You can thank Lincoln for your shirt size
Welcome to the Hurt Your Brain internet playlist from September 4, 2016. It's a collection of podcasts, videos, and other links for people who love to learn online and are fascinated by the world. Click here to get playlists emailed to you as they come out.
First up, a quick PSA for iPhone owners- Did you know the Apple podcast app has curated collections of podcasts that are hand selected? I sure didn't. I haven't used it in years and much prefer Pocket Casts, but Apple is still king when it comes to discovering and searching. Just go to the featured tab at the bottom of the app, and then scroll all the way down to "podcast collections". Currently there are 31 collections.
99% Invisible On Average, Aug 23, 22 min The world is designed for the average person, and as you'll find out in this fantastic 99pi episode, when you design for average you are actually designing for nobody. The origin story of "averaging" and how it shaped everything around us is fascinating. A few interesting things:
the modern idea of taking the average of something was invented in the 19th century by a Belgian Astronomer, Adolphe Quetelet
President Lincoln was a super fan of Quetelet and wanted to use his methods of measuring everything as a way to boost useful data for the Civil War effort
the S, M, L sizes used in clothes stores today are directly tied to the measurements of Civil War soldiers
after planes kept crashing for unknown pilot errors in WW2, it was determined that literally no pilots were the actual dimensions that the "average" sized cockpit was based off of
this led to things finally becoming adjustable so that all body sizes can use the same cockpit, drivers seat, etc.
Quote from Roman Mars summarizing everything:
"By re-examining the concept of the average, and acknowledging its limitations, we can maybe start to consider other ways of assessing and categorizing test scores, or clothing sizes, or wellness, or happiness, or worth, we can pave the way for more people who are outside the average, because, really, no one is average."
Freakonomics The Future (Probably) Isn't as Scary as You Think, Aug 31, 37 min Futurism and constantly obsessing where things are going seems to be a growing profession in the media world. This field is full of wild speculation and overly confident predictions. When futurist and Wired magazine co-founder Kevin Kelly speaks up though, I tend to listen. I've been a huge fan of his ever since his great three part interview on The Tim Ferriss Show (Kelly's story on getting into writing late in life was really inspiring). On this episode of Freakonomics, Kelly discusses his thoughts on where technology is going, and what we can do to shape the inevitable trends in our favor. A few interesting things:
AI is already in our lives more than we realize and once it becomes much more powerful, we will probably take it for granted, like all technologies
Kelly likes to remind his children that when he was a kid, if you had a question, you pretty much didn't get it answered
AI beating chess champions has not made people not want to play chess, it has only increased the amount of people who play and has caused people to team up with AI
the video game industry is to thank for the explosion in cheap GPU's being used for AI purposes
flexibility with being retrained and learning how to learn will be essential in the future
Quote from Kelly on how he thinks about the inevitability of big trends in technology (I love this rain metaphor):
"And so imagine rain falling down into a valley. The path of a particular drop of rain as it hits the ground and goes down the valley is inherently unpredictable. It’s not at all something you can predict. But the direction is inevitable, which is downward. And so I’m talking about those kinds of large-scale, downward forces that kind of pull things in a certain direction and not the particulars. And so I would say that in a certain sense, the arrival of telephones was inevitable. Basically, no matter what political regime or economic system that you’d have, you would get telephones once you had electricity and wires. And while telephones were inevitable, the iPhone was not. The species, the particular product or company wasn’t. So I’m not talking about the particulars of certain inventions; I’m talking about the general forms of things."
American Mythology Episode 08 - Protestant Work Ethic, June 29, 24 min This podcast is new for me and I really liked this first episode that I checked out. Host Greg Carlock walks you through the origins of the American work ethic and its Protestant roots and the mythology that has persisted for better or worse into the current US cultural conversation. It is a mix between memory palace and a very short Hardcore History (which are both compliments). Episodes are fairly short so just check it out! A few interesting things:
Ben Franklin is a perfect embodiment of the Protestant work ethic
for early Americans, hard work was necessary to survive
the concept of unemployment sprung from the industrial revolution and has collided against the mythology of the hard working American, which has had continued repercussions for how things like inequality and poverty are talked about today
Science Vs #5 Organic Food, Aug 25, 32 min This is my favorite episode yet of Science Vs. I think host Wendy Zukerman is finding a better balance between the necessary science talk and her trying to liven things up with her personality and humor. You don't want it too dry to prevent mass appeal and you don't want it too whimsical to turn away people who appreciate great science journalism. And I do love that this show is starting right out the gate with a bunch of heated topics. A few interesting things:
end results from episode: organic foods do not taste better, they do not have more nutrients (that matter), they do lead to better farming practices, and there is no evidence either way on their long term effects being better or worse than conventional foods
the realistic future of farming is one where organic farming practices are used as much as possible with conventional methods used when necessary, in a mixed approach
A few other recent podcasts to learn something interesting: You Are Not So Smart 083 - Idiot Brain - Dean Burnett, Aug 24, 53 min Neuroscientist Dean Burnett wrote a new book called Idiot Brain, and in this interview he discusses why comparing the brain to a computer isn't a great comparison, why we get motion sickness, why criticisms are so tough to ignore, and lots more in the wide ranging discussion about the science of the brain when it doesn't do what we'd like it to. Memory Palace Numbers, Aug 26, 9 min An instant classic Memory Palace episode that paints a vivid emotional picture of what being in front of the TV for the Vietnam draft might have felt like.
TED How trees talk to each other | Suzanne Simard, Aug 30, 18 min If you liked Radiolab's episode "From tree to shining tree", then definitely check out this TED talk. Suzanne Simard is the scientist featured in that episode who made the discovery of trees actually talking to each other and in this video she goes into much more detail on what she found and how.
The Sound Traveler National World War II Memorial, Aug 28, 14 min This is a new channel from Destin of Smarter Every Day. You basically put on really good headphones and get to experience a first person walk through of different interesting places in the world. The 3D sound technology used to record these makes it feel like you are actually there. I'm totally sold on this concept and I think this is a great preview of what's to come with things like VR tourism. TED How the Panama Paper journalists broke the biggest leak in history | Gerard Ryle, Aug 26, 13 min Listen to the main guy responsible for gathering everyone together in the enormous undertaking of simultaneously publishing stories about the Panama Papers in 100+ countries, in an unprecedented journalistic show of teamwork. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Charter Schools, Aug 21, 18 min I meant to put this in last weeks newsletter and this is an eye opening look at the dark side of charter schools. Charter schools are usually shown in such positive light, like in Waiting for Superman, and John Oliver shows how the less regulated side of charter schools can lead to bizarre situations. Like there not actually being a school where one is registered and small things like that. If this topic is interesting to you, be sure to check out the Higher Education topic that the fantastic Podcast Brunch Club put together (like book club, but for podcasts).
ARTICLES AND OTHER LINKS
Life Expectancy from Our World In Data Everything you've ever wanted to know about how life expectancy has changed. Fantastic data that goes centuries back, with and without infant mortality numbers. my 15 years of art progression: 7-22 years old from Reddit One of these days I want to learn how to draw, and I always bookmark anything that shows the progression of any skill being learned. They are always great reminders that most of us can learn anything, as long as we put the time in. The hurricane at Saturn's north pole, with rings in the background from Reddit Just an awesome picture of Saturn from the new Cassini probe. That's all for this week! Connect with me @erikthejones on twitter and if you've learned anything interesting, please forward this link to any curious natured friends or family so they can subscribe. Many thanks!