27 December 2016

Kio Stark: Why you should talk to strangers

Some key points about talking to strangers:

  • It helps us build a sense of connectedness
  • Liberation comes from connecting to individuals
  • Strangers often "get" us simply because we do not expect them to read our minds and so we explain the details to them
  • We can safely open up to people with whom we will have no further interactions with
  • There is joy in "fleeting intimacy" 

Kio Stark: Why you should talk to strangers


It is funny to hear someone lecture other people on talking to strangers. Funny to me because my parents have done this my whole life, and so I have too. Just as Stark encourages connectivity with strangers, I can also attest to learning some wonderful fascinating things about people and the world by talking to strangers.

13 December 2016

Janine Benyus: Biomimicry's surprising lessons from nature's engineers

"Learning about the natural world is one thing; learning from the natural world -- that's the switch," Benyus says. She shares many experiences she has had in teaching engineers to learn from nature.

She asks:

  1. How does life create things? (Life does not "heat, beat and treat")
  2. How does life make the most of things? (Life gives information to matter)
  3. How does life make things disappear in a system? (Because life deals with systems, not things)


Janine Benyus: Biomimicry's surprising lessons from nature's engineers

29 November 2016

Suzanne Simard: How trees talk to each other

So... Apparently, trees communicate and swap resources with each other. Simard talks about her experiments tracking chemical exchanges between trees. Her research shows that forests not just a collection of trees but highly complex systems in which "mother" trees send support to their seedlings, pull back their roots to provide growing room, and send encoded chemical messages signalling danger.

Suzanne Simard: How trees talk to each other

15 November 2016

Alison Gopnik: What do babies think?

Babies are surprisingly brilliant at learning. In years past, we thought about babies and child as resource sinks, thinking that human learning was a long, grueling process that took decades.

Gopnik shows some of her research that shows 4 years old are better identifying unlikely hypothesis than adults. Further, they are better able to think up variations of hypotheses much more rapidly.

Alison Gopnik: What do babies think?

10 November 2016

Kevin Kelly: How technology evolves

Kelly presents the idea that technology mimics life in "what it wants":

  • Ubiquity
  • Diversity
  • Specialization
  • Complexity
  • Socialization
Interestingly however, unlike life--which evolves and extinguishes predecessors--technology never really goes extinct. Instead, once a technology is created, it is forever around and can even spawn new evolutionary spurs.


Kevin Kelly: How technology evolves

01 November 2016

Noah Feldman: Politics and religion are technologies

From a philosophical view, Feldman describes not just how politics and religion can be thought of as technologies but also how we can use out tech savvy knowledge to allow the two to better coexist.

Noah Feldman: Politics and religion are technologies

27 October 2016

Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies

In the first year of life, baby's are able to identify all sounds in all languages. This ability seems to go away very quickly around the first year. Kuhl's research that the optimal time to learn language sounds is before the first year.

Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies

18 October 2016

Laura Schulz: The surprisingly logical minds of babies

"Never bet against babies..." in one of Schulz's concluding remarks but in her presentation she shows her research evidence that demonstrates the incredible computing power of a baby's mind.

Laura Schulz: The surprisingly logical minds of babies

13 October 2016

Patrícia Medici: The coolest animal you know nothing about...

Medici's sobering question: "...am I studying tapirs and contributing to their conservation, or am I just documenting their extinction?" She then proceeds to share her learning but her ever elusive research topics.

04 October 2016

29 September 2016

Michael Shellenberger: How fear of nuclear power is hurting the environment

It is fascinating how we are in such a craze to use renewable energies, but we refuse to we nuclear. Shellenberger shows that we are actually losing renewable energies faster than we are putting it in place. He continues to address the nuclear fears and points out that nuclear power is already, be far, the safest, stable mass energy production method we have.

Michael Shellenberger: How fear of nuclear power is hurting the environment

20 September 2016

Esther Perel: Rethinking infidelity ... a talk for anyone who has ever loved

Perel gives a frank talk about infidelity and what exactly it means. She defines an affair as "a secretive relationship, which is the core structure of an affair;an emotional connection to one degree or another; and a sexual alchemy". Perel commented, sometimes we cheat not because we are turning away from our partner but because we are turning away from the person we have become.

Esther Perel: Rethinking infidelity ... a talk for anyone who has ever loved

15 September 2016

Rogier van der Heide: Why light needs darkness

Heide reminds us that we can only enjoy light because there is darkness. This impacts us in our daily spaces, often in our workplace. We tend to try to push for uniform, white light, but in reality we need a blend of different colors with a variety of intensities.

Rogier van der Heide: Why light needs darkness

06 September 2016

Wendy Freedman: This new telescope might show us the beginning of the universe

Freedman reviews the project planning and construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope: the largest, most powerful telescope ever built.

Wendy Freedman: This new telescope might show us the beginning of the universe

25 August 2016

"The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon" by Brad Stone

Amazon has had a long, notable rise that has been turbulent and often controversial. Under the driven leadership of Jeff Bezos, the company has managed to succeed better than their competitors to dominate the internet not just as a retailer but as an internet company.

Stone lays out the company's course with a good blend of stories pulled from many sources to illustrate the Amazon story. Not all rosy or gloom, Stone's rendition of history feel fair and gives enough context to grasp the difficult decisions that often led to controversy.

Interesting tidbit: Amazon launch Amazon Web Service losing money so that competitor would be less interested in competing. It ended up giving them a massive advantage.

09 August 2016

Sean Carroll: Distant time and the hint of a multiverse

Carroll delves into some of his theories about the origins and potentials configurations of the universe that incorporates all of the latest findings and observations.

Sean Carroll: Distant time and the hint of a multiverse

26 July 2016

Deborah Gordon: The emergent genius of ant colonies

Gordon talks about the amazing dynamics of any colonies. Cool facts: Queens drop their wings when they start a colony and can live 15 to 20 years.

Deborah Gordon: The emergent genius of ant colonies

21 July 2016

Sara Lewis: The loves and lies of fireflies

Lewis talks about the lives of fireflies. I love fireflies, they are magical. Apparently, fireflies live in a lot of places that I never knew about like Japan and Malaysia.

Sara Lewis: The loves and lies of fireflies

13 July 2016

"How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking" by Jordan Ellenberg

It was not until I was halfway through this way thick book that I realized something important: the book's title is incredibly clever. Reading the title, I assumed that in explaining how not to be wrong that it would explain how to be correct. In reality, there is a lot of ground between not being wrong and being correct. Some interesting points:
  • All lines are curves so stop drawing straight lines all the time. Basically, anytime you are using a linear graph, with a straight line, you can be very confident that your chart is wrong.
  • Be careful with regression calculations. They are easy to do but often make up a story that is far different than reality.
  • Beware of the Gamblers fallacy. Each instance has an equal chance of occurrence regardless of how many instances there have been before.
  • Don't talk about percentages of numbers when the numbers might be negative. For example, percent of sales is a bad practice because it deludes the story: if sales are down 50%, is everything down 50% or is a single category doing so poorly it drags everything else down? Expenses, revenue and populations, however, are rarely negative (an expense that pays you?) so they are acceptably expressed in percentages.
  • Small data sets are susceptible sample volatility. Beware.
  • Inference is a tricky sport that can often lead to dangerous conclusions.
  • Things are not usually equal and the inequalities often matter a lot.
  • Lead with data, it will show who should win.
  • Instead of asking what the chances of getting into a slot are, ask what are the chances that something in the slot is wrong. The chances you got something wrong are often the scary numbers we should be concerned about.

28 June 2016

Celeste Headlee: 10 ways to have a better conversation

"There is no reason to learn how to show you're paying attention if you are in fact paying attention."

Instead of trying to show you are paying attention, Headlee suggests these 10 steps to have deeper, more interesting conversations:

  1. Do not multitask. If you do not want to have a conversation, then get out of the conversation.
  2. Do not pontificate. "Write a blog instead," she proclaims. Go into the conversation assuming you have something to learn. [Daniel's thought: If you have nothing to learn, why are you wasting your time talking?]
  3. Ask open ended questions.[Daniel's thought: But not too opened. "Tell me a bit about yourself" is terrible because it is overwhelming in its enormity. Try something more manageable such as, "What are a few highlights of your life is the past couple of years?"]
  4. Go with the flow. Let thoughts come into your mind then flow right on out. Otherwise you will likely miss some really interesting stories.
  5. Admit when you do not know.
  6. Do not equate your experience with theirs, no matter how similar your experience has been.
  7. Try to not repeat yourself, including rephrasing. [Daniel's thought: This is fairly difficult, especially when opinions are being thrown around; but people do sound pretty dumb when they just keep saying the same thing over and again.]
  8. Stay out of the weeds. Details like dates and names, unless critical to the story, just detract from the focus.
  9. Listen. Headlee quotes Calvin Coolidge, "No man ever listened his way out of a job." If you are not listening, then "you're just two people shouting barely related sentences," she quipped.
  10. Be brief.


Celeste Headlee: 10 ways to have a better conversation

23 June 2016

Yann Dall'Aglio: Love — you're doing it wrong

Dall'Aglio talks about our "hysterical need to be valued" aka 'loved'. He traces the roots of this need to the progression of Western society over the past several centuries: the rationalization of science research, political democratization and rationalization of economics. In the process we have transitioned from a culture of being told our value by our societal status (noble lineage and such) to a culture where our value is dependent upon our merit.

While this allows any one to be high or low value, it also puts intrinsic stress of each individual to determine how they will create sufficient value to satisfy their need to be loved. This need to be be loved is an expression of our desire to be desired. His ultimate conclusion: those who need to be desired do not value themselves enough.

31 May 2016

Fei-Fei Li: How we're teaching computers to understand pictures

Machine learning has taken large steps forward in recent years. There has been a shift from trying to document each facet of an object to building better algorithms that can make extrapolations based on a training set. There is some cool stuff here!

Fei-Fei Li: How we're teaching computers to understand pictures

26 May 2016

Alyson McGregor: Why medicine often has dangerous side effects for women

I never realized that male and female bodies were so different, but they are. McGregor explains some of how we know they are different and advocates that we expand our research into the differences so we can better understand how to treat people according to how their body will best respond.

Alyson McGregor: Why medicine often has dangerous side effects for women

11 May 2016

"How Music Got Free" by Stephen Witt

With a narrative that twists and turns, Witt describes the dramatic and often revolutionary forces that upended the music industry (and parts of the entertainment industry as a whole), bringing it to its needs as well as the accompanying technical revolution that was at first abhorrently rejected before finally being welcomed.

Spanning a couple of decades, Witt gives unique insight into the astounding process of creating the MP3 standard, the development and rejection of the first MP3 players and the hearty destruction caused by rampant, persistent digital piracy.

Interesting tidbit: The 80's classic, Tom's Diner, was chosen to develop the MP3 compression algorithms against because of its variety of instruments, vocals and spoken words.

03 May 2016

Asha de Vos: Why you should care about whale poo

"More whales pooping" is a statement that I never thought I would write (much less quoting someone saying). Well, actually, it was never a statement I really thought about. Apparently it is really important though. Asha de Vos talks about whale poop and carcasses and their critical contribution to oceanic ecosystems.

Asha de Vos: Why you should care about whale poo

20 April 2016

"What If?" by Randall Munroe

Munroe uses his physics degree, and considerable talent for explaining things, to explore hypothetical questions on just about every science topic possible. His responses are easily accessible and quite witting as he explains what would happen if you suddenly, endlessly started raising in the air; how long people on a submarine could survive in space; and how far a steak would have to fall to be cooked by the time it landed.

Beyond just answering the questions, Munroe is brilliant at explaining why things are that way. For example, I learned that a steak will never be cooked by falling through the atmosphere because it is too easy for air to get around it. I always thought that things warmed up when the went through to atmosphere because friction, this is not the case.

Interesting tidbit: Water is not very compressible.

14 April 2016

31 March 2016

Thoughts about math

Math is a beautiful part of our daily life, it is something that allows us to understand and communicate about the world with precision. While I have little raw calculating power in my head, I love what math allows us to do. I also love what math does to me.

I had a college algebra teacher who once explained why we learn. It is not because we actually need to do calculations daily (we have calculators for that) but because math changes the way we think and the changed thinking allows us to grasp things bigger than us all.

The idea of variable, for example, is key to algebra and calculus but it is also key to living well. How early do you need to leave to make it to work on time? Variable answer that. My commute looks like this: a + b + c = u Where a is the time it takes me to get from my house to the freeway, b is the time I spend on the freeway and c is the time it takes to get from the freeway to the parking lot. Any one of those legs can be adjusted and tweaked to allow me to predict my commute time.

So remember, understanding math (not just being able to calculate numbers in your head) can literally revolutionize your life.

17 March 2016

Dan Pallotta: The way we think about charity is dead wrong

Pallotta proposes building charities they way we build business: with brilliant talent and strong marketing. In order to accomplish this, we have to be okay with charities paying higher wages and spending money on advertising. Pallotta believes this will allow the charity to use what little money they start with to grow rapidly and thus expand the amount of good they can accomplish. Key to the proposal is us, the donators, being okay with less of our money going to our causes now so they can do more later.

Dan Pallotta: The way we think about charity is dead wrong

08 March 2016

Mark Kendall: Demo: A needle-free vaccine patch that's safer and way cheaper

Apparently, the way we do vaccines today was great for the times, 160 years ago, but we can do much better now. Kendall demonstrates some new vaccination technologies that are slowly making their way into the market that will allow for much cheaper and safer vaccines.

Mark Kendall: Demo: A needle-free vaccine patch that's safer and way cheaper

16 February 2016

Ruth Chang: How to make hard choices

Chang walks through why decisions are hard and how to navigate them. "What makes a choice hard is the way the alternatives relate," she says and this causes us the most anxiety. She proposes that we call alternative "on a par." This allows us to realize that the choices are of similar value but that each value is of a different kind. Like comparing apples and oranges.

Ruth Chang: How to make hard choices

11 February 2016

Hans and Ola Rosling: How not to be ignorant about the world

The world is surprisingly better off than we thing it is. Hans and Ola present some general rules to better tune our intuition. Ola then helps us understand why knowing about the world is important.

Hans and Ola Rosling: How not to be ignorant about the world

02 February 2016

Derek Sivers: How to start a movement

Start a movement:
  1. You need a leader
  2. You need a follower, that is embraced as an equal
  3. The leader needs to show the follower how to follower
  4. The leader keeps going
  5. But the follower recruits more

28 January 2016

Margaret Heffernan: Dare to disagree

Hefferman suggests that we should be building organizations that embrace disagreements because that is how we can be sure we are doing the right thing. Some thoughts:
  • Openness is not enough
  • Find partners who naturally create disagreement
  • See conflict as collaborative thinking
  • Be more afraid of silence than conflict

Margaret Heffernan: Dare to disagree

13 January 2016

"The Chaos Imperative" by Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack

The authors launch into a wonderful and engaging narrative as they use their various experiences to explain why we need chaos in order to progress.

They suggest that innovation requires three things in order to flourish:

  1. Blank space (chaos is an agent of opportunity)
  2. Unusual suspects (it takes an unusual player to get different results)
  3. Supportive serendipity (purely random chance takes too long)