Tal’s latest longreads

Professors Without Borders
How Udacity, Coursera and other online universities are changing the way we learn—and changing who has access to higher education.

I Used to Love Her, But I Had to Flee Her
The psychic benefits of leaving New York city.

Hearing the Voice of God
A look at anthropologist Tanya Lurhmann, and on how it is possible for people to experience the voice of a higher being.

The Audition
On a percussionist’s nerve-wracking audition for the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Into the light
After losing his sight at age 3, Michael May went on to become the first blind CIA agent, set a world record for downhill skiing, and start a successful Silicon Valley company. Then he got the chance to see again.

Our Billionaire Philanthropists
Bill Gates and George Soros are handing out billions, but there are downsides to foundation giving.

On Seeing a Sex Surrogate
The story of a man with polio dealing with his sexual desire and his perceieved physical and romantic inadequacy.

Vanishing Voices
There are roughly 7,000 languages in the world, but 78 percent of the world’s population only speaks the 85 largest languages. Thousands of languages are on the edge of disappearing.

The Busy Trap
Almost everyone I know is busy. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this; it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Girls Love Me
On the next Justin Bieber, 16-year-old Austin Mahone, and how pop stars are made.

The Battle Over Climate Science
Inside the increasingly hostile global warming debate. (MUST READ)


Inbox Zero Tactics

Was asked what my zero-inbox method is (from years of fine tuning).
Short story:
1. Auto-archive filter&label combo
2. Enable Send&Archive + Auto-advance to next email
3. Periodically archive those sticky unanswered emails at the bottom.

Detailed method below:

Ah, you want to tackle ye old gmail beast…
Basically, the aim is to make your inbox a) personal and b) a to-do list. None of that ‘automated confirmation mail’ crap that you neither care about nor can do much with.

Here’s my list of tactics:

1. Filter filter filter.
The most useful filter/label combo I use is called ‘Automated mails’. Everything from Amazon to iTunes to any sort of email update/newsletter goes there. Filter actions are ‘archive (skip the inbox) and label ‘automated mails’. Also, I make sure to put all my labels ‘below the fold’ (the little ‘more’ in the left column in gmail). Avoids unnecessary distraction.
—This principle can be expanded to other labels like ‘Travel stuff’ (ryanair-type itinerary emails), etc.

2. Archive archive archive
a) Enable ‘Send&Archive’ in your gmail labs settings.
This is the 2n biggest tactic. Everything in your inbox, you answer and archive at once. Even if you expect a reply. Let that reply take care of coming back to your inbox. Your job is to archive everything out of sight.
b) Enable ‘Auto-advance’ in labs and set to ‘next email’. That lets me start at the bottom of my inbox, reply, jump to next, reply, just to next, archiving my way to the top. By the time you’re done, everything’s gone

3. Once you’ve got these 2 steps down, you’ll notice there’s a kind of ‘sediment’ of mails that just stick at the bottom. Stuff you don’t quite get around answering but don’t wanna archive out of sight yet. That’s okay for a while (sometimes you’re just busy), but if you see they just stay there forever, take a deep breath and archive them too. Trust in your ability to search and find them back should you one day wake up at 3 AM with an urge to answer them after all.

That’s pretty much it. Start with zero-tolerance filters (until you only get emails in your inbox from people you care about) and use the send&archive button till kingdom comes.

Tal’s latest longreads

Guess What’s Cooking in the Garage
The next big breakthrough in synthetic biology just might come from an amateur scientist

What Facebook Knows
The company’s social scientists are hunting for insights about human behavior.

Welcome to America, Please Be On Time
What guide books tell foreign visitors to the U.S.

The Cult of Smartness
How Meritocracy Is Failing America

The Many Pivots Of Justin.tv
How a livecam show became home to video gaming superstars

Letter to Emily White at NPR: All Songs Considered
A professional musician calls for a rethinking of how we value (and pay) artists in the digital era.

How Many Stephen Colberts Are There?
There used to be just two Stephen Colberts, and they were hard enough to distinguish. The main difference was that one thought the other was an idiot.

Raph and Tal’s Choice – Best of Antwerp

St Anna tunnel
‘t Steen
Antwerp Zoo
Central Station
Hendrik Conscienceplein
MAS (Museum Aan de Stroom)
Cartoons cinema
Rubens huis
Cogels Osylei
Het Elfde Gebod

De Meir

Nul sterren pension
Enich Anders

Dansing Chocola
De Muze
Kaptein Zeppos
‘t Zeezicht
Cafe Stanley
Beni Falafel
Bar Italia
Momade cupcakes
Desiré de Lille
Grand Café Horta
Cafe internazionale
Patine wijnbistro
Civilta Del Bere

‘t Stad Leest
TseTse comics
Chocolatier Goossens


Selected Longreads

I can’t remember how I discovered Longreads.com but I fell in love.
Then came Instapaper, and Longform.org, and before long, I started mailing my colleagues the best longreads I came across every few weeks.
I’ll start posting them here too, but let’s catch up first, shall we?

How companies learn your secrets
The power of habits in guiding our behavior—and how companies like Target have used customer data to create new buying habits

Man as machine
The early days of robots. The Age of Enlightenment inspired inventors like Jacques de Vaucanson to create ever more realistic machines that mimicked human behavior

Quentin Rowan, a.k.a. Q. R. Markham, Plagiarism Addict
How Quentin Rowan went from aspiring writer to serial plagiarist—and how everything unraveled after the publication of his spy novel, Assassin of Secrets

The caging of America
Why do we lock up so many people?

The secret life of bees
The world’s leading expert on bee behavior discovers the secrets of decision-making in a swarm

Those fabulous confabs
Smart talk has never been such a valuable commodity. It’s spawned conferences like TED, Davos, and now a slew of upstart competitors.
It has made the eighteen‑minute TED lecture a viral online phenomenon. But are we running out of things to say?

Twitter, the startup that wouldn’t die
Inside CEO Dick Costolo’s efforts to perfect the company’s revenue model and compete with Google and Facebook for ad dollars

The zen of Woody Allen
The three N’s so often used to describe the public Allen are nebbishy, nervous and neurotic. But the contrast between the Woody character and the “real” Allen is never more in focus than when he’s on the set, directing.

How one response to a Reddit query became a big budget flick
James Erwin responded to a Reddit thread wondering what would happen if the U.S. Marines battled the Roman Empire.

Where’s _why?
What happened when one of the world’s most unusual, and beloved, computer programmers disappeared.

The grandmaster experiment 
How did one family produce three of the most successful female chess champions ever?

Lost in space
What really happened to Russia’s missing cosmonauts? An incredible tale of space hacking, espionage and death in the lonely reaches of space.

Six degrees of aggregation
How the Huffington Post ate the internet

Just one more game…
Angry Birds, Farmville And Other Hyperaddictive ‘Stupid Games’

World War 3.0
In the battles of SOPA and PIPA, who should control the Internet?

Future tech stars, step forward
What does it take to get a tech startup funded? Inside the competitive selection process for one incubator in New York.

Paintballing with Hezbollah
Four Western journalists and a former Army Ranger-turned-counterinsurgency expert arrange a paintball game with members of the Shiite militant group, with the hopes of learning more about what motivates them.

How Yahoo killed Flickr and lost the Internet
This is the story of Flickr. And how Yahoo bought it and murdered it and screwed itself out of relevance along the way.

‘I was there’: On Kurt Vonnegut
The incredible life and work of writer Kurt Vonnegut.

Get Rich University
There are no walls between Stanford and Silicon Valley. Should there be?

Can a better vibrator inspire an age of great American sex?
Sex toys have transformed into sophisticated and well-designed gadgets that take their inspiration from Apple not Hustler. But one company has a bigger hope: that a better machine could mean better sex for a repressed nation.

Not nice
Maurice Sendak and the perils of childhood

How Goldman Sachs blew the Facebook IPO
The inside story of the Facebook showdown reveals a lot about the relative status of Wall Street banks in Silicon Valley these days. And it also reveals a lot about Facebook.

An inside look at the surprisingly violent quidditch world cup
The Quidditch World Cup sounds dorky, and make no mistake: it is. But these sorcery-loving Harry Potter fans play pretty rough.

How geniuses think
How do geniuses come up with ideas? What is common to the thinking style that produced “Mona Lisa,” as well as the one that spawned the theory of relativity?

Machine Politics
George Hotz, the man who started the hacker wars.

Turntable.fm: Where did our love go?
The partners behind a one-time “next big thing” go to South by Southwest to win back the adoration of the tech world–and figure out how to make their partnership work.

In Google’s moon race, teams and the X Prize Foundation face a reckoning
The future is way behind schedule.

The Maturation of the Billionaire Boy-Man
Incredibly, Mark Zuckerberg has grown up to become an ace CEO—one whose way of thinking might drive Wall Street nuts.

OFFF Barcelona 2012 notes

Champaign Valentine
– Diesel campaign (interactive store experience)
– Toxoplasmosis (animation)
– Mormor Ingrid (animation)
– Cat fashion, cat illustration, mechanical cats
– ‘If man sees a naked creature, he’s going to think “Oh gosh he needs underwear” that’s the idea behind these commercials for UNDZ.org’.

Lucy McRae
– Philips research
– Body architect
– Human-sized grass-head
– Blog: http://www.lucymcrae.blogspot.com (use wayback machine to visit)
– Chlorophyl skin – Dynamic skin using Q-tips
– What happens chemically when you kiss someone.
– Electronic tattoo. The human evolution. Woman as hunters?
– ‘Maybe technology’ = Something that isn’t either switched on or off, but in between.
– Robyn music video > colored water tubes
– Robyn cover > physical pixels
– ‘Analog After Effects’
– Swallowable perfum pill > sweat the fragrence
– Summer school at Melbourne U > music video with students https://vimeo.com/29112172
– Fat lamps, hairy lamps, family
– TED Talk http://www.ted.com/talks/lucy_mcrae_how_can_technology_transform_the_human_body.html Continue reading


Ok about IDEO. Where to even begin… I’ve been at the office for about a week now, though more as semi-spectator than a full-time designer. This is in part because I’m not actually supposed to be there yet; my contract only starts on the 14th of February (Valentine’s day, in fact) and no one really expected me to show up already. I have jokingly been called an overachiever, yet sometimes I stop to ponder as to how much it in fact is a joke. The proportions in it, perhaps. I occasionally want to bite the world and IDEO seems like the best of appetizers. Most of what we were lead to believe about the company is true, as far as I can tell. Ain’t that great? Projects do assemble around assignments, teams are truly multi-disciplinary, the company still enjoys the luxury to select its projects (I was told they recently explained to an eagerly inquiring client that they probably can’t afford IDEO’s services). If IDEO is the prom queen of the design world, I guess that makes me her hair dresser. The fridge is permanently full of Coke (glass, not plastic bottles), 6 different types of yoghurt, two types of quality fruit juice and today, left over Thai food from the weekly collective lunch. The rooftop terrace is genius and so are the people working here.

It is hard to describe the mind-boggle that is participating in a brainstorm session with highly (what’s above highly…? vertiginously) capable, intelligent and experienced designers. Particularly how they tackle the sheer breadth of a design brief without losing focus. It’s like joining a Cirque du Soleil troupe of trapeze swingers and coming to consider mid-air, as one is being tossed around: ‘gee, I’m not sure where chaos ends and preparation begins, but what a feeling of confidence for one to experience here, 47 feet above ground’. These are people that can jump in a hay depot and come out with not one but three needles, neatly arranged in a 2-by-2 matrix at that. It’s amazing. It feels a lot like IDP, but different… I can’t really put my finger on it, whether it’s because they talk less, or because they say more intelligent things, or because they ask different questions… again, I’m down to pointing my finger at this incredible confidence that teams acquire from solid experience. By the time my colleagues will be done with the Synthesis phase, we’ll be able to write the identified Opportunity Areas in stone, ten-commandments style.

I never want to leave here. In every project room, on the walls, are written the exact tennets of brainstorming that I grew up with: Defer judgement, Encourage wild Ideas, Build on ideas of others, Stay focused on the topic, One conversation at a time, Be visual, Go for quantity. AHA! See that one about staying focused on the topic? Ok that’s I think where the champs separate from the chumps, IDEO from IDP. I guess some of these rules require more practice than others. It’s no wonder that I feel home at IDEO, we were breast-fed these brainstorming rules and more methods since day one at our beloved design faculty of the TU Delft. In that I am grateful. Yet sometimes I’m pissed when I realize how little we have put emphasis on communication design (or Comm design as they call it here). Typography, lay-out, reports, badass renders even. A fellow intern here (and my favourite so far) pointed out that at least graphic design is easier to catch up on than say, engineering. Still, you’d think they could slip some in our milk in those 5 years of TUition…

Anyway, this week flew by which means the next 64 (I haven’t counted) will pass by equally fast and so I should make lists. (Me being me, I could easily start a sentence with ‘We’ve run out of bread’ and end it with ‘so I made a top 3 list…’) My list contains things I shouldn’t loose sight of in the whirlwind that is IDEO. Die-hard things like Come in early, leave late, work at night, come back with results in the morning, and other stuff like Frequently seek feedback (something one always forget to do before it’s almost over) and even Investigate career opportunities. A pretty long list that flew out of me at a surprising speed. You know how sometimes you start a to-do list and you can’t believe you already have 13 items within 60 seconds? You think ‘that much, eh?’. My ambitions for the next 6 months are multitudinous (I couldn’t come up with more multiple-expression word, even though I am certain in my bones of the existence of one that is).

But what’s new eh? I like the expression of how ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’, but come on, just one cake? I want to have and eat some thirty-four cakes, and that’s just for 2011.