Some of My Favorite Things
- Daily Newsletter. NextDraft by Dave Pell is a thoughtful and fun summary of the day in 10 mini articles. Pell does this as an unpaid side gig but takes this job as “Managing Editor of the Internet” seriously.
- Annual Event. Improv Everywhere does the MP3 Experiment in New York each year. Thousands of people download a 40 minute set of instructions and play them at the same time together in the same park, everyone morphing into a giant single group. The boys and I have been going for the last few years. I also posted my favorite Improv Everywhere videos.
- Truth Telling Site. Post Secret is a website where people send in anonymous postcards with secrets they haven’t told anyone else. What you get is brutal raw honesty. Founder Frank Warren has a great video summarizing the site. I saw Frank live and he opened the presentation with the music video Dirty Little Secret which used actual Post Secret cards.
- Inspirational Speaker. Brene Brown has a great Netflix Special The Call for Courage and a recorded seminar The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage. To take a quick bite, check out her animated shorts on Empathy and Blame and her TED talks on The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame. Bonus! My favorite inspirational talk is Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, a wonderful summary of how to live a life.
- Internet Artist. Ze Frank is my favorite Internet artist. Here’s a great retrospective of his work. If you like that, the first half of an early TED talk is equally entertaining (the first 5 minutes is one of my favorite things ever). I also wrote a piece about how Ze has helped me understand how social media really works.
- Card Game/Corporate Prank. You’ve probably played Cards without Humanity, the adult card game of association. Each year on Black Friday, they do a publicity stunt. It’s probably the most fun thing I buy each year. This year was the battle between Artificial Intelligence and their human writers (spoiler alert: humans won and get to keep their jobs.) A few years ago was Eight Sensible Days of Hanukkah where I and 250,000 other customers received 8 gifts, 3 of which were socks
- The Best Magazine Articles. While it’s easy to get sucked up into the most recent news articles, it’s useful to take a longer view of the more important articles of the year. David Brooks does a good retrospective in his annual Sidney Awards. Longform.org also has a good annual list. You can get many of these articles (and others) in audio via the Audm app. If you want an even longer view of the best magazine articles, take a look at Kevin Kelley’s Best Magazine Articles Ever. Here’s my list of the best tech articles ever written.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is an incredibly powerful tool. To understand how it works, there’s an explanation for kids that’s pretty good for adults. Alfred Spector, the former head of Google Research, gives an insightful speech on the opportunities and perils of Artificial Intelligence. Also, take a look at the TED talks by Pete Haas (my friend from Yale) and Cathy O’Neil (author of Weapons of Math Destruction) to see where we should be suspicious of AI.
- Online Learning. The Floating University was a Yale class that aimed to provide a liberal arts education in 12 hours. I don’t think they quite hit their goal but the lectures are pretty great.
- Blockchain. I finally understand a little bit about blockchain! Professor David Yermack, head of the Finance Department at NYU gave a great overview of the technology. In brief, blockchain changes the way we trust each other.
- Data Science. Alfred Spector of Two Sigma gives an insightful speech on the opportunities and perils of Data Science. He discusses the most promising areas for the field and where data science is not the right solution.
- Writing. At Yale, there’s a famous century-old class called Daily Themes. It’s a simple but powerful class where everyone writes an essay each day. My friend Aaron Gertler has some great information on the class including some writing prompts.
- Non Transitive Dice are 4 dice that given any one die, you can find another die that will on average beat the first die. However, there’s no “best” die. It’s like the game rock, paper, scissors. Warren Buffett and Ed Thorpe are both fans of non-transitive dice
- The great book on operations, The Goal, by Elihu Goldratt, has an excellent audio version. And there’s a video clip of Herbie’s hike
- This year there’s been a lot of debate on the topic of free speech and renaming monuments. Scholars at Yale have done a lot of work thinking through these issues and provide a helpful framework for making decisions about them
- There are a few forwards to books that I really liked. One is from the great book Nurture Shock by Po Bronson about how difficult it is to see something even when it’s right in front of you. Another is the forward to Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman, which talks about the books 1984 and Brave New World. 1984 warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. In Brave New World, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity, and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think
- What if Millie Dresselhaus, female scientist, were treated like a celebrity. Dresselhaus was the first woman to secure a full professorship at MIT and was awarded the National Medal of Science, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (bestowed by President Barack Obama), the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience, the Enrico Fermi prize and dozens of honorary doctorates. She died earlier this year right after the commercial came out
- A wonderful video that uses Facebook Live’s time delay to build a song from its component tracks
- Google’s DeepMind can learn to play video games just by playing games and having no other training. Here’s a video of it learning to play Breakout
- Chad saves the world is a great Saturday Night Live spoof on how a millennial might respond to an epic quest
- A great joke on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Apple’s planned obsolescence
- The HBO show Silicon Valley did a great joke on Mansplaining. The only issue I have is that the real Silicon Valley is probably a lot like this
- People are Awesome is an amazing YouTube channel compiling amazing things that people do. Here’s the best of 2017
- OK Go makes some amazing videos. My favorite recent one is One Moment. They also have a great TED talk about how they come up with their ideas
- Yakov Smirnoff hasn’t been a household name for 20 years but his standup is really funny. Ben Stiller did a funny parody of Yakov’s fall after the fall of the Soviet Union
- John Hughes (of Brat Pack Fame) wrote the short story “Vacation 58: If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever” which became the basis of his movie National Lampoon’s Vacation
- The toy fad of 2017 was fidget spinners. The Economist has a great overview of the fidget spinner craze
- This is the most important word in the Trump’s communications playbook is whataboutism. It’s actually one of Russia’s favorite propaganda tricks
- Here’s a really interesting image of how people distribute themselves in a park. It’s called a Voronoi diagram and it shows how each person tries to maximize their own space
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.
- 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.
- Overall Pick: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Amazon, Audible). 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 (Amazon, Audible). 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) (Amazon, Audible). 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 (Amazon, Audible). 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 (Amazon, Audible). 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-book, Original 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.
- Ever wonder what Disney World would look like after the Zombie Apocalypse?