11 interesting links from The Bearded Brain

Some five months or so ago, I launched a weekly newsletter called The Bearded Brain. It's a bunch of links to stuff I find interesting, and I think you will, too. Here are some examples of links I share.

» John Cleese explains the Dunning-Kruger Effect, i.e., stupid people have no idea how stupid they are.
» OK, we know Facebook is creepy. Here's how to find out everything the social network knows about you.
» Ice is retreating from the Alps, and we're starting to see stuff that had been under ice since World War I.
» Sleeping naked might be really good for you.
» Photos from the 2014 World Beard care and Moustache care Championships
» Did you know we found model airplanes in the Pyramids in Egypt? Not only that, we found them before we had airplanes, so we didn't even know what they were!
» Skydiving beavers in Idaho!
» A photographer followed a 15-year-old elk hunter, and, much to the photographer's surprise, discovered she's not an out-of-control gun nut and she enjoys reading gun and rangefinder reviews..
» Scientists have figured out how to unboil eggs
» Our DNA structures are so similar to almost everything else on the planet that it's amazing humans came to look and behave like we do.
» Up for auction: 1684 manual on how to get a woman all hot and bothered

If you'd like to get stuff like this in your inbox every Tuesday, subscribe here.

Gribble House


Six-year-old Thelma says hello to us at Gribble House.

In 1909, a triple ax murder took place at the downtown Savannah home of Eliza Gribble. The crime was never really solved. Just before she died, one of the victims said her husband, JC Hunter, did it, and he was tried and convicted, but then had his death sentence commuted to life in prison and he was later pardoned.

It seems Hunter walked with a cane and was in his 60s. You'd think one of the three victims could have gotten away.

The house was torn down at some point in the 1940s or '50s to make room for a warehouse, which still stands on that spot and is used for things like parking and charging Segways for tours.

And at night, the building opens for the Gribble House paranormal experience. It's no ordinary ghost tour.

First, you sit in a welcome room, where your guide for the night plays you some of the recordings made during some visits, and then you see a video from the show "Ghost Adventures."

You're next invested with a flashlight, an AM transmitter, which apparently ghosts can manipulate, a K-II meter, an infrared thermometer and another sensor that lights up "when a presence is nearby" and "can be manipulated by a presence blinking the lights" — I'm putting that in quotes, because, well, I don't know what the actual science is and I don't know what this device was originally created for.

The guide brings you around to the places you're likely to find a presence, and lets you explore for an hour or so. Our K-II meters didn't do much of anything, but the other device lit up quite a few times, and we got some interesting audio out of the transmitter (hear a snippet at the top of the post).

Overall, it was fun. If you're in town, go enjoy the experience. And then you can walk down the street to Lulu's Chocolate Bar, where you can get something to eat or drink, like, say, a piece of pecan pie with some homemade caramel pecan ice cream.

Introducing The Bearded Brain

in-the-earsYou may have seen me, over the past couple of weeks, posting on social media about The Bearded Brain, a new email newsletter I've put together.

Just a little bit about it: It's a collection of some interesting stuff I've seen, listened to, and, sometimes, discussed with friends throughout the week.

It's free, it's weekly (I send it on Tuesday), and I think you'll find it interesting.

You can see an issue here, so you know what to expect.

It's off to a good start, and I'd appreciate you trying it out for a couple of issues. I use a third party tool, so you can do your subscribing through them, and later unsubscribe with them if you wish, so there's no awkward, "Uh, Josh, I think I'm good" moment if you don't like it.

You can sign up here.

Thanks for checking it out!

3 things to make your life easier in 2014

Three quick small changes you can make in everyday habits to shave some time.

1. Loop the other way when you tie your shoes.

This takes some getting used to, since you've been tying your shoes one way for decades. It took me about a month to make this automatic, but the knot definitely holds more strongly.

2. Eat more of your apple.

Do you routinely ignore apples as a snack because they leave you wanting a little more (or alternatively because you have to look for apples that have been pumped full of steroids to get bigger and so they don't taste like anything)? You're leaving too much core. I don't know what the guy in this video did with his seeds, but leaving only the seed pouch and stem, you wind up leaving a bit of apple a touch smaller than an avocado seed.

3. Peel your hard-boiled eggs by blowing on them.

This takes some practice, and the baking soda and temperature change are both important – the first time I tried, I didn't cool the eggs very much and the shells didn't pop off. Once you get the hang of it, though, you can peel a half dozen eggs in a minute or two instead of ten.

What things do you do to increase your productivity?

Three things you can read every week to get smarter in 2014

I read a lot. Most of the stuff I read is absolute crap, but I read it because I'm hoping it will teach me something. But no longer. I spent 2013 consuming as many words as I could, and I figured out that there are three things I could read every week that will make me smarter.

That's not to say I don't think there are other useful newsletters out there, and that I'll stop reading books and features and news and such. I'm just going to be more picky – a little more selfish with my time.

These are the three things that I read every week, that I think you should, as well.

1. James Altucher's weekly Twitter chat. James Altucher has done a few things right in his life, and a lot of things wrong. The things he's gotten right vastly outweigh the others, though, and I think he's a really smart guy (I recommend his book, Choose Yourself!, as well). He hosts an "ask me anything" Twitter chat Thursdays from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Eastern. During that hour, tweet him at @jaltucher and he'll respond.

I tend to go to his Twitter page and refresh every few minutes so that I can monitor the answers, and then I have the option to check out the question if I wish. If you can't catch it live, you can always head to his page later and scroll back through. You get not only his collected wisdom, but also you get to read what people are asking about, which might give you some ideas as well.

I think you can get just as much from lurking here as you could participating.

2. Mitch Joel, Alistair Croll and Hugh McGuire's weekly link exchange. Each week, three entrepreneurs collect one link for each of the other two, resulting in a blog post every Saturday on Mitch Joel's blog titled Six Links Worthy of Your Attention. Some weeks you'll find more interesting than others, but that will come down entirely due to personal preference. Give yourself a little time; it's worth at least reading all the explanations, and if you wind up clicking something, you might be in for 15-20 minutes of reading or watching.

The links run the gamut from entrepreneurship to education to space exploration to music, sculpture and everything else.

3. Brain Pickings weekly. Maria Popova writes long-form blog items that are really, really interesting. She writes on writing, habits, music, language, science and a variety of other topics, and she always has interesting take-aways from people who know their fields and have names like Einstein, Fitzgerald and Sontag (that is, names you've heard).

Each Sunday, she sends out a newsletter that can help you through your first pot and a half of coffee (you can't tell me I'm the only one, especially on Sunday morning).

Other newsletters I get include a daily email from Web Urbanist, which usually includes some cool photos with a little text (recent ones included a former subterranean brewery that is now a bunch of hot tubs and heated pools, and a post on large concrete arrows in the middle of the U.S. desert that appear to point nowhere but in the 1920s helped direct mail traffic by air before the use of radar), and a weekly offering from C. Hope Clark at Funds for Writers; she writes about the craft of writing, and also about marketplaces, grants and contests.

What do you read consistently that you'd like to share?

Listening: Public Radio Remix

Much of our entertainment is consumed passively, as a secondary resource.

The average American household watches eight hours of television a day. My household is bringing that average up a lot of days. But "watching" is not necessarily true. Really, a television is on for eight hours a day in the average American household.

Largely, though, the people are doing something else actively. Cooking or cleaning or (in my case) working. The TV is merely on in the background.

The same is often true of music as well. People will turn on music and do something like exercise or work in the garden or read.

I've been listening to a lot of Public Radio Remix lately. A lot. Sometimes it's eight or ten hours a day. And it's so interesting that often it's a primary activity. Sure, I'll do some cleaning or shave or write this blog post while listening to it, but if I'm going to sit outside with a book, I always wind up putting the book down if I have it on.

What they do is replay stories from some of my favorite public radio shows (most of them provided through PRX) – shows like 99% Invisible, Snap Judgment and The Moth – as well as the occasional TED talk.

I've been listening on the WRVO app, which also gives you mobile access to the station proper, as well as a BBC Radio stream, along with recent episodes of some of the shows WRVO syndicates, like Prairie Home Companion, but you can listen on PRX or the Public Radio Remix website or probably a bunch of other places.

What’s wrong with online reading (question mark or period, you decide)

This is the 500th post on this blog (for those of you who have been with me online for a while, you know I've had a few blogs and this is more like the 1500th post I've written, but it's an interesting enough milestone for this specific post, I think).

Settle in. If (big if, it turns out) you actually read this post for comprehension, it'll take a good half hour or so, starting with the 15 minutes you're about to spend clicking through this presentation from Randy Connolly at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

We've known for a while (through studies and our own behavior), that we scan, rather than really reading online. And it appears that the earliest eye-tracking studies we had are still relevant; essentially we look at the screen in an F pattern, reading the first few words of each line, and maybe the first and third or second and fourth paragraphs on a page.

So we don't read in-depth when we're looking at a screen, but isn't the web a great place for learning?

Not really, it turns out. We have such short attention spans that we just jump from hyperlink to hyperlink, scanning pages and not absorbing very much. Our retention is terrible.

With the glut of information available, you might also think that we'd get a wider diversity of viewpoints, but that's also incorrect. In social spaces, we tend to follow those who agree with us. In research, we search Google, and, if we don't like the first two results, most of us just change our search term.

This surprised me: Only one in six people can identify which search results are sponsored and which aren't, so there's a good chance that 80% of the people reading online are getting their information from advertisements.

Wow.

The other interesting thing in the presentation is the implication for newspapers (start at slide 76). People who read a hard copy (the physical newspaper) tend to read every section and read articles of all types. People who read online self-select their stories, and tend to read more entertainment and less information. Because it's entertaining, which is why we call it entertainment.

Newspaper design has changed a fair bit since the advent of the Internet, too – pages used to be full of dense, small type, with few photos and small-to-medium headlines. Now, pages feature lots of white space, huge headline type, and large, colorful images.

I can't help but think circulations are not only dipping because younger people aren't buying the paper, but also because people who have read newspapers for years are unimpressed with the website-ification of the printed product. [That's another discussion for another day.]

The biggest thing I learned from this presentation was this: We're born to scan. From an evolutionary standpoint, we are always on the lookout for danger or food. Reading requires a lot of focus, and we've only been able to spend that focus on reading since the advent of leisure time. On an evolutionary scale, that's not a very long time.

Bottom line: if you really want to comprehend something – and if you want your kids, students, friends, etc., to understand something better – give them a book, or write them a letter longhand.

Or make evolution move faster. Just sayin'.

Create something

Rodney Mullen is an icon from my youth. He was the first to do a lot of things with a skateboard. From a public eye standpoint, he was usually overshadowed by Tony Hawk, but from a skating standpoint, the two were complementary – Hawk did a lot of power moves: high air, lots of twists and spins, while Mullen did a lot of board flips and slides and tricks that take place over a short jump.

While Hawk worked on getting a little more hang time so he could get one more rotation in, Mullen worked on getting his deck to do something different, like ride on its side or do a couple of flips with a rotation while he was in the air.

But this is not about Tony Hawk vs. Rodney Mullen.

This is about creating something.

If you're the kind of person who's into presentation, Mullen's TED talk isn't going to do anything for you. But the content of the talk? Wow.

Mullen's the kind of innovator who never needed a large stage, or a drawing board, or conventional tools. He took the thing he loved doing, and did things with it nobody'd ever done.

Because he wanted to.

Because creating is fun.

So go out, and create something. Because creating's fun. Do it for the sake of creating something. Don't worry about the rest; just go out and do it. And do it with purpose. If you're not ready to create something big, create something small. Let it grow. It doesn't matter what your scale, just create.

People you should be reading online

Here are some of the people in the "inspiration" folder in my Google Reader, on my "Must Catch" list on Twitter, and some other stuff that I've been checking into frequently.

Julien Smith. OK, I probably mention Smith enough on Twitter, but seriously, he's braver than you. He's probably smarter than you, too, but really, he's the one who is going to get you over your next hurdle. He's the second author on "Trust Agents" (which, while it's trite to recommend at this point, you still need to read if you haven't), and I'm probably going to wind up reading his short book "The Flinch" (ebook free from Amazon; he's working on a free audio version, too) every six months or so just to remind myself of where I really should be. Follow him on Twitter, as well. He's the kind of guy who can tweet one word, get 200 retweets, and spark you to action.

Marc Ensign. I found Marc Ensign this week, thanks to Julien Smith. I'm still picking through his blog archives, but I like what I've read because he's happy to tell you what you're doing wrong. And if you get defensive or dismissive about what he's saying, you are most definitely doing it wrong. Check out, for example, the reason he doesn't like your Facebook page. He's @marcensign on Twitter.

Shama Kabani. I linked that to Kabani's Twitter account, but her company, Marketing Zen, has some good resources on their website. I've been following her for a couple of years since I received a review copy of her book, and the thing that really put me over the top with having to share her stuff was an interview she did last week with Inc. magazine. I didn't quite agree until I slept on it a few nights.

Josh Spear. I'm not even sure what Josh Spear does (Twitter); I just know he posts about some pretty awesome stuff, including staying at amazing resorts, getting into some pretty exclusive cars and restaurants around the world, and lots of sneakers and watches (and y'all know I'm a sneaker guy). Of all the stuff that's in this post, he's definitely the guilty pleasure of the bunch.

Ashley Ambirge. Ambirge runs a copywriting company and a blog called The Middle Finger Project. "Because," her tagline goes, "entrepreneurs do it better and vulgar titles are funny." Ambirge is crass, smart and a lot of fun. I'm lurking in a copywriting class she's teaching (I can't make it to the actual class times, so I'm watching the videos after the fact; I'll probably clear my calendar to make room for the sales portion of that. Ambirge is into lifestyle design and doing what it takes so that you can live happy. Taco Bell says they can help you live más? Ambirge actually does it.

Project Gutenberg. This is a free ebook project that scans material copyright has expired on and offers it free in a variety of formats, including some mobile-friendly stuff and a format you can read on your Kindle or Kindle app. My library is growing fat because of the project, and I have a ton of reading to get to.

What’s the value of free?

Oh my. Did you watch that video? Because if not, you should. It's about a prayer book. A really old one. That was written on top of three other books. By that, I mean whoever wrote the prayer book had these three books. He cut them up, erased them, bound them again, and then wrote the prayer book.

A thousand or so years later, the prayer book winds up on a professor's desk, and they try to figure out what lies underneath the prayer book.

And they found previously undiscovered works by Archimedes. Archi-fucking-medes. Previously. Undiscovered. Works.

And guess what? After a decade of work and doing all sorts of amazing things to reconstruct it and gave us all the work they did for free. For fucking free! Seriously, it's all right there at that link!

A whole bunch of people spent 10 years of their lives on this, and we have it for free use, for the love of knowledge.

Think about that the next time someone offers you something for free. Don't just shrug it off because you think "free" means "worthless." Consider that you could be privy to something amazing. You might not be – but then again, you've probably paid for plenty of stuff that might be considered crap.

Want some other stuff that's free that I've found absolutely amazing?

» The Flinch, by Julien Smith
» The Hero Handbook (PDF), by Nate Green
» 279 Days to Overnight Success, by Chris Guillebeau

Now go. Get reading. If you don't like them, I'll double your money back.