We only have a googol years until the end of the universe
Welcome to the Hurt Your Brain internet playlist from October 16, 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. PODCASTS
Radiolab is such a consistently great show and I've never heard a large chunk of its back catalogue, so over the next several weeks I'll include any noteworthy episodes (like below) as I binge my way through. Let me know your favorites if you have any by replying to this email. Also, I just have to recommend Sleepover, a new podcast from the CBC. It's not as education focused as the type of thing I tend to write about, but if there is something you can learn, empathy is at the top of the list. Check out this great post for more on the show. Now on to the best stuff from the week: The Wells Fargo Hustle - Planet Money Oct 7, 19 min (listen) Learned: The Wells Fargo scandal was driven by extreme pressure to get clients to open multiple accounts which led to cheating and lying. One employee recounts how even during the aftermath of a robbery–with police everywhere and the robber still there–her managers still pressured her to make phone calls and sell or she'd be fired. The robber had literally pooped his pants and the whole place stunk which makes the story that much more surreal. Thoughts: The Wells Fargo CEO finally stepped down, and if you want to watch a satisfying verbal lashing of his poor leadership, check this out. The Miracle Apple - Planet Money Oct 12, 14 min (listen) Learned: The way to create a new apple is to breed thousands of different types with each other and to hope one of them actually tastes good. This is how the amazing Honeycrisp came about. Thoughts: This is rebroadcast and I've linked to this episode before, but it's one of my favorites, mainly for introducing me to Honeycrisp (pricey but really really good). We even went apple picking yesterday and Honeycrisp had their own special sign. Quote: "When I was a kid, apples were garbage. They were called Red Delicious, and they were red. They were not delicious."
Sign: Honeycrisp have an exceptional taste, aroma, texture, and visual appeal. However they are very difficult to produce and require a lot of extra care, coupled with high demand, these apples are more expensive than others. Please check in at the store or one of the sheds before picking these, as they are subject to special picking conditions. Half a House - 99% Invisible Oct 11, 25 min (listen) Learned: A Chilean architecture firm helped their government create disaster relief housing by going all in on a concept called incremental housing, which involved providing people with half a house (literally-check the show notes). The idea is that it's overall cheaper, people are more involved as a community in the process, and most people prefer the control they have in personalizing it. Thoughts: This a great example of helping people by not fully prescribing to them how they receive the help. It's a controversial concept and it was interesting to hear why pride and liability would make make it near impossible for this idea to gain traction in the U.S. Quote: On why half a house to build off of is still better than government block style housing project: "The community threatened a hunger strike because an apartment block would be extremely limiting. Sure they were living in a slum before, but at least they had control over their own space. They could make expansions and adjustments when they wanted to." Lost & Found - Radiolab Jan 2011, 60 min (listen) Learned: Pigeons are truly amazing at finding their way back to anywhere (check out Surprisingly Awesome for a whole episode on this), there is a rare disorder that causes people to lose track of where they are in the world, there are special cells in the brain that map out your physical location, and some languages are much, much more focused on describing directions than the Romance languages. Thoughts: This is a fantastic episode of Radiolab with excellent production and is stuffed with interesting ideas. The icing on top is the last segment involving the story of Emilie, who was in a serious accident and was truly lost and found. It's worth a listen for that alone and you'll possibly want tissues nearby. Quote: "After a long day of being out there with the pigeons and releasing them and waiting for them to make up their mind and fly home and get the vanishing bearings–you come back and you open the loft and there they are, you know all sitting on their little perches going 'cooo, cooo', and you just want to grab one by the scruff of the neck and say 'how do you do it?!" VIDEOS Where Does Complexity Come From? – minutephysics Oct 12, 3 min (watch) Learned: that entropy is the tendency for the universe to evolve towards disorder and that structures (planets, people, etc) are just temporary localized complexities during the slow, slow march of perfect equilibrium (where nothing happens). Thoughts: This idea of the "heat death" of the universe is pretty intense, but as the end of this excellent Vsauce video frames it, we won't have to worry for at least a googol years (10 to the 100th power). If you've ever had any desire to check out Sci-Fi short stories, or ever wanted an excuse to check out Isaac Asimov's writing, I highly recommend The Last Question. It's fairly short and you could say that the idea of entropy is one of the main characters. Guantanamo – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Oct 9, 20 min (watch) Learned: why Guantanamo is such a disappointing entity all around and why it is among Obama's admitted greatest failures. Thoughts: Like most Last Week Tonight main stories, this starts off fairly jokey, but by the end you'll have a good idea of why closing Guantanomo is such a intractable problem. It's much more complicated than "they are bad guy terrorists so who cares about them?". Quote: "So there might well be detainees who we scooped up as young men, who we think are guilty, but who will never get a trial, and they will be there until they die. And at this point, we all have to ask ourselves, 'are we okay with that?'" Is sugar a drug? – It's Okay To Be Smart Oct 10, 6 min (watch) Learned: that sugarcane was domesticated around 8000 BC, sugar has a not so great history with the slave trade, that the dopamine rush from a cookie doesn't go down over time like it does with something like a salad, the sugar industry paid researchers to attack fat as the bad guy, and even though researchers don't associate sugar with the same type of addiction as controlled substances, it does cause similar but smaller dopamine pathway rewards to the brain. Thoughts: Host Joe Hanson sounded familiar to me, and I realized he was a guest on the You Are Not So Smart podcast in an episode about science communication in the digital age. It's a great episode and they discuss all sorts of great science communicators and influences. And if you like the part of this episode that mentions the sugar industry behaving badly, definitely subscribe to the blog Weighty Matters, which regularly rips apart food marketing. America's creepy clown craze, explained – Vox Oct 11, 7 min (watch) Learned: this thing I keep hearing about clowns is actually more than hype. Vox also does a great little piece on the history of clowns within this short video. Thoughts: Vox has great explainers. They get right to the point, provide context, dig a little further into the topic, and have great production values. Understanding Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton's Tax Plans – vlogbrothers Oct 11, 10 min (watch) Learned: that according to conservative leaning think tanks, even though Trump's tax plan would cut taxes for a lot of people, it would actually lead to 10x the amount of additional national debt vs Clinton's proposed plan. This is because it cuts government revenue (aka taxes) while not cutting funding to the largest federal budgets (Medicare & Military). Thoughts: I've long been a fan of all the output of John and Hank Green (this video is John), but I've been appreciating more and more the explainers that they sneak into their weekly vlogging videos. I learned a ton about how the tax system works, and he goes out of his way to be fair balanced, which I appreciated. Planet Earth 2 extended trailer (watch) Had to throw this in here because who doesn't love BBC high budget nature documentaries narrated by Sir David Attenborough? I was sold when I saw a sloth walking which is always hilarious. Watch the trailer in HD and mark it on your calendar. ARTICLES AND OTHER LINKS Ever since encountering Highbrow, I've been interested in the idea of learning a subject through spaced out emails. I like this because it prevents things from becoming too overwhelming and gives you time to learn a little bit at a time with a busy schedule. Hack Design also falls into this category. I've wanted to learn a bit more about graphic design but there's just an incredible amount of information out there and it's difficult to know where to begin. This free email series seems to solve that problem for me (and maybe for you), and so far has been an excellent guide to the basics. If you want a space on the internet that collects all the free courses, books, audiobooks, etc. in one place, check out openculture.com. You can subscribe to their blog by RSS or by email at the top of the page and they are constantly sending out interesting free things revolved around culture and learning. 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!