From Lewis Menand’s review of Smart, Faster, Better, I learned that all self help books have the same goal — to get us to be the people we know we should be. These books don’t have have any new solutions — they just reiterate common sense through the current cultural or businesses lenses. Menand points out that Dale Carnegie’s famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People (which I love) could be summed up in the sentence “If you are nice to people, they will like you.” But, he continues, the purpose of these books is not “What would Jesus do? but How, exactly, would He do it?” Carnegie’s book has some great tips on how to be nice to people like, “Be a good listener and focus on what the other person is interested in.” To me, it’s a fundamental point that none of these books, as much as they try, have the answer — we already know the answer. But they do have some good tips and tricks on how help us anyway.
- We’re Already in the Future of Virtual Reality: When I go to Disney World I always go to the Carousel of Progress — Walt Disney’s tour of American ingenuity through the decades. It ends with a Future scene (produced in 1993) which involves virtual reality and speech recognition. If you take a look at the video, you’ll see that with virtual reality and an Amazon Echo, we’re just about to surpass it.
- Use Your Phone: I have an iPhone which hasn’t yet come up with it’s own VR accessories so I’ve been using a Mattel Viewmaster. If you’ve got a Samsung phone Samsung Gear is a lot better and if you have a Google Pixel, the Daydream headset looks pretty great. Either way, it’ll give you a pretty great way of seeing what all the fuss is about. These sites are especially useful:
- Demo an HTC Vive at the Microsoft Store: I’ve tried a few different VR systems but they didn’t put me much more in “The Matrix” than Google Cardboard. Then I tried the HTC Vive at the Microsoft Store. It’s really amazing. You can walk around in the environment and it totally feels like you’re there. Pretty mind blowing.
- Hear: — This is an awesome app that does Augmented Sound. It’s a truly incredible experience. Roman Mars highlighted the company’s first app, RJDJ, it in one of the first episodes of 99% Invisible. Listening to the world through Hear really changes your perception of the world. A door slamming or the pings on an ATM start to have a musical lyricality that you’d never heard before. It’s a really wonderful experience. I’ve never done mushrooms but all the review on their site say, “It’s like Mushrooms without the mushrooms.”
- Some final thoughts on VR:
- Citi has a really great overview on VR (~100 pages)
- One comment I heard recently was “VR is great because I can be fully in the moment — without any notifications from my phone.” I think this is a bit short sighted and see notifications coming to these platforms pretty soon. I think Dave Pell said it best that relying on technology to solve your technology problems is like using heroin to kick your methadone habit.
- We are currently in an attention economy. Companies like Google, Facebook and many others are trying to convince you to spend as much time as possible on the web viewing ads. This is not in your best interest.
- My Solution: (Go to Medium for the Full Story): I figured out how to use micropayments to replace Google Display ads with my To Do list. Building on an idea Matt Cutts had on his blog, I used Google Contributor and Remember The Milk to substitute advertisements with my To Do list. Now I have my To Do list follow me around the Internet. It’s just like a persistent targeted ad that won’t leave me alone. It’s Awesome!
- Tristan Harris’s Solution: Tristan Harris is the champion of managing your attention on the internet. There’s a great profile of him in The Atlantic. He used to be the “Product Ethicist” at Google and now has a foundation called Time Well Spent. He’s currently studying how technology hijacks our psychological vulnerabilities, writing about ways to protect yourself and speaking about these things at TED.
- Manoush Zomorodi’s Solution: Manoush Zomorodi has a podcast called Note to Self where she focuses on how people relate to technology. There’s a great video of Manoush from the GEL conference which talks about how to disconnect from the internet. If you want to learn more about how to reclaim your time and be more creative take a look at Bored and Brilliant and Infomagical.
According to Robert Sapolsky, research says that the following things lower our stress and make us happy. As a side fact, you get a lot more benefits if you enjoy doing these things and aren’t forced to do them:
- Exercise: Do 20-30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise. It’ll make your heart and brain work better as well as reduce your stress levels.
- Meditate: Meditation lowers your blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels. It also lets you put stressors in perspective.
- Friends and Family: Having friends and family you love and trust helps keep us calm.
- Sleep: The human body needs 7-9 hours of sleep. Less than this causes significant stress on the body.
Udacity is an Awesome Place for Online Learning: In order to review technical and coding skills and to learn new ones, I really like Udacity. Udacity was founded by Sebastian Thrun, founder of Google X and Google’s self driving car project. When Thrun wanted to have more of an impact he created Udacity — which is structured slightly different from other online learning sites. I’ve taken a number of great classes on Udacity including Hadoop and MapReduce (where I downloaded Hadoop to my PC), Intro to the Design of Everyday Things (a fantastic class led by Don Norman), and Intro to Computer Science (a good introduction to Python). They also do some very interesting online talks with thought leaders like Tony Fadell (Nest), Astro Teller (Google X) and Yann LeChun (Facebook’s Director of AI).
Marshall Goldsmith wrote a great book called Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts — Becoming the Person You Want to Be. He talks about how we react to our environment more frequently and powerfully than we’d like to admit. So Goldsmith places triggers in the environment each day to help drive progress on key goals. I’ve been doing this for about a year and it’s really life changing. If you’d like to try it yourself you can take his basic survey at Ask Me Every.
I’ve always heard that the best way to make yourself happy is to focus on making other people happy — but I’ve found it hard to put into practice. Then I found the meditation app Buddify. It has a “Walking in the City” meditation they call “Zap” where you wish everyone well that you pass on the street. Give it a try because it’s amazing. It’s hard for me to find a quicker happiness fix.
Grace Hopper may be the most important Computer Science alum from Yale but I’d never seen a video of her. Here she is on Letterman.
The Ethics of AI: We are becoming more and more reliant on Artificial Intelligence, mostly because it keeps getting better more quickly than anything else. More and more, we’re relying on AI systems to make important decisions like who to hire at work or who to release from prison, even when these models may have strongly ingrained biases based on the training data. And as self driving cars become more of a reality, we will continue to become more reliant on machines. This brings up an interesting ethical question on self driving cars in specific — in an accident that can not be avoided, how does the car prioritize the life of the driver and passengers vs. others? How many injuries would need to be avoided of the car to prioritize the bystanders over the driver. Mercedes has already come up with a statement on this question “You could sacrifice the car. You could, but then the people you’ve saved initially, you don’t know what happens to them after that in situations that are often very complex, so you save the ones you know you can save. If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one. Save the one in the car.” Whether or not it’s the right answer, people will want their self driving cars to do everything possible to save their own lives.