How to Find Awesome Podcasts

If you’ve ever found yourself thinking “wow, I wish I had a great podcast to listen to,” get ready because your mind is about to be blown with this two-step trick.

  • Think of someone you’d love to hear interviewed, preferably someone who is still alive.
  • Google their name + podcast. Click the link and listen.

Seems pretty obvious, right? I bet you’d never tried it before though.

If you need ideas for interesting people, try Stephen Wolfram, Josh Waitzkin, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Twyla Tharp or Evgeny Morozov. If they’ve written a book, there’s a very good chance you’ll find a podcast episode with them in it, and if you’re very lucky, the rest of the podcast will be good as well.



Better Design for Developing Markets

There’s a new (to me) trend of companies that are making extremely well designed products that are inexpensive and are selling really well here in the US, but that are also created to help impoverished people solve major problems.

Awhile back I read a design manifesto about this, one that I wish I could find again online but I’ve searched everywhere and can’t find it. The gist of it, as I recall, is that design for charitable purposes often suffers because the designer is focusing too heavily on making a product that will solve the basic need (food, water, education, etc.) but is not designing for elegance or any of the things the market in a developed country would want from a product. These designs often fail because, while they accomplish the task at a superficial level, they are often deficient in important factors like usability, durability or practical considerations.

Here are three companies that seem to be doing a great job at addressing the needs and wants of both audiences.

Their products are marketable in developed countries, but are inexpensive enough to mass-distribute in places where people are unable to purchase them. I’d love to know more about this business model and about similar companies. If you’re familiar with these types of companies, please comment!

Biolite – They make stoves powered by twigs or small, burnable item. You can cook over them but the cool thing is that they also charge a battery that can be used to power small electronics. I’ve used mine several times and it works very well.

Sawyer – Their simple water filters are inexpensive and easier to use than competitor’s products that are much higher priced. I bought a couple and they’ve worked flawlessly. I’ve even seen young kids using them with no problems.

Lifestraw – This is another take on water filtering. You stick it directly into the water source and drink. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

I love these companies not just for their products, but for what they’re doing to improve the world. They seem to be the perfect mix of capitalism and humanitarianism.


How to Create a Creative Cauldron

A couple of days ago I finished the book Creativity, Inc. One section in particular stood out to me:

[Ivan] Sutherland and Dave Evans, who was chair of the university’s computer science department, were magnets for bright students with diverse interests, and they led us with a light touch. Basically, they welcomed us to the program, gave us workspace and access to computers, and then let us pursue whatever turned us on. The result was a collaborative, supportive community so inspiring that I would later seek to replicate it at Pixar.

One of my classmates, Jim Clark, would go on to found Silicon Graphics and Netscape. Another, John Warnock, would co-found Adobe, known for Photoshop and the PDF file format, among other things. Still another, Alan Kay, would lead on a number of fronts, from object-oriented programming to “windowing” graphical user interfaces. In many respects, my fellow students were the most inspirational part of my university experience; this collegial, collaborative atmosphere was vital not just to my enjoyment of the program but also to the quality of the work that I did.

Reading about that group and the environment created by Sutheland and Evans made me feel a twinge of jealousy. How awesome would it be to find yourself in an environment like that? How awesome would it be to create one?


Let me check my phone.

Lately I am sick of my iPhone. It’s become a crutch to help make sure my mind is constantly occupied and to keep me constantly “doing something.” It seems that just waiting or sitting is socially awkward now, so at the first sign of nothing happening, out it comes. It’s time, once again, to apply some moderation and start using it in a more healthy way.

Here’s what I’ve been trying:

  • Disable almost all notifications. Especially email.
  • Set times of the day for checking the phone and stick to them. E.g. no social media except for between 5 and 5:30 pm and 9 to 9:30 pm (or whatever).
  • Keep a paper list of stuff to look up later. Who is the president of Azerbaijan? Why does the moon look so big tonight? Important questions, no doubt, but they can wait. Save them up, along with questions like “I wonder where Jane is, haven’t seen her in years?” and take care of the list all at once. Doodle some while you’ve got the pen out.
  • Find small, useful things to do on the phone. Sometimes, despite best intentions, the phone is going to come out. Rather than immediately going to a game, I like to have a book of short essays, that wasy I can turn on the phone, read something useful, then turn it back off. Here are a couple good books along these lines: This Will Make You Smarter – the title sounds a little pretentious but it’s really good. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Learning about what creative people do every day to keep their output high is strangely fascinating, even if you’re not an artist. Another more productive technique is to find a good Spaced Repetition (SRS) app and learn words in another language. There are tons of other useful, learning-oriented apps to help you, if you’re going to be distracting yourself, do it in a more meaningful way.

Admittedly, none of that is all that exciting, but there is some very interesting thought going on around this:

This very good podcast with Tim Ferriss (who is a lot of the inspiration for re-starting this blog) interviewing Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired, and all around fascinating and wise person who, among many other things, spends time with the Quakers and has some great insights there.

This Secular Buddhist podcast with Alex Soojung-Kim Pang on The Distraction Addiction and this one with Andrew Holecek on Meditation in the iGeneration are great, and very related to the above. Pang has also written a really nice series of articles on “Mindful iPhone.”

The book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr and Alone Together by Sherry Turkle.

There’s a lot more to be said about this topic. Another day.



Arjuna and Krishna

This morning I woke up early to try to get my meditation practice going again, and afterwards, to keep with the theme and try to keep myself motivated, I decided to read a bit of the Bhagavad Gita. It’s short, I’ve read it a couple of times before, but have never really studied it per se. I’ve found lots of parts that resonated with me, but for some reason, this morning more than ever, just the story of it really struck me as almost overwhelmingly poignant.

Here you have Arjuna, the leader of an army of men on the battle field, facing off against an army that from a human perspective looks just about like his own army.  He is in a chariot with Krishna and they ride out between the two armies, surveying the situation. Not only does he know personally many of the men in his own army, but he recognizes men from the opposition, knows them by name and knows that many of them are related to his own soldiers. It reminded me a bit of the American Civil War in that sense. Upon seeing this, he is struck with crushing sorrow at the impending loss of life of his friends on both sides.