2016 in Review: My Favourite Things

I’ll cut right to the chase: here’s the things that fascinated me, captivated me, challenged me, and inspired me in 2016. Concise list up front, more information follows.

  • Rotary International & RYLA
  • Jordan B. Peterson
  • Island (Aldous Huxley)
  • Small Data (Martin Lindstrom)
  • Once Upon a Time (Season 1)
  • Slate Star Codex
  • Deadpool
  • AlphaGo
  • Donald Trump
Rotary International & RYLA
Me visiting a Rotary Club in Iceland.

Me visiting a Rotary Club in Iceland.

It just so happens that there are two non-government members of the United Nations. One of them is the Red Cross, and the other is Rotary International. Essentially, Rotary is an international service organization where business leaders and other professionals can join forces to support humanitarian projects in their local communities and abroad.

In particular, the Rotary Foundation has contributed over $850 million to Polio vaccination initiatives over the past 30 years. As a result of these (and other) initiatives, Polio cases worldwide have decreased over that time from 1000 cases per day to less than 100 cases per year.

As an obligated engineer, it was really exciting for me to join Rotary. It’s already given me a number of opportunities to contribute to the Hamilton community, and given that there are clubs all over the world, it’s cool to be able to have common ground with people across the globe.

Try not to cry... lay on the floor... cry a lot...

Try not to cry… lay on the floor… cry a lot…

Rotary Youth Leadership Award
RYLA is a week-long retreat for youth from a whole bunch of different clubs in the Hamilton, Niagara, Buffalo, and New York State clubs. I had the opportunity to attend this year, and it was one of two incredibly impactful leadership experiences I’ve had in my life (the other being MARS Apprentice).

I don’t think I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet 37 other folks my age who were so diverse, so talented, and so inspiring. Shout out to you if you’re reading this, and maybe see you on NYE?

If you’re interested in learning more, let me know.

Jordan B. Peterson

From Dr. Peterson’s website:

With his students and colleagues, Dr. Peterson has published more than a hundred scientific papers, transforming the modern understanding of personality, and revolutionized the psychology of religion with his now-classic book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. As a Harvard professor, he was nominated for the prestigious Levinson Teaching Prize, and is regarded by his current University of Toronto students as one of three truly life-changing teachers.

His YouTube channel’s 150 videos have 60,000 subscribers and 2,300,000 views, and his classroom lectures on mythology were turned into a popular 13-part TV series on TVO. Dr. Peterson’s online self-help program, The SelfAuthoring Suite, featured in O: The Oprah Magazine, CBC radio, and NPR’s national website, has helped tens of thousands of people resolve the problems of their past and radically improve their future.

It’s unfortunate that Canada had to learn about Dr. Peterson under more controversial circumstances (his protest of Bill C-16), but after listening to the three-hour interview interview he did with Joe Rogan, I was astounded by how brilliant Dr. Peterson is.

What initially seemed like general ignorance of an old white guy towards transgendered people and Canadian law turned out to be an incredibly nuanced argument based on a lifetime of work studying psychology, sociology, Marxist fascism, and ideology.

To learn more, see the panel discussion on The Agenda. Highlights include a gender studies professor falsely claiming that there are no biological differences between the sexes, video of no-platforming and silencing tactics used against Dr. Peterson by radical student activists, and Dr. Peterson being accused of (soon-to-be illegal) hate speech for simply having a dissenting opinion on certain issues.

To put it simply, Jordan Peterson is one of the greatest modern thinkers I think I’ve ever come across, and he is also a role model on how to hold a strongly divergent opinion in a professional and measured way.

Island (Aldous Huxley)

220px-islandEver since I first watched Tomorrowland, I’ve been fascinated by how pervasive the themes of dystopia and armageddon are in our popular culture.

Island, by Aldous Huxley, is a spiritual companion to his more famous Brave New World. This book is similar to BNW in that it tackles many of the same issues, including drug use, communal living, and assisted reproduction. What’s remarkable about Island is that it shows how these same things can create a utopian society, as opposed to a dystopian society.

For anyone who’s read Brave New World, this is a must-read. It should also be required reading alongside BNW in schools, so students are challenged to have a balanced perspective.

Small Data (Martin Lindstrom)

From Amazon:
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Hired by the world’s leading brands to find out what makes their customers tick, Martin Lindstrom spends 300 nights a year in strangers’ homes, carefully observing every detail in order to uncover their hidden desires, and, ultimately, the clues to a multi-million dollar product.

Lindstrom connects the dots in this globetrotting narrative that will enthrall enterprising marketers, as well as anyone with a curiosity about the endless variations of human behavior. You’ll learn…

– How a noise reduction headset at 35,000 feet led to the creation of Pepsi’s new trademarked signature sound.
– How a worn down sneaker discovered in the home of an 11-year-old German boy led to LEGO’s incredible turnaround.
– How a magnet found on a fridge in Siberia resulted in a U.S. supermarket revolution.
– How a toy stuffed bear in a girl’s bedroom helped revolutionize a fashion retailer’s 1,000 stores in 20 different countries.
– How an ordinary bracelet helped Jenny Craig increase customer loyalty by 159% in less than a year.
– How the ergonomic layout of a car dashboard led to the redesign of the Roomba vacuum.

Once Upon a Time (Season 1)

I’m usually not a fan of Disney things, but Once Upon a Time is a remarkable show for me.

One reason for this is that I think that it contains a lot of content that connects to a wide variety of interests. For one, it is an excellent case study in how to develop nuanced evil characters (and is therefore a must-see for players of games like Vampire: The Masquerade). It also does an excellent job of touching on Jungian archetypes and tensions, such as the Great Mother vs. Terrible Mother.

Another reason is that I love new spins on classic tales – Wicked is one of my favourite musicals, in part because it’s devilishly clever at creating something unexpected from a story we are already familiar with. Once Upon a Time does this by weaving together stories like Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Hansel & Gretel, and Rumpelstiltskin into an enchanting and entertaining tale appropriate for viewers of all ages.

Slate Star Codex

One of the best blogs on the internet today. Written by a psychiatrist, topics “…center vaguely around this meta-philosophical idea of how people evaluate arguments for their beliefs, and especially whether this process is spectacularly broken in a way that may or may not doom us all. In between there’s a lot of cognitive science, psychology, history, politics, medicine, religion, statistics, transhumanism, corny puns, and applied eschatology.”

Some of his must-read posts include:

Deadpool

Finally, a superhero I can identify with.
deadpool_laying_down

AlphaGo

Artificial intelligence defeated a world-class player in a board game infinitely more complex than chess. This was largely considered to be impossible, or at least a long way off. Topics to read more about include ‘deep neural networks’ and ‘reinforcement learning’.

What’s most remarkable about the AlphaGo vs. Lee Sodol match is that it iterated and improved on human playing techniques to make inhuman moves. Also, when used as a training tool, it has actually expanded some players’ understanding of the game and improving human performance.

“There are huge variations in a Go game, we can’t even read 1% of them. We have certain patterns in our minds when we play, so this is the kind of move we would never think about.”

“There are huge variations in a Go game, we can’t even read 1% of them. We have certain patterns in our minds when we play, so this is the kind of move we would never think about.”

Donald Trump

There’s no denying that Donald Trump is a clinical narcissist who is out of his league in his new position. Positives include the fact that he’s smart enough to delegate, and negatives include pretty much everything else, especially how this could destabilize international politics. As Slate Star Codex put it, Donald Trump will be a ‘high-variance’ president.

But, truth be told, I kind of enjoy how his election has dealt a tremendous narcissistic injury to the regressive left and social justice warriors. It’s a big wake-up call for everyone on both the right and the left, that will unfortunately go unheeded.

For what it’s worth, I discussed with several people that I expected Trump to win. Here’s why:

Michael Moore already provided us with 5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win back in July, and this was one of the primary thought pieces that informed my hunch.

A lot has been written on the left-wing echo chamber already, but I’ll get back to that in a second.

One of the best articles I’ve seen written on this topic is “How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind“, by David Wong. It very eloquently explains how out-of-touch city dwellers are with the rest of the country.


“If you don’t live in one of these small towns, you can’t understand the hopelessness. The vast majority of possible careers involve moving to the city, and around every city is now a hundred-foot wall called “Cost of Living.” […] And if you dare complain, some liberal elite will pull out their iPad and type up a rant about your racist white privilege.

Already, someone has replied to this with a comment saying, “You should try living in a ghetto as a minority!” Exactly. To [Trump supporters], it seems like the plight of poor minorities is only used as a club to bat away white cries for help. Meanwhile, the rate of rural white suicides and overdoses skyrockets.

Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways that left-wing folks can take away from this is that there are a lot of people who don’t live in cities, that they have problems of their own, and that they are people too.

In case you didn't realize, those tiny blue dots on the red map are the cities.

In case you didn’t realize, those tiny blue dots on the red map are the cities.