Don’t Read More, Read Different

By guest editor, Christopher B. Durr.

Do you want to be a better scientist? Study architecture, cooking, economics, mechanics. Go outside your field and ask questions.

That’s some of the best advice I have ever been given. Too often we view the same sites on the Internet over and over again ad nauseam. Facebook, news, e-mail, rinse and repeat. The news is great for information but short on inspiration. Here are some of my favorite sites to get you thinking (about something else).

  1. Architecture — A great amalgamation of Art + Engineering + Science, architecture and design is everywhere, not just in the buildings we see everyday. Have you ever thought about how useless a ceramic coffee mug would be without the simple addition of a handle? Thinking like an architect helps me approach problems from a different angle. My favorite site for inspiration is Architectural Digest, which covers a range of topics that keep me thinking. As a bonus, I now know exactly how I’ll design my imaginary house on Cape Cod.

  2. Food — Cooking is just chemistry you can eat.[1] While there are plenty of places to go for recipes, the people over at Epicurious get the nod. Sure, it gets a little Buzzfeedy with headlines like, “17 must try recipes,” but I’m willing to overlook the listicle[2] format because it’s all so well designed. From the slick design to the photography to the writing, everything about Epicurious contributes towards focusing you on the food.

  3. Stats — We here at AF love our tables, charts and graphs. Like it or not, we now live in a world of Big Data, where even the Weather Channel can determine when people are most likely to buy beer, yogurt, chocolate. With all this data flying around, we need smart people to distill it all down into something usable. Nate Silvers’ website FiveThirtyEight does just that. Their specialities are sports and politics, but there’s plenty to explore on their site. For example, I once read an article about what people put on their sandwiches, and I slept a little bit easier knowing that someone was working on that question, and I didn’t have to.

  4. Photography — Photography, like architecture, is another subject that’s right on the border of Technology and Art. Sure, you need to think about color and staging and light, but you also need to think about shutter speed, detector gain, and focal lengths. One of my favorite websites for photography is Trey Ratcliff’s blog Stuck in Customs. His style tends to lean towards High Dynamic Range photography, which is an acquired taste, but his portfolio is undeniably breathtaking, and his adventures around the world make for interesting reading.

  5. Pretty Much Everything Else — If you’re like me, you don’t want to stop learning but picking up a book on differential equations can have a bit of a barrier to entry. Thankfully, the people over at Khan Academy have you covered with lectures on chemistry, art history, computer coding and beyond. The best part is that it’s free and worldwide.

Step outside what you know and explore something new, you never know where the discovery may take you.

  1. Without dying.
  2. No, really that’s what they’re called. Now we all have a new Scrabble™ word.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

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