Links

Links for May 15, 2022

What to Read

🧘‍♀️ Mastering the Mind and Body: Conscious Control of the Autonomic Nervous System – Future Minds Lab

Eugene Kwok shares some extraordinary ways people can learn to control their autonomic nervous system, which regulates everything from our respiration to reflexes:

One particular study showed [that Wim Hof's] techniques led to the voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system including the release of the hormone epinephrine. Furthermore, after being injected with an endotoxin, his techniques led to suppression of the immune response and attenuation of the inflammatory response, leading to an absence of flu-like symptoms compared to controls.

What’s important is that Hof was able to train healthy volunteers to achieve the same effects. This suggests his ability to modulate the autonomic nervous system are not simply a consequence of any special genetic dispositions but rather something that can be learned and trained by anybody.
Mastering the Mind and Body: Conscious Control of the Autonomic Nervous System — FUTURE MINDS LAB
Since the times of the Greek physician ­­Hippocrates, the mind has been believed to play a significant influence on physiological processes, from stress and tension to health and disease. It’s no surprise then that attempts to master this connection between mind and body has been an active pursuit f

What to Play

🤝 The Evolution of Trust

Nicky Case has a delightfully illustrated game that explains the game theory of trust. It highlights the fact that creating the right incentive structures is one of the most important things we can do as a society to nudge the world in the right direction.

Part of its conclusion: "'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you' may be not just a moral truth, but also a mathematical truth."

And if you haven't already read it, I recommend starting with my primer on positive vs. negative sum games.

The Evolution of Trust
an interactive guide to the game theory of why & how we trust each other

What to Watch

🔊 Skywalker Sound

Don't be put off by the fact that this is technically an Apple ad. It's really a mini documentary on the Star Wars sound library and an absolutely beautiful love letter to sound design, not to mention a reminder that technology enables art:

Tweets of the Week

Let's head into this week with restaurant owner energy:

Art ❤️ Science:

Links for May 14, 2022

What I'm Reading

🧼 The Surprising Afterlife of Used Hotel Soap – The Hustle

In Guerrilla Public Service, I wrote, "[T]he way our world is designed isn't inevitable or immutable. It's shaped by the people with the motivation and ambition to change it."

Shawn Seipler took this idea to heart 2008. When he realized that hotels were throwing away billions of pounds of soap every year, he saw it as an opportunity to bend our world in a better direction:

Every year, it has been estimated that the hospitality industry generates ~440B pounds of solid waste — much of it soap and bottled amenities. That’s the equivalent weight of 2m blue whales.

What happens to all that leftover soap?

Fourteen years ago, one man asked that very question. And the answer led him down a path that has since saved tens of thousands of lives all over the world.
The surprising afterlife of used hotel soap
Hotel guests leave behind millions of half-used bars of soap every day. A nonprofit is on a mission to repurpose them.

💸 The Nothingness of Money – More to That

In the words of Gumroad's founder Sahil Lavingia, "You can be twice as rich by deciding you need half as much." Like so many things, money is partly a story we tell ourselves that can be reframed.

Lawrence Yeo shares a thought-provoking and illustrated reflection on the role that money plays in our lives.

Conclusion: Real wealth isn't a number in your bank account, it's no longer needing to think about money.

We can opt out of the stories of religion or politics, but we cannot opt out of the story of money. It is so interwoven into the fabric of society that even our physical health depends upon how abstract numbers on a screen can be converted into tangible meals.
The Nothingness of Money - More To That
It’s the great everything and the great nothing.

What I'm Watching

🧩 The Puzzle of Motivation

Dan Pink argues that there is a considerable mismatch between what science knows and how businesses operate.

In short: When faced with problems that don't have an obvious solution, people are more creative and more effective at solving them when there's not a reward (e.g. bonus) tied to their solution.

Tweets of the Week

An important reminder that slack is important in any system:

Links for May 1, 2022

🔨 Big Skills – Collaborative Fund

Morgan Housel argues that combining ordinary skills in unique ways can lead to spectacular results because they compound:

It’s tempting to want to find the one big skill that will set you apart. But most incredible things come from compounding, and compounding isn’t intuitive because the incremental inputs are never exciting on their own.

He goes on to list valuable skills that sometimes get overlooked. A few of my favorites:

  • "Curiosity across disciplines, most of which are outside your profession."
  • "The willingness to adapt views you wish were permanent."
  • "Respecting history more than forecasts."

The full list is well worth a read.

🍼 Baby-Sitting the Economy – Slate

Paul Krugman recounts the story of a group of young professionals in the 1970s who formed a baby-sitting co-op. They created an arrangement where families could earn coupons for baby-sitting each other's kids. These in turn could be redeemed for having others watch their kids.

The coupons ("scrip") led to a sort of small economy forming, and with it, the challenges of managing one:

[F]or complicated reasons involving the collection and use of dues (paid in scrip), the number of coupons in circulation became quite low. As a result, most couples were anxious to add to their reserves by baby-sitting, reluctant to run them down by going out. But one couple’s decision to go out was another’s chance to baby-sit; so it became difficult to earn coupons. Knowing this, couples became even more reluctant to use their reserves except on special occasions, reducing baby-sitting opportunities still further.

In short, the co-op had fallen into a recession.

Amidst the current economic uncertainty, the full story is a fascinating look at how consumer psychology, monetary supply, and fiscal policy intersect.

And how, when you're growing a complex system, you have to be mindful of many interdependent factors.

🎶 A Stanford Psychologist Says He’s Cracked the Code of One-Hit Wonders – The Atlantic

What makes music popular? And what's the difference between a one-hit wonder and an artist who enjoys sustained popularity? Stanford psychologist Justin Berg proposes an answer to these question in a new paper:

“Novelty is a double-edged sword,” Berg told me. “Being very different from the mainstream is really, really bad for your likelihood of initially making a hit when you’re not well known. But once you have a hit, novelty suddenly becomes a huge asset that is likely to sustain your success.” Mass audiences are drawn to what’s familiar, but they become loyal to what’s consistently distinct.

🐦 Tweet of the Week

Links for May 7, 2022

🔨 Big Skills – Collaborative Fund

Morgan Housel argues that combining ordinary skills in unique ways can lead to spectacular results because they compound:

It’s tempting to want to find the one big skill that will set you apart. But most incredible things come from compounding, and compounding isn’t intuitive because the incremental inputs are never exciting on their own.

He goes on to list valuable skills that sometimes get overlooked. A few of my favorites:

  • "Curiosity across disciplines, most of which are outside your profession."
  • "The willingness to adapt views you wish were permanent."
  • "Respecting history more than forecasts."

The full list is well worth a read.

Big Skills
Scott Adams, the Dilbert creator, says he doesn’t have any extraordinary skills. He’s a pretty good artist. He’s kind of funny, an OK writer, and decent at business. But multiply those mediocre skills together and you get one of the most successful cartoonists of all time. A lot of things work like…

🍼 Baby-Sitting the Economy – Slate

Paul Krugman recounts the story of a group of young professionals in the 1970s who formed a baby-sitting co-op. They created an arrangement where families could earn coupons for baby-sitting each other's kids. These in turn could be redeemed for having others watch their kids.

The coupons ("scrip") led to a sort of small economy forming, and with it, the challenges of managing one:

[F]or complicated reasons involving the collection and use of dues (paid in scrip), the number of coupons in circulation became quite low. As a result, most couples were anxious to add to their reserves by baby-sitting, reluctant to run them down by going out. But one couple’s decision to go out was another’s chance to baby-sit; so it became difficult to earn coupons. Knowing this, couples became even more reluctant to use their reserves except on special occasions, reducing baby-sitting opportunities still further.

In short, the co-op had fallen into a recession.

Amidst the current economic uncertainty, the full story is a fascinating look at how consumer psychology, monetary supply, and fiscal policy intersect.

And how, when you're growing a complex system, you have to be mindful of many interdependent factors.

Baby-Sitting the Economy
Twenty years ago I read a story that changed my life. I think about that story often; it helps me to stay calm in the face of crisis, to remain hopeful...

🎶 A Stanford Psychologist Says He’s Cracked the Code of One-Hit Wonders – The Atlantic

What makes music popular? And what's the difference between a one-hit wonder and an artist who enjoys sustained popularity? Stanford psychologist Justin Berg proposes an answer to these question in a new paper:

“Novelty is a double-edged sword,” Berg told me. “Being very different from the mainstream is really, really bad for your likelihood of initially making a hit when you’re not well known. But once you have a hit, novelty suddenly becomes a huge asset that is likely to sustain your success.” Mass audiences are drawn to what’s familiar, but they become loyal to what’s consistently distinct.
A Stanford Psychologist Says He’s Cracked the Code of One-Hit Wonders
What separates Blind Melon from Shania Twain?

🐦 Tweet of the Week

Links for April 24, 2022

🧮 The Polymath Playbook – Salman

Salman has some essential reading for anyone who follows this blog. He touches on the concept of ikigai, which I also recently wrote about, and explores the benefits of exploring multiple disciplines – an ongoing topic of mine.

You’ve likely heard the saying: “A jack of all trades is a master of none.” It warns against the futility of pursuing too many disciplines. Be a specialist, or you’ll be nothing.

It may surprise you to learn there’s actually an extended version: “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” With a subtle addition, its meaning becomes inverted to tout the benefits of being a polymath (a.k.a. generalist).

Why is the former so common, and the latter so unknown?

DALL·E 2 and the Origin of Vibe Shifts – Divinations

In 2015, most cool websites looked like this:

Today, this aesthetic is way more pervasive:

What happened?

Nathan Baschez argues that when Unsplash made access to high quality photos free, it allowed everyone to copy the glossy photo aesthetic. Suddenly, great photos weren't scarce anymore, so companies started moving to illustrations as a way of signalling status.

I’m interested in this little piece of design history because today I think history is on the brink of repeating itself. Now that we have DALL·E 2 (and other AI image generators), a huge portion of visual vibes will become democratized. What Unsplash did to photography, DALL·E 2 will do to illustrations, 3D renderings, and eventually all visual styles.

In other words: a vibe shift is indeed coming.

(If you have trouble with the original link, this archived version should work – the original isn't loading properly for me right now.)

💼 Neurodiverse Candidates Find Niche in Remote Cybersecurity Jobs – WSJ

Another benefit of providing employees with work from home flexibility: A more inclusive workplace.

Typical office culture can be a tough fit for people with cognitive differences, but the mass move to remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic has made things easier for job seekers who are neurodiverse, an umbrella term that includes conditions such as autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia.

And More

💨 On March 29, wind power briefly became the second largest source of power in America for the first time ever. (Via The Hustle)

💰 NYC is going to require businesses to post salary ranges – a major step forward for pay transparency.

🪐 NASA's Mars Perseverance rover witnessed a solar eclipse on Mars, and Seán Doran created a stunning flyover of a Martian crater using imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

🐦 Tweets

Links for April 17, 2022

🧠 She Was Missing a Chunk of Her Brain. It Didn’t Matter. – Wired

Our brains are incredibly plastic, even well into adulthood, and we've only just started to learn how they work.

Case in point: A woman missing her left temporal lobe experiences no symptoms and discovered it was missing by happenstance. Neuroscience is very much still in its infancy:

For EG, who is in her fifties and grew up in Connecticut, missing a large chunk of her brain has had surprisingly little effect on her life. She has a graduate degree, has enjoyed an impressive career, and speaks Russian—a second language–so well that she has dreamed in it. She first learned her brain was atypical in the autumn of 1987, at George Washington University Hospital, when she had it scanned for an unrelated reason. The cause was likely a stroke that happened when she was a baby; today, there is only cerebro-spinal fluid in that brain area.

👩‍💻 I Was A Broadway Star. Now I'm A Software Engineer. – HuffPost

As someone who recently made the career transition from theatre to tech, I appreciated Carla Stickler's story about becoming a software engineer after becoming a Broadway performer. Success ≠ happiness, and Stickler is an inspiring reminder that you can always look for something new – even something radically different – in the pursuit of fulfillment.

In the summer of 2018, I was just so tired of going back in and out of the show. I was feeling like the whole theater industry was very toxic. I still can’t get away from the feeling of “I’m never enough” that I think all actors feel at times in their career. Feeling all-around like crap all the time, and then trying to teach college students to go into this business, was really hard. How do I inspire kids into an industry where I see how brutal it can be even when you achieve success?

🌖 Houston, we have a problem: Jeff Koons is sending sculptures to the moon

Jeff Koons is joining the exclusive group of artists whose work has left Earth:

Marking 50 years since America’s last crewed trip to the moon, the sculptures will lift off from pad 39A, Kennedy Space Centre later this year and make their landing on an Intuitive Machines Nova-C Lunar Lander in a fully autonomous mission. The 125 miniature moon sculptures, each depicting one of the 125 unique phases of the moon and named after an influential person from human history such as Plato and Warhol, will be displayed together in space in a sustainably built, fully transparent, compartmentalised cube.

See also: The Voyager Golden Record

🖼 DALL-E 2

And speaking of art and space, here's a painting created by DALL-E 2, "a new AI system that can create realistic images and art from a description in natural language."

This particular work was generated by giving DALL-E 2 the prompt "A person looking up into the heavens at night with the milky-way galaxy in view as a child's painting."

Computers learned to "see" over the past decade, and now that they can understand visual input, we can ask them to generate their own creations. As computers get better at drawing, writing, and composing music, the world of art will be forever changed.

And the question "What is art?" is only going to get harder to answer.

Check out DALL-E 2's Instagram page for more of its work.

🐦 Tweets of the Week

Dieter shares a neat video from Google exploring how digital notifications could be delivered in more analogue, ambient ways:

And if you're looking for a little extra side income, have you considered training a jungle myna bird to find cash and bring it back?

Links for April 10, 2022

Work 2.0: The Obstacles You Don’t See – Hidden Brain

This podcast episode is well worth your time. It's a great reminder that one of the most powerful ways to market your ideas is to appeal to others' emotional desires:

Introducing new ideas is hard. Most of us think the best way to win people over is to push harder. But organizational psychologist Loran Nordgren says a more effective approach is to focus on the invisible obstacles to new ideas.

☢️ Megatons To Megawatts: Russian Warheads Fuel U.S. Power Plants – NPR

Yet another example of how globalized our world is: Until recently, 10% of the US' electricity came from Russian nuclear warheads.

It was all part of a deal struck at the end of the Cold War. That deal wraps up today, when the final shipment of fuel arrives at a U.S. facility.

The origins of the plan lie in the early 1990s. At the time, Philip Sewell was working for the U.S. Department of Energy. The Soviet Union had just disintegrated, and Sewell's job was to find ways to collaborate with the former adversaries.

📚 Charles Darwin's Lost Notebooks Returned With Mysterious Note – VICE

Two notebooks that belonged to Charles Darwin were mysteriously returned to Cambridge University Library in a pink gift bag with a cryptic note, more than 20 years after they went missing, and were presumed stolen, from the library’s collection.

🐦 Tweets

Be sure to click through to the video on this one:

It's true:

"It was actually used to cover up the ice that was used on the salad bar to keep everything cold. It was a common practice back then," the [Pizza Hut] spokesperson noted, adding that the chain had not yet begun to use refrigerators to keep its salad bar offerings crisp.

Links for April 3, 2022

🧬 Complete Human Genome Sequenced for First Time In Major Breakthrough – VICE

An amazing scientific milestone:

Scientists have mapped an entire unbroken human genome for the first time, a milestone that completes the groundbreaking work started by the Human Genome Project decades ago, according to a motherlode of new studies published in Science and other journals on Thursday.

🪐 5,000 Exoplanets: Listen to the Sounds of DiscoveryNASA [Video]

Speaking of Cosmic Songs:

On March 21, 2022, the number of known exoplanets passed 5,000 according to the NASA Exoplanet Archive. This animation and sonification tracks humanity's discovery of the planets beyond our solar system over time. Turning NASA data into sounds allows users to hear the pace of discovery, with additional information conveyed by the notes themselves.

🎨 New Tab with MoMA

MoMA recently released a new browser extension that's a lot of fun:

Explore MoMA’s collection of modern and contemporary art right from your browser.Discover new and iconic works of art from The Museum of Modern Art each time you open a new tab in Chrome. While using this extension, in each new Chrome tab, you’ll see a different artwork from our collection, ranging from Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” to Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “‘Untitled’ (Perfect Lovers).”

🐦 A Fascinating Tweet

"The factory is the product."

Links for March 27, 2022

🚚 $87.50 for 3 Minutes: Inside the Hot Market for Videos of Idling Trucks – NY Times

When trying to nudge behavior in a more environmentally-friendly direction, is a carrot or a stick better? As it turns out, you can use both: NYC is rewarding citizens for reporting idling trucks, to cut down on air pollution. One man has made $64,000 from the program:

This is a scene from the city’s benign-sounding but often raucous Citizens Air Complaint Program, a public health campaign that invites — and pays — people to report trucks that are parked and idling for more than three minutes, or one minute if outside a school. Those who report collect 25 percent of any fine against a truck by submitting a video just over 3 minutes in length that shows the engine is running and the name of the company on the door.

💎 Ceramic Mosaics Mend Cracked Sidewalks, Potholes, and Buildings in Vibrant Interventions by Ememem – Colossal

Throughout his home city of Lyon, Ememem is known as “the pavement surgeon.” The artist repairs gouged sidewalks and splintered facades with colorful mosaics that he describes as “a poem that everybody can read.” Intricate geometric motifs laid with pristine tiles hug the cracks and create “a memory notebook of the city. It reveals what happened, the life in these public places,” he tells Colossal. “Here cobblestones have been picked up and thrown. There a truck from the vegetable market tore off a piece of asphalt…”

The rest of Ememem's work is worth viewing, and a great reminder of the Japanese concept of Kintsugi.

🐦 An Interesting Tweet

Links for March 20, 2022

♻️ Forget ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – The Atlantic

Derek Thompson has a thought-provoking interview with Saul Griffith, an entrepreneur and MacArthur Grant recipient. He recently published a book that tries to shift the conversation around climate change towards much bolder ideas.

Griffith is clearly someone who thinks about the world in a positive-sum way:

But it’s the details that make his book Electrify Everything one of the most quietly revolutionary policy books I’ve ever read. Griffith is allergic to thinking small. He condemns the “1970s mentality” of energy efficiency, which says we can save the planet with a bit more recycling and a few more stainless-steel water bottles. Rather than guilt Americans over their living standards, he proposes that we can keep our luxurious lifestyles without destroying the planet if we all—governments, companies, and individuals—get a small number of big decisions just right.

💡 Why Do Most Ideas Fail to Scale? – Freakonomics

Here's a great podcast episode exploring why so many promising ideas sputter when you try to scale them:

In a new book called The Voltage Effect, the economist John List — who has already revolutionized how his profession does research — is trying to start a scaling revolution. In this installment of the Freakonomics Radio Book Club, List teaches us how to avoid false positives, how to know whether a given success is due to the chef or the ingredients, and how to practice “optimal quitting.”

And More

This is old news by now, but I found it too wild not to share: The last documented widow of a Civil War veteran died as recently as 2020 🤯

On December 16, 2020, Helen Viola Jackson died in Marshfield, Missouri at the age of 101. She was the last known widow of a Civil War veteran, marrying 93-year-old James Bolin in 1936 at the age of 17.

And if you're interested in how individual people can bridge seemingly impossible spans of time, here's a video of someone who witnessed Abraham Lincoln's assasination. Mr. Samuel J. Seymour was 5 when he saw Lincoln assassinated, and lived long enough to share his experience on a game show:

Lastly, a couple quick updates on stories I previously linked to: Shackleton's ship has been found at the bottom of the Antarctic Ocean, and the patient who received a pig's heart transplant has died.

🐦 A Tweet Thread

And speaking of games, here's an important and inspiring thread on the importance of creating delight:

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