Odds and Ends

Some of My Favorite Things

Artificial Intelligence

From 2018:

From 2017

2017: Articles

2017: Cool Tools

  • A couple of versions ago, iOS added a Trackpad mode that let you more easily move the cursor around a text field
  • Fakespot is a wonderful tool that lets you understand whether an Amazon product is packed with fake reviews. It’s great for understanding which “5 Star” Chinese startups are really making quality products
  • This app lets you set the colors on the top of a couple of NYC skyscrapers. Talk about mixed reality!
  • My Fitbit Alta HR is an awesome alarm clock. It’s nice to be woken up by a vibration rather than a sound and it’s personal so I can get up without waking up Abigail. Also, it automatically tracks if I wake up in the middle of the night (somewhat useful) and tracks different sleep modes (unclear how useful this is). Either way, there’s some pretty cool graphs of my sleep pattern
  • Recommendo is a weekly email overview of 6 Cool Tools by the editors of the Cool Tools website.

From 2016:

  • Tips Not Answers: 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.
  • Be Vulnerable to Build Stronger Connections with Friends: Brene Brown has a great recording of her seminar The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage. It’s a great follow up to her other work that I love. First you might want to check out her animated shorts on Empathy and Blame that are taken from her presentation at the Royal Society of the Arts. She also gave some great TED talks on The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame.
  • Trigger Yourself to Stay on Track. 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.
  • Journaling. I’ve been trying to journal at least once a week and preferably once a day for the last year. I got started with this very small book (128 pages) How to Make a Journal of Your Life which is quite inspiring. In terms of materials, I really like Moleskin notebooks. They have a lot of special edition notebooks which make me feel like I’m holding something meaningful in my hands. They come in large (which is actually kind of small) and small (which is tiny). They have lined and not lined. I like it without lines as I feel more free, especially when I paste in photos. Right now I’m using Alice in Wonderland, Large, Plain (no lines). For pens I use Liquid Expresso (extra fine) and Liquid Flair 8 pack for colors. My strategy for journaling is to write about:

    • The Positives (preferable): What are the things I want to hold on to. What things have happened in the past or are coming up on the future that I want to take a snapshot of?
    • The Negatives: But if I’m anxious about something, I’ll put that on paper as well and get it out of my mind.
  • The Man Who Saved the World: OK, I’ll cast my vote. Vasili Arkhipov, a Russian submariner, did more to save the world than anyone else. In a vote on whether or not to start a nuclear war, the vote was 2 to 1 with Arkhipov the only one against. Take a look at this video to learn how we came that close to self destruction.
  • Light Bulbs are Engineered to Burn Out: There has been a light bulb that’s been on since 1901 in a firehouse in Livermore California. The reason light bulbs burn out isn’t a technical problem but an economic one.
  • Monthly Temperatures: Because of the way the calendar is laid out, we think that January should be the same temperature as December, February the same as November and so on with June and July being the warmest months. But if you look at a graph, you’ll see that if July and August are the hottest months, and January and February are the coldest, then February feels a lot like December, March like November, etc. It doesn’t seem right intuitively but the temperature graphs don’t lie

2016: Books

  • Overall Pick: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (AmazonAudible). This is a bit of a fanboy review but this book is awesome. In the article Ernest Cline is the Luckiest Geek Alive, Cline describes the book as, “What if Willy Wonka was a video game designer and held a contest inside his greatest video game?” Ready Player One is set in a dystopian future where nearly everyone lives in a virtual world called “The Oasis” and the only way to save the world is through an encyclopedia knowledge of 80’s trivia. The book presents such a compelling version of the VR future that all employees of the VR firm Oculus are asked to read the book before they start. The Audiobook is read fantastically by Wil Wheaton (who is mentioned very briefly in the book). Oh, and Steven Spielberg is making it into a movie
  • Guilty Pleasure: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (AmazonAudible). A pruriently intellectual book on gossip, twitter and social media shaming. What happens when Lindsey Stone posts a picture mocking a sign at Arlington National Cemetery and it follows her for the rest of her life or when Justine Sacco tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” and it ruined her life. Ronson does a great job of going deep into the specific stories but also making some general points about what social media shaming is doing to society.
  • Business: Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull (CEO of Pixar) (AmazonAudible). Creativity Inc is a great book that combines the history of Pixar with the lessons that they’ve learned as a business. The lessons in the book are pretty run of the mill but the real spark is how Pixar implements them. When Catmull says “Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others,” it sounds like any other book on iterative development. But he shows how Pixar implements this, how movies like Toy Story 2 and Up were completely remade from the initial draft. As a bonus, Catmull talks a lot about his decades long relationship with Steve Jobs and how Jobs impacted Pixar.
  • Economics: Misbehaving – The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard Thaler (AmazonAudible). Thaler is the founder of Behavioral Economics, inspired by Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky. In the book Thaler talks about how he got started in economics and started noticing how humans don’t act in the ways that economists expect them to. For example, in his first experience as a professor he got enormous pushback from students when he presented them with a hard test, with an average score of 72. Though the class was graded on a curve, this shouldn’t make a difference to anyone — but it did to the students. How did he learn to placate them? By changing the total available points to 137. Poof! The human students became much happier.
  • Memoir: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (AmazonAudible). I was expecting a teenage story similar to all the other comedy celebrity stories out there — like Mindy Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” But this book is so much more — chronicling Noah’s life through the collapse of Apartheid and seeing the culture through the eyes of a half black / half white man who doesn’t really belong to either culture.
  • Technology: The Elon Musk Blog Series: Wait but Why by Tim Urban (Amazon e-bookOriginal web series). Tim Urban writes a great blog called Wait But Why?  Elon Musk liked it so much he asked Tim to write about his companies. After months of work, many interviews with Elon and staff and 90,000 words Tim put together a very complete picture of the problems that Tesla (global warming) and SpaceX (global annihilation) are looking to solve and how they are looking to solve them.