Casted

While I'm working, I try to avoid multitasking, because a decade of research has shown that human brains suck at it.

But during relatively large swaths of my days, I end up doing non-work, low-brain-intensity tasks: I spend cumulative hours walking my dogs, riding the subway, shopping for groceries, cooking dinner. And through all of that, I usually listen to audio from my iPhone.

For the first half of the day, it's audiobooks. I tend to read non-fiction with my eyeballs, and listen to fiction with my ears; between the two, I can easily cruise through a book or more each week.

But from lunch on, I primarily listen to podcasts. Alongside a couple of news-aggregating daily emails, and an occasional jaunt through Twitter, it’s how I get nearly all of my world news and analysis. And it’s my primary channel for finding interesting new people, ideas, books, films, and more.

A number of friends and family members have mentioned that they, too, want to take up more podcast listening; but with literally hundreds of thousands of podcasts on iTunes, it’s often hard to know where to start.

To that end, here’s what I listen to regularly. My own interests vary pretty widely, so your mileage may vary. It’s also worth noting that the current list veers more heavily towards politics and policy than it did a year ago, now that we live in the land of Trump. But, regardless of your interests, I think these are all at least worth a single episode test-listen; in my experience, after just a couple of minutes, you’ll be able to decide whether each warrants further listening/subscribing or not.

I’m a big fan of the Overcast app, which I find far easier to wrangle than iOS’s built-in Podcasts app. So, rather than link the below Podcasts to their iTunes pages, I’d suggest you download Overcast, and just enter the below names into its search engine (the plus sign at the top right of the app) to find them instead.

I listen to pretty much every episode of these shows:

  • The Art of Charm
  • The Ezra Klein Show
  • FiveThirtyEight Politics
  • Fresh Air
  • Pod Save America
  • Slate’s Political Gabfest
  • The Tim Ferriss Show
  • Vox’s The Weeds

These are more hit-or-miss for me, though I listen to a good number of their episodes:

  • 99% Invisible
  • a16z
  • Barbell Shrugged
  • Brute Strength Podcast
  • Bullseye with Jesse Thorn
  • Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
  • FoundMyFitness
  • Freakonomics Radio
  • Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin
  • The Joe Rogan Experience
  • Longform
  • On the Media
  • Planet Money
  • Radiolab
  • Savage Lovecast
  • Slate’s Culture Gabfest
  • TED Radio Hour
  • This American Life
  • Waking Up with Sam Harris

And, finally, here are some newly-discovered shows that I think are likely to be good, but I can’t yet really vouch for:

  • Conversations with Tyler
  • Intercepted
  • Pod Save the World

It’s pretty extraordinary that all of this content is available free online in today’s world. Take advantage of that, and give these shows a listen yourself.

Honey

Given the crazy prices in NYC stores, I do most of my shopping online. Amazon Prime, in particular, has been a lifesaver, as something like a bag of dog food costs about 50% less there than it does at the PetCo in my neighborhood.

But when shopping on Amazon, I’ll often find several vendors selling the same thing at different prices, so I spend a fair amount of time searching around the site to make sure I’m getting the best deals.

Similarly, when I’m buying from any other site, before I check out, I Google around for potential coupon codes, then try them out on my cart. Though that, too, takes a bit of time, I can often save 10-15%, and I’m cheap enough for that to justify the effort.

Over the weekend, however, I discovered Honey, a great Chrome extension that does both of those things automatically. Now, I can save minutes and save money.

On Amazon, Honey will mark a given item as the best-priced version of that product, or link you across to a cheaper iteration of the same thing.

And, elsewhere (say, JCrew, PsPrint, or Intuit), it will test out coupon codes for you behind the scenes at checkout, automatically entering the one that gives you the largest discount.

It’s a small tool, but one that (especially if you shop mostly online) can add up to big savings. Try Honey, and save some time and money yourself.

Process, Results

With February just around the corner, we’re about to hit The Big Resolutioner Fall-Off in gyms the world over. Statistics show that, after a month, more than 50% of people have already given up on their New Year’s resolutions, and by the first week in February, gym attendance drops precipitously from its January peak to the lower leves seen through the balance of the year.

Obviously, people give up on their resolutions – and their fitness resolutions in particular – for a slew of reasons. In most cases, however, there’s a single, over-arching cause: after a month of full-bore effort, most people don’t feel like they’re getting results that justify the effort.

Sure, there are more or less effective ways to improve your fitness. But body recomposition (losing fat and gaining muscle) is slow going in even the best of circumstances; research by the CDC and others has shown that people who sustain weight loss (rather than just yo-yoing back up) are those that lose about a pound a week. And as most people who take up exercise again after a break initially add muscle as well as losing fat, it’s pretty common to see scale weight only drop a pound or two over the course of a first month, even with strong, consistent effort.

When most people set goals (like New Year’s resolutions), they think in terms of results: “I want x to happen by time y.” For project goals – starting a company, buying a home, etc. – that makes sense, as you can then break those goals down into a series of sub-goals along the way, and chart your progress by seeing how well you knock off those projects. But losing weight (like, say, learning a language) is more of a process goal; it doesn’t break down well into smaller goals, but is instead just about doing the same thing, consistently, for an extended period of time. Worse, process goals rarely achieve linear results; instead, progress usually fluctuates up and down, like prices on the stock market, even while the overall trend moves in the right direction over time.

So evaluating process goals by their short-term results is a fast track to feeling demoralized and giving up. Instead, people who succeed tend to be those who make the process itself the goal: they evaluate their success not based on how much weight they lose, but on the percentage of their weekly meals they eat according to plan, or the number of times they work out in a given week. The always-insightful Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) talks about this as the difference between ‘systems’ and ‘goals’ – the goal being weight loss, but the system being eating healthfully and working out.

In my experience, that kind of system-focused thinking is far more effective, because it’s much more self-reinforcing. If you’re solely focused on results, in a given day, you’re unlikely to see enough physical change to feel good about yourself; but if you’re focused on process, on executing your system, every healthy meal, every trip to the gym is something about which you can pat yourself on the back.

So, if you’ve been pushing hard through January, but are feeling a dit demoralized, and on the brink of giving up, I’d strongly suggest you switch your thinking to a systems / process approach instead. Ask yourself which habits you could sustain at an 80% level or better over the balance of 2017 would make a real difference. Maybe it’s walking 10,000 steps daily, cutting out refined carbs, or hitting a gym class three times a week. Then start evaluating yourself, day by day, just on how well you hit those habits. Maybe even buy a calendar, and draw in a smiley face for each day you pull them off.

In all honesty, that still won’t move you faster along the slow path to weight loss, fitness, or health; but it will hugely increase the odds that you keep going throughout the balance of the year, in a way that will allow you, one cumulative step at a time, to actually reach those goals in the end.

Movies 2.0

From the always-excellent Daring Fireball:

Natalie Jarvey, writing for The Hollywood Reporter:

“Amazon has not only scored its first Oscar nominations with Manchester, it has also become the first streaming service to earn a best picture nod. Manchester received six total nominations, including Kenneth Lonergan for directing and original screenplay, Casey Affleck for lead actor, Lucas Hedges for supporting actor, and Michelle Williams for supporting actress. The Salesman, Iran’s selection in the foreign-language film category — which Amazon is distributing in the United States — also received a nomination, bringing Amazon’s total nominations to seven.”

Amazing success story for Amazon. There’s been a lot of talk over the last decade or so that Hollywood was wary of Apple doing to them what the entertainment industry thinks they did to the music industry. In the meantime, Netflix and Amazon are kicking their asses.

I spent the first third of my career in the tech industry, and the next third in film, so I saw from the inside the disdain that both of those worlds have for each other.

Tech entrepreneurs long believed that they could bring across their industry’s tools, ideas, and processes, rethinking how film and television is made and distributed to yield better content and broader audiences.  Whereas the studio execs believed those tech folks were hopelessly naive, and totally out of their depth.

Looks like we now know which side was right.

Fighting Trump: What Do I Do Next?

This past weekend, I was proud to take part in the NYC Women’s March. Had I been alive at the time, I know I would have wanted to join the 1963 March on Washington, and I suspect we’ll look back on this weekend’s event similarly from decades in the future.

Because I fell behind on podcast listening over the weekend, I got to hear, in a single day, several politically-focused shows covering the inauguration, some recorded before the march, and others recorded after. From that juxtaposition, the power of the protest was immediately clear: before, anyone opposing Trump sounded despondent, somewhat in shock, unable to do anything but mope; after, anti-Trump’ers seemed buoyed up with hope and enthusiasm, ready to make change happen.

But while the march clearly rallied the troops, I don’t think it will make change in and of itself. We now need to channel that renewed energy into concrete action, in ways that are likely to create real and meaningful change.

To that end, I was heartened to discover recently two excellent websites that provide specific guidance moving forward.

The first is Swing Left, which seeks to shift control of the House in 2018 by focusing national Democratic attention on a handful of swing districts, where the last election was decided by a thin margin. Put in your zip code, and the site will point you towards your nearest swing district – in my case, New Jersey's 5th, just across the Hudson River. Then pop in your email address, and you’ll be intermittently pinged (not more than once weekly) with opportunities to fundraise / donate, spread the word on social media, phone bank, canvas, etc., in ways that will help take that district in 2018.

Even nearer-term is 10 Actions / 100 Days, which comes from the organizers of the Women’s March. Each ten days, the site posts a new action you can take right now (the first: “Write a postcard to your Senators about what matters most to you – and how you’re going to continue to fight for it in the days, weeks and months ahead.”), along with step-by-step instructions and tools. For the first week, for example, they provide printable postcards, senators’ addresses, and inspiration for what issues you might want to address.

And finally, a bonus site that’s not directly about action, but is still a hugely valuable way to say well-informed: Track Trump, which summarizes daily the Trump administration’s actual political actions (ignoring crazy tweets / distractions / media circus / etc.), and tracks the degree to which Trump fulfills his “Contract with the American Voter” promises for his first 100 days.

From just the past week, it’s already clear that any hopes of Trump surprising us all positively when he actually got into office were badly misplaced. Things are getting ugly already, and we need to move quickly in response.

Swing Left, 10 Actions / 100 Days, and Track Trump. Visit all three, and get to work.

Cold as Ice

Nature may abhor a vacuum, but I’m a fan of them, especially in water bottles.

I’m always surprised to see how few people bring water with them to the gym in the first place, given how crucial hydration is to performance. Most athletes know that dehydration can reduce their endurance in longer-duration events. But the effect on shorter duration exercise, like sets of weightlifting or CrossFit WODs, is just as impressive: in one study, athletes who were only 2% dehydrated saw their high-intensity exercise performance drop by 45%.

Even fewer people know that the temperature of the water you drink matters, too. Studies have repeatedly shown that drinking colder water helps athletes go longer before reaching exhaustion, at higher mean power output, and improves performance on everything from the bench press to the broad jump.

So, in short, if you’re working out, you should probably be drinking plenty of water, and drinking plenty of cold water, along the way.

That’s where the vacuum comes in. Something like the insulated Kleen Kanteen (my go-to, and The Wirecutter’s top choice) will let you tote 20 ounces of ice cold water to the gym – even if you have to fill it hours and hours in advance (say, filling it with ice water in the morning and then hitting the gym post-work.)

If you’re picking up a Klean Kanteen, I’d suggest you go with the Cafe Cap 2.0 lid. You can sip through it, without needing to unscrew each time you drink, so you’ll drink more frequently. And, as a bonus, you’ll also be less likely to imitate my signature post-workout move: inadvertently pouring the first sip of water from an uncapped bottle down the front of your shirt.

Pollute and Die

I was listening this morning to a podcast interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which he discussed his very successful track record of environmental activism (including his bipartisan push to defeat Prop 23, a Califronia anti-regulation proposition heavily funded by oil and gas companies, back in 2010).

Arnold pointed out that, currently, the vast majority of environmental lobbying and debate focuses on climate change – obviously, a huge and extremely serious issue, though one where we need to change current actions to address seemingly distant future outcomes.

At the same time, the pollution that’s driving up global temperatures is having huge impact, today, on global health. The WHO estimates that more than 7 million people will die in 2017 due to air pollution, at least 250,000 of them here in the United States.

Despite my support for environmental causes, and my general interest in the policy world, I had absolutely no idea that the current numbers were that high. Indeed, this year, more people will die from air pollution than from war, terrorism, homicide, suicide, and car accidents, combined. That’s a huge clear-and-present danger, though one that environmental activists and lobbyists don’t seem to be effectively communicating.

Sure, we should be focusing on climate change, on the security benefits of energy independence, and the economic and jobs potential of green energy. But we’re killing millions of people around the world – and hundreds of thousands here in the US – every single year with our current environmental policies. That’s something that should be front and center in the push for tighter regulations and smarter investments.

Messaging matters, and it appears, in the push for a cleaner world, that’s where we’re falling short.

Tech Tools: Words

Yesterday, Evernote released a much-anticipated (and much-needed) update to its clunky iOS app. For many users, however, the simplicity (or, perhaps, feature-paucity) of that update, paired with the company's recent substantial price hikes to its premium service, just served to further disappoint. While Evernote was early in pioneering the idea of a searchable digital 'everything box' for ideas and notes, the slow pace of improvement, and lack of simple, user-requested features, has left a bunch of folks looking for alternatives.

I abandoned Evernote a while back, and now depend primarily on a trio of Mac apps (paired with iOS counterparts) to handle my world of text. Along with a browser (and Gmail in it), they cover about 90% of my daily computer use, so I've auditioned a slew of other options, too, and can strongly endorse all three of these:

1. BBEdit.

I started using BBEdit literally 20 years ago. Back when I regularly wrote code, this was where I did so. Now, I use BBEdit primarily to wrangle my productivity, running my life from a folder of about a dozen text files. Goals, projects, today’s to-do list, books and movies I’ve watched/read and want to watch/read, my grocery list, a workout journal, a trumpet practice log, etc. If I took one thing away from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, it was the idea of getting things out of my head and into a trusted system. For me BBEdit is where that happens.

Additionally, BBEdit is exceedingly powerful at manipulating text; you can use GREP in the ‘search and replace’ box, and for those like me whose command line skills are slow and rusty, menu items to find duplicate lines, sort lines, prefix/suffix lines, process lines containing a specified string, etc., come in handy pretty frequently, as I often end up grabbing large lists or pages of text from other sources (the web, digital books, etc.) and need to organize them into some kind of useful form.

This one’s nerd-tastic, I know, but I spend more time in BBedit than anywhere else. You can demo it free, but if it doesn’t seem worth the cost in your life, you can also default to the free, pared-down version, Textwrangler.

On iOS, I use Editorial, which is by far the most powerful mobile text editor I’ve found. And as I use Dropbox to back up my files, I can seamlessly keep the desktop and iPhone versions of my text files in sync between the two apps.

2. Ulysses.

I use this, on both my Mac and iPhone, for pretty much all the longer-form writing that I do. (In fact, I’m typing this post in Ulysses right now.) It’s a minimalist text environment that helps me focus on getting words down on the page, it effectively manages documents inside the app (and automatically syncs things between desktop and mobile), and it can quickly and beautifully export your words into anything from HTML to formatted PDFs, eBooks, or Word Docs. If you’re (god-forbid) still writing things in Word, try this instead, and make your life waaaay better.

3. NValt.

Basically, this is for everything that doesn’t go into BBEdit or Ulysses. While I use the former for structured lists and plans, and the latter for any document that might require thought and drafting, NValt is my quick and simple repository for the kinds of odds and ends that pop up throughout my day.

You can pull up NValt with a simple keyboard shortcut, and your cursor is waiting in a search / create bar. As you type, NValt shows you a list of all the notes in your repository that match your search; to create a new note, you just hit ‘return’ at the end of the line, and a new note’s created with that search term as its title. (Try it out; it makes much more intuitive sense than I’m doing justice.)

Pulling the app up right now, the most recent files include a list of links to some fancy quesadilla recipes (last night’s delicious dinner), show dates for a couple of jazz groups I’m hoping to catch in the next month or two, instructions for a pranayama breathing technique, the IP addresses I jotted down while helping to set up my grandmother’s router, and notes I’ve taken while reading Tools of Titans. It all just gets dumped in here, and I can pull it up as needed with a couple of keystrokes.

NValt also syncs with the free Simplenote, so I can search and add new notes from my phone, too.

So, that’s it. BBEdit (with Editorial). Ulysses. And NValt (with Simplenote). If you spend a bunch of your day working with text, too, I strongly recommend giving all three a try.