We start this edition of Align Center with wisdom gained from a life intertwined with animals, an illustrated description of mental load, a nudge from Zen Habits, and a reminder of the power of metacognition. Then we talk apples, summer podcasts, and a long read on science’s progress in the fight against cancer. Finally, I share the behavioral economics classic and the related quote I’m pondering, plus some gems in the digs.
◦ selected words
“Animals don’t exist in order to teach us things, but that is what they have always done, and most of what they teach us is what we think we know about ourselves.” A gentle, poetic reflection of an eccentric child’s love for creatures that started with a curiosity for insects beneath rocks and evolved into lessons on the way to move about the world with patience, empathy and love learned from a life co-existing with animals.
nytimes.com (10min read)
Two weeks after the French article went viral, this Oatmeal-style explanation of “Mental Load”, gets the English treatment. By a Parisian who writes about “politics, things that make you think, and recreational breaks”, this article is so on point it’ll have you and your partner discussing the division of labor in the household (ideally directly communicated, not passive aggressively shared via Facebook).
emmaclit.com (10min illustrated read)
The average person think three times more about the future than the past — but for what evolutionary purpose? And how does all this future-thinking serve us in the present? Psychologist Martin Seligman explains why human beings are unique in our power of prospection, gathering the latest research and advances in brain imagery to examine our pre-occupation with the future, giving insight into how our conscious and unconscious thoughts help us now.
nytimes.com (10min read)
Have a project that’s been on back burner for years? Start a new habit, but couldn’t get it to stick? Overwhelmed by all the things there are to do? Some sage advice on the tiny actions that lead to small victories in your path of growth.
zenhabits.net (2min read)
A recent study from Stanford split university students into two groups: the first were prompted to think about how they were studying, and the second, a control group. The findings are in line with recent research on self-regulation and metacognition as the most effective educational interventions. The best part? It doesn’t take much time to incorporate these simple strategies, and you can actually learn faster by studying smarter.
qz.com (5min read)
I wasn’t always an apple fan (the fruit, not the company). I grew up eating Red Delicious, the dark red, stereotypical apple that stands upright on a schoolteacher’s desk. This large, often mushy, thick-skinned variety is so bad that The Atlantic wrote an article about it. Then Royal Gala and Fuji came into my life, soon to be replaced by the perfectly crisp and sweet Ambrosia, a chance hybrid from BC. Now in Quebec, I get to try new varieties like Empire and Cortland year-round. But wait, apples only grow in autumn, so how are these apples still so crispy? Part of me didn’t want to know, but after talking with the farmer, curiosity and the Internet led me to the hidden truth. Note: this article never mentions the magic chemical by its brand name, SmartFresh, which I’ll let you research/judge on your own.
bbc.com (4min read)
◦ listen in
Many Serial fans were disappointed with season two, leaving the controversial S-Town as this year’s undisputed podcast darling. The winter has been slow, but there’s a lot to look forward to this summer: Invisibilia’s back for a third season after a long hiatus, a familiar voice leads a new science podcast for kids and the documentary experts from ESPN are bringing 30 for 30 to the podcast world. An excellent compilation of 12 of the most anticipated podcast shows, with debut dates from May to July.
vulture.com (6min read)
An investigative food journalist translates science into action steps for the public by revealing common food misconceptions and writing about nutrition. Also hear from a science-obsessed chef on how to make the best hamburger, why you should use vodka in everything, and his unique path from waiter to one of the coolest jobs in the world as managing culinary director at SeriousEats.com. Also, learn a simple trick to keep garlic’s healing properties (let it sit for 10 minutes after crushing) and a few more things you didn’t know about food.
freakonomics.com (36min podcast)
◦ eat well
A year-round crop in some parts, I grew up never understanding why my mom would force feed us this bland cabbage relative. Back then I’d only had it one way — steamed — so it’s no wonder it’d be much later before I discovered cauliflower’s versatility and surprising nutritional profile (35% of your daily Vitamin C in 100g/3.5oz). When picking, look for large, healthy, green leaves which protect the delicate florets. I substituted soy milk and the results still turned out super creamy.
food.com (30min recipe)
◦ read slow
In this special report, Popular Mechanics visits the labs of the top research centers and interview the scientists leading the charge against the group of diseases that kills more Canadians than any other cause — more than heart disease, stroke, and accidental death combined. In this eye-opening survey of our current progress, learn about the different fronts being waged against cancer including Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot project, Artificial Intelligence, microbiome gut transplants, cell therapy, genome sequencing and Napster founder Sean Parker’s role in combining the fragmented research field to do with cancer what has been done with HIV — turning it into a survivable disease.
popularmechanics.com (49min read)
◦ current read
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and one of the most important psychologists of our time, Daniel Kahneman’s contributions to the field of human behavior have reshaped cognitive psychology. The Guardian even wrote a piece titled “Daniel Kahneman changed the way we think about thinking. But what do other thinkers think of him?”. With Amos Tversky, their decades of research into understanding how we think and choose reveals how irrational we are, along the way discovering many of the cognitive biases that influence our thoughts and decision making. Published in 2011 and instantly on several “best of” and “book of the year” lists, it’s been on my to-read for far too long. So far it looks to join Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational and Robert B. Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion as my favorite behavioural psychology books of all-time.
Thinking Fast and Slow (499p book)
◦ dig this
The most interesting tidbits from the web from the last two weeks:
- 100 Million Books – A random book discovery Chrome extension populating your New Tab with a book cover and summary. Check the author’s “Why” — no algorithms, no polarization, just diversity.
- Being A Good Listener – From Alain de Botton’s The School of Life (5min video).
- Hardbound.co – Non-fiction books, illustrated, in five minutes. The featured book happens to be the current read from Align Center #1.
- A Handmaid’s Tale – TV at it’s best. This Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel hits difficult themes hard and is eerily relevant in our times.
- Jazz Manouche aka Gypsy Jazz – I’ve been listening to electro swing for years, ignorant of the genre’s roots. In the 1930s, Django Reinhardt created a new style of jazz guitar which would become embedded in French Gypsy culture. The first song will be familiar to many: “Minor Swing”. (YouTube mix)
◦ humble thought
“You waste years by not being able to waste hours.” — Amos Tversky, the late collaborator of Daniel Kahneman.
This past week kicked off Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations with giant marionettes as tall as houses, and events all around the four million-strong metropolis. But instead of staying in town for the Victoria Day long weekend (National Patriots’ Day in Quebec), my partner and I headed south to Adirondack Park to camp and hike, while our friends climbed trad (I’m not ready yet!). The weekend had a lot of firsts for me, driving on a surprisingly quiet 170km (105mi) stretch south on the I-87 in our newly purchased budget camper, a rusting 2007 Dodge Caravan + plywood setup that we’re loving, we breezed through Upstate New York, stopping in Pointe Aux Roches and Plattsburgh along Lake Champlain. Our destination was Keene Valley, near the Hamlet of Keene located in Essex County. It all sounds so wonderfully ancient and British.
For me, the Adirondack’s held a mystical status the same way Yosemite can be for many outside North America — a place far away that you hear passed along in stories and fleeting Facebook photos of majestic lakes and valleys. As the years passed, time seemed to expand and push it further from my grasp. So as we entered the park, I knew very little of the area, nor how it close it is to the border (less than two hours from Montreal!).
Adirondack Park is a six million acre forest preserve and the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States. It’s also the largest National Historic Landmark, larger than the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and the Great Smoky Parks combined! And it’s not a national or a state park, there are no fees to enter and no closing time. It’s not just raw nature either — there are 100 towns and villages, including Lake Placid, two-time host of the Winter Olympics.
Now I’ve only experienced one tiny, beautiful speck of it hiking Giant Mountain and am still in awe of its vastness, and am comforted with the newfound knowledge that this forest preserve is just around the corner to discover all summer long. Happy hiking!