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Aaron Wolfson – Writer, Reader, Coder, Thinker

Aaron Wolfson is a writer, reader, coder, and thinker. He spouts off on books at his blog, Profound Reading, and he is building a better reading list at BookTrackr. These are his good things.

Good things to read.

Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut. My favorite novel by my favorite novelist.

What would happen if all of humanity was destroyed—except for a ragtag tour group on a visit to the Galapagos Islands? What would happen if this group was left to evolve for a million years?

This is Vonnegut’s treatise on how the great big brains we’ve evolved are always getting us in trouble.

Would we be better off if we could have a do-over? Go back to our small-brained existence?

This is not your average post-apocalyptic scenario. Then again, Vonnegut is not your average writer.

Plutarch, Parallel Lives. This is a 2,000+ page book. Of biographies. Of dudes who have been dead for millennia. Written by a guy who’s been dead almost as long.

Why should you read it? Because there’s really nothing new under the sun.

All of the lives described here are pertinent to what you’re doing today. Avoid making the same mistakes that have been made in the past.

You’ll learn how to deal with corruption and favoritism in the workplace (Life of Cato), how to build a team that will follow you anywhere (Life of Alexander, Life of Caesar), how to become an expert in your field (Life of Demosthenes), how to build a culture from scratch (Life of Solon, Life of Lycurgus), and, if you wish, how to terrorize an entire populus (Life of Sulla, Life of Marius).

You’ll learn about the true origins of many ideas, words, and techniques that we still use today.

And it’s just a good time. Plutarch includes plenty of time-tested jokes, and he dishes on all the juicy rumors and debaucheries of some of history’s most ridiculous tyrants, sybarites, and fools.

You’ll also come to understand the fickleness of public adoration, as you see the rise and fall of titans like Themistocles, Pericles, Cicero, Caesar, and Pompey the Great.

The collection may be massive, but you can read one bio every few days, and pick and choose the ones you’re most interested in.

Use Aubrey Stewart and George Long’s translation on Project Gutenberg for maximum effect.

Zero to One, Peter Thiel. An incredibly wide-ranging work on business, entrepreneurship, philosophy, and how to change the world, from a guy who’s been there, done that.

It gets the most notoriety for its controversial ideas about why competition and capitalism are opposites, and how the world is largely at a technological standstill.

But my favorite thread is about how we should strive to create brand new things in the world, instead of making incremental improvements to what already exists. Thus, going from zero to one, instead of from one to N.

This book will change the way you think.

Good things to watch.

Turtles. My wife and I were at a wildlife refuge, and I noticed there were some turtles sunning themselves on some logs near the shore of a lake. I sat down to watch, and found myself transfixed.

It takes the average turtle about 15-30 minutes to actually climb up onto a log. Then they simply sit. Be. Enjoy.

It’s easy to forget how fast we live our lives. Maybe that’s why we all notice time speeding up as we get older. So much to think about.

Next time you feel sped up, go find some turtles and watch how they live.

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. How amazing is it that two cousins became two of the most important and influential world leaders in all of history? This Ken Burns documentary series will show you exactly.

Oh, and that Eleanor was no slouch.

Louis CK. Funniest human alive. Get lost in his brilliance.

Good things to use.

Noise-cancelling headphones and Spotify. If you are ever forced to be in proximity to people who do things that annoy you (cubicles, airports… pretty much any public place), don’t get annoyed. Tune out. Who’s living in your head rent-free?

Your hands. It doesn’t have to be “making things.” Honestly, I don’t do nearly as much of that as I could. But you can try washing dishes by hand, now and then. Touch and hug people. Feel textures—on book covers, wallpaper, carvings. We live most of the day in our minds. Get back in touch with the world.

Nature. It’s, well, nature’s de-stressor. Just take some long walks amidst foliage and everything else will take care of itself.

Connect with Aaron on Twitter, @AWolfson0

Fiona Roberts – Writer

Fiona Roberts writes about travel and music (sometimes separately and sometimes combining them together) and is a recent Anthropology graduate. She just finished an internship at online travel guide My Destination, and is currently blogging about music here – Happyendingsmusic.wordpress.com. These are her good things.

Good things to read.

Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson.  This book is the perfect antidote to mid-winter gloominess. Good children’s books often have the ability to gather up all the wisdom that its authors know, and express it in a simple and lovely way. Tove Jansson’s fiction for adults like The Winter Book is about the changing of seasons too, but it’s more of a stark kind of reflection – inevitable with the setting of a remote Finnish island. Moominland in November is full of simple, minimal advice and a gentle acceptance of the changing of seasons.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu.  Yu’s protagonist lives in the world of the future, but his struggles are from the same source as ours. His mother is stuck in a pre-recorded time loop, something invented for those who want to escape from the present, and his job is to rescue people who misuse time machines by travelling back to the painful, defining moments of their lives. It imagines that despite all the changes in the way we could live our lives, the biggest problem is still the human heart and what it could do if it could control time and be able to change it and reverse it.

Quiet by Susan Cain.  Self-help books can be a pretty powerful force when they defy the genre – and Quiet doesn’t contain the normal instructions for how to become more successful, popular or happy. It tells you that you don’t need to change; introvert or extrovert. It’s really refreshing to read a book like this, which aims at something which seems much more achievable – we should search for acceptance, not radical change. Cain’s case studies and arguments are gentle and convincing.

Good things to watch.

When Bjork Met David Attenborough. This documentary explores music from two different angles, bringing them together with a conversation between two icons of our time. Bjork and David Attenborough are both fascinated by music, and it’s a wonderful exchange of great minds as they wander through London’s Natural History Museum. The film switches between a normal Attenborough nature narrative as we learn about songbirds and why they sing, and a music documentary, as Bjork sets up her Biophilia tour – which involves translating natural processes into her music – like the sound of pulsating tesla coils which provide sonorous basslines.

Only Yesterday. Studio Ghibli takes anime outside of its usual borders in this film – it’s used to make a subtle, sweet story for an older audience. Only Yesterday is about a young office worker who leaves Tokyo to work on a farm for the summer. It stirs up memories of her childhood, and she finds herself accompanied by her younger self on her trip. The story is filled with nostalgia and reflections about growing up, and its setting of safflower fields and farmhouses in rural Japan is beautiful.

Safety Not Guaranteed.  This is a very sweet and quirky love story which actually happens to involve more time travel (oops!). A team of journalists decide to follow an ad they found in a newspaper for a time travelling companion (safety not guaranteed, etc.). They become more mixed up in it than they meant to be. Aubrey Plaza – one of my favourite emerging actresses – steadily peels back her usual snarky demeanour into a sensitive, multifaceted character, much like she does in Parks and Recreation. It captures the feeling of falling in love with someone very perfectly and beautifully.

Good things to use.

Airbnb is sort of like couch surfing, but you can book a private room, or rent a whole apartment or house for yourself. You also have to pay, but it’s still a very inexpensive way to travel. You can find quirky, stylish accommodation, and it’s altogether much more interesting than just booking a hotel. For instance, I used Airbnb for a trip to Istanbul, and stayed in an amazing flat that was on a lovely cobbled street right next to the Galata Tower, and we shared the flat with a fluffy Persian cat. Our host was so welcoming and helped us plan our days. She took us to art gallery openings as her guests, we walked to an out of the way flea market at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning, and she recommended the best local eateries for us to try a Turkish breakfast.

Spotify is a really good music platform – I like the layout, sheer volume of music included and the apps you can use with it. Another really cool feature has been the introduction of verified artists’ profiles – so you can follow your favourite musician and listen to their personal playlists. I really like the playlists made by Ólafur Arnalds, an Icelandic neo-classical composer. A couple of his playlists aim to introduce fans who may have only just bridged the gap from pop sensibilities to other classical music, and another provides a great introduction to some of the best new music emerging from his hometown of Reykjavik.

Memrise.  There are so many great ways to learn languages online these days, but this is my favourite so far. Memrise has a very efficient but stylish interface, it uses well-thought out ideas about memory and includes every language under the sun – and if not then you can create an app for it yourself. The Japanese courses on here are really good – after taking one for a couple of months I managed to pick up a couple of the alphabets, which is more than I ever could have expected.

Connect with Fiona on Twitter, @FionaAlice_

Brandon – Mad FIentist

Brandon is the host of the Mad FIentist podcast and author at MadFIentist.com where he talks and writes about financial independence, these are his good things.

Good things to read.

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne.   I’m going to have to repeat a book that was already recommended by one of your other guests, Jim Collins (he is the person who actually recommended the book to me).
I can honestly say this book has changed my mindset more than any other book ever has. Its main message is that you are inherently free to do whatever you like with your life. However, there are many “traps” that attempt to limit your freedom, like pressures from society, family expectations, etc. Ultimately though, you have the power to break free from those traps and live a life that truly makes you happy.
As someone who is following an unorthodox financial path, I’ve always written my own rules with regards to money but this book made me realize I could expand that thinking into all areas of my life.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. I’m currently pursuing a graduate degree while working full time so I haven’t had much time for pleasure reading in the past few years but last month I went on vacation and got to read a fabulous book called Shantaram. The book is based on a true story about an ex-addict who escaped from prison in Australia and then fled to India. It was written by the escaped convict himself and follows his story as he lives in the slums of Bombay, joins the Indian mafia, spends time in prison, and eventually goes to war in Afghanistan. It is an incredible story that highlights the importance of relationships and the life-changing effects of immersing yourself in another culture.

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.  When looking at Amazon to find out how to spell the authors’ names, I noticed a quote by Mark Cuban that sells the book much better than I could: “If given a choice between investing in someone who has read REWORK or has an MBA, I’m investing in REWORK every time. This is a must read for every entrepreneur.”

So save yourself $40K+, read Rework, start a business, and then go ask Mark Cuban for funding.

Good things to watch.

In Bruges. This dark comedy has become one of my favorite movies and since not many of my friends have seen it, I tend to show it to everyone that comes to visit me. It is quite violent at times and is definitely not for children but it has great acting, a beautiful setting (Bruges, Belgium), funny Irish humor, and excellent music to tie it all together.

Long Way Round. This documentary series follows Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman as they travel from London to New York on their motorcycles. If this series doesn’t make you want to break away from your cubicle and go travel the world, I don’t know what would.

Watch your money.  You should try to keep track of everything you spend money on for a single month. You can sign up to mint.com to make this easier but even if it’s a bit of a pain, it’s only for 30 days.

At the end of the month, take a look at where your money went and ask yourself for every item on the list, “if giving this up meant I could quit my job tomorrow, would I give it up?” If you answer yes, seriously consider giving it up because it’s obviously not as important to you as your freedom is. Then, take the money that you were spending on all the things you decided to give up and invest it or use it to pay off debts every month instead.

It’s amazing how much money people spend on things that really aren’t important to them, while being stuck in jobs they don’t enjoy, so doing this exercise will allow you to eliminate those unnecessary expenses and will help you eventually buy your freedom.

Good things to use.

Wunderlist.  A great to-do list app that allows you to easily sync your to-do lists between all of your devices.

Spotify.  Spotify gives me the music collection I always dreamed of having as a kid, for free!

A Mac.  I hesitated to list this for fear of being thought of as a Mac fanboy.

I actually used to be anti-Mac. Why spend a lot of money to get a Mac when you could get a perfectly good PC for half the price?

When I started at my current job three years ago, however, they gave me a brand new Macbook Pro and I have to say, I’ll never go back. It actually makes me sad inside when I see other people using a Windows machine because I know how much better their lives could be if they made the switch.

Connect with the Mad FIentist, @madfientist.

Jana Lynch – Daily Money Shot

Jana Lynch is the owner of the personal finance blog Daily Money Shot and the founder of Bloggers Helping Bloggers, an online mentoring program, and these are her good things. You can find out more of her likes on Twitter – @dailymoneyjana – and Pinterest.

Good things to read.

The Outsiders by SE Hinton. This is the book that made me want to write. I first read it when I was in high school (maybe 8th grade) and the characters, the subject matter, the fact that SE Hinton was 16 when she wrote it all hit home for me. The storytelling was more like listening to a family member or friend recount a tale than reading a book. I reread this book at least once a year not only because it’s a great book but it’s also motivation that if a teenager can write a book, than I can at least finish the one I started.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. While her books are definitely formulaic and can get a tad tedious at times, this one lives outside of that mold. About a Jewish woman plagued by her own demons whose asked by a Nazi to help him die, it is an amazing, incredible story. The second part of the book, where the main character’s grandmother describes her time in a concentration camp, makes this novel worth reading. It’s not often that I’ll stay up until 1 AM reading a book but I did with this one.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It’s pretty much a tie between this and Mitch Albom’s The Time Keeper for my favorite book of the last 5 years. It’s hard to explain exactly why I love this book so much except for the fact that it’s just so well written and using the dog as a narrator, and humanizing him the way the author did, borders on brilliant.

Good things to watch.

AMC. The reason I can’t get rid of cable. I thought maybe I could pick one show from this channel to highlight but that’s like asking to pick your favorite type of M&M; you just can’t. They’re all so different yet all so tasty in their own way. I mean how can you choose between <Breaking BadMad Men, The Killing, or Hell on Wheels? You can’t so you don’t and you watch them all. 

I Love You, Man. I love this movie. A lot. I don’t know if it’s because it’s hilarious, has Jason Segel and Paul Rudd, is amazingly quotable or because it pays homage to Rush. Probably all of the above. It’s one of those movies that I can watch over and over again and it’s funny every. Single. Time.

Friday Night Lights. I never thought I’d like a show about football but much like the movie, it’s more a show about people using football as the backdrop. If you have not watched this show, I suggest you settle down on your couch with Netflix and binge watch all 5 seasons immediately. Texas Forever!

Good things to use.

Spotify. If you’re like me and have an eclectic taste in music that your wallet cannot keep up with, Spotify is perfect. I love being able to create playlists, listen to whole albums (did I just date myself with that word) or program radio stations. For FREE! I actually prefer Spotify to Pandora for the simple fact of being able to actually listen to the song I want to instead of what it feels like telling me I want to listen to.

Write or Die. Probably the best web app around (also an iPad app but I prefer to use the web/desktop version) to keep you focused on writing. You get to pick the parameters for length of writing time, grace period when you stop, and consequences but no matter what you pick, you will stay focused. If for no other reason than having your computer or tablet make loud, alarming noises at you is a little troubling.

Gel ink pens. Far superior to ball point pens, which always seem to run out of ink quickly. Gel ink pens are kind of fancy and they give a nice, dark ink impression. Unless you’re left handed. Then maybe they’re more of a smudgy inconvenience but I still think you should use them anyway.

Justin Zollars – javascript author

These are Justin Zollars’ good things.

What are some good things you’ve read?

Jewish Wisdom for Business Success – by Levi Brackman.  Levi Brackmann takes religious stories we learned as children, and relates them to the business world. The book could be summed up in a few words: Believe in yourself and have dignity and courage along the way. When reading this book one can’t help but get excited imagining the possibilities in front of you.. This book connects moral guidance with decision making – a book that every business man needs to read.

The Lean Startup – by Eric Ries. San Francisco and The Bay Area have a startup culture second to none. Eric Ries teaches agile methods of development and offers startup entrepreneurs a way to measure, and improve on their success. He models different ways of doing business and teaches you ways to grow your startup successfully.

Metaprogramming Ruby – Paolo Perrotta.  I owe studying this book my job, and for this reason it deserves a mention. This is the deepest exploration of the Ruby programming language and teaches the most advanced techniques of programming in an elegant fashion. For all its faults Ruby is a beautiful language, and while technical, this book does its depth justice.

What are some good things you’ve watched?

American Horror Story – Mix Catholic nuns in an insane asylum, aliens, murder, lesbians, and twisted killers and you get awesome. Last week there was an exorcism and I was scared to death. The catholic characters are fantastic, moral arguments with such immoral methods. I’m intrigued, horrified, and entertained every Wednesday.

True Blood – Vampires are cool and have style. This show takes place in Shreveport Louisiana and I was immediately pulled in with fantastic characters such as Vampire Bill, Sookie Stackhouse, Jason Stackhouse, and fantastic places such as the Merlotts and Fangtasia. The Vampires just want equal rights; and again you mix religion, philosophy, and emotion in their story.

What are some good things you’ve used?

Sparrow.  The first added a little simplicity into my life. Sparrow is an email client that works a lot like a twitter client, its easy to compose a message and get through your email messages without a complicated User Interface.

Spotify. Few things have disrupted the music market. The first was cd’s, then my iPod in conjunction with torrents, I believed it would never change from that point of perfection. Spotify has changed the way I listen to music. I listen, and discover new music every day; its packed with millions of songs from the cloud. I no longer need to be concerned with disk space; why buy the 64gb iPhone, when the 16 will due? Why purchase a 1 terabyte solid state drive, when I don’t require storage space? Cloud computing is the future. And spotify has exemplified cloud – or collective computing.

Meteor.js Lastly there is Meteor.js. I picked a winner with ruby, and I believe the winner of the next decade will be Javascript and applications returning to the web again. Meteor.js provides a framework to do this. Remember in the 90’s where we had fractured platforms (PC and Mac), installed applications, and version issues? In the early aughts those problems were largely eliminated with web applications, but have returned with vengeance in our fractured cellular phone marketplaces. The future will ignore the app store, and we’ll return once again to web applications. Meteor is a good attempt of a javascript framework allowing developers to make live web applications for mobile devices. Its all in Javascript and its wicked fast. This team is doing some really cool stuff and I’ve found it a joy to develop in.