When I started this newsletter at the beginning of the year, I committed to make at least 5 issues in order to get a proper feel for it. I’m still here at #10 because of the positive feedback I’ve gotten from you all. Thank you.
As a little celebration, this entire issue is composed of recommendations from older issues that readers have actively sent me positive feedback on. Consider it a best-of list, as recommended by other readers of the newsletter. I’ll be back with another (normal) issue with all new recommendations in two weeks.
The Imposter (Movie | Netflix)
This truly unbelievable documentary tells the story of an adult European man who poses as a missing teenager from the US. Every 15 minutes or so I would gasp, shocked/thrilled by what I was seeing on screen. I can’t say anything more without revealing key bits of the plot, so I’ll just say: watch it. It has a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and is one of the most gripping films on Netflix.
Self-Compassion (4:42 on Youtube)
I must admit that I can be too hard on myself sometimes, and I’m sure the same can be said for many of you. This beautifully animated video is a bit cheesy, but a useful reminder of the necessity of self-compassion. It’s a quick way to brighten your day and feel a bit more positive. Be warned that there is a tiny, tiny amount of animated nudity in here, so it might not be safe for work for all.
Mari/o – Machine Learning for Video Games (5:57 Short Video | Youtube)
AlphaGo, an artificial intelligence program, managed to beat one of the world’s top Go players this past week. This achievement is on par with the first time a computer beat a human at chess, if not significantly more impressive considering the complexity of Go and the intuition needed to master the game. But, you might wonder, what exactly is AI, and how does it work? This video is the best introduction to machine learning and neural networks I’ve seen. In it, you can see the exact process a computer uses to learn how to beat Mario Brothers. It’s a small example, but a large lesson to help you gain an understanding of one of the most important breakthroughs humanity has made in recent years.
Black Mirror (TV Show | Netflix)
Originally from the BBC, this tv show focuses on the potential unanticipated consequences of new technologies on society. Each episode is a mini-movie, linked by theme and tone, rather than by plot, and they are all brilliant, captivating, and suspenseful. Start with “White Christmas” (starring John Ham) to get a flavor for the series and it’s dark worldview, and then try out “White Bear” for what might be one of the most jaw-dropping hours of television I’ve ever watched.
Essential reading for anyone interested in technology or business. WeChat, if you’re not familiar, is much, much more than a messaging app. Within it, you can: “hail a taxi, order food delivery, buy movie tickets, play casual games, check in for a flight, send money to friends, access fitness tracker data, book a doctor appointment, get banking statements, pay the water bill, find geo-targeted coupons, recognize music, search for a book at the local library, meet strangers around you, follow celebrity news, read magazine articles, and even donate to charity … all in a single, integrated app.” This is (possibly) the future of mobile.
A Drug to Cure Fear (~5 Minutes)
I’ve been interested in cognitive supplements (a.k.a Nootropics) for years now, but this article from the New York Times is one of the more fascinating cases I’ve come across. Research suggests that a perfectly timed dose of proporanol, a beta-blocker, could cut the tie between an anxiety inducing event (like public speaking) and the anxiety itself. As we continue to uncover new insights into how the mind works, it’s interesting to think of the other ways we could counteract undesirable states of mind.
Almost every day, there comes a moment when I don’t feel like doing any more work. I’m guessing the same happens to you. This quick article from the Harvard Business Review has three concrete tactics that have helped me break through those moments and continue soldiering on, and it only takes a few minutes to read. And it’s not just me – to quote from the article, “if-then planning has been shown in over 200 studies to increase rates of goal attainment and productivity by 200%-300% on average.” Even if you’re not looking to work harder or get more stuff done, you can use these tips to get the stuff you have to do done faster.
The Incredible Buddha Boy (~30 Minutes)
George Saunders might be the most compassionate and insightful writer alive. He wrote this nonfiction piece a decade ago but it still holds up. In it, he investigates the curious case of a meditating boy in Nepal who claims to have not eaten in 7 months. This really only serves as a jumping off point for Saunders to explore his own relationship with spirituality, faith, and what it means to be a human. It might take you two sittings to finish, but it’ll leave a mark on you for weeks after you’re done.
Aphex Twin – Xtal (Music)
Classic electronic track from the grandmaster, Aphex Twin. Beautiful and subtle, great song for the end of the night when the weather is nice and the windows are rolled down.
The groove is strong with this one. Funky late night dance track that’s been the centerpiece of my Barcelona trip soundtrack
Planet Money: The Experiment Experiment (Podcast)
The soft sciences have been going through a bit of a crisis lately, as many published studies, particularly in psychology, can’t be reproduced. This means many of the conclusions and insights we hold for how humans work might be false, or at the very least incomplete. This podcast is a great primer to the problem of non-reproducible scientific studies, reasons for the problem, and even provides a potential solution.
You might remember FiveThirtyEight from last election cycle when they accurately predicted the outcomes of all 50 states. Their political analysis is second to none, focusing on data instead of personal opinions. In this episode, they analyze the finding that some of Donald Trump’s supporters are racists after a recent poll found that 32% support Japanese internment, 80% support banning Muslims entirely from the US, etc. The discussion provides an excellent examination of the Trump phenomenon without dismissing it, as so many other political commentators do.