Awesome Free Sources of Inspirational Content

I thought I’d put together a list of some of my favorite online reference sources, where I am certain to find something inspirational to read, watch and/or listen to. The best part about these sources is that everything is free. So here we go… is vast, searchable and indexed repository of copyright-free and open source content. One of its many features is a fantastic library of live concert performances from bands that allow “bootlegging” at their shows. The Grateful Dead popularized this concept , and you can access 9,455 entire concerts from that band alone (some of these are duplicates, as multiple audience recordings exist for some shows). It also contains millions of public domain books, radio shows, lectures, videos and more. These come in multiple formats, so you’ll undoubtedly find content you can use on your device of choice. In relation to live music recordings, this site picks up where Archive leaves off. Here you can get live concert recordings from many of the same bands as you can on Archive, but it also contains many more. This is where you can get live recordings from the likes of Bob Dylan, Pearl Jam and even the Beatles.

Cambridge Brain Sciences: For a while I enjoyed playing the Lumosity brain training games, until I found Cambridge Brain Sciences. Unlike Lumosity, Cambridge Brain Sciences is free. Here you can train in a variety of games that supposedly help you improve mental processes like memory, reasoning, concentration and planning.

Guttenberg ProjectLike the Archive, this is another non-profit archival service where you can find millions of free public domain books in a variety of formats.

Forgotten Books: Forgotten Books is another book archival service. They have millions of books as well, including a large selection of sacred/esoteric texts that make for some interesting reading. They charge a small fee to get high quality versions of their books, but also offer lower quality versions for free, as well as a free-book-of-the-day newsletter offer.

Do you have any favorite places you visit to find free high-quality, mind expanding content? If so, I’d love to hear!

A Short History of Social Media (Sort of)

Last night, I was searching the synonym for the word “annoy” (don’t ask), and I noticed a bunch of new features on Google pertaining to word definition, roots, pronunciations, synonyms/antonyms, and the coolest feature of all – line graphs showing the number of times a particular word or phrase has appeared in books since the 1800s (but only up until 2008).

The word/phrase tool is called Ngram viewer and has actually been around since 2010, but this is the first time I noticed the full suite of language tools organised in such a way that I could see the full history of a word with a simple search for “synonym of annoy.”

Then I ran across this enlightening article, explaining that the Author’s Guild had been suing Google for this large scale book scanning project, which was actually conceived in 2002 between Larry Page and future-Yahoo-CEO Marissa Mayer. Just last week, a judge ruled in favour of Google, agreeing with the search giant’s “fair use” line of reasoning. (“Line of reasoning” being the perfect synonym for “argument.” Thanks Google!).

Since I work in social media, I thought I would run some searches on the use of the phrase “social media” throughout history. Without further ado, here is a brief timeline of social media usage throughout history:

social media trend

Interestingly, the term “social media” first appeared briefly on the scene from 1838 until 1852, but then really took off from 1862 with, among other books, William Henry Dawson’s “The Salvation of God.”

OK, It’s obvious I still need to work out how the phrase parsing works; but nonetheless, other evidence suggests social media has been around since long before 1838.

51 B.C. to be precise.

In his new book “Writing in the Wall – Social Media: The First 2000 Years,” author Tom Standage suggests that social media may have been invented in the first century B.C. by the ancient, famed orator and penman Marcus Tullius Cicero.


I first heard about this book on the inspirationally-rich blog Brain Pickings. You should really read the post here, because it gives a great synopsis of the book, as well as other intriguing social media examples from the good-old days (Thomas Edison’s viral cat videos, anyone?).

Unfortunately, both Cicero and Standage will miss out on having their works scanned by Google; Cicero missing the cutoff date by about 2 millennia, and Standage by about 5 years.

Anyway, I’ve gone on enough. I’m trying to mince my words so that only the best to go down in the annals of Google history. So have a look at some of these resources yourself, and have some fun playing around.

Nice Brain Training Tool

I just came across a pretty good online brain training tool, and the best thing is that it’s free! It’s called Cambridge Brain Sciences, and it lets you test and presumably improve your performance in the areas of memory, reasoning, concentration and planning. You have to create an account so that it can keep track of your progress over time, and it will give you nifty little graphs that show where you fall on a bell curve against the general population.

Screen Shot 2013-09-15 at 10.09.28 AM

You didn’t think I’d show you one of my lower scores did you? 😉




Discovering an Unknown Skill

cropped-img.jpgFor some reason, ever since I was young, I told myself I couldn’t draw. Despite the fact that my mother was an art teacher and my brother proved in his high school art class that he had a modicum of artistic talent, I have always let the statement “I can’t draw” linger in the back of my mind.

Well, when I created this blog, I decided that it needed to have a cartoon buzzard as the header. So I got to work. I went online, searched for “how to draw a buzzard,” and found instructions on how to draw the figure you see here. Then I took a pencil and paper, and the rest is history.

So now I can never tell myself “I can’t draw,” because I have already proven to myself that I can. My next task is to draw a friendlier looking buzzard to use as a logo!

Lessons from a Curious Spiritual Movement

One thing I would like to use this blog for is to write down my thoughts about the books that I am reading and/or have currently finished. I have been reading a lot over the past year, and though I am sure I am picking up useful information from each book I read, I feel I am doing nothing to systematically take that information and put it to good use. I need a way to ensure that I am cementing the understanding I gain from the books I read.

Today’s book is Monkey on a Stick by John Hubner and Lindsey Gruson, and it is about the rise and fall of the Hare Krisna movement. I became interested in this book because of the proximity to my childhood home to New Vrindaban (a.k.a. the Palace of Gold), one of the most prominent Hare Krisna temples in the United States.

In short, Hare Krisna is a Hindu sect that came to prominence in the United States in the 1960s, when A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Pradbhuhupada endeavored to spread his brand of Hinduism across the world. He found his first followers in New York City, and a mix of forces allowed the movement to flourish shortly thereafter.

His original followers became greedy, power hungry and delusional and helped to all but destroy the movement by the 1980s.

Here are a couple of things I learned from the book:

A few bad apples can spoil the bunch. Hare Krisna, the spiritual movement itself, is not really cult-like. It seems to be a legitimate variation of the Hindu religion with beliefs, rituals and practices that you might find in any religion. I don’t think its founder realized he recruited a bunch of ’60s acid-heads to be his disciples (imagine Charles Manson as a religious disciple). The movement is still around today, and has presumably corrected its course.

Sweeping one’s problems under the rug will just exacerbate the problems. The founder did not do enough to purge the bad apples from the movement before he died (many of these bad apples were regional leaders). He knew that these leaders hadn’t attained the spiritual development required of religious leaders, and he was aware of their power struggles and indiscretions. Instead of removing them from the movement and/or appointing one worthy successor, he tried to create a power-sharing situation in which 11 delusional gurus shared equal power, each with a bit lower status than a supreme leader. This led to a fracturing of the movement, and the gurus just voted themselves more power anyway.

This book was a highly informative, highly entertaining read. It read like a novel and contained all the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll you could want from a counter-culture thriller (the authors originally covered the Hare Krisna movement for Rolling Stone); and it managed to do all of this while also being well researched and footnoted.

The Morning is Mine

For the past six weeks or so, I have successfully implemented a morning exercise routine. By successfully, I mean I have not faltered from my original goal of completing the routine every single weekday (excluding holidays) since I started.

The obvious benefit has been increased fitness. A secondary benefit has been the sense that I have created a little pocket of time every workday that belongs exclusively to me. As I reflect on this, I sense that this particular time of day is the perfect time to reclaim some of the day for myself; the world is quiet, my mind is not burdened by the events of the day, and I am primed to set a foundation for the course of events that are sure to follow.

Last week, I added a new routine on top of the exercise; I committed to playing the didgeridoo for several minutes post-exercise. This too has been a success, because, through the breathing required, it has enhanced the self-reflective quality of my mornings.

So now, I want to go for the trifecta and add a third routine to my morning ritual – writing. Up until now, I was unsure how I would get this blog going – considering some of my other priorities and responsibilities. But then, today, I stumbled upon a post on LifeHacker explaining a strategy Jerry Seinfeld uses to accomplish his goals.

In short, Seinfeld sets a goal and commits to working on it every day. When he completes some work toward the goal, he marks an X on his calendar. He aims to create a string of Xs, and then after a while the objective is to not break the chain of Xs. It becomes a game of “Don’t Break the Chain.”

So, even if you put 5, 10 or 15 minutes into your goal on a given day, you still get to mark down an X.

After reading this, I figured 10-15 minutes a day of writing couldn’t hurt me. Especially if it has the potential to add a new dimension of self-refelction to my morning routine.

So now, I have committed about 35 minutes of time to 3 morning exercises that certainly have the power to shape the rest of my day. Not only will I enhance my fitness (exercise), my centeredness (didgeridoo), and my reflectiveness (writing); but I will also be carving out a time for myself at the beginning of every day. This alone should bring a revived sense of ownership into my day and into my life.

One caveat is that I am not committing to doing any of these things on weekends, holidays, or days when I am legitimately sick. Those days are for complete relaxation and exploration (this idea is not mine, and comes from the creator of the exercise routine I use. I will post on that at another time).

So, in keeping with the Seinfeld strategy, I will automatically pencil in Xs on those rest days, so as not to “Break the Chain.”

The writing I do in the mornings may or may not be related to this blog, so it doesn’t mean that there will be a new post every day. But the idea is that this exercise will seriously improve my chances of  adding regular updates here.