brain pickings

Andy Fossett – Builder

Andy Fossett is a “burger enthusiast” based in Honolulu who teachers martial arts, consults online businesses, and runs GMB Fitness. These are his good things.

Good things to read.

Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson. Parts of this book are a little dated, but the general principles have been life-altering to me and everyone I’ve given a copy. Not for the easily-offended, PR lays out a theory of human potential along with practical advice for making the most of “reality.”

Anathem by Neal Stephenson. I tend to speed read a lot of non-fiction for learning and info, but I’m careful to balance it with a healthy dose of pure escapism. Stephenson is one of my favorites, and Anathem was well-paced and fun to read slowly and get absorbed into the story. There are so many good things on this site, it just ridiculous. I love the focus on finding parallels and links between different thinkers and artists, and Maria is a fantastic aggregator of interesting ideas and thoughts from more books than I could possibly hope to read.

Good things to watch.

Video of yourself walking and talking. Seriously, you’ll be surprised. This is how you appear to others. Do you move with poise and confidence? Do you express yourself clearly and persuasively? We’re largely unaware of our habitual patterns and ticks; noticing them is the first step to improving how others see us.

The ocean (or the trees). Just get out in the open air and spend a few minutes a day with whatever nature has to offer in your part of the world. Breathe in. Breathe out. Listen. Experience the passage of time. Repeat daily.

This video about possibility. Yes, the talk is nominally about Parkour, but the deeper message is of exploring the confines of our surroundings and responding in creative ways. I tend to watch it at least a couple of times a month for a little inspiration and motivation.

Good things to use.

Your body. It’s a bit of a cliche, but if you don’t exercise the limits of your body’s strength and mobility everyday, it slowly diminishes with age. Regular exercise for health sounds boring, so think of it as increasing your personal freedom of physical movement.

Lumosity. There’s a ton of tools for exercising the mind, but Lumosity is the one I’ve been able to stick with. It’s available on the web or as an app and makes it fun to sharpen your memory, reasoning, and creativity with various cognitive tasks cleverly disguised as games.

Notebooks. I like Moleskines, but there’s nothing magical about any particular kind. Just carry one and write down ideas and lists. Write them and rewrite them until they’re ready to make real.

Connect with Andy on Twitter, @AndyFossett.

Wendy N. Wagner – Author

Wendy N. Wagner writes tie-in fiction for the Pathfinder role-playing system. She also writes other stuff, like sad stories about endangered dwarfs and poetry about dinosaurs. She blogs at the Inkpunks publishing blog and sometimes on her own site,

Good things to read.

One Ring Circus, by Katherine Dunn. An amazing collection of essays about boxing, with all the intelligence, heart, and beautiful prose of her classic novel Geek Love.

The Pushcart Book of Poetry, edited by the Pushcart Editors and Joan Murray. A selection from thirty years of the best poetry published by the North American small presses. It will make you glad that you can read, that you are alive, and that words were ever invented.

Brain Pickings Weekly Newsletter. It’s basically a once-a-week blast of cultural intelligence, dropped right into your inbox.

Good things to watch.

The short films of the Brothers Quay. Our public library has a collection of them, but some are available online, for example, the 1984 short The Cabinet of Jan Svankmejer. These tiny, often disturbing films are packed with remarkable imagery that has heavily influenced popular culture.

Showtime’s Masters of Horror series. If you haven’t caught any of these one-hour horror films, you are missing out on a really great time.

The extras on the remastered Eraserhead DVD. “Stories,” which is about an hour and a half of David Lynch and the cast members discussing how they made the film, provides some tremendous insight into his world. (I also highly recommend the extras on the Inland Empire DVD, which includes one of my staple quinoa recipes.)

Good things to use. Where else can you track your game plays, your friends’ wishlists and sign up for a tabletop gaming Secret Santa? No place, that’s where! You might not think you need this service, but when your spouse claims he’s never won a game of 51st State, you can pull up some stats and totally prove him wrong.

A clothesline. Okay, hanging your clothes up instead of just tossing them in the dryer is a lot of extra work. But it’s easy, meditative, and saves a ton of electricity. As someone who just went full-time freelance, I’m living on a pretty tight budget, so every penny counts. Plus, clothes hung up outside in the sunshine smell great!

The local public library. Sure, everything’s online these days. But so are most public libraries, and they’ve got a lot of amazing resources. With just my library card, I can go online and download e-books (including audio books, which pretty much rocks), tap into all kinds of databases (need the Statistical Abstract of the United States for the year 1886? The library will let you use it from home), use language-learning software, and best of all, read all kinds of journals, magazines, and newspapers. Plus, it’s free.

Connect with Wendy on Twitter, @WNWagner.

Melanie Pinola – Writer and Life Hacker

Melanie Pinola writes about technology, productivity, and “life hacks” (most notably for Lifehacker, ITworld, and Mobile Office Technology). Her book LinkedIn in 30 Minutes is due out in May 2013.

Good things to read.

 Poetry. Any kind will do. Poems are really music without sound. Whether you like the bold crassness of Charles Bukowski, the exquisite darkness of Mark Strand, or the brilliant pondering of Adrienne Rich, reading a poem is like getting a concentrated dose of inspiration. Ironically, though, while poems are usually short enough to read at any moment, you can only read so many without getting too intoxicated and overwhelmed. (Is it a copout to choose a whole genre? Very well then, see the complete poems of E. E. Cummings, where you’ll find the most beautiful love poems. Really.)

Smart bloggers. We’re lucky to have so many good writers putting up/sharing free content all the time. Off the top of my head, I think you should check out the insanely honest and funny James Altucher, enlightening Derek Sivers, and flat-out productive person Jeff Atwood (who wrote one of the best posts about parenthood ever). Master curators Maria Popova on Brain Pickings, Jason Kottke on, and Dave Pell on Next Draft should also be in your feeds.

And, to be practical: Real Simple, the magazine and website, which covers everything from home organization to wardrobe shortcuts to unusual uses for old things. Like Lifehacker, it’s all about making life simpler and easier (although Real Simple has less of a tech bent). 

Good things to watch.

America’s Test Kitchen. On YouTube and PBS. It’s the science of good cooking: tested recipes, equipment, and techniques. Because, really, we all should be making and eating great food.

Mythbusters. They put all the most interesting myths to the test. The latest episode: MacGyver Myths. Could he really have flown a plane made of bamboo? Created a hole in a wall with pure sodium? Epic.

Game of Thrones. I have no productivity-related reason to recommend this, other than it just rocks. It’s reason enough to subscribe to HBO. One word of advice, though: Don’t read the books before the related season. You’ll be in purgatory waiting for the show to catch up and wondering why the characters on screen are still alive. (It’s pure torture.) 

Good things to use.

Automation tools. Automate as much as you can. App-connecting service IFTTT is truly awesome: You can send starred Gmail messages to Evernote, automatically download Facebook photos to Dropbox, get text message notifications of important news items, and so much more. Similarly, save time and hassle by using Amazon Subscribe & Save for your regular bulk items, an online grocery to get your food delivered with a weekly list, and maybe even a complete meal delivery service like Blue Apron. Cut out all the little things that consume so much time (like weekly meal planning and shopping) and you have time for the more important ones.

A good pair of sneakers. I try to walk as much as I can. Part of this is just for exercise. Part of it is to support my local businesses when I go shopping. And the other part is to get some much needed sunlight as often as I can. It makes for better sleep, better moods, and better ideas.

Your relationships. Not that you should “use” them, of course, but time and again studies have shown that happiness is most closely tied to the quality of your relationships (the latest study was a 75-year-old one on Harvard students). I’m an introvert. I don’t care to be around too many people too often. But I know people matter the most, and those extra steps showing gratitude, being helpful, and otherwise participating in our loved ones’ lives is the reason why we’re all here anyway.

Connect with Melanie on Twitter @melaniepinola