My Favorite Email Newsletters

October 2015

I have a PhD, but sometimes I feel as if my education has only begun the past couple years. I've learned much about many different fields, especially history, thanks to amazing email newsletters. Here are my favorites.

NextDraft — Five days a week Dave Pell assembles the day's most compelling articles from around the Internet, organized in a list of 10 topics, and sends it out via email. If you want to best the Internet has to offer, this is a good place to begin. The topics cover the latest news, but also just about anything fascinating. Today's just arrived, so let's see what he has to offer.

Item #1 is "This is your brain on shrugs." He presents a New Yorker article, the gist of which is (quoting the article): "At moments of extreme exasperation, parents may think that there's something wrong with their teenagers' brains. Which, according to recent books on adolescence, there is." #3: Comedians performing on college campuses these days have to sign an agreement not to joke about sensitive issues. #8: "Chris Jeon, a 21-year-old UCLA math major, left his $9,000-a-month internship at a financial firm in San Francisco in search of 'real' experience. He wound up fighting with the rebels in Libya."

Quora — I just covered this website a few months ago, but want to impress again the amazing value of their Daily Digest. Quora is a website where people post questions, and experts and dilettantes answer them. The Daily Digest collects answers related to your interests as well as answers that a lot of people are upvoting Here are some recent questions I couldn't help reading the answer to: What are the most impressive ancient structures in the world? Were ancient Egyptians black? Why did Britain lose the American war of independence?

Sometimes the off-the-wall questions catch my attention, such as, How do billionaires like Bill Gates pay for everyday items, with cash, credit, check, some other way? The answers were typically from people who had seen Gates or other famously rich people pay for something, often revealing their idiosyncrasies.

Now I Know — Dan Lewis sends out a daily newsletter with an interesting tidbit. Today's edition was about the origin of the $ sign. It turns out, the symbol was originally a shorthand way of referring to pesos. "Pesos" was shortened to "P's", then eventually a capital P and capital S were superimposed. Ultimately, the curved portion of the capital P was left off, leaving a vertical line superimposed over a capital S. (The source for that trivia being the Bureau of Engraving and Printing of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.)

Yesterday's newsletter told about a German man who was in a casino and about to be arrested because he hadn't paid a $900 fine — money that he didn't have. As the police were arresting him, he struck the jackpot, which netted him $1,300. He paid the $900, avoided arrest, and pocketed $400.

Atlas Obscura — This weekly newsletter bills itself as "the definitive guide to the world's wondrous and curious places," with each issue containing summaries of, and links to, 10 articles. The article I couldn't help reading from the current issue was about identical twins, Sergio and Fika, who competed as a single person in a 56-mile ultramarathon in Africa. They won. Their tactic was for one of them to wait in a port-a-potty at various intervals while the other one was doing the running. Then the runner would duck into the port-a-potty, whereby the one waiting would put on the runner's shirt, bib, hat, and shoes, and then continue the race. In effect, they competed as a relay team.

But after they won and collected the money, some time later a reporter looking at photos from the race noticed that at various points in the race, one of the runners had a scar on his shin and at other points he didn't. As a result, they were stripped of their prize and banned from competition for five years.

Pocket Hits — Pocket is a browser add-in that lets you conveniently save articles that you read on the Internet. And each week they send out a newsletter with summaries of the 10 articles that the most people had saved that week. The item in the most recent issue that I couldn't resist was a listing of the 100 best novels. Another discussed research showing that working long hours is bad both for employees and the company. Another was about scientists believing they have discovered a simple formula for happy relationships.

I have to be careful not to spend too much time reading these. But I look at it as the ultimate efficiency: other people are scouring the Internet to find the best of the best.

© 2015 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen