Influences

This is a random list of websites, specific articles, authors, and videos that I believe have had varying degrees of impact on my life. This is somewhat for my own reference, and somewhat for others who may be curious about what has impacted me.

As I think of and encounter more, I intend to update this list regularly.

LessWrong

LessWrong is a “community dedicated to improving our reasoning and decision-making”. This website is currently the only “favorite” I have in Safari on my phone, so when I’m bored and pull out my phone to look at some random article, I tend to look at LessWrong articles instead of Facebook or Instagram (I still definitely tend to check Instagram more than I should though).

In the LessWrong community, some authors seem to have “superstar” status, like Eliezer Yudkowsky, Zvi Mowshowitz, and Scott Alexander to name a few, but anyone with an account is allowed to submit posts to the forum.

Many random, interesting articles have come out of LessWrong that have changed many parts of the way I think about the world, or at least solidified certain nebulous concepts I’ve had about the world in a way that’s much easier to think about.

Some of my favorite articles from LessWrong (or just some that I’m able to remember right now):

And I need to mention Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky. Fan fiction of any sort is the last things I would’ve expected to post on this page, yet here we are. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality asks if Harry Potter had a more of a scientist’s view of things before learning that magic existed, how would things go differently. The surprisingly long series is actually pretty entertaining and extremely informative about what rationality and science really are, versus just doing the too often misconceived versions of rationality and science. For example, if a Hollywood scientist encountered magic, the movie scientist would scoff and say “impossible!” denying the possibility of what they just saw. A real scientist would instead start asking more questions and break down exactly how magic functions, why it functions, etc.

Still Drinking

Still Drinking is a blog by Peter Welch. He has some interesting stories, one of the craziest being about how he went clinically insane for months on end after a bad trip on acid.

How I encountered his blog was an article I read shortly after I began programming which I have kept bookmarked for years and which I return to regularly when I feel down and out about the state of my own coding skills. Programming Sucks is a fantastic essay about how and why programs and the Internet are in a constant state of change and decay, and how it’s practically impossible to actually follow the ideals of your field in the real world which is full of time and budget constraints. This kind of problem is present in a lot of fields, but programming seems to be at the extreme end of this. It’s also a very useful essay to send to people to explain what programming is actually like, versus what they think it’s like after watching The Social Network.

Wait But Why

Wait But Why is a blog by Tim Urban that explores many interesting concepts, mostly accompanied by stick figure drawings to explain very abstract concepts in a concrete way.

You may already know who Tim Urban is through his Ted Talk on procrastination, which is one of the most popular (and funny) Ted Talks of all time.

Wait But Why is notoriously slow in its output, but it is definitely quality over quantity. Many of these posts are the greatest things I have ever read.

Some standouts:

One weird mention is that my face is on this website… Back in 2016, right when I moved to Denver, I participated in the first (and so far only) Wait But Hi event, where readers of the Wait But Why blog got together in various cities around the world to socialize and talk about things with each other. In Wait But Hi – Full Report, the report on how well the Wait But Hi event went, I am in the picture after the text “There were Denver dogs:” – the picture on the site also links to my Instagram account.

Jason “David Wong” Pargin

I originally found out about Jason Pargin through his articles on the once great website cracked.com. He also has plenty of appearances in the Cracked Podcast (no longer airing new episodes), and some in the unofficial, spiritual successor to the Cracked Podcast, Secretly Incredibly Fascinating – both hosted by Alex Schmidt.

Some articles of note from Jason Pargin’s Cracked days:

I haven’t read his works of science fiction yet, but they’re high on my reading list.

The Oatmeal

The Oatmeal is probably the blog here that I’ve known about the longest. Back in high school, my friend’s mom, who worked from home, shared this comic with my mom who is a teacher. I read a few more things on the site, but didn’t pay it much attention, yet The Oatmeal kept cropping up in my life.

The blog is much more about funny comics than life-changing advice, but there are a few standout articles:

You may also know who this person is without know him if you’ve ever played the popular Exploding Kittens card game.

John & Hank Green

I only more recently really discovered who John and Hank Green are, but I really like their stuff. Their books are probably the biggest reason why they’re famous (John Green wrote The Fault in Our Starts and Looking for Alaska), but the odd thing about that is that their books don’t really appeal to me. It could just be that I’m not very big into the young adult genre.

However, so much of the content that they’ve produced, directly or indirectly, so consistently speaks to me.

  • VlogBrothers – Their long-running semi-weekly YouTube channel where they both create a video once per week and address it to the other one. They don’t have anything specific in mind, other than talking about something interesting.
  • CrashCourse – Various series on different topics. Some are hosted directly by them, especially the earlier courses, but most now are hosted by another expert in a field. Lately they’ve been hitting it out of the park with my interests with CrashCourse Geography and Linguistics being created at the same time right now. I especially loved anything history related on here – World History 1 & 2 are great binge. Computer Science was very informative. And Philosophy was interesting.
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed – A John Green podcast on different random facets of human life talked about in an “x out of 5 stars” review format. Unfortunately, it’s on indefinite hiatus for now, but a book is coming out soon.

CGP Grey

Most people know him by his YouTube channel which is full of interesting explainer videos and other interesting random ones.

I am an avid listener of both his podcasts, Hello Internet (indefinite hiatus as of a year ago 🙁 ) where he talks with friend and co-host Brady Harran about life, philosophy, YouTube creation, etc and Cortex where he talks with friend and co-host Myke Hurley about the nature of work and how it fits into their lives.

Some standout videos:

Farnam Street

I came across Farnam Street through an episode of the Making Sense podcast with Sam Harris when Shane Parrish, the founder of Farnam Street, was a guest.

Farnam Street, despite more-or-less being based in Canada, is named after Farnam Street in Omaha which is where Berkshire Hathaway is headquartered. This coincidentally is a few-minutes’ drive of where I went to college at Creighton University.

Shane Parrish is obsessed with the particular type of wisdom of Berkshire Hathaway’s founders, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, since their investing strategies, which aren’t necessarily flashy or get-rich-quick, can be easily applied to life in general. For example, compound interest is most often related to finance and investing, but can easily be applied to life. Knowledge compounds on itself in many fields. If you go to bed 1% smarter than when you wake up every day for a year, in a year you will be 34 times as smart as when you started… of course reality is more nuanced than that, but you get the idea.

Miscellaneous

Hans Rosling – RIP
Neel Nanda
The Great Everything
danluu.comCheck out 95%-ile isn’t that good and Big companies v. startups
If you’re not feeling “hell yeah!” then say no