Favorite Things

Note: this list is woefully incomplete and just for fun. I keep it as a record for myself and anyone interested.

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If you have that Google Cardboard viewer and are curious what it might be like to travel into a black hole, this VR app is worth 10 minutes. Science
This video about the Blue Note record label is a fantastic portrayal of graphic design at its best. Design
Some useful data-driven tools to empower tenants in NYC, built by an inspiring group of civic coders. Coding
Two games that still hold up: Oregon Trail and Minesweeper. Tomfoolery
Engrossing deep dives into cool math by Michael Stevens, AKA Vsauce: Which Way is Down? and Fixed Points. Math
Adam Savage and Michael Stevens on the Brachistochrone curve. “That works in practice but how does it work in theory?” Science
Dafi Kühne has one amazing printmaking studio in the Swiss Alps and a perfect little video series on his craft. Here’s a good one. Design
Excellent online lessons for changing your basic math perspective: Exploding Dots (meant for kids but still pretty neat). Math
A couple highlights from Better Explained on rethinking mathematical approaches: on Euler’s Identity and more broadly, imaginary numbers. Math
Infinite sets to stretch your brain. Math
This episode of the 10,000 Hours podcast (on effective altruism) is a fascinating talk with Claire Walsh, Senior Policy Manager at J-PAL Global at MIT, on using randomized controlled trials to empirically evaluate policies and programs in developing-world governments to most effectively reduce global poverty. Social Impact
A superb and thought-provoking article in NYT Magazine on how competing explanations for beauty in nature are causing a stir in evolutionary biology. Science
A simple explainer by the legendary Hans Rosling on how global population is likely to increase for a while, then stabilize. Science
The foundational book on one of my favorite topics, behavioral science: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Psychology
Turing’s Vision: The Birth of Computer Science by Christopher Bernhardt is an engrossing book on Alan Turing’s 1936 paper, On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem. Science
Music appreciation: this history of punk is a fascinating timeline of illustrating how music and culture co-evolve. History
Newcomb’s problem: a thought experiment to illustrate the difference between causal and evidential decision theory. Science
Two foundational statements in human history (in my opinion) about what makes science wonderful:1. “E pur si muove” (And yet it moves) -Galileo in 1633, after being forced by the Catholic Church to recant his claims that the earth moves around the sun. His powerful and profound statement was a reminder for all time that it doesn’t matter what doctrine or dogma you adhere to nor does it matter what you want to believe or compel others to declare. Facts and reality do not require your belief and the universe is as it is, regardless of what you’d like it to be.2. “Make me a liar, Fish.” -Jodi Foster in Contact expressing an essential tenet of science: falsifiability. It is only after a theory has withstood robust criticism, rigorous testing, and peer review analysis that one should accept it. Therefore a true scientist welcomes push-back and encourages even their most cherished ideas to be subjected to thorough critical scrutiny. In a sense, they should want to be proven wrong, because that is the purest way to pursue truth. Science
Take a deep dive into John Horton Conway’s Game of Life. Here is a basic explainer of the rules, a simple demo, an interview with Conway himself on cellular automata, and a portion of another talk on why the game is relevant to philosophy and evolution. Here’s how someone used it to created self-replicating creatures. Here’s how cool it can look. And here’s how you can use it to create a masterpiece or play god. Math
A wonderful description of dancing as social cohesion and Durkheim’s notion of collective effervescence. Also, just a visual feast of animation. Psychology
This data visualization series by Giorgia Lupi of Dear Data fame and cofounder at Accurat. Design
I love debates. Intelligence Squared Debates are probably my favorite. Then there’s the Munk Debates in Toronto which are also terrific. This one on populism was especially riveting. And though not a formal debate, this back and forth between Coleman Hughes and Ta-Nehisi Coates at a congressional hearing on reparations was equally gripping. Social Impact
An enriching compendium of black history. History
Attenborough on climate change and The extinction symbol, like the peace symbol of the climate movement. Science
A Straussian analysis of Groundhog Day. Movies & TV
Ever since her talk at the XOXO Festival in Portland, OR in 2015, I’ve been a fan of the illustrator Lisa Hanawalt. She used to be in the amazing all-female Greenpoint illustrators collective, Pizza Island (which also included the incredible Julia Wertz). After serving as production designer on BoJack Horseman, Hanawalt’s new show Tuca & Bertie is so much fun. I think it’s best appreciated after having listened to this NPR interview and reading this profile. Hopefully you find it as goofy and bizarre and amazing as I did. The show has plants that can talk, tangible thought and speech bubbles that the characters can interact with, and one fantastic grocery story meltdown musical number. And bonus, Hanawalt’s long-term partner is Adam Conover, of Adam Ruins Everything of whom I’m also a huge fan. UPDATE: when Tuca & Bertie was canceled by Netflix after one perfect season, Hanawalt’s collaborator Raphael Bob-Waksberg tweeted this poignant thread. Art & Illustration
An illuminating New Yorker profile of Rhiannon Giddens, a MacArthur fellow and conservator of forgotten American music. She also hosts the wonderful Aria Code podcast about what makes opera so powerful. My favorite songs of hers so far: “Little Margaret,” a haunting ghost story ballad from fourteenth-century England and “Waterboy,” an old Georgia chain-gang song performed here by Odetta. Music
This talk by Alex Norris about his hilarious Webcomic Name. Art & Illustration
Two exceptional piano accompaniments: “Answer Me” by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and Sarah Goldstone playing to Nina Simone’s recording of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free”. Music
Sarah Goldstone singing Dolly Parton’s “Gonna Hurry (As Slow As I Can)” and Dolly’s original. Music
I am a huge fan of The School of Life and their delightful YouTube channel. Load all the videos and marvel at the wisdom and sheer range of fascinating and quirky topics. Some highlights: Why Hegel Knew There Would Be Days like These, Alain de Botton on Love, and Wabi Sabi. Philosophy
Two incredible explainers on one of my favorite television shows, The Wire: a talk by David Simon and from Screenprism. Movies & TV
A beautiful short film about a horse named Ziggy and redemption. Movies & TV
I love when well-reasoned arguments, both of which seem reasonably true, seem also to conflict with each other. This pair seems easy enough to reconcile (physical sorting is more detrimental than online siloing) but still, social media platforms as physical public spaces implies that those platforms have obligations for the greater good even though media bubbles as a driver for partisanship may not influence us as much as our interpersonal interactions. Also, dialetheism. Psychology
Maintainable code is more important than clever code. I agree. Coding
Game theory interactive to explain how trust evolves — or doesn’t. Science
A satisfyingly thorough and balanced Explanation of Cattelan’s Comedian. Art & Illustration
Alvin & The Chipmunks’ songs, super slowed down: oddly hypnotic and delightfully bazaar. Music
A well illustrated, Interactive guide to taking climate action by the Audubon Society. Also, Environmental Lobby Day should be a much bigger thing. Social Impact
Fascinating New York Times Interactive about the MTA’s Subway Map. The anecdote about Nobuyuki Siraisi riding the lines with his eyes closed to sketch out how the curve of each track felt is a lesson in user-centered design. Although, it does kind of bug me that in the 1998 digital redesign, street names weren’t consistently aligned and the sloppy vector work on street line endings and feature shapes. Design
Exemplary journalism: The Mueller Report Illustrated Writing & Lists
My favorite song from the Sound of Music ironically is not, “My favorite Things” but is “I Have Confidence” for its insightful message. Maria is aware of her unexpected reaction to this opportunity and is trying to understand why. She’s not exactly confident that she will be able to easily handle this obstacle before her. Instead, she has confidence “in confidence alone.” That is, in her potential to rise to any occasion. She trusts not in her current skills but in her ability to learn and adapt to whatever challenges present themselves, knowing full well that she doesn’t really know what they will be. She is absolutely afraid and self-doubting and yet resolves to do it anyway. Through self talk and body language she is in fact trying to convince herself that she’s confident, exemplifying the Aristotelian insight that behavior leads to character, not the other way around. Brava, Julie Andrews. Music
This scene from A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an entrancing study in building romantic suspense without much happening at all. Sometimes, what isn’t shown is what makes a scene great. Movies & TV
This video for “Think About Things” by Icelandic group Daði og Gagnamagnið. Music
Ukraniain folk punk band DakhaBrakha. Here’s their NPR Tiny Desk concert and a song from their NPR Front Row concert. Thanks, NPR. Music
Any restaurant, movie, travel experience, etc. is susceptible to what I call the Romano Tours effect. That is your mood, disposition, self-awareness, memory, expectation, and openness to a certain type of experience, as well as external influences and the timing of the experience will all color your reaction to it. So any review or ranking of a thing should take that into account and be discounted accordingly. In other words, never really trust any review, even your own. Culture
I was lucky enough to meet the artist Celeste Wilson who created this amazing woven artwork based on a Vox data visualization comparing the Senate testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. To me, this is an excellent blend of art and design — expressing data in a memorable and impactful way to change our perspective. Art & Illustration
This sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look highlights one of the more common forms of creative feedback. Tomfoolery
I just finished The Good Place (4 seasons) and really enjoyed it. It’s light, zany, and ridiculous, much like Community, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Recreation, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, or 30 Rock but it brings in enough moral philosophy and deep questions to make you think. It’s like educational children’s programming — but for adults. For deep dives, there’s also a delightful podcast, as well as this interview on the moral universe of the show, and a series of YouTube videos with Todd May, one of the philosophy consultants on the show. Movies & TV
An affecting short profile of the design legend Milton Glaser on the power of art and design and Glaser’s moving essays. Design
My favorite German words: zugzwang (when you are forced to take action that guarantees your enemy victory); fingerspitzengefühl (“finger tips feeling,” a precisely calibrated intuitive ability to respond most appropriately and tactfully); torschlusspanik (the creeping panic you might feel when you realize time is running out); fremdschämen (the almost-horror you experience when you witness someone unaware that they're embarrassing themselves). Culture
Dr. Laurie Santos’ podcast called The Happiness Lab which is based on her Psychology and the Good Life course at Yale. This Aspen Ideas Festival podcast episode is a good synopsis of the course and this article lays out a lot of the best tips. I’d only add, “Pet more dogs.” Psychology
I love when a movie has a really impactful song performed in its entirety (or nearly so) at a climactic point. A few such movies and their songs are Wild (“Red River Valley”), Junebug (“Softly and Tenderly”), Last Days (“Death to Birth”), First Reformed (“Are You Washed In the Blood”), and 1917 (“I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger”). Movies & TV
Universe Splitter is a fantastic, if slightly cheeky app recommended by Dr. Sean Carroll at Cal Tech. It allows you to make a binary choice by way of a laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland which uses a Quantis brand quantum device called a beam splitter to send a single photon into a partially-silvered mirror and return one of your given options based on how the photon is detected. Since this constitutes observing a quantum event, the many-worlds interpretation of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in quantum mechanics implies that you’ve just split the wave function of the entire universe into two branches, creating two parallel quantum states and this app simply tells you which universe you are in. You can then assume there’s another version of you in another universe who got the other option returned to them and you’re now on separate paths. The app even keeps a tree diagram of all your past decisions and the various forks you took to where you are today. Science
Two of my favorite YouTube channels are Numberphile and Computerphile. They’re each massive and varied collections of fascinating, informal explorations of both foundational and tangential concepts by experts. Coding
This is my all-time favorite Moth story. The speaker, Dr. Mary-Claire King, mentions BRCA1 at the end which is a gene she discovered and was a major breakthrough for cancer research, therapies, and prevention. Her wikipedia page is incredible. Culture
Shia LaBeouf Live by Rob Cantor. I know it's gimmicky but I think this is so inventive and funny. I love when people devote inordinate effort to the completely inane. Tomfoolery
Three of my favorite poems: The Bridge Builder by Will Allen Dromdoole, If by Rudyard Kipling, and A Drink With Something In It by Ogden Nash. Writing & Lists
A book review by Louis Menand packed with well-made and thought-provoking points on human nature and evolutionary psychology. Science
I love a good closed circle mystery or chamber drama that takes place in a single location. My favorites are Rear Window, 12 Angry Men, Clue, Coherence, The One I Love, Bad Times At The El Royale, Knives Out, and any of Agatha Christie's Poirot whodunits. Movies & TV
To me, finding some viable path to “green growth” is a central challenge for our time; how to make a high standard of living ecologically sustainable. And this might be one of our best proposed solutions. Social Impact
This list of helpful concepts for making sense of the world. Writing & Lists
Pretty dope online design tool called Open Collab where in anyone can upload work and it will be randomly paired with someone else’s to create an overprinted combination piece. I love the kind of layered graphic serendipity the tool generates. Art & Illustration
The dance scene from House of the Devil. Movies & TV
Monty Python’s Philosophy Football. Carl Marx warming up. Tomfoolery
The Colbert Shsow finale featured this heartwarming rendition of Vera Lynn’s We'll Meet Again. Just a beautiful gathering of so many people, celebrating their common humanity and the joy of singing with others. Movies & TV
Sean Carroll’s series The Biggest Ideas in the Universe. Science
So many excellent channels for fun math videos: Matt Parker, Zach Star, Primer, Up and Atom, 3Blue1Brown, and Wootube. Math
This profile of mathematician John Horton Conway. And this one. Over half a century ago, he had posed a problem which had gone unsolved until just recently when grad student Lisa Piccirillo thought it would be fun to do in her spare time and within a week, she had completely solved it. When she casually mentioned this to her advisor, he freaked out and started yelling, “Why aren’t you more excited?” Math
The game of Sprouts (invented by John Conway and Michael Paterson Cambridge University in the early 1960s) has a lot going on, including its own Brussels Sprouts. Math
Two powerful poems about war: The Man He Killed by Thomas Hardy and Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen. The latter, about World War I, refers to “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” a line from the Odes, a collection of lyric poems by Horace. Translated from Latin, it means “It is sweet and fitting to die for the homeland.”) Owen was killed in action exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice which ended the war. And to go with those poems, two stirring war protest songs: “Bring ’em” by Pete Seeger and “What is Truth” by Johnny Cash. Writing & Lists
That time John Donvan used my question in an IQ2 Bloomberg Debate on redistributing wealth (at the 38:20 mark). Culture
An animated historial runthrough of the power of reason. Psychology
Three of my favorite ads: Budweiser’s Born the Hard Way. Kruger’s Unapologetically Human, and AirBnb's Made possible by Hosts. Movies & TV
An awe-inspiring NYT series on the cosmos covering some of our latest discoveries and explorations. Science
A delightful philosophy series called Night Owls run by the fabulous Agnes Callard at University of Chicago. I especially enjoyed the economics debate with Tyler Cowen. Most virtual events can be found on Crowdcast. Philosophy
These two stories from the Holocaust are among the most moving I've ever come across: Vilma Grunwald’s “Into Eternity” letter and Daniel Kahneman’s story of his encounter with a Nazi soldier in occupied Paris at the very beginning of this interview. History
Moving Naturalism Forward was a momentous workshop in 2012 where some of the greatest minds (and many of my favorite thinkers) came together to get into the weeds on all kinds of topics, from free will to consciousness. The ultimate binge watch. Science
Dan Pashman, host of The Sporkful podcast, went on a 3-year, 5-episode journey to create the ultimate pasta shape with renowned Brooklyn pasta-maker Sfoglini and I can’t wait to try it. What I love about this series, is that though Pashman is met at every turn with experts telling him why his idea is doomed and why he shouldn’t even try, he remains undeterred, relentlessly cheerful, never meeting negativity with negativity, never disparaging his naysayers in kind. While he does adjust accordingly to feedback, he doesn’t take it personally and stays focused on his goal. And in the end, after much failure, he succeeds. Real Ted Lasso energy. This is the kind of attitude and approach we should want more of. Culture
Inspired by the collage artist Kensuke Koike’s work titled “Avatar,” programmer Josh Beckwith (positlabs) created this interactive demo of selective sampling. Art & Illustration
The time my listener chatter was featured on the Slate Political Gabfest. The subject: a New Yorker article and Solvable podcast episode about Molly Burhans, a cartographer, environmental activist, and founder of GoodLands, using geospatial data analysis to move the Catholic Church on climate action through better land management. Check out this video for a quick intro. Social Impact