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The Moth’s Dan Kennedy Shares 9 Ways to Sharpen Your Storytelling Skills

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As the longtime host of The Moth podcast and its New York-based StorySLAMs, Dan Kennedy certainly knows a good story when he hears it. Kennedy has spent the last 16 years performing his own work and listening to others share theirs, whether it’s during The Moth’s prepared main stage events or its looser, put-your-name-in-a-hat slams.

“[During] the first story I told on the main stage, I had long bangs that I let down in front of my eyes,” Kennedy says. “I was hunched over at the mic, and I was mumbling a story that I thought was very funny.”

He adds, “At some point there was a huge laugh, and I don’t really know if it was because of the story, or if it was, ‘Oh my god, why is this guy getting onstage?’ But I felt the comfort of that laugh, and I just remember thinking, 'All right. I might have to keep doing this just to be sane.'”

Recently, I asked Kennedy to share a few tips for anyone who aspires to be a better storyteller, whether it’s in front of five people at a bar or 500 in a sold-out theater. Those who follow his advice just might become addicted to the process, too:


“It sounds like the most obvious thing in the world,” Kennedy says of this basic guideline, which he has repeated for years. “But at the slams that I host in New York, I’m still surprised just how many times people will get up onstage and [I’ll think], 'That was a wonderful middle that guy just wandered into.'


“I saw someone at a Moth StorySLAM a couple months ago who got up said, ‘All right, so let’s see here … storytelling. Um …’” Kennedy recalls, laughing. “I mean, you don’t have to have your thing over-rehearsed—it’s really important not to have it over-rehearsed, to kind of know where you’re going and what’s gonna be interesting to other people. But boy, that got to the other extreme.” 


“When someone gets up and from the get-go they’re very theatrical, very prepared, and very memorized …  to me, it’s always just the kiss of death,” Kennedy says. He urges storytellers to know the beats of their stories without reciting them by heart, word for word. 


“We love standup comedy and we love funny stories, but don’t just get up and riff,” he advises. “The story onscreen, the story on the page, and the story onstage all really need the same amount of structure to keep people interested and invested.” 


“My favorite stories at The Moth are always the ones where, one minute in, you suddenly feel like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’ve known this person all my life,’” Kennedy says. “For me, it’s the same if there’s 20 people or 200 or 4000. … I’m not really aware that there’s more than one person out there, I’m just talking to what feels like a friend.”


“One of my all-time favorite stories is about a guy trying to impress a girl that lived on his block by [trying] to jump his bike over his friend,” Kennedy says. “I’d love to start a podcast called When Something Went Wrong on the Block Growing Up. It’s not the catchiest title in the world, but they’re the funniest stories every time. And those stories can be just as epic as telling a really emotionally wrought story.”


“You should be comfortable with your material, but it’s probably not super-natural to not be nervous about getting up in front of a lot of people,” Kennedy says. “Someone explained to me once that, as mammals, we’re wired to not draw attention to ourselves for survival. And when you go up in front of hundreds of other mammals, your body tends to tell you it’s not a good idea, and it’s just really wiring about survival.” 

He adds, “I’ve been hosting and telling stories for 16 years, and there have probably been [only] two times when I haven’t been nervous. And they were terrible performances on my part.” 


“I find that anytime I’m bringing a personal agenda to the plate, it just doesn’t make for a real good time,” Kennedy says. “If you’re deeply hurt and angry with a family member or a friend, it’s probably just gonna make for a pretty angry rant onstage versus a story.” 


“I often use this example of a guy who told a story one time at a slam,” Kennedy says. “He was just an average, nice person like all the rest of us, as attractive as the rest of us. But he went about telling a story of how difficult it was for him to travel on business, because he was constantly being approached with advances from women. … I think the entire crowd was sitting there silently doing the math, sort of going, ‘Really? You can’t check into a chain hotel on a Wednesday? It’s difficult for you?’” 

Kennedy adds, “Obviously, we as people have fun telling truths, [and] we tell it in language that recalls how epic and giant it felt to us in the moment. But there’s a big difference between that and not telling the truth. And people will know when you’re not.”

New episodes of The Moth podcast are released weekly; head to iTunes to subscribe. To learn more and see a calendar of upcoming Moth events, head to

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]