… I must admit, swimming IS fun, but cannonballs are a tad bit misleading. In an excerpt from the NYT article, the chief marketing officer of USA Swimming Matt Farrell says, “If a kid joins our sport duped by the campaign thinking it’s all cannonballs, laughs and giggles they will find themselves on the soccer field much quicker…But if they give it a shot, hang with it for a few months and experience the culture of the sport, then I like our chances against any sport out there.”

And I completely agree. #funnestsport


Update: Some swimmers do find ways to sneak in a cannonball or two…

About Working Out

Here is an important lesson that is often miscommunicated. Becoming healthy and wanting to sustain your health is a lifestyle and is beneficial for reasons much more important than wanting to look good in “that dress.”


Mid-way through a recent group exercise class, the teacher lost me.  She didn’t lose me because of some complicated step sequence or insanely long set of burpees; I mentally checked out because of a few words she kept saying over and over.  “Come on!  Get that body ready for your winter beach vacation!  Think about how you want to look at those holiday parties!  PICTURE HOW YOU’LL LOOK IN THAT DRESS!

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Duracell’s Superbowl Spot is Durable Storytelling


I’m always a sucker for a feel-good ad. In the past few days, a commercial featuring the Seattle Seahawk’s Derrik Coleman, the NFL’s first legally deaf player, has been circulating the web and flooding newsfeeds. The spot tells Coleman’s story of living with partial deafness and making in to the NFL in an inspirational and motivating piece. According to an article by the Seattle Times, Coleman uses batteries, Duracell batteries, to power the hearing aids he says give him the hearing of a 7 or 8 out of 10, compared to the 1 or 2 he says he has without them. It’s a classic story of overcoming adversity and Duracell just so happens to be the force behind it. Celebrity endorsement doesn’t always work and can sometimes be cheesy or forced, but I love how closely the brand is related to the athlete in this spot. It makes Duracell seem more authentic and real. The “Trust Your Power” campaign (Saatchi & Saatchi, New York) speaks to the trust you can have in the power of Duracell and also to the trust athletes have in the power within them. What makes this story compelling is the well-written voiceover. You can hear Coleman’s voice and the slur caused by his impairment, which adds to the spot because it is telling the story of him living with his impairment. The voiceover also uses many words and phrases related to hearing and sounds like in this awesome line: “But I’ve been deaf since I was three, so I didn’t listen. Now I’m here, with the loudest fans in the NFL cheering me on. And I can hear them all.” The timing of this ad is also strategically perfect with its release just a week before Coleman competes in the NFC Championship game this Sunday.

“Happy” New Year

All anyone really wants out of life is to be happy. These resolutions will be my personal life hacks that will help me choose to be happy every day of 2014 ☺

1. Restore and strengthen friendships

I’ve let too many great people just fade out of my life. Sometimes I get too caught up in day-to-day living and forget to take time to do the simplest things to remind the people I care about that they’re important to me. Going to college, and parting ways in general, creates distances from meaningful people, but I’ve got to make the extra effort it takes to show them they’re still meaningful.

2. Stop making excuses0248a640bd5e0a16dc1b2cdb84fa6bcc

“I don’t have time for that.” • “I’ll do it later.” • “I couldn’t pull off something like that.” • “I’m not ready yet.” • “Someday…”

No more.

I need to admit shortcomings, act now, make time and be confident in myself because the only guaranteed day is today.

3. Smile more

Scientifically proven to make me happier and prettier. And I’ve got a lot to smile about so why not?

4. Try new things

New experiences, new places, new foods… anything. Learn to seize opportunities when they arise because who knows where they will take me, what I will learn or if they will ever come again.

5. Give more, expecting nothing in return

Pay it forward. Help someone who needs it. Volunteer my time, skills and heart. Make someone’s day. Think about other people instead of thinking about myself, because it’s really not all about me. It feels good and it’s good for others. Win-win!

6. Grow in faith

It’s easy to fall off track with this one, but so important to make this a daily goal. If I can get this down, all other resolutions will become much easier!

7. Be Present


This scenario happens more and more often: I’ll be with my friends and the room will grow silent. I’ll look around and everyone is on their phones. It’s common today and it’s slightly disturbing that it is socially acceptable. Whether I’m in a waiting room with strangers or in a room full of friends, I want to work on being present. When there comes an unoccupied moment in life and I immediately go to burry my head into my phone and dive into the digital world, I want to instead learn to embrace the real world passing me by.

8. Forgive more readily

This isn’t easy and is definitely something I need to work on. It’s hard to forgive and forget, especially if you never got the apology, but the fact is, we’re all only human. Forgiveness is not so much about letting the other person off the hook, but more about healing yourself, and I owe myself that. You can never be truly happy while holding a grudge.

9. Express gratitude

Another scientific key to happiness. Simply being grateful for people and things that already surround you and expressing that gratitude is said to have the greatest connection to happiness. In 2014, I want to do a better job of appreciating what I have and letting people know how much I appreciate them.

The Mundanity of Excellence

I recently read an article, “The Mundanity of Excellence: An Ethnographic Report on Stratification and Olympic Swimmers,” by Daniel F. Chambliss, which was written over 20 years ago and was one of the first pieces in sport sociology ever written. As a swimmer myself, I found it very interesting and spot on at times.

In this article, Chambliss defines excellence as “consistent superiority of performance (11).” This definition may seem intimidating, however, Chambliss suggests excellence is overrated and not as impressive of an achievement as we think. He describes the ordinary nature of excellence in his article and refutes the idea that an athlete can have “natural talent.” He instead suggests that an athlete achieves excellence due to a variety of other factors that are often mistaken and mislabeled as “talent.”

Chambliss presents and analyzes quantitative and qualitative data derived from longitudinal (over the span of careers) and cross-sectional (looking at all levels of the sport) studies of swimmers. By “quantitative,” Chambliss means how many times a swimmer does something, or doing more of the same thing. By “qualitative,” he means the kinds of things the swimmers did, or doing different kinds of things (11, 12). Chambliss presents qualitative observations from each of the different “levels” of swimming to highlight the stratification of the sport. Stratification of swimming, according to Chambliss, means dividing the swimming world into levels, or groups, based on qualitative differences.

As a competitive swimmer of almost ten years, I have experienced many different atmospheres of swimming including summer league, high school swimming, club swimming, the junior national level and the collegiate level. I expected to know much more about swimmers than this Chambliss guy, and was prepared to read an article full of nonsense and “not quite”s, especially since it was written such a long time ago and swimming has certainly changed a lot since then. I was pleased to find truth in this article and was surprised at how closely I could connect and relate to it. Chambliss nailed most of the descriptions and explanations of the life of a swimmer. However, there was one main point I disagreed with Chambliss on: the existence of “talent.”

Before reading this article, I accepted the concept of talent as something some swimmers had and other didn’t, without much consideration. Chambliss has challenged me to think differently about this conception. Chambliss believes talent does not exist and is really just a lazy way of explaining athletic success; it actually “mystifies excellence, subsuming a complex set of discrete actions behind a single unidentifiable concept (17).” He argues this term undermines hard work and determination and hides true factors that create excellence, such as athleticism, resources, money, transportation, influence of others, availability of opportunities and the other social factors that contribute to participation in the sport. Those social factors indeed make up a big part of the path to an athlete’s success and are not always taken into consideration when we measure success. As for the “athleticism” factor, I believe, contrary to Chambliss, that this is a justifiable natural talent. The height, weight, muscle structure and proportions of an athlete are physically predestined and give some athletes an advantage over others. This is not to say that other factors can compensate for, or outweigh, these differences but, they’re there. Sure, natural talent does not directly lead to excellence, just as none of the factors alone do. However, a physical and biological athletic advantage – a “natural talent” for the sport – certainly helps, and to say that it simply “does not exist” is irrational.

Chambliss and I also have a different view of what exactly the word “talent” means. Dictionary definitions describe talent as something innate. I have come to think of it as something an athlete attains with success, a status an athlete earns with experience. When people say, “Liza, you are a talented swimmer,” I believe they are commending me on my current state of ability and the “talent” I have earned with hard work, not just my natural state of ability.

Besides his theory about talent, Chambliss makes two other key points in his article, which I agree with. One is “excellence is a qualitative phenomenon (26),” and the other is “excellence is mundane (27).” I agree that it is not the increased amount of swimming, or the quantitative differences, that separate beginners from Olympians, but the differences in technique, discipline and attitudes. I recently experienced this while working swim camps this summer. What sets my college teammates and I apart from 9-year-old summer leaguers is not the increased number of practices we attend, but the qualitative differences. We pay careful attention to practicing and perfecting our technique, while swim campers pay more attention to their friends and socializing. We get up at 5:30 each morning to train, while swim campers are rarely anywhere on time and eat ice cream for every meal at the dining hall. We enjoy the challenge, the competitors and the pain, while swim campers complain of cold water temperatures. We don’t just do more of the same things our campers are doing; we do things differently.

Along with this idea, Chambliss argues excellence is also mundane. An ordinary action, the choice to do a perfect turn in practice, is nothing astonishing, but making of habit of it will lead to excellent turns, all the time. Chambliss says, “the actions themselves are not special; the care and consistency with which it is made is (27).” It is the swimmer’s decision to choose to perform actions of excellence, consistently over time, until they become excellent swimmers.

Therefore, excellence is mundane, excellence is qualitative, and Olympic-caliber swimmers and summer league swimmers are really more alike than they are different.


“Time is so precious… And you need to ask yourself, ‘what are you going to do today?’ But more importantly, you need to ask yourself, ‘how are you going to do it?'”

Finals Week Motivation

It’s that time of year again… With 3 exams, 1 paper, and 3 days to go, I figured I’d pump myself up a little bit, and condense some of the best motivation the internet has to offer into one blog post on my study break!

Enjoy, and happy studying!

until it is done

good luck gossling

Oh, why thank you…. 🙂


And my personal favorite…

if ryan

NYT Graphics

Kevin Quealy from the NYT graphic department skyped us during lecture this week to talk graphics, informational graphics that is.

Ashton Kutcher tweeted a link to a graphic Quealy made at NYT. This graphic was published the day Bolt won his second gold medal in a row in the 100m. Aston Kutcher would never tweet about traditional scatterplots, but a cool graphic? Totally.

Here’s the swimming version, comparing Nathan Adrian to all the other 100m freestyle Olympic medalists in history! (even cooler)

Check out his other infographics by searching “Kevin Quealy” on

It just goes to show you that stats are meaningful, and when presented in an interesting way, people love it! It makes data more accessible to the public.

Quealy explained that the graphic department is responsible for all of the content in the graphics. They research and create the diagrams, maps and charts for the both the newspaper and the website AND they do all their own research & reporting that goes along with the graphics. The next step is making the graphics compatible for all phones, tablets, and browsers of all sizes.

He gave us some “principles, processes, and things to remember”:

  • The future has an ancient heart. Nothing is ever purely innovative. At the NYT, they tweak good ideas that worked before all the time.
  • Distributions are more interesting than averages. This allows an individual to find themselves in the data set.
  • Scale is more than key. Quantitative info makes it more accessible to the public and they can process the information better.
  • Sketch with data, experiment with forms. You might need to make 15 previous graphs/maps to get to the right one that suits the content and editorial purposes.

And he left us with a bit of hope…

It’s never been easier for a 25-year-old with no experience to get a job [at NYT].” – Kevin Quealy

It’s a small department looking to expand. Who would’ve thought!

My Two Loves

Swimming and advertising combined!

I just had to share these because I think they’re clever, unique, and fun! Look out Speedo, because Arena is quickly becoming top dog. Every swimmer knows Arena is a strong brand getting stronger. Their carbon suits are the top choices of Olympians and their advertising is top notch, too. With their “Water Instinct” print ads, I think they make their message clear!

Jaws Swimmer arena ad



I like how this ad challenges the norm with the swimmer as the predator and the shark, the prey.


Speaks for itself. Arena gives you web-like advantages.


How swimmers see “the pool.” Love it.